Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Which side is extreme?

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

In the United States, the courts treat abortion as a constitutional right through all nine months, for any reason, and that has been the law since 1973. It’s shocking how many defenders of the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions do not know this.

Either by design or by accident, our law is confusing in the extreme. The Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade made it seem as if it was only talking about abortions before viability, saying that the states, if they wished, could make late abortion illegal. But in Roe vs. Wade’s companion case, Doe vs. Bolton, the High Court created a “health” loophole that effectively crushed the states’ ability to make third trimester abortions illegal.  (Pro-life policymakers hang their hats on language in Gonzales v. Carhart, the partial-birth abortion case, to defend 20-week bans—but the Supreme Court has not yet addressed the issue directly.)

When I debate pro-choicers, I always make a point of clarifying the current state of the law right off the bat. Often, they won’t believe me! I then follow up with some questions: “If that was the law and you did not know it, would that prove that the media and educational systems are not doing their job?” “If I did show you that abortion is legal through all nine months, for any reason, and has been since 1973, would you oppose that law?” (These questions usually elicit a lame “no comment.”)

Pointing out the extremism of our current law is important because it frames the debate. Rarely do people support the law as it is; polling consistently shows that those who believe abortion should be “legal in all cases” are in the minority. But people are more likely to condemn the law if I explain it to them after they have said what their desired law is.

But the supposed “middle-of-the-road” position—that some abortions should be legal, but not others—is very difficult to defend. To successfully oppose any abortion and advocate for at least some unborn babies, you have to abandon arguments that demand nine-month abortion under all circumstances. Consider the following common pro-choice arguments:
  • The government has no right to make abortion illegal.
  • A woman’s right to control her body grants her the right to abort.
  • The fetus is not a person until birth.
  • Criminalizing abortion will lead to the deaths of women in “back-alley” abortions.
  • Only the woman and her doctor get to decide.
  • Children are expensive and burdensome to the woman, family, and society.
The six contentions above make up the entire core pro-choice argument.  If you don’t believe them, you’re not really pro-choice, and if you do, you are a nine-month pro-choicer.  But often, when people use these arguments, they are unwittingly insisting upon abortions they themselves don’t even support! Where many anti-abortion people will try to disprove the core arguments, I will simply point out that the pro-choicer I’ve debating does not actually believe them (unless I’m talking to a nine-month extremist).

A person who opposes the legalization of some abortions believes that:
  • The government has the right and obligation to legally protect at least some unborn children from abortion.
  • A woman’s right to control her body does not necessarily grant her the right to abort and kill her child.
  • The unborn is a baby with rights before he or she is born.The threat of back-alley abortions is not serious, or if it is, it’s less important than the protection of at least some unborn children.
  • Men like me and people like you sometimes have the right and obligation, through the government, to prevent women from aborting.
  • The fact that an unborn child is expensive and burdensome does not necessarily justify killing him or her.
There are obvious practical problems with drawing a line, with trying to protect some unborn children while killing others.  Third month, fourth month, fifth month, sixth … can the killing be contained?  Are we to have nurses stand by with calendars and stopwatches saying, “Kill the fetus now, Doctor, while you still have time.  You have ten seconds … five, four, three, two, one … Murder!”

The “middle-of-the-road” pro-choicer must say to his or her peers, “You do not have the right to kill these unborn children”… which is rather difficult to do while he or she is also saying, “I have the right to kill these other unborn children.” 


Jameson Graber said...

This is why I'm (sadly) pessimistic about reading polls on abortion--I'm not sure they mean much practically. My sense is that Americans are very upset about abortion on a moral level, but they're not prepared (just as they weren't in 1973) to actually oppose legalization in any practical way, and yes that means at all times during pregnancy. That tendency works against activists on both sides: pro-lifers remain politically frustrated and paralyzed, while pro-choicers can't seem to gain the moral high ground. It's a messy issue.

Michelle Ewing said...

” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?..." -MLK Jr.

This quote really speaks to me about the abortion issue. It is an extreme issue, and if you care about it at all you're probably an extremist. Do we choose to show love or hate to mother and child? Do we choose to pursue the preservation of injustice or the extension of justice for mother and child? I feel like if you don't choose love and justice for the mother and child, you are very misguided. MLK Jr. extended love and justice to the oppressed, as well as the oppressors. That is the only way you get stuff done, and done right.

Vita said...

Well said Michelle!

Vita said...

Interesting article, I think you are correct in your assessment for the most part, but I would argue that one of the six pro-choice arguments still applies even if the person you are arguing with is not a nine month pro-choicer that would be when personhood is granted. It is just as arbitrary to say that personhood is granted at birth as opposed to being granted at viability, as birth does not change the ontological nature of the child. The only thing that changes is the child's location.

Michelle Ewing said...

What do you mean by "ontological nature"? I looked up ontological and got this:
: a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being
: a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence

I still don't understand. Could you put it in lame mans terms?

Acyutananda said...

Ontology is about being. So "birth does not change the ontological nature of the child" = "birth does not change what kind of being the child is."

This is a stopgap reply while we wait for Vita's, which will probably be better.

Chandler Klebs said...

"Children are expensive and burdensome to the
woman, family, and society."

That is probably the only pro-choice argument of the six mentioned that has any truth, but the response:

"The fact that an unborn child is expensive and
burdensome does not necessarily justify killing him or her."

Is one that I definitely agree with. If I were to kill every person who was expensive or burden to me, I would have killed almost everyone.

One could also argue that abortion is expensive too. Even if I was a sociopath, I would not request payment for my murder. At least I don't think I would, but I just don't have the killer instinct anyhow so it is not likely to happen.

Vita said...

I will try, although I think that Acyutananda did a good job replying.

Ontology is the way in which something exists or its manner of existing. I was simply saying that nothing changes the child during birth. That child is the same before, during, and after being born.

Michelle Ewing said...

So are you saying that what is human later in life started as human? That there is not difference in the kind of being s/he is?

someone45 said...

You cannot love a woman with an unwanted pregnancy and love the fetus. You can only love and care about one.

I think it should be the one who is actually alive (meaning the pregnant woman- not mom) and not depending on an actual living person to sustain its existence.

someone45 said...

"One could also argue that abortion is expensive too."

I would think that pregnancy and child birth would cost much much more then any abortion could ever cost.

Vita said...

Yes and no. A human being at fertilization continues to be a human being throughout his/her entire life. However more specifically two children who are exactly the same age, but are born at different times are ontologically very similar to one another, because they possess the same essential characteristics, even though one is born and the other is not.

For instance I was born seven weeks premature, a child who was the same gestational age as myself but not yet born is ontologically very similar to me (not the same because each human person is unique). However as the current arbitrary standard would say that I am safe from abortion because I am already born, but that other child could still be killed by abortion until he or she was also born.

My point is that if you are using an arbitrary measuring stick (birth) you could just as well use a different arbitrary characteristic to define when human beings in the womb can be killed.

This potentially could allow a pro-choicer to say while I think abortion should be legal before a child can feel pain (or live independently outside of the womb, or some other characteristic), after a child can feel pain (or other standard) abortion should be illegal. That standard is just as arbitrary as birth (although more difficult to know exactly when it occurs) however it would save a large number of lives and include more people in the category of valuable human being.

All of that being said I think that the author of this article's main point is correct the use of arbitrary standards to determine when it is permissible to take a human life does not make sense.

However if arbitrary standards are to be used why should birth be the only arbitrary standard used?

Hopefully that answers your question if not let me know.

Michelle Ewing said...

I can. I love all people. the women I love are straight, LGBTQ, liberal, republican, democrat, non-partisan, abstinent, sexually active, not pregnant, pregnant and considering any choice, post abortive, clean and sober, addicts, rich, poor, sex offenders, abuse survivors, murderers, women accused of crimes they never did, I could go on and on. Do I approve of all their actions? no. But they most loving thing I can do is lead them to a better life, show my understanding for bad decisions, and show support for things that will better their lives.

MLK Jr. loved the oppressed and the oppressors. There is no denying that it has been do before, and we all can do it too.

Michelle Ewing said...

50% of births are paid for by the government in the US. If a mother chooses adoption, she has no cost to her at all and access to some of the best doctors. Even parenting can be inexpensive if you co-sleep, breast feed, baby wear instead of a stroller. Hell, some mothers sell pumped breast milk and make up to $2,100 a month. you can't get that at a full time job at $12 an hour! with abortion ranging from 350-850 for a 1st trimester abortion, it is more expensive than half of births. for the cost of one abortion that you have up to 3 months to get you could put in savings as little as 1,050 if you continue putting that amount way for your pregnancy. with baby showers, that would last 2 months on the most expensive diapers and formula!

someone45 said...

If a woman has an unwanted pregnancy and she knows that carrying to term would destroy her life and you force her to do that for the fetus you are only loving and caring about the fetus. You would not be caring at all about what the pregnancy would do to her.

Coyote said...

"It’s shocking how many defenders of the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions do not know this."

You might be right when it comes to this.

Heck, I remember talking to this one pro-choicer at my college campus a couple years ago who told me that the law here in the U.S. allows for legal elective abortion only up to *eight* weeks (in other words, "before the embryo becomes a fetus"). Believe it or not, but this is a true story.

Coyote said...

But this doesn't mean that one doesn't care about this woman at all. For instance, one might still be politically anti-abortion and support giving government aid to this woman if she genuinely needs it.

Simon Jm said...

The difficulty I've found that the extremes on both sides just aren't consistent on beliefs they already hold and agree with. & rather than look at those inconsistencies they just point fingers at the other side.

Oh and that both sides of the ontological debate also get it wrong IMO which destroys any attempt to find middle ground.

Fusengammu said...

Except that day care, tuition, piano lessons etc. will cost about a million dollars. That's a lot of breast milk to sell... Get pumping!

Michelle Ewing said...

I doubt parents pay 4,600 a month for one child. with free education, I don't see were tuition comes in to play, and were i'm from we have scholarships and vouchers that make extra curricular activities cheep or free. if you are working in my state, child care is $60 if you live in poverty. If you wish to hire a babysitter through the state, they pay the sitter $2.30 an hour, so you'd only have to pay $100 out of pocket to give them a fare wage. food stamps and food banks are more than enough to feed a family of three. and then there is WIC to help with children under 5, and Head Start offering 2 years of preschool for free. Also in my state, aid is uped with the number in the household, so having previous children is no reason for financial justification of abortion.