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Old 03-11-2006, 07:37 AM   #147
ShadowTemplar's Avatar
Join Date: Nov 2002
Location: Denmark
Posts: 1,068
I will start with this, because it seems to me the most important feature of this debate. And I would ask the anti-choicers here to adress this point before they move on to my other points.

The anti-choice side here is arguing from fundamentally fallacious premises. In the anti-choice rethoric, there are two implicit assumptions:

The first assumption is that it is possible to point to a stage in foetal development where the foetus suddenly and magically ceases to be a lump of chemicals and becomes a full human. In other words, there is an implicit assumption that there is a point at which contraception goes from completely unproblematic to completely unacceptable.

The second assumption is that there is no consideration that justifies compromise on this issue. That under no circumstances is it acceptable to even risk crossing the imaginary line imposed by the first assumption.

I would argue that the first assumption is stupid. In fact, there is no discontinuities during pregnancy that can justify such an assumption. Thus, if an ethical discontinuity is assumed where there is no biological counterpart, it will necessarily be an arbitrary distinction that can - in principle - be placed anywhere and everywhere. And no matter where it is placed, it will yield unacceptable conclusions.

The second assumption is just plainly hypocritical. Clearly, there are no other ethical principles - none at all - where breaking them can never be justified.

The freedom of the press, for instance, is absolute. Yet we feel justified in compromising it if it is used to publish instructions on how to make sarin gas along with an anti-semitic tract, and directions to the nearest jewish temple.

Or take the principle that society shall never condone arbitrary killing - the very principle invoked by the anti-choice taliban. This principle is unsustainable. In war - for instance - we must be willing to accept the killing of innocents. In medicine, we must be willing to accept the fact that some patients are going to die who could have been saved, had we spent sufficient resources on their treatment. But had we done that, those same resources could not have been spent on - say - providing clean drinking water to our citizens, or finding ways around antibiotics resistance in bacteria.

Every decision involves a tradeoff between principles and practicality. To claim otherwise is to lie.

In this case, the tradeoff is between the woman's self-evident right to practice her sexuality as she wishes, the woman's equally self-evident right to not be hampered unduely in her life by the exercise of said right, and the legitimate need of society to avoid using resources on caring for an unwanted child on the one hand, and the ethical problems associated with terminating a pregnancy on the other hand.

I never claimed - and will never claim - that it is completely unproblematic to terminate a pregnancy. What I do claim is that it is not equally unproblematic to terminate a pregnancy a minute after conception and a minute before birth. That pregnancy involves a gradual transition from non-human to human. Similarily, it is not equally beneficial for the mother to terminate the pregnancy early and late. The inconvenience imposed is obviously affected by many different factors, but it is equally obvious that the benefit of terminating the pregnancy decreases over time.

It follows that there is a point at which it is unacceptable to terminate a pregnancy/kill the infant. Where that point is depends in part on the current technological state of society.

In some prehistoric societies, suicide and infanticide were necessary as a means of controlling the size of the population, in order to avoid overstraining the environment that sustained the whole of society. I would argue that while such practices should not be taken lightly, they are not always unethical: Were they not carried out, the ensuing environmental collapse would kill far more people than the measures themselves (as, in fact, was the result when ignorant and intolerant missionaries put a stop to the practice). Similarily, as the ability to (and cost of) sustaining the foetus outside the womb and caring for it during infancy and childhood goes up, the point where abortion/infanticide is no longer acceptable is pushed back in time.

But biology and technology can only answer part of the question. There remains two distinct political decisions: How much relative weight should be given to the foetus, the mother, and to the interests of society as a whole? And how great a risk of overstepping the boundries of what we consider ethical are we willing - as a society - to take?

Both of these are non-trivial decisions. And neither has a cut-and-dried answer. But as long as the anti-choice taliban refuse to acknowledge that these are legitimate questions and that other people's answers have at leasts some merit, all discussion of these subjects will be fruitless.

- JS

EDIT: Goddamn XEmacs and its stupid character limit!

Ultimately, there will be a large enough backlash, with the political center moving to the left on these subjects,
Why do some people keep assuming that the US government will remain accountable to the citizens?

Last edited by ShadowTemplar; 03-11-2006 at 07:52 AM.
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