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Devil's advocate

I have nothing useful to post today, but I thought I’d take on Wulfgar’s rebuttal from the Montana blogosphere abortion debate that wasn’t. I’m still pro-choice, but I’m going to see how well I can make a (moderate) case for the other side. This is the main part of Wulfgar’s comments, minus the first and last paragraphs:

In presuming how the opponents will react, Eric states with no reservation that human life begins at conception. His argument unfolds such that all such life is to be equally valued, with no regard for whether we are discussing a two-celled blastocyte, or, presumably, a twenty-year-old serial killer. I point to the possible occupation of the young person in my example to highlight a glaring flaw in Eric’s blatant appeal to the human emotional attachment we feel to each other; simply put, it is based on our relationships by experience. Indeed, we value our children, born or unborn. This does not apply, apparently, to the children of an enemy we are at war with. Nor do these warm and fuzzy feelings of value apply to the children of another, should that child become a criminal monster to our way of thinking.

Eric, having established (in his mind) that life begins at conception, and that all life must be valued equally, asserts even a further right to the unborn: that all human life “deserves living”. He asserts overtly that the unborn are owed life; and from the process of his argument, that all humans are owed (deserve) life. I don’t need to waste a great deal of exposition explaining how this is ludicrous. US law does not hold that all humans are owed life, and rather asserts that some humans are owed death. The law holds that individual humans have a right to live, given that they pose no threat to another, impede the rights of another, or that their death may further the goals of supporting the earlier statements of security and justice. We legally accept collateral damage; we legally accept capital punishment and we legally accept abortion for these very reasons. We accept these things because they stand to promote the liberty, security and justice for living American citizens.

In order to witness the probable injustice, we must address the facts of biology. Women bear children. God and themselves willing, they carry that life for nine months. That is a medical condition, a fact of biology, and as such must be private between a woman and her doctor. If it is decided that this child is a significant threat to the justice she can legally expect, then she is well within the accepted bounds of US law to ask for the termination of that threat. To suggest that the law would be better by demanding she bear the child to term is an abomination. That suggests that the rights of women are subservient to the rights of the unborn, and as such is a total rejection of accepted American norms and freedoms. Furthermore, it makes a woman a virtual slave to society’s unfair devotion to the unborn.

Wulfgar skirts the issue of where life begins in favor of other arguments. His arguments, however, are flawed. First, Wulfgar is right to say that not all life is considered equal. If you impede on someone else’s freedoms without justification, it is considered just for you to be punished. What we have to decide is whether there is justification for the restriction of a woman’s rights during pregnancy. Wulfgar rejects justification outright, calling restrictions an “abomination.” We sometimes deem it necessary to curtail the rights of someone based on choices they make, however. If you murder someone, you lose freedoms by being put in prison. If you steal something, maybe you’re required to do community service. If you sign a contract, you must follow it or face a penalty. These situations essentially make someone subservient to the rights of another. It would be an abomination if this subservience did not depend on a choice made by the individual and was not in proportion to the consequences of such a choice. The contract situation would essentially become slavery, for example. Now, with regard to becoming pregnant, the woman clearly has a choice, except when raped. This choice is made while fully aware of the consequences of such an action. So this situation fits something like the contract situation; a choice has been made and it entails certain consequences. The question becomes should those consequences (creating and bringing to viability a human being) override certain rights of the mother.

When deciding this question, we have to ask if the unborn’s right (if they have one) to life trumps the freedoms lost by the mother. In general, we hold people accountable for causing the loss of another’s life. We do not hold a person accountable in certain circumstances, including the victims culpability for a certain crime, accidents, and self defense. The unborn on the whole fail to meet any of those qualifications. On some occasions abortion could be considered self-defense, so it is possible to make an exception in cases where the life of the mother is at stake. Abortion is not an accident; miscarriages are accidents. The unborn have not committed any sort of crime for which they need to be held accountable. So, the unborn do not meet any qualification for the loss of their life. Now, the second thing we must decide is if the unborn deserve the same sort of protection as human beings. Human life is generally considered more worthwhile than the life of, say, ants, which we may end with impunity. The question becomes, is an unborn life on par with a human life? From conception, the unborn contain the instructions with which to build complete (and unique) human beings. The unborn are certainly “alive,” as they are at a minimum living cells. Barring extraordinary circumstances, they will develop into people. Those who bring up miscarriage as an objection to potentiality can justify murder in the same manner: it doesn’t matter than I killed him, an accident might’ve killed him later. Birth control is not an objection either, as it terminates pregnancies before the instructions are formed, meaning nothing that could be considered human was destroyed. The unborn have the code that makes us members of the human species and they are alive. They are worthy of the same protections as other human beings.

So, there’s my case. The unborn are clearly human beings, which are afforded a right to life unless certain qualifications are met. These qualifications are not met in an abortion. The person causing the loss of life is held accountable except in a few circumstances, which only occur in a few types of abortion, for which exceptions may be made. The woman has made a choice knowing the consequences of such a choice and in accordance with other situations in our society, must be made to surrender some of her rights as a result or face consequences on par with similar actions. This means prison time on the same level as first degree murder, except when raped or her life is at stake.

I wrote that pretty quickly, so I’m not sure if I’m entirely clear in parts. I think the main thrust is pretty clear, though.

Categories: Social issues
  1. March 14, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    If you are the Devil’s advocate, does that mean I must be one for God? Nevermind …

    Jeff, the bookstore has gone live with a brand new website (forgive me, it’s still as ugly as sin), we’re getting brand new registers and a brand new credit card system in the next 3 weeks, and inventory is coming. Suffice it to say that work is kicking my butt. On top of that, I’m sicker than a dog right now.

    Now that I’ve whined sufficiently, I do want to respond to this and so I will. I just hope you’ll forgive me if I drop the official trappings of formal debate here. After all, without Eric’s argument having been presented, my statement actually stands as the thesis, and yours as a statement and rebuttal. So lets dive in, shall we?

    Actually, I didn’t skirt the issue of when life begins; I conceded the point. I see no inconsistency in my argument if one allows life beginning at birth, 28 weeks, or conception. It simply doesn’t matter against an opponent (as I was) who argues that all life is of equal value. You, however cede my point concerning relative value, so we’re off and running.

    What we have to decide is whether there is justification for the restriction of a woman’s rights during pregnancy. Wulfgar rejects justification outright, calling restrictions an “abomination.”

    This is incorrect. What I stated was a very specific restriction, that she be forced to carry a child to term. But, for the most part, I agree with your statement of what we must decide. You go forward by positing that we make valuations based on the choice of those whom we wish (or have power to) restrict from certain freedoms.

    Now, with regard to becoming pregnant, the woman clearly has a choice, except when raped. This choice is made while fully aware of the consequences of such an action.

    This is flawed reasoning. Leaving aside the issue of rape, a woman can decide when to have sex, and never posit the consequences of poor birth control, the lies of sex partner, or any number of variables that can lead to the woman being pregnant. The only consistent variable is insemination, which can be well outside of a woman’s choice … but never outside of the choices of the man who impregnates her. (Okay, maybe in realy weird circumstances, but lets stick to the norm, shall we?) More on this later. Yet, regardless of a woman’s choice, be the act rape, failed birth control, or just dumb luck, the pregnancy lies with the woman. In that, there is no choice.

    So, the unborn do not meet any qualification for the loss of their life.

    Point conceded, only that you add one word: The unborn do not meet any qualification deserving for the loss of their life.

    Barring extraordinary circumstances, they will develop into people. Those who bring up miscarriage as an objection to potentiality can justify murder in the same manner: it doesn’t matter than I killed him, an accident might’ve killed him later.

    I have to smile at this a little, because you know as well as I that science stands against you. The vast majority of human embrionic tissue gets flushed or garbaged. It is not under extraordinary circumstances that potentials become human, but rather under extraordinary circumstances that they do. And we, as living human animals, all too frequently justify murder in this manner: They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, collateral damage, they might have become a terrorist or killed more people. What you are arguing is that “potentials” shouldn’t carry the same weight of value as living human beings, but that human potential shouldn’t be a factor in ascribing value. That doesn’t quite work.

    By your argument, we can not have laws that adjudicate the rights of “potentials”, and yet we do. By your argument, women make the choice to become pregnant, and as is quite obvious, sometimes they don’t. Why should there be an exception for things such as rape? Admittedly, the woman didn’t choose pregnancy, but the potential child is no less than the potential of a blastocyte carried by a loving mother. What you have argued has led you to a contradiction: that potentials do not matter, and yet they do concerning human lives based on the external moral judgement of the mother. This is inconsistent, and would make poor law.

    Furthermore, the only objective factor of choice as regards a pregnancy, lies with the father, not the mother. A woman on the pill obviouly chose not to get pregnant. A man who spills his semen in her obviously either doesn’t care or shares her confidence. She, by taking the pill, made a choice not to get pregnant. He is of questionable motive. And that’s really what it boils down to, isn’t it? Questioning motives. Your argument relies on it. A woman chooses to have sex and must face the consequences to her person because of it. A man chooses to have sex and then walks away until he is tagged for child support (if he chooses to pay it). THe consequenses are unfair and injust. I remind you that you wrote:

    These situations essentially make someone subservient to the rights of another. It would be an abomination if this subservience did not depend on a choice made by the individual and was not in proportion to the consequences of such a choice.

    Is this not obviously the case of women being made subservient to the rights of men, that their consequence be so out of line with those of the father? Of course it is. That the rights of women be defended, there is only one choice. Women should be allowed control over their own physical condition (pregnancy). If they wish to terminate, it is their choice; a hard one, to be sure. But taking that choice away from them is pandering to a contradictory moral view, and elevating the rights of men above what they should be.

  2. March 14, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    Actually, I didn’t skirt the issue of when life begins; I conceded the point. I see no inconsistency in my argument if one allows life beginning at birth, 28 weeks, or conception. It simply doesn’t matter against an opponent (as I was) who argues that all life is of equal value. You, however cede my point concerning relative value, so we’re off and running.

    That’s bizarre. I guess I’d have to see his argument, but why anyone would argue that is beyond me.

    This is flawed reasoning. Leaving aside the issue of rape, a woman can decide when to have sex, and never posit the consequences of poor birth control, the lies of sex partner, or any number of variables that can lead to the woman being pregnant. The only consistent variable is insemination, which can be well outside of a woman’s choice … but never outside of the choices of the man who impregnates her. (Okay, maybe in realy weird circumstances, but lets stick to the norm, shall we?) More on this later. Yet, regardless of a woman’s choice, be the act rape, failed birth control, or just dumb luck, the pregnancy lies with the woman. In that, there is no choice.

    I don’t think any of that is relevent. The woman has chosen an action that can entail certain consequences. If she doesn’t choose to engage in that act, she won’t become pregnant (except for rape, obviously).

    I have to smile at this a little, because you know as well as I that science stands against you. The vast majority of human embrionic tissue gets flushed or garbaged. It is not under extraordinary circumstances that potentials become human, but rather under extraordinary circumstances that they do. And we, as living human animals, all too frequently justify murder in this manner: They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, collateral damage, they might have become a terrorist or killed more people. What you are arguing is that “potentials” shouldn’t carry the same weight of value as living human beings, but that human potential shouldn’t be a factor in ascribing value. That doesn’t quite work.

    Well, actually I’m not so sure about that first part. I don’t care about potentials prior to the creation of a unique genetic code, as I pointed out. I honestly don’t know what the statistics are on survival after that point, but that’s what matters.

    By your argument, we can not have laws that adjudicate the rights of “potentials”, and yet we do. By your argument, women make the choice to become pregnant, and as is quite obvious, sometimes they don’t. Why should there be an exception for things such as rape? Admittedly, the woman didn’t choose pregnancy, but the potential child is no less than the potential of a blastocyte carried by a loving mother. What you have argued has led you to a contradiction: that potentials do not matter, and yet they do concerning human lives based on the external moral judgement of the mother. This is inconsistent, and would make poor law.

    I don’t understand your point here. A discussion of how to value “potentials” seems irrelevent. My argument is that the unborn are human beings and worthy of the same protections as everyone else. It’s not that they will become the same as us and because of that they’re worthy of protection, it’s that they are worthy of protection period. Rape is a more difficult question than I made it out to be, as the woman has done nothing that could possibly justify the loss of her rights and the human life has done nothing to deserve being terminated. On second thought, you would probably have to say there is no exception. In any case, it’s a side matter.

    Is this not obviously the case of women being made subservient to the rights of men, that their consequence be so out of line with those of the father? Of course it is. That the rights of women be defended, there is only one choice. Women should be allowed control over their own physical condition (pregnancy). If they wish to terminate, it is their choice; a hard one, to be sure. But taking that choice away from them is pandering to a contradictory moral view, and elevating the rights of men above what they should be.

    You’re saying that men have it easier here, with which I agree. It’s a fact of biology that we can’t change. You’re saying that because the consequences of sex fall more on the woman than the man we must try to balance things. This balance, however, has consequences for another life that has done nothing to deserve them.

    She, by taking the pill, made a choice not to get pregnant.

    No, she hasn’t. She’s essentially said she doesn’t want to get pregnant. By having sex on the pill she’s decided that the risk of getting pregnant is small enough that the benefits of sex outweighs them. She’s still chosen an activity that has known possible consequences. Think of it like a game of Russian roulette. If you point a gun at someone with 1 out of 6 possible bullets and pull the trigger, nothing will probably happen. However, you might kill or seriously injure the other person. In that case, you are held responsible, whether you wanted to kill or injure the other person or not. You made a choice. Maybe someone else loaded the gun for you, but it’s still your fault, as you pulled the trigger. Claiming it’s unfair because someone else loaded the gun and spun the whatever (my gun knowledge is terrible; I assume you know what part of a revolver I mean) doesn’t help your case.

    Hope you get better soon!

  3. March 15, 2006 at 5:23 pm

    Jeff, I feel rather incompetant in responding right now, and certainly feel that this would be a better discussion over beer than on a website, but there is one important point I feel I must adress:

    I don’t understand your point here. A discussion of how to value “potentials” seems irrelevent. My argument is that the unborn are human beings and worthy of the same protections as everyone else. It’s not that they will become the same as us and because of that they’re worthy of protection, it’s that they are worthy of protection period. Rape is a more difficult question than I made it out to be, as the woman has done nothing that could possibly justify the loss of her rights and the human life has done nothing to deserve being terminated. On second thought, you would probably have to say there is no exception. In any case, it’s a side matter.

    This is anything but a side matter, and actually rather relevant to my entire argument (it’s possible that we are having difficulty because my original argument was a statement and rebuttal to an argument outside of our discussion, and yet it’s pertanant as the source for your statement/rebuttal. Confusing, yes?)

    Take a look at the part of your statement I have bolded. It is absolute. As I’ve argued, some life is not as worthy of protection as other life, based on the threat it poses to the expectations of liberty for the threatened party. I don’t think there’s any inconsistency at all in positing that a womb baby (gotta love the fundies for their terms) poses such a threat to the liberty of an unwilling mother. The law, as accepted, currently does not support an absolute view of who’s rights have premicy in this conflict. As I’ve argued, the societal acceptance is that the medical rights of the mother during pregnancy to control her condition outway the rights of society to dictate control of that condition to defend an unknown potential, the baby. In order to change this societal acceptance, there must be a compelling reason or comparative advantage to promoting the baby’s rights over the mother’s. You attempt to establish this with discussion of sexual choice, but that only leads to the contradiction that consequence of choice affects the woman and not the man (regardless of the will behind the choice). This is inconsistant, and makes for poor law, (and though I won’t argue it here, is rather un-constitutional).

    You rather subtly insert a moral view that has no justifcation; that woman are subserviant to the objective views of society by their sexual choices. In some respects we all are. Sleeping with 13 year olds is a horror. But getting pregnant against the woman’s or husband’s will, while married, should not entail a societal dictate that a womb-baby trumps the rights of either party, especially the party forced to carry the baby to term. There is no accepted objective morality that dictates this thing. If you wish to argue for such, then you need to be explicit about it such that you not face a contrary example as I have brought up here.

    Furthermore, you argue that external views of supposedly objective societal dictates trump motivation as evidence that woman are culpable in pregnancy. These views also carry no established moral weight, but are actually very subjective to the case at hand. You write:

    She’s still chosen an activity that has known possible consequences.

    All activity has known and unknown possible consequences. But, because of the absolutist nature of your position (an integral plank in your argument) you remove the idea of consequence from the choice of the individual and place choice in the realm of public opinion, or higher moral law. Which is it? Driving is a choice. Driving poorly is subjective. Driving drunk is against agreed upon legal statute. There can be consequences to all three, the adjudication of any of which defy objective statute and rather rely on subjective perceptions outside the circumstances of the perceived offense. Establishing an absolute dictate concerning pregnancy defies, even further, commonly accepted American beliefs. If that is the view, rape should be held to the same standard as consesual sex between married partners, and the woman should bear the brunt of consequence, simply because society has established a psuedo-moral standard whereby the rights of the potential human are given premicy over the rights of the vessel.

    I know that you and I ultimately agree on this issue, and I really know that I haven’t expounded as much as I would need to to carry this argument. I do appreciate your (devil’s) advocacy, and I’m sorry that the timing of such a discussion really sucks for me. Be well, Jeff.

  4. March 15, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    I think I’m confused because I always get confused in these sort of debates. My response essentially ignored whatever argument Eric put forth for my own ideas, which may not be that fair and probably is confusing to boot.

    I’m starting to think my argument about sexual choice has sidetracked us a little bit. The argument I’ve been advancing (at least, this is the argument that’s in my head) goes like:

    1. The unborn are human beings.
    2. The unborn are innocent (they don’t fit any of the circumstances I listed earlier, that is).
    Therefore, abortion is murder.

    If someone objects (as you have) by saying it makes the woman subservient to the fetus, then I would say the woman chose to have sex, knowing the possible consequences, and the right to life generally trumps other rights of other people, so it’s fair.

    Maybe it just sidetracked me, but it seems useful to lay that out. Choice is only needed if a certain objection is brought up.

    I also want to say, I still don’t understand your hangup on the fact that the man doesn’t face the same level of consequences as the woman. I’m all for forcing the father to support the mother during pregnancy. But it seems pointless to demand full equality seeing as there’s obviously a biological barrier here.

    Finally, if I’m understanding you correctly (and it’s entirely possible that I’m not), you’re bringing up a problem that was in the back of my mind as a problem for my argument, the relationship between morality and law. I don’t have any idea how to answer it.

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