Abortion

The Kinder, Gentler Abortion

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The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which the House is expected to vote on today, has provoked splits on both sides of the abortion debate. The National Right to Life Committee supports the bill, which would require doctors to inform women undergoing abortions at 20 weeks or later (counting from fertilization) that "there is substantial evidence" the fetus can feel pain and offer her the option of fetal anesthesia. Operation Save America, by contrast, says the NRLC is a bunch of pussies for implying that murdering unborn children is OK as long as you don't hurt them while you're doing it. Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation are predictably opposed to the bill, but NARAL Pro-Choice America has taken a "neutral" stance that sounds like an endorsement: "Pro-choice Americans have always believed that women deserve access to all the information relevant to their reproductive health decisions," says NARAL President Nancy Keenan. "For some women, that includes information related to fetal anesthesia options." NARAL's stance has provoked angry disappointment on left-liberal blogs. 

Given its moral premise, Operation Save America (an outgrowth of Operation Rescue) makes the most sense to me, opposing not only the fetal anesthesia bill but all other namby-pamby tenth-measures that stop short of a complete ban. If you believe abortion is murder, how can you in good conscience take any other position? The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, for instance, has always struck me as a cynical, unprincipled P.R. move built on a false moral distinction. It was effective at putting groups like NARAL on the defensive in the short term and perhaps at gaining legitimacy for national restrictions on abortion (except among the dwindling few who care about the Constitution), but at the cost of implying that "out of sight, out of mind" is the right approach to abortion: Sucking out a fetus's brain and crushing its skull when it's partly outside the uterus is beyond the pale, but dismembering it inside the uterus and removing it one piece at a time is A-OK. Promoting fetal anesthesia likewise could make abortion seem more rather than less acceptable, which may help explain NARAL's position.

Clarification: The constitutional problem with national abortion restrictions that I had in mind was the lack of congressional authority to pass such legislation, not a conflict with Roe v. Wade.

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  1. It may be that for many Americans issues relating to abortion are somewhat akin to issues like cruelty toward animals or animal extinction. While NOT positing an absolute equivalence between fetal rights and human rights generally, they do feel it is an area of genuine moral concern.

    joe eats only cruelty-free meat, and most people feel the death of a fetus in the commission of a crime is a type of homocide.

    Lots of contradictions? Maybe…maybe not.

  2. If you believe abortion is murder, how can you in good conscience take any other position?

    That’s why I never understood people who wanted to ban abortion unless fertilization was due to rape or incest. If the reason abortion is wrong is because it’s equivalent to murder, and murder is also wrong, how could murdering the offspring of rapists and inbreds be ok?

  3. Ryo

    The mother’s interest in terminating the pregnancy is deemed to be more compelling in such cases. Rights can conflict, perhaps?

  4. As a committed Christian who understands both the ‘Biblical’ perspective as well as the personal rights perspective I see the Bible itself as totally silent on the subject of abortion. Genesis clearly determines that human life begins and ends with ‘breath’. Period. There is no additional determinate in Scripture and there is no indication that the Bible was written for non-sentient creatures, rather it was written to the self-aware who had breath and reason and the ability to comprehend the difference between conscious life and ‘creature’ life. So if the creature does not make it to take the first breath, it only counts in our minds, not in the mind of God. Do not misunderstand, the debate around what point ‘human’ life begins is all well and good but the Scriptural sense begins only when the creature draws a breath and becomes a person. Up to that point the creature is still a creature. We have allowed the debates to be clothed in fallow self righteousness and political expediency. Go figure. Argue amoungst yourselves.

  5. “how could murdering the offspring of rapists and inbreds be ok?”

    because they will breed more rapists and inbreds

    also waddayaknow u might wanna clear yourself up on the definition of creature, and how we who breathe air aren’t creatures (in god’s mind of course)

  6. Most people don’t really subscribe to either position. It’s ridculous to believe that the moral status of a fetus is decided by whether it is inside or outside of the uterus. If the baby is a person in the doctor’s arms, why wasn’t it a person 8 hours ago? On the other hand it’s also ridculous to think that an 8 celled blastocyte is deserving of the same protection as a baby.

    Anyway, its a democracy. Muddling is what we do.

    It’s really not a simple issue, and most people just kind of try to muddle through it, since the absolutists on both sides have serious problems with their arguments.

  7. “If the reason abortion is wrong is because it’s equivalent to murder, and murder is also wrong, how could murdering the offspring of rapists and inbreds be ok?”

    Not all killing is murder. Abortion is killing. Most times, killing is murder, but not always. If you kill someone and it isn’t your fault, then it is not murder, or if you were justified via self-defense. Getting pregnant via rape is not your fault, and thus we won’t hold you responsible for the subsequent killing. I know that the analogy doesn’t line up perfectly, but there is a strong current in law that says you shouldn’t have to bear the consequences if something isn’t your fault.

    (That’s partially why we have a legal system that tries to blame everybody else for everything.)

  8. but there is a strong current in law that says you shouldn’t have to bear the consequences if something isn’t your fault.

    So pregnancy is legally a consequence of sex? (Note the difference between “legal consequences” and “natural consequences which can be avoided, unless the law decides to interfere.”)

  9. waddayknow,

    Well, that only works if you believe that “sola scriptura” is the way to go.

  10. So pregnancy is legally a consequence of sex?

    You haven’t had sex, have you?
    Oh goodness, you had better get yourself to the fertility clinic. We need to inseminate you. Come along now.

  11. Jacob’s post misunderstands the reason for the pro-life support for things like the partial-birth abortion ban and the fetal pain notification requirement. Of course these measures are pathetic less-than-half measures to those of us who believe that 99.9 percent of the abortions going on today (if not all of them) are murders. But politically realistic pro-lifers see that most of the voting public does not subscribe to our point of view. So for political purposes these measures have been pushed to create a slippery-slope effect and ease the ability of future legislators to enact stronger prohibitions in the future. The ultimate goal is some sort of future legal regime in which abortion is, at the very least, much more proscribed than it is today. The same strategy (withhas been followed by gun-restrictionist and homosexual rights groups. Accordingly, there is no moral or intellectual inconsistency in the pro-life group’s support of these laws.

  12. Fetal anesthesia? Doesn’t the fetus get enough of a contact high from the mother’s anesthesia to not feel anything?

    BTW, Fetal Anesthesia would be a good name for a death metal band.

  13. I like “Fetal Mercy” for a Christian metal band.

  14. Isn’t the process of birth a painful one for the infant, too? If so, does the bill mandate mothers be reminded of that?

  15. Isn’t the process of birth a painful one for the infant, too? If so, does the bill mandate mothers be reminded of that?

    I smell a lawsuit! Affordable C-Sections for all!

  16. Jennifer,

    “So pregnancy is legally a consequence of sex?”

    Whoa. I just meant that concepts of “responsibility” that we see in the law also inform our thinking about abortion and can lead to bizarre results. I’m just trying to parse a contradictory, yet welcome, right wing inconsistency.

    I guess an alternative theory would be that rape children are abominations and not entitled to life.

  17. Matt,

    Hear, hear!

    When pro-abortionists complain that pro-lifers are being inconsistent, what they really mean is that pro-lifers are about to win a (minor but welcome) legislative victory.

    Incidentally, what does a pro-abortionist have to do in order to be inconsistent? Save a baby’s life? Or maybe deny choice to women, as in taxpayer-funded abortions and bans on certain cosmetic surgery?

  18. waddayaknow: I agree with your point. I don’t think a God who gets off on genocide, rape and the smell of charred flesh is particularly concerned for a quivering lump of pre-human flesh.

  19. Aw, why don’t you all just be happy with your miniature American flags?

  20. Not really rated at all, but I just heard that Mary Cheney is pregnant. Might this be the event that pushes conservatives to endorse homosexual marriage? How else can Dick Cheney be spared the shame of having his daughter be an un-wed mother?

  21. I think Lynn Cheney bears a lot of responsibility for her daughter’s lesbianism. Mary didn’t want to end up like her mother, who married a dickhead to hide her orientation. Lynn sublimated it all by writing racy novels about lesbian love. Wonder what bedtime stories she read Mary.

  22. “Given its moral premise, Operation Save America (an outgrowth of Operation Rescue) makes the most sense to me, opposing not only the fetal anesthesia bill but all other namby-pamby tenth-measures that stop short of a complete ban. If you believe abortion is murder, how can you in good conscience take any other position?”

    If you believe the war on drugs is bad how can you support a measure legalizing only pot? If you think income taxes are a form of slavery how can you support a flat tax? You do the best you can. If women are informed how late term fetuses feel pain then a few of them will probably not go through with the abortion. This stops a few murders if you believe abortion is murder. How could you in good conscience not support a bill that saves some lives, even if it doesn’t save all of them?

    “It was effective at putting groups like NARAL on the defensive in the short term and perhaps at gaining legitimacy for national restrictions on abortion (except among the dwindling few who care about the Constitution)”

    What does the Constitution say about abortion? About as much as it says about guarantied minimum income of free medical care. If you want to make up rights that interfere with the rights of others (in this case fathers and unborn citizens) you ought to expect other made-up rights to be invented.

  23. people focus too much on the hard cases. I think the operative image in a lot of ppl’s heds is that of some pregnant woman at 5 months having hard circumstances that make her psychologically fragile and desirous of an abortion. Not just desirous of abortion, but also emotionally ill-prepared to even deal with the physics and metaphysics of the late term abortion she desires to have.

    I think that whole mental picture is 99.9% bs.

    How it would really work, in the main, is that other women and healthcare providers would let me women know that if they want to abort, then they better do it 1st trimester and no sitting on the fetus until it becomes more baby like. The message will be, “if you are going to get that abortion, do it now and don’t wait — if you don’t do it now the procedure becomes more expensive, complicated and painful (all ’round).” As brutal and rude as that may sound to a society that has developed a certain etiquette in these divisive matters, this is exactly what first trimester pregnant women need to hear. Better for the fetus, and the woman (esecially the woman) and even the male parent, if any.

    Pro-choice, but choose early and stick with the choice you make.

  24. I agree with Andrew here.

  25. Lamar said it well in his first post: not all killing is murder. There are circumstances when the negative consequences of not killing outweigh those of killing. Abortion may be one of these circumstances, just as self-defense may be.

    C’mon libertarians, we don’t believe in in laws, remember? “Murder” has no meaning anyway.

  26. …and even the male parent, if any.

    You know, in those rare cases when the unwanted pregnancy didn’t occur through artificial insemination.

  27. I agree that these half-measures on the part of pro-life groups are indefensible. Either fetuses are human life (and what else are they? they’re not gorillas, chickens, or deer) and should never be tolerated in any circumstances save those involving the life/health of the mother, or they’re not, or they aren’t up to a certain point.

    If the first, the bill is ghastly, if the second, it’s irrelevant, and if the third, groups endorsing the bill need to explain what species the fetus belongs to before it is human and what defines the point at which it becomes human.

  28. Err, that should read “and abortions should never.”

  29. Wouldn’t birth hurt more, and therefore the same warning be enforced in that circumstance as well? By the way does anybody remember feeling anything at all when they were in the womb? Do we really need “scientific studies” to conclude this logic is retarded?

  30. The fetus is just a mass of cells that is fed and nurtured by the mother’s blood, until it is expelled. It’s no different from the liver, brain, or heart. So it includes a bunch of neuronal pathways that show some activity, which may or may not connote pain, is not the issue here. If the mother were to think (perhaps erroneously) that the fetus might feel pain, and would feel more comfortable with fetal anesthesia, that’s her prerogative. NARAL’s position makes the most sense.

  31. Do the severely retarded or people in comas remember anything at all? Let’s kill them!

  32. Sorry but I can’t agree. The “a fetus is a human or it’s a lump of tissue” is a false dichotomy. There is nothing irrational or contradictory about treating a fetus as a lesser human. Indeed we can hardly do otherwise. It’s ludicrous to suggest we grant them full citizenship, complete with the right to vote etc.

    If I had my way, any woman would have the absolute right to end the life of her child at any time during her pregnancy. And both parents would have that right after the pregnancy, at least until the little bastard gets a job. But if it isn’t going to be my way, there’s nothing wrong or even disingenuous with half measures and compromises on this very difficult issue.

  33. Wouldn’t birth hurt more, and therefore the same warning be enforced in that circumstance as well? By the way does anybody remember feeling anything at all when they were in the womb? Do we really need “scientific studies” to conclude this logic is retarded?

    You better hope I don’t manage to get a roofie in your drink. My preferred brand of fun can get a little rough. * cue “Deliverance” theme * No memory, no foul, right?

  34. -guy

    I wasn’t making an argument for abortion, just the fact that the debate over weather or not a fetus, especially in early stages, feels pain is pretty sketchy. Even if a fetus is a ‘person’ (whatever that means exactly), it takes on that classification with some serious exemptions. One of those would be the ability to feel pain, at least in the same capacity that those of us who are no longer fetuses do.

  35. “If I had my way, any woman would have the absolute right to end the life of her child at any time during her pregnancy. And both parents would have that right after the pregnancy, at least until the little bastard gets a job”

    Um… you’re being facetious, I hope?

  36. -SF

    If a bear shits in the woods and no one smells it, does the shit….blah, blah, blah. I don’t, I guess that raises an interesting question. What exactly is harm?

  37. Meant to say: I don’t know, I guess…..

  38. I agree that a fetus can be classed as a lesser human according to criteria such as pain tolerance, responsiveness to stimuli,the development of the nervous system, etc. By the same logic someone who’s endured severe brain damage, or a Jew, or a serial murderer might be classed as a lesser human. I don’t think it follows, though, that it’s alright to kill any of them because of that.

  39. ‘or a Jew’: Totally sweet!!!

  40. I’ve always thought that a fetus becomes a full fledged human being with certain rights and such at the point at which it no longer functions like a parasite, relying 100% on the woman’s body.

  41. “no longer functions like a parasite, relying 100% on the woman’s body.”

    Oh, like when they can get a job? Or hunt and kill their own food?

  42. Wow, who would had guessed that abortion is such a divisive issue?

  43. Kohlrabi…more like when they can, I don’t know, BREATHE and function independent from the woman’s body.

  44. There are, like, 17 layers of quasi-ironic pseudo-faux-post cyncisism going on here.

  45. sam_h nails it right on the head here. The end purpose of the pro-life movement is not to pass laws or gain political power, it is to prevent abortions. The political stuff is a means to that end, and if this law prevents some abortions, it is better than nothing.

  46. C’mon libertarians, we don’t believe in in laws, remember?

    Yet another illiterate who doesn’t understand that libertarians are not anarchists.

  47. What’s Jacob’s problem? I’m against cruelty to animals, but I’m not against slaughtering them. So why wouldn’t there be people who’d be against inflicting pain on fetuses but not against killing them?

  48. waddayknow:

    As a committed Christian who understands both the ‘Biblical’ perspective as well as the personal rights perspective I see the Bible itself as totally silent on the subject of abortion. Genesis clearly determines that human life begins and ends with ‘breath’. Period. There is no additional determinate in Scripture…

    Based on my in-depth research (i.e., the reading of bumper stickers while stuck in traffic), I’d say Jeremiah 1:5 offers a fairly strong rebuttal:

    Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.

    Not saying I agree with them, but most pro-life “committed Christians” feel the bible is on their side:

    http://www.abortionfacts.com/literature/literature_9410CV.asp

  49. Re fetal pain and abortion:

    Robert is exactly right. A pretty standard position on animals is that they aren’t persons, they have no rights, it’s OK to kill them, etc. but that it’s wrong to make them suffer. The same position looks pretty plausible when applied to fetuses.

    Of course, if you want the government to make sure fetuses don’t suffer in abortions, then you should also want the government to make sure animals don’t suffer when slaughtered. That is, you should want the government to demand a complete overhaul of factory farming.

    I confess the issues of abortion and animal rights/welfare look very very similar to me. I find it remarkable that the positions taken by real people are so mismatched.

    Re: rape/incest exceptions

    Just saying “it’s self-defense” isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.

    It’s not obvious that we should be allowed to kill innocent people as a means of self-defense. And that would apply only in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Is it OK to kill innocent people in order to defend oneself against the burdens of pregnancy? Not obviously.

    You could, of course, say it’s OK to ‘kill’ innocent people by denying them access to your body in order to defend yourself against the burdens of pregnancy. But now you’re sliding towards the pro-choice view, as the old Judith Jarvis Thomson paper indicates.

  50. Toxic has the right idea here, but he doesn’t follow through to the conclusion. A baby’s status as in-utero or ex-utero(?) does not change it’s right to protection from violence. If a fetus is born prematurely, say at 6 months, it is considered a person with the right to be free from harm even while hooked to medical equipment in the ICU. (Interestingly, the hospital must take care of the child even if no one can pay for the care. How is the mother’s obligation any less? Unless we don’t consider pregnant women mothers anymore, but I digress….) So given this, how can anyone make a case for ‘aborting’ a 7 month old ‘fetus’ just because it didn’t have the good fortune to be born life-threateningly early in the pregnancy?

    Only people who doesn’t want to reap the consequences of their behavior, that’s who. So, if you engage knowingly in any risky activity that might carry negative consequences, do we not, as a society, decide that those people must bear the consequences of their actions? If you were to accidentally kill someone while hunting, would you not be guilty of manslaughter? Is hunting not a recreational activity with a possible negative consequence? Why must the hunter suffer the consequences of his actions but not the mother of a child? Isn’t this the responsibility (Oh-no, not THAT word!) of the Consenting Adults?
    All this business about ‘reproductive rights’ is smoke & mirrors. Try on the phrase ‘reproductive responsibility’ instead, because mature adults live up to their obligations. There’s too much posturing in the ‘How can I define this best for ME’ vein. Why don’t we as a society try to figure out what the most JUST solution to the problem is? (As opposed to a solution catering to the loudest subgroup.)

    The REAL question that helps us get to the bottom of this issue is ‘What is a human?’ If we solve this question of fact, then the issue dissolves and the solution emerges. Since I don’t want to bore people anymore than I have to, I won’t cover all the wrong criteria we could use to answer this question. I’ll only posit what I think is the right answer. Sentience is the quality that seems to be the best candidate to me. When a child starts thinking is when it becomes human. An 8 celled blastocyst is not human, but a 6 month old fetus seems to be, so what’ the difference? A functional central nervous system & brain, that’s what. (This implies that brain dead people are no longer people, but the mentally retarded are, and people in coma’s are somewhere between maybe.) Christian Scripture does not address this question of fact directly, as I understand it, anyway. A Jewish text (not sure which) apparently does. (This point is blatantly plagiarized from a book I’ve read somewhere, I think it was “The Science of God: xxxxxxx “) According to Jewish traditional text, God imbues the soul of a person at about the 40th day after conception. Strangely, this does agree well with current medical evidence that the central nervous system and brain of fetus begins operating around day 40 of gestation.

    So there you have it, a book for just one point. A person isn’t one until approximately 40 days after conception. (Thunderous applause… but only because he stopped talking….)

  51. You’re wrong, congress does have the authority to pass such regulation, as we decided in Wickard v. Filburn. There are no limits!

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