The Crushing Burden of Proof Against Pro-Choice Ethics

Prochoicers, it seems, are preoccupied with “personhood” but in so doing they risk failing to account for how human rights are predicated on humanity, with only a secondary or practical concern for “personhood” (as there are legal and prosecutorial implications with one’s legal identity before the law–i.e., citizenship, voting rights, miranda rights, etc.). Yet the humanity of the fetal child is beyond serious question.

Our constitution and declaration of independence recognize that “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are CREATED equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (see also, the 14th Amendment). A great deal turns on the word “men,” as that has been variously constricted to exclude certain members of society, such as slaves and women. But that very constriction is part of the problem; it dehumanizes other members of the human race, alienating them from their human rights. Our court and legal history may have erred grievously against slaves (the 3/5ths compromise, etc.) and women (pre-suffrage laws, etc.), but we’ve been fortunate to see those errors corrected. Current legal precedent from Roe v. Wade (1973) denies a whole class of human beings even a right to life, and exempts parents from protecting for their own children so long at the child is still in utero. This is not “equal treatment” by any stretch of the term since one segment of society can be legally killed without justification and others cannot.

If one wants to suggest that “men” does not mean humanity but means only “some” human beings, then I contend that’s precisely the kind of wicked discrimination that served in the past to marginalize women and black people, or prisoners and the feeble, or minors and the elderly. But when “men” means “humanity,” those basic rights–equality, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness–are predicated from creation onward. At the time our founding fathers were penning the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence they didn’t know that distinct human life begins at conception; and they had no clue about genetics or DNA. We now know that each new human being is created at conception. Why then should I treat a whole class of human beings as so undeserving of life that we can kill them at will, even for such trivial (but legal) reasons as convenience or sexism, or racism? A friend of mine, before converting to the pro-life position, confessed that she had an abortion just because she didn’t want to gain weight.

It seems like the ethics of this moral landscape clearly favor life. Pro-choicers have overall failed to show that certain living human beings, namely, children-in-utero, are neatly and completely divisible from all human rights, yet shy of that proof the pro-choice position collapses into wickedness.

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14 thoughts on “The Crushing Burden of Proof Against Pro-Choice Ethics

  1. I’ve been reading this after listening to your recent episode on Dogma Debate. I’d like to talk to you about some of what you had to say there but this seems to be how you want to be contacted here so I’ll address this piece. Also apologies for spelling as I am using a phone.

    I think at a minimum you grossly understate the damage and strain that a pregnancy represents to a woman’s body and mind when you call it an “inconvenience “. Even allowing for hyperbole that is too much.

    Second, ignoring for now the issue of what constitutes a person, I did not see a serious rebuttal to the mother’s right of bodily autonomy. We do not require parents to donate blood, plasma or tissue to their children, even to save a life. Do you believe we should? If so whom else do you feel can lay claim to our bodies to save a life?

    1. Sorry for the slow response. I have moved to a different state, started a new job, and my wife and I are about to close on a new house. Needless to say, we’ve been very busy. Meanwhile, thank you for your persistence.

      Regarding your points:

      You said: “I think at a minimum you grossly understate the damage and strain that a pregnancy represents to a woman’s body and mind when you call it an ‘inconvenience’. Even allowing for hyperbole that is too much.”

      I would agree with you, except when we are talking about life and death, and abortion is a life or death issue, a lot of important and weighty matters just aren’t necessary. As such, they are non-trivial matters of convenience and inconvenience. The choice to abort or bear the child to term is no “light” matter–so it’s not an issue of ‘convenience’ in that way. It’s not a “trivial’ decision. But neither is it a matter of necessity, since she can live with or without bearing that child. Her life will be greatly affected either way, but only a small percentage of pregnancies constitute a mortal threat to the mother, so only that small percentage of pregnancies can say their abortion was a matter of necessity and not a matter of convenience. Meanwhile, the examples I cited in the article illustrate some of the genuinely trivial reasons women can currently acquire an abortion. Do you think that a human being can rightly be killed by another human being because it is black? Hispanic? Female? Those are trivial, even wicked, reasons that are currently sufficient cause for abortion under U.S. policy. Those examples illustrate a genuinely trivial level of convenience for current abortion-policy. None of that speaks to the genuine trials and difficulty with pregnancy and child-birth–those matters are more serious, and “heavy.” They would still be matters of convience, when compared to the life-and-death scope of abortion, but they aren’t as trivial as, for example, killing a baby because it’s black, or female, or because it will “make me look fat.” (I’ve known someone who had an abortion because she didn’t want to look fat).

      Next you said:

      “Second, ignoring for now the issue of what constitutes a person, I did not see a serious rebuttal to the mother’s right of bodily autonomy. We do not require parents to donate blood, plasma or tissue to their children, even to save a life. Do you believe we should? If so whom else do you feel can lay claim to our bodies to save a life?”

      It’s not a strong objection to fault a single line of argumentation for failing to be many lines of argumentation at once. I generally ignore the debate about fetal personhood because I don’t think it’s necessary for the human right to life. Nor have you shown that it is necessary for a human right to life. After all, human rights are predicated on “human” not “person.” I argue that case here: “Human Rights or Person Rights, revisited” and “Human rights or Person Righs”. Meanwhile, I employ the burden of proof argument, in the original post, to turn the argument around on the prochoicer and demand that they prove that a biologically distinct living human organism of the genus and species homo sapiens, a literal human being, etc. etc. MUST ALSO be a recognized legal person before it has an intrinsic right to life. So far, prochoicers tend to assume bad science about the identity and nature of the unborn, and then assume that the questions surrounding it’s personhood suffice to prove that we can ethically kill it. When it comes to killing fellow human beings, the burden of proof is on the advocates for killing, to show that that instance of killing is rightful, justified, and within the bounds of decency for civilized society. Put another way, I demand that they prove that personhood is necessary, on top of everything, before a fellow member of the human race has any rights to life.

      Now, I do believe, and argue, for fetal personhoood (see: “Abortion and Human Continuity”. And I’ve charted a few pages worth of defense here: “A Defense of Fetal Personhood.” But I generally don’t even go there till the prochoice advocate has shown, with some measure of reason, evidence, and argument, all the other facts about the fetal human being aren’t themselves adequate to establish a right to life.

    2. Meanwhile, you did not attempt to shoulder the burden of proof necessary to show that we can rightly kill human beings for the reasons typically used to justify abortion. Prochoice advocates typically give me a lot of reasons why I should look down upoon and deny the sanctity of life of preborn human beings. I oppose that insulting tactic, as a degrading to humanity generally. But, there’s a more ethical tact from prochoicers that has greater weight, namely, they give reasons why I should sympathize with struggling mothers. Prochoicers are in the right, in that regard. We should have a heart for struggling mothers, and do everything we can–within ethical bounds–to support and honor those, often heroic, women. But there’s a whole other case to be made about how abortion is, thereby, a viable solution to those sorts of problems. Without that additional case, the prochoice position comes off as short-sighted, ethically questionable, and worse yet, like it adds murder to the mix of horrible circumstances.

      The prochoice position, in that way, parallels infanticide–though I admit that there are substantive ways in which the child-in-utero and ex-utero are different. If a mother has a splitting headache, or is trying to interview for a job, or is trying to work on her marriage–but the crying child in the other room is getting in the way of all that–sure we should take heart, have compassion, and care about the woman’s difficult situation. But nowhere in those compassionate efforts is there any justification for her to pay a doctor to go kill her child. Sure, that “solution” might “solve” her problems, but the ethical cost outweighs the benefits. I assume you see a stark difference between abortion and infanticide, and I admit that there are important differences. But if the child-in-utero is indeed a human being, it’s not clear at all to me why it must add “personhood” as well before we must ethically refrain from slaughtering it at the will of it’s mother. The differences between the preborn and the born are not clear enough, to me at least, to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that abortion is more ethical than killing that crying child in the other room.

      1. Wow, moving, and job and house… I’ve done all those things and sympathize for the burden of doing them all at once.

        I’ve read your whole reply. I’m going to ignore almost all of it because nowhere in it do I see a response to the objection which was the crux of my argument. To be very clear, I am not, at this time, arguing for or against fetal personhood.

        What I am saying, is that the mother enjoys the right to bodily integrity. She has this right regardless of the reason she chooses to employ it, even a cosmetic one. Your argument in essence seems to be that the life of a child outweighs the right to decide what will, or will not, happen to a mother’s body. Unless the child is viable, it can not live without the mother lending her body to it. When we argue against abortion we are saying that she can not deny saving the life of the child.

        Now, we do not require people to give blood, tissue, plasma, or organs. If they choose to they are able, but no one seeks to have it required. We can all reasonably expect to live with one kidney, we can live with part of our liver, yet people die every year for lack of kidneys and livers.

        So what I am saying is that to argue that a person’s “right to life” is more important than another person’s “right to what happens to their body” is a special pleading when applied only to mothers with fetuses. Having the fetus removed is not killing it, it is refusing to sustain it at the cost of the use of the body.

        In a thought experiment, if a child needed a blood transfusion to live, and the father had the required blood type, would you require the father to donate blood? Even if it took several months? Even if it cost them a job? Is the father ever allowed to say, “This is my body and I will choose how to use it.”?

        It is this right to bodily integrity I would like to see you address.

      2. Do you mean bodily autonomy, as in a right of privacy? Sure we all have a right of “bodily integrity” but you haven’t shown how that general principal exempts a mother from even good Samaritan duties much less maternal duties. We wouldn’t excuse a nurse from her job to sustain a life under her care, or a deadbeat father who “Never asked to be a father.” appealing to bodily integrity is a viable move from r the prochoicers but its a lot harder to nail down than it may seem.

        I’ll answer your thought experiment with a similar one. Suppose a person will die without your intervention and it’s your actions, even accidental actions, which imperiled them. Well by the medical principles of beneficence and of nonmalfeasence, as well as the theme of good Samaritan laws, you would have at least a rudimentary duty to protect and not actively kill the person you imperiled. If that means giving a blood transfusion then that’s the least you could do; after all its your fault you’re in this mess, or at least, it’s not that person’s fault you imperiled them.

        Meanwhile, you have not dispensed with the burden of proof (supposing my arguments are valid), not have you invalidated my argument to that effect, nor have you established your case, showing that killing human beings can be justified on such a basis as “bodily integrity.” You’ve asserted that point as have many other prochoicers (except the more precise legal term would be “right of privacy”). But the only way I can see to make that a sufficient “trump card” over a human life is to devalue human life to where one class of humans can be subjugated to the point of death by another class of humans. We’ve attempted to politically and societal ly discriminate against classes of human beings in the past, such that they could be abused or even killed as property. But those times were brutal and a black eye on America’s history. Do you deny any of this? For example, do you deny that human fetuses are indeed homo sapiens? Do you deny that a class of fetuses would literally be a class of human beings (ie, members of the homo sapiens species)? Do you deny that women and mothers can also be understood, when grouped together, as a class of human beings? Do you deny that murder is a bad thing and we should be very very careful not to excuse it by negligence, ignorance, or malfeasance? Do you deny that abortion effectively subordinates under the mother’s interests the health and well being of the fetal human, as well as any latent capacities it has or any future it would have had? I’m not making this stuff up. I’m trying to apply prochoice logic consistently so that there is no unethical killing going on. Should I be less concerned for the potential insult to humankind or the potential human rights violations that might lurk within a policy that judicially discriminates (to the point of death) against a whole class of human beings on the basis of highly contentious evidence? I assume you are deeply concerned, generally, about the possibility of immoral killing of defenseless classes of human beings, right?

  2. Interesting, I can’t reply to your last post. So please consider this a reply to it.

    From where I am sitting you appear to be dodging my point and raising a host of emotional pleas. I’m a bit annoyed that I don’t see answers to my actual questions in your response. I see a lot of use of the word murder, and a lot of calling fetuses rights as under attack, however I’m still not disputing fetal rights. I’ll be happy to talk with you on fetal personhood at another time (after I’ve read your other posts), however in this context it’s a derail.

    The question is, when do you believe it is ethical to demand one person allow another person to use the first person’s body to sustain their life? It’s not about privacy. It’s about my right to tell you “No.” when you need my kidney to live.

    When I listened to you on Dogma Debate you were talking about how pro marriage equality arguments could also be used for polygamy and incest. That a pro marriage equality argument needed to address that, or come up with a better argument.

    The pro-life argument is that a parent has a duty to make their body available to sustain a child for at least nine months and accepting the physical and mental costs of doing so, even if they don’t want to. Except, I have yet to see a pro-life arguer extend this duty to a child after they are born, or to the father. I have yet to see them argue life is so important we should conscript blood and plasma donors when those supplies are needed to save lives.

    That seems inconsistent to me. Regardless of how I feel about the potential child, I do not believe it is ethical to demand one person subjugate their body to the needs of another, unless they do so voluntarily.

    So please stop talking about the humanness, or the murder. Under what circumstances should one person owe another person their body? If it’s only pregnant people, you have a case of special pleading.

    1. I answered your question about forced blood doners with a more exact analogy thus invalidating your claim as a disanalogy. I deny your claim that it’s “conscription.” I argue that consent to sex is consent to pregnancy, hence abortion is like making a person physically dependent on you and then refusing to complete the duty to which you consented. So in short, your question is phrased as if there’s no consent, thus it’s a loaded question. Were I to answer your question as you state it I’d have to concede an implied point that I do not concede. I’m not willing to deny all maternal duties nor is resend that sex is naturally unrelated/irrelevant to pregnancy and our duties of nonmalfeasence and beneficence.

      1. Wow, “consent to sex is consent to pregnancy”. I don’t think we can get anywhere if you are going to insist on something this extreme. It’s been interesting talking to you though.

      2. I’m sorry to hear that you see things that way. I pray you come to view human life as special and worthy of protection. I’d be interested in hearing your rebuttal to this article. So far, you’ve done nothing to shoulder the burden of proof regarding abortion, resting content in single disanalogy. Now you’ve dismissed this article, which is based in natural law ethics – – a major factor in constitutional law and western political theory. I wonder if you are willing to dismiss everything from that this article is based on too.

  3. I wonder why this individual was so appalled at the idea that “consent to sex is consent to pregnancy”. Obviously there are gray areas but if we look at women who are in a healthy sexual mutual relationship with their partner and they choose to have unprotected sex in the western world (because there is really no excuse NOT to use protection if you don’t want to become pregnant) how is that not consenting to at least the possibility of pregnancy. Now “Apostateltsopa” wants up separate natural conception from sex. This is absolutely ludicrous. I believe just about every man and women know the natural result of sex is the possibility of pregnancy. In this scenario there IS a special preaching that the women allow her body to be used for the child. Why should the benefit of a few moments of her intimate embrace with her partner outweigh the cost of a human life because her and her partner failed to plan appropriate to prevent pregnancy. Abortion should under no circumstances be used as birth control. The cost is too high. It is the couple who mashed the sole decision to being a child into this world. And for that they have a special burden that others do not have (such as forcing blood donations etc. I believe these scenarios assume the donor was not the sole cause of the individuals need for blood/organs). Bringing life into the world is in a completely different order. If ALL women decided their “bodily integrity” was worth more than the human life (no matter the circumstances) growing inside them then….well duh…extinction of the human race ensues. All because women (and the men who slept with them) couldn’t be bothered. How absurd is the logical outcome of such an argument. I suppose one could argue no one single women is responsible to perpetuate the human race. I’d agree with this. Yet, at the point of facing human extinction I think the bodily integrity argument would go out the window pretty fast.

  4. I wonder why this individual was so appalled at the idea that “consent to sex is consent to pregnancy”. Obviously there are gray areas but if we look at women who are in a healthy sexual mutual relationship with their partner and they choose to have unprotected sex in the western world (because there is really no excuse NOT to use protection if you don’t want to become pregnant) how is that not consenting to at least the possibility of pregnancy?? Now “Apostateltsopa” wants us to separate natural conception from sex. This is absolutely ludicrous. I believe just about every man and women know the natural result of sex is the possibility of pregnancy. In this scenario there IS a special pleaching that the women allow her body to be used for the child. Why should the benefit of a few moments of her intimate embrace with her partner outweigh the cost of a human life because her and her partner failed to plan appropriate to prevent pregnancy???Abortion should under no circumstances be used as birth control!! The cost is too high. It is the couple who made the sole decision to bring a child into this world. And for that they have a special burden that others do not have (such as forcing blood donations etc. I believe these scenarios assume the donor was not the sole cause of the individuals need for blood/organs). Bringing life into the world is in a completely different order of magnitude than blood donation.

    If ALL women decided their “bodily integrity” was worth more than the human life (no matter the circumstances) growing inside them then….well duh…extinction of the human race ensues. All because women (and the men who slept with them) couldn’t be bothered. How absurd is the logical outcome of such an argument.

    I suppose one could argue no one single women is responsible to perpetuate the human race. I’d agree with this. Yet, at the point of facing human extinction I think the bodily integrity argument would go out the window pretty fast.

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