On Abortion—Does Silence Mean Consent?

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I thought I'd never say this, but left-leaning columnist Barbara Ehrenreich has a remarkably interesting op/ed in today's New York Times. "Abortion is legal—it's just not supposed to be mentioned or acknowledged as an acceptable option," notes Ehrenreich. Mentioned or not, most Americans do know a daughter, a wife, a lover, or a friend who has made this choice. Some 30 million American women have chosen to have an abortion, but the fact that one has had one is simply not talked about in polite society. Ehrenreich is right when she warns, "The freedoms that we exercise but do not acknowledge are easily taken away."

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  1. Even if you don’t think that getting an abortion is indicative of a character flaw, surely you realize that having an abortion means that you’ve made an error in judgment. When people start broadcasting their personal shortcomings in polite conversation, it’s no longer polite society. Does Ehrenreich bemoan the paucity of people in polite society who admit to having contracted an STD as well?

  2. While Mark’s point above is well taken, I’m inclined to agree with BE on this. The pro-choice line seems to have devolved to something like “Of course abortion is awful and morally suspect, BUT control over one’s body is so terribly important…” I’d like to hear at least one person in the public sphere saying: “Actually, abortion is a few orders of magnitude less morally problematic than eating meat, and we should stop feeding the cycle of stigma attached to it by acting as though having had one should be a source of shame.”

  3. In describing how broke she was when she had her abortions, Babs mentions that she was a dollar-a-word freelancer. A dollar a word is top-level writing. I’ve been a freelance writer, and I’ve never made more than 25 cents a word. (That’s why I’m not a freelance writer anymore).

    At $1 a word, it wouldn’t be hard to make $1,000 a week. I’m not sure what kind of writing she was doing, but if it was magazine journalism — the kind that uses the most freelancers — we’re talking columns that probably ran anywhere from 500 to 1,000 words, or feature pieces that could have been anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000.

    A 1,000-word magazine piece rarely has more than a couple of sources. It wouldn’t take longer than a week of man-hours (sorry, Babs–person-hours). So that’s $52,000 a year.

    Of course, you’d have to sell one 1,000-word piece a week to make that much, and that’s very, very difficult. But if you’re not selling them, you’re working less, and then it ain’t a full-time job.

    She says her husband was a warehouse worker. Depends on the industry and the location, but here in California, most warehouse jobs are not minimum-wage stuff. I’ve heard anywhere from 10 to 20 bucks an hour, more if it’s skilled or union labor. So there’s another $30,000 or so.

    I know this wasn’t the point of her column, but I thought I’d fact-check this one minor point for H&R readers. You’re welcome!

  4. Julian,

    Do you really believe that abortion is much less morally problematic than eating meat? I’m pro-choice, but I admit it’s a definite moral dilemma. Very different from eating meat.

    Mmm, meat…

  5. Ehrenreich seems to miss the irony of her piece running in the New York Times, less than a week after the same paper ran a piece in which ultra-feminist nut Amy Richards bragged about her double-abortion of convenience (she only wanted one kid, as three might have forced her to move to Staten Island, or maybe even shop at Costco).

  6. “Actually, abortion is a few orders of magnitude less morally problematic than eating meat…”

    Uh, Julian, exactly what kind of meat are you eating?

    I don’t get that statement. I look at it as exactly wrong – abortion is a few orders of magnitude MORE morally problematic than eating meat – and I’d like to hear reasons as to why eating meat is morally problematic at all.

    Either way, both should be legal (even if only one should be enjoyed with gusto.)

  7. I don’t find it odd that people don’t make cocktail party chatter out of their abortions, hemorrhoid surgeries, or colonoscopies. Why does she?

    My sister, who had two abortions, doesn’t talk about it much because she’s ashamed and has deep-seated regrets that still haunt her 25 years later. In her zeal for intimate self-disclosure I?m fairly certain that scenario never occurred to Ms. Ehrenreich, perhaps because my sister is a real person as opposed to some celluloid soap actress pretending to have an abortion on screen so as to educate the rest of us dopes about how normal it is to have an abortion.

  8. “Actually, abortion is a few orders of magnitude less morally problematic than eating meat, and we should stop feeding the cycle of stigma attached to it by acting as though having had one should be a source of shame.”

    Jesus Christ, Julian.

  9. I had to go to Vegas for my abortion because there aren’t any clinics in Reno. And let me tell you, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

    That’s why I don’t talk about mine.

  10. I’m curious, if a pro-choice person believes abortion is wrong, but should still be legal, exactly what about it do they find wrong? The argument for making it legal must rest on the premise that it is no more wrong than removing a wart. The answer should illuminate a contradiction in their stance. Now, believing it is not wrong avoids this particular contradiction.

  11. Kevin, clearly you did not read Ehrenrich’s piece. Again, she addresses far more than the “oops-I’m-pregnant” crowd and addresses head on the fallacy that there is any moral distinction b/n those who chose abortion for personal, even selfish or shallow reasons, and those who choose to abort a “flawed” or abnormal foetus.

    As for her call for women to wave their reproductive rights in public, please. Give me a break. Of course she does not think this should be polite, cocktail party conversation. However, in the same way that individuals’ experiences w/ such things as erectile disfunction and colorectal cancer are no longer considered shameful or embarassing, Ehrenrich rightly wants abortion to “come out of the closet” and be acknowledged as a very real and fairly common medical procedure that should not be treated as shameful or embarassing. Remember, there was a time when women died of breast cancer b/c they were too embarassed to talk about it.

    Ehrehnrich is simply arguing that, like the gay rights mvm’t, visibility is the key to ensuring rights. While one may be anti-gay, supportive or neutral, one can hardly deny that the loud and very visible individuals in the gay rights mvm’t have accomplished a great deal. Sure, there’s been some backlash, but, by just making sure people know they exist, they become powerful and more secure and safe. Likewise, women who have had abortions make their and other womens’ right to an abortion much more secure by simply stating that they have had one; that they made that choice; and that access to a safe, legal abortion is an important right

    Pro-Lifers, these are EXTREMELY personal decisions which no one, except the pregnant woman, can fully understand. The decision making process she goes through is never easy and is certainly not black and white. Certainly no one, not even the sanctimonious fundamentalists of the American-right, has the moral perfection or clarity to judge such decisions.

    Now, switching topics to how those same fundamentalist “christians” have betrayed Christ’s teachings; ignored His love in favor of a dogmatic and destructive theology; defiled the very word “Christian;” and have deliberately twisted and bastardized Holy scripture to support their contentions….

  12. “I’d like to hear at least one person in the public sphere saying: ‘Actually, abortion is a few orders of magnitude less morally problematic than eating meat, and we should stop feeding the cycle of stigma attached to it by acting as though having had one should be a source of shame.'”

    It’s comments like this that make me reconsider my subscription to Reason. It often comes off as libertine rather than libertarian. It’s sad that such an otherwise great magazine is often marred by ridiculous statements like the one above.

    I’m a pro-life libertarian (and no, that’s not a contradiction), and I understand that many other libertarians disagree with me, but anyone who really thinks abortion is a lesser wrong than eating meat is inhuman.

  13. I have mixed feelings about Ehrenreich’s statements, especially the last line, quoted in this post. There’s a new book out about young women and voting called The F Word by Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, bemoaning the generally low voting rates for single women 18-34, which I also found similarly condescending. I almost feel like that last sentence means that Ehrenreich is thereby blaming women who don’t “come out” about their abortions if abortion later becomes illegal.

    I’m totally pro-choice and probably much more left-leaning than the average Reason/H&R reader, but I don’t necessarily that having had an abortion means a woman has an obligation to talk about it or publicly claim it. That seems a little utopian and unrealistic of her, though I do think Oskar’s analogy with the gay rights movement is very apt in terms of visibilty.

    But part of what she’s trying to say is that if all those 30 million women who’ve had abortions were out about it, then many more of us who think we don’t know someone who’s had an abortion would realize that we do. I’ll give her that, but would that or should that then changes anyone’s views on the issue? Because that is also the logic behind a lot of the push for people to come out (or be outed) in the queer movement (along with other reasons such as peace with oneself). That seems to place a really unfair burden of a social justice movement onto a few (well, 30 million is not a few, but you get my point) people, when plenty of people beyond just the group of women who’ve had abortions should care about preserving that right. Hope that made sense.

  14. Some of you are misquoting Julian Sanchez altogether; at least one of you included his entire statement.

    A hard line, right wing, pro-lifer could make Julian’s statement. It seems to me that Julian was saying that he would like to see pro-choice people being honest about their true sentiments in public.

    I write this not to defend Julian; he’s perfectly capable of defending himself. But I would hate to think that Mr. Sanchez, and others who moderate this forum, might feel like they’re casting pearls before swine.

  15. Julian: “Actually, abortion is a few orders of magnitude less morally problematic than eating meat…”

    I’ll remember that as I enjoy my supervalue McEmbryo and Fries (hold the stem cells).

  16. Point taken Julian, I too would ideally love the stigma surrounding abortion removed. It’s just that my interpretation of BE’s article is to berate women who choose to keep a private matter, well… private.

  17. Julian, I don’t think you have to look much further than PETA for someone to share your take on the abortion v meat eating morality problem.

    I could agree with your relative morality comments if you were having someone’s liver with a nice chianti and some fava beans. But you’re not.

  18. Ron Paul is also a pro-life libertarian….

  19. Seems to me that women who give a child up for adoption don’t talk about that either. Maybe it is not so much the stigma attached to abortion that women are ashamed of, but the stigma that society still attaches to women who may be perceived as “promiscuous”?

  20. There’s nothing “appalling” about women who have had abortions being iffy as to whether abortion should be legal. On the contrary, we should expect it, as:

    1) They have a pragmatic view of the procedure and its effects (including the psychological);
    2) In the cases of “defective” fetuses, the would-be mothers get to see another woman going through the same procedure, but for cosmetic/financial reasons. The other group is likely treating the abortion as a lesser moral dilemma, if not a morally neutral one outright.

    Either of these events could cause a woman to become, if not lean toward, pro-life, and rationally so. If that’s why these women are quiet, then B.E.’s entire thesis is fundamentally flawed.

  21. While I don’t really agree with Ehrenreich’s larger point, I did like her response to one particularly odious piece of cant:

    “You’ve been through a hellish experience, but unless I’m missing something, you didn’t want your babies either.”

  22. If Eherenreich wants people to talk about abortion she should get some of those graphic photos of aborted fetuses available from any Pro-Life outfit and publish them in the NYT in her next column. That?ll get people talking about it.

  23. I think the column reflects Ms. E’s acknowledgement of the fact that the pro-choice side is slowly but surely losing the “hearts and minds” battle over abortion.

    Whether you think that is good or bad depends on where you stand on the issue, but I think that a number of polls have shown public opinion moving pretty steadily away from Ms. E’s position.

  24. “…most Americans do know a daughter, a wife, a lover, or a friend who has made this choice.”

    Yeah, the one I know regretted that she’d done it.

  25. Ehrenreich seems to miss the irony of her piece running in the New York Times, less than a week after the same paper ran a piece in which ultra-feminist nut Amy Richards bragged about her double-abortion of convenience . . .

    Actually, it’s not ironic at all — it’s exactly on point, although for the opposite reason, and more related to what Klay said way up at the top of the thread. Amy Richards discussed, publicly, her abortion, and the fact that she didn’t feel the least bit bad about it, and the right-wing blogosphere proceeded to declare Ms. Richards The Next Hitler. If that’s what women get for talking about it candidly, it’s no wonder they don’t.

  26. Doug Fletcher: I know two who don’t.

    Anecdotes are not arguments; your friend’s regrets are not justification enough to restrict my friend’s rights.

  27. I see Julian’s point about the eating meat/abortion comparison. In fact, given that the two groups have similar rehtoric (substituite “fetus” for “veal calf”), philosophies (“we fight for those who have no voice”), and tactics (both sides use gross pictures to garner sympathy for their repective causes, both sides are willing to trespass on private property, both sides are willing to use terrorist tactics), I don’t see why the animal rights kooks and anti-abortion nuts join forces?

  28. “…most Americans do know a daughter, a wife, a lover, or a friend who has made this choice.”

    Had my mother not aborted her first pregnancy, it seems quite possible that I would not be alive today.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure what “Pro-Life Libertarian” means.

    If it means that you would never have an abortion, but believe abortion should remain legal, there doesn’t seem to be a problem there.

    If it means that you believe that abortion should be made illegal, that would seem to be anti-libertarian, in that libertarianism holds that no person can be made to involuntarily serve any other person, no matter that second person’s state of existence.

  29. Doug Fletcher: I know two who don’t.

    Anecdotes are not arguments; your friend’s regrets are not justification enough to restrict my friend’s rights.

    Not to speak for Mr. Fletcher, but I took his anecdote as a response to Ehrenreich’s displeasure with women who’ve had abortions not being sufficiently vocally pro-choice. I’m sure there is a decently large number of women who found their abortions to be psychologically damaging, and even if that didn’t make them pro-life, it might make them less likely to want to parade their abortions around in “polite company.”

    I’m pro-choice, but the insistence by many others on my side of the issue (that idiot Sanchez included) that abortion has to be a totally consequence-free thoughtless action and anybody who disagrees is a dangerous religious zealot is really counterproductive, both to women who have to make the decision and to the political effort to keep abortion safe and legal.

  30. “…graphic photos of aborted fetuses available from any Pro-Life outfit and publish them in the NYT in her next column.”

    I’ve always wondered if those pictures REALLY are aborted fetuses. I don’t know. Why should I take the anti-abortion movement’s word that they are.

    Even Christians can lie in the name of their God. Hell, they do it all the time.

    Besides, I understand open heart surgery is pretty disgusting to watch. Maybe we should ban that too.

  31. “If it means that you believe that abortion should be made illegal, that would seem to be anti-libertarian, in that libertarianism holds that no person can be made to involuntarily serve any other person, no matter that second person’s state of existence.

    If you believe that a fetus is a human being, then, even while remaining a registered Libertarian, you might believe that he or she has been endowed with certain inalienable rights among which are liberty, the pursuit of happiness and life.

    Believe me; it happens.

  32. If abortion really is a choice, the BE is right, why should anyone worry about doing it? Why does it have to be safe and rare? We don’t worry about other elective sugeries like boob jobs being rare, so what’s with abortion? What’s with abortion of course is that people cannot escape the logic that its infanticide, so instead live in denial. Give BE credit, she is downright creepy in this article talking about how easy it was for her to have an abortion, but she is honest.

  33. I haven’t called anyone a religious zealot. I’ve pointed out that there are two positions you hear a lot — (1) abortion is murder and should be banned (2) there sure is something wrong with it, but choice trumps — and a third position at least as valid as (1)which I’m sure lots of people share but is advanced far less frequently: (3) because fetuses aren’t moral persons, there’s nothing very seriously wrong with abortion at all. Perhaps if (3) were more frequently offered up, that “psychological damage” would be less prevalent. But even leaving that aside, I’d just like to hear a more robust, interesting debate on those terms, rather than seeing the pro-life claims about personhood persitently dodged in favor of choice arguments.

    And for those who are curious, here’s the skeleton of the reasoning behind the meat vs. abortion idea: (1) fetuses and adult animals are similar enough in terms of their cognitive capacities to be in the same general category of creatures not yet entitled to strong “rights” but deserving, in light of their capacity for suffering, of some moral consideration. (2) meat involves prolonged suffering in poor conditions of such creatures in the service of a relatively trivial value, the enjoyment of a burger as opposed to some vegetarian alternative food. (3) abortion involves a relatively quick death for such a creature to the end of avoiding the significant burdens associated with pregnancy (and perhaps childrearing). Ergo meat-eating is morally worse than abortion, though I’d make neither illegal.

    The controversial premise, obviously, is the first one, but it’s at the very least perfectly defensible. There is, incidentally, nothing especially “libertine” about this argument, since it concludes that moral considerations should prompt most people to sacrifice the gustatory pleasures of meat consumption.

  34. “but anyone who really thinks abortion is a lesser wrong than eating meat is inhuman.”

    He’s saying that while there’s plenty of argument over when life begins there’s none whatsoever that the filet mignon came from a living creature. Even if you don’t agree with him, its easy enough to understand once you get off the horse.

    “Julian, I don’t think you have to look much further than PETA for someone to share your take on the abortion v meat eating morality problem.”

    You might want to argue that with, approximately, 300 million or so hindus, buddhists, clone religionists etc, etc. You realize theres life outside the US, right ? It’s amazing how people just assume that everyones moral systems are exactly congruent with theirs.

  35. Mark S.: Good point. Don’t just take their word for it. However, do you take Family Planning advocates word when they say that sexual permiscuity can be “safe and affordable”? What about their word that says birth control has little to no side effects or long term repercussions?

    I’ve held one of those signs before of an aborted fetus. They’re real. But don’t take my word for it. There are plenty of anti-abortion organizations that would be pleased to show you the truth about abortion.

    If one cannot be a “Pro-Life Libertarian” then I really think Libertarians may be at odds as to how to define the definition of “life”. Pro-Life advocates consistently ask that the debate address the question of “When does life begin”.

    Is the Libertarian limiting themselves in assuming that life begins when the umbelical cord is cut?

  36. Why does it have to be safe and rare? We don’t worry about other elective sugeries like boob jobs being rare, so what’s with abortion?

    Well, we do worry about them being safe.

    As for rare: The most compelling argument that surgical abortion should be legal may be the consequences of a black market. If you believe it’s more possible to limit the ill effects of abortions (defined, for the sake of argument, to include the deaths of fetuses) if the procedure is legal, then the “safe, legal, and rare” formulation makes sense.

  37. Jesse: I’m not sure what is so great about a statement that morally equates two heartbroken mothers who reluctantly aborted severely defective fetuses with a bunch of irresponsible girls who aborted perfectly healthy ones so they stay in a posh neighborhood and not have to shop at Costco. Perhaps the most extreme pro- and anti-abortionists draw no moral distinction between them, but the rest of us do.

  38. I think a number of things are being said by Barbara. For one I am more toward the pro-life side but I would never want to see a pregnant woman being hauled off to jail for trying to procure an abortion. Unlike the more radical pro-choice crowd, I really don’t see abortion as a fundamental right and pregnancy looked upon as a disease that the government needs to pay for someone’s abortion. I rather look upon abortion that should reluctantly be allowed. Abortion really shouldn’t be used as a method of birth control. I am all for birth control, condoms etc etc…..but that involves responsibility…and some sections of society definitely don’t want to promote that. Women who I have known that have had an abortion do not go screaming about it from the highest mountain top. It has something they have revealed to a friend or in a therapeutic situation. And many have been emotionally torn about having to have made that decision…not like going and having a facial. So, I guess there is still alot of shame with having an abortion. There is alot of truth in what B.E. says about visibility. Most women who have had an abortion though probably don’t have a big strong urge to be politicized about it…because it is something they did out of desperation an would like to forget. Whatever one’s political position on a subject is….you have to let the politicians know that you’re still alive and kicking. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

  39. Xrlq: It doesn’t “equate” them. It points out something they have in common, something the mothers of the “defective” fetuses (doesn’t that eugenic language bother you at all?) would prefer to deny.

  40. Julian: the problem with your most “controversial” premise is that it proves too much. Some born people have cognitive capacities that are comparable to those of some non-human animals. Is it OK to kill them for the convenience of others, as long as we do so in a way that does not cause prolonged suffering?

  41. Julian’s suggestion that cows and fetuses are more or less equivalent seems shaky to me; fetuses often become “moral persons,” cows never do.

  42. Boy, that “Costco” thing really got under the right wing’s skin. Thak heaven Richards didn’t use any devices more complicated than metaphor; their faces may have melted off.

  43. “The freedoms that we exercise but do not acknowledge are easily taken away.”

    Cf. the farting ban

  44. “Incidentally, I’m not sure what “Pro-Life Libertarian” means.”

    To me, it’s rather redundant. I can’t imagine being a libertarian and not being pro-life. It’s like missing the entire point of Libertarianism.

    “libertarianism holds that no person can be made to involuntarily serve any other person, no matter that second person’s state of existence.”

    Let’s ignore the fact here that many abortions are by women who’ve had unprotected sex and thereby have volunteered to serve the fetus that they’ve invited into their body. Quite aside from that, I think you’re confusing Libertarianism with Objectivism. Libertarianism is a political philosophy that embraces freedom, liberty, and limited government. Now, while it would seem that this would include the freedom to have an abortion, one of the essential differences between libertarianism and anarchy is that libertarians recognize the need for some government, with one of the essential rolls of government being protection human life. So, if you are a libertarian, you either believe that a fetus is a human life and deserving of the same protection that a 30 year old is, or you believe that a fetus is not a human life. At which point you have to make the distinction of when life begins. And then you get confused like Julian:

    “fetuses aren’t moral persons, there’s nothing very seriously wrong with abortion at all”

    What exactly constitutes a “moral person” who is deserving of having their life protected, then? I have a 9 month old baby, and a 1-year old dog. When I tell the dog it’s doing something wrong, it stops. When I tell the baby it’s doing something wrong, it keeps doing it until I take responsibility and stop him from doing it. Does that mean that I can kill my baby but that putting my dog to sleep is wrong?

    It seems that many people here have forgotten one other essential component of liberty: responsibility. And there is no greater responsibility than that of a mother to her child. There is absolutely no one else on the earth who is even capable of taking responsibility for a fetus. And it sickens me when women follow the irresponsibility of having unprotected sex with the irresponsibility of having an abortion. I fully recognize that there are legitimate reasons for abortion, and that not every woman who has one has had unprotected sex. But the current state of abortion laws does not draw a distinction between reasons for abortions, or how far developed the fetus is. A woman who has a legitimate reason for an abortion should be able to get one. But it should not be a “choice”, it should be a necessity.

  45. I’m sorry but I just read an article where some 30-something glibly describes her decision to abort two of three triplets because she didn’t want to have to move to staten island. Abortion is legal. It should remain so. But that doesn’t mean that we have to take the gravity or reverence out of such a serious decision. I’m pro abortion. But guess what, I concede that you’re taking a life. Something most ardent pro-‘choicers’ are unwilling to admit. And this type of thing also (sadly) gives ammunition to the virulent pro-life wing: that any abortion that can occur, must occur.

    This predominantly east-cost ‘intellectual’ attitude (sorry, I know the flames are a comin’) that the decision to abort a fetus is akin to making a decision on keeping a puppy is something that I find quite disturbing. Abortion is a personal choice that doesn’t need to be prattled on about at cocktail parties like so much upwardly mobile career choices.

    Oh, and another thing. WHen can we shut up about abortion? If you chuck the conspiracy theorists aside, abortion has been no where NEAR being reversed. I don’t care what anyone says. 12 years of Reagan/Bush, and all everyone did was squeal in fear about the impending reversal of Roe V. Wade. STOP

    Please, please STOP

  46. In principle, yes. And I don’t think it “proves too much.” If you think it’s ever permissible to pull the plug on the brain dead, you already acknowledge that at some point, cognitive function (as opposed to mere life and species membership) comes into play in assigning rights. For practical purposes, of course, I wouldn’t change the law for born (non brain-dead) humans to reflect that, since there are obviously huge problems associated with potential misjudgements and the class we’re talking about is pretty small. I know most people find this so self-evidently horrifying that they don’t get around to offering counterarguments, but there you have it. I had a long debate about this with Eve Tushnet over on my own blog about two years ago.

  47. one of the essential differences between libertarianism and anarchy is that libertarians recognize the need for some government, with one of the essential rolls of government being protection human life

    Except for the anarchist libertarians.
    Some of whom are pro-life.

  48. What is striking about this thread is the total lack of discussion of what it would be like if the so-called pro-life (actually they should be called pro-birth) side finally gets their fondest wish, and abortion is made illegal, again. They of course would pat themselves on the back, and thugs would flood into yet another black market. I just hope for the day that surgical abortion is made obsolete by more effective contraception.

  49. Er, of course I meant “roles” of government. I don’t think that government should get into the baked goods business.

  50. I?m not sure I get the “cognitive ability” test. I can think of a few examples of people who have indisputably retained their rights in spite of, temporarily, not having any “cognitive ability”.

  51. I disagree with Mr. Sanchez. I think his third argument (a fetus is essentially no different than a cyst) is not advanced because on some level most people are deeply uncomfortable with the idea. It is the same reason, I suspect, why people rarely mention extending the franchise of marriage to incest.

    I hardly know where to begin with the “meat” reasoning. Cognitive capacity is a dangerous comparative element. How should one do with those human’s who have severely impaired mental faculties, either permanent or transient? Does a man in coma have rights or simply a strong case for moral consideration?

    I note that a fetus may become a child and eventually an adult. A calf cannot.

    That meat involves suffering may or may not be true. As a hunter, I regularly eat wild game that up until the moment of death lived as all similar animals live. I have some experience with ranching. The cattle I owned lived in relative comfort until slaughtered. Of course, there are factory farms… just as there are women who abuse their bodies during pregnancy.

    To base the “moral consideration” on the respective environments of animals and fetuses seems extremely weak. By Sanchez’ logic, it would be more morally defensible to free the cattle and eat the fetuses… a notion I can somehow imagine ending up in a Libertarian Party platform.

  52. “Safe and rare” is a shibboleth. After all, an abortion is never safe for the fetus, is it?

    Look, I’m pro-choice. I think every family should be able to choose the school that suits their children’s needs. Now, that isn’t just a snarky remark, but also an an example of the obfuscation those in favor of legal abortion use. “I’m pro-choice on abortion” is what is usually meant, but people drop the “on abortion” part, and hope that it is understood. Why is that? Because people are uncomfortable saying “I’m in favor of aborton.”

    I think abortion should be legal, after whatever “Time X” we decide is probable that the fetus starts exhibiting person-like qualities. I think the pro-lifers both ask the right question (When does life begin?) and have the wrong answer (at conception). The pro-choice movement’s tendency to endorse any and all abortions, no matter how late in a pregnancy, is too extreme.

    As for individual women keeping quiet about the history of their pregnancies, I can understand that. A good third of the country believes that killing a fetus is equivalent to murdering a child. Who needs to buy the grief that those with that opinion will have you marked down in their hearts as no better than a murderess? Even if the woman who had the abortion isn’t ashamed of it, she could probably do without the bad opinion of some family members and acquaintances.

    As for Julian’s nonsense, a veal calf will never, no matter what you do for it, become a person. A fetus quite likely will, if you let it alone, and its mother is moderately healthy.

    Kevin

  53. Of course they have SOMETHING in common. So too do ordinary murderers, on the one hand, and soldiers who have killed enemy soldiers in combat, or citizens who have killed their assailants in lawful self-defense, on the other. I just don’t think comparisons like that are terribly useful.

    Even for those who buy your eugenics objection, I still think there’s a big enough moral distinction between that and those who abort purely for their own convenience. In that case, the analogy would be to a generally law-abiding homeowner who commits “imperfect self-defense” by finishing off an assailant who no longer poses an imminent threat to his safety. Still illegal, and still wrong, but not nearly wrong enough to put him in the same category as a sicko who goes around killing innocent people to get a cheap thrill.

  54. Er, of course I meant “roles” of government. I don’t think that government should get into the baked goods business.

    Quite right! After all, protecting life is a few orders of magnitude less morally problematic than eating pastries…

  55. Phil: Yes, that Costco reference really ruffled some feathers. But not as much as learning that Costco Supports Kerry.

    The same day I read that story I received my Costco renewal form. Now, I am not so sure about giving Costco another round. So I fired off a letter asking if Costco endorses John Kerry. 🙂

  56. Xrlq: Well, it’s the mothers who made the comparison. And in doing so, they explicitly denied having in common the thing that, in fact, they did have in common. It’s as though a soldier said, not “The killing I do is different from the killing a murderer does,” but “Why are you calling me a murderer? It’s not like I killed somebody.”

  57. I can’t get dragged into a long debate right now, but for anyone who’s genuinely curious, all the objections raised so far (coma examples, the relevance of “potential personhood”) came up in that long debate with Eve Tushnet I mentioned. I’m sure a Google search on our names would turn up the relevant posts.

  58. “I just hope for the day that surgical abortion is made obsolete by more effective contraception.”

    Yes, well there you have government and the media to thank. It’s been ingrained into our brains over the last few decades that either “life begins at conception” or it doesn’t. There’s no mention of alternate possibilities such as when the undifferentiated cells of a blastocyst attach to the uterus and start differentiating themselves. There’s a 2 to 3 day window there where the morning after pill would be quite effective in aborting rape pregnancies, and even give the “whoops, I accidentally had unprotected sex last night” crowd a chance to keep from becoming pregnant, rather than waiting until the fetus was a month old to say “hey, maybe I don’t want it afterall”.

    I think that this, and allowing the aborting of fetuses that would probably not survive after birth, would eliminate most of the black market abortions that would come from changing the abortion laws.

    It may be hard for people to understand since it’s not one of the 2 positions that we’ve been conditioned to accept as our choices, but then libertarians should be long familiar with the idea that only having 2 choices is not always a good thing. But I am a pro-life libertarian. I believe that people need to be responsible for their actions. I don’t believe in completely outlawing abortion. But I firmly believe that abortion is not a right that’s guaranteed to all women just by virtue of having a vagina.

  59. Steve,

    It’s hard to imagine what the world would look like sliding down your slippery slope, but I suppose that doctors would be forced to notify a legal guardian before operating on a minor.

    On second thought, maybe that is horrifying to some people.

  60. WHen can we shut up about abortion? If you chuck the conspiracy theorists aside, abortion has been no where NEAR being reversed. I don’t care what anyone says. 12 years of Reagan/Bush, and all everyone did was squeal in fear about the impending reversal of Roe V. Wade. STOP

    As long as one side is convinced that defeat could happen at any moment and the other is convinced that victory could come at any moment, this issue will continue to poison American politics.

    I have jokingly suggested to friends that we remove this issue from the 3 usual branches of government and create an “Obstetric Branch” to deal with abortion. The OB would be elected (in a manner to be determined) to decide the issue for the next four years. The outcome could range from permitting abortion until the last toenail is delivered, all the way to executing doctors who perform abortions. Or it could turn the matter over to the states, on the condition that each state setup its own OB so that we can keep this issue from poisoning races for other offices.

    Obviously this is only a joke. I’m not suggesting we tinker with the Constitutional machinery created by our Founders (cue the angelic chorus). But since I wish the issue would just go away I suggested it jokingly. And some of my friends actually liked it.

    BTW, my stance is quite simple: One side has the life thing down, and that’s good. The other side has the liberty thing down, and that’s also good. But both sides get so worked-up that they’ve forgotten the pursuit of happiness, so I’m refusing to take a stance until one side or the other nails that 3rd issue.

  61. Oops, forgot to change my screen name back.

  62. I would be content with a simple answer to my final point, Mr. Sanchez. Do you think eating a fetus is more defensible morally than eating a steak? You are free to use libertarian exit and simply say, “I would not advocate laws limiting what one might eat with fava beans and nice Chianti.”

  63. Julian,

    As to the differences between an unborn child and an animal:

    Although I am not a religious zealot, I don’t believe people (born and unborn) are entitled to rights in proportion to their cognitive capacities. I believe they are entitled to rights because they have souls.

    As far as the argument regarding suffering goes, the quickness of an abortion by no means makes it more moral.

    “There is, incidentally, nothing especially ‘libertine’ about this argument, since it concludes that moral considerations should prompt most people to sacrifice the gustatory pleasures of meat consumption.”

    No, the libertine part is sacrificing one’s child’s life to whatever selfish personal pleasure one sees fit — I made a mistake and got pregnant, and I’m worried that a baby might keep me from living my Sex in the City-like lifestyle. I know, I’ll just kill it so it won’t inconvenience me.

    Now, I know that’s an exaggeration, but except in rare cases where the mother’s life is in danger, it ultimately comes down to putting the mother’s comfort (be it material, emotional, or physical) over someone else’s life. That is inhuman as far as I’m concerned.

    Sorry if anyone doesn’t like my horse, but that’s how I see it.

  64. Of course, I think it’s worth noting that most of the opinions here are issued by those who don’t have to make the decision.

  65. thoreau = Clementine Johnson?

    Ha! I’m gonna change my name to Pappy Bojangles!

    Okay Clementine,

    What if we just kicked it back to the States, where it should have been decided in the first place?

  66. Ken-

    What can I say? I’m a Reno 911 fan!

    As far as sending it back to the states, being a total agnostic on the issue I take no stand. I will observe, however, that just about anything would make more sense than making this an issue for the Supreme Court. To quote what a staunchly pro-life friend of mine: “Supreme Court Justices spend most of their time dealing with matters other than abortion, so maybe we should pick them based on something other than abortion.”

  67. I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize if I repeat this, but she is clearly off-base in her assertions.

    This is true for the simple fact that Abortion IS one of the most talked about issues EVER. The debate is constant and both sides could easily mobilize millions of supporters to protests, letter writing campaigns etc. It may be that people don’t want to talk about their individual experiences with abortion, but let’s not pretend, or let the author pretend, that this right could be taken away because no one talks about it. If it were to be taken away, it would not be because no one talks about it.

    EVERYBODY TALKS ABOUT IT. So I guess I don’t see her point other than the fact that she is, well . . . saying something about the issue. I also bet this post gets the most comments this week (which is admittedly not fair since I already know it has a boatload of comments).

    I think this is needless hand-wringing. To sum up – while the freedoms we don’t talk about may or may not be easy to take away, the very notion that abortion might fit this criterion is so ridiculously stupid that the author should be . . . um . . . mocked mercilessly.

  68. SM says “You might want to argue that with, approximately, 300 million or so hindus, buddhists, clone religionists etc, etc. You realize theres life outside the US, right ? It’s amazing how people just assume that everyones moral systems are exactly congruent with theirs.”

    You seem to be deliberately misreading my observation that Julian need look NO FURTHER than PETA for vindication. And I’m not arguing with 300 million foreigners, I’m making one single point on a blog. It is that Julian doesn’t have to look to India for support when he has PETA right here with offices down the street.

    Aside from that, your assumptions about the morality of food preferences are mistaken. Many Hindus and Buddhists eat meat, they just tend to avoid cows and rats. For example, Thai Buddhists enjoy water bugs as well as scorpions on shrimp toast. Indian Hindus invented curry chicken for gosh sakes, and dude, it’s spicy.

  69. Ken,

    We might be swine, but I’ve seen pearls, and that ain’t them.

  70. Clementine,
    Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness all fall under the pro-life side argument.

    Life: The life of the child. There can be issues here about the safety of the mother. But does her safety come before the child’s Liberty.

    Liberty: The right of the child to live. The mother and child share what was once only the mother’s body. The child may be more dependent on the mother staying alive than the mother is dependent on the child. This does not mean the mother has the right to take away the child’s happiness.

    Happiness: Mother and child can part ways after birth.

  71. Somewhere I read an article about a timeline where the Catholic Church defined when a fetus that was miscarried could receive the sacrament of baptism. I remember the “rule” reading something like the following; a miscarried male fetus over 3 months was considered to be eligible for baptism, a female fetus over 5 months old was given the same status.
    The reason I ask if anyone else can point me in the direction of this “rule” is to try to understand the catholic anti abortion stand when there is a “rule” about when a fetus is considered human enough to baptise. Thanks. /R

  72. The depth and strength and opposition of opinions marks this issue as one about which, perhaps, Congress shall make no law…

    The shame that supports private silence may also encourage people to more diligently avoid pregnancy. It is a slowly mutable non-govermental control mechanism. Also for the guilt that seems nearly universal, even in almost-mothers who are ultimately satisfied with their abortive decision.

  73. “Of course, I think it’s worth noting that most of the opinions here are issued by those who don’t have to make the decision.”

    That’s irrelevant as most people who have an oppinion on the matter have never made the decision either. It could be a bunch of women in here arguing, and most of them still would not have any idea of exactly how difficult an abortion decision is. That still doesn’t mean that laws should exist which make that decision any easier.

    I’ve never had an abortion, but my wife has had a miscarriage. And I know only from having gone through the male end of that experience (i.e. none of the physical aspect of it) that every woman who chooses to abort a child that they wilingly invited into them is, whether they intend to be or not, belittling the painful experience that many women have quite involuntarily.

  74. I should add one other observation: Even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, unless the pro-lifers get Congress to implement their agenda they are doomed by federalism.

    Regardless of whether abortion should be legal, the fact is that in a significant number of states it will be available for at least the first 3 to 6 months. Yes, I know, to some here it’s horrible that the inalienable right to life might be denied in some states. Fact remains that it will be.

    I don’t see any way to ban adult women (leave aside the issue of minors for the moment) from crossing state lines to seek abortions. Yes, I realize that this is easier said than done for women with limited finances. But I also suspect that pro-choice organizations will put together ways to help women cross state lines. Yes, yes, I realize that to some here it’s horrible that one’s inalienable right to control one’s body might require elaborate measures like that.

    Anyway, in the end, with a little bit of organization and fund-raising (something which the pro-choice movement seems to be good at) the result will be that for the overwhelming majority of adult women a legal abortion will remain accessible in the US. Some might bemoan (with justification, perhaps) that women will have to jump through hoops and perhaps get help, and others might bemoan that they’re able to jump through hoops, but it will happen.

    The only hopes for the pro-life movement are either (1) The Supreme Court puts this issue in Congress’s hands rather than the states’ (unlikely) or (2) States banning abortion find a way to bar pregnant women from crossing state lines, perhaps by taking protective custody of fetuses (unlikely to be upheld, but some will no doubt try).

    Anyway, I think it’s safe to assume that many elements of the right will abandon federalism when they see that overturning Roe vs. Wade is no panacea.

  75. Steve, your reference to “quickness” of abortion in your post above reminded me of the term “quickening”.

    For centuries abortion was allowed up to the time of “quickening” or about 15 to 18 weeks into the pregnancy. In fact, Thomas Aquinas ascribed to this notion. It’s no surprise that the vast majority of all abortions occur before quickening. Afterwards, most, but not all, of them have to do with health issues of either the mother or the fetus.

    Pro-lifers, though, have pushed the envelope. They now contend that life begins at conception and that “life” trumps the health of the mother. All the pro-lifers have to do to get their legislation recognized is to adopt a reasonable position – allow early term abortions and accept that the health of the mother counts, too.

  76. To my knowledge, there are no provisions for baptism before birth. The only things that seem like they might apply before birth are:

    “1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

    1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

    1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”[62] Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”[63] allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.”

    Reference: Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.christusrex.org/www1/CDHN/baptism.html#BAPTISM

  77. Julian’s suggestion that cows and fetuses are more or less equivalent seems shaky to me; fetuses often become “moral persons,” cows never do.

    Apparently you have never seen the relationship between a cow and its calf. Its very nuturing and loving, it saddens my heart to see so many kids not get that kind of love and attention. Obviously, their mothers are responsible to follow through with the pregnancy, but as a “moral person,” they fail miserably next to the cow!

  78. Since nobody else has given Rothbard’s libertarian argument for abortion:

    No person has a right to infringe on another person’s freedom without the second person’s consent. Since the woman does not consent to allow the fetus to live in her womb, the fetus has no right to be there. Therefore, the woman is within her rights in having the fetus removed from the premises.

    Submitted for your perusal…

  79. My vote for the most idiotic comment of the day:

    (from Sam)

    “But I firmly believe that abortion is not a right that’s guaranteed to all women just by virtue of having a vagina.”

  80. OK, you’re asking:

    1) How can someone be a “pro-life libertarian?”
    2) Why aren’t there any posters on this thread who have “been there?”
    3) What is the life and liberty interest (if any) of the fetus, and must those rights (if they exist) be protected?

    OK.

    – I am a pro-life libertarian.
    – I have “been there.” In college, I decided, the same day I knew I was pregnant, that I should give my daughter up for adoption.
    – I happen to think abortion is shameful and wrong. I would not personally have an abortion.
    – Nevertheless, I do not actually believe that the fetus inherently possesses rights. The mother assigns a value to the fetus, and acts in accordance with her decision. No third party may infringe upon the autonomy of the mother by forcing/coercing her to implement any decision made by the third party, though any sort of ETHICAL persuasion is fair.
    – I understand that there may be cases, not many, in which an abortion is justified, and there’s no way I can decide in advance which cases those might be.
    – I would try to discourage someone else from having one, but I must not engage in force or fraud. I have a responsibility to show integrity by trying my best, within my limited capacity, to help make abortions unnecessary.
    – I realize that this is a personal opinion. Others do not share my opinion and I’m fine with their right to make their own minds up on the issue. In fact I insist on it.

    Incidentally I wish that there was some logically consistent way to give birth fathers the rights they so long for in this issue–guys, I hurt for you and with you–but biology is very unfortunately against them here. All I could do in my own case was to bend over backwards to make sure my ex was as involved and positive as possible. I was incredibly fortunate in that my adoption counselor, a really good and kind woman, liked and respected him.

  81. TWC,

    “Aside from that, your assumptions about the morality of food preferences are mistaken.”

    No, they are not. Of course, not all hindus/buddhists etc are vegetarian, the 300 million number assumes that only around 30 % or so of them are. But the principle of the thing – ie compassion for living creatures – is as clear as any scripture written kazillion years ago can be.

    But yes, i probably did misread your PETA statement. Apologies.

  82. Oh, incidentally, I’m a vegetarian. I am not an animal-rights activist; I started eating this way for basically sanitary reasons (you can leave a carrot out on a kitchen counter for ten hours and still eat it raw–try that with a chicken breast–or don’t). But as time went by I realized I felt a strange sense of cleanliness that came from knowing it wasn’t necessary for something with a self-awareness to be violently done to death in order for me to eat. I still think this is weird, but since it feels good, and doesn’t involve infringing on anyone else, I’m OK with it.

    I also wanted to point out that every so-called pro-life advocate who supports the death penalty is on mighty shaky ground. But y’all probably already knew that.

  83. Speedwell-
    Lately I’ve noticed more and more anti-abortion/pro-death penalty people cut through that Gordian knot by saying they are pro-INNOCENT life.

    Me, I’m pro-choice and pro-death penalty; no contradictions there.

  84. I seem to recall that Dennis Kucinich is a pro-life Democrat. Or anti-abortion if you prefer. Or whatever.

    Who’d’ve thunk?

  85. “No person has a right to infringe on another person’s freedom without the second person’s consent. Since the woman does not consent to allow the fetus to live in her womb, the fetus has no right to be there. Therefore, the woman is within her rights in having the fetus removed from the premises.”

    This ignores the “Special Responsibility” argument, which I haven’t been able to get around, and which has largely been responsible for pulling me closer to the pro-life camp.

    “Special Responsibility” suggests, among other things, that a woman gives her consent when she consents to have sex, and that this consent or contract, rather, can’t be revoked unilaterally.

  86. Although I am not a religious zealot, I don’t believe people (born and unborn) are entitled to rights in proportion to their cognitive capacities. I believe they are entitled to rights because they have souls.

    Yes, well, that’s all well and good, but “souls” and other such wooly nonsense are a piss-poor basis for deciding public policy.

  87. speedwell,

    If a fetus does not inherently possess rights, what is shameful and wrong about abortion? Or do you simply mean that you personally find it distasteful?

  88. Ricky, you need another argument, my friend. Your “life, liberty, happiness” shtick doesn’t hold water. Look, this is what you’re really saying:

    Life: The life of the valuable, aware, and physically independent “born” human is to be subordinated to the life of an unvalued, never-aware, and physically dependent undeveloped fetus. The demonstrated good must needs be sacrificed to the vague potential, for no other reason than that the potential human is weak and needy. The life of the mother is of no value when compared to the life of her unviable fetus.

    Liberty: The liberty of the mother substantially ends when she becomes pregnant. Only the liberty interest of the fetus must count. This is BECAUSE the fetus has no separate existence apart from the mother. Even though the fetus is chained to the mother by inexorable biology, we are to assume that it has greater liberty than its autonomous, self-aware mother. The liberty interest of the mother is to be suspended and disregarded for the duration of her pregnancy.

    Happiness: The unborn, fully-dependent, undeveloped, unaware fetus can feel happy. This must be protected and maximized at the cost of the mother’s happiness. Although the mother is also capable of feeling happy, her right to do so is suspended for the duration of her pregnancy.

  89. Ken-
    You keep mentioning that women give their consent to have sex. Would you support abortion for a woman who is pregnant as a result of a rape?

  90. Ooh, sell a mirage and the hordes come running. This is apparently another of those H&R impassionate topics.

    Sometimes the angst stems (no pun intended) from the fact that a significant number of people can’t accept that they are descended from a lower order of life.

    That said, I come down squarely on the side of minimizing abortions. Not through law, but technology. If we create an environment where it’s very rare to have an unwanted pregnancy, the legal issue fix themselves.

    A big problem is that too many religious groups want to block any and all contraceptives, too.

  91. kmw-

    Yours is perhaps the best comment in the post. Regardless of one’s feelings on abortion, if fewer people want an abortion the debate will go away. Oh, there will always be some who are adamant one way or the other, but the issue will dwindle in significance.

  92. TMNS, I think abortion is usually very psychologically harmful to the mother. It is an admission of failure and defeat. I also believe that stopping a pregnancy in midstream is harmful to the body medically. I feel the act of getting an abortion hardens a woman’s spirit and encourages her to be more cruel and destructive in the future. Abortion, I feel, is wrong except in the rarest of extenuating circumstances.

    If I was an engineer and I knew that a machine caused property and personnel damage when it was used, I would think that it was wrong to use that machine (absent very rare extenuating circumstances).

    I own a gun. I think it is wrong to use it to shoot people except in rare extenuating circumstances.

    I am a woman. I think it is wrong for me to become pregnant and then terminate the viable pregnancy, except in very rare extenuating circumstances.

  93. “Would you support abortion for a woman who is pregnant as a result of a rape?”

    Absolutely! I also would support abortion for the victims of incest because children can’t give their consent.

  94. Julian –

    May I be the twentieth person (but perhaps the first atheist) to say how repulsive I found your comment re abortion and meat to be.

    The problem with your argument – such that it is – is that it could apply just as easily to infants or, indeed, most 2-year-olds.

    I’m not staking out a hard-right or absolutist position here. I can morally accept first-semester abortion as a political fact for the foreseeable, and I understand that reasonable people can disagree. There’s no bright line between a clump of cells and human life.

    However, cavalierly idiotic statements like Julian’s are repulsive and nauseating. They indicate a stunning moral arrogance. I certainly won’t take anything Julian Sanchez writes seriously ever again.

  95. Ken-

    There’s a slight discrepancy in your logic, then. Surely you wouldn’t support the killing of an innocent baby just because his father’s a scumbag rapist?

    I have noticed, and said on an earlier abortion-thread posting, that a lot of pro-lifers seem to have a lot of contradictions in what they say: it’s wrong to kill an innocent child (unless daddy was a rapist, then we’ll make an exception); abortion clinics are mass-murder machines (but it’s still wrong to bomb them, or kill the doctors who are ‘murdering’ so many babies).

    This probably sounds like I’m trying to pull a smartass “gotcha!” but I sincerely am not. I have admired and agreed with many postings you’ve done in the past, you are obviously an intelligent man, and I am hoping that you might help me somewhat understand these contradictions I’ve noticed in a lot of anti-abortion people.

    For what it’s worth, I do think it’s wrong to kill babies; I just don’t think a three-month fetus qualifies. A fetus is not a human anymore than an egg is a chicken.

  96. Wasn’t the ever-mysterious “right to privacy” the basis for Roe v Wade’s striking down of abortion laws?

    And now we have pro-choicers chastising those who’ve exercised their right to privacy for not speaking out about it. It might be funny were it not for that 30 million (fast approaching 40 million) statistic.

  97. I personally think that the moral weight of life is conditioned not on the capacity for suffering, but on a sentience capable of conceptualizing itself which I generally think of as defined by a conception of the self/other dichotomy (or a principled denial of same) and an ability to communicate abstract and conditional ideas.
    Thus, abortion is for me on the same, acceptable moral plane as eating meat (possibly lower than some “higher” animals like dolphins and chimps) and even early infanticide. (Ken/Jose: I think that once a human has attained sentience, they would claim their self-ownership which could be treated like other property in the case of a lapse in control – follow previously expressed
    instructions, or else devolve to control of a designated executor or close relative, or else be treated in accordance with what can be best
    ascertained to be the individual’s own interests and desires. [Note also that an ownership idea based on a firm sentient/nonsentient distinction
    also has strong youth liberationist implications])

    Gah. That got longer than I wanted it to. Anyway, the point that was leading to was that it’s sometimes an awkward position to express, meets with much disagreement, and I accept the possibility that some time someone will give me a counterargument that’ll make me change my mind. Even in my libertarian daydreams I don’t expect that an ideal society would be obligated to encode my ideas as law. Like Ken says, if you start from different first principles about the moral nature of life, you can reach a good argument against abortion (and for you textualists out there, you could even make it a constitutional imperative by way of equal treatment under the law). In any case, I will
    continue to assert my position exactly because I don’t think it’s healthy for one conception of morality or acceptability that might not even represent a majority to be the only “polite” one to introduce into the discourse.

    I agree with Phil that the Amy Richards example represents the unfortunate extent towards which one position has been able to dominate the way
    we talk about abortion. By all standards, I think she presented a case that would seem to fit into the accepted “moderate” abortion-is-unfortunate-but-sometimes-necessary view. The reasoning she presented to explain her choice was, essentially, that she didn’t feel capable of supporting three children in the manner she felt they would deserve. That a sense of class anxiety informed her decisionmaking process when dealing with major economic terms doesn’t, I think, set her apart from many people. That she was honest enough to admit it does set her apart, though, and I believe admirably so. Even where they don’t support abortion as a method to do so, many right-wingers will cite the possibility of lifting themselves out of the underclass as a reason for poor urban women to delay or forgo childbearing.

    Ms. Richards isn’t even vulnerable to the “well, then, you shouldn’t’ve got yourself knocked up in the first place” attack – she had thought the matter over and expressly decided to take responsibility and give birth should she get pregnant, and it’s a damn hard argument to make that she should’ve planned for the approx. .01% possibility of triplets. However, despite all this, the fact that she discussed her decision without apologizing for or publicly expressing regret for it seems to have put her in a position where she’s at the least violating some sort of polite norm, and that’s no good.

    A lot of women have abortions they regret. It’s true, I know some, and it’s a shame. To the extent that pro-life organizations act to inform unexpectedly pregnant women that there are other options that they might prefer, and make it easier for them to choose those routes, I support them. But I support them on the same grounds that I support Planned Parenthood for letting them know that abortion is also an option. I also know women who’ve had abortions they look back on as good decisions. Like I suspect many people on this blog, I’m all in favor of giving people a variety of options. However, while I support either side in saying “you might prefer this”, when they start to say “you will prefer this, and so will everyone else”, I think opposing voices need to call them on it.

  98. When I read Julian’s comment, I assumed he meant that eating meat requires one to kill an actual, viable living being, whereas abortion merely wipes out a *potentially* living being. Kind of like this vegetarian I know, who refuses to eat poultry but has no problem eating eggs.

  99. Jennifer,

    Despite your protestations to the contrary, your post displays an classic example of the “Gotcha” technique (ie, trap the pro-life side into appearing uncompassionate or self-contradictory). True, cases where pregnancy results from rape are the bane of pro-life arguments — to forbid abortion there is to coerce a woman to bear a child that she did not in any way choose to conceive, but to allow it is to make the right to life dependent on the details of one’s conception.

    Still, this gray area only clouds the arguments in a tiny minority of pregnancies. Is that really justification for denying the right to life in the vast majority of cases that do not involve rape?

  100. The only true libertarian argument that solves the abortion conundrum is to allow parents to sell their babies in the free market. If women who become pregnant and do not desire to keep the baby could make money off the sale of the child we would see almost no abortions and possibly the elimination of the dangerous black market for children. This process would almost certainly require some type of regulation or facilitaion by private parental screening businesses.

    (Note: I say this mostly in jest and am not actually advocating this as a solution)

  101. For what it’s worth, I do think it’s wrong to kill babies; I just don’t think a three-month fetus qualifies.

    So, what do you think qualifies?

    Seriously, the problem with the “Duh, it’s not a baby, it’s only a three-month fetus” line is that that implies the right to life is gained some time between being a three-month fetus and being a baby. So when does the right to life show up?

  102. Nick-

    I know you joke, but it bears some resemblance to the world of domestic adoption. Of course, all of what I’m about to say is based on anecdotes that my wife and I have picked up as we begin to look at adoption options.

    Birth mothers in the US sometimes receive financial support from prospective adoptive parents. Ostensibly, of course, this is simply a charitable act of 2 people helping a woman in tight circumstances bear a child, which they will thoughtfully adopt to relieve her of the burden. In reality, of course, they’re buying a baby from her.

    My wife and I will stay away from domestic adoption, however. Working with a birth mother in advance carries various problems, including the fact that she can back out of the deal, as well as the current penchant for open adoptions (which we really don’t want). Going through the foster care system carries the risk of the children being taken away before the process is complete, and watching the kids go back to abusive homes. And children of parents whose legal rights were already terminated are usually rare, especially young children. (And the older children frequently carry baggage and may not think of us as parents.)

    So the only real way to avoid heart-break is to adopt from a foreign country.

  103. Crimethink-
    Thank you for admitting that rape is indeed a gray area, but I would like to know where you stand on this position–IS it wrong to abort a child who has been raped?

    Personally, I think a fetus qualifies as a full-fledged human when it is capable of independent life outside of its mother’s body–breathe with its own lungs, digest food with its own stomach, and fight disease with its own immune system. Once a fetus reaches that stage,then I do think abortion is wrong unless the mother’s life is at risk–first come.

    I am indeed sorry that you fell I am playing gotcha, but this is a legitimate contradiction that I have been trying to understand for years. WHY is it wrong to kill a baby with a rapist father? WHY is it wrong to bomb a clinic that “murders” babies? Accuse me of whatever you like, but I’d appreciate an answer nonetheless.

  104. That was supposed to say “first come, first served” at the end of the second paragraph. Don’t know how I managed to delete part of it.

  105. TMNS, I think abortion is . . . I also believe . . . I feel the act of getting an abortion . . . . Abortion, I feel . . .

    If I was an engineer and I knew that a machine caused property and personnel damage . . .

    But, apparently, by your own words, you don’t know. You think, feel and believe, but you don’t know these things to be true. Do you have any facts to offer that support these concepts, or are we supposed to make complicated decisions based on your thoughts, feelings and beliefs?

  106. ANd I also meant to say, “Why is it OKOAY to kill a baby with a rapist father?” Damn, I need to wake up.

  107. Jennifer-

    Well, one might think that abortion is murder but oppose clinic bombings for the same reason that many oppose vigilante justice. (Of course, those who like vigilante justice might have a different take.)

    Properly pure H&R posters, of course, oppose bombing a clinic bombings on the grounds that it destroys private property 🙂

  108. Thoreau-
    Vigilante justice is better than no justice at all. If I’d lived in Nazi Germany, I hope I would have had the courage to kill a concentration-camp guard, if the opportunity presented itself.

  109. Even ignoring the clinic-bombing thing, COULD someone who is pro-life explain why they are willing to make an exception and “murder” the child of a rapist?

  110. Jennifer-

    OK, one might oppose vigilante justice in most cases but support it in cases where no other justice is available. Even so, most would argue that in our society there are still lawful avenues for ending the practice of abortion. Hence most pro-lifers write letters and carry signs instead of bombing clinics.

    Your argument seems to be that if they really, honestly believe that murder is being committed then they have no other choice but to take up weapons. I have already argued that as long as we have federalism legal abortion will remain accessible to most adult women. If the pro-life camp were to be convinced by what I wrote above, and then be convinced by the case you’re making, we’d have a civil war on our hands.

    I take no side in this debate (pending one side or the other’s co-opting of the Pursuit of Happiness 🙂 but I enter debates like these to challenge the worst arguments of both sides in hopes that somehow this issue can be resolved with less acrimony.

  111. Jennifer,

    One of the consequences of choosing to have sex is the possibility of a fetus. That is to say, when a woman has sex of her own free will, she consents to the consequences of her choice. Many of us recognize that there is a responsibility associated with every freedom; the responsibility to respect the rights of others. Sometimes the rights of others can be willingly abrogated, but not in the relationship between a mother and her fetus. Indeed, there is no other relationship anywhere in universe, hence the term ?special responsibility?, in which one person is responsible for the very creation of another person. I?m suggesting that this ?special responsibility? is what makes abortion unjust.

    In the case of rape or incest, because the responsibility I?m talking about can only be the product of a mother?s free choice, no such responsibility exists. The contradiction you asked about seems to be predicated on the idea that abortion is wrong because the fetus is inherently valuable. While my line of logic assumes that a fetus has rights, it?s not the primary basis for denying access to abortion. I am arguing that the mother did, in fact, give her consent, and, as a consequence, she has a responsibility to respect the rights of her fetus. If she doesn?t volunteer her consent, then she doesn?t have a responsibility.

  112. Thoreau-
    I suspect that you were only able to make that argument (“work through legal channels”) BECAUSE you are staying out of this one, so to speak.

    COnsider: I am totally opposed to the War on Drugs, and I believe the number of nonviolent, harmless prisoners we have in jail because of it is a monstrous injustice, but I am content to work through legal channels; indeed, if I heard of a plot to bomb the DEA or murder its agents I would promptly report it to the police, even if it meant betraying a friend.

    If, however, our government were doing something like killing Arabs at random, or make the murder of a Muslim a mere misdemeanor, I don’t know if I could merely “work through legal channels” while thousands of people were being murdered with the approval of that same legal system. Likewise, I still don’t see how someone who honestly believes abortion is murder can be so calm in the face of three million “murders” per year.

    Ken-
    Thank you. I completely disagree, of course, but I can at least get a vague idea as to where you’re coming from.

  113. Jennifer,

    I think we’ve had this discussion before, but..

    Call it the chink in my libertarian armor, but I’d support laws against abortion in all cases except verifiable threats to the health of the mother. A rape exception would weaken the law, and more importantly, contradict its basis in the inalienable human rights of the fetus. I disagree with Ken in that I think that protecting the rights of the fetus is the only justification for coercing a woman to carry to term.

    Of course, there are similar gray areas outside of the abortion issue; for instance, if you are out at sea, and discover a stowaway on your boat, are you obligated to return him to the shore, or can you throw him overboard? (BTW, that I think is the best analogy to the rape exception debate.)

    Also, I think I’ve posted before that my opposition to murdering abortionists is not purely moral, but also pragmatic. Since it is perfectly moral to kill a person in order to prevent them murdering someone, there’s no inherent moral problem with killing an abortionist who is scheduling murders every day.

    Problem is, that if you kill him, someone else will just take his place. You won’t save any babies, but you will undermine the pro-life cause and give the media the opportunity to once again portray pro-lifers as murderous extremists. Since no lives are saved, and indeed lives may be lost if the pro-life message is thus squelched, murder in that circumstance would not be moral.

  114. Jennifer-

    There are a number of reasons why pro-lifers might oppose bombing clinics:

    1) For some a philosophical belief that any killing is wrong. These people would not be swayed by utilitarian arguments that killing one doctor saves more lives. Of course, since many pro-lifers support the death penalty, this stance can’t be ascribed to all of them.

    2) Even those who believe that killing 1 doctor saves more lives might oppose vigilante killings, believing that the law should be adhered to for its own sake and whatnot. Or at least they might believe that such methods should be used only as a very last resort, and also believe that we aren’t at that point yet.

    3) Some might doubt the utilitarian arguments. There are people who would go to great lengths to make sure that the patients scheduled to receive an abortion got one anyway despite the doctor’s death. Sure, kill enough doctors and not every patient will get an abortion, but a pro-lifer might conclude that there is no realistic prospect for the level of violence necessary to make an impact. (Which might be a self-fulfilling prophecy or circular logic.)

    4) Some might have no opposition to violence but be unwilling to risk their own life and liberty to engage in that violence.

    Anyway, I’m kind of glad that most pro-lifers have decided to eschew violence.

    Here’s another thought: I’m an agnostic on this issue because I can’t bring myself to choose in a contest between life and liberty (I’m waiting for the pursuit of happiness to break the tie :). Perhaps even people who have taken a side still experience pangs of this dilemma. Another poster in this thread suggested that people who support abortion are still uneasy about the subject because deep down they know it’s wrong.

    Well, what if a lot of pro-lifers believe that deep down this isn’t exactly like other murders? What if, however rightly or wrongly, they believe that despite the life issues there’s still a highly personal choice issue here, so they can’t quite bring themselves to place it on the same level as any other killing?

    Now, you could taunt them and try to get them to concede that they’re 100% wrong and abortion is OK. But maybe they believe it’s wrong enough to ban but not quite as wrong as other crimes. Sort of like the way that some crimes carry lesser penalties than other crimes. Maybe they realize there’s a real dilemma and that the pro-choice side raises some darn good points. Maybe they think abortion is immoral but not quite immoral enough to go kill somebody over.

  115. I think the problem here for libertarians is that the idea of non-initiation of force is an artificial construct — you definitely don’t see it in nature. While in 99.99% of the situations in life, it may give straight answers, there will be a few situations in which it’s not so easy to sort out who is violating whose rights. The case of a woman pregnant from rape who wants to abort is one of them. The best we can do is to consider the relative weight of the various individuals’ rights, and try to strike a balance in which the least damage is done.

  116. thoreau,

    Without life, liberty is meaningless. Don’t know if that will break the tie, but it’s a try.

  117. Crimethink-
    Thanks. Again, I completely disagree, but I DO see how I might agree if I actually believed that abortion was wrong.

    Thoreau, Crimethink and all others–
    Seriously, I am NOT trying to taunt anybody here. Knowing that a question will “get a rise” out of people if I ask it does NOT mean that I am asking it solely to get said rise from people.

    I remember once when I was eight, in Sunday School, bored out of my mind and thumbing through the Bible I’d recently received as a gift. I happened to stumble upon that verse which says that it’s all right for a father to sell his disobedient children into slavery. I was horrified, and asked the teacher about it; she did not answer the question, but instead acted as though I were trying to be insulting.

    NO, I wasn’t. Likewise, if today I meet a person who claims that every single word of the Bible is true and must be adhered to, I STILL ask them what they think about selling their kids into slavery or executing anyone who works on the Sabbath. I know that will infuriate them, but infuriating them is not my goal; understanding what the hell they’re talking about is.

    I still have problems with the answers I’ve received here, but I am not interested in bringing up the points I have problems with because my goal was to understand the thinking of people like Crimethink and Ken, not persuade them to change their thinking to my own.

    How can one understand how people think about certain things without asking them?

  118. I wouldn’t normally crosspost but I think this mother’s post (written on another message board about the NYT author who aborted her twins) really puts things into perspective for a Libertarian point of view. I think most men (including me) don’t have a full realization of what the woman undergoes during pregnancy and it is in recognition of this sacrifice and suffering that choice should remain legal:

    ——–

  119. Although I’m a unrepentant pro-choicer, I’m not sure that Ehrenreich is right. I don’t talk about my root canel work, does that mean I’m willing to let oral surgery be legislated out of existance?

    OK, that’s reducing it to the absurd, but you get my point.

    Abortion is a pretty big choice to make, and it’s a personal one with a lot of private emotions involved. It’s easy to see why most women will not bring it up in day-to-day conversation.

    What would Enrenreich prefer? American women waving their reproductive histories in the air, leaving themselves open to condemnation from those who are actively seeking to ban abortion and annoying those who sit on the fense?

  120. Abortion doesn’t really fit as an individual right.

    Liberterians shouldn’t so easily embrace such freedom.

    If I engage in behavior that directly causes you to contract a fatal illness and the only cure involves me donating my bone marrow, we would all agree the state does not have the right to compel me to donate my bone marrow.

    However, I have still committed murder.

  121. Maybe the reason that women don’t talk about it is because it’s shameful and wrong.

  122. Maybe many members of our society treat it as something shameful and wrong so it is better not to talk about it.

  123. What Mark S said. There’s lots of shit that’s legal (AND SHOULD BE) that’s not comfortably talked about.

  124. Sam, shame is relative, transient, and rooted in time. What is shameful today was not 100 years ago and vice versa. Shame has no bearing on legality.

    Mark S, I dont think B.E. wants women to wave their histories to the world, just acknowledge they are pro-choice if they’ve had an abortion.

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