Chao-chou’s Dog Has Puppies

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abortion, big picture stuff, Religion

I see that Lance Mannion has taken up the question of when “life” begins. I see that Shakespeare’s Sister mostly agrees with Lance; Jedmunds of Pandagon mostly doesn’t.

Now I want to confuse everyone by arguing that “when life begins” is the wrong question. It’s the wrong question because life doesn’t begin. Or, at least, it hasn’t begun on this planet in a very long time. However life got to Earth — between 3 and 4 billion years ago, I believe — once it established it hasn’t been observed to “begin” again. It just continues, expressing itself in countless forms. The forms come and go — in a sense — but not life itself.

It will be argued that fertilization marks the beginning of a unique individual and is, therefore, a significant moment in the life process — the point when a life begins. But let’s say a couple of weeks later the egg divides into twins or triplets. Did those individuals’ lives begin with the conception? Or, since they didn’t exist as individuals at conception, is the cell division something like an existential reboot?

Further, in the grand scheme of things, is any one moment really separable from all the other moments, the couplings, the countless episodes of cell mitosis going back to the first stromatolites and microbes and macromolecules to the beginning, which is beginningless as far as I know, considering that a stray enzyme at any point over billions of years would have resulted in you being a lungfish?

I don’t have an answer to that. I’m just sayin’ “beginnings” are way overrated.

The real question, seems to me, is when does an individual begin? Is there a clear, bright moment at which we can all agree, “yep, that’s Fred,” and be done with it?

Some argue that the product of pregnancy is a unique individual from conception because its DNA is different from its mother’s. But if unique DNA combinations are what make a unique individual, you’d have to conclude that the twins from the third paragraph are the same person, divided. And if we give you a transplanted heart, lung, and kidney, each with unique DNA combinations from their respective donors, does that make you four different people?

I don’t think science can help us with this one, people. Indeed, if you step back and look at human civilization throughout space and time, you might notice that “person” is a social construct that has been constructed in very different ways by different societies. At various times only men, or only people of a certain skin color, or only people from our tribe, or only people of a particular caste or class, were considered “persons.” We may think we have reached maximum enlightenment by considering all human beings “persons” (assuming we all do, which I question), but it’s possible our distant descendants will expand “person” to include, say, other primates, whales, dolphins, and border collies. You never know.

The argument made by many opponents to legal abortion is that the product of pregnancy is human life, and human life is sacred; therefore, it must be protected. There’s no question that a living human embryo is both alive and human, but when you call it “sacred” you’re throwing a religious concept into the mix. And the great religions of the world do not at all agree on the question of when (or even whether) “human life” becomes “sacred.” Some say at conception, some say at “quickening,” some say at viability, some say at birth. And some will tell you that everything and nothing are equally sacred, so stop asking stupid questions.

The reason we’re even having this discussion is to settle the question of abortion as a matter of law. But as a legal matter, the question of when humans are allowed to take the lives of other humans rarely has absolutist answers. Some kind of regulation about who can kill whom is necessary for civilization, since we can’t very comfortably live together in communities without some assurance our neighbors won’t throttle us in our sleep. But there are always loopholes. Through history, in many societies (even Christian ones), a noble could kill a peasant or slave without penalty. Today governments can order wars or impose a death penalty, and legally that’s not murder.

I tend to get impatient with people who argue that laws are based on morality, and abortion is immoral, therefore it ought to be illegal. As I said in the last paragraph, there are some laws essential to human civilization. These laws regulate who can kill whom and who can own what. They make commerce possible by imposing penalties for fraud. They make complex human enterprises possible by enforcing contracts. Exactly how law has regulated these matters has changed considerably over time; the important point is that, within a given society, there are basic rules everyone is supposed to agree to so that society can function.

The realm of morality, however, is separate from the realm of legality. There are all manner of things that we might consider immoral that are not, in fact, illegal; adultery is a good example. Such acts may have harmful personal consequences, but regulating them isn’t necessary to civilization. And I don’t see what’s immoral about, say, misjudging how many coins you should put in the parking meter. That’s why I tend to see the legal versus moral question on a Venn diagram. The diagram here isn’t entirely accurate since the blue area should be bigger — law and morality intersect more often than they don’t. I’m just saying that answering the moral question of abortion (assuming we ever will) does not tell us whether an act should be legal or not. In fact, since abortion is legal (with varying restrictions) in most democratic nations today with no discernible damage to civilization itself, I’d say the abortion question falls outside the blue area of the diagram.

On the question of morality I disagree a lot with Ezra Klein when he says “confused polling on abortion is evidence that Americans have confused views on abortion.” I think people are not so much confused as limited. Our conceptions of life or humanity or individuality or the self are to a large extent conditioned into us by our culture. It’s very hard to step outside of our conditioning and take a broader view. We’re all blind men feeling an elephant — our ideas about what an elephant is depend on what particular part we happen to be feeling (an elephant is like a a tree trunk? a wall? a fan?). Following this metaphor, there are all manner of people in America today who do not feel confused at all about that elephant. They’ve got hold of its trunk, and they are certain it’s just like a snake. End of argument.

If anything, most people aren’t confused enough.

Our notions of where a fetus fits on the morality scale depend very much on the angle from which we view the question. A fetus is human. But humans are sentient, and a fetus is (so science tells us) insentient. A fetus is like a parasite, or a lower life form. A fetus is God. A fetus is a baby. A fetus is not a baby. A fetus is a potential baby. A fetus is sacred. Nothing is sacred. Everything is sacred.

How about, All of the above?

In case you’re wondering, from a Buddhist perspective it might be argued that since a “person” is an aggregate of the five skandhas (form, sensation, perception, discrimination, consciousness) and an embryo or fetus has only form, it’s not a person. On the other hand, Buddhism teaches that each of us is all of us, throughout space and time. The cells of whatever is conceived contain all life forms, from the beginningless beginning to the endless end, perfect and complete. Interfering with life’s attempts to express itself is a serious matter.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with individuals who have to make hard choices. Struggling with hard choices is a distinctively human activity. I think it’s something we need to do to be fully human. It helps us wake up. The decisions we make may be less important than the fact that we can make decisions.

I have written in the past (such as here) why I think abortion should be legal, at least until the fetus is viable. My opinion is based mostly on the effects of abortion law in the lives of women. You might notice I don’t spin my wheels much over the question of morality, since I’ve come to see that morality depends on the state of mind in which one acts as much as the act itself. People do “good” things for selfish reasons, and “bad” things for altruistic reasons. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

So, I say, ambiguity is good for you; don’t be afraid of it. Go forth and be human and work it out for yourselves.

[Note: The title of the post refers to the first koan of The Mumonkon. If it doesn't make any sense to you, that's OK.]

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118 Comments

106 Comments

  1. emel  •  Feb 25, 2006 @12:01 pm

    I happen to be in an ethics class( yes I’m a little old for this but another degree would help) and it is all men and 2 women (older people getting certified.). I had to do a presentation on an ethical issue and chose emergency contraception. From the questions asked- I ‘ve decided that your average 30-50 year old man does not know enough about the basic biology of this to even make a decision much less be passing laws. Their ignorance is dangerous. Levonorgestrel, by the way, acts to inhibit ovulation therefore there is no ethical problem ie no abortion.

  2. maha  •  Feb 25, 2006 @12:07 pm

    I ‘ve decided that your average 30-50 year old man does not know enough about the basic biology of this to even make a decision much less be passing laws.

    If they could get pregnant they’d probably get interested enough to learn, huh?

  3. samiam  •  Feb 25, 2006 @12:54 pm

    With all the medical research we are capable of in this day and age, it’s interesting how little we seem to focus on (or hear about) this basic, age-old question, isn’t it?

  4. ken melvin  •  Feb 25, 2006 @1:11 pm

    Outstanding!

  5. Steve Nichols  •  Feb 25, 2006 @1:50 pm

    What were the laws regarding abortion during the the time the Framers were drafting the Constitution? Both here and in Europe? And what rights were given children, much less fetuses?

    Law and morality is an interesting issue. A lot of Anglo-American civil law does not reflect moral concerns, but rather seeks to provide an adequate remedy for a damage suffered. While tort remedies do include punitive damage awards, their purpose is to deter similar behavior by other tortfeasors which is not deemed in the public interest. Contract remedies are strictly for loss resulting from the breach of contract.

    Criminal law is where morality tends to creep in; the drug laws which are criminalizing black males are driven in part by a puritan morality (Wonder who benefits by having large numbers of black males in the criminal justice system on drug charges?).

  6. Steve Nichols  •  Feb 25, 2006 @1:53 pm

    Yes, if men could get pregnant, we’d know a lot more about the process. If white people were black, there’d be a lot less complaining about affirmative action. And if women were men, they’d cut us a little slack on our vast swaths of ignorance.

  7. Steve Nichols  •  Feb 25, 2006 @1:57 pm

    Will they make it illegal for a woman impregnated in one state to go have an abortion in a place where it is legal?

    It seems like a natural extension of their logic. The father has rights in the child as well.

    Is that what they are going to do?

  8. maha  •  Feb 25, 2006 @2:04 pm

    What were the laws regarding abortion during the the time the Framers were drafting the Constitution? Both here and in Europe?

    English common law didn’t criminalize abortion until “quckening,” or the point mid-pregnancy when the infant is felt to be kicking. I believe that was pretty common in Europe. In the U.S. abortion didn’t become illegal in the states until the late 19th century.

  9. maha  •  Feb 25, 2006 @2:05 pm

    Will they make it illegal for a woman impregnated in one state to go have an abortion in a place where it is legal?

    I believe some state legislatures already have such bills written up, if not enacted.

  10. sb  •  Feb 25, 2006 @2:22 pm

    Will those opposing abortion fight just as hard to support unwed mothers? I haven’t seen that in the past. To me, it is just another way to separate the classes. The wealthy will go to another state or country if they they want an abortion. The poor will have to suffer. I have an elderly aunt who has always loved children.
    She always wanted children, but found herself single and pregnant back in the 40s. She went to some kitchen table somewhere
    and then almost died from the home remedy. The complications from that abortion made it so she could never have children.
    I don’t want that for my children. I don’t want some old geezer deciding what they can or can’t do either. If they want to reduce abortions, they should support laws pro people having children.
    They can get busy and help unwed mothers. I believe in separation of church and state.

  11. Steve Nichols  •  Feb 25, 2006 @2:56 pm

    It Didn’t Work

    William F. Buckley at National Review, less than a year after Rich Lowry’s cover article “We’re Winning.”

    Too delicious not to pass around.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/buckley/buckley200602241451.asp

  12. Steve Nichols  •  Feb 25, 2006 @3:01 pm

    If the penalty for killing a fetus is less than the penalty for killing a child, that implies that a fetus is somehow less than a child in the eyes of the law.

    Either a fetus has the full rights of a human being or it doesn’t.

    South Dakota has the death penalty, and since we are talking about a conspiracy to commit murder, I think a 5 year sentence for the doctor doesn’t make any sense.

    If two people conspire to kill a child, that is murder, usually considered heinous, and often results in capital punishment.

    I think we should urge the South Dakota legislature to include death penalty provisions for any woman and any doctor who conspire to kill a fetus.

  13. Bonnie  •  Feb 25, 2006 @4:07 pm

    My history isn’t very good; but, I recollect that during the framers’ time, the wife and children were considered property of the husband. Not sure what that does to the argument. It seems that the efforts to make abortion illegal have reminiscences of this property idea. I still believe that if abortion is made illegal, then ALL parties should be held criminally liable, which includes the father–not just the woman and the doctor.

  14. linnen  •  Feb 25, 2006 @4:32 pm

    A related ethical question is ‘What is a Clone?” (As I have not taken Ethics, it could be related only in my imagination.)

    Is a clone a person or is it property? If property, is the property of the person being cloned or that of the person requesting the procedure? Is a clone the sibling or the child of the person cloned? What is the difference between a clone and a twin? If a clone is made without permission, is this rape, property theft (of DNA at the least), or copyright infringement?

    Plenty of late-night B.S. sessions here.

  15. erinyes  •  Feb 25, 2006 @4:41 pm

    Great post Barbara.
    The very sad truth is that regardless of the major problems facing our nation, the abortion issue may well determine the outcome of the next presidential election.I make it a point to watch religious programs on the tube, and most of the preachers place abortion alongside murder.

  16. erinyes  •  Feb 25, 2006 @5:10 pm

    OT, but a great read, http://commondreams.org/views06/0225-29,html
    Pratrap Chatterjee explains the Dubai Ports connection.
    I feel so dirty now….

  17. ken melvin  •  Feb 25, 2006 @5:32 pm

    There’s a reason only 750,000 live in SD. Many who settled the prairie states were a little shall we say strange but strange was good if you lived in a sod hut miles from anyone. Get in to some hella conversations with people from the mountains and prairies after they been out there along time alone if you like that sort of thing. If not, there are diner/greasyspoons best avoided.

  18. ken melvin  •  Feb 25, 2006 @5:54 pm

    I don’t post that often on abortion but some may find some of this worth reading:

    “No one wants to have an abortion. Every woman should have the right to have an abortion. No one else should count. Pro-choicers are no where near as bad as those who insist on imposing their ‘morals’ on others. Laws, perforce, need be based on those things we the people agree on. There is reason for concern if there are too many having abortions. If it becomes apparent that there are too many abortions within a group the reason should be ascertained and solution for the underlying problem sought. Bit like poverty. The thing that causes poverty is lack of jobs but too many want to blame the poor and many would no doubt like to make being poor a crime. Too many trying to affix blame to the individual when too often the individual is the victim. Most women can at least envision themselves in a position where they might need to have an abortion. It’s the males pontificating about abortion that piss me and JC off.

    How does it come to be that a bunch of men come here to discuss abortion (some seem to have brought their own god with them), a subject that is manifestly none of their business but rather one that should be decided solely by women? Surely, each’s the first to: change a diaper , get up at night, comfort the sick child, read a bedtime story and play with the children; support assistance that ensures proper nutrition and healthcare for needy children; counseling for troubled and the less competent parent(s), and for headstart programs; be most knowledgeable of human reproduction and the female reproductive system including the role of the menstrual cycle; encourage each of his daughters toward limitless horizons and insist they be giving equal opportunity. And, when Publius pens the piece on unwanted children, he’ll be first to demand that all steps be taken to provide a secure loving environment that ensures each and every such child equal opportunity.

    The unborn is part and parcel the mother. All decisions pertaining thereto, too, part and parcel the mother.

    Propagation of the species, for humans, perforce entails successfully rearing an offspring to reproductive age und so weite. So for each generation, the mother has far far more to do with this than the offspring. For humans, propagation of the species is not currently a problem, but for say polar bears, now that’s a different matter. For the propagation of polar bears which the more important, the mother or the cub?

  19. Britwit  •  Feb 25, 2006 @6:13 pm

    For those who do believe that life begins with conception and I don’t include myself in that group, I ask this question:

    If a woman suffers a miscarriage, do they feel that a death certificate should be issued?

    Also, I don’t know the details of the South Dakota bill to ban abortion statewide, but from what I’ve read, it allows an abortion only to save a woman’s life. I wonder how this will be determined. What about the woman’s mental health, especially if she has been raped or the victim of incest?

  20. ken melvin  •  Feb 25, 2006 @7:01 pm

    Are those who rape and commit incest important to the survival of the species?

  21. maha  •  Feb 25, 2006 @7:29 pm

    Are those who rape and commit incest important to the survival of the species?

    Not OUR species. Whooping cranes, maybe.

  22. joanr16  •  Feb 25, 2006 @7:37 pm

    I read Lance Mannion’s post yesterday and I was a little dismayed with some of it. No, I do not think men should be required (by law, I assume) have a say in whether the woman they impregnated can have an abortion, because the law cannot guarantee a fair, honest and equitable relationship between a man and a woman. Good luck. Yes, I do think it is an attempt to “shame” a woman to insist to her that she is killing her child, and that no one has the right to shame stranger in that matter, for this essential reason: ABORTION IS A RELIGIOUS ISSUE.

    Whether or not the fetus is a person, and whether or not Lance Mannion, maha, I, or the wooden-headed governor of South Dakota think it is or isn’t, is a matter of personal spiritual belief. Should we agree that it’s OK to “shame” a stranger for having spiritual beliefs that differ from ours? I was saddened to see that Lance apparently thinks so. That’s Michelle Malkin territory. But then, I think Lance was missing the point, which maha once again nails perfectly, here.

  23. All Man  •  Feb 25, 2006 @7:39 pm

    If “religious” people are going to support the obcenity of war without attenuating their so called religious beliefs, they gotta feel good about something.

    Between the right of men to kill anyone they please on the battlefield, and the right of women to control their own bodies,
    it’s clear which of the two the majority of the worlds religions choose, time after time.

    The worlds preeminent religious mantra: Our enemies bleed, our women breed.

  24. Britwit  •  Feb 25, 2006 @7:50 pm

    If the woman is not permitted to have an abortion in the case of rape, would the rapist be allowed “parental rights” once he is released from prison? Could he demand that the child be brought to prison to visit him? Could the rapist’s parents demand grandparent rights?

    How many woman in S. Dakota were involved in the authorship of the bill to ban abortions?

  25. RT  •  Feb 25, 2006 @8:01 pm

    Good post, Barbara. Thanks, first of all, for ditching the “when does life begin” meme that is the intellectual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. And thanks for going in interesting directions from there. Like you say, the question is about personhood, not life; life is continuous. Live egg, live sperm, live fertilized egg.

    The only thing I can think of to add is: without brains, we aren’t people. This is meant in the literal sense – scoop the brains out of my head, and all that’s left of ‘me’ is a body, a body no longer inhabited by a person.

    So it goes without saying that the fertilized egg, the embryo, the early-stage fetus before the brain forms is unambiguously not a person. Maybe that only covers the first six weeks or so after conception, but if they wind up getting abortions banned and we have to start back from zero, ISTM that this is where we start: by saying that there should be an absolute right to abortion during those first weeks, on exactly those grounds.

  26. Dan  •  Feb 25, 2006 @8:19 pm

    What I find interesting in the question of when does life begin/abortion is the question of when does it end. The Terry Shrivo(sp?) process was the playing out of this other end of the issue. To allow Terry to die (cease to have the chemical reactions of life) was to acknowledge that there is something more to life than just a body producing and consuming energy. Once you accept that, then life does not begin at the moment of conception.

    I also wonder how much of the various thinking we have today about life (animal rights included) are the result of moving from an agricultural society where one killed life for food to one of industrial where we are removed from the killing for food.

  27. Mrs. Robinson  •  Feb 25, 2006 @8:49 pm

    Dan, I think that last paragraph of yours is an important window onto a huge aspect of this.

    Seventy-five years ago, my ancestors — mostly Hoosier farmers — made life-and-death decisions literally every day. Wringing a chicken’s neck for dinner. Butchering pigs. Putting down the runt puppy. Sexing the cockerels out of the nests. Taking a foundering horse out of its misery. Hunting varmint raccoons and tanning their pelts for sale. Bringing home a choice buck in the fall for your winter meat.

    This daily acquaintance with death made them very comfortable with their own authority to make decisions about what lives, and what dies. I have no doubt that if abortion had been available, they might have viewed it in a similar light. You don’t bring more kids into the world than you can feed. God makes a lot of life; but it doesn’t all deserve to be nurtured to adulthood. And we, as humans, are empowered to do some of that choosing — because our own survival depends on it.

    When we lost that intimate connection with our food supply, we lost that sense of authority — as well as our confidence in the ability to make those choices responsibly (which my great-grandparents also took careful pride in). The abortion debate rages now because some people don’t trust other people to make the kinds of life-and-death choices Americans once made almost instinctively.

  28. CarrieICL  •  Feb 25, 2006 @9:02 pm

    What a wonderful article. Deeply insightful.

  29. Stephanie  •  Feb 25, 2006 @9:22 pm

    Britwit asked, “If a woman suffers a miscarriage, do they feel that a death certificate should be issued?”

    Well, I had a stillbirth in NYC and because he never “lived” we received neither a birth certificate, nor a death certificate either.

    And on a creepier note, I had a friend who had a baby very prematurely (with a severe birth defect), who because the baby lived for 15 minutes outside the uterus received a child tax credit.

    In my instance, we did not.

    Isn’t that creepy and indicative all at the same time.

    The truth is that one in three pregnancy ends not in a live child, either through early or late miscarraige, stillbirth or a nonviable child.

    Nothing the law will dictate can change this fact of life.

    Only when we all wake up and acknowledge the truth about this fact will we stop thinking we can dictate life and death.

    Lastly, I have two daughters and am pregnant as I write. When I first found out I was pregnant this time, I just couldn’t have an abortion, my stillbirth changed how I feel about pregnancy for me.

    But let me be clear, for all people to be free, women must have the right to choose: to continue or to end a pregnancy.

    This move to criminalize abortion in South Dakota is a terrible thing.

  30. God of Biscuits  •  Feb 25, 2006 @9:45 pm

    Extraordinarily well written. There’s a lot of biology going on, some of which I cover in a blog entry of mine.

    I found the word “ensoulment” to be a useful one when separating out the religious viewpoint from the biological one—and in order to be consistent, apparently the soul requires a hollow center in which to take up a permament residence.

    I am male. I will never ever be presented with a situation that some women must face. I don’t like the idea of abortion, personally, and that is exactly why I will always support a woman’s right to choose.

    Stephanie…it’s thoughtfulness and gravitas like yours that makes me feel better about the world in general. Thank you for sharing that.

  31. erinyes  •  Feb 25, 2006 @10:09 pm

    Kudos Barbara! Your Blog has truly blossomed…….You have the company of some special people.

  32. Viking  •  Feb 25, 2006 @10:32 pm

    Bill Maher says life begins when you fuck someone.

  33. Shelley  •  Feb 25, 2006 @11:06 pm

    I’ve always thought it along the lines of bizarre that a person could, on the one hand, say it was ok to go to war and kill strangers who you don’t even know or to sentence a criminal to death out of revenge but when a woman is unable or unwilling to become a mother for what ever reason she may have, they draw the line and call this a moral sin… Murder. Killin is killin folks and revenge is the basest of emotions. Yet we have legalized it in America and cling to it with a tenacity only found in psychopaths. We are the only civilized nation left on the planet that still uses the death penalty. We’re up their with Saudie Arabia and Iran on this one. War? The whole concept of killing men, women and children you don’t even know for some grand ideal. What ideal could be so great that it would call for the murder of strangers? This concept is even more bizarre than killing for revenge. What, killing strangers is ok as long as I’m imposing my beliefs or my system of government on them?

  34. joanr16  •  Feb 25, 2006 @11:27 pm

    Britwit, in answer to some of the questions you posed in comment #24, the main sponsor of South Dakota’s abortion ban was state senator Julie Bartling. A Democrat, no less. Women are often the (nominal) heads of, or spokespersons for, anti-abortion groups in the U.S. Christian fundinazis come in both genders, you know.

    It has already happened in the U.S. that rapists have tried to claim paternity rights over the offspring of their crimes. I don’t know that any such rights have ever been granted, but I would say that that level of insanity can’t be far off.

  35. Swami  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:11 am

    I can’t make heads or tails out of the first koan…But I find as I grow older I’m re-examining the basis for many of my moral values and can see that i’ve carried through life a lot of unnecessary religious guilt and social pressure imposed upon me by other’s values. One challenging work in the re-examing process was John Stuart Mill’s essay on Liberty. He points out that our freedom in expression is bound by a social pressure where the exchange of ideas is limited by the acceptance of a morality held by the overwheming majority. Meaning that to question your own morality openly becomes taboo if it is contrary to the accepted norm. For instance, take the issue of polygamy and try to engage in a meaningful dialog to seek understanding, and you will invaribly encounter an unreasoned arguement in opposition based on morality as opposed to reason. Much like the abortion issue.
    I quess my point is that like the barrier in the first koan the object is to overcome that force that holds us back from true freedom in knowing who we are and to see that sometimes morality without understanding can be a form of slavery.

  36. Swami  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:16 am

    If Onanism becomes federal crime…I’ll be looking at a death penalty.

  37. Stephanie  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:29 am

    #30 God of Biscuits…

    You’re welcome.

  38. Doug Wiken  •  Feb 26, 2006 @3:12 am

    I have no clue what Julie Bartling is doing on this issue. She is in the district adjacent to ours and with court ordered redistricting may be in ours in the coming election. I don’t think she or the other Democrats who voted for the bill had a whole lot to do with design or motivation, but I may be mistaken. This bill is Roger Hunt’s baby and it is a baby born with a silver spoon in its mouth. Some of the Democrats voted for it because they are Catholics before they are Democrats. The distinction made at this blog is something they have apparently been unable to grasp. We in South Dakota have had the “abortion is immoral” idea hammered into us for years. The media and the schools are quite conservative..

    And, I “borrowed” the Venn diagrams and a couple paragraphs for Dakota Today. Thanks.
    .

  39. bartman  •  Feb 26, 2006 @3:22 am

    A couple of points about science/biology:

    You state that “humans are sentient, and a fetus is (so science tells us) insentient.” I’m not aware that science has even done a particularly stellar job of defining what sentience IS, much less whether a fetus is or is not sentient.

    One other point about people who equate DNA to identity: Many people do NOT have a single genetic profile which is identical in all of their cells. (Certainly, to some degree NONE of us do, because some cells don’t have DNA at all.) In cases of mosaicism, individuals have a mix of two (or more) genetic types. If unique DNA is the definition of a “new life,” then these people should be considered to be “thourougly mixed” twins, even though mosaicism is generally only detectable through genetic testing….

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001317.htm

  40. reader009  •  Feb 26, 2006 @5:41 am

    The title of the post makes no sense to me. But that’s OK.

  41. reader007  •  Feb 26, 2006 @5:42 am

    I enjoyed the refreshing pespective. Reminds me of my ethics and philosophy books. They always present so many interesting viewpoints until you realize they are worthless to you. And you are left, happily, with your own decisions. That is how you know true wisdom. You find you don’t need it, that it refers you back to yourself, and provides no Musts.

  42. maha  •  Feb 26, 2006 @6:38 am

    And you are left, happily, with your own decisions.

    I understand that social psychological studies of conservatives find they tend to have “ambiguity” issues — e.g., intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, need for cognitive closure. So when they go about trying to make everyone else follow their moral rules they are acting out their own neuroses.

  43. maha  •  Feb 26, 2006 @6:42 am

    The title of the post makes no sense to me. But that’s OK.

    It’s really a bad title; something like a Zen in-joke.

  44. MBK  •  Feb 26, 2006 @7:52 am

    Comming out of lurk

    Why is it the woman is the “evil do-er” when there is a pregnancy, wanted or not?

    Beside the biological arguements, it is the woman who is blamed, it is the woman who society hoists the raising, it is the woman who is “loose, a whore, etc,” it is the woman who is the butt of jokes and repulsion.

    If, and that is a big IF, the law was changed to include rape and incest, that will not be any great favor. OK, rape/incest? Prove it! No abortion will be allowed unless rape or incest can not be proven. Rape/incest will be proved only over time, probably several months. Which will put the pregnancy into the “to late, baby” catagory. And of course we must consider the parental rights of the future father. And the mental health of the mother? I can see confinement in a mental hospital for the good and safety of the mother. We wouldn’t want the mother to harm herself or the child would we?

    I am old enough to know what it was like before birth control and women’s right to choose. Most young women have no clue of the threat to their autonomy, privacy and health they are facing.

    Maha, your article was spectacular. Nothing is simple.

  45. drp  •  Feb 26, 2006 @8:35 am

    Leviticus 17:11 “For the life of a creature is in the blood.” Blood doesn’t show up in a fetus until approximately week 8.

    How can it be a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion but not for a woman to have one? If mom hires someone to “terminate” her baby a moment after its born, that’s murder and solicitation to commit murder. According to the pro-lifers, there’s no difference between murder after birth and abortion before birth, so how can it be a crime afterwards to pay someone to do it but not a crime beforehand? Highlights the inconsistancy (and illogic) of their position.

  46. Carolyn Kay  •  Feb 26, 2006 @8:36 am

    A Methodist minister here in Chicago made an excellent point just after the 2004 election–that we don’t consider a fetus a person when there’s a miscarriage in the early stages of pregnancy. We don’t name it or give it a funeral.
    http://makethemaccountable.com/articles/Christian_moral_values.htm

    And as to men getting pregnant, listen to Granny Bee’s commentary, “Abortion for Men”.
    http://makethemaccountable.com/gran/index.htm

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  47. Carolyn Kay  •  Feb 26, 2006 @8:46 am

    Oh, and this is for those who think it couldn’t possibly be possible to impregnate men.

    Wikipedia: Ectopic Pregnancy
    A case in England in August 2005 in which a fetus in an ectopic pregnancy was successfully carried to term and delivered by Caesarean section is an example of a very rare medical event, possible only when the site of implantation is outside the Fallopian tube – in this instance, the abdomen. The woman and the medical staff were unaware of her condition until she delivered. There are only a dozen or so known cases of this in the world.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ectopic_pregnancy

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  48. James Slusher  •  Feb 26, 2006 @9:05 am

    “Are those who rape and commit incest important to the survival of the species?”

    “Not OUR species. Whooping cranes, maybe. ”

    Of course it’s important to the cranes, why do you think they whoop so much?

  49. bob  •  Feb 26, 2006 @9:27 am

    What a great article and 40 some thoughtful comments but until the corporate media brings this sort of enlightened debate to the hungry masses (who are at this moment checking N-CAR lap times or taking notes on smart home decorating tips or preparing to be fed the latest antidote against thought by organized religion) we are pissing in the ocean. Now, where did I put my cool camo trousers

  50. Diana O.  •  Feb 26, 2006 @10:20 am

    Under the proposed South Dakota law, can the rapist sue for child custody? If the child is a girl, can he rape her and then sue for custody of his grandchild? Does the raped woman have to allow her rapist to visit the child? What level of cruelty and barbarism is too much for these politicians?

  51. Donna  •  Feb 26, 2006 @10:22 am

    re: #42 comment about conservatives having ‘ambiguity ‘ issues……I love these lines from the poem Pusher written by Peter Goblen, a poem I found in a 1970 book by Barry Stevens entitled, “Don’t Push the River”
    Pusher……..Beware the seeker of disciples, the missionary, the pusher, all proselytizing men, all who claim that they have found the path to heaven. For the sound of their words is the silence of their doubt. The allegory of your conversion sustains them through their uncertainty. Persuading you, they struggle to persuade themselves…….

  52. Stacy B.  •  Feb 26, 2006 @11:14 am

    Great post.

    The very nature of the philosophical and religious aspects of the question of when life does (or doesn’t) begin, is an implicit argument for why the state should keep out of it. It’s a subjective debate, where people with differing religious views can reasonably disagree but in the end, if the state gets to decide that “life begins with conception” as a basis for outlawing abortion, many of us whom don’t hold that religious or spiritual viewpoint not only have our basic reproductive rights violated, but also our own particular religious rights (or lack thereof) in terms of freedom of religion.

    And of course, one of the troubling aspects is that often times, many who make moral/religious arguments against certain things- abortion, birth control, homosexuality- they don’t seem to understand that while they certainly have a right to their views, the question is at what point do those views get to take precedent over the views (and actions) of the rest of us.

    For many who believe that artificial means of birth control is tantamount to abortion, it isn’t enough that THEY PERSONALLY don’t use any artificial means of family planning, but rather, they insist that the govt and private industry help ensure that nobody does- or at the very least, the govt makes it very difficult for many to procure.

    And then there is always the problem of ideological inconsistency- the “pro-life” question is riddled with exceptions and footnotes- all human life is sacred insofar as it’s “innocent life” and thus the death penalty is perfectly acceptable. As is war. But who decides the footnotes and exceptions?

  53. linnen  •  Feb 26, 2006 @11:27 am

    PZ Myers wrote about this by imagining ‘What if I might be pregnant?‘ An interesting and depressing read.

  54. Renideo  •  Feb 26, 2006 @11:47 am

    One of the best posts I’ve seen on this issue. I cannot help but agree with it to a very high degree.

    I would need to spend a great deal more time than I have in consideration of this issue before arriving at a conclusion regarding what, in my mind, should be done about it, and this is not yet the time for it, particularly (so far as anyone here is concerned) not being a US citizen.

    Even so, I wanted to second the sentiments and ideas that you expressed.

    In response to one comment, and without any intended vitriol, yes a large percentage of men are doubtless ignorant of the issue, but then a large percentage of all people are ignorant of a great many issues that do not effect them. I have good friends in the medical profession who often lament that many women are ignorant of their own biology.

  55. maha  •  Feb 26, 2006 @11:48 am

    Thanks — awesome poem, Donna. Good link, linnen. Good comments from everybody.

  56. erinyes  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:18 pm

    Post #32 is a bit of rat salad at the banquet, an exception to the “special people” to which I refered.

  57. maha  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:26 pm

    erinyes — I thought about deleting #32, but I’m trying to reform. Votes? Keep or pitch?

  58. ken melvin  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:35 pm

    Depends on much you like satire.

  59. erinyes  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:43 pm

    A little rat salad makes the rest of the banquet appear better, even the lima bean caserole. Every garden must have a few slugs.

  60. thoswood  •  Feb 26, 2006 @12:47 pm

    Most excellent, maha. I’m new to blog reading, and have little hope for the future of discourse in most venues, especially in cyberrama, but it is evident that both life and the examined life live here. Thank you.

  61. joanr16  •  Feb 26, 2006 @1:06 pm

    Re comment #32, I first read it a couple hours after finally seeing the movie “Boogie Nights,” so I wasn’t offended. Besides, I already knew Bill Maher is a jerk.

    Re drp’s comment #45, Leviticus is only useful for justifying homophobia, every fundinazi knows that!

  62. Samiam  •  Feb 26, 2006 @1:30 pm

    #58 – Since Maher supports government funding of abortion, I’m not sure what context that quote (#32) was pulled from. Therefore, it might be inaccurate? Maybe someone can find out.

    Great post, Maha. Just two comments I’d like to make:

    First, some of the most strident anti-abortion people I have known personally have been women. Also, I used to work in a public library and the most common form of schizophrenic rantings would be from women screaming at the patrons about the evils of abortion. Either that, or fiercely staying on the computer for hours on end because they were “trying to save the children.” There are some serious psychological issues with these women. I think that the “mother tiger” emotion comes out and is tranferred toward the “unborn” who take on an angelic aura in their eyes. Quite often their own children had been taken away from the. Very sad.

    The Westboro Baptist Church has been in the news lately.
    http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/02/21/funeral.motorcyclists.ap/ What’s her story? I’d like to know. If you’ve seen her on tv, she acts very much like those patrons I used to see – only she has a cult following. Who knows what her family upbringing was like. I shudder to think.

    The second comment I want to make is that there are many thoughtful and understanding men out there and I send them all a nod of respect and appreciation. (If you’ll remember, men used to be blamed for supporting abortion so they wouldn’t have to deal with having a kid.) Like women, they get blamed for both sides of the issue. I don’t think it’s a man vs woman thing so much in our culture as it is a difference of philosophy and politics.

  63. Britwit  •  Feb 26, 2006 @2:47 pm

    comment no 32 – It’s satire and could be taken in either of two ways. Life begins (as when you discover sex) or literally as in conception which doesn’t occur every time you have sex, obviously.

    It just probably jumped out at everyone but remember one must always consider the source which was originally Bill Maher.

    It was like a shock jock statement and I would rather read that instead of venom or religious mumbo-jumbo.

  64. The Raving Atheist  •  Feb 26, 2006 @3:27 pm

    This post uses the same flawed reasoning of Roe v Wade. It says that nobody can say when life begins, all morality is relative, any line is arbitrary, so let’s just pick MY fixed point and make childbirth compulsory (with exceptions) after six months and forbid any state from drawing the line earlier. Why not one year after birth? Ten? Why are infanticide laws “essential to the maintenance of human society”? How can you say that any legal fixing of the abortion cut-off is moral or immoral if you’re engaging in this sort of “I’m not going to spin my wheels over morality” relativism?

  65. sozzy  •  Feb 26, 2006 @3:38 pm

    Since it took 250 years of slavery, a civil war, and another 100 years of oppression before African-Americans were accepted into American society, I think we’re going to be debating the abortion issue for a looooong time. Maha raises the best list of questions I’ve ever seen in 20 years of thinking about the subject.

    There are some things science knows now about how babies think and feel in utero and out. Babies can hear once their ears are formed. They became accustomed to the voices around them, and to their mother’s heartbeat. It’s one reason why a baby prefers its mother to people more experienced in handling infants. So if sentience is defined as taking in information, they’d be sentient in the second trimester.

    Babies probably aren’t “sentient” if sentience is defined as awareness of one’s self. I’ve read this in a bunch of psychology books. A baby doesn’t realize that its self is distinct from everyone else around. A baby is more like a buddhist, apparently, because its sense of self includes its parents, caretakers, etc. The “terrible twos” is about when a kid starts to realize that it is a distinct person. I don’t know how science knows this, so won’t try to defend it.

    There a many experiments showing that babies can learn, get bored, be amused, from very early in infancy, so if sentience is defined as having feelings, that’s the point.

    Back in comment #10 someone wondered if people against abortion ever try to support single moms, and the answer to that is yes. It may be rare, but I worked with a group that created an infant & child day-care service specifically for single mothers in school or working. It was free service and we also gave classes in basic life skills (budgeting, paying taxes, parenting, etc) and scrounged for baby clothes and equipment to donate to new moms. The idea was that if you think abortion is wrong, the least you can do is help women who don’t really want one to have the option not to have one. We took kids of married women too, if they were poor and would otherwise need an abortion.

    But Maha’s point about the intersection of legal and moral is the crux of the issue. If you consider how long it took for women to achieve equality with men under the law, for children to achieve equality with adults under the law, and blacks to achieve equality with whites under the law, you can see it’s going to be a long debate about what status the fetus should have.

  66. maha  •  Feb 26, 2006 @4:19 pm

    How can you say that any legal fixing of the abortion cut-off is moral or immoral if you’re engaging in this sort of “I’m not going to spin my wheels over morality” relativism?

    I have no patience for “moral relativism.” My ideas about morality are based on the Taoist teaching that high morality has no ends to serve. Low morality has ends to serve, and when people don’t obey they must be coerced.

    That means most social conservatives are people of low morality.

    I say that encouraging people to make difficult decisions for themselves has more moral value than having government make decisions for them. I may disagree with other womens’ decisions, but they’re living their lives; I’m not.

    so let’s just pick MY fixed point and make childbirth compulsory (with exceptions) after six months and forbid any state from drawing the line earlier.

    You’ve never been pregnant, have you? I don’t mind the Roe v. Wade viability limit because, by then, it’s way too late to avoid the full effects of pregnancy and childbrith. By then you ARE as big as a house, your physical and hormonal changes are pretty much at maximum, and ending the pregnancy will require either induction of labor or a C-section, just like a full-term baby.

    Women of sound mind simply don’t carry a pregnancy willingly for six months and suddenly change their minds and decide to get abortions. Does … not … happen. No matter what the so-called “right to lifers” may tell you, it does not happen. Physicians won’t perform elective post-viability abortions, anyway.

    If a line must be drawn, the practice of women getting elective abortions would draw that line somewhere late in the second trimester, because that’s as late as they actually happen. I see this as practical and experienced-based, not arbitrary.

    Why are infanticide laws “essential to the maintenance of human society”?

    Perhaps they aren’t. Are you going to cancel them? You and what army?

    Do try to live in the real world, or at least visit now and then.

  67. maha  •  Feb 26, 2006 @4:30 pm

    But Maha’s point about the intersection of legal and moral is the crux of the issue. If you consider how long it took for women to achieve equality with men under the law, for children to achieve equality with adults under the law, and blacks to achieve equality with whites under the law, you can see it’s going to be a long debate about what status the fetus should have.

    Has it every occurred to you that equating a fetus, which has no free will or ability to act for itself, with adult women or racial minorities is a slap in the face to women and racial minorities?

    Further, the relation of mother and embryo or fetus is unique to, well, mothers and the embryo or fetus. No oppressed minority ever imposed itself into the physical persons of other people. And, frankly, nobody can hijack your life the way a baby can.

    The tide of world opinion is moving in the direction of choice. I don’t think this controversy is going to last more than another generation or two.

  68. ken melvin  •  Feb 26, 2006 @7:28 pm

    Should the woman being tried for murder in Texas for cutting off her daughter’s arms been permitted an abortion?

  69. erinyes  •  Feb 26, 2006 @7:49 pm

    The article regarding that woman, Ken, refered to her as “Hyper religious”.
    In the words of the irrepressible Randy Newman:
    I burn down your cities, how blind you must be
    I take from you your children & you say “How blessed are we!”
    you all must be crazy to put your faith in me
    that’s why I love mankind
    You really need me
    That’s why I love mankind!

    I think the woman needed a good de-programming, and a good shrink.So sad for both mother and child.

  70. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @9:47 am

    I could only read the post and about 1/3rd of the comments before getting depressed at the lack of liberal understanding in regards to the pro-life position. Yes, the exact point that a fertilized egg becomes “Fred” is ambiguous, and the morality of destroying that fertilized egg is hazy, and that’s why we had a large myriad of nuanced laws dealing with different aspects of abortion in different parts of the country before Roe v. Wade came along and wiped all of them out and said, in effect, that as long as the baby’s head hasn’t been exposed to air, then vacuuming his or her brains out is fair game. This shouldn’t be an either/or situation, where you either have complete restriction on abortion or no real restrictions at all. Let the states decide.

  71. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @10:34 am

    we had a large myriad of nuanced laws dealing with different aspects of abortion in different parts of the country

    “Nuanced” my ass. I remember those times. Abortion was illegal in most states, period. In many states this even included “therapeutic” abortions for medical reasons. That meant women went underground to get abortions, or physicians performed them “off the books” so to speak.

    The plain fact that so-called “pro-lifers” (a misnomer if there ever was one) refuse to face is that banning abortion doesn’t stop abortion. It only drives it underground. I provide copious links to documentation supporting this fact in this post, and also argue that the rate of abortion in the U.S. now may not be any higher than it was before Roe v. Wade.

    However, where abortions are illegal, they are also more dangerous to women, also as documented in the post linked above. So by imposing your little tight-ass “moral” standards you would cheerfully be condemning some women to death or lifelong disability. Thanks loads.

    Let the states decide.

    How about letting WOMEN decide? We’re human beings, too. Or has that fact escaped your notice?

  72. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @12:06 pm

    Nuanced compared to today, yes, they were. If you have a problem with representative government, that’s a bigger issue.

    Also, I did some googling, and it seems like your stats in the other post are way off. “1.2 million illegal abortions” a year before Roe v. Wade is at the extreme high-end of the possible estimates, and it includes miscarriages. I found an abstract for a paper called “An objective model for estimating criminal abortions and its implications for public policy” here:

    http://www.popline.org/docs/0472/007923.html

    . . . and, from what I can gather, it seems like a scholarly work that estimates that there were between “a low of 39,000 [illegal abortions] in 1950 to a high of 210,000 in 1961, or an average of 98,000 a year” and that, after Roe v. Wade, the total number of abortions increased six to eleven times, and that, strangely enough, the number of illegal abortions only dipped a little bit.

    I’ve had about 10,000 discussions on the internet about abortion, and I know that those discussions are almost always fruitless. I imagine you’ve problem done the same, and I don’t expect you to really think critically about this. I’m probably not going to, either, truth be told. The only decision I’ve come to as a result of those discussions, though, is that abortion is a tough issue, and I believe it’s one that’s probably best left up to the representative bodies close the communities. A lot of us anti-abortion folks aren’t quite as black and white as you’d like to think we are.

  73. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @1:34 pm

    “I don’t expect you to really think critically about this.” Yes, that’s real nuanced. Anyone who disagrees with you suffers from poor critical thinking skills.

    Check back later; I plan to dedicate a new post to you.

  74. ken melvin  •  Feb 27, 2006 @1:47 pm

    People like Keith are what’s wrong with America. What’s always been wrong with America. Not only abortion; they’re responsible for this ignorant incompetent ass in the white house. They were responsible for Jim Crow laws and the lynchings. They’re the reason southern blacks weren’t educated and given opportunity. They’re the main reason so many died in VietNam. Theirs is not about making things work, about doing what’s right; theirs is about making people do something. The hell with diplomacy. To hell with democracy. It all about making people do something. Authority. From the first days of the republic, these assholes have been the greatest burden our nation’s had to bear. Whether under the guise of statesrights, oldtestamentgoofyassedchristianity or other headuptheirassmorality, these regressive retrogrades have caused more pain, suffering and death than any Muslim group, … any group in the history of man. The nation’s poverty, lack of healthcare, income distribution, .. all these are much attributable this lot. No group has ever been so consistently wrong.

  75. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @1:50 pm

    Wow, Mr. Melvin, that’s so nuanced! :-)

  76. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:06 pm

    ““I don’t expect you to really think critically about this.” Yes, that’s real nuanced. Anyone who disagrees with you suffers from poor critical thinking skills.

    Check back later; I plan to dedicate a new post to you. ”

    Did you read even the next *sentence*?

  77. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:07 pm

    Did you read even the next *sentence*?

    Yes. However, I am thinking critically. You are not.

  78. ken melvin  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:07 pm

    These, they that would don the mantle of morality, stood before us and claimed the high ground. Ignorance has claim to neither high ground nor morality. Ignorance is just ignorant and ignorant is what they be.

  79. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:12 pm

    “People like Keith are what’s wrong with America. What’s always been wrong with America. Not only abortion; they’re responsible for this ignorant incompetent ass in the white house. They were responsible for Jim Crow laws and the lynchings. They’re the reason southern blacks weren’t educated and given opportunity. They’re the main reason so many died in VietNam. Theirs is not about making things work, about doing what’s right; theirs is about making people do something. The hell with diplomacy. To hell with democracy. It all about making people do something. Authority. From the first days of the republic, these assholes have been the greatest burden our nation’s had to bear. Whether under the guise of statesrights, oldtestamentgoofyassedchristianity or other headuptheirassmorality, these regressive retrogrades have caused more pain, suffering and death than any Muslim group, … any group in the history of man. The nation’s poverty, lack of healthcare, income distribution, .. all these are much attributable this lot. No group has ever been so consistently wrong.”

    I’m sorry, you have no idea who I am.

  80. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:20 pm

    Melvin, geez, whoever you are, I come in, state a few facts, or at least what I believe are facts (and you haven’t tried to disprove them), say that I don’t expect much from the discussion, and that I think it’s a tough issue that probably shouldn’t be dealt with on the national level by an unrepresentative body, and I get lambasted for being a moral absolutist who wants to dictate his authority and, something about me causing all the evils of the world, from segregation to Speed 2. I don’t know who you guys think I am, but I imagine you are inserting some horrific totalitarian zealot into my place.

    And maha, I’m glad that you say you’re thinking critically. If you deal with my post critically, I might do so as well.

  81. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:36 pm

    “Yes, that’s real nuanced. Anyone who disagrees with you suffers from poor critical thinking skills.”

    Also, coming back to this. I wasn’t inferring that you have poor critical thinking skills (unless, if you take the next sentence into consideration, I’m saying I have poor critical thinking skills as well). What I’m saying is that all of us are so burnt out on the abortion debate that any thoughts we’re going to have about it have already played out, and most of us have come to a reasonable decision.

    My thinking about abortion started out as being an anti-abortion absolutist, to holding a libertarian “everyone should do what they want” position, to, eventually, coming to where I am now, where I think it’s a bad choice, but not so crystal clear that one size will fit all for the laws of our country. Honestly, I have more animosity towards Roe v. Wade than I do towards abortion. And my animosity stems from the fact that it was an authoritarian, anti-democratic decision that has polarized this country in a terrible way.

    Look at it this way — Christians probably think abortion and prostitution are about equally bad. I mean, one of the ten commandments is about adultery. However, do you see hundreds of thousands of people marching to Nevada every year to protest legalized prostitution? No. I posit that the reason why is that prostitution hasn’t been forced on the entire country, and that the only areas that have legalized it are those communities that are okay with it.

  82. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @2:54 pm

    Keith — Most of the white population of the South was real pissed off by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. They were so pissed off they formed terrorists organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and committed countless acts of murder and vandalism until very recent times. By your logic, civil rights for minorities have been forced on these poor oppressed white people, who after all were the voting majoritiy in their states (especially when black people who tried to vote were taking their lives in their hands).

    No one who calls himself a “libertarian” can logically be opposed to legal abortion unless he considers women to be subhuman.

  83. Wolfman  •  Feb 27, 2006 @3:23 pm

    Ken Melvin,
    If we agree that killing a young human, say 1 day after birth is murder, why is that different if the human in question is even YOUNGER, say 1 day after conception. He or she is still a human, it doesn’t matter if that human, looks funny, or at that point in his young life he/she is basically a mass of cells, he/she is still ALIVE and IS A HUMAN. there is no disputing it, every pregnancy is a human, not a mule, not a monkey but a himan. So why is killing a young dependent human different than killing a child who is just as dependent but who is slightly older? This is not a religious discussion (unless you count our current murder laws to be religious in nature, origin.) they probably are. I am a Libertarian and I am against abortion for the simple fact that it violates the right to life of a new young person. No different than murder violates the rights of an old person. doesn’t matter if the baby is “dependent” on the mom, my kids are dependent on me, my great grandparents were dependent on my parents, should it be ok to kill them. Doesn’t matter what the baby “looks like” maybe it doesn’t look human, so what, I have seen deformed people or injured people that barely look human, does that disqualify them for living. A mass of cells is simply what a VERY young human looks like. And he or she is no less entitled to life, and to not be murdered for the convenience of the mom and dad, it’s not that hard to avoid having a baby if you don’t want one!

    [comment added by Maha: People who don't EVEN READ THE BLEEPING POST THEY ARE COMMENTING ON and ask questions already answered annoy me to no end. I tend to ban such persons from future participation on this blog. I think I will apply that rule here.]

  84. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @3:24 pm

    I’m not saying that forcing something on a state is categorically, always wrong, and of course it is sometimes the no-brainer right thing to do, especially when it comes to the rights of other humans. And that’s where the moral calculus in this equation comes in, weighing the rights of the pregnant woman, the father, a pregnant teenage girl’s parents, the rights of the child (if any, and if it has any, at what time, etc.). It’s messy, and tough, which is why each side focuses on the extremes in the debate, because those extremes are easy to defend. Pro-choice people focus on the first days after conception, and anti-abortion people focus on partial birth abortion. Those are their safe havens, their most defensible positions. Once you go towards the middle, it gets murkier, and the positions are less easy to defend.

    I find that one side tends to value innocent life highly, while the other side values *sentient* life highly. Therefore, anti-abortion people will be against euthenasia, but in favor of something like the death penalty (to punish someone who took innocent life), while pro-choice people will be against the death penalty, in favor of limited forms of euthenasia, and against things like animal cruelty.

    By the way, Harry Browne, the man who ran as the libertarian presidential candidate twice, is staunchly anti-abortion.

  85. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @3:28 pm

    p.s. “euthenasia” = “euthanasia”

    I always get that one wrong.

  86. Primordial Ooze  •  Feb 27, 2006 @3:57 pm

    Life life life. This curious dislike of ambiguity shows up in bizarrely contorted justifications. Life is not a presence/absence phenomonon. I appreciate maha’s broad context of life as a continuous phenomenon, with new generations simply continuing the older ones.

    If we look at other organisms, we can also see the grey areas between “life” and “not-life”. Is a virus alive? Is a crystal alive? (it can propagate it’s form) How about a mitochondrion? (it has it’s own DNA) Just as with the continuum in which some things are more alive than others, I subscribe to the idea that an embryo starts out much like an organ, and only really breaches the threshold of life deserving protection at viability.

  87. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:15 pm

    I’m not saying that forcing something on a state is categorically, always wrong, and of course it is sometimes the no-brainer right thing to do, especially when it comes to the rights of other humans.

    The physical reality is that for women, reproductive rights are pretty much fundamental to all other rights. If we can’t have some choice about when to be pregnant, all the other rights ain’t worth a bucket of warm amniotic fluid. Our lives don’t belong to us unless our bodies belong to us.

    By the way, Harry Browne, the man who ran as the libertarian presidential candidate twice, is staunchly anti-abortion.

    The operative word there is MAN.

  88. ken melvin  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:15 pm

    Wolfman, go back and read #18. Opinions? You’re entitled, but, as they say in the country, everyone’s got one. You don’t get to define the parameters for discussion. Perforce, they are the basis of the discussion; ’tis they that must first be agreed upon. With a distinction based on belief and $3 you can get a beer in some joints.

  89. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:25 pm

    Primordial Ooze– what you say about dislike of ambiguity is the real issue. Personally, I believe that abortion is extremely serious and in an ideal world would be extremely rare. I also think that in an ideal world birth control devices would grow on trees. I’m not holding my breath.

    The title of the post (which, I might add, is nuanced as all hell) is a pointer to the Buddhist teaching of shunyata, or “no self,” which says that there is no soul or intrinsic self. An individual is a phenomenon of life as a wave is a phenomenon of ocean; when a wave begins nothing is added; when a wave ends nothing is lost. And all phenomena are part of all other phenomena and are infinitely precious, in all forms. Yet, even though that’s how I think, I also see that the effects of banning abortion are destructive and cruel to women; therefore, I believe governments should butt out and let women make up their own minds.

  90. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:30 pm

    With a distinction based on belief and $3 you can get a beer in some joints.

    Not anywhere in Manhattan that I’ve found. :-)

  91. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:47 pm

    “The physical reality is that for women, reproductive rights are pretty much fundamental to all other rights. If we can’t have some choice about when to be pregnant, all the other rights ain’t worth a bucket of warm amniotic fluid. Our lives don’t belong to us unless our bodies belong to us.”

    My wife disagrees (I just asked her), and many women think abortion is degrading to women. If you think that’s true, work to convince others that it is true, and you won’t have to worry about Roe v. Wade getting overturned, since it will remain legal in your state.

    “The operative word there is MAN.”

    The operative word is “libertarian”. I’m not a libertarian anymore, by the way.

  92. Keith  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:48 pm

    Geez, I never realized how much I rely on the preview button. Sorry if my posts are incomprehensible, I’m in a rush.

  93. Primordial Ooze  •  Feb 27, 2006 @4:55 pm

    An individual is a phenomenon of life as a wave is a phenomenon of ocean.

    Beautiful imagery. As a Biologist with a background in Physics, I am entranced.

    Tell Manhattan I miss her, $5 beers and all. I’m stuck in Idaho, but the mountains sure are awe inspiring. I’ll be coming back to your blog, although I have no head for Koans ;^)

  94. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @5:20 pm

    My wife disagrees (I just asked her),

    Tell her I’m happy that’s she’s had a protected and privileged life.

    and many women think abortion is degrading to women.

    1. Forcing women to carry to term ISN’T degrading to women?

    2. If a woman thinks she would be degraded by having an abortion, then she shouldn’t have one. OK by me. I’ve never had one, either.

    If you think that’s true, work to convince others that it is true, and you won’t have to worry about Roe v. Wade getting overturned, since it will remain legal in your state.

    Since I’m postmenopausal I’m not personally concerned about it at all. I’m concerned about the young women who will die or be permenantly mutilated by trying to abort themselves, because this is what happens when abortions are illegal. It’s what always happens. Women shouldn’t have to beg for basic health care, any more than a black person should have to beg to be allowed to vote.

  95. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @5:30 pm

    I have no head for Koans

    They’re sort of like quantum mechanics exprssed in poetry. Sort of.

  96. Primordial Ooze  •  Feb 27, 2006 @5:52 pm

    quantum mechanics

    Well, that’s neither here nor there… But I can clap with one hand!

  97. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @5:57 pm

    Detailed post answering some of Keith’s comments now up here.

  98. maha  •  Feb 27, 2006 @5:58 pm

    neither here nor there

    Yes. But also here AND there.

    Sorry, I’m getting silly.

  99. Primordial Ooze  •  Feb 27, 2006 @7:46 pm

    The silliness was mutual.

  100. Britwit  •  Feb 28, 2006 @11:03 am

    Keith – the states have no damn business interfering with a woman’s body.

    It makes me angry when I see men like you at abortion clinics protesting. It’s not your body!

    You had to ask your wife while you were blogging about her thoughts. You should know her better than that!

  101. James Slusher  •  Feb 28, 2006 @1:21 pm

    When I read this comment section I find myself completely depressed. I am one of the trackbacks to this post becasue I found it genuinely insightful and a good way of framing a part of the debate.

    On the other hand, I know Keith (in a virtual way) as he and I have debated points on my blog in a mature way many times.

    I don’t think that the vitriol spewed at him was deserved from his original comment. I find it hard to believe that anyone here thinks that his statements are whats “wrong with America”. I don’t necessarily agree with his position on any number of things, but a differing opinion doesn’t evil make.

    So I guess that I’m learning that even people with whom I agree can still be wrong.

  102. maha  •  Feb 28, 2006 @3:20 pm

    a differing opinion doesn’t evil make.

    Being oblivious to evil when it’s in front of your face amounts to enabling evil. People who still want to make abortion illegal in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the harm is does to women need a serious wake-up call. If some of my readers were a tad hard on Keith — I’m not apologizing.

  103. Carolyn Kay  •  Mar 7, 2006 @7:46 am

    Digby at Firedoglake

    I just realized that those nuts in South Dakota might be having an unanticipated effect. I am working today and this guy said to me over lunch, “I can’t believe that these people are really serious.” He’s a bit of a putz and he admitted that he’d believed women were exaggerating the threat. I said “I hope you’re ready to be daddies, boys. Last time abortion was illegal they didn’t have DNA testing” and they all looked stunned.
    http://firedoglake.blogspot.com/2006_03_05_firedoglake_archive.html#114169525352013380

    Atrios

    It’s time for more men to understand that getting rid of legal abortion increases by quite a lot the chance that one drunk evening will lead to 18 years of child support payments [see above].
    Alternatively, it decreases the chance that they’ll get laid.
    http://atrios.blogspot.com/2006_03_05_atrios_archive.html#114170756083506421

    Carolyn Kay
    MakeThemAccountable.com

  104. Jessica  •  Mar 24, 2006 @1:24 am

    Here’s a thought. If South Dakota is determined to criminalize abortion, will they then add laws whereupon a case of rape or incest that results in pregnancy be considered two counts instead of one, since it necessarily affects (by their definition) two people, not one? Seems only fair.

    As for men being ready to be fathers, well, one man in Michigan is presenting a case where, since he stated in a relationship prior to pregnancy that he did not wish to be a father, and the woman became pregnant anyway and had the child, he should therefore not be obligated to pay child support. So then we’d have a precedent for illegal abortion plus men being able to escape their parental obligations simply by saying, “Hey, I never wanted to be a dad.” Nice one-two punch, isn’t it? We could call it the Virgin Mary Effect, because of all the women getting pregnant without any men actually being responsible!

  105. Jeremy Jones  •  Dec 13, 2006 @10:56 am

    I used to work in a public library and the most common form of schizophrenic rantings would be from women screaming at the patrons about the evils of abortion. Either that, or fiercely staying on the computer for hours on end because they were trying to save the children. There are some serious psychological issues with these women.
    Hope this helps someone: http://racestreet.org

  106. Paul s.  •  Feb 25, 2007 @6:05 pm

    If all abortion is murder and should be punished, what about the millions of men who father children and ignore any responsiblity for them? shouldn’t they be hunted down and imprisoned for failure to support life? just wondering. I’ll give the pro-life radicals (those who believe life begins at conception) my support when they start using their righteous wrath to protest against preemptive war (Iraq) and the death penalty.

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