Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Sorites Paradox as it Pertains to Personhood

My friend and pro-life mentor Steve Wagner introduced me to an article by Lee F. Kerckhove and Sara Waller (hereafter, K&W) called "Fetal Personhood and the Sorites Paradox." [1] It's not an argument I've seen very often but it was recently expounded by Kate Greasley in her book Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and the Law. However, K&W and Greasley actually argue in different ways, so I will address both of their respective arguments in turn and I will show how the pro-life concept of personhood avoids falling into the trap of the sorites paradox that each respective thinker charges it with. As my first response here has gotten sort of lengthy, I will respond to K&W's arguments in this article and respond to Greasley in a future article.

The word "sorites" comes from the Greek word for "heap," so-called because it comes from an ancient philosophical puzzle. Suppose you have a heap of sand in front of you. That heap could be made up of 2,000 grains of sand. If you take one grain of sand away, then you are left with 1,999 grains of sand -- but the pile of sand is still a heap. Suppose you keep taking grains of sand away. At what point does the heap of sand become a non-heap? Or looked at from the opposite direction, one grain of sand is not a heap. If you add another grain of sand to have two grains of sand, you still would not have a heap. Now suppose you keep adding grains of sand. At what point did the grains of sand go from non-heap to heap? Is there any point at which we could plausibly point to and say, "there. That grain of sand turned it into a heap?" It doesn't seem we can.

There is also a well-known fallacy called the continuum fallacy (alternatively, the fallacy of the heap or fallacy of the beard). This fallacy is committed when one looks at a vague continuum of states and argues that because there is such a continuum, that one cannot plausibly choose a point at which the vagueness is resolved. For example, a man growing a beard goes through a continuum of stages. He starts off clean-shaven, develops stubble, and eventually a beard develops. But even though there is a continuum of beard growth, that does not mean that we can't recognize the difference between a clean-shaven and a bearded face. There is one common pro-life argument that commits the continuum fallacy. Choosing a starting point such a birth, assuming the person you're talking to believes the human to be a person at birth, then pushing the threshold back a day and asking "how about the day before birth? The day before that? etc." This argument commits the continuum fallacy because it assumes that just because there is a continuum of development that the pro-choice person could not conceivably find a non-arbitrary point along that human's development and argue that it is definitely a person there. Here's an article written by Tim Brahm at Equal Rights Institute that goes into more detail regarding this fallacious argument.

Of course, there is a non-fallacious way to argue that pro-choice arguments are arbitrary whereas pro-life arguments are not, and the fatal flaw of Greasley's argument in her book and K&W's argument in their paper is they fail to understand the pro-life view of personhood. K&W begin their paper with a discussion of the concept of personhood, asserting that being a person is a vague predicate; in fact, it is so vague that it falls under a particularly pernicious form of vagueness called the sorites paradox (or, as Greasley calls it, "sorites-susceptibility"). But after looking at K&W's overarching argument, I will show how, exactly, pro-life arguments about personhood avoid the charge of sorites-susceptibility.

1 -- Kerckhove and Waller

After expounding the sorites paradox in their paper, K&W then take a look at two separate sorites-based arguments for and against personhood. They argue that the concept of personhood, being vague, leads to a contradiction. Personhood is a vague concept, they argue, because "many competent speakers also disagree about when the predicate 'is a person' can be correctly applied." Personhood could plausibly be grounded in any of one's properties, but she uses temporal development as an example. This leads to a paradox, because there can be two reasonable arguments made:

1. X is a person at age T (e.g. 21 years old)
2. If X is a person at age T, then X is a person at T-1 second.
3. X is a person at T-1 second.
Repeat steps 2-3.

1. X is not a person at age T (e.g. conception)
2. If X is not a person at age T, then X is not a person at T+1 second.
3. X is not a person at age T+1 second.
Repeat steps 2-3.

These are both logical arguments in the form of modus ponens, so they are both plausible arguments. But they cannot both be true; hence, the contradiction and hence, a paradox.

There are two ways to avoid this paradox, argue K&W: you can solve the sorites paradox (which seems unlikely), or define personhood in such a way that avoids such vagueness. They also consider this unlikely because they believe that any property you ground personhood in must be vague because it would appeal either to some physical property, or set of physical properties, or to some non-physical property, or set of non-physical properties. Some possibilities for grounding personhood in physical properties are: viability, quickening, consciousness, birth, number of cells, etc. But each of these are vague in the same way: viability is vague because it relies on advancing technology, number of cells would fall victim to asking "what would happen if one more cell was added or removed?" etc.

Some possibilities for grounding personhood in non-physical properties are: the possession of conscious, intrinsic human dignity, a future like ours, etc. However, they don't believe that these will do the trick, either. They write:
The pressing issue is how any of these crucial properties might be measured. How can we determine the point at which a fetus attains consciousness, or a possible future like ours? If the terms of the measurement are physical, then a continuum develops, and with it develops a sorites paradox. If the terms of the measurement are not physical, then any judgment as to whether or not a fetus possesses the property cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by appeal to facts. Considerations such as these lead to Macklin’s conclusion that an ascription of personhood may be little more than a reflection of moral prejudice. Appeals to non-physical properties will not resolve the debate over the morality of abortion because, to a large extent, the debate is a disagreement over whether or not a fetus possesses such non-physical properties.
So because these properties can't be measured physically, K&W believe that these properties should be disqualified from the discussion.

2 -- Responding to Kerckhove and Waller

It should be fairly obvious that K&W's response to the non-physical attributes that one might ground personhood in is clearly question-begging. They assume that there is no possible way to know when an individual attains these things because they can't be measured physically, but this is a false view of how knowledge is attained, commonly called scientism. It's a self-defeating idea because the idea that you can only find truth through physical investigation is not a claim that can be investigated physically. So non-physical properties are not exempt from the discussion just because they can't be measured physically.

However, K&W's response really just misses the point. The pro-life concept of personhood is that one's personhood is grounded in one's nature. Nature is an all-or-nothing property; it doesn't come in degrees. So K&W fail to consider a third alternative to the sorites paradox. We don't need to solve the sorites paradox. We don't need to find some property to ground personhood in that avoids vagueness. The third alternative is that we simply need to find some property that doesn't admit of degrees. If we can find a property that personhood is grounded in that doesn't admit of degrees, then we can avoid the charge of sorites-susceptibility altogether.

The reason that we place your personhood in your nature is because your nature is the most fundamental thing about you. It grounds your personal identity through time and it grounds the various properties that you have and will have as you continue to develop. The reason that you walk around upright and converse through spoken language rather than walking on all fours, howling at the moon is because you have a human nature, not a canine nature. This is also why severely disabled human beings are still persons and deserving as respect of persons -- although they are not a "perfect instantiation" of human, they are still human beings and have intrinsic worth as humans. To say they are not a "perfect instantiation" is not an insulting term (and really, I don't know if anyone actually lives up to the perfect ideal of humanity -- I certainly don't). It simply means that they are not able to flourish fully as human beings should. If you draw a triangle on a piece of paper, as long as it has three lines on it, it is a triangle. If the lines are crooked, it is still a triangle, just not a perfect instantiation of a triangle. But it is a triangle, none-the-less. And a severely disabled human being is still a human person because being a person is about the kind of thing you are, not the kinds of things you can do.

Now, of course the concept of "nature" is a controversial one among atheists, even though I think it can be rationally demonstrated philosophically. However, if you would prefer, just think of your human DNA in place of your human nature (I tend to think of DNA as the physical expression of one's metaphysical nature). Having human DNA is also an all-or-nothing property, rather than a degreed property. Either you have human DNA or you don't, and scientists can tell the difference between DNA of various species. But whether you accept the concept of nature or not, the underlying point is that an argument can be made from the pro-life position that your personhood is grounded in an all-or-nothing property and is not susceptible to charges of being a sorites paradox.

[Today's guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]

[1] Kerckhove, Lee F. and Sara Waller. "Fetal Personhood and the Sorites Paradox," The Journal of Value Inquiry, 32: 175-189, 1998. All quotations from Kerckhove and Waller will be from this article.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Planned Parenthood is Pro-Abortion, Not Pro-Choice

Those in favor of abortion, including the abortion giant Planned Parenthood, will sometimes say they are “pro-choice, not pro-abortion.” This rhetoric is meant to give the impression they value both choices a pregnant mother may make with her pregnancy, those being birth and abortion. However, when we investigate Planned Parenthood more closely, we find the “pro-abortion” title is what they truly deserve.

If Planned Parenthood was truly “pro-choice,” they would provide support and services for all pregnant mothers, regardless of which choice they made. However, this is not the case. Last year, Live Action called 97 Planned Parenthood facilities all across America, and only five of them offered prenatal care. This lack of prenatal care is also reflected in Planned Parenthood’s annual report.

Planned Parenthood has repeatedly claimed abortion is only 3% of what they do. Interestingly, by that same metric, prenatal care accounts for only 0.08% of what they do. One of the services Planned Parenthood offers even fewer of is adoption referrals, which account for a mere 0.04% of their services. Planned Parenthood calls themselves “pro-choice,” but only 0.12% of their services support pregnant mothers who want to choose life for their child.

Additionally, Planned Parenthood offers nothing to help women who have recently given birth to a child. Planned Parenthood does not help pregnant women deliver healthy babies. They also do not offer any kind of parenting prep classes, and they do not offer any resources for babies such as diapers, car seats, baby food, or anything else.

If you look at the “Our Services” page on Planned Parenthood’s website, the words “baby,” “parent,” and “child” are nowhere to be found. The word “birth” can only be found when preceding the word “control.” Planned Parenthood claims to be “pro-choice,” but they clearly offer nothing for mothers who want to choose life for their babies. Planned Parenthood claims to be a champion of women’s health care, yet they do essentially nothing to help women with childbirth, which is the single most distinguishing feature of women’s health care.

Furthermore, Planned Parenthood does not offer abortion pill reversal treatment, which can reverse the effects of first-trimester medication abortions and save the preborn child. In fact, Planned Parenthood is so pro-abortion they refuse to offer abortion pill reversal treatment even though they could make more money if they did. Planned Parenthood is so committed to abortion that even the almighty dollar cannot persuade them to provide other options for pregnant mothers.

After reviewing their records, it is clear Planned Parenthood is not simply “pro-choice.” They are pro-abortion. Planned Parenthood refuses to offer comprehensive women’s healthcare. Additionally, Planned Parenthood fails to offer any services for women who want to choose life for their child. Planned Parenthood pushes the idea that women must reject their fertility to be empowered, and that women must give their money to Planned Parenthood in order to grasp this empowerment. Even pro-choice advocates should acknowledge that Planned Parenthood is a failure when it comes to providing basic women’s health care.

[Today's guest post by Pat Thomas is part of our paid blogging program.]

Monday, October 8, 2018

Abortionist compared himself to Holocaust perpetrators

German pro-life activist Klaus Guenter Annen recently lost a case in the European Court of Human Rights. He was appealing an injunction placed on him that censored him for inflammatory speech against abortion.

Annen had described abortion as “aggravated murder” and compared it to the German Holocaust on his personal website. He was given an injunction by the government for speech the court said "had not only been very serious but might also have incited hatred and aggression."

The few American pro-lifers who have compared abortion to the Holocaust have been subjected to extreme criticism, but as yet no one has tried to ban pro-lifers from making the comparison. Indeed, there are some very important differences between the Holocaust and the mass killing of abortion. It is not a comparison I myself would make.

However, it may surprise you that one person who made the comparison was not a pro-lifer, but a practicing abortionist.

Dr. William Rashbaum, now deceased, committed abortions for many years. He did both early and late-term abortions. In an interview with a reporter from the New York Times Magazine that took place early in his abortion career, he said that each time he did an abortion, he was troubled by a fantasy, an image in his mind. He would think of the tiny preborn baby clinging to the walls of the uterus, desperately fighting the suction or the forceps as he pulled her from the womb.

The reporter asked Rashbaum how he dealt with this haunting image that intruded on his thoughts. How did he manage to do abortions despite this fantasy? Rashbaum replied: “Learned to live with it. Like people in concentration camps.”

The reporter, perhaps taken aback by this statement, asked if Rashbaum really meant that metaphor. Rashbaum responded:
I think it’s apt – destruction of life. Look! I’m a person, I’m entitled to my feelings. And my feelings are who gave me or anybody the right to terminate a pregnancy? I’m entitled to that feeling, but I also have no right communicating it to the patient who desperately wants that abortion. I don’t get paid for my feelings. I get paid for my skills… I’ll be frank. I began to do abortions in large numbers at the time of my divorce when I needed money. But I also believe in the woman’s right to control their biological destiny. I spent a lot of years learning to deliver babies. Sure, it sometimes hurts to end life instead of bringing it into the world.
Rashbaum freely admitted that he was ending life. Yet this did not compel him to stop doing abortions. As of 2003 (over 20 years after the interview) he had done 20,000 of them.

He continued to do abortions until shortly before his death in 2005.

It’s interesting that an abortionist would see a connection between abortion clinics and concentration camps. Why did he make a career out of doing abortions despite the fact that he felt like a Nazi? It may have been a combination of the amount of money he was able to make and a genuine belief he was helping women. Regardless, this abortionist clearly knew that he was killing babies.

One wonders what the European Court of Human Rights would have done if, instead of making the comparison himself, Annen had quoted Rashbaum on his website. Would the abortionist’s words have been taken as inciting “hatred and aggression” towards himself and other abortionists?

[Today's guest post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program.]

Friday, October 5, 2018

I Am a Pro-Life Progressive. Don't Shun Me.

[Today's opinion piece by Christopher Dale is part of our paid blogging program.]

On most issues, I am a reliable progressive. I believe in a strong social safety net, universal healthcare, gender equality in the workplace and elsewhere, and same-sex marriage and adoption rights. I supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries and, like the Vermont Senator, describe myself as a Democratic Socialist.

But there is one issue on which I break from the vast majority of liberals. I am a pro-life progressive.

From a policy or legislative standpoint, I am nothing to fear. My liberal leanings on every other important issue are in lockstep with the Left, and the race-baiting, anti-science Republican Party—especially in its current Trumpist horror show—repulses me as much as the next Progressive.

My political affiliation is firmly with the Progressive movement and larger Democratic Party. I simply happen to hold a higher bar for ending a life in the making than most liberals. Specifically, I feel that rape, incest or threat to the mother’s health are legitimate reasons, but past that I value life over the broad array of other situations comprising choice.

I realize that this position has zero chance of becoming an official platform of the party I persistently support. My fellow Progressives should realize that as well. However, far too many in a movement that espouses widespread tolerance can’t seem to tolerate views that, for honest reasons, differ from their own orthodoxy.

I write this knowing full well that most so-called progressive outlets would never publish this piece, fearing reader backlash on their websites and social media platforms. This sort of cowardly self-censorship is one of many ways interactive and social media have siloed society into rigid tribes, from which any ideological deviation whatsoever is deemed treasonous.

Strangling counterpoints in their cradles isn’t political journalism, it’s just political hackery. It is also the polar opposite of true progressivism.

This inclination to suppress or shout down pro-life liberals is grandstanding overkill. Pro-choice is so synonymous with Progressive that the occasional discordant voice, like mine, is barely audible background buzz. So why the need to drown us out?

The proof is in the political campaigns: Democrats are completely purging themselves of pro-life candidates. As reported by Vice News, in 2009, 64 Congressional Democrats in the House of Representatives expressed concerns over the Affordable Care Act because they wanted more restrictions on abortion. Just 12 of these 64 remain in Congress today and, by the beginning of this year, exactly zero of the 91 House seats Democrats deemed flippable were being sought by pro-life candidates. Ditto for Democratic challengers in competitive Senate races: none.

This reflects solidifying sentiments among self-identified progressives. Last summer, FiveThirtyEight reported that 88 percent of “ideological liberals”—I would place myself in this category—were pro-choice, outpacing the broader Democratic Party by 13 percentage points. Ironically, the less-than-prescient title of that piece was “Democrats Aren’t In Lockstep Over Abortion—That’s Why They’re Fighting.” The 91-0 pro-choice tilt in House candidates says otherwise and, besides, 88% and 75% are both overwhelming majorities. It’s a pro-choice Party, period.

As both Progressive orthodoxy and Democratic Party policy, then, abortion is a settled issue. We’re not running pro-life candidates, and are exceedingly pro-choice as a voting bloc.

Considering this, subjecting pro-life Progressives to social media trolling and editorial censorship is pathetic, paranoid and puerile. It is also potentially self-defeating. Though not unique to the Left, the stifling, dismissive notion that everyone must completely agree with the predominant positions on each and every issue has limited the Progressive movement, and with it the Democratic Party.

On the other side, Republicans have a tent big enough for extreme fiscal conservatives like Rand Paul, extreme cultural conservatives like the Freedom Caucus, and extreme-everything Trumpists. To counter this, Progressives need as welcoming a home as we can build.

To that I say this: We’re here. We’re pro-life. Get over it already.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Recap: Vita et Veritas conference at Yale University

Last weekend, SPL president Kelsey Hazzard spoke at the Vita et Veritas conference hosted by Choose Life at Yale. This year's theme was "Science and the Pro-Life Movement," and featured presentations on everything from assisted reproductive technology to the under-representation of women in drug trials to the ethical implications of gene editing. Kelsey spoke first, focusing her remarks on the United States Supreme Court's failure to accept science in its abortion jurisprudence:

It was a fantastic conference. Kelsey and SPL co-leader Terrisa Bukovinac met pro-life advocates from Yale, Princeton, and other Ivy league schools; all were very impressive and are sure to do great things! You can see our favorite photos from the conference here.

Your next chance to connect with us is at the Rehumanize Conference, less than two weeks away! If you haven't registered yet, be sure to do so ASAP.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Your experiences with CPCs and pregnancy resource centers.

About a week ago we asked our followers what experiences they've had with pregnancy resource centers. You can read all the responses here, but below are some key selections.

Those who have volunteered or worked for a center:

Sarah I:
I volunteer for one. I usually do whatever task they need me to do. One day, they asked me to sit at the front desk and answer phones. A woman came in for an ultrasound. She was leaning toward abortion. She was 14 weeks along. She came out of the ultrasound room afterwards and said to me, "Wow! It's definitely a baby! I thought it was going to look like a grain of rice or something. I'm definitely going to have this baby." That reminded me how so many people are not aware of what abortion really does and how early we have developmental milestones.

Leticia C: Helping! One time I helped carry a stroller with a baby in it down the stairs. On two other occasions I listened to pregnant mamas tell their stories which were very eye-opening... just being able to authentically care for someone and for them to know that they are cared for is pretty darn memorable.

Christine N: Had a pregnant client who told me how her boyfriend wasn't nice to her. Hinted he was sometimes physical. I tried to offer her help to get her out of that situation but she didn't want to leave him and be single with a baby. She never came back and always wondered what happened to her.

We had a young woman, 19 or 20 who was pregnant with her 3rd child. She had started coming to us when she was expecting her 2nd. I couldn't help but wonder if the center promoted more than abstinence (biblical sexuality) if she would have avoided that 3rd pregnancy.

I had more than one client who was abortion-minded change her mind once she found out about all the help we could offer during and after pregnancy. In all the women I had seen for a pregnancy test not a single one during our initial question form said yes that they were using birth control or condoms.

Countless smiling women and their kids coming in weekly for various classes, or just to talk to one of the volunteers made it all worth while.

Erin S: I fund raise and throughout the year I collect items for their “boutique” periodically when they need things. I’m doing it now actually, my mom volunteers for them and noticed they were low on things. So, I’m trading stuff on Facebook for baby items. They send out a card every month with how many women they are helping have a due date that month. It’s usually 30 or so each month.

Aron R: I work for a PRC. We are seeing a lot of immigrants for parenting classes and material assistance. We have also had an influx of abortion minded women seeking information and several have changed their mind recently.

Christina H: Had a young woman come into the center I volunteer at a couple weeks ago. She wanted to thank us. HER MOTHER had been a client 20 years ago. This young woman was certain she wouldn't be here if our center hadn't been around back then.

A woman who had bad experiences with a center:

Stefanie F: I went to a CPC a pregnant 17 year old from rape. I refused my family's demand to abort. I wanted parenting resources and counsel to prepare for that. Instead, I was told not only would they not help me parent, but that I must put the baby up for adoption. Single motherhood was a "sin" and there were married couples who could give my baby so much more than I could. I was given a binder of waiting PAPs and told to pick a couple. I had a meltdown because they were trying to take my baby away. Turns out the counselor has a sister who worked for DSS seeking to adopt a baby on the cheap. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was told either let her sister adopt my baby or CPS would take her at birth anyway. They helped my family force me into an adoption. To make a long story short, the counselors sister didn't want my daughter, because she wasn't "white." So my daughter ended up being adopted by paternal relatives. Never will I send a vulnerable woman to a CPC. Too many push adoption as the default option, instead of the last one. (Abortion isn't an option.)

Women who had good experiences with a center:

Sarah Y: Yes, I was 17. Pregnant. They did testing for me, then counseling, and gave me all the options. I appreciated the honesty. Was really nice to have someone sit down and talk with me about priorities and future goals. Helped me put things into perspective and made it seem less daunting somehow. 20 years later, my daughter is amazing and I feel so blessed to have had such an amazing person to help me so long ago.

Crystal K: I went to one for most of my pregnancy and a couple times afterward. I wanted to take advantage of their parenting classes before my baby arrived. My counselor was incredibly wonderful and kind, and they helped my little family with baby clothes and equipment we needed. I learned so much there that's been helpful and I'm so thankful.

Margaret K: A friend of mine thought she might be pregnant. So she went to a CPC in Texas and they told her that the test was negative but it's still early so there might not be enough of the pregnancy hormone and to come back tomorrow and they can do an ultrasound. But they just sat and talked with a very scared single 21 year old. They talked to her about how she can handle it. If she is pregnant it's a baby not a problem. And they really humanized her potentially nonexistent child for her. When she got the ultrasound she discovered it was a failed implantation and they grieved with her. They let her experience her emotions. She is considering going to volunteer there.

Varina H: Yes, they are very helpful. Still help me with maternity clothes, vouchers for baby clothes, lots of moral support, free ultrasounds, and said when the baby is born to go back and they will give me a baby shower basket with lots of clothes and diapers and other things. They help with baby furniture, have counseling and parenting classes for free, and help with children's clothes as well. Super grateful for all the help I've received.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Unlikely victims of "safe abortion"

Every year on September 28, abortion activists organize the International Safe Abortion Day, a day that promotes “accessible, legal and safe abortion.” This includes the usual claims that abortion is inevitable even if illegal and that the only way for women and their families to be safe is to make it legal and easy to access. But what about the people who actually come face to face with the chilling, clinical reality of abortion?

As someone who has been indirectly harmed by abortion, I want to spare a thought for its other unlikely victims: the medical staff who find themselves in the position of having to do abortions. Like the doctors of two county hospitals in Romania who have recently come under attack by journalists and activists for unanimously refusing to perform any more abortion procedures (except in cases of medical emergency). But also the ones who haven't stopped. Those who still manage to assuage their conscience by pausing abortions each year during Holy Week, Easter and Christmas, only to go back and keep doing what is expected of them. Even the ones who feel no remorse, only the conviction that they're helping women. Because that “safe abortion” has to be provided by someone, no matter how difficult or disturbing it is. The following poem is for them.


death has worn your body
issued your instruments
kept the floors clean and the doors
closed so no one would see
how a non-person gets safely not-born

there is safety in records
in stainless metal and round rubber stamps
the death that endures beyond every other

it outwears your body
sees you through all the rooms it
persists in
the indestructible coat
of that which doesn't have its own light

I've written this poem as part of my process of understanding abortion providers and practicing compassion, because I believe they need it more than anyone, trapped as they are in what they've done and with the burden of other people's expectations to keep doing it. Everyone involved in an apparently safe abortion (the unborn, women, men, doctors) usually loses something: their life, their family or their peace of mind.

[Today's guest post by Alexandra Moldoveanu is part of our paid blogging program.]