Sunday, July 4, 2010

Why I'm Not a Fan of Daily Kos: Abortion Strawmen

This diary is a perfect example of the one-sided thinking at Daily Kos.

Key quotes after the fold...

Dante Atkins on Daily Kos's front page writes:
"[I]f you were firmly convinced that God breathes a soul into a union of zygotes the moment sperm meets egg and the result divides from one cell into two, and it's the termination of this soul that makes murder the crime it is, then it stands to reason that you would, in your belief system, consider abortion to be murder--and that the resultant murder (in your view, of course) of millions of children every year would obviously be your main public policy concern. No other issue would loom as large, and no alternative could possibly be brooked besides a complete elimination of murder as viable public policy. [...]
But for the sake of argument, let us consider the "middle ground" on this issue: the idea that abortion should be acceptable in case of rape, incest and medical emergencies, but illegal in other cases.  This may seem like a more moderate position, but let's consider one fact. First, the mere granting of any exemptions whatsoever is proof that the fetus is not the overriding concern. After all: a life created through a violent act of rape is no less innocent than one consciously created through the physical act of a married couple very much in love. That, of course, only leaves one notion as the overriding concern: Blame.

The issue here is simple: those in the category who would permit an abortion only in the circumstances of crime view the fetus not as a person, but rather as an inconvenience. They support a concrete punishment involving the supposed shame of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, and lastly, a choice between either the expense and difficulty of raising a child or the emotional turmoil of giving one up for adoption. This attitude is not one that respects life, but one that seeks to use it as a bargaining chip in exchange for the social engineering of female sexual and economic repression."
As a secular moderate on the abortion issue, where do I start dismantling this strawman argument?

Let us consider three premises and the conclusion they lead to:

Premise One: Bodily Integrity.  A woman should have control over her life and body.

Premise Two: Future Utility.  A fetus has some moral value because of its potential to experience full happiness and humanity.  The abortion of the fetus is morally harmful in a similar way as killing a child in his or her sleep because both acts deprive the person of future happiness and experiences.

Premise Three: Conflict of Values.  The first two premises are in a direct conflict in an abortion context because the desirability of giving a woman control over her body and life directly conflicts with the fetus's moral worth and future happiness.  Thus, the only way to arrive at a satisfactory position for abortion is to find some way to resolve the conflict between the values mentioned in the first two premises. 

Conclusion: Righteousness of Abortion is Context-Dependent.  This direct conflict can be resolved by balancing the two interests and permitting or prohibiting abortion depending on the circumstances.  The relevant circumstances include: the likelihood of the fetus living a full and happy life, the extent of the harm the mother seeks to avoid by having an abortion, the development of the fetus, and other conceivable factors as well.  Accordingly, restricting abortion except where the fetus is very young, there is rape or incest, or the life or health of the mother is in danger seems to be a very sensible if not the most sensible position on the issue.

I think there are two very reasonable criticisms of my argument.  The first is with the second premise that the future happiness of a fetus conveys moral value.  Perhaps harm is only morally considerable if it is actually felt or experienced.  Or perhaps the deprivation of future happiness is only considerable if the person harmed is intelligent enough to have goals and expectations about the future.  I think these are both very valid criticisms and anyone who does not buy my second premise can feel free to disregard my conclusion as well.

The second criticism is that my conclusion is right in theory but I have misjudged the balance of interests.  Perhaps the fetus's interest in its future experiences exists but is so slight that its interest seldom or never trumps the mother's interest in bodily integrity.  Or perhaps the mother's interest in bodily integrity is only significant if her health is at stake.  Thus, you can see how by judging the strength of the fetus's and mother's interests differently, we can agree in principle but still end up on opposite sides of the pro-life/pro-choice battlefield.

No comments:

Post a Comment