A Critique of a Pro-choice Rant

A facebook thread by Mark Wittgruber recently developed with the following original post (italicized and block quooted below). I felt his post merits response and is not nearly as fair and effective as it might seem at first gllance.

Is there any way to settle the abortion controversy?
Prolife movements say that abortion is wrong, and treat a fetus like they would a person.

Perhaps. But one doesn’t need to argue or demonstrate personhood if the burden of proof is on whoever’s advocating for killing humans. It is sufficient to have “reasonable doubt” to stave off issuing a death sentence. Mystery and uncertainty factor in favor of the prolife cause when it comes to warranted manslaughter (i.e., not necessarily murder, but still a legally discernable category for addressing the killing of humans).

Prochoice says that a woman should decide what to do with her own body.

“Inside her body” isn’t the same as “is her body.” That sort of fuzzy thinking is a theme in pro-choice/abortion-choice advocacy. Her body does not have 4 arms, 4 legs, 2 heads (etc.). Nor does her body have two genetically distinct human organisms, two different histories, two different futures, etc.

Prolife says that abortion is infanticide, and life starts at conception.

Sort of. The prolife camp can say induced abortion is abortion, familicide (killing one’s family member), and filicide (killing one’s son or daughter), and that’s sufficient proof of it’s immoral standing (all else being equal). It’s not patricide (killing one’s father), matricide (killing one’s mother), mariticide (killing one’s spouse), or gerontocide (killing the elderly), and so on. It’s not infancticide, strictly speaking, since that refers to infants not to children-in-utero. But that’s admittedly very close in form to at least late-term abortions, especially for viable fetal humans.

Prochoice says that life is not enough to establish human rights.

No, prochoice is left saying more than this. Living humans, i.e., human beings of the genus and species homo sapiens, are somehow unworthy of human rights. Terminologically, the prochoice side is denying human rights of living humans. That’s significant.

Back and forth they go…

Roe vs Wade established that a woman has the right to abortion under the 14th Amendment privacy clause. The law seems settled on this, so lets deal with the morality.

According to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long-standing icon of women’s rights and reproductive choice, “Roe v. Wade was a faulty decision. . . too far reaching, and too sweeping” [Source]. And she supports the ruling! Historians of that case often point out how it was intended as a relatively conservative ruling that would permit only first trimesters abortions on the basis of the tandum planks of “right of privacy” and the indeterminate status of the fetus (i.e., “potential human”). Critics tend to suggest that the right to privacy was stretched too thin, having not been adequately proven to include the right to kill other humans, even potential humans. Moreover, his use of religious sources was one-sided and misguided (he used primarily one, pro-choice, source which argued by the theory (not doctrine) of the “quickening” that Christianity overwhelmingly supported abortion when historically the moral norm among Christians had been that it’s wrong to kill human beings from their earliest point of creation, whenever that might be).

My own chief critique of the case is that it’s scientifically misinformed. Justice Blackmun, who issued the ruling openly and consistently referred to the human-in-utero as only a “potential human.” It was well known in embryology at the time that a new and distinct human life begins at conception, and the scientific concensus has only grown since then. As such, Blackmun and his fellow justices in the 7-2 majority based their legal and ethical considerations on a “rigged” scale. He showed great care and patience when addressing the prochoice evidences including poverty, a slim but significiant history of abortion, the feminist movement, sexism in history, and even religious history (notably, the “quickening” definition of human life).  But when it came to the vindications of science, at that time, he stubbornly refused to admit in his ruling what the scientists already knew, it’s a living human organism from conception onward. Some have suggested that Blackmun was well aware of the implications for legal personhood were he to admit, what scientists knew, that it is a human child-in-utero. See, Beckwith, Defending Life, and Jack Balkin, ed., What Roe v. Wade Should Have Said). You can see my critical commentary on the Roe v. Wade decision here. Needless to say, I find the ruling to be a miscarriage of justice and a precursor to the most deadly crime against humanity in human history.

Causing harm unnecessarily is wrong.

Agreed. No contention here.

Fetus [sic] do not feel pain, before 20 weeks.

Twenty-weeks is a conservative estimate, but the more life-affirming/gracious medical interpretation is that somewhere between 8 and 20 weeks, the developing fetus has enough neural development to where it’s possible for the child-in-utero to feel pain. There is a great deal of philosophy of mind that is sometimes inserted into this part of the abortion debate. Hence some sources throw up their hands incredulously on the notion of “fetal pain” (see, for example: FactCheck). I’m fine with drawing a conservative line as to when the neural development most likely can send and receive pain pain signals. Fetal pain bills reflect the evolution and progress of human rights legislation, expressing compassion and care against our most defenseless members of the human race. But when it comes to the psychology of pain, undergirding fetal pain bills, prochoicers have a convenient, albeit hypocritical, escape route. Technically, we can’t prove than any other human being one at any age “feels” pain. I will never ever have access to the pain you yourself feel. Your pain is intrinsically private and all I can see are effects of that pain. However, since I can’t see the or experience the cause directly, I can never know whether those apparent pain responses–squirming, grimmacing, writhing, gritting teeth, etc.–are indeed effects. They could just be actions, stimulated by painless neural firings. The felt sense of pain is in the mind, and natural science still has no real clue (i.e., a settled consensus) how to account for mind. Since pain is a subjective sensation and is categorically inaccessible except by the individual experiencing the pain, and since children-in-utero can’t do interviews on the matter, talking about how their death by abortion was super-painful, the pro-choicer has a convenient result: all the relevant witnesses of fetal pain are dead. And they couldn’t remember it even if they were to survive (say, in a botched abortion).

Forcing a woman to carry the pregnancy of rape, causes unnecessary harm.

Referring to rape is a distraction, a red herring. The prochoice position has pretty much bet the whole farm on women’s bodily autonomy (for example, the “right of privacy,” and Judith Jarvis Thompson’s, “Violinist Arg.”, etc.). Rape is a horrible encroachment on that autonomy, but it’s only one kind of violation. There also exist the other 99% of abortion-choice cases where the woman was not raped and chose abortion out of her own free will as it seemed best for her needs and interests. If Witgruber would join me in opposing all abortion cases except for practical legal permissions in cases of “rape and mortally dangerous pregnancies” then I’ll grant that is not a red herring. I doubt he’ll be in the next March for Life.

I don’t think he’s really arguing for a rape-basis for abortion choice. In reality, he’s equivocating. He’s using instances of rape pregnancies, which are less than 2% of reported abortions, to justify elective abortion generally where only 10,000 are rape-abortions, but roughly 990,000 other childen-in-utero are also aborted.  But we prolifers could even grant that standard, with abortion being allowed in cases of rape or mortal threats to the mother, and that would still save almost a million children-in-utero yearly. Indeed, that was the legal standard for much of America prior to Roe v. Wade, so it seems weird that Witgruber would argue for a post-RvW abortion-choice policy using examples that were legal before RvW.

Also, we can grant that the mother has been horrifically harmed. And there’s no abortion procedure, or pregnancy, or adoption that will be able to wholly undue the trauma she’s endured from rape. But, Witgruber is wrong in suggesting that abortion is less harmful than childbirth once we remember that not all pains are harmful, and not all harms are painful. The child is clearly harmed more than the mother–unless the mother were to die in childbirth from natural causes or medical malpractice. The total annihilation of one’s entire future, all potential rights and privileges, through death, is clearly harmful to the child-in-utero. The child is certainly and without doubt harmed, though he or she will never be able to know it. The mother, on the contrary, may not be harmed at all in the pregnancy and child-birth, since the pains of pregnancy and child-birth aren’t necessarily harm (assuming she’s not somehow injured, say with high blood pressure, or depression, or a rupture).

With regard to calculable harms, our ethical calculus should consider the combined facts of: Certain harm versus uncertain harm, Total harm vs. partial harm, No future vs. Modified future, Unnatural violent death vs. Natural maternity, etc. It’s not clear at all that the prochoice side comes out on top. And since a human life is at stake, we should not settle for anything less than reasonable certainty before issuing a death sentence against all unwanted children-in-utero.

Life, is not sacred, any objections along this line must be proven not assumed.
Prolifers are generally Christian, and reject contraceptives, and sex education beyond “don’t do it” abstinence is the only solution they will endorse and it doesn’t work.

These issues are important, but secondary. I don’t build my prolife case around them since these can be deliberated after we conclude that killing human beings in utero is wrong. I don’t think that “sanctity of life” is necessary to conclude that human life is sufficient grounds for human rights. Also, as long as abortion is legal, the cultural calculations are going to be stilted because the mere presence of that sort of “fire escape” greatly enables dangerous and foolish practices. People can and do respond to legal policy, and don’t generally want to be considered “wicked” or “law-breakers.” Though people do like to have as much fun as they are legally and practically allowed. Some argue that abstinence education remains quite effective in reducing teen pregnancy, and cultivating maturity and family values. But there are statistics which suggest otherwise. I’m not prepared to mediate that alternative debate, so I’m not prepared to argue that case here. Again, I find this line of objection a bit secondary.

How do we get both side [sic] to talk about this and settle its once and for all?

Here I am. I’m talking. If you would grant abortion should be illegal in cases besides rape and mortal danger to the mother, then we might have a feasible legal compromise. Problem solved.

I tend to treat abortion the same way I treat assisted death or suicide, reluctantly and carefully listening to the opposition.

Good for you. Those issues merit great caution. However, I don’t know an advocate of euthanasia who thinks that it’s ethical to kill a human being, without his or her consent, with no health problems in sight, on the sheer basis that his or her mother wants it dead. Nevertheless, you are right that bioethics issues merit great moral consideration.

However the opposition in abortions is not quite honest when they claim abortion is the murder of children, not potential but actual children.

Not quite. We prolifers don’t have to claim it’s murder for it to be unethical. It could be child-abuse, negligent homicide, criminal manslaughter, parental neglect, animal abuse, death profiteering, etc.–it could be ethically discredited on any number of reasons besides “murder.”

The “murder” charge can still stick, however, but only in a secondary sense of the word “murder.” The primary sense of the word is “illegal killing of a human being.” Since abortion is legal, then abortion isn’t that sense of murder. The secondary sense of the term is “unethical killing of a human being.” Here the case may stick, but only if we can show that the child-in-utero qualifies as a human being.

Wigruber is technically wrong here. The fetal human is legally termed a “child-in-utero” via the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (2004). And even without that judicial precedent, the literal offspring of a mother is her child. Biologically speaking, child is a relational term for the offspring of the parent. Indeed the term ‘fetus’ is a latinism meaning “offspring.” There’s no sneaky word play in calling a mother’s human literal offspring her “child.” To be fair, however, the term “child” is often used for later stage humans, after they are born. That’s fine. But at least the biological sense of child as “offspring” persists. It’s not unfair, or illicit, to use the term “child.” I prefer the term “child-in-utero” as a good compromise since it dignifies that literal family relation without confusing the entity with ex-utero children (see, “What Is It?”).

Since it’s a child in the sense of a child-in-utero human being, then regardless of his or her location or stage of development, the “potential/actual” distinction breaks down. Only actual physical entities have physical potential to mature in other stages of human development.

Is it possible to have a discussion and not talk past each other?

I hope so. I’ve had it a few times. But it’s not terribly common in my experience.

*I would like to see the arguments against abortion, convince me its wrong?*

Sure thing. Check out here: Arguments Against Abortion and Prochoice Objections Answered.

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