Thursday, January 27, 2011

This is not a difficult concept.

...But you'd be surprised how many people have such a hard time grasping it.


Malcolm+ said...

Photo doesn't come through for me, so I have no idea what you're on about.

Audrey II said...

Sorry, Malcolm. It loaded for me when I previewed it, but there seems to have been some issues with blogger hotlinking. I think I've fixed it.

Sixth Estate said...

Looks like a tree to me!

In all seriousness, nice picture.

Malcolm+ said...

In fairness, I don't think the issue is as cut and dried as you make it out to be. I can see a coherent philosophical opinion that the foetus is a person with rights - although the anti-choice movement might have more credibility if they didn't seem to believe that those rights ended at birth.

That said, the general religious view prior to the last couple of centuries was that the foetus became person at "quickening" (when movement could be felt) rather than at conception.

The thing is though, at the end of the day, this is a philosophical / metaphysical question and one can neither prove that a foetus is or is not a person.

Audrey II said...


I'd really like to hear more about this "coherent philosophical opinion that the fetus is a person with rights", as each time I've seen it discussed, it's almost always justified by an abuse of biology or a completely untenable conceptualization of "personhood" / sufficient criteria for moral agency. I very much respect your opinions on things, and you've provided explanations of things here previously that I had not been familiar with and which at the very least have given me pause for thought.

While you're right that the notion of personhood/moral agency is very much a philosophical question, I don't think that then means that all stances or opinions on it are "created equal" or equally intellectually compelling / factually supportable. In my humble (and admittedly non-comprehensive) experience legal, scientific, and ethical academic opinion tends to reject in significant degree the notion of personhood (and following that, human rights) being merely contingent on human conception or fetal movement. Is there a coherent case for either that they may be missing?

Malcolm+ said...

I think the problem is that, when you get right down to it, the answer to "when does a person become a person" is arbitrary. Even tying it to passage through the birth canal is arbitrary, really.

Experientially, it seems that most people actually place personhood at some point before birth - or at least they do so if the child is a wanted child. People tend to be, for example, more outraged by the violent death of a woman if she is pregnant, and even more so if she is in the late stages of pregnancy. Expectant parents don't refer to a foetus, but to a baby.

Which is not to say, of course, that the issue is merely to be expressed in terms of feelings or of philosophies, but to understand that there is no cut and dried answer that is truly objective.

This is why disagreements about abortion - moreso than almost any other issue - inevitably turn into screaming matches. The most ardent champions of each side cannot (or will not) seek to understand, not just the philosophical underpinnings of the other side, but to even understand that the other side is working from a different philosophical frame entirely.

The reason the more obnoxious anti-choice advocates shriek "murderer" is because they can't grasp that most pro-choicers do not see the foetus (at least in early stages) as a person.

And while no small part of the anti-choice leadership actually is anti-woman and seeking to constrain women's autonomy, there actually are some pro-choice folk who are philosophically persuaded that a foetus is a person from the moment of conception. Thus, a person who is otherwise progressive on every issue may dissent here.

If a foetus is a person, then the issue can only be understood as the murder of an innocent. If a foetus is not a person, then the issue can only be understood as interference in a woman's autonomy.

I think legal, scientific and ethical academic opinion is necessarily a moving target and reflective of cultural norms. A century ago, legal, scientific and ethical academic opinion tended to have a very low opinion of a woman's place in society. As society changed, these areas followed - or possibly led by a very small margin. Thus, as the culture has become de facto pro-choice, the legal, scientific and ethical academic agreements have tended to conform.

But go out into the street and ask a few folk, and I rather suspect you'd find a very different answer if you were asking about terminating a pregnancy at four weeks as opposed to terminating a pregnancy at 36 weeks.

My own position (which is agnostic on the personhood question and that the termination of a pregnancy is a moral issue, but that the woman concerned is the appropriate moral agent to decide) might best be described as "pro-choice, but not entirely happy about it."

Of course, for a significant number of women, the decision to have an abortion is driven by a constellation of social and economic factors. For whatever set of reasons, they feel they cannot have a child - or at least cannot have a child now. The best way to address the whole matter is to be thoroughly pro-choice. Just as no woman should feel that she has no choice but to carry her pregnancy to term, so also no woman should feel that she has no choice but to terminate her pregnancy.

And that, of course, is why the US experience consistently shows abortion rates going UP under Republicans and DOWN under Democrats. Improved social and economic supports for women and families mean that fewer women choose to terminate their pregnancy. That is a good thing, whatever one may think about abortion.

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