Abortion and Circumcision: Hypocrisy on the Left

“Any restoration of persons to the divinely intended norm of being valued as image-bearers will threaten a social order that promotes marginalization of the vulnerable…to claim that the unborn deserve a right to life even though such does indeed impede the free choice of the mother is to challenge a social order that discounts the validity of humans. Such discounting of individuals usually occurs in order to maintain or to establish power and control by taking advantage of the socially weakest.” 

– James R. Thobaben

_____

A few weeks ago, I created a meme that generated quite a lot of controversy on Facebook (17,000 views and 169 comments on my page alone).

circumcision

It’s worth checking out the original image, if only for the comments. I was amazed at how flimsy the objections were to the meme. They boiled down to:

1. “Late term abortions aren’t done that late.”

My response: For one thing, the frequency of late term abortions is entirely beside the point. As of 2009, 23% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal “under any circumstances”. So this meme is primarily targeted toward those who 1) believe that abortion should be legal at any point during pregnancy, and 2) believe that circumcision should be illegal. Furthermore, we have to consider the earliest point at which infants can be born alive (22 weeks, give or take). While it’s true that these infants likely won’t be circumcised immediately, it’s worth pointing out that “two weeks earlier” they were at 20 weeks gestation. Which is exactly the stage at which Texas recently banned non-medically-related abortions. Remember how much that restriction enraged the left? If you “#StandWithWendy“, this meme might apply to you.

2. “Circumcision violates the rights of the newborn, regardless of one’s stance on abortion”

My response: That’s sidestepping the point…but there’s solid medical evidence that circumcision has significant health benefits (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/science/benefits-of-circumcision-outweigh-risks-pediatric-group-says.html?_r=2&). At the very least, that’s enough to establish that there’s a reasonable trade-off involved, and that there should be room for parental discretion (assuming that we still live in a country where parents, not the State, decide what’s best for their children). More importantly, though, this raises all kinds of concerns about our religious liberties. Has society really decayed to the point that it’s now unacceptable for parents to remove a piece of their newborn’s skin for deeply held religious reasons, but entirely acceptable for parents to pierce their children’s earlobes for mere vanity?

Has vanity, in essence, become our society’s religion?

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20 thoughts on “Abortion and Circumcision: Hypocrisy on the Left

  1. If you got 169 comments on Facebook, I’m sure everything that can be said about it already has been, but just in case 100% of the commenters were detractors, I’ll contribute that your meme is funny, incisive, and succinct. Good job getting it to spread so far.

  2. The same logic could be used to relativize clitoridectomy. And if you consider abortion to be murder, it would be worse than the Holocaust (and the Holodomor as well).

  3. Thank you! Finally! Until now I have been feeling so bullied for circumcising my infant son. Yet these so-called “human rights” to “protect” him, would’ve allowed me to kill him a few months ago? So ridiculous. Obviously no one cares about my son more than I do.

    • At risk of oversharing, since you’ve felt bullied, I want to assure you that my parents had me circumcised as a child (for health rather than religious reasons, as Matt alluded to above—I don’t know the details, but my father is a doctor; so I trust his judgment on this), and as far as I’m aware, I have suffered no ill effects of any kind from it.

  4. “I was amazed at how flimsy the objections were to the meme.”

    Like this flimsy support for circumcision from Dave Higgins:

    “WSJ: It’s also for hygene. That skin forms a pouch that can house dirt and microscopic critters. It doesn’t affect the man much, but when the pouch opens up for sex, it crams all that nasty inside the woman.”

    Compared to this quite rational response from Maria Anonimia:

    “^FALSE. The female genitalia has way MORE “dirt” and “microscopic critters” than the intact male penis. Ever heard of a penis hygiene aisle in the pharmacy? No, because penises don’t have daily discharge, menstrual discharge and smegma clitoridis like females do. So do you believe in female circumcision? Females also get WAY more infections than males do.”

    Then we have this from Pablo Wolfe:

    “Abortion is murder, jazz that up any way you want, you low life piece of s**t.”

    Compared to this

    “Yeah, late term abortions aren’t done that late. You have your information twisted. Not to mention that this form of abortion is VERY rare and only done for medical necessity. Which is the exact opposite of circumcision. Meme fail. Try again.”

    Seems to me that it is the religious opinion on there that is flimsy, and irrational.

    In your two responses to responses you say “beside the point” and “sidestepping the point”.

    The point is of course you thought you’d hit on a nice little meme, but it is quite clearly the fallacious comparison of quite different matters.

    “So this meme is primarily targeted…”

    The ‘primarily’, doesn’t really convince, because it disguises the general case you are making, so the objections are not beside the point at all. They are very on-point. You are erecting the straw man case of abortion two weeks prior to birth, when anyone who opposed circumcision would also oppose late term abortion for anything other than serious medical reasons. Most secular liberals I know would only support very early abortions as a choice issue – like in the first week or so. After that the considerations would be entirely medical.

    There is a good case to be made for allowing only very early abortions. And many liberals who support abortion in principle would want earlier limits, and would want medical ground only to be used in all but the very early (few days or couple of weeks), and would want improvements in procedures to reduce the possibility of suffering even were the science suggests but cannot prove that there would be no suffering.

    And then, quite separate from all that difficult debate there is this rather unworthy meme relating this to circumcision, where the case is quite simple: a) it causes immediate suffering; b) it removes the opportunity for the later adult to consent, by being so early.

    Here’s a much better meme, as expressed by comments on your Facebook page:

    “Removing a zygote that has no means to suffer = barbaric …… and yet cutting the genitals of an infant that can suffer is not?”

    You target your meme at only late abortions? I target this meme at only zygote anti-abortion.

    It’s easy to play these meme games and it is unbecoming of you. I’ve disagreed with you on several issues, including these, but in this post you choose to play one simple matter that is purposely made complex by the religious through obfuscation and equivocation, circumcision, against one complex matter that is purposely made dogmatically simplistic by the religious, abortion.

    • “Seems to me that it is the religious opinion on there that is flimsy, and irrational.”

      Depending on when you read this post, you may or may not have seen the colorful example below (I eventually decided to take it down):

      “You are erecting the straw man case of abortion two weeks prior to birth, when anyone who opposed circumcision would also oppose late term abortion for anything other than serious medical reasons.”

      If I recall correctly, you live in the UK. Perhaps things are different over there. In the US, the state of Texas recently passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks **except** for medical reasons. The Democratic Party over here went. completely. insane.

      So in many ways, this meme was a response to the recent movement here in the US to keep elective, non-medical abortions legal beyond 20 weeks. You can call that view a “straw man” – and I sincerely hope that it IS a straw man where you live. But unfortunately, the extreme late-term “abortion rights” view is very common over here. (see: Wendy Davis)

      “Most secular liberals I know would only support very early abortions as a choice issue – like in the first week or so. After that the considerations would be entirely medical.”

      Again, that’s not the case here in the US. Most of my friends are secular liberals (thanks largely to my place in academia). I know of one guy who supports a 12-week cutoff for elective, non-medical abortions. Most of the others support 20-week, 24-week, or at-birth cutoffs.

      “…it is quite clearly the fallacious comparison of quite different matters…rather unworthy meme…unbecoming of you…obfuscation and equivocation…”

      </3

  5. I note your reference to the NY Times piece on its reference to the American Academy of Paediatrics. Would you like to perform the same referral to the NYT on the AAP here, on the AAP’s support of gay marriage: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/21/health/american-academy-of-pediatrics-backs-gay-marriage.html?_r=0. Of course there are objections in that piece, so you might want to support only those reports that support your position on these two issues. But that would sound like cherry picking.

    But never mind, let’s look at the issue of circumcision with respect to men and AIDS. Do male babies indulge in sexual intercourse that would put them at risk? Could the choice to be circumcised be postponed until they reach sexual maturity and the age of consent?

    Surely that would benefit everyone.

    1) All the objections to infant circumcision would go away.

    2) If there are indeed health benefits regarding sexual activity the risk could be assessed by each individual. After all, the selective study you referred to was focused on certain African communities where AIDS was prevalent anyway. From when the Roman Catholic Church opposed the use of condoms for protection against HIV transmission I sort of got the feeling that the church preferred a bit of sinful sex with some very satisfying retributional punishment by AIDS, rather than reduce AIDS by the use of condoms. AIDS has been a great marketing tool for Rome.

    3) Religions often change their ideas about what is required and what is not, so circumcision could be postponed to become and adult choice.

    Religions have their fashions that come and go – which also sort of nullifies your comment “Has vanity, in essence, become our society’s religion?” – No, religion is society’s vanity, as the pious try so hard to become more pious, and the opulent Roman Catholic Church displays its idolatrous acquisitions.

    Circumcision isn’t a Christian requirement of course, but hey, those Jews and their funny ways come in handy for bogus anti-abortion arguments, when they are not being blamed for killing Christ.

    Which is another odd thing – why have so many Christians through history blamed the Jews when they should be thanking them for giving Jesus the opportunity to sacrifice himself for your sins? There’s some weird irrational nonsense goes on in religion.

    • “From when the Roman Catholic Church opposed the use of condoms for protection against HIV transmission I sort of got the feeling that the church preferred a bit of sinful sex with some very satisfying retributional punishment by AIDS, rather than reduce AIDS by the use of condoms. AIDS has been a great marketing tool for Rome.”

      Wow, that’s quite a charge. Always best to assume ill will and evil motives…or something.

      “Which is another odd thing – why have so many Christians through history blamed the Jews when they should be thanking them for giving Jesus the opportunity to sacrifice himself for your sins?”

      I agree that historical Christian-on-Jew persecution is illogical, immoral, and incompatible with any reasonable interpretation of Scripture.

  6. The better case that the religious could pursue with regard to abortion is as follows: Late abortion, as a form of birth control by mature adult females is on very dodgy ground, and I can’t find any good reason to support those extreme and dogmatic pro-choicers that would go this far. But if you look at the case in the UK the Voice for Choice organisation (http://vfc.org.uk/) they say “Abortion be available solely at the request of the pregnant woman within existing legal time limits”; but if you look at the current limits they also cover the reasons for the abortion being legal: htttp://www.fpa.org.uk/sites/default/files/abortion-factsheet-august-2010.pdf, which are entirely medical.

    The problem for the dogmatic religious is that they inevitable have to take their simplistic arguments to ridiculous extremes. I find it odd that some entirely unevidenced notion of a soul, which is presumed to appear in a human at or some time after conception, an event which must also be unevidenced since the soul itself is unevidenced, is preferred to genuine empirical data about when a brain forms and becomes capable of suffering. The empirical case may as yet be undecided, so there is room for further investigation, evidence and debate on this secular perspective. It would be fair to argue of a more cautious approach and earlier limits to abortion – though that would not limit the medical case for abortion at any stage. There is nothing at all to support the religious notion of a soul. It’s just one more case of the religious imposing their unfounded beliefs on others that don’t hold those beliefs.

    You don’t think abortion should be carried out at any stage? Then don’t have an abortion. You want to be circumcised? Go ahead, when you’re an adult and can make an informed choice. … and along similar lines: You don’t like gay marriage? They don’t marry someone of the same sex.

    All these issues seem to follow the same pattern of the religious trying to impose their belief values on everyone else, when others don’t hold the beliefs that promote those values, and when there is no evidence to support the content of the belief that is supposed to be behind those principles.

    Let’s pretend the pro-life is about defending the unborn child. This is nonsense when taken to such extremes as to defend a human zygote and yet not the lives of other animals you would not give a thought for. Isn’t that what ‘pro-life’ means, all life?

    You are perfectly entitled, as a human being, to have an opinion on abortion, and if that opinion is that it is wrong at any stage, then that’s fine, it’s your opinion. But any attempt to explain your religious reasons are entirely wasted on the non-religious. You might as well invoke the opinion of Mickey Mouse as that of God. Your only chance of constructive engagement is a rational one based evidence and reason.

    • Please correct me if I’m mistaken, but you seem to by taking for granted that the value of human life is a matter of *utility*. A zygote – while biologically a human organism – isn’t valuable because it lacks a developed nervous system, etc.

      From a *secular*, humanistic point of view, however, it would seem that the default stance would be to protect human life throughout the biological lifespan of the human organism (zygote to natural death). One is free to have a *personal* opinion that life becomes valuable with ensoulment (for the religious) or brainwaves or self-awareness (for the non-religious). But as soon as one starts setting up these definitions, the burden of proof falls to THEM to show that what they’re killing is *not*, in fact, human life.

      Truth is, it’s wrong to kill a zygote for the same reason that it’s wrong to kill anyone else: http://blog.secularprolife.org/2013/01/a-future-like-ours.html This is really just a matter of basic human equality.

      Or let me pose this a different way:

      If it’s true that the value of human life is entirely dependent on utility (brainwaves, etc.), then why is it morally acceptable to conduct medical and scientific research on pigs and dogs, but not on human infants? Neurologically speaking, I don’t think it’s at all controversial to say that pigs and dogs are in many ways “more advanced” than human infants. Yet society accepts the former and rejects the latter. Do you? If so, why?

      I would, of course, argue that a human infant possesses more “moral worth” than a pig or a dog for the reasons outlined in the link above (among others…but I think that the “future like ours” argument is sufficient here on secular grounds, even if it’s incomplete).

      “You don’t think abortion should be carried out at any stage? Then don’t have an abortion. You want to be circumcised? Go ahead, when you’re an adult and can make an informed choice. … and along similar lines: You don’t like gay marriage? They don’t marry someone of the same sex.”

      This same logic, when applied to other issues, yields absurd conclusions:

      You don’t think people should murder? Then don’t murder. You don’t like slavery? Then don’t buy slaves. You don’t believe in cannibalism or incest? Then don’t eat people or commit incest.

  7. The Tim Coon character hardly seems like a rational person, but rather a self-centred idiot. Is that it? Do you have any others, or are you really basing your being “amazed at how flimsy the objections were to the meme”?

    But that one image is slim evidence. It would have been far better to offer a link to his comment. I can’t find it now but if you still have it you could provide a link to his Facebook profile. Or even to his comment, which would look something like this:

    And this link happens also to be one of the more thoughtful comments on your Facebook meme, and gives a link to another useful document: http://www.crin.org/docs/InCo_Report_15Oct.pdf.

    Notice how that is addressing the general issue about violence against children, based on tradition, culture and superstition, which are not good reasons.

    Against that you have offered the African study that shows that in some cases, such as where AIDS is common, that circumcised males MAY be less prone to HIV infection. But again, that is specifically a choice that could be made as an adult, and the need would go away if there were better control of HIV, which condoms can contribute to, which the Roman Catholic Church opposed for so long.

    Of course I was being facetious about the intent of the Roman Catholic Church with regard to the prospect of producing more sinners in order to have more to condemn to hell. I was doing so to emphasise how crazy the Roman Catholic Church actually is. It is very easy to come up with distorted world views once reason and evidence have left the building. Even if the church did oppose contraception in principle it should have been very clear that the consequence of not approving it among the Roman Catholic population in an areas where AIDS is more common was a ‘lesser evil’. The dogma was overriding common sense.

    • “The Tim Coon character hardly seems like a rational person, but rather a self-centred idiot. Is that it? Do you have any others, or are you really basing your being “amazed at how flimsy the objections were to the meme”?””

      The flimsy objections I was referring to are the ones I addressed in the OP. I only brought up Mr. Coon in response to the quotes that you brought up as examples to typify the two opposing sides (above). My point being that you’re inevitably going to get idiotic comments from both sides when enough people start commenting.

      “But that one image is slim evidence. It would have been far better to offer a link to his comment.”

      He deleted his comment (actually a wall post on my blog’s page) after I responded to it with something nauseatingly nice, haha. Something about him being immensely valuable, and forgiving him for what he said, and sincerely wishing him the best in life, etc. The comment disappeared shortly thereafter, but my friends at Libertarian Christian had already screencapped it (which is why I linked you there).

      “Notice how that is addressing the general issue about violence against children, based on tradition, culture and superstition, which are not good reasons.”

      From your perspective, of course not. From a religious person’s perspective, this looks completely different. It isn’t “violence”, because the religious individual takes a higher view of the human person – as more than a mere animal. Rituals like circumcision, then, take on *spiritual* significance, and are integral to the parents’ right to play a guiding role in shaping their child’s development. The alternative, of course, would be to grant the duty of child-rearing to the State…but hopefully most people, religious and non-religious, can recognize the danger in that.

      Going back to a comparison I made previously: Do you support a parent’s right to pierce her children’s ears?

    • “From a religious person’s perspective, this looks completely different. It isn’t “violence”, because the religious individual takes a higher view of the human person – as more than a mere animal. Rituals like circumcision, then, take on *spiritual* significance, and are integral to the parents’ right to play a guiding role in shaping their child’s development.”

      Right on for female circumcision then, for cultural religious reasons?

      The point being that they are *cultural* religious reasons. Religions adopt to culture – Judaism, Christianity and Islam have many variations dependent on culture. The religious don’t seem to take this into account by asking why their particular culture has departed from some earlier religious tradition. Each sect thinks they have the real story from God. There are so many variations, and yet every believer thinks *their* particular religious traditions are the ones that count. This is the respect in which religion is plainly nonsense. You can out aside the theistic questions of origins and creation, where all parties, including atheists, have no answer because there is no data. The ridiculous variability of religious customs should be enough to tell everyone that something isn’t quite right and that they are all mere cultural and not theological.

      As for murder and slavery, then yes, these are indeed optional proscriptions. There is no external cosmological reality that is preventing these. Only consensus, based on personal freedom and the right to self determination. Circumcision in infancy isn’t giving the adult self-determination. In early abortion there is no personhood in a zygote in any meaningful sense, and the personhood and rights of the adult individual carrying it count. By a certain age the foetus attains personhood and has to have their rights balanced with those of the mother – hence the complexity of abortion, rather than the simplistic proscription of abortion at any stage.

      Proscribing murder, slavery and circumcision is preventing one or more adults imposing their wishes on others without their consent. Proscription of early abortion is forcing the imposing of the opposer’s wishes on the adult mother. Only in the case of later abortion is the case more complex because it is about two individuals.

      Incest between consenting adults isn’t a problem in principle. It only has potential serious dangers if siblings or descendent procreate, and is statistically less dangerous for other relations.

  8. I’d like to clarify some of the complexity of abortion generally from my perspective so we can focus on what I think matters rather than argue past each other.

    I think the medical life threatening case is pretty clear: it’s one for the individuals to take. A mother about to give birth that knows that it’s her life or the baby’s must be the final arbiter, since she is the only one with direct interest that is also capable of giving informed consent. As much as the baby is valued and cannot give consent, either way, this is a very specific case where you are appealing to one person and not another, because that’s all you can do. No doctor, or any other commenter, and not even the father, has the right to save the child at the expense of the mother. This case consists of choosing not to save one life over another, rather than the active case of abortion where the mother’s life isn’t actually under threat. Those with least interest of all here are the extreme pro-lifers that would always save the child. It’s none of their business.

    There are also cases where the mother’s life is not threatened, but where the baby’s length or quality of life are threatened. The baby may be viable as a living entity, but there are varying degrees of quality of life possible and there might be extreme suffering throughout life.

    It might be relevant to know here that I’m a supporter of the right to die movement that supports the choice of old and infirm people to choose to exit this life while they are still capable of making the choice. This is a position that values the utility of life – which is related to your “*utility*” point. There is a range and quality of life that is useful, enjoyable, valuable. Outside that range life has little or no value – and it’s not up to some religious Joe to tell me how valuable my life is. I’ll decide. Life is not some sacred and inviolable force, but a product of evolution. As such there are cases where the value of a reasonable to good life outweighs the continuation of a poor quality life, so one would expect choosing to live in th former, but allowing the choice to die in the latter. I’m not saying it’s easy to judge, so as a general rule it should always be a matter of personal choice.

    To clarify further, I don’t see suicide as sinful. In some cases suicide is an unfortunate product of a malfunctioning brain, where depressive states can make life seem not worth living. In such cases saving someone from suicide and helping them overcome their problems, which are often exaggerated in their minds, is a reasonable intervention. But there are cases where a rational person is able to weigh up the value of their life and decide to end it. Though this is a really complex problem of psychology, the philosophical principle is not problematic for me. If someone could convince me they have good reason to die then I would not choose to intervene. An example would be an old infirm person, in pain, with no prospect of relief, who is condemned to very limited experiences of any value. Just being alive because you value life itself, at any price, is an individual matter. No religious person that thinks there is some sacredness to life itself gets to dictate to someone who is suffering who thinks the religious belief is nonsense.

    I hope that puts the following into perspective so that we can focus on the problem of abortion where the mother’s life and future health is not threatened, and where there is no serious threat to the quality of life of the baby.

    Eventually, through the process of cell differentiation, the zygote becomes a foetus, and it develops a brain. This is significant. It’s the brain that makes a human as a person. It’s the difference that distinguishes us from most other animals. It’s what we lose when our brains deteriorate in old age. If a foetus developed but an abnormality prevented brain development so that there was only the autonomous nervous system, with a brain stem, and maybe a cerebellum, enough to sustain life but with no conscious capability to speak of, would that be a human life? If the soul is actually distinct from the brain then such a ‘zombie’ would still be human, according to religious criteria, wouldn’t it? Where are the boundaries that you use to define human life? Has quality of life no bearing on the matter? Would you choose to continue a human foetus no matter what suffering they might endure when born?

    The problem is that defining a human life is not so easy, and the religious conveniently get around this complexity by inventing the soul. It’s an old trick. It’s the religious ghost in the machine equivalent to the dualist mind, and for some religious dualists may be one and the same. It’s a fiction for which there is zero evidence. It is a figment of the religious imagination.

    If we always developed single humans in vitro we would have no problem here. The zygote would be a convenient defining point for life. There would be little need to extinguish such life because it would only be produced when wanted. The mother would be as much an onlooker as the father.

    As a matter of interest, what is the stance on in vitro zygotes? Are they human persons? It is theoretically feasible, if difficult, to produce chimeras. What if an in vitro human-chimp chimera zygote was produced, what would its status be, religiously speaking? This is a dilemma you will have to face one day. You may object to their production, but they will no doubt be tried, even if illegally. What would the status be of such a creature? Had other human relatives survived to our times now, such as Neanderthals, what would their status be? The problem for the religious simplistic notions of the soul and human specialness and the relation to God is they don’t address such issues; and yet though they don’t have to do so right now the mother-infant two-lives dilemma is of that kind – it is about how to deal with the complex definition and boundaries of valuable life and personhood.

    This is a genuine philosophical dilemma. At one end you have the extreme pro-life that would ban abortion under any circumstances, and the extreme pro-choice that would have abortion and even infanticide left up to the mother out of mere personal preference. It’s too complicated for these simplistic extremes, and it’s too complicated for the religious notion of the soul and its attribution to the zygote.

    Utilitarianism is not as simplistic as you make out when you refer to the *utility* of the zygote. But it does play a part. Before a zygote becomes a human foetus with a brain, it has greater current anti-utility to the mother carrying it, if she doesn’t want it. Its utility to the future new human is only potential. This may be an uncomfortable balance, but it’s one that has to be weighed, because without total external fertilisation AND development the balancing of wishes of one fully formed human against a potential one is the dilemma being faced. And for the early stages, even as a matter of personal preference, with no medical implications involved at all, the choice of continuing that pregnancy should rest with the mother.

    As well as external development to infancy another way of avoiding the problem of choice for the woman would be if the foetus could be removed and sustained throughout development.

    In both the in vitro fertilisation and external development, and natural fertilisation and removal for external development, the young life is preserved. The choice for the mother then (and for the father) is whether they keep it. There comes a point when the mother must either choose to continue to look after the child or to give it up. There comes a point when the mother no longer has the choice to end the young life.

    This hypothetical situation of external development will become feasible one day, and will clarify the real choice that is debatable: removing all medical issues, at what point does the human foetus stop becoming the mother’s body and becomes a person in its own right.

    For me the zygote is too early, and a well-developed brain is too late.

    Consider the potential of being able to detect and remove a zygote within hours or days of conception, and being able to continue that life to fruition, either as an externally developed child that is later adopted, or as a zygote to be implanted into a mother that would want it. What would your opinion be in that case? Would you choose to save all zygotes of such unwanted pregnancies? If you would, then which would you prefer: allowing conception to occur and continuing the life outside the original mother, or using the morning after pill (remember Emergency Contraception is the prevention of fertilisation; it is not abortion), or safe and reliable contraception?

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