Tuesday, July 30, 2013

There is no right to hide the facts of prenatal development from your kids

Recently, pro-lifers in North Dakota distributed some fetal models to kids at the state fair. [Disclosure: I know Devyn Nelson, the Executive Director of North Dakota, personally; we were both in the inaugural class of Wilberforce Fellows at Students for Life of America.] Abortion advocates didn't take it well. A major theme of the criticism: the pro-lifers violated parental rights.

The fetal models and the cards that accompanied them were purely about prenatal development; there was nothing in them about abortion. There was nothing that might upset the children, because Devyn isn't a jerk. So apparently, the "parental right" that was violated here was a parent's "right" to make sure that his or her children don't learn about the reality of life in the womb.

Allow me to model my response off of this famous video by Bill Nye the Science Guy (whose views on abortion are not known to me, but who hopefully recognizes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You're the bomb, Bill Nye!).

Abortion on demand throughout pregnancy is unique to the United States, Canada, China, and North Korea. That's a major problem, but generally, most people in the United States are pro-life. The pro-life movement is still growing. And that's largely because of the intellectual honesty that we have, the general acknowledgement of life in the womb. And when you have a portion of the population that doesn't believe in that, it holds everybody back, really.

Prenatal development is a fundamental concept in embryology, and in abortion policy. It's like, it's very much analogous to trying to do geology without believing in tectonic plates. You're just not going to get the right answer; your whole position is just going to be... stupidity, instead of a reasoned stance.

As John F. Kennedy said, "The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened," so... once in a while I get people who really don't, or that claim they don't believe that unborn children are anything more than clumps of cells. And my response generally is, well, why not? Really, why not.

Your ideology just becomes fantastically complicated when you don't believe in prenatal development. Here are these sonograms or ultrasound images; here's the unborn baby kicking; here are fetuses who are just like newborns but are at a different point in their life cycle; the idea of fertilization, of a new set of DNA... explains so much about human life. If you try to ignore that, your worldview just becomes... crazy, just uh... untenable, itself inconsistent.

And I say to the grown-ups, if you want to deny life in the womb and live in your world of radical abortion rights that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe about prenatal development, that's fine. But don't make your kids do it, 'cause we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and parents for the future; we need doctors that can practice medicine with integrity, help mothers...

It's just a really hard thing, a really hard thing. Now in another couple centuries, that worldview I'm sure will be-- just won't exist. There's no evidence for it.


Faye Valentine said...

Hear, hear!

Unfortunately, as of late, I've been fighting a special breed of ableist Pro-Legal Abortionist who attach all value on human life to brain function, or in their words, "possession of a mind".

Faye Valentine said...

Hear, hear!

Unfortunately, as of late, I've been fighting a special breed of ableist Pro-Legal Abortionist who attach all value on human life to brain function, or in their words, "possession of a mind", so regardless of the biological reality of the gestating child, to them they will always be "clumps of cells" until they can prove without a doubt they have the ability to think rationally using their "mind".

Even some people who are perfectly aware of human development are simply morally bankrupt and choose to place no value on other humans as long as they don't meet certain arbitrary criteria. As sad as that fact is.

Katie said...

I read with disbelief the outrage over the fetal dolls. I can't believe this is a battle they would choose to fight. To the parents who were baffled on how to talk to their six-year-olds about abortion, don't. How difficult is it to simply say, "That's a doll that looks like a human when it is in the early stages of development." And to Jezebel calling the dolls "creepy" I say that they are only creepy because they force you to put a face on the death you have been fighting for. If the truth bothers you, it is not right to attack the truth and those you speak it, rather you should reflect on your own views that contradict scientific fact. I seriously doubt any children were traumatized by these dolls; however they may be horrified later when they realize their parents are fighting for the right to kill a child that looks like that doll.

Drew Hymer said...

The news reports on this "fetal doll" thing are such a blast. I did a blog on it, including some video clips. See

KB said...

Wonderful juxtaposition of two topics that I hold dear and are natural allies: integrity in scientific education and the right of all human beings to life.

Coyote said...

Just curious--does this pro-choicer support legal personhood for non-human animals which have functioning brains/minds?

Coyote said...

What about anencephalic infants?

KB said...

What about them?

Coyote said...

Do you think that they should be given legal personhood, including the right to life?

KB said...

Sure. We aren't allowed to randomly stab a person in a terminal coma are we? We can't just rip a brain-dead person limb from limb can we? Can we provide the same sort of respect to an anencephalic infant? Yes, because they are a person.

Coyote said...

"Yes, because they are a person."

I disagree with you about this part. They are human beings, but I don't think that human being should automatically equal person.

As for persons in terminal comas, if we're 100% sure that they will NEVER regain consciousness, either now or at any point in the future, then I have no problem euthanizing them IF and ONLY IF no one (any of their family members/relatives, any other individuals, and/or the government) wants to take care of them. The same criteria apply to brain-dead people and to anencephalic infants. Frankly, I don't see why someone who we are 100% sure will NEVER gain or re-gain consciousness should legally be considered a person (from the perspective of my morality, I mean).

Faye Valentine said...

I'm not certain, but that would be a good question to ask.

Although I'm sure the answer will just infuriate me. ^_^

Coyote said...

You should ask him/her anyway. That way, we can find out whether or not he/she is being or appearing to be speciesist.

KB said...

Morally, and legally, we don't currently euthanize people in terminal coma. We do have next of kin decide to "turn them off" and let nature take its course, since a person at that point cannot live on their own. I'm not against that idea, for the reasons you stated above (we are 99.9% sure they will never regain consciousness).
I intended to imply that this comparison works with anencephalic fetuses (I believe that is what you meant, rather than the born, since you cannot legally kill such an infant - they will usually die on their own a short time later). Just as a person in a temporary coma will come out of it, and thus we are not permitted to kill them, or even turn them off, a normal fetus will come out of its state, and thus we shouldn't be allowed to kill it. A person in a terminal coma, like an anencephalic fetus, is likely never going to get out of that state. I don't see the problem with "turning them off" so to speak, when doctors have determined that they are "99.9% sure" this is terminal. But at no point did that terminal coma patient become "not a person". You still treat them with respect. You don't mangle them, and cause undo amounts of pain, even if you think they might not be feeling it. Inducing an anencephalic pregnancy into labor, where you know the fetus isn't going to make it outside of it's life support system is one thing.
If you are going to make the assertion that not all human beings are persons, you need to back that up with logical reasoning. What are the qualities you decided make that distinction?

Coyote said...

Yeah, I'm tempted to say that I support changing the current laws to make it legal to euthanize anencephalic fetuses AND anencephalic infants, as well as human beings in irreversible comas.

"But at no point did that terminal coma patient become "not a person".
You still treat them with respect. You don't mangle them, and cause
undo amounts of pain, even if you think they might not be feeling it."

Actually, one can treat non-persons (such as non-human animals) with respect as well and avoid causing them unnecessary pain. To be honest, personally (and I would support changing the law to fit my view on this), I would consider anencephalic human beings (regardless of whether or not they are born yet) and people in irreversible comas to be more akin to flowers or non-human animals than to other human beings (including in terms of personhood).

"What are the qualities you decided make that distinction?"

Personally, I have a position from caution on this issue and consider any individual who currently has or who will develop (in the future) the ability to think rationally and to act out of his/her own volition (such as being able to change his/her moral code without any outside interventions) a person. However, I hate to say it, but I am also sympathetic to the view on personhood expressed by individuals such as Peter Singer and Mary Anne Warren, who consider the current ability to have rationale thought and/or the current ability to act out of one's own volition (or something similar to these two things) as qualities which are necessary for personhood.

KB said...

"Actually, one can treat non-persons (such as non-human animals) with respect as well and avoid causing them unnecessary pain. "
Careful, you are conflating your moral stance with a legal one. Legally, you can't kill or be physically cruel to persons. That's an important distinction; an important protection. I agree that one shouldn't be needlessly harmful to other beings, regardless of personhood, but I'd like a legal distinction to actually protect that from happening in the case of human beings (and even sentient animals - but that is a different argument).

You indicate future ability to one's own volition as a definition of personhood, then you fall back to Singer and Warren on a "current" capacity to act out one's own volition. Which is it? In the latter's case, no, I think that is an absurd litmus test. The mere act of sleeping would rob you of personhood every night, not to mention a temporary coma. I'm more sympathetic to limiting the definition to one who could develop volition, morally, but legally it is a really bad definition. It is a very grey area. Do you think I should be legally able to kick my neighbor's severely mentally handicapped daughter because in your world she'd be a flower, rather than a person, and not deserving of rights? I don't know how she sees the world, but she is experiencing it as a human being, and nobody has a right to take that away from her. She is a person.

Faye Valentine said...

Well, I don't see anything wrong with being "speciest", and personally, I think we should encourage it, since not being "speciest" is kind of along the same lines as being a sociopath.

Coyote said...

How exactly is not being speciesist along the same lines as being a sociopath? I am personally repulsed at you saying this, considering that I am not a speciesist since I see no reason to treat individuals better or worse simply due to their species. How would you like it if (hypothetically) some alien species came over to Earth, conquered it, and gave human beings less rights (or no rights at all) in comparison to the rights that this alien species would get (despite the fact that some of these aliens would have lesser intelligence and mental abilities than some human beings)?

Coyote said...

Faye Valentine said...

Well, a chicken isn't really going to do much in the world except taste delicious for some other species. That's their biological job, and their position in the food chain. If a lion was attacking and about to kill another human being, I wouldn't be concerned for the lion's well-being, I'd be concerned with stopping the lion from harming one of my fellows using any means necessary to do so. To sympathize more with an organism that is not your own kind than with one who is a member of your own community is counter-productive to our continued existence as a species. It would be somewhat understandable if your hypothetical aliens acted in such a way, but I would also say that it would be our imperative as a species to resist such action and use force to counter them with any means necessary.

That's just the way the world works. Sorry.

Coyote said...

I didn't forget to respond to you. I will (hopefully) do this tomorrow.

Coyote said...

Your point about one's biological job and the food chain might be an example of the naturalistic fallacy.

The problem with your argument is that the human being:

A. Did not do anything bad to the lion
B. Is likely more intelligent and mentally capable than the lion

Thus, I don't see why I should allow a lion to kill this human being, even if hypothetically it is legal to let a lion do this.

Also, one can use a similar argument to yours but state that one should always value the more mentally capable individual, regardless of his/her species. Frankly, if I could save an extremely intelligent and extremely mentally capable alien of a different (non-human) species or a human infant (but not both) from death, I would save the non-human alien over the human infant. While I do value the continued existence of human beings as a species due to the fact that many human beings are extremely intelligent and extremely mentally capable, I am not willing to treat individuals differently based purely on their species any more than I would treat individuals differently based purely on their race/ethnicity/gender/et cetera.

Faye Valentine said...

"I would save the non-human alien over the human infant."

And I would save the human. I am human, and therefore hope my fellow humans would give me priority consideration in any such instance, and because of this, I give it to my fellow humans. I'm sorry that you wouldn't.

"...While I do value the continued existence of human beings as a species due to the fact that many human beings are extremely intelligent and extremely mentally capable..."

That's not a very good reason to value human beings.

Living is like a sports game, and we are all on the same team as a species. We should want to see each other thrive and excel at living, and produce more offspring, because we're all trying to "win", just like every other species is trying to "win". Sure, we play by more rules than the other species, but that's what makes our team the best. And it's not that I don't love and admire certain other species, but I think it's important to prioritize, because life forces such prioritization upon us.