Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Abortion and Innocent Life

A frequent justification I see for the assignment of special rights to "pre-born" life (zygotes, blastocysts, embryos and fetuses) is that these entities have the status of "innocent life." "Innocent life" should never be killed, is the justification given for the desire to use the force of law to prevent women from obtaining abortions.

My problem with this reasoning is that it presupposes a religious basis for morality, for which there is not consensus in a pluralistic society such as ours.

My basis for morality, in a nutshell, is the Golden Rule, which I understand predates Christianity.

When one declares a fetus, et al, to be "innocent," the implication is that the rest of the population is not innocent, or blameworthy, as some would say. Basically my understanding of this concept is that all born humans have guilt, but that fetuses have a special moral status because they have not yet have had opportunity to sin against God. Such concepts are of no use to nonbelievers such as myself.

(For background, I was raised Roman Catholic, but have been atheist for over 25 years. My recollection of Catholic and Christian doctrine is fuzzy, so I apologize in advance if my summations of such are inaccurate.)

Thus I would not confer a moral superiority to a fetus over a woman, or vice-versa.

As to why I believe women should have the right to "kill pre-born life" through abortion, in my view the right to human bodily autonomy prevails when the rights of the fetus and the woman are in conflict. No one is forcibly required to donate organs, or even to give blood, in order to save the life of another person. To give fetuses the right to inhabit a woman for gestation would remove this right of bodily autonomy from women.

For a relevant thought experiment, I submit the case of the Famous Violinist.


  1. Hi, Joe -- this is Angel, or "angelmother3".

    My name is Angel, I'm a mother to 3 girls. After reading your blog I have a better understanding of where you are coming from, but I cannot relate. I didn't think I would, and that's okay.

    I became a born-again Christian in my youth and I have always been pro-life. To me, as soon as a sperm fertilizes an egg human development begins. Or, a baby is made and starts to form. Aside from my moral belief regarding abortion, I believe abortion terminates or stops midstream the natural process of human development. On on the issue of feminism, I don't feel abortion is pro-woman. But that's an entirely different discussion.

    Not all pro-life people are Christian. Visit here: http://www.secularprolife.org/

    Take care,

  2. Hi, Angel,

    Thank you for your response.

    I am also not surprised that someone such as yourself would not be able to "relate" to my views on abortion. I trust you understand that this is a two-way street, and this stark difference in views between the two camps is why so little common ground can be found.

    Thank you also for providing the link. I was aware that a small percentage of nonbelievers are "pro-life," but I hadn't had much opportunity to learn about them. Time permitting, I'll poke around that site (particularly the forum) to test my preconceptions.

    By the way, my name's not really Joe, I just made that up to get around Bryan's ban. (I suppose that counts as a little white lie.)


  3. I was one of those person he banned as well.Am I welcome here?If not,say the word and I'll go

  4. Cathy,


    Seriously, whatever you said to piss off Bryan, it is extremely unlikely that I would find it offensive. He and I are nearly as close to being polar opposites as I think you could get.

    Now I'm brand new to this blogging thing -- I haven't thought through what I am going to do to keep people entertained -- but you're welcome to check back periodically ...

    On second thought, I have an idea for my next topic. I'll try to get it out later today.


  5. So a woman can do whatever she wants to whatever is inside of her own body? Okay, got it.

    Let's say I own a house. It is my own house. I bought and paid for it. Inside that house is a child. My child. Can I mmurder that child? Use tools and pull him apart piece by piece? I mean, it is living in my house using my food and my energy. It is completely depended upon me to survive.

    If you answered 'No,' than you have already disproven your own point. No matter what the circumstances, no one has the right to murder someone.

  6. rhinobarbarian,

    I suspect you are being intentionally obtuse. You really cannot comprehend the difference between personal bodily autonomy and rights regarding other inhabitants of your house? Wow!

  7. I don't think the "Famous Violinist" case really holds up. The following article says it well enough, so I won't restate it here.


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  10. Sorry about that folks.
    Arium,everything they threw at me I debunked,guess they didn't like that,lol.
    rhinobarbarian I have to agree with Arium.Now let me ask you this.You say that abortion is torching a human fetus,right? okay,let say that fetus has brain cancer(untreatable,incurable)wouldn't bring it to full term and birth to only die a long,slow and painful be torching that fetus?

  11. Anon,

    I don't find any of the objections to Jarvis listed in your link to be compelling.

    For example, I don't believe that a woman who consents to sex implicitly consents to pregnancy any more than a person who drives implicitly consents to being in a collision.

  12. Cathy,

    After I wrote that post I realized that most people probably don't create and save everything they write outside of a browser, to make sure they don't lose anything, like I do. I guess in Freudian terms I'm anal-retentive.

  13. Arium you saved everything from the other blog?If you did,that's great!I would like a copy of that blog,if you still have it.All my post on there got deleted and would like a copy for an piece I'm working on.I know I should be saving copies myself,but I have way to much stuff on my computer now.

  14. Cathy,

    Sorry, I only saved what I wrote. Saving entire threads would take up too much space. ;)

  15. rats!! that's okay,next time I know better,thanks for the tip.I'm going to start saving mine.

  16. Arium,

    I'm just trying to figure out your position on a woman's autonomy. Are you ascribing to personal autonomy? I think autonomy connects to moral views. Further, moral autonomy was given to us (inherent free will) and our free will allows us to choose. These choices have consequences.

    Smokers are autonomous in a sense, but then they (not all) can't really control their behavior regarding smoking. So, they really aren't "free" or "rulers of themselves". They are prisoners of their own habit. Smokers choose to smoke and the behavior has consequences.

    So, I'm just trying to wrap my brain around your argument. Are you saying a woman will keep her autonomy if she aborts an unwanted child? I don't think Sally felt empowered after her abortion -- I know my sister-in-law didn't. It makes me wonder:

    Perhaps abortion is not about "taking charge" or "self-governing" but more about lacking the capacity or self-assurance to obligate oneself to take responsibility or respect humanity. (Please keep reading.)

    Now I know this doesn't fit your philosophy. And I do know that when my sister-in-law had an abortion she was free to do so and in a sense was "taking charge", but afterward her autonomy was not in tacked.

    Have you ever seen photos of aborted babies? Take a look at late-term aborted children. Look at their bodies. You may argue that a child is not autonomous -- there exist many theories on autonomy -- but I feel that this aborted child possessed intrinsic value, but that value will never be discovered:


    Most Sincerely,

  17. Angel,

    When I refer to human (women's) bodily autonomy, I refer to our bodies as being the one asset we need to be able to maintain complete control over. Of course this does not give is the right to use our bodies to harm other people. This means no one should be allowed to force us to donate organs, donate blood, receive vaccinations, or gestate fetuses against our will.

    Moral autonomy, free will, or whatever you call it, is a separate issue and is beyond the scope of this discussion. (I will say for background that I can't accept the concept of free will as I conceptualize it, but in discussions with my [liberal pro-choice Christian] wife I realize that my concept of free will differs from free will as defined by Christian doctrine.)

    By my reasoning a woman maintains her bodily autonomy when she is able to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term. When a woman's consent to sex is not assumed to imply that she consents also to pregnancy, her bodily autonomy is maintained.

    Given the tactics used by the "pro-life" movement, unfortunately nearly everyone has been subjected to viewing pictures purportedly of aborted fetuses.

    I find it impractical to grieve for every potential person who wasn't born due to induced abortion. I see this as no different than the people who weren't born because of the billions of zygotes that have failed to implant naturally, or for that matter because the sperm that became part of me reached the ovum before any of its brothers.

  18. Arium, pregnancy is the normal and natural outcome of sex. People have sex to reproduce (like all other sexually reproducing animals) and people know that sex causes pregnancy. The normal outcome of driving is getting to your destination. Getting in a wreck is something that can go wrong with driving. Getting pregnant is not something that goes wrong with sex, it is something that goes correctly, it is the natural outcome. An abortion or a miscarraige would be more like a car wreck from sex. They are the things that go wrong in the process of reproduction, not getting pregnant.

    Also, sperm and eggs are not people, but when they come together and form a zygote, then they are a new and unique human being. People don't die when sperm doesn't reach the egg, sperm dies. People die when they are killed after fertilization.

  19. Anon,

    Mammals that have sex only to reproduce have estrus cycles, so they know when to mate. Humans have ambiguous ovulation. Humans have sex for pleasure. Sex usually does not result in pregnancy.

    You may believe that some magical event (read ensoulment) occurs at fertilization that merits conferring the status of personhood on a zygote. I happen to disagree.

  20. Anonymous, I have to agree with Arium.pregnancy can be prevented,just like a car wreck.Some will tell you that birth control and condoms is the same as abortion and yes even sterilization.
    They say not having sex is the best.But when one gets married that rule of "no sex" is out.What kind of message is that sending.I say a very confusing one,just like everything else everyone comes up with.This is why:

    You say pregnancy is normal and natural outcome of sex.By saying that, your saying rape is normal, when one can get pregnant from it.What happens when a fetus has cancer.Do you think its fair to torcher that fetus to a long,slow and painful death?We pull the plug on life support systems,cause we don't want them to suffer.You don't want abortion, cause you don't want them to suffer and you say its murder.So how can we pull the plug on life support and terminate one's life,when you claim its wrong to do so in pregnancy?Either way that would be murder,right?
    Most don't believe in war,but they say sometimes its necessary,but its wrong.This really whats gets me.You can justify one,but can't justify the other.Both kill,right?

    Here's another example:
    I wrote on another blog about people who have children one after another just so they can stay on Government asst.
    Someone wrote this:I think their should be a limit on how many children you can get assistance for so that someone won’t have children just for money, and won’t live off of government money irresponsibly because they don’t want to work. There are solutions to problems, we just have to use our imaginations.

    Here's me using my imagination. Why can't we do the same thing to abortion?limit it,Not banned it. If you say no.This would be my debunking of this persons statement.If we limit to how many children that can be on assistance, who exactly are we punishing? Doesn't that child,no matter what number it is, deserve that money?Justifying one,without justifying the other.
    Just like when a parent spanks a child,they call it child abuse and no one is allowed to spank a child,but when that child,lets say skips school and ends up in court,who gets punished? The parent,not the child.Again what kind of message are we sending? I know what's that got to do with this subject.
    This is the whole point.When we start banning one thing,then that leave us to start banning everything.In the process who's really suffering?When do we draw that fine line of when to step in and when to step out?Most agree about stepping in,but never agree to step out.I don't see the logic in controlling others lives or justify one without doing the same to the other.
    Anyone getting what I'm trying to say here?If not,let me break it down for you.
    Banned abortion,then you would have to banned birth control,condoms, sterilization,war,pulling the plug on life support(I call this a chain reaction).By doing this opens the door to everybody telling what one can and can not put into their body and outside of their body.Then opens another door on how one should raise their family and how to run someone life.By the time everyone is done,we're doing nothing but controlling one another.So where's the fine line?
    Myself I don't want to control anyone's body or their life,cause I don't want it done to me.

  21. Cathy,

    On multiple occasions, you have used phrases like "torcher that fetus." As much as I hate to play grammar police, is it at all possible that you meant instead "torture that fetus?"

  22. Arium yes that was the word I was looking for,lol,Sorry.Please by all means play the grammar police with me,cause I sure need it.I really stink at grammar.Thank you


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