Twelve Questions to Ask Your Pro-Choice Friends

These questions are meant to provoke reflection and conversation. Some are intended to gauge the pro-choice individual’s commitments and presuppositions. Others are designed to poke holes in the philosophical justification for “abortion rights”. Responses are welcome, and encouraged.

1. In terms of biology, the human life cycle begins at conception and ends at death. At what point in this life cycle do you believe human life becomes “valuable”? Is the value of a human life an “all-or-nothing” attribute, or are some human lives more valuable than others?

2. At what point in this life cycle do you believe humans should acquire legal rights? Why?

3. Pro-choice philosophers typically define the value of a human life in terms of utility (development of brainwaves, consciousness, etc.). If this is true, then why is it morally acceptable to sacrifice pigs and dogs for the purpose of medical/scientific research, but not human infants? Neurologically speaking, it’s not at all controversial to say that pigs and dogs are in many ways “more advanced” than human infants. Yet society only accepts sacrificing the former for experimental purposes. Do you? If so, why?

4. Do you support paternal child support laws? (Consider this quote from Dr. Michael Pakaluk: “[Suppose] that the reason the woman has sole right to decide to have an abortion is that the status of the fetus somehow depends upon how she chooses to regard it: thus, the fetus is not a child until the mother decides that it is, say, at some point later in pregnancy. But then a consequence of this is that the man, through having intercourse with the woman, does not conceive a child. Rather, he conceives only a fetus, and the fetus at some later point becomes a child, only because of the woman’s deciding that it is. But then the man’s role in intercourse is not a cause of a child. He brought into existence only a fetus, and it was the woman’s decision to ‘continue the pregnancy through term’ that made it a child. But if so, it is not clear why the man should have any responsibility for the child. How could the woman bring a claim for paternity support against him? After all, he could rightly reply: ‘You decided to regard the fetus as a child; so the child is your responsibility.'”)

5. Numerous state and federal laws allow for criminals to be prosecuted if an assault on a pregnant women results in injury or death to the fetus. Do you support fetal homicide laws? Why or why not?

6. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of “abortion rights” is the pregnant woman’s right to autonomy (read more here). This is especially relevant to abortion cases involving rape. Consider the following thought experiment: Suppose that a woman lives alone in a remote location. One day a man breaks into her home, assaults her, robs her, and before leaving, deposits his infant son on the woman’s kitchen table. Clearly it will require the sacrifice of both autonomy and valuable resources to care for the child until help arrives. Furthermore, it’s likely that the very sight of the infant brings back traumatic memories for the woman. Considering these challenges, is she morally justified in killing the infant, or allowing him to die of exposure? Does she have any legal (or moral) obligation to attend to the survival needs of the child?

7. What is your position on “two-minus-one” abortions? Are they ethical? Should they be legal?

8. Many of those who identify as “pro-choice” are particularly concerned with issues of inequality and discrimination. Are discriminatory abortions (such as sex-selective abortions) legally or morally defensible? Suppose that scientists developed a prenatal test to determine whether or not one’s child will be homosexual. Would you support a woman’s legal right to abort her fetus solely because of his homosexuality?

9. In the United States, many pro-choice activists believe that it violates women’s rights to ban abortions after 20 weeks (even when these restrictions include exceptions for maternal health). Suppose that two women get pregnant at the same time. At 23 weeks, the first woman decides to legally obtain an abortion. On the same day, the second woman delivers a premature infant. Several hours after the delivery, she decides she doesn’t want to “keep” the infant and smothers him to death. Should the second woman be held legally accountable for her action? Why or why not?

10. It is often claimed that a fetus cannot have legal rights if she isn’t “viable” (that is to say, capable of living independently outside of the womb). Interestingly, this fetus is capable of living and thriving within one environment (the womb) but not another (Earth’s atmosphere). You and I are capable of living and thriving in Earth’s atmosphere, but not underwater or on Jupiter. Does an individual’s ability to survive within a specific environment have any bearing on his or her moral worth?

11. Suppose you have a friend, daughter, or sister who excitedly begins informing people that she’s pregnant. Do you believe that it’s ethically consistent to simultaneously celebrate the new life growing within her, and deny the personhood and legal status of that new life? How would you respond if, after giving birth, she was reluctant to let pro-choice individuals near her child (knowing that they had, only recently, denied her child human rights and legal equality)?

12. What argument (or arguments) convinced you to identify as pro-choice? What did you find persuasive about these arguments? What objections to these arguments would you anticipate from pro-lifers, and how would you address these objections?

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38 thoughts on “Twelve Questions to Ask Your Pro-Choice Friends

  1. Great questions Matt. Of all the articles you’ve posted that I’ve on this subject this is the best. Though there is a subtle pro-life agenda to the questions they are sufficiently on-point to address some of the real issues that challenge atheists such as myself. I’ll address these on my blog, since such good questions deserve detailed consideration and the answers won’t be short, as soon as my current work load eases up.

  2. It’s not about the fetus; it’s about the woman. A person has the absolute right to choose how her body will be used. If you think it’s murder, then she has the right to do that to prevent her body from being used as an incubator if it’s against her will. It’s about self-defense. Would you prefer to have some bureaucrat make the choice and force it on her?

    • All mothers give of themselves to care for and nurture babies. Whether it is before birth or after birth. If a mother with a newborn decided to stop feeding him and caring for him and lets him die because she no longer wants to give of herself. That would be murder. That is all the baby in the womb requires; nourishment from the mother. Depriving a baby of nourishment/life to make sure women can do what they want with their bodies at the expense of their babies lives; is flawed beyond reason.

      The bodily autonomy argument is just one step away from legalized newborn baby killing. Also, the baby should at least have the right to life over and above the mothers supposed “right” to do whatever she wants with her own body at any given time.

      It’s a baby; there should be no other choice but life.

    • “A person has the absolute right to choose how her body will be used.”

      Literally every crime requires the use of the body. Are you -sure- that a person has an absolute right to choose how their body will be used?

    • Prior to the invention of baby formula, would it have been ethical for a woman to disallow her infant to suckle from her breasts (her body her choice and all that) if she decided she didn’t want it, even if it meant the death of the infant?

      If I was a hermit living deep in the woods and really hated being disturbed, and someone dropped a newborn baby on my doorstep, would it be ethical for me to just let coyotes eat it? Should I be “forced” to use my body to help a non-sapient human neonate I don’t care about?

    • “It’s not about the fetus; it’s about the woman”

      What if the fetus is a female? Isn’t she developing into a woman? Who speaks for her? Do you think it’s OK to kill a female just because it is small or young, or because it has no way to defend itself? So you choose to define the baby as a nonperson, and then based on this word choice you can kill it and say it’s OK. Think of what that logic has resulted in, in recent history.

    • williamfrancisbrown,

      Gender has nothing to do with it. The sex of the foetus is irrelevant. The sex of the carrying parent is a biological fact. The pro-choice case would be the same whatever the gender of the parent.

      “Would you prefer to have some bureaucrat make the choice and force it on her?”

      That’s actually the position you are condoning, with regard to the mother. You want to make her decisions for her.

      Pregnancy goes from a stage where a woman has in her some cells that are no more significant than those taken in DNA testing swabs, or no more significant than cancer cells, in terms of their physical size. They change in quick time to a fully formed human. The situation changes from one of a single sentient human that has in her just cells with no sentience, to a situation where there is a fully sentient human with another one inside her. It’s a complex issue that the religious, purely for dogmatic reasons, have decided that conception is the point at which some magic happens, as if the zygote is a fully sentient soul. That’s where the bureaucratic dogma lies.

    • Mackerel,

      At that time there exists an independent human person. It is independent in that it need not rely on the mother – there are many adopted children. In the womb there is a co-dependence that arises as the foetus develops. It’s the arising of the co-dependence that makes it difficult.

    • singingrosary,

      “All mothers give of themselves to care for and nurture babies.”

      Not if they are raped, or if the pregnancy is an accident.

      “That is all the baby in the womb requires; nourishment from the mother.”

      A zygote isn’t a baby. It has no brain. It is no more sentient than any other cell in a human’s body.

      “The bodily autonomy argument is just one step away from legalized newborn baby killing.”

      Then the pro-life argument is just one step away from legalised enforced incubation. See. Slippery slope arguments can be used by either side.

      But your point is wrong anyway. Pro-choice is not about killing independent people.

      It’s a difficult issue that changes throughout pregnancy and birth, where non-sentient cells develop into a sentient human. As that happens the balance changes. It is a continuous change and any demarcation of stages is difficult. At one end we have a single zygote cell that develops into more cells. At the other end we have an infant living and breathing free of any other human. In between we have the change from one to the other and that is where there is a real transition from a mother making her own choices for her own body, to one where she is responsible in law but capable of giving that responsibility to someone else, through adoption. The bit in between, the bit where a fully formed human is dependent on the mothers body, that is where the mother’s choices run out. Deciding at what stage that happens is difficult.

      It is religious dogma that requires that a single cell be endowed with the rights of a fully sentient human.

    • “Not if they are raped, or if the pregnancy is an accident.”

      I think “singingrosary” was referring to mothers of infants, toddlers, etc. The “giving of one’s body” to sustain developing life isn’t something that’s unique to a pregnant mother. It continues after birth. This undermines the pro-choice argument that a woman has a limitless right to assert bodily independence.

      “It is religious dogma that requires that a single cell be endowed with the rights of a fully sentient human.”

      You’re pretty fond of that word, “dogma”. But that’s not how I see it. I’ll make the following argument on secular grounds, setting aside my religious beliefs concerning the beginning of life:

      Let’s grant that the development of **valuable human life** is a process (assuming, as the secularist does, that value is a function of sentience, which develops gradually).See: http://jwwartick.com/2013/07/29/epistemic-abortion/

    • I was born in 1952… the fourth child. My father tried to coerce my Mother into an abortion but because it was not “legal” she didn’t. I’m glad it took 21 more years for “some bureaucrat”- in the form of Supreme Court judges- to convolute. “right to privacy” of the mother trumps, “right to life” of the infant.

  3. In terms of biology, the human life cycle begins at conception and ends at death.

    In terms of actual biological processes, to this date we are unsure of when “life begins” as conception and growth is a continuum. So already premise one is questionable.

    But even before errors in the science, lets look at paragraph construction.
    1. In terms of biology, the human life cycle begins at conception and ends at death.
    2. At what point in this life cycle do you believe human life becomes “valuable”?

    Statement one is about science. Statement two is about ethical opinion. The two sentences are squashed together despite the non-sequitur. Science has nothing to say about how “valuable” a human life is, stop conflating science and ethical opinion.

    Is the value of a human life an “all-or-nothing” attribute, or are some human lives more valuable than others?

    What sort of fantasy world do you live in? Human life pretty much worth next to nothing. The 29,000 children that die from preventable causes every fracking day write a bleak picture of how much we ‘value life’. Most of the children die in developing countries and most of them are not white, so yes some human lives are more valuable than others.

    These lists, advocating for the removal of women’s rights are infuriating. Thus, only one “point” at a time will be appropriately fisked for accordance with the ideal of treating women as human beings.

    • There’s nothing at all controversial about when life begins, when “life” is defined in biological terms as a “human organism”. See the references cited in the OP.

      Of course, one can argue that life begins “on a continuum” – but only by moving away from biological definitions into philosophical/bioethical definitions. The irony here is that, in doing so, one is introducing *one’s own* philosophical viewpoint into the equation…which must bear the burden of proof. Scientifically speaking, then, the pro-life position is the clear biological default. (Hopefully this also addresses your concern that I was conflating science and ethics. The takeaway point here is “which side bears the ethical burden of proof”.)

      “Most of the children die in developing countries and most of them are not white, so yes some human lives are more valuable than others.”

      In the post, I was referring to human value in an *ontological* sense. In other words, I would argue that the death of children in impoverished countries is appalling and unjust *precisely because* all humans – regardless of their ethnicity or homeland – are inherently equal. Their intrinsic *value* is the same, regardless of unjust *outcomes*.

    • This is another slick move Matt. The title of the page is “Life Begins at Fertilization”, when really it should be something like “Embryonic Life Begins at Fertilization”, because of course life does not begin at fertilization. Life is a continuous process. In many species there is no distinction of individuality. Indeed in humans a great deal of our bodies consist of interdependent bacteria. And our own cells are thought to consist of the amalgamation of multiple life forms.

      There is no disputing that human embryonic life for a new individual begins at fertilization. But so what. It is only religious opinion that gives any more significance to that than any other bunch of cells. It is a period of transition from that point to the point of it becoming a fully formed human. It’s a dramatic transition.

      At basics of the pro-choice position is that at fertilization the mother’s rights come first, and so her choice comes first. At some point various pro-life positions emerged, because it is difficult to say where in this transition the woman starts to forego her right to choose. The references in that pro-life biased page, run by a pro-life student group incidental and not by Princeton itself, are making technical points that the student group is twisting to its own ends.

  4. This is great stuff. Thank you for this.

    I’ve actually thought of #11 on my own, but hadn’t seen it articulated before. Would a pro-choicer go to a baby shower and insist on calling the baby a “fetus”? Probably not. They’d probably gift baby clothes and shoes, talk about the excitement of being a mother, ask about the baby’s gender and possible names, etc.

    • Yes, but they wouldn’t be bringing foetus clothes but baby clothes. They’d be celebrating a wanted pregnancy and the anticipation of a wanted baby. They’d celebrating the choice to have a baby – a choice the baby doesn’t get to take part in. There are many children born into suffering that will not be alleviated – and they get no choice in that situation. That’s the nature of the problem: choice, who has the capacity to make a choice, who has the right to make a choice. And it’s complicated by the status of the unborn baby as it develops, because there are two lives to consider. The opposition to pro-life dogma is varied, but all pro-choicers tend to agree that conception isn’t a sensible delineater beyond which the foetus becomes a person because it is just a bunch of cells. The difficulty, the differences, among pro-choicers, in situations where the pregnancy is unwanted, is about when in a pregnancy and under what conditions the foetus develops to the state where its rights start to conflict with those of the woman. It’s not as straight forward as your baby shower trivia makes out.

  5. Pingback: Common atheist objections to Christianity and questions for pro-choice friends | Wintery Knight

  6. Ron said “That’s the nature of the problem: choice, who has the capacity to make a choice..”

    And why is it that the one party who has no power, no ability to speak, no chance for self-defense does not get to be a party to this choice? This is the greatest possible abuse of power – the ultimate form of human brutality.

    Your description of the developing fetus as just a ball of cells is way off the mark. It’s got it’s full genetic make-up, the miracle has occurred. It’s got it’s entire plan stored in these cells. It’s entire future is pretty much set re. it’s physical characteristics. It’s not just a bunch of cells; that’s convenient rhetoric that makes it easier to justify killing a developing human being. In a few weeks it will have a beating heart and will be sucking it’s thumb.

    • ” It’s got it’s full genetic make-up” – So does any cell of mine that is naturally discarded. This is an irrelevant biological technicality. It’s still a bunch of non-sentient cells, none of which are neurons.

      “the miracle has occurred” – So say the religious. Some things you need to have concrete evidence for to establish that as a fact: evidence that there is actually some god, that it is your god and not one of the many other gods, that it is a god that intervenes and installs something significant at that point, … the list is a long one.

      “It’s got it’s entire plan stored in these cells.” – Oh no! That means every time someone’s inner cheek is swabbed for a DNA sample, every time a blood test is performed, complete body plans are being killed!

      “that’s [it’s a bunch of cells] convenient rhetoric that makes it easier to justify killing a developing human being”

      “It’s not just a bunch of cells.” – convenient rhetoric to justify religious dogma.

      “In a few weeks it will have a beating heart and will be sucking it’s thumb.”

      Yes, and that’s why it goes from a bunch of cells to a fully formed human. And that’s why there are limits to abortion, and conditions for abortion. Only in the early stages is the choice easy, but becoming more difficult as time goes on. That’s why abortion is a difficult issue and not the simple dogmatic one that the religious make it out to be.

    • “Oh no! That means every time someone’s inner cheek is swabbed for a DNA sample, every time a blood test is performed, complete body plans are being killed!”

      That’s a misunderstanding of the argument. While it’s true that the genetic code itself is the same in a zygote and an adult somatic cell, the pro-life argument is referring to the value of a genetic code *in the context of a living human organism*. Killing a zygote = killing a living human organism. That’s not something that can be said of killing a cell from the inside of one’s cheek.

    • It all boils down to the fact that the so-called “Pro-life” position is about using force to deny personal choices, while the pro-choice position is about not doing that.

    • The fact that murder and rape are crimes ALSO involves using legal force to deny personal choices. Certain choices must be restricted in a civilized society.

  7. Pingback: Flotsam & Jetsam (10/24) | the Ink Slinger

  8. @Matt

    2. At what point in this life cycle do you believe humans should acquire legal rights? Why?

    At birth. Why? Because then (after birth) there are two distinct entities that are not directly physically attached to each other.

    • et the newborn remains physically reliant upon the mother (and/or father) AFTER birth

      Oh absolutely. The key difference is that *anyone* can look after said child, once born. There is no specific biological encumbrance between the mother and child anymore.

      Should a woman have the legal right to allow her infant to die of neglect, in order to exert her own physical indpendence?

      Once born, a different set of legal and moral prescriptions are in effect as the context has changed.

      One is always allowed to act in self defense and preservation of one’s own life, no?

      “Should you sacrifice your life for another?” remains an ethical choice – as long as you can freely choose to do so.

      I’m pretty sure I’ve read this response to JJT’s essay, but I’ll go take a peek.

    • “The key difference is that *anyone* can look after said child, once born. There is no specific biological encumbrance between the mother and child anymore.”

      What about the woman who lives alone in a remote location? Suppose she’s completely snowed in for two months after giving birth (which isn’t so far-fetched in many parts of the country). Should she face legal consequences for refusing to give of herself to provide for her newborn’s survival needs? Or is her “choice” extended after birth, giving her the right to kill her child up until the point at which the government can come in and place him/her with foster or adoptive parents? I’ve known pro-choicers who come down on both sides, so I’m curious as to where you come down.

      “One is always allowed to act in self defense and preservation of one’s own life, no?”

      For one thing, it’s not “self defense” or “preservation of one’s own life” to dismember one’s fetus in order to end a normal, healthy pregnancy. Most pro-lifers, myself included, believe that abortion should be legal for cases where the mother’s life genuinely *is* in danger.

      I would also say that the right to self defense isn’t quite as absolute as you make it out to be. Even the legal system includes a degree of “reasonableness” to one’s right to self defense. If I see someone who “looks suspicious” and think that they might be preparing to mug me, I don’t have the right to preemptively gun them down in the street and claim self-defense. If a parent’s child is doing something to endanger a parent, the parent doesn’t have an absolute right to murder their child out of self defense. But regardless, I think the article I linked to addresses this objection in more detail.

  9. Should she face legal consequences for refusing to give of herself to provide for her newborn’s survival needs?

    I will start arguing about potentialities and hypothetical situations the other way ( “every sperm is sacred”) soon if we cannot get the fairly straightforward notion of the difference between inside and outside the uterus.

    For one thing, it’s not “self defense” or “preservation of one’s own life” to dismember one’s fetus in order to end a normal, healthy pregnancy.

    Defending ones body from a foreign invader is not self defense? Hmm…seems like self defense to me, or did you want to naturalistic-fallacyish explain to me that pregnancy is indeed ‘natural’ (and therefore good) and not the case that I am describing.

    I would also say that the right to self defense isn’t quite as absolute as you make it out to be.

    So when in danger, and pregnancy is dangerous, self defense isn’t an option. Interesting, it’s almost as if the person experiencing it has the best idea of what is dangerous for her and what isn’t and should choose what is best for her and her body.

    • http://themattwalshblog.com/2013/10/29/its-time-to-end-the-stigma-of-infanticide/

      How does the moral significance of the fetus depend on its *location*?

      _____

      “Defending ones body from a foreign invader is not self defense?”

      A foreign invader? Allow me to paraphrase Matt Walsh (above):

      “Mommy, why is that lady’s tummy big?”
      “Oh, don’t look at that, honey. She’s the victim of a foreign infestation.”

      You must be a joy to hang out with.

      _____

      “So when in danger, and pregnancy is dangerous, self defense isn’t an option.”

      I’ve stated previously that abortion should be legal if the mother’s life is in danger. That applies to less than 1% of abortions in the United States.

  10. @Matt

    #3. Pro-choice philosophers typically define the value of a human life in terms of utility (development of brainwaves, consciousness, etc.). If this is true, then why is it morally acceptable to sacrifice pigs and dogs for the purpose of medical/scientific research, but not human infants?

    Because the only factor we use in deciding what use in medical/scientific experiments is the level of neural development???

    Really?

    This objection is nonsensical based on the fact that medical research uses a myriad of criteria for choosing test subjects. Concomitantly, strict bio ethical constraints exist proscribing how experimenters can use human subjects in their studies.

    So the argument is postulating that pigs/dogs/human fetus are in the same category, even if we grant they are neurotypical it is not sufficient to place same category of being. Nor does it happen in practice.

    So again, we encounter absurd hypothetical situations with the goal of trying to find a possible case in which it is ‘okay’ to strip women of their status as being fully human.

    One can conclude that in this dogged search with the goal of finding a way to remove the rights of women that many forced birth arguments are intrinsically misogynistic.

    • “This objection is nonsensical based on the fact that medical research uses a myriad of criteria for choosing test subjects.”

      What specific criteria, then, **in your opinion**, make it acceptable to sacrifice pigs & dogs, but not human infants for the purpose of medical research?

  11. @Matt

    4. Do you support paternal child support laws?

    Pre and Post Birth. How does that work??? Maybe magnets or aliens.

    that the reason the woman has sole right to decide to have an abortion is that the status of the fetus somehow depends upon how she chooses to regard it: thus, the fetus is not a child until the mother decides that it is, say, at some point later in pregnancy.

    The status of the fetus is irrelevant. What a woman decides to do with her body is her prerogative. As soon as a “but” is inserted into an objection the rights of women are in peril.

    But if so, it is not clear why the man should have any responsibility for the child.

    Half of the DNA is his, that is why it is clear the man should have responsibility for the child.

    What is interesting is the notion this objection works toward that pregnancy effects men and women equally and thus men should have equal say in a woman’s pregnancy. If/when men can become pregnant then objections of this nature will be applicable.

    Wooo…picking up steam today, onward to point 5.

    • #5. Do you support fetal homicide laws? Why or why not?

      If the law can put males that violently offend against women away for longer periods of time, then its a good law. Said law also coexists (uneasily) with the legal right for a women to obtain an abortion, so no problems here.

    • “What a woman decides to do with her body is her prerogative.”

      I agree. No “buts”. I don’t agree that a woman has the absolute right to decide what to do with someone else’s body.

      “Half of the DNA is his, that is why it is clear the man should have responsibility for the child.”

      That answer doesn’t address the argument presented in the quote.

  12. Rocky said……..”It all boils down to the fact that the so-called “Pro-life” position is about using force to deny personal choices, while the pro-choice position is about not doing that.”

    That is completely backwards.
    The so-called pro-choice position is about using force to deny the life of a living human being. The pro-life position is about saving lives, so that these people will have an opportunity for choice.

  13. I find it disturbing that the word “abortion” has become such an easy word to use, as if the terminology accurately represents what happens to the baby, instead of only referring to the medical condition of the body known as “pregnancy.” Abortion simply means to stop at a premature stage. Yes, that’s what happens to the pregnancy, but what word describes what is happening to the small human? How about dilaniation, or maybe dilaceration? That means to tear or rip something or someone to shreds. Dismemberment is a good word to use, because it also brings to mind the god-awful, mind bending pain that must be involved when you forcibly tear a baby to pieces. Surely all of these so-called intelligent pro-choicers are cognizant of the excruciating violence inflicted upon the baby. Regardless of those who stubbornly hold out the hope that early stage fetuses don’t feel pain and are therefore exempt from protest on those grounds, advancements in neonatology have produced tests that show that fetuses have nerve receptors in the face that react to pain as early as 7 weeks. Even if the abortion was performed at 6 weeks gestation, isn’t it possible that, as advancements continue to be made in this field, we shall find that fetuses are capable of feeling pain even earlier? If a fetus can feel pain, does that grant him protection? Doesn’t abortion then count as cruel and unusual punishment (the crime of coming into existence inconveniently, perhaps)?

    • Lori,

      “Dismemberment is a good word to use, because it also brings to mind the god-awful, mind bending pain that must be involved when you forcibly tear a baby to pieces.”

      Dismemberment is a reasonable word. I’d have no objection to that. But it can be applied to the dismantling and removal of any object from another. Abortion already has a specific meaning, so why not use it? Oh, I know why. Because it isn’t emotive enough for you. The religious love to make all their arguments heavily loaded with emotion because they can rely on that rather than reason. It’s nothing more than emotional blackmail at work.

      “because it also brings to mind the god-awful, mind bending pain that must be involved”

      What makes you think it must involve mind bending pain? Where is your evidence? Especially when the zygote does not have a brain. The foetus does have a brain, but it’s very difficult to tell when it begins to experience what we think of as pain. This is part of the practical problem we have. Aborting a zygote is no problem. Aborting a nine moth baby is a problem. We don’t know where to set a boundary, so we make one up, which is what most countries do in setting their abortion laws.

      “forcibly tear a baby to pieces”

      That is what happens at later stages, and we have to deal with that. We have to decide if that has a consequence of suffering for the baby. That’s easy in late pregnancy, and more difficult the earlier in the pregnancy it occurs. We don’t know where the suffering boundary lies.

      And of course the foetus need not suffer any more pain that someone undergoing surgery under anaesthetic. So the actual pain issue isn’t really a problem.

      “Surely all of these so-called intelligent pro-choicers are cognizant of the excruciating violence inflicted upon the baby.”

      The emotive term ‘violence’ is no substitute for ‘suffering’; and there is no evidence of suffering in early abortions.

      “Regardless of those who stubbornly hold out the hope that early stage fetuses don’t feel pain and are therefore exempt from protest on those grounds, advancements in neonatology have produced tests that show that fetuses have nerve receptors in the face that react to pain as early as 7 weeks.”

      I worm has nerve receptors that transmit nerve impulses. Any biological system that contains a nervous system will react to stimulation. A worm will respond in survival mode in response to some stimuli. But there is no indication it ‘suffers’ in the sense in which we understand pain. The same applies to an early foetus. It is the human ‘theory of mind’ which is reasonably applied to adults that is misapplied to the early foetus.

      “If a fetus can feel pain, does that grant him protection?”

      No. Anaesthetics could avoid any suffering. It becomes a matter of the attribution of personhood and rights.

      We have to decide when we attribute rights to persons. Rights are mutually conferred on one another, by our cultures and societies. There are no absolute rights in this universe. They are not written in the stars. Humans are evolved animals that through our evolved drives have invented moral systems, and part of that structure of morality we have come up with the notion of rights.

      But rights are only achieved by common mutual consent. They are the result of a balance of power. Even if we thought we should have certain rights we would not be able to enforce them without the appropriate power to do so. That’s one of the benefits of democracy over all other forms of government – even democracies that are incomplete and flawed are better than theocracies or monarchies.

      So, again, the question is: at what stage should a foetus take on rights of its own that outweigh those of the mother? So far we treat it as a shifting change of rights, from the mother’s complete rights initially, to the combined rights of the mother and baby toward the end of the pregnancy. In a life and death situation we do not insist that the mother should give up her life for the baby – though many mothers would volunteer to give up their right to life in that case; very noble, but there is no moral requirement that they should.

      The religious nonsense is the desire to overrule the woman’s rights to self-determination for the sake of a zygote, based on some myth that personhood starts at conception. Everything else is a negotiation we are having about situations from then on.

  14. #5 hits home for me. Legislators here in NH just failed yet again to pass a fetal homicide law. Prevailing arguments among the incumbents include a fear that fetal homicide amounts to a personhood declaration and that fetal homicide laws interfere with assisted-reproduction technologies. The fact that Roe v. Wade is alive and well in the states that have fetal homicide laws, and that “assisted reproduction” still takes place in those states, wasn’t enough to sway the votes we needed. We’ll keep trying.

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