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The hypocrisy of rape and incest exceptions


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The South Dakota anti-abortion legislation seems destined to create a national rehashing of the abortion debate. Specifically, if the initiative should become law, it will certainly pose a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. This sort of law might make it much more difficult for the Supreme Court to punt or “play it safe”, as it has done in prior cases that posed less direct challenges to Roe.

I don’t really want to talk about that. Today. I’d rather address an argument that the pro-life crowd has been making for some time that has troubled me as long as I’ve heard it.

A majority (although not necessarily a decisive majority) of the American people have supported Roe and its implications for abortion law since the decision. Even those that oppose Roe generally support some provision for the abortion option in cases where the life or health of the mother is at stake. Most also support an exception for cases of rape and incest.

I’ve never understood the rape and incest exception. Well, that’s not precisely right. I do understand. I just think this argument can’t possibly jive with the other arguments being made by pro-lifers. Essentially, the pro-life crowd must win three arguments in order to win the abortion debate.

1) The fetus is, whether a full-fledged person or not, a being with some significant level of natural rights.
2) The fetus’ right to life is more important than the libertarian or practical concerns of the mother.
3) This right is significant enough that it deserves state protection in the form of anti-abortion laws.

If these arguments are true, I can’t think that the horrible injustice of rape justifies an abortion. No matter what is done with the fetus, the rape still happened. Nothing can make it go away. Would the abortion help bring the victim closer to closure? Perhaps. But if we accept that the fetus has a right to life, I cannot think that this interest is compelling enough to justify overriding that right. We certainly don’t think it is compelling enough to make rape a capital crime, at least in most places. Additionally, if we accept that the effects of rape are traumatic enough to make this a concern on a level sufficient to override a life claim, we must also likely accept that the abortion isn’t going to fix the problem. The fact that a fetus is conceived by rape does not change that fetus’ standing in the realm of natural rights. Not one bit. It seems to me that once we accept that a fetus has a right to life, nearly nothing except a competing life claim can possibly override that.

The incest exception is even more troubling. Certainly, many pregnancies that come about as a result of incest occur as a result of abuse of some kind. Nevertheless, this isn’t really any different an issue than the rape issue that I raise above. If there is no abuse involved, our only argument in favor of aborting the incest fetus when we wouldn’t abort another is that we don’t want to deplete the gene pool. Again, this argument fails in light of argument #1 above. If we grant the pro-life position that the fetus has a right to life, we would not support aborting that fetus in order to improve our genetic stock. If we would make that argument, we’d be able to justify aborting retarded babies, the handicapped, and possibly euthanizing members of our society that are a drain upon us. Quite simply put: the argument on the basis of a right to life is so powerful precisely because it does not allow for these kinds of exceptions. A right to life that is dependent on the quality that the life will have, the benefit that the life will provide to society, or a “limited” right to life is no right to life at all: it is but a buzzword to describe some other value that is actually being defended under the auspices of a more socially acceptable discursive construct that is less vulnerable to criticism. Some people would call it a lie, but I’m a nice guy. Let’s call it dishonest strategic framing. To say that a fetus has a right to life only in circumstances where the societal good is best realized is to admit that sweeping anti-abortion legislation is unjustified. Additionally, it raises the question of whether government is best qualified to make that determination and calls into question the supreme value of life, thus negating the “culture of life” that these people want.

To clarify my position: I have no idea when life (in the philosophical sense of a being with natural rights) begins. I do know that reasonable and good people disagree about this. I generally don’t support abortions and would never advocate one in my family unless there were a compelling health reason to do so. However, I see less governmental regulation of abortion as the best compromise absent a societal consensus about when life begins. The point of this post is not to decry the pro-life position or to advocate abortion, but simply to point out a glaring inconsistency in the pro-life argument.


101 Responses to “The hypocrisy of rape and incest exceptions”

  1. Anonymous Hannah G 

    As I understand it (and I could very well be wrong) I think the arguments pro-lifers use for exceptions for cases involving rape and incest (and I think incest here is supposed to mean sexual abuse--so I am not sure why it is differentiated, maybe what you say is true) have to do with the woman's choice/responsibility. Every woman has the right to decide whether or not to have sex (and "risk" conceiving) and this right is violated in cases where she is raped/sexually abused. Since pro-lifers believe that women's "real" right to choose is the choice whether or not have sex, this is an instance where that choice is *not* possible and that is what makes abortion okay in these cases. Put another way, I think pro-lifers believe that women should face the consequences of their own choices, but since this isn't their choice, they should have the option not to face the consequences. That's how I've always understood the rationale.

  2. Anonymous annegb 

    D-Train, you make it so easy to criticize you that I wonder if you're playing with heads. Or if I've missed something crucial, which is always possible, even probable.

    You can talk to me about how important is it to be pregnant after a rape, when you've been sodomized. Then, after you're in the hospital and all, think if you want the reminder for 9 months. Same with incest.

    The problem I have with these exceptions is that it is quite simple after a rape to have a D&C which will prevent pregnancy. A woman who is raped does not have to wait till she's 6 months along to have an abortion. Aren't we talking late term abortions? In the event of rape, I would support a womans right to abortion in the first trimester. As, apparently, would God.

    The problem I have with the incest exception is that it is highly unlikely that a victim of incest would report a pregnancy. Usually they are too beaten or too young to recognize it until it's too late. I can't judge that, even, because it's very hard for me to think of a young body going through pregnancy.

    So, one is easily taken care of, the other is under-reported. Well, in rape, that may be the case, as well. I don't know statistics.

    I guess my problem with these exceptions in the case of late term abortions is they are unnecessary lip service, given by pro life supporters, to make themselves sound compassionate. Because they are so rare in comparison to the women who use abortion as birth control.

    I support the common ground group. I believe in moderation, I suppose. Late term, not easy for me to support in any case.

    But if my 12 year old (menstruating)daughter was raped by her cousin and became pregnant and for some stupid reason, we didn't find it until she was five months along, I would pray and take my child to a good doctor for an immediate abortion. I would take my chances with the Lord.

  3. Anonymous Tom 

    I am anti-abortion and pro-choice. I can't think of very many things that I find more barbaric and disgusting than killing an unborn child ("unborn child" to me means a fetus that looks human; I don't really object to the morning after pill or embryonic stem cell research using discarded embryos). To me, the "ick factor" of killing a human baby, in or ex utero, is off the charts in both a moral and visceral sense. But at the same time I believe strongly that women should be able to choose for themselves when they have children. When the choice is taken away from them and they become pregnant from rape, I feel like the law should allow them the choice of whether or not to continue the pregnancy. I don't know if that's hypocritical, but that's the way that makes sense to me. For what it's worth, I think I'm consistent on a personal level. If my hypothetical daughter (I only have sons for now) were raped and became pregnant and we didn't find out about it until she was two or more months along, I don't believe I would support an abortion. I don't think I could bring myself to assent to killing the unborn child. So while I don't think abortion is the right thing in the case of rape, it does feel like a bit of a gray area and I do think it should be allowed by law in order to preserve a woman's right to choose.

    So, basically, Hannah has it right, at least as far as this anti-abortion, pro-choicer goes (I hate the term pro-life because that implies that pro-choicers are anti-life and/or pro-death, which is unfair). Although I wouldn't say that the reason I want most abortions to be illegal is that I want women to have to face the consequences of their own choices. I want it to be illegal because it's barbaric and disgusting. When people make the choice to have sex they have already chosen to face the natural consequences of sex. The law doesn't enforce those consequences, nature does.

    Feel free to point out any hypocrisy or inconsistency in my reasoning. Seriously.

  4. Anonymous Rob 

    Ah, heavens! I have done my best to avoid this topic on my blog.

    I tend to be pro-life, but I believe in an exception in cases of rape; primarily because i think choice i taken away in that situation.

    Really, I stopped caring about a year ago...when I decided that nothing will change anyway, and thus gave up politics.

  5. Anonymous D-Train 

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone. Thanks for not cutting my head off. I need it to eat.

    I want to clarify myself by saying that I actually do favor legal abortions in these kinds of cases. I don't know enough about when life begins to assert a right to life for the fetus, although I do find abortion generally repugnant. I am especially unwilling to force that choice on others. I don't know if I made that clear enough in the conclusion to the post. Where I go astray is in the inconsistencies in the arguments presented by the pro-life right.

    Hannah - You are indeed right that this is the argument that most pro-lifers are making. It is a strong argument, but it can't compare to the right to life that they assert for the fetus. The woman indeed did not choose whether to become pregnant. However, her choice after this incident is to carry the child to term or have an abortion. If the fetus really does have a right to life, the mother's convenience, emotional stability, financial concerns, and other interests can't compete with that. Think of it another way: If someone forces me to choose between shooting someone and suffering a terrific beating and emotional abuse every day for a year, I would not be in the right to shoot the person, even though I'm not responsible for making that horrible choice. Again, I want to emphasize that this is the result of the pro-life logic and not how I see the problem.

    The implication for me is the need to drastically rethink a pro-life position to avoid these kinds of conclusions and tease out the reasoning a bit better.

  6. Anonymous D-Train 

    Anne - I agree that the emotional trauma is horrible and I cannot pretend to understand. I see it basically the way you do. This is why I see such a problem with combining the pro-life position with these rape and incest exceptions. We can't recognize a mother's choice in these cases and simultaneously proclaim a right to life for the fetus. We've got to figure out some kind of balance that makes sense.

    Tom - Your position is quite sensible and states my own much better than I could hope to. Since we just don't understand the conception process or the status of a fetus all that well, I tend to defer to your standard of what is and is not a life. I respect the notion that other good people don't agree with me. It's not a very scientific view, but it's the best I've got.

  7. Anonymous annegb 

    Sometime in the last few weeks, I've had a paradigm shift and I can't remember how it came about.

    I used to be solidly pro abortion, especially when the mothers were so young and had little to offer their children. It seemed to me that it would be better for little ones not to be born than to be born into an abusive home.

    My activity in the church taught me about the eternal nature of the spirit and the need for them to have homes. So I down shifted. I couldn't articulate my discomfort with a pro-life stand, so I kept my mouth shut.

    I remember clearly my teenage son proclaiming with total conviction "abortion is murder" and looking at him quietly, just not wanting to assent to that, but unable because of my religious convictions to say anything against his assertion.

    I don't recall the exact moment, like I said, when I recently was stunned with the thought, "maybe I'm pro choice."

    Who gets to be God? If I could play God and make the choice in every case, there would ultimately be a case that would be devastatingly complicated.

    God gave us agency with the idea we would choose wrongly. This thread is helping solidify my uncomfortable feelings with the pro-life movement. If a woman gets pregnant 10 times and aborts every time, God will get her. I don't have to.

    I don't think I will say that in Sunday School, but you never know.

    Good topic,D-Train, I needed the reflection.

  8. Anonymous Pris 

    I agree completely with you, D-Train. Allowing for exceptions to the "right of life" is having your cake and eating it too. (Or just simply an attempt to punish the less-prudish among us!)

    But I believe abortions should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. Not coincidentally, this is why I support the option of having an abortion.

  9. Anonymous Ian Cook 

    The only reason that I would support an abortion due to rape or incest is because of the overwhelming emotional damage that can be caused by this kind of pregnancy. I am not a woman so I could in no way understand the pain that could be caused.

    On the other hand, If my daughter were in this situation, I would support her having the child but most likely giving it up for adoption. It depends on wether or not she could handle it emotionally.

    That's my 2 cents.

  10. Anonymous Artemis 

    I can't find it at the moment, but there's an article/editorial out there where the author discusses this issue and concludes, basically, that we need to reframe the debate so that it's not in terms of when the fetus becomes a person, nor in absolutes of whether killing an unborn child is wrong (I feel the visceral reaction with that statement too--stay with me here!), but rather we need to ALL acknowledge that abortion IS the taking of life and then determine when, as a general standard for society, it is acceptable to take that life, i.e., in the cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life or health of the mother. This article really resonated with me (and there's a link to it somewhere on an abortion discussion we had on fMh) and I think it's right on. I'll let you know if I find it again....

  11. Anonymous D-Train 

    Anne - With you all the way. Sometimes, our religious commitments make it hard to address how we really feel without making the religion a distraction. As far as I'm concerned, being Mormon has nothing to say about when life begins, although I do believe that it infers that we need to be concerned about the matter.

    Pris - I HATE HATE HATE this punitive focus on abortion. It's like "Well, you did it, so you deserve it. These other people, though, they didn't do it, so the right to life that we assert for your fetus just goes away for theirs. You're a murderer and a whore and they're, well, unfortunate." From what I hear about abortion's effect on people, there's enough punishing going on. So often, this debate is not at all about life or reality, but abstract punishment for people that don't share the values of social conservatives. I think it perfectly legitimate to oppose abortion on the basis of those values, but some elements of the pro-life crowd aren't really appealing to or supporting those values in and of themselves. They just think that people should be punished by having a kid. Geez.

    Ian - Agree.

  12. Anonymous D-Train 

    Artemis - Sounds interesting. Please do post a link if you find anything. I can't say anything definite until I actually see the article, but it does seem to me to be moving in the right direction. I stand firmly on the argument that if we pronounce a "right to life" for a fetus, we can't have rape and incest exceptions.

    Unless the author is making an argument that a right to life can be weighed against a mother's non-life considerations.....

  13. Anonymous Pris 

    Artemis: I, too, would be interested in that article if you find it. I agree with the rough outline you sketch, but would add that I think we need to discuss what we mean by "life" in the first place. I've argued here before that biographical-life should be the emphasis, not biological-life.

    D-Train: I so agree. I can understand a tiny bit the focus on punitive pregnancy from a risk vs. reward perspective, but yeah. I'm scared as hell to become a father right now, so if I'm fooling around, being "safe"--perhaps even to the point of using multiple forms of birth control (i.e. pill and condom) and something happens, or we hit the small percentage of failure... should we be "punished" for that? Perhaps, maybe, but here the "punishment" completely outweighs the "crime."

  14. Anonymous Artemis 

    I found it! I found it! Here you go: http://saturn.med.nyu.edu/~yeh/cf/resource/wolf.html

    After a quick re-skim, I will briefly clarify (though please read it yourself), the author discusses how pregnancy is a life within a life and that the very nature of that situation can sometimes result in conflicts of what is best, because what is best for one life may not be best for the other and you just have to make a call. Hard-liners have polarized the issue, one giving the child absolute priority, the other giving the woman absolute priority, but this polarizes what is obviously a nuanced and difficult issue.

    Love to hear what you think.

  15. Anonymous Hannah G 

    I just wanted to respond to something you said, D-Train: "If someone forces me to choose between shooting someone and suffering a terrific beating and emotional abuse every day for a year, I would not be in the right to shoot the person." Actually I think there are cases where women (possibly men too) in abusive situations HAVE had to make that choice, have shot their abusive partners, and have claimed self-defense. I am sure that there are a variety of state responses to such a crime, but I am guessing that this sort of thing would actually be a compelling mitigating factor--i.e. perhaps the charges brought against the woman would be manslaughter instead of murder. In some cases, I think the defendent might serve no jail time at all. So while that sort of decision might not make the battered woman (or man) in the "right" the law (potentially) views him/her as less in the wrong.

    Do you think this is hypocritical of the justice system? If not, why not? I guess you could argue that the abuser is a criminal in his/her own right and therefore his/her right to life is diminished (that is somewhat the argument for capital punishment--which I am guessing you don't support?) but I think the argument is actually centered more on the fact that the abused has been the victim of a crime and is trying to avoid further victimization. This is the mitigating factor.

    Perhaps for those on the anti-abortion (changed my terminology for you Tom!) side of the argument, the crime committed against victims of rape and sexual assault puts them in a similar position. While I think that most people who are against abortion would still prefer that there not be abortions even in these cases, they recognize that women who have been raped/victims of incest would be further victimized by having to bear a child as a result of abuse and make an exception for it. I doubt they would frame it as "abortion is right in these cases" but maybe they would think "abortion is less wrong in these cases." And that difference would be enough for them allow it to be available as an exception.

    I recognize you could make the argument that the parallel between killing in self-defense and aborting the result of a crime has a lot of flaws, and I agree. I used it solely because D-Train brought it up, but I do think it is useful in showing that even killing a full-fledged adult human in the prime of his/her life ca be interpreted in a lot of ways by the justice system. There are matters of degree. And while I think the parallel falls apart the most because I doubt that anyone would approve of legalizing self-defense killings, we're operating in a system now where abortion is already legal and people are trying to impose restrictions on it.

    For the record, I do not have a hard and fast opinion on abortion. I think it's a shame that abortions happen, but I'm not convinced that outlawing abortion will help anything.

  16. Anonymous Tom 

    I'm another one who hates the punishment rhetoric. Babies are not punishment. Babies are the natural consequence of sex between fertile people. To choose the act is to choose the consequence.

    D-train, the rape exception is only hypocritical if the argument against abortion depends on an absolute right to life of the fetus. I'm aware that many in the pro-life crowd assert this right, even for newly fertilized embryos. But I don't think a law against abortion has to rest on a supposed right of the fetus to life and I don't think it matters when life begins. Anti-abortion laws can rest on whatever grounds the public wishes. For me it's more the moral repugnancy of the act of abortion that makes me wish there were laws against it. It's like prostitution (what does it say about me that I relate everything to prostitution?)--according to my libertarian sensibilities women have a right sell sex, but prostitution itself is so offensive to my moral sensibilities that I will never support decriminalization of prostitution. The abortion rape exception is to me an acknowledgement that a gray area exists and that the law should allow a rape victim to minimize her victimization if possible.

    As I'm writing this I'm realizing that I'm feeling defensive when I probably shouldn't. You aren't saying that a rape exception is hypocritical period. You're saying that if laws against abortion rest on an absolute right to life of the fetus, then no exception should be made. I agree with that. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers make a lot of arguments that are of questionable merit and beside the point as far as I'm concerned.

    Incidentally, I don't think the abortion debate is really a debate. It's not winnable by either side. There is no evidence that either side can draw on to prove the other side wrong. It's entirely about individual moral sensibilities and to what extent the law should reflect these sensibilities. From a legal perspective, nobody is wrong and nobody is right.

  17. Anonymous not ophelia 

    Artemis wrote: but rather we need to ALL acknowledge that abortion IS the taking of life and then determine when, as a general standard for society, it is acceptable to take that life,

    It's been a long time since I read Roe v. Wade, but as I recall that's what Roe intially did: balance the right of a woman's self-determination with the rights/interest of society to ban abortions. As I recall, there was a trimester approach -- the 1st three months the state could not prevent abortion, the last three months they regulate it pretty much as they would.

    Also, this approach avoided the whole rape/right to life paradox by making abortion a state interest and not a right of the fetus/embryo. [Law should be logically consistant]

    Finally, well, the same law that prevents the state from outlawing abortions also prevents the state from requiring them [unlikely], or more conceivably, using its other powers [taxation for example] to limit family size or otherwise interefere with reproductive decisions in either direction.

    The power of the state is a fearful thing.

    NO

  18. Anonymous Pris 

    Tom says, "But I don't think a law against abortion has to rest on a supposed right of the fetus to life and I don't think it matters when life begins. Anti-abortion laws can rest on whatever grounds the public wishes. For me it's more the moral repugnancy of the act of abortion that makes me wish there were laws against it."

    That makes sense, but I have two questions: first, what grounds other than life of the fetus could good anti-abortion laws be based on? Relatedly (and second), why is it considered morally repugnant? That is, what are the reasons in making the moral claim? (I'm one of those that believes morals shouldn't be laws simply because they are "moral.")

    I haven't thought much about the politics of the issue from the anti-abortion side, but it seems that if they eschew the "right to life" rhetoric thier political machinations will be less effective.

  19. Anonymous Rob 

    I am feeling lame being the apatehetic one.

    As a linguist, I often think of beginning of life issues semantically. For example, a woman is in a terrible accident where it is obvious the unborn child won't survive. Even if she is only at the second month of her pregnancy, if it is a child she has decided to carry to term, she doesn't utter, "My fetus! My fetus!" Rather, she mourns for the loss of her baby.

    I think the point I am trying to make is that the beginning of life from the observer's point of view is often relative to whether the pregnancy is wanted. If it is unwanted, it becomes a fetus. If it is wanted, it becomes a baby.

    Just a thought.

  20. Anonymous Pris 

    Rob, I agree completely. (Though, as an amateur-philosopher, I'd state the language claim a bit differently.)

    In that case, something should clearly be done to save the life of the fetus/baby. From a legal standpoint, though, I think it gets tricky. If the accident is the fault of the other driver, is s/he guilty of manslaughter? If a man kills a pregnant woman, is he guilty of two murders? I tend to think of these cases in the cold and cynical terms of property rights--the feteus/baby is a property wanted by the mother, or not wanted.

  21. Anonymous D-Train 

    Hannah, I'm such an idiot. I forgot to make my example more clear:

    My hypothetical was more along these lines: Pris points a gun at me. He says to me, "Brandon, you've got two choices. You can kill Arwyn or I will physically and emotionally abuse you for the next year." Presuming I make life the relevant value, I have to choose the second option.

    My example sounded a whole lot like a domestic violence situation. My take on domestic violence is that a man that repeatedly beats a woman is threatening her life, whether he's using lethal force or not. If he hits her once, she should leave him and call the cops. If he keeps abusing her over a long period of time and she eventually gets fed up and blows him away, I'll never convict that woman of anything that involves jail time. But, I don't see life as a value that can't trade off with other concerns.

    I justify this quite simply: that man is placing the woman in imminent danger. Is it legitimate for her to commit premeditated homicide? No, and I probably would convict her of a lesser charge since she wasn't in imminent danger at the time she shot him. Suppose, however, that he's starting to abuse her, she got a gun to defend herself, and killed the guy. She's guilty of nothing more than bad judgment for sticking around in the first place (although I recognize the difficulties involved in that choice).

    I could agree that one could see rape/incest as a mitigating factor for abortion. I could not agree that this is sufficient to make abortion legal if one asserts a right to life that can't be trumped by other factors. Mitigator: yes. Exonerator: no.

    Artemis, thanks for the link. I've got to get to a volleyball game (it's summer in Oklahoma!!!), but I promise I'll get back on tonight to respond some more to others. Thanks for the great comments and a civilized debate about abortion! Who'd have thunk it?

  22. Anonymous Hannah G 

    I guess it's easy for me to reconcile rape/incest as a mitigating factor because I think there are lots of mitigating factors that make abortion more understandable (it's harder for me to think of it in more or less right terms) and perhaps, more worthy of protection under the law. Maybe we need to hear from someone who does strictly belong to the "right to life trumps everything else" camp but who also justifies the exceptions.

    A question with your fleshed-out example: assuming that "the right to life" is not the paramount value (flashback to high school debate!) of those who are pro-abortion and that something else is (choice/autonomy is my best guess) how would you expect them to react to your hypothetical scenario? I can't imagine anyone saying, "Well, this is my life. I should have the ability to choose whether or not to avoid a year of emotional/physical abuse. I should be able to kill ______ in order to escape distress and carry on in my normal life and have the law protect me in doing so." Do you think that people who are placing choice (or whatever other value) above life would be okay with this scenario since life isn't their primary concern? I don't, and so I don't see how the scenario can be used to elucidate the position of either side.

    I think those who are pro-abortion also have to define the zygote/embryo/fetus whatever as less "alive" than anything born out of the womb (and certainly as having less rights than an adult human) in order to complete their argument. And maybe those who are anti-abortion (but who support rape/incest exceptions) do the same thing, possibly to a lesser extent. Those who think that the zygote/embryo/fetus is as fully alive and able to claim human rights as an adult human are probably not going to support rape/incest exceptions. Or if they did, I would have a hard time understanding their justification. I guess this is why the beginning of life debate is viewed as so crucial.

    What I would like to hear is the reasoning behind someone who is pro-abortion but who also supports treating the death of a pregnant woman as two homicides. I am sure there are people who think this--and I would like to hear how they justify it! Some of the rhetoric/logic of both sides befuddles me...

  23. Anonymous Tom 

    Pris: "first, what grounds other than life of the fetus could good anti-abortion laws be based on?"

    I can see two ways to reformulate this question so I'll try them both and maybe I'll give you the answer you're looking for (plus plenty more, I'm sure):

    1) If a fetus isn't alive or a life, why does it matter if it is destroyed?

    When I say that I don't think it matters when life starts I mean that the academic question of when life officially starts is just that--academic. Destruction of a fetus is destruction of a fetus. Is a fetus a life? I don't know. I know it's a fetus though, which is all I need to know. To me a fetus is a special entity entirely separate from its mother, not a part of its mother's body, which means that she has no more right to destroy it than anybody else has.

    2) If the fetus doesn't have a right to life, why does it matter if it's destroyed?

    This may be strange, but I don't see an aborted fetus as a victim whose rights have been violated. I don't need to make an analogy to murder in order to find the destruction of a fetus repugnant. I see it less as a matter of a fetus having a right to life as a matter of people lacking the right to destroy a fetus.

    So the point of your question--what would be the basis of good anti-abortion laws?

    I'll address the question of what makes a "good" law separately. But as far as I'm concerned anti-abortion laws should be based on the fact that fetuses are special entities unto themselves which no person has the right to destroy.

    "Relatedly (and second), why is it considered morally repugnant? That is, what are the reasons in making the moral claim?"

    The "ick factor," mostly. It offends my moral sensibilities. It's not necessarily based on reason. And I'm OK with that. I find some things morally repugnant enough that they should be illegal for the reason that they are morally repugnant. For instance, prostitution. There may be good reasons for prostitution to be illegal, but I don't need them.

    So, in a society in which different people have differing moral sensibilities and differing opinions about the extent to which morality should determine law, what should be done? I believe that law should be determined by the will of the majority (indirectly, ideally) and it should be blind to their reasons or lack thereof. Of course, there should be checks and safeguards to ensure that it takes strong, sustained popular support before controversial, hotly contested laws are changed or enacted. But if the people feel strongly enough for long enough that the law should be a certain way then it doesn't matter why they feel the way they do.

    So with that basis I'd say that in the most basic sense, a good law is a law to which a majority of the people assent, either actively or passively, directly or indirectly. A bad law is one to which a majority of the people don't assent.

    I'm sure that's not what you were asking for when you ask what is the basis for a good anti-abortion law. But there you go.

    I wonder if you could answer a question that I've had for a while. What's the difference between a viable fetus in utero and a newborn that makes it OK to destroy the fetus and not the newborn? Does displacing the baby twelve inches relative to its mother and cutting the umbillical chord change the nature of the entity in question?

  24. Anonymous mattt 

    Whatever the argument by the pro-lifers, it seems to be the case that S. Dakota's law will not have this exception...food for thought

  25. Anonymous annegb 

    This is a thread I'm going to have to print and study and file. I won't be taking it visiting teaching and I will remain silent in Sunday School. Or perhaps I will qualify and ask the teacher to define further, for instance: "Could we discuss what type of abortion you are talking about? Abortion on a pregnant 12 year old, abortion on the exhausted mother of 8 from Bed-Sty? Abortion, for the sixth time, on a promiscuous model? "Abortion by a heart broken 22 year old who doesn't feel she can go through with a pregnancy?"

    Hell, I probably won't even tell my husband or kids.

    I see clearly that this is a "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" issue. This has been a ground breaking, opinion-making thread for me. Thank you.

    Tom, wonderful. I don't have any answers. The older I get, the less I know.

  26. Anonymous D-Train 

    Hannah,

    Thanks for another great comment. The reason that my hypothetical is relevant is precisely because nobody would choose it or claim it to be moral. Presuming that you value life above all else, you'd have to suffer. The same is true of pregnancy IF you presume that abortion is wrong because of an absolute right to life that can't be weighed against other concerns. Just because there was a rape or an incest doesn't mean that you're justified in that abortion if you've accepted the value of life as an absolute that can only be weighed against other life concerns. The only ways to get around this argument are to argue that life (in the sense that we speak of life as having moral value) has not yet begun or that life is not an absolute value and can be overridden by some level of non-life concerns.

    The implication of all of this is that if it's really true that you can weigh the right to life of a fetus against other concerns, you pretty much have to abandon a lot of governmental regulation of abortion. Unless, of course, you're willing to accept that government can best make these decisions, which is an assumption that the pro-life people generally accept even less than the pro-choice folk.

    As far as the right to life of a fetus, I agree that we generally see it as having less than a newborn. There are lots of potential reasons for this, but pro-lifers need to acknowledge that we think this instead of pretending that life begins at conception unless the fetus is the product of rape or incest. Pro-choice people need to either be more precise and scientific in their position or admit that they don't know when life begins. I've tried to adopt the second position.

    I oppose treating the murder of a pregnant woman as a double homicide. You're right that this reasoning is eternally confusing.

    And it's good to see another HS debater around! I did CX for three years and I still can't stop twirling my pen....

  27. Anonymous D-Train 

    Artemis/NO,

    I PROMISE I will get to the article tonight and post some thoughts, either here or on another post.

  28. Anonymous Hannah G. 

    D-Train, have you ever wondered how pen-twirling became a universal of debate?

    I agree that people on both side of the debate could be more precise in their definitions. Actually, I think there is a lot of common ground on both sides that gets completely lost because people won't be precise, admit they don't know, or otherwise define their position in a way that allows for recognition of common ground. There are people on both sides who seem set on painting the other side in the worst possible light, and that really stifles good discussion. That's why I think this thread has been great--it has been thoughtful, has reached for precision, and has maintained civility! Kudos to all.

  29. Anonymous Tom 

    There are people on both sides who seem set on painting the other side in the worst possible light, and that really stifles good discussion.

    Very true. I can't stand to listen to or watch debates about abortion in the media because everyone is so unfair. People are so intent on calling into question their opponents' moral and/or intellectual quality. There needs to be a recognition that people can have differing moral sensibilities and differing opinions on what the law should be without being cretins or morons. And neither side has a corner on the markets of compassion or virtue.

    One of the problems that makes this such a sensitive topic is that it cuts to the core of how we conceive of ourselves as humans and it can be very hard to see things from the other perspective. I know that there are good people who don't think it's wrong to destroy a fetus, but I can't understand how they can think this. It's seems so obviously heinous to me, especially when the fetus is mid- to late term, that it's baffling to think that anyone would think it's OK. But good people do. What I can certainly understand is people who think abortion is wrong but nevertheless don't think it should be illegal. I disagree, but I can understand how people can come to this conclusion.

    By using the word heinous in the preceding paragraph I reminded myself of another reason this is a sensitive topic. I can imagine somebody who has had an abortion or who supports abortion rights reading that and thinking that I'm implying that they are heinous people when that is not my intent nor is it my opinion. It sucks, but even though I know that people could be offended by that kind of rhetoric, that word accurately conveys my feelings toward the act and if I'm being honest I need to accurately convey my feelings. I suppose the important thing is to be sensitive to context and avoid needlessly offending.

  30. Anonymous pellar 

    A couple thoughts:

    I took an ethics class at BYU and we talked about abortion and the actual deffinition of pro-life. Dr. Tolman (profesor on Biology) taught ua that pro-life (in the strict sense of the word) refers to a strong belief that life begins at conception. You do not believe in abortion of any sort and you even do not believe in birth control such as the pill because the pill works in two ways, 1. restricts conception by controlling ovulation and more importantly 2. lessens the amount of blood lining in the uterus, forcing an undetected miscarage soon after conception.

    If you accept abortion in some cases, believe it or not, you are not pro-life but some degree of pro-chioce. An infered point was that the church may be more concerned with taking responsibillity for your own choices (involving procreation) rather than the actual act of abortion. This would clear up hypocrisy with respect to the Church.

    Also, other very interesting reading is in the book Freakonomics that shows the relationship between abortion legality and crime rates. In short, crime rates fell a decade or so after abortion became legal due to less unwanted children being born to unfit parents.

  31. Anonymous Hannah G. 

    "Also, other very interesting reading is in the book Freakonomics that shows the relationship between abortion legality and crime rates. In short, crime rates fell a decade or so after abortion became legal due to less unwanted children being born to unfit parents."
    I'm sorry I couldn't let this pass--forgive me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure that there have been pretty significant challenges made to this theory by other economists. (Here's one paper I found http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0515.pdf) Surely, at the least, there is always a problem in accepting wholesale the notion that legalizing abortion caused there to be less crime. I mean, I always learned that the golden rule of statistics is "correlation does not equal causation."

  32. Anonymous D-Train 

    I had some serious questions about Levitt's methodology as well. Most notably, he couldn't establish the rate of illegal abortions prior to and after Roe. Without this, we can't establish the level of change in the independent variable. I might buy that there's something there, but not enough to hang a hat on. Freakonomics was basically a collection of interesting theories: a fun read, but not serious scholarship. I guess that's what it was meant to be......

  33. Anonymous Adam Greenwood 

    "If someone forces me to choose between shooting someone and suffering a terrific beating and emotional abuse every day for a year, I would not be in the right to shoot the person, even though I'm not responsible for making that horrible choice"

    (1) At least to me, its not obvious that it would be wrong to outlaw shooting people while making an exception for the person you mention above who did it under duress.

    (2) Second, its not obvious to me that it would be wrong to to decide politically that abortion outlawed with rape and incest exceptions is the best that can be done, and go for that. To use your example, would you be willing to make an exception for the person who shot under duress if that was the only way you criminalize murder?

    (3) Its not just pro-lifers you're criticizing, its the Church, which also makes exceptions for rape and incest.

  34. Anonymous D-Train 

    Adam, I'm not sure that you got the main idea of the post. I'm just criticizing the hypocrisy and inconsistency of saying that abortion should be outlawed because of a right to life that transcends any reasons that the mother could have and simultaneously arguing that this right no longer applies in cases where the fetus was produced by rape or incest. There are other legitimate reasons to support abortion restrictions. If you embrace a different justification for abortion restrictions, it's obviously possible to construct sensible rape/incest exceptions. With regard to your specifics....

    On the 1) - Pressure can't justify inconsistent reasoning. If you say that the right to life trumps all other concerns, you can't say that this isn't the case when it's an ill bargain for someone else. The shooting is happening under duress, but it doesn't justify deliberately making a choice that goes against your value premise for the sake of expediency. "But it's HARD!" is not an argument that allows one to escape moral constraints. I want to reiterate that my critique only applies to people that support abortion restrictions on the basis of an absolute right to life and then allow for rape and incest exceptions. In any other case, this post doesn't apply.

    2) True enough. But people that buy the life argument also largely buy the rape exceptions. It's not a case of saying "shucks, this is all we can get." It's a case of wanting two things for reasons that are mutually exclusive.

    3) As you'll recall from my concluding paragraph in the initial post, I don't know when life begins and do not advocate any more governmental restriction of abortion than exists in the status quo. Truthfully, I tend to advocate less (although there might be more role for popular sovereignty here than many of my pro-choice brethren would acknowledge). The official Church position is that abortion is permissible if a couple counsels with ecclesiastical authority and seeks and obtains the Lord's approval through prayer and personal revelation. I support this position 100%. I acknowledge that I might disagree with the majority of Church members and leaders in this, but I am absolutely on board with the policy. Also, it's worth noting that the policy makes a moral statement and not a political argument.

  35. Anonymous Pris 

    Tom: Thanks for answering my questions. Alas, it doesn't do me that much good because we have differing views of the validity of laws. That may be a topic to discuss, but not today. At very least, I (think) I understand your position, and it sounds quite reasonable even though I don't agree.

    I wonder if you could answer a question that I've had for a while. What's the difference between a viable fetus in utero and a newborn that makes it OK to destroy the fetus and not the newborn? Does displacing the baby twelve inches relative to its mother and cutting the umbillical chord change the nature of the entity in question?

    Good question. I'm not a doctor and have no medical training, so I am unsure if there is any explicit biological difference between a just-born baby and a viable in utero fetus. I approach the question of "what is life?" like this: it's obvious that both you and I are alive. I'm 24 years old; I was also obviously "alive" when I was 23...and 22, and 21, etc. I can make this claim all the way back to, say about 8 years old, and probably earlier. Now, it's also obvious to me that a zygote, even though it has the possibility of becoming "alive" is not alive. (Anyway we would reasonably want to define "alive"--especially for legal purposes--would back up this claim.) So what changes between a zygote and an 8 year old? There should be something to signify that change--the heart starts beating, the acquiring of literacy, the formation of hands, kicking, etc. I'm sympathetic to these claims, but I look at the list and there's one obvious change, the only one that is cataclysmic--birth itself. Occam's razor and all, it seems to me that birth is the best marker to accept.

    Granted, I'm using a fair number of assumptions here, but there are precious few hard facts in this debate. So, in answer to your question: there's little, if any, difference to the entity itself, but the necessity of the decision points to birth as the difference. (Interstingly, we could also look at differences to the mother instead of the fetus/baby.)

  36. Anonymous Tom 

    Pris: "there are precious few hard facts in this debate."

    Precisely. While I believe there is an absolute, definitive answer (God's answer) to the question of if and when it is OK to destroy a fetus, when debate is between people that don't have a common conception of God and God's opinion, all we have is our own moral sensibilities. And when we're talking about how each of us feels about the issue, every honest person is right.

    A more tractable debate is on the question of how law should be made and on what it should be based. In this debate we can rely more heavily on facts and reason to come to the best answer. That's not to say that every smart person will come to the same conclusion, but at least this is a question that can be more objectively analyzed.

    Incidentally, there are biological changes that take place when a baby is born. It starts breathing air for the first time, for instance. But I don't see how the biological changes can be translated into moral changes. I just don't get how birth changes the baby from killable to unkillable.

  37. Anonymous Darlene 

    Hey, I got here through the link at Feminist Mormon Housewives. If you don't mind, I'd like to chip in.

    Background. I'm a 47 year old convert who later apostasized and am now an atheist. However, I have a devout daughter who blogs often (Téa) and has a wonderful family. I stay in touch with church doings because I live in eastern Idaho and truth be told, you can't escape it here.
    I also believe in the power of an organized faith, especially one which allows its members to think for themselves and bring good into their lives living the faith.

    I'm a live and let live kinda person. I am probably more libertarian than most. I once was in favor of the death penalty and pro-life...how odd is that, even though it seems to be quite common? Now, I'm anti death penalty. (If someone harms my family, I'm going to want to kill them myself, with my own two hands, and I'm also going to want my remaining family or the rest of society to stop me from doing this crazy act.) I'm also pro choice, in that I believe this act is between a woman/girl and her faith/God/psyche.

    The point that I see in all of your thoughts on this subject is that good, intelligent and thoughtful people agree on some points and disagree on others. Given that good people can disagree and be honest and earnest, how can we legislate this issue? Why do we think we can make laws about this when we can't get a consensus? And laws made by the majority have a horrible way of overriding the rights of the minorities.

    When we think that our own viewpoint supercedes others' because we are right and it is part of our faith, we travel a treacherous path to extremism.

    The biggest things that I agree with on these postings are:

    1)When we say the fetus is a human being with full rights, we can't really say that those rights disappear when conception was due to rape/incest.

    2)That type of distinction seems more to say that the real issue is that having a baby is punishment for the woman who dared to have sex.

    If this type of wonderful debate (I and both of my daughters were debaters in HS long ago)is common I may peek in more often. I really enjoy seeing good discourse and y'all seem to be very civil and polite with each other.

  38. Anonymous D-Train 

    Darlene,

    Welcome to UoM! I'll be posting more on this topic this week (thanks to Artemis for a great article that deserves its own post!). I like to thank that we do OK with being civilized and respecting lots of different views. Please stop by more often!

    As far as how to make laws.....I honestly don't know. I think that we can't really do that in an informed way without more information than we have now. Given that there is no societal consensus that I can see, I think most abortions should probably be legal. Despite that, I'm not opposed to a political community making that decision.

  39. Anonymous Pris 

    Wow, so many HS debaters. Yeah, I did it too. Always found the pen twirling annoying, though.

    Tom: But I don't see how the biological changes can be translated into moral changes. I just don't get how birth changes the baby from killable to unkillable.

    I agree--I believe I said as much in my previous comment--but this does lead to a problem: if a biological change doesn't translate into a moral change, then we seem to be committed to considering zygotes as babies and banning all forms of birth control. That is, if there is no significant biological change, then the zygote/fetus/baby has and always has had the same moral standing. I, personally, cannot accept this (I am, at very least, very pro-birth control) which is why I accept my conjucture explained above.

  40. Anonymous Tom 

    Debate nerds . . . almost as bad as band geeks and drama [blank]s, well, you know what we superior people used to call them.

    I get you, Pris. There has to be some transition point from OK to destroy to not OK to destroy and an obvious one is birth, even if it is arbitrary. And you're right, you did say that. I was just reiterating my dissatisfaction with birth as the transition point.

    There is one precise transition point that is significant to me and that's when the fertilized embryo implants into the uterine lining and pregnancy begins. Terminating pregnancy after this point feels wrong to me. Preventing pregnancy doesn't. I suppose that's just as arbitrary as birth. I can't articulate right now why that biological change translates into a moral change for me, but I have only minor qualms about birth control, the morning after pill, harvesting embryos from discarded embryos, and discarding leftover embryos from IVF.

    There's another, less precise transition point that has more to do with morphology than physiology. When the fetus looks like a baby it seems even more wrong to destroy it than before it looks like a baby. That's when abortion becomes revolting to me. Again, that's as arbitrary as any other transition point, but it's obvious to me.

    D-train,
    What kind of information would we need before we could make informed lawmaking decisions? Are we talking about scientific advances or what?

  41. Anonymous Tom 

    That should be harvesting stem cells from discarded embryos near the end of my third paragraph.

  42. Anonymous Tom 

    Sorry for three posts in a row. I'm probably just talking to myself anyway, but I thought I'd link to a Slate article from yesterday about the South Dakota ban that comes to the same conclusion as D-train's original post.

    Here it is: http://www.slate.com/id/2137530/

    D-train, you should get a job at Slate.

  43. Anonymous D-Train 

    I get the feeling that I'd have to wear flat-front khakis to work at Slate. This would lead to a civil war between Mike (coblogger here) and AP (a friend that refuses to endorse the flat front).

    I'll just wait for the Foreign Affairs gig ;)

  44. Anonymous Darlene 

    Okay, here's one for you...the fellow that is filing a Roe v. Wade For Men lawsuit...the idea being that if a woman can have control or say over what happens with an unintended pregnancy, then a man should have the right, when mom chooses to keep the baby, to opt out of his paternal obligations.

    I totally agree.

    As to the idea that this places an undue burden on society to support the child, well, if the woman wants to continue to have the child on her own, she shouldn't depend upon the taxpayers for help. However, plenty of two parent families depend upon the taxpayers to support them and their children. On the other hand, if she can't support the child she is opting to have, she can put it up for adoption.

    I think it's unfair that a woman can opt out of an unintended pregnancy but a man can not. (But then, I guess it's unfair also, to a man, if she can choose to abort the baby and he has no say in the matter. I'm not willing to give him any rights in that issue.)

    The idea that the unborn child has rights goes back to the issue of whether the woman can opt out, or not.

    So, all in all, since I support the woman's right to choose, I also say that if she chooses to keep the baby, the dad should get the chance to opt out of the support. If he actually wants the baby but she chooses to adopt the baby out, the dad should have the first right to get the child.

    A long time ago, when I was an ardent Republican and devout church member, I was against the Equal Rights Amendment. "Open that door and you'll be opening Pandora's Box with all the possible permutations of equal rights."
    Well, now that I'm so totally for Equal Rights for all (including homosexuals and their right to get married and have children) I certainly find myself in quandaries about all the possibilities each 'right' opens up.

    I asked my husband what he thought about this 'Roe v. Wade For Men' and he says he thinks the man ought to have the same right to opt out of unintended parenthood as the woman does. He says this idea is much more benign than allowing the father to force the mother to abort the baby...which is another way of giving him rights about the concept of parenthood with an unintended pregancy.

    Y'all are free thinking men and women, from what I'm reading. What do you think?

  45. Anonymous Adam Greenwood 

    "I want to reiterate that my critique only applies to people that support abortion restrictions on the basis of an absolute right to life and then allow for rape and incest exceptions. In any other case, this post doesn't apply."

    Are you aware of any such people? I submit that I am more familiar with pro-life people than you are, and I've never met anyone who believed in the absolute right to life but also believed in the rape-and-incest exceptions. People who believe in the absolute right to life are mostly Catholics who are against rape and incest exceptions and against the death penalty and etc. Most pro-lifers hold the position either that (1) unborn children are alive so we should apply the same sort of moral reasoning to them that we apply in deciding when children and adults have a right to life or (2) we don't know if unborn children are fully alive or not and we shouldn't be reckless with life, so we apply something akin to the same sort of moral reasoning we would apply to children and adults.

    You may have been misled by rhetoric emphasizing the right-to-life, but that's the way rhetoric is. People don't speak in fully elaborated qualifications, just like when people are denouncing murder they probably say some things that they would have to qualify when it comes to self-defense or war-making or whatever. You are being uncharitable or unthoughtful if you accuse people of hypocrisy because they qualify their strong rhetoric.

    ""But it's HARD!" is not an argument that allows one to escape moral constraints."

    No, but it may be a reason for not imposing the same kinds of legal consequences. Is it hypocrisy for me to believe that its morally wrong to kill an innocent person but to still favor leniency or even no punishment at all for the person who kills an innocent person under duress? I submit that it isn't.

    "3) As you'll recall from my concluding paragraph in the initial post, I don't know when life begins and do not advocate any more governmental restriction of abortion than exists in the status quo."

    This is why I favor more abortion restrictions. Ah, life.

    "The official Church position is that abortion is permissible if a couple counsels with ecclesiastical authority and seeks and obtains the Lord's approval through prayer and personal revelation."

    Not exactly. The official Church position is that in cases of *rape* and *incest* the Church leaves the decision to the couple and their local bishop.

  46. Anonymous Tom 

    Darlene, I'm having a hard time forming an opinion on the situation you present because I just can't get past my feeling that mothers shouldn't be able to opt out of pregnancy by destroying the fetus. What should happen? Abortion should be illegal.

    That said, it is true that it's not fair that women can opt out and men can't. But the consequences of allowing men to opt out are very undesireable. Kids would have even less support than they currently have. To me, the negative consequences in this instance would far outweigh the fairness concern.

  47. Anonymous D-Train 

    Adam, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    I can't take your word that you're better informed than me given the following examples of folks simultaneously making right-to-life arguments and advocating rape/incest exceptions:

    This article concerning the South Dakota debate clearly shows that some supported the language in the bill and rape/incest exceptions.

    This article shows the same thing in Mississippi, where the rape/incest exception actually turned up in the legislation.

    John McCain has supported right to life arguments and explicitly supports rape/incest exceptions.

    This Time article explains inconsistencies in the "pure" life position with specifics relating to the SD abortion debate.

    This article at religioustolerance.org explains much the same point. Pay special attention to Speaker McCoy's argument.

    This is a far cry from "a single person", as the two most prominent abortion debates in the United States and a number of our most prominent politicians have specifically involved the kind of reasoning that I oppose. I am not being hypocritical or uncharitable in suggesting that people should qualify their strong statements: these folks have had plenty of opportunity to qualify their statements about the rights of the unborn and do not do so because they're either trying to have their cake and eat it too or they're trying to pander to multiple constituencies at the expense of intellectual honesty. Either they're wrong or they're lying (I strongly suspect wrong). The Time article points this out quite clearly. It's an inconsistent argument and it's just as legitimate for me to criticize pro-life advocates as it is for you to criticize me.

    On the issue of legal consequences: Allowing someone to take a life and not allowing someone to take a life are much too different outcomes to justify a shift in rape/incest cases. It might be appropriate to impose lesser penalties (as we do with manslaughter cases), but it is not OK to simply allow it.

    As for the Church policy, I don't have a GHI handy. My understanding was that abortions are permitted under Church policy in other cases, such as severe fetal disability. I might be wrong, but there isn't much that hinges on this. I think the ultimate arbiter of morality is God and that people may feel free to seek his guidance. This is why I support broader abortion rights than most Mormons. I don't know when life begins and, in view of the differences among intelligent people, choose to leave it to conscience.

  48. Anonymous D-Train 

    Darlene,

    Your point is outstanding and deserves much further discussion. I will post as soon as I get any time. (Got to grade tests now....)

  49. Anonymous Adam Greenwood 

    Here's a link on pro-lifers being criticized for not wanting a rape and incest exception:

    http://corner.nationalreview.com/06_03_05_corner-archive.asp#092023

    I've read your last comment and I don't think it responds to any of the points I made. Help me out.

    1. Do you have any actual examples of pro-lifers who believe that life trumps every other consideration (i.e., who are pacifists, who oppose the death penalty, etc.) but who favor a rape and incest exception for reasons other than political expediency? None of the actual examples you cited above are it. I understand that pro-lifers make you uncomfortable and its easier to dismiss them as hypocrites than otherwise, but you must have charity. As I explained before, most pro-lifers believe that unborn children should be entitled to the same rights to life as adults are, with the same sorts of qualifications and moral reasoning as we apply to adults, and they use the same sort of uncompromising right-to-life rhetoric that they'd use if innocent adults were being slaughtered legally. You may not like pro-lifers, but that doesn't excuse you from the burden of charity in interpreting their arguments.


    2. "Allowing someone to take a life and not allowing someone to take a life are much too different outcomes to justify a shift in rape/incest cases."

    Why? And why is this hypocrisy? You still haven't explained why its hypocritical of me to believe, as I do, that killing is wrong, that life is valuable, but that it would be legitimate for the state not to criminalize killing under extreme duress.

    3. "I don't know when life begins and, in view of the differences among intelligent people, choose to leave it to conscience."

    I think this is an irresponsible view. If I were on a gun range, and one of my friends was sure he saw someone downrange, while my other friend was equally certain he didn't and was raising his rifle to fire, I wouldn't be like, dude, whatever, its your conscience.

  50. Anonymous D-Train 

    Adam, I think we're meaning different things by "universal" and so I'll just assume that your characterization of their argument is accurate. Your characterization weakens your case dramatically.

    If some pro-life advocates want the fetus to have the same right to life as an adult and also want a rape/incest exception, they are guilty of exactly the hypocritical argument I was talking about in the original post. We basically treat the right to life of individuals as universal in that we can't weigh it against any concern other than a life concern. For example, basically the only circumstances in which an adult forfeits the right to life in the United States are death penalty cases (where a heinous murder was committed) and self defense. Please explain to me the circumstance in which an adult forfeits his or her right to life that is analogous to aborting a fetus in a rape or incest case. Pro-lifers either don't realize this contradiction or are being disingenuous. As your link and some of mine suggest, many have chosen a pro-life position that does not include rape and incest exceptions. While I disagree with this position, I recognize that it is consistent.

    To the extent that pro-lifers do realize this contradiction, I suspect that the value they really care about is accountability. "She had sex and she deserves to be punished." Aside from the inconsistencies between allowing for rape/incest abortions and not allowing for other circumstances in which bearing the child could be traumatic, there is a fundamental value conflict between the "same rights to life that adults have" and rape/incest exceptions. I continue to be confused about why pointing out a bad argument makes me uncharitable and am equally confused about how your argument against me escapes this condemnation.

    For your second point, I return to one of the original points in the post: the right to life argument is so strong because of its lack of exceptions. It's clear and concise: no killing unless other life is threatened. The reason that this argument is effective is because a right to life is something that is really sacred to us. If we establish that a fetus has that, we CANNOT take it away unless other life concerns are involved. In rape and incest cases, it's just not that way. It is hypocritical for government to take that right away for something less. I agree with lesser penalties for greater mitigating circumstances, but you can't just excuse this. If your argument that the pro-lifers contend that the fetus has the same right to life as an adult is true (and I completely concede it for now), they'd have to apply the parallel standard: involuntary or voluntary manslaughter, but NEVER a legal free pass.

    Third point: I'm assuming that you know that your example is absurd. There are a lot more reasons to go ahead with an abortion than there are to fire away without waiting ten seconds. I refuse to offer moral condemnation when I don't know the answer to a moral question. I agree with you that I should attempt to find an answer to this. I've received no divine revelation confirming that life begins at conception. I've also not received any scientific evidence that persuades me of when a right to life exists. When I get one or the other, I'll take a position. Until then, I'm not going to vote to prohibit something that I don't know is wrong when reasonable, good, intelligent people disagree and when there's no obvious harm to society.

  51. Anonymous Tom 

    D-train,
    I know I already asked, but I gotta know, what kind of scientific evidence could indicate when a right to life exists? What don't we know that we need to know before we can decide when the fetus has rights? What are you waiting for?

    I ask because I can't conceive of any scientific advancement or discovery that would do that job. I don't think we lack anything. We, as a citizenry, decide what rights to afford to whom. I, as a citizen, am ready right now, based on the special nature of the fetus, to afford fetuses if not the same right to life as we afford adults, a measure of protection. I'm trying hard to think of any scientific knowledge that would strengthen or weaken my resolve on this issue, but I can't think of any.

  52. Anonymous Adam Greenwood 

    D-Train,

    you are still missing my point. You obviously think I'm wrong to believe that a society could legitimately not punish killing made under extreme duress, but you haven't explained why its hypocritical of me to think that. Your post would have a lot less rhetorical punch if it were titled 'I wouldn't make rape and incest exceptions if I were a pro-lifer.'

    I also think you are wrong that most pro-lifers believe in the principle that there should be no killing unless a life is threatened. Most pro-lifers aren't pacifist, as far as I'm aware. Most pro-lifers also support our current self-defense laws, in which one is allowed to use deadly force for reasons other than attacks on your life. I believe its the case in many jurisdictions that you can also use deadly force, for instance, to prevent someone from doing serious physical harm to you even if it wouldn't be fatal, or from committing certain types of assault (un-assented personal contact) such as rape. I also believe its the case that you could be allowed to defend yourself against this type of harm even if the person who is doing it isn't doing it on purpose, though of course this rarely happens. Pro-lifers who believe that unborn children should have the same rights to life as the rest of us analogize from these principles that women who bear no responsibility for the presence of a person in their body who is changing their chemistry, drawing on their blood, etc., which is to say women who get pregnant through rape or incest, should be able to 'defend' themselves. Between two completely innocent parties, the law should not step in. But where the woman has voluntarily had sex she bears some responsibility for the presence of the baby and the law should step in to prevent a doctor from killing it.

    You are being uncharitable because you aren't willing to find out what pro-lifers think. You are unwilling to give any consideration to the idea that they aren't hypocrites, and see where that takes you. Did you make any effort to find serious pro-life defenses of the rape/incest exception before you decided to level the hypocrisy charge?

    And why 'hypocrisy' instead of 'inconsistency'? We usually reserve the word hypocrisy for people who preach one set of principles but who discard them when its to their own benefit. Since pro-lifers are pretty public both about their opposition to abortion and their making an exception for rape and incest, and since most pro-lifers haven't been raped or been the victims of incest, why call them hypocrites except to blacken their name a little?

  53. Anonymous D-Train 

    Adam,

    In my last post, I conceded your characterization of the pro-lifers as people that want the same right to life for the fetus as for adults. My point is that even in your less restrictive vision of the pro-life argument, it fails horribly when you try to include rape and incest exceptions. I think we can call this universal, but I'm not going to fight that since it's getting in the way of the discourse and because the exception is still hypocritical on your terms. I also think that we allow for lethal self defense because we have the right to presume that the person who is raping us or breaking into our home is posing a potentially lethal threat to our existence. Any right to life that's worth anything at all trumps the concerns about body chemistry that you note, especially in a world where live birth is about as safe as even an early-term abortion.

    I called the argument hypocritical and not the people. I did call the people that are aware of the inconsistency and stand by the position hypocrites. I stand by both claims. The fact is that "life" is only part of the concern for the pro-life movement. I've said about four times in this thread that people making this argument are either unaware of the inconsistency in the argument or are and just choose to proceed anyway. I have also noted that I think that people are generally unaware and not trying to trick anyone (I emphasize generally). An argument can be hypocritical if it seeks to grant exemptions that discard the initial logic without a good explanation that actively engages the terms of the initial argument.

    It's OK to use a nifty tagline for rhetorical punch if it's true. It's not OK to use it if the argument is just plain wrong. Can we debate abortion until the cows come home? Of course. I honestly don't see what's so problematic about asserting that if a right to life exists, a rape or incest committed by a third party (or parties) cannot just take that away. I absolutely cannot see how giving that fetus the same rights as exist for adults can POSSIBLY allow for a removal of the right to life on the basis of something that someone else did.

    Adam, of course there are serious defenses from pro-life people of the rape and incest exception. Of course there are. I find some of them moderately persuasive, presuming you're not willing to advocate a right to life. Heck, I linked to some for you! (I think....)

    But these defenses do not engage the right to life in any substantive way. Abortion laws are about life when two horrible kids fornicated and it's about not punishing the innocent when someone gets raped. Neither claim engages the other. This is what I have a problem with. Nothing more.

    As far as a real effort to take the other side seriously.....I can only offer two points.

    1) My assertion that I honestly tried.

    2) Your willingness to call me an uncharitable lout well before I ever engaged anything you had to say.

    In the spirit of keeping things civil, I appreciate your substantive contribution here. I hope you visit more often and continue to comment, both on this thread and others. I'm sure that you sincerely mean what you have to say. I'm also sure that you're sincerely wrong, but that's an argument for you. In any event, I can say with a surety that even if I find an argument to be hypocritical, that does not imply that the person making it can be so characterized. My sincerest apologies if I conveyed anything else.

  54. Anonymous D-Train 

    Tom: My honest to goodness answer is that I just don't know. The research on fetal pain-feeling might be a start. I can accept that morality might be a better guide than science in answering this question (if only because you need the morality to interpret the science). I don't have a moral or a scientific answer to the question.

    The standard I'm working with: anything that is pretty viable outside the womb, I definitely think is a life. Anything that actually looks like a baby is a life. This isn't scientific and I make no claim whatsoever that anyone is obligated to accept or even consider it. It's just my answer in the face of ignorance.

    Part of the problem here is that moral answers face the same problem as my crude understanding of life. Moral reasoning is no more generalizable than my example. That doesn't mean that it's less informative, but simply that the process of reasoning through the problem will be different.

  55. Anonymous Adam Greenwood 

    "Your willingness to call me an uncharitable lout well before I ever engaged anything you had to say."

    I didn't call you a lout . . .

    As for the rest, I don't feel like you've responded to my arguments in any substantive way. Saying variants on the word hypocrisy over and over is no substitute for argument.

  56. Anonymous Adam Greenwood 

    " I don't feel like you've responded to my arguments in any substantive way. Saying variants on the word hypocrisy over and over is no substitute for argument."

    Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  57. Anonymous annegb 

    The father and the mother cannot have equal say in whether they become a parent or not because if the woman chooses to have the child and the dad opts out, who figures out what happens? Or vice versa, if she wants an abortion and he wants to be a parent, who decides.

    So if the woman has more of a right to choose, she also must have more responsibility because it's not fair the other way. If it's equal and they conflict, who decides?

    I don't think Solomon could figure that out.

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