Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Fundamental Right to Abortion

In affirming a woman's absolute right to abort an unwanted fetus, it seems I have triggered the wrath of the anti-abortion lynch mob if the recent death threats in my inbox are any indication. Such is life when confronting the morally ignorant with their irrationality, yet all their "pro-life" death threats aside, the fact remains: a woman has the unqualified moral right to abort a fetus she carries inside her in accordance with her own judgment.

What is the basis for this claim? What facts of reality demand that a woman enjoy the freedom to exercise her discretion in such a manner? At root, it is the simple fact that until the fetus is born and exists as a separate, physically independent human entity, the fetus is potential life and the actual life of the woman grants her interests and wishes primacy. As an acorn is not the same thing as an oak tree, a fetus is not the same thing as an independent human being. In the case of the fetus, its location matters: inside the woman and attached to her via the umbilical cord, its position in relation to the woman subordinates its status to her wishes; outside the woman, welcome to life in the human race.

But why is biological independence the defining factor of personhood in both morality and under the law? Why isn't it the moment of conception, or the first instance of fetal heartbeat, or the first instance of fetal brain wave activity (just to name a few of the benchmarks often put forward by anti-abortion activists)? Again, it is the nature of the direct physical connection between the fetus and the mother. Physically attached to a woman in the manner a fetus is, the woman's right to regulate the processes of her own body is controlling. Unattached and physically independent, the fetus is thus transformed; it is a person no different from anyone else and enjoys all the individual rights of personhood.

Needless, to say, this truth offends the sensibilities of some. They cannot fathom that something like the physical presence of the fetus inside a woman grants a woman power to control it as she controls the affairs of her own body. In a more just world, such people would simply choose not to have abortions, which is their every right. And leave it at that. Yet justice is not the aim of the anti-abortion mob. They simply seek to sacrifice unwilling women upon their altar of the unborn, reducing a woman to a mere birthing vessel the second a fetus exists in her body.

Let us not forget that raising a child is a tremendous commitment. As a life created by its parents, parents owe the children they bring into the world what they need in order to be independent and self-sufficient human beings, to include food, shelter, clothing, and an education. Not every person can measure up to this commitment and not every person wants to. While her fetus in her womb, a woman has every right to reject this obligation. Contrary to the claims of the anti-abortionists, a child should be a choice.

And since the morality of aborting fetuses with severe disability was the original topic at bar, let us remember that over 90% of the women faced with such a situation choose to have an abortion. This is not just my decision; it is the independent, un-coerced decision of women acting within their complete and lawful discretion. And while I would not wish to be them, their decision to terminate their unwanted pregnancy is a decision I am more than willing to publicly defend.

And as I read the sundry comments and messages of those who choose to oppose me on this issue, I cannot help but notice the utter insincerity in their near-hysterical defense of Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child with Down's syndrome. While I have received many odes to the glory of living life while afflicted with Down's syndrome, I have seen little acknowledgement that the decision to give birth to a severely retarded child is a difficult choice and to choose so entails heroic commitment (or a willingness to dump this obligation upon others and against their will). I have seen little acknowledgement that not everyone decides to have a child such as Palin did.

I also see that the many of the objections to my position center upon my framing the issue in the terms of a cost-benefit analysis, as if some choices are somehow exempt from this kind of review. The absurdity of such a claim should be manifest; a nervous groom on his weeding day is performing a cost-benefit analysis, a person standing before the fridge contemplating a midnight snack as they look at their waistline is performing a cost-benefit analysis, and like it or not, a woman confronted with the terrible choice between giving birth to a child with Down's syndrome and having an abortion is performing a cost-benefit analysis. As an advocate for individual liberty, I defend the freedom of each to perform their own analysis and act upon their own good judgment.

So yes, a woman has the absolute right to choose to have an abortion, including the right to abort a fetus diagnosed with physical handicap. It is not "eugenics" for a woman to choose as much; the choice to abort is the woman's alone and there is no element of coercion or a racial master plan. Nor is it some form of "euthanasia" to have an abortion, the fetus not being the same as a physically independent human being. The claims that I or any other Objectivists support eugenics or involuntary euthanasia are utterly dishonest; they are lies told to advance the vicious agenda of those who seek to deny half of our species their legitimate and fundamental freedom.

Freedom is a peculiar thing. It is the recognition that each person is sovereign over their own lives. It is the recognition that a person has the liberty to make choices that you might not make because their choices concern their own life and not yours. It is the recognition that you do not have the right to coerce another against their will. That a person does not have the right coerce the process of a woman's womb against her will ought to be academic. That it is not is testament to the irrationality and ignorance of our times.

63 comments:

Gideon said...

Hear, hear!

I applaud Nick on being so calm and rational in the face of unjustified and horrific insults.

Nick stands for the rights of the individual, including the individual woman. The people who have called him names and worse have shown that they don't -- "pro-life" is a a profound misnomer.

Anonymous said...

The right to choose an abortion is fundamentally different then the argument that Palin should have had an abortion. Those who hold this position such as Mr. Provenzo make the fatal mistake of assuming that utility functions can be compared.

How anyone can say what should have been done and still call himself an objectivist is interesting. Who is anyone to say that the utility and benefits that young Palin brings to his family does or does not exceeds the costs incurred? Is not that an individual decision best made by those with the local knowledge of the situation?

As a libertarian economist I must reject this absurd perversion of logic and misapplication of utility theory as the babblings of the misinformed or misguided.

Brian B

Paul Hsieh said...

Thank you, Nick, for that powerful *moral* defense of the 90% of women who have learned that their fetus has DS and who eventually chose to abort.

If a woman takes a serious look at the consequences for her life of having an abortion vs. raising that child, and she decides that an abortion would best foster her happiness in the full context of her life, then that is her legal right. And more importantly, she would also making the *morally* right choice for herself.

Of course, if a woman chooses to have the DS child, that is her right and I genuinely hope that things work out as well as possible for the child and the family.

But to uphold the 10% women who choose to have the DS child as automatically morally superior to the 90% who choose to abort is wrong.

Those women who have made the difficult decision to abort do not deserve to be tarred with the label "murderer" for choosing their own happiness. And anyone who would attempt to saddle those women with an unearned guilt should be ashamed of themselves.

lucas said...

No Nick, I'm not criticizing you for your defense of abortion, since I'm pro-choice myself. I criticize you for your gratuitous offense to Sara Palin.

"Given that Palin had complete foreknowledge of her child's severe disability yet nevertheless chose to have it, it is hard not to see her choice as anything less." (anything less than a worshiper of retardation)

This is a non-sequitur. You're saying: You choose to have a down syndrome, therefore you are a worshiper or retardation.

A woman might choose to have a child, then she discovers that he will have DS. Still, she decides that she is going to keep the baby, although for any given good trait, she would have preferred that the child had it. That's not worship or retardation at all and your accusation is ridiculous and irrational.

Adam Gurri said...

Nick,

I met you in Rustici's office once; you were talking about that school that didn't work out, and about working to keep him there. I don't know if you recall the time.

I've read your blog on and off since. Your particular argument here is I think a good example of the absurdity of rationalist morality, be they Randian Objectivists or otherwise.

Let me be clear: I don't consider abortion murder, nor do I think it's something that people are particularly morally entitled to; certainly not in an "unqualified" right sort of way. I am, on the whole, neutral on this issue.

Rationalist morality is simply something I cannot resist criticizing, however. I suppose I'm saying this to clarify--I'm not a member of any lynch mom, though I am one who is quite comfortable confronting his own "irrationality". Let's see how you fare in that regard.

At root, it is the simple fact that until the fetus is born and exists as a separate, physically independent human entity, the fetus is potential life and the actual life of the woman grants her interests and wishes primacy.

I love a good rationalist argument--they're always very..."just so".

What if I simply dismissed this statement out of hand, and argued that that the fetus was actual life, as you've laid out the categories? Reason is impotent to demonstrate otherwise. All you have done is chosen your categories and stated them as fact. You have, in short, created a tautology--which makes for very clean argument but I'm afraid I find it difficult to believe that morality is discovered by defining categories.

Physically attached to a woman in the manner a fetus is, the woman's right to regulate the processes of her own body is controlling. Unattached and physically independent, the fetus is thus transformed; it is a person no different from anyone else and enjoys all the individual rights of personhood.

Again, very "just so". Who says that she even has the right in the first place? Surely this has not been established with reason, it is simply something you have assumed into the mix. Moreover, even if one could establish such a thing beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is no reason that you have to reach the conclusion that you do.

You could, for instance, say that even if a woman has a right to commit suicide normally, she does not have that right when pregnant because she does not have the right to take the fetus with her. All of this of course makes for interesting discussion, but none of it calls upon reason or any sort of rational justification.

The rest of your argument is of little interest to me, as it all rests on the initial premise. And the initial premise is stated so boldly (correct me if I'm wrong) because you believe that it follows from reason.

It does not. "Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can pretend to no other office but to serve and obey them."

Morality is and always will be firmly in the realm of the passions. There never has and never will be any rational basis for establishing something to be ethical or unethical.

I'd love to debate the point, though :)

softwareNerd said...

Brian says that someone might rationally decide that having a DS child maximizes their "utility". He also implies that we cannot pronounce moral judgement on someone else's choice of "utility function". He wonders how an Objectivist can do this.

Brian's amazment is understandable, because it is usual for libertarians to confuse Ethics with Politics. It is common for libertarians to say: if it does not hurt someone else, and does not abridge someone else's rights, then it is moral.

However, while that may be the libertarian stance, it is decidedly not the Objectivist position. Just because we may be free to do something does not imply it is moral.

Jeffrey Derks said...

(This comment is actually in response to a post made at Mr. Provenzo's original September 16 piece on Palin's Down syndrome child. Since the comments section for that part of the site has been closed, I am posting it here....)

Gideon wrote:

>Everything up to your final statement [in the September 16 article] was well written and convincingly argued. But that final statement doesn't follow. George Will and the CWFA don't represent Sarah Palin. Who knows why she chose the way she did? She seems to love children, and maybe she does have the resources to care for a disabled child.

Well, her "resources" apart, knowing what else we know of Palin--that she is militantly anti-abortion (even in cases of rape and incest), that she wishes to force her views on the population at large, and that she is a dyed-in-the-wool mystic into the bargain (all of which traits also characterize both Will and the CWA)--I fully agree with Mr. Provenzo that it IS "hard not to see her choice [to knowingly bring a Down syndrome baby to term] as anything less" than "retardation worship." And on the contrary, it is much, much easier not to see her choice as indicative of a generalized love of children--for a good case could be made that one who truly "loves children" would do all in their power to ensure that their own child would be born hale and hearty, in mind and body; I can't imagine any even semi-rational parent wishing for less--or settling for less, if the choice is available.

Anonymous said...

Adam Gurri quotes David Hume:

"Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can pretend to no other office but to serve and obey them."

Ah, nothing like a Humean skeptic. So reason is unable to reach absolute conclusions? And you know this how? Oh, that's right you're somehow exempt from the Fallacy of Self-Exclusion. OK, now I get it. So your claims that reason is impotent are perfectly legitimate but the claims of us "rationalists" that reason can identify absolutes both epistemologicaly and morally are totally foolish. It all makes sense to me now.

Really, is it any wonder that religion is in the ascendancy. Religious people look at secular skeptics like good old Adam here and they say "if this is reason, then the hell with it. Give me my Jesus!"

Skepticism fuels mysticism.

I salute you Nick for the moral courage to defend a very unpopular conclusion. Especially in the face of religious fanatics who so often are totally mindless as evidenced here.

J. Bandler

Anonymous said...

Let me put it this way Mr. Provenzo: I remaint tenatively pro-choice but there's one little hitch: I support a womans right to choose whether or not she wants to bear the child she's pregnant with but I DO NOT support a womans right to choose what kind of child she wants to have!

Adam Gurri said...

So reason is unable to reach absolute conclusions? And you know this how? Oh, that's right you're somehow exempt from the Fallacy of Self-Exclusion.

I don't know it silly; but it is what I believe. I'm open to discussion on the matter.

So your claims that reason is impotent are perfectly legitimate but the claims of us "rationalists" that reason can identify absolutes both epistemologicaly and morally are totally foolish. It all makes sense to me now.

Yes yes, your sarcasm is very charming. I don't much care whether or not you could call it "foolish", but if you think that reason can do the job then I'd like it very much if you could show me just how it accomplishes such a thing.

My arguments are simply based on what seems to me to be the truth. I could easily be wrong; again I'd like it very much if you could show me how I was wrong.

Skepticism fuels mysticism.

Well for such an avowed rationalist you seem to rest your argument entirely on emotional appeals.

Rather than dealing with whether or not my position is in fact correct or even accurate, you chose instead to speak of "Humean skeptics", how cute they are, and how they just encourage those wacky mystics who we all know are just off their goard.

Please return when you have something of substance to add to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

"Please return when you have something of substance to add to the discussion."

I already did. I showed that your argument is self-refuting and linked it to its source; ie David Hume's skeptical epistemology. I'm not going to spoon feed you. That's enough for one post.

J. Bandler

Adam Gurri said...

I showed that your argument is self-refuting

You said:

So reason is unable to reach absolute conclusions? And you know this how? Oh, that's right you're somehow exempt from the Fallacy of Self-Exclusion.

Pointing out how self-refuting an argument is doesn't add much if it's an argument that I did not make.

I didn't argue that I know this is the case in the absolute sense that rationalists claim to be able to know something. Unless I made that claim, the logic of my argument is in no way self-refuting.

But if beating down a straw man with sarcastic retorts is "enough for one post", then I suppose I'll just have to hope someone else is more willing to treat the discussion seriously.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Adam wrote:

>What if I simply dismissed this statement [defining the difference between the potential life of the fetus and the actual life of an independent human being] out of hand, and argued that that the fetus was actual life, as you've laid out the categories? Reason is impotent to demonstrate otherwise.

You would have to justify your reasons for supporting your position, so contrary to your claim that "reason is impotent" in this regard, you would have to invoke reason. That is, unless you subscribe to the view that faith alone is enough to justify coercion.

> Who says that she even has the right [to control her own body] in the first place?

This right is a reflection of the reality that we are independent being with our own life as our highest value. For you to claim otherwise, you would have to show your reasons. I respectfully submit that you cannot, at least not honestly.

>I don't consider abortion murder, nor do I think it's something that people are particularly morally entitled to; certainly not in an "unqualified" right sort of way. I am, on the whole, neutral on this issue . . .

. . . which is simply another way to say that you are neutral on the principle of individual rights.

I'm sorry, but I don't embrace such skepticism. To capture my attention in the future, you will need to come up with something more definitive to say.

Adam Gurri said...

You would have to justify your reasons for supporting your position, so contrary to your claim that "reason is impotent" in this regard, you would have to invoke reason. That is, unless you subscribe to the view that faith alone is enough to justify coercion.

Come now, that's not very sporting. You are asking me to do what yourself have not. After all, you never justified (with reason) the manner you categorized fetus and mother, nor did you justify (again, with reason) the particular moral implications you drew from this categorization.

You simply stated them, and took them as self-evident. If that is not faith, then I'm afraid I'm having trouble understanding the distinction. I may just not be very smart, it must be confessed.

This right is a reflection of the reality that we are independent being with our own life as our highest value.

You see how this begins to sound indistinguishable from faith?

My point of view is merely a "reflection" on "reality". Your point of view needs to be justified with reason, or it is irrelevant.

To capture my attention in the future, you will need to come up with something more definitive to say.

Ok, how about this: I do believe in morality, but not in Natural Rights. Natural Rights as a moral theory have never lost the religious connotation that John Locke gave them originally; all Ayn Rand did was put the crystal ball "reason" in the place of "God" for deriving their authority. In substance I see little difference.

My position comes from the notion of moral sentiments, as well as the notion of moral education taught by Protagoras. And a few other more recent things, but I don't want to bore you--if this answer hasn't been definitive enough to get your attention again, I wouldn't want to waste any more space in your comments.

Greg Perkins said...

Nick, I also want to applaud your clear and calm *moral* defense of the absolute right of those 90% of women faced with such a circumstance to choose not to bring such a fetus to term. The shill, irrational, and even dishonest response your stance has drawn is shameful.

I do have a possible nit to pick, though: You wrote, "I also see that the many of the objections to my position center upon my framing the issue in the terms of a cost-benefit analysis, as if some choices are somehow exempt from this kind of review. The absurdity of such a claim should be manifest".

Actually, I think it is the case that some choices are so exempt: those hinging on a moral principle. For example, you clearly would not admit as legitimate any cost-benefit evaluation of whether to allow women to choose abortions. You should not consider cost-benefit tradeoffs for anything which would constitute a violation of moral principle, such as whether to be honest or just or rational. So there are indeed such 'exempt' choices.

However, the choice to abort is not one of these (as you correctly understand). Abortion per se isn't ruled out as a violation of moral principle, leaving the woman free to engage in cost-benefit analysis, etc.

To be clear to the peanut gallery: this observation is a side-issue and doesn't invalidate Nick's position or argument regarding abortion. Kudos, again, Nick!

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Greg wrote:

>Actually, I think it is the case that some choices are so exempt: those hinging on a moral principle. For example, you clearly would not admit as legitimate any cost-benefit evaluation of whether to allow women to choose abortions. You should not consider cost-benefit tradeoffs for anything which would constitute a violation of moral principle, such as whether to be honest or just or rational.

That's absolutely correct, Greg. My context is strictly within the limits of a person's review of their own personal choices and is not meant to give license to any outside "analysis" that would violate individual rights.

z said...

question for Nick: Is Palin wrong for having a DS baby qua having one? or having one while being Sarah Palin, an extremely busy woman?

I would think that an ambitious politician would not make the best parent, especially to a child under 5 or 6. I'm almost positive I would want an abortion if I were a regular expectant mother with a DS fetus, but I wouldnt feel repulsed by people for doing it. However, when a politician or celebrity does something, I think theres another moral dimension to it.

z said...

I don't think theres anything particularly wrong with having a DS baby on purpose, but when a politician does it, it seems a little creepy.

Robert said...

The idea that a woman should be able to abort a baby because it is inside her body and she should have total control over her body is a red herring. Let's face it - we're talking about a man and a woman trying to control their lives. What if the fetus were outside the woman's body? Aldous Huxley's Brave New World prefigured this situation decades ago. What if the embryo is a product of in vitro fertilization? I realize that the technology is not available today to bring a fertilized egg to independent existence without the help of a womb. But who can doubt that it soon may be?

On the one hand, pro-lifers would have a difficult time arguing that a microscopic sperm cell and hardly bigger ovum, when they come together in vitro, constitute at that precise moment a human being equal in every way to an adult, independent man. Common sense revolts at the concept. Oddly enough, this argument that life begins at the moment of conception has derived its force from the very invisibility of the embryo, inside the uterus.

But if the woman cannot argue danger or some mystical loss of 'bodily integrity' from the presence of the fetus inside her, is there any other argument available to her and her husband? Are they legally and morally responsible for raising every child conceived in vitro from their cells no matter how defective? I don't think so, but I don't know what limits should be placed on their discretion to destroy the fetus/baby when there is no obvious moment of birth that can replace the moment of conception as the start of life.

Derek said...

Palin's decision to keep her son was the moral thing to do and I applaud her. To get an abortion is the easy and selfish way out. There was another man that thought that a certain type of person did not need to exist on this earth because he felt they were not fully human and not deserving of life, his name was Hitler. I am horrified that people actually agree with Nick who is nothing more than a sick liberal Nazi. My wife and I have a son with Downs Syndrome and he is an amazing person, and we sleep well at night knowing we did the right thing and God will help our family when needed.

Crush said...

Your assertion was that not only does Palin have a right to choose abortion, she has an obligation to choose abortion. So much for that whole "choice" thingy...

Doug said...

Great post Nick!

Since your critics actually have no principled defense as to why a woman should be forced to carry a fetus with down syndrome to full term, they have to dishonestly pretend that you are a monster who wants the state to force women to have an abortion.

Anonymous said...

"Physically attached to a woman in the manner a fetus is, the woman's right to regulate the processes of her own body is controlling. Unattached and physically independent, the fetus is thus transformed; it is a person no different from anyone else and enjoys all the individual rights of personhood."

Ah, but a fetus is already physically independent to an extent. Certainly, it may be dependent on the mother for nourishment, but this is also true once the baby is born. Yet even inside the mother's body, the child acts independently. What woman can control the kicking of her baby in the womb? How much awareness must that little mind have, that it already recognizes its mother's voice before birth, that it can respond to light and touch? Which of the baby's life processes are controlled by tissue bearing the mother's DNA?

Your implicit definition of what makes something part of one's body -- namely, the existence of a continuous physical connection -- is arbitrary and ignores a whole host of qualities that, I believe, give a fetus its own personhood before the cord is cut. You may disagree with me on that, but the abortion discussion has always belonged at this point in the argument -- all that pro-lifers and pro-choicers disagree on is at what point life begins, not on whether or not a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body.

Except when someone starts criticizing a woman for choosing not to abort that fuzzy "is-it-part-of-me-or-is-it-independent" fetus. If the fetus is part of her, she is entitled to give birth to it, period -- and if the expense is too much for you, talk to your representatives about reducing the use of tax-payer money to support other people's children. If it is not a part of her and is in fact its own person, then she was morally obligated to keep it, and you can still complain to your representative about the unfair tax burden it lays on you. But it is never wrong for a woman to give birth to the child that has grown inside of her, disabled or otherwise.

Grant said...

Adam Gurri,

Maybe it's just my senses lying to me, but I saw letters and words in Mr. Provenzo's post which added up to the observation that a fetus is still physically attached to the mother in utero. I agree with those words because, well, I've seen medical videos showing that attachment. There's a reason why the umbilical cord doesn't just fall off 6 months into gestation. It's needed to keep the fetus alive up until the very end.

If you're going to assert that Mr. Provenzo just "made up" his distinction, you're going to have to become a little more crafty than that. It's too easy to point to medical evidence.

Do you really think that such sophistry works on Objectivists? And even if it did, do you really think that you would profit from it in the long term?

Anonymous said...

And since many of your readers can't seem to understand why folks like me read your previous post and understood you to be saying that a woman carrying a disabled fetus is obligated to abort it --

"Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child's life upon others."

I'm sure you recognize Palin to be successful and wealthy enough to support Trig. But here you are implying that women of lesser means should abort their DS children. Per my observation above, this is neither moral if we take your assertion that a fetus is part of the woman's body nor if we suppose on the contrary that the fetus is independent.


"So in the anti-abortion advocate's eyes, a parent's desire to raise healthy children by squelching unhealthy fetuses while the are still in the womb is little more than a pernicious quest, but it is not considered a pernicious quest to knowingly bring severely disabled children into this world."

Perhaps you did not mean this in the way it sounded, but your sarcasm hints that you do indeed consider it a "pernicious quest to knowingly bring severely disabled children into this world."

"Given that Palin had complete foreknowledge of her child's severe disability yet nevertheless chose to have it, it is hard not to see her choice as anything less [than 'the worship of retardation']."

The entire tone of your post, and especially this ending remark, is scornful of the choice to give birth to a child with serious handicaps. No wonder so many people -- pro-choice and pro-life alike -- heard you to be saying that Palin ought not to have given birth to Trig. If that wasn't what you meant, you still have not made that clear, hundreds of words later. So tell us plainly -- do you see Palin's choice to bring a DS child into the world to be morally wrong, or do you simply see it as no better or worse than the decision she could have made to terminate the pregnancy?

Katie said...

Amen.

Anthony said...

I too am troubled by the celebration of Sarah Palin's decision as the only moral decision. However, I am not willing to say (or suggest) that she made the wrong decision.

Sarah Palin appears to "enjoy the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that her child will require", so who am I to say that the costs she will incur outweigh the benefits she will receive?

revereridesagain said...

Nick, congratulations on another superb post on this subject. I see idiots like "derek" and the "anonymous" who asserts women do not have the right to decide what sort of child to have (who does? we back to the Lord again, Anony?), are still rambling away so I thought I'd toss in a couple more cents' worth.

And thanks to Paul Hsieh for his insightful defense of a woman's right to control the course of her own life.

The issues of popular approval of Palin's choice to have a child with Down Syndrone having leaked into the issues of abortion rights and support for disabled individuals, some further commentary is called for. Palin certainly had the right to decide whether to complete her pregnancy. She appears to be a person who will deal relatively well with such a burden. (Others of us would be broken on that wheel; the evangelicals fail to recognize that people have different capacities and tolerances; to them, it's all what the Lord up there in his castle walls.) However, I question the motives of many women who make this choice. It is the child itself, once it is born, who will be dealing on the most immediate basis with the disability. Down Syndrome can include serious physical malformation of the heart, among other complications. A parent considering the morality of bringing such a child into the world needs to look at what will be the child's quality of life. There are many birth defects with even more catastrophic effects than DS. Deciding to bring a child into the world when it will unavoidably suffer from severe physical and/or mental deficiencies takes a great deal of justifying. The parents imagining themselves feel patted on the head by God for such a choice may have their priorities in the wrong order. (And I can think of few notions so sick as the one that a loving god would afflict babies and children with horrible defects and diseases in order to "test" the adults caring for them.)

Of course, even in this day not all handicaps and deformities are detected before birth. We all take the same chance that things will not turn out perfectly. Once a baby is born and becomes a human being with rights, it is the responsibility of the parents to deal with any abnormalities as best they can. The child is innocent of responsibility and is entitled to all possible assistance that can be obtained without coercion. There are many ways to get help: insurance, research foundations, fundraising, support groups, and the absolute right to ask anyone who will listen for help. What is not allowed is going next door to the neighbors, sticking a gun in their faces, and informing them that since your child has an expensive disability and the have more money than you, they will be expected to assist in taking care of your child if they value their lives. No one has the right to do that. For any reason.

"Robert", btw, brings up some very interesting points. They appear to shift the focus somewhat from the location within the woman's body to the issue of consciousness and independence as regards the fetus. Since at that point of in vitro it lacks either, do the parents not have the right to decide to "abort" the process in the face of severe defects?

Thanks to all of you who are defending the right of women to control their own bodies and exercise responsibility for their own lives.

Grant said...

A few comments ago "Anonymous" made a very strong observation regarding Mr. Provenzo's original post. He is right to point out that many people took Mr. Provenzo's position to be stating, categorically, from afar, that Sarah Palin's decision was immoral. However, these people are wrong.

Mr. Provenzo never claimed that Palin is automatically immoral for keeping Trig; he simply claimed that she is not AUTOMATICALLY MORAL for doing so.

Given the psycho-espistemology of the average Christian, it is understandable that this distinction was lost on them, but after Mr. Provenzo explained it again and again it became less than understandable. It became contemptable.

Myrhaf said...

For anyone interested, I have a post with comments on this at my blog:

http://myrhaf.blogspot.com/2008/09/abortion-and-eugenics.html

Grant said...

I wanted to address another point made earlier because, finally, the seeds of a productive discussion have been planted.

Another "Anonymous", directly above my first comment, does make a strong point when he observes that there is little metaphysical difference between a fetus just days from birth and a new born baby. Both are helplessly dependent upon the parent for nourishment.

However, I don't believe that Mr. Provenzo's definition of "baby" is arbitrary (and if it were, wouldn't yours be also?). Here's why I am in agreement with him: It has to do with options. In utero, even in the latest stages of gestation, a fetus is dependent upon a specific individual for nourishment. This is not optional. It could not simply be removed and inserted inside a unpregnant woman's or a man's body. After birth, anyone could provide for it. It is now independent in that sense.

That is the main distinction which - after years of wrestling with the problem - finally convinced me; but there is another, interelated distinction worth discussing. It has to do with premature birth. Yes, it is medically possible to induce labor prematurely or to perform a "C-Section" without any ill effects to the child. Artificial birthing methods exist in order to save a healthy fetus (one which could, but does not, exist independently) from some imminent danger. Eventually, the child is going to come out, one way or another. Alive or dead, it is coming out. When these methods are used, they are done so in order to replicate - but not duplicate - the natural, flawless gestation process.

But who, besides the mother - the person having to undergo this procedure - should have the power to determine if it occurs? Such a fetus still relies on the mother's consent up until the very last minute. Just as she could throw herself over a cliff immediately before her water breaks, she could do the same just before her "C-Section" appointment. Everything about the child, until the two are physically seperate, is under her control. Denying a woman autonomy at this stage is basically saying that she is morally obliged to protect her child from herself. That to not perform premature extraction, and to take the risk of a still birth, is murder. Clearly, this is absurd. It opens up literally everything an expectant mother does to scrutiny by this standard. Is she getting enough calcium? No. Then she's guilty of child abuse.

There are far, far too many factors outside of a mother's control that go into a successful gestation and birth. To treat them as a moral issue - as anyone who argues that a fetus is an individual does - is to undermine the word "morality." Getting pregnant is inherently risky business.

Interesting, delicate considerations indeed. This is the calm tone in which the abortion debate should be conducted. I apologize that my post was a bit rambling and incoherent.

Joe Stuart said...

Mr. Provenzo

Your fundamental argument echoes that of Hoche & Binding in their Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwertem Lebens ("Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living"). When this monograph was published, Hitler was a just "community organizer" with the National Socialist German Workers Party. Still, the argument made by Hoche & Binding paved the way for the eugenics/euthansia movement in Germany.

Please don't respond tell me this is another hysterical smear -- that's not an argument.

Abandoning the principle that intentionally killing an innocent human being is always wrong moves the moral judgment into a realm of degrees or situations that relativize individual human lives -- that is, your life as well as mine.

Hoche & Binding, a psychiatrist and a lawyer, made the same "rational" argument regarding the relative lack of worth of individuals with mental disabilities -- all without any notion of how their argument would be embraced and applied within 20 years. History teaches that humans will, once they've crossed a moral line, continue marching until they meet a very hard place.

But, most ironically, you advance the position of the radical worth of the individual and his or her freedom, while radically undermining and randomizing his or her right to live.

"Rule of Reason"? Give me a break.

Andrew Dalton said...

Joe-

Eugenics, whether German or otherwise, refers to a collectivist political movement. It's about using government policy to change people's childbearing practices for an alleged social good. It has nothing to do with individual choices or individual rights. Myrhaf explains this difference quite clearly here.

Repeating the Nazi canard (or as is more appropriate to the recent commenters, "Nazi!!!11!!1") will not change this fact.

Adam Gurri said...

Grant,

You Objectivists sure do like to read a lot of things that I don't write. First J. Bandler keeps harping on the fact that I know you can't know anything with reason (even though I made no such argument).

Now, you have made a very thorough defense of the notion that fetuses spend their gestation period in their mother's womb. I applaud you in this effort, but it has nothing to do with what I was referring to.

The distinction I was referring to was the categories potential life vs. actual life. These categories are entirely of his own making--a biologist will tell you that even a single cell has life. Even a sperm or an egg cell actually has life, in the common usage of the category.

Drawing a line of potential and actual is purely a device of rhetoric--you might even call it sophistry (though I'm sure Nick won't profit from it in the long run; you're far too sharp an Objectivist to let that happen).

When I asked how reason had revealed that things should be categorized in this particular way, or that there was a specific moral conclusion that could be drawn from it, he simply told me that it was a "reflection on the reality" of the matter.

The sentence he gave in full is actually:

This right is a reflection of the reality that we are independent being with our own life as our highest value.

Here's a fun twist on that sentence:

This right is a reflection of the reality of the trinity, that God the father came to us as the Son to die for our sins, and that the Holy Ghost is always a part of us and gives our life the highest value.

I see little difference in the amounts of faith being put into the underlying assumptions here.

Would anyone else like to ridicule arguments that I have not made?

Anonymous said...

For more on abortion check out:

http://www.abortionisprolife.com/

Anonymous said...

Nick wrote:

"...until the fetus is born and exists as a separate, physically independent human entity, the fetus is potential life and the actual life of the woman grants her interests and wishes primacy."

I think this part could be written more clearly--by "life" I think Nick means "human being."

One option:

"...until the fetus is born and exists as a separate, physically independent human entity, the fetus is [A] potential [BEING] and the [FACT THAT THE WOMEN IS AN] actual [HUMAN BEING] grants her interests and wishes primacy."

Harald W. said...

First, thank you Nick for defending individual rights on the issue of abortion. If a women does not have the right to her own body and so to have an abortion, then how can she have the right to anything else?

Pro-lifers and libertarians have likened your stand on individual rights to Nazism, which goes to show that they know little about the nature of individual rights and nothing about history and Nazism’s war on freedom and individual rights. The individual right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is what makes the US great and the Founding Fathers moral heroes. That so many modern day Americans do not understand that those rights are meant to protect a women's right to her own life, body, liberty and pursuit of happiness is tragic and a testament to the world we have lost (but try to regain by efforts such as yours: spreading rational ideas and defending individual rights).

As to the similarity between the stand that a women has a right to her own body and the Nazi's stand on abortion: do they not know that the Nazi's hated the very notion of individual rights? That they believed no one, including women, had any right to their own life? Clearly not. The National Socialists stated clearly that the individual has no individual rights (including the right to abortion, of course), but are the sole property of the State to do with as the Führer wants (“Du bist Nichts, Dein Völk is Alles”, i.e. “You are nothing, your People is all there is”). Here we clearly see a similarity between the National Socialists and the modern radical abortion-is-murder types: both are staunch collectivist and abhor individual rights and thus the very core of the American Founding principles. In essence they both fight against freedom and individual rights, though they of course differ on less fundamental issues. The Nazi's advocated forced abortion on "undesirables", but they also advocated forced childbearing on "good" Aryans: both blatant violations of individual rights. For a chilling insight into Himmler’s thoughts on abortions on Aryans I submit this letter of his for the consideration of the commentators here who liken the supporters of the right to abortion to the Nazi's view:

SS chief Heinrich Himmler wrote to Field-Marshal Willhilm Keitel the following in 1939:

"According to statistics there are 600,000 abortions a year in Germany. The fact that these happen among the best German racial types has been worrying me for years. The way I see it we cannot afford to lose these young people, hundreds and thousands of them. The aim of protecting this German blood is of the highest priority. If we manage to stop these abortions we will be able to have 200 more German regiments every year on the march. Another 500,000 or 600,000 people could produce millions of marks for the economy. The strength of these soldiers and workers will build the greater Germany. This is why I founded Lebensborn in 1936. It fights abortions in a positive way. Every woman can have her child in peace and quiet and devote her life to the betterment of the race." (Master Race: The Lebensborn Experiment in Nazi Germany, 1995, pp.66-7)

bystander said...

Gurri

"The distinction I was referring to was the categories potential life vs. actual life. These categories are entirely of his own making--a biologist will tell you that even a single cell has life. Even a sperm or an egg cell actually has life, in the common usage of the category."

You're equivocating. They are not alive in the same sense that living organisms are. Perhaps a real biologist could develop this.

"Drawing a line of potential and actual is purely a device of rhetoric--you might even call it sophistry (though I'm sure Nick won't profit from it in the long run; you're far too sharp an Objectivist to let that happen)."

So, removing the fetus prematurely from the womb, it will be able to live, unaided by medical technology, provided the mother nurtures it? You think there's a reason why the fetus remains for a definitive time in the womb before it is ready to enter the real world? I think perhaps you need to think this through before you dump your next load of "rhetoric" here ...

malcontent said...

I just finished listening to the radio show archive, and I was appalled that the host dared to equate what you wrote with death threats you've received. That is just how insane the religious are--stating that a woman who aborts a Down's Syndrome child is moral is the same as stating to someone personally that you want to disembowel them??? Disgusting. But you did a great job, Nick, in spite of their refusal to understand.

Adam Gurri said...

You're equivocating. They are not alive in the same sense that living organisms are. Perhaps a real biologist could develop this.

You're incorrect. Embryos are living, multicellular organisms. You may choose to categorize them differently from being "a person", but let's not pretend we're talking Biology at that point.

So, removing the fetus prematurely from the womb, it will be able to live, unaided by medical technology, provided the mother nurtures it? You think there's a reason why the fetus remains for a definitive time in the womb before it is ready to enter the real world?

Ah, I knew the temptation to bring in irrelevant arguments would seduce you eventually!

One more time: I am not arguing that fetuses don't rely on their mothers to stay alive, I'm not even getting into the nitpicky little argument about whether or not they can be considered "really" alive.

What I'm saying is that you could just as easily call them a living organism (as is strictly true from the way biologists use the term) as you could a "potential life".

All I am asking is that the train of reasoning by which a fetus is labeled a "Potential" rather than an "actual" life be revealed to me; and how from there it follows that it has a right to life out of the womb that it did not have in it.

As I said originally, it would appear to me to be nothing but an expedient tautology. "Why is what I believe true? Because of these categories I have imposed on the situation, and this implication I have assumed from them."

In response to this criticism, all I have received are blithe remarks about how obvious it is that there's a difference between a fetus and a newborn. I haven't denied that anywhere--what I have questioned is that particular categories that Nick made use of, and how reason could possibly have played a role in their construction.

Michael Smith said...

I've yet to hear a single so-called "pro-lifer" explain why a fetus has the right to the use of a woman's body against her will.

A fetus is not a human being and the argument that Nick has offered is the best, most fundamental reason why abortion is a woman's right.

But even if a fetus were a human being, why would one human being possess the right to the use of another human being's body against their will?

Would a "pro-lifer" argue that a newborn infant with defective kidneys has a right to the use of its mother's kidneys, against her will and regardless of the possible risks to her health?

At root, "pro-lifers" view women as inferior creatures that must risk surrendering control of their bodies as the price of enjoying sex -- and they want this inequality enforced by law by outlawing abortion. (Some want it enforced even more strictly by outlawing contraceptives.)

They are not "pro-life"; they are "anti-rights".

CrankyCon said...

The claims that I or any other Objectivists support eugenics or involuntary euthanasia are utterly dishonest; they are lies told to advance the vicious agenda of those who seek to deny half of our species their legitimate and fundamental freedom.

You are a liar. Mopreover, you are a sick, twisted liar who has absolutely no compunction with deriding a woman who has made the "choice" to bring a woman with Downs Syndrome into the world. Clearly you do not approve of this particular choice, which gives lie to the idea that you are really pro-"choice."

Yes, you clearly favor eugenics. You condemn yourself with your own words. Say hi to Dr. Mengele ffrom all of us.

Adam Gurri said...

You are a liar. Mopreover, you are a sick, twisted liar

Well you're sure to win your argument taking the old "name-calling" tactic there, bucko.

Grant said...

Adam Gurri,

It's funny that you're arguing with a number of people yet you're addressing all of them as if they're one person. I don't like it when people but in on a conversation either, but the handles "Grant" and "Bystander" are clearly different.

It's also funny that you treated my discussion about late term abortion and induced, premature labor as if it was addressed to you directly.

I know that productive discussion is not your purpose, but it is mine. If you wish to refine your skills for being exasperatingly evasive, you should find another set of people who have as much contempt for language, thought, and perception as yourself.

Adam Gurri said...

Grant,

I apologize for speaking as though the multiple people I have responded to can be lumped together; my preference is serious discussion. If you share that desire, then I would be honored to engage you.

It's also funny that you treated my discussion about late term abortion and induced, premature labor as if it was addressed to you directly

I'm not sure what you're referring to here...it may just be I'm having a moment of stupidity.

Regardless, I have really only made one point: That branding something a "potential life" is purely a value judgment, one that is not arrived at by reason.

In response to this, you said that Nick's argument simply added up to the observation that a fetus is attached to its mother in utero--but this is not what he said at all. His argument was not "a fetus is attached to its mother in utero, and therefore x, y, z" but rather that because of its dependence on the mother he branded it a "Potential life" and derived moral implications from this.

My point is simply that this is an argument devoid of reason; he does not even really provide any logical connections, simply bare assumptions. He assumes that because of the different physiological features of the fetus v. its mother, there is also a moral distinction--and not just any moral distiction, but a very specific one involving who does and does not have a right to life.

As I have said, I do not believe in natural rights. But I'm willing to be persuaded; you just can't treat me as though I share all the same assumptions with someone who does.

So my question, one more time: how is it that reason was employed to arrive at any of the conclusions discussed above?

Grant said...

Adam,

I don't know what you mean by "reason." If you think it's arbitrary to distinguish between two obviously different states of being, then any discussion between us is hopeless.

You claim to be looking for a reason, but "Reason" detached from perceivable reality is not reason at all. It is rationalism. You're right, there is no rationalistic, evidentiary idea to point to which distinguishes between the potential and the actual.

There is not, and never will be, any valid idea which cannot be brought down to perception. Mr. Provenzo, however, has brought his moral idea down to perceptual data for you. As have I. Many times.

Good day.

Adam Gurri said...

Mr. Provenzo, however, has brought his moral idea down to perceptual data for you.

Ok. So doing away with categories and such, let me see if I understand the argument that he has made:

1. There is a distinction between a fetus in the womb and fully developed humans

2. The fetus requires a woman's body to survive.

3. A woman has the right to do what she pleases with her body

4. Therefore, a woman has the right to abort a fetus in her body.

Nick and some others I have spoken to here (I don't know if you count yourself among them or not) seem to be claiming that this argument is justified by reason (that is, as I understand it, logic that does not rely on appeals to emotion).

I simply don't see how one could claim that. As soon as you move beyond distinguishing the physiological differences between a fetus and its mother, you enter into the territory of personal beliefs.

How can you logically justify even the basic notion that a woman has the right to "regulate her own processes", as he stated. Where's the perceptual data in that?

Anonymous said...

If your reasoning for supporting abortion is that the fetus is totally dependent on the mother. It follows then that any life totally dependent on another should be the choice of the provider. By your reasoning, a mother should be able to kill her baby until he is old enough to take care of himself. What age is that?

The flaw with Ayn's reasoning on abortion is that the woman chooses to get pregnant, and in so doing has now morally obligated herself to nuture the life she invited into her womb. The child did not create himself like a parasite, rather it was the result of a very deliberate action.

You should grow up and have children.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I just thought I'd try to clear up some of the misunderstanding the 'pro-lifers' are having.

A woman may or may not have chosen to become pregnant (Imperfect birth-control, rape etc.). The point is that once the woman discovers that she is pregnant, she has a decision to make on whether to bring a child (even what may be a perfectly healthy one) into her life, and to accept all the responsibilities thereof, or to abort and continue her life until if/when she decides she is ready to have a child.

The bit you seem to miss (perhaps deliberately) is that the decision normally comes after a great deal of deliberating, but only the woman can make it. SHE is the person who will have to decide if she is responsible/financially secure/in a stable-enough relationship - or strong enough to go-it-alone/willing to put up with the pain, discomfort and risk to life that being pregnant and giving birth bring.

I have kids, btw, and I love them dearly, but I wouldn't force someone to have brought them into the world - that choice was their mother's alone, although I reaffirmed my commitments and willingness all along the way.

Once the decision to accept the responsibility is made, and the child is born, it IS the responsibility (morally and legally) of the parent(s) to look after and raise the child to the best of their ability as the mother will have CHOSEN (there's that scary word again) to continue with the pregnancy and accept all that it entails.

I know some delightful, special-needs kids, and some horribly-raised 'healthy' ones too, but they are all 'now' independant human beings with limited (until they are fully-able to exercise them) rights, and no Objectivist is advocating killing or abandoning them once born if they are unwanted...the whole point is the acceptance of responsibility by the woman who will bear the child makes that child HER responsibility until it is able (if it can) to look after itself and exercise the rights of an adult person. The resulting joys and trials are for her (and whoever she shares her life with) to enjoy or shoulder.

markamerica said...

Mr. Provenzo,

I have reviewed your remarks and discovered you are making the exact same error as any number of would-be objectivists, with respect to the issue of abortion.

A man must live by his nature, qua man, correct? What is man's nature?

We [objectivists] routinely argue, quite successfully, that man's rights are both a product and prerequisite of his nature. He cannot live [successfully] as anything but a man.

So what is man's nature?

Every person is a product of the development of a [usually]complete geneset, as well as all the environmental factors in his/her development. At what point does this geneset exist?

Rand taught that the rights of man were not a gift from god or gods, tyrant, majority, society, government, or any other form of human whim. Why then, do you argue that man's rights are subject to the whim(s) of women?

This is the giant, gaping hole in your alleged logic. If humanity is a slave to the whim of women(and there are those who suggest it is,) then there can be no rights of man.

I have exactly one child, a daughter, now 18yo. She, by all current medical science, is not 'fully developed' and in fact, the logic center of her brain will not come into full function for a few more years.

May I dispatch her? May he mother? Why not? She is clearly not fully developed. If not now, then at what point? Before puberty? Before she could speak? Before she could walk? Before she could hold her own bottle? You see, if you wish to use such fuzzy words as "human development," there exists no shortage of potential stopping points along the continuum.

If my child had exited the womb, and I had snatched her from the hands of the midwife, and flung her out the window, have I murdered her, or simply aborted her, slightly retroactively, as it were?

You see, you fall onto shaky ground when you claim, erroneously, that rights begin at birth. Why birth? Does a 9 month fetus not think? Is s/he not human simply because s/he is still within the womb? What is s/he? A fish? A rat? A dog? A zebra?

No, that fetus is a member of the species homo sapiens, and has been such from the moment of conception, by pure biological definition. All arguments about the development of the fetus are moot, because by such an argument, any human under 22 is still in development, and still eligible to abortion.

Yet you claim that rights commence at birth. In my example of the father tossing the child from the birth canal to the sidewalk many floors below, you would presumably call me a murderer. If the mother agreed, too? What if she did it herself, ignoring the father's role?

You've already alleged that until s/he draws the first breath, whether that breath is ever drawn is up to the sole determination of the mother. Why stop there? Why not simply take a good look at the child, perform an APGAR, and if the child doesn't score well, THEN pitch it out the window? After all, it makes little sense to argue that one should find such an artificial boundry as 'moment of birth' as the moment at which this child, in development for 9 months, has become human, eligible for protection of his or her young rights.

Again, I ask: By what form of absurdity does one conclude that while man's rights owe to his nature, he is not entitled to live by it? A man cannot live who was not first born. Neither can he be born if he was relieved of his life in utero.

You, who seek absolute definitions, but who cannot accept them in their most fundamental form, are neither objectivists nor rationalists.

If you disagree with this, I will not be surprised, since you've long ago accepted tautology in place of syllogism. Consider this, too:

You claim that a woman has an absolute right to an abortion. What if no person would willingly provide that service? Does she still have a right, and if so, upon whose back do you park the obligation of fulfilling her alleged right?

Please do not respond to this argument that physicians willing to perform these procedures are plentiful, so that it is moot. If tomorrow, women awoke to find a world in which no physician was willing, how would she exercise this right?

To be a right, conceptually, it cannot rely for its exercise upon any other person's active involvement. "Abortion rights," as such, fails this simple test.

One might just as well argue that because one has a "right to eat," he or she can make a claim on the persons, properties, and performances of any who are necessary to this end. You would immediately reject such a claim, as would I. Yet in the case of abortion, you willing throw out this facet of the question "What constitutes a right?"

In point of fact, a right can only place one sort of obligation, and it is a negative, one of non-interference.

There can be only one case in which a woman may have the unilateral right to seek an abortion: Self-defense. Only in such cases where the fetus represents a mortal threat does that woman's authority extend to wiping out another human life. In any other case, she is poaching that which is no longer hers.

This is no different from the sort of circumstance in which I could take the life of another human: In order to preserve my existence.

Rand liked to point out that man does not live in a life raft: That whatever may apply to the conditions of an emergency, as such, it is a temporary state, and that no doctrine ought to be formed for the sake of the emergency condition of a life raft and extended into non-exigent living. A pregnancy in which there is no existential threat to the mother is not a state of emergency. It is a normal state in which women between the years of 13 and 45 most often exist happily, and it is therefore preposterous to suggest, much less assert, that under these ordinary conditions, a woman may choose to violate the rights of another. The condition will end, after all.

I laugh heartily when the perpetual bachelors of academe advocate abortion, because in point of fact, they are most often hoping to 'score' and wish to do so without consequence. Small wonder that they frequently take such a position. It serves their purpose, for in playing at the role of feminist, they, more than any others set women aside as sexual objects for their own gratification, advocating women do violence to their own children, even their own bodies, in absence of violence from men.

Do you think abortion healthy, either physically or psychologically, for women?

Do women walk out of abortion clinics feeling empowered, or embarrassed, ashamed, and in pain and revulsion at what they have chosen?

All of this talk about the nature of man, for which Rand was deservedly famous, most frequently neglected to discuss what is the nature of woman.

In a form Rand herself might use, unless and until you realize that a fetus is factually human, and deserving of protection as such, your claims to rationality will serve not as a commendation, but a reproach. You cannot claim to observe the law of identity, that "A is A," while simultaneously pretending not to notice that the gray area you've constructed of psychological 'convenience' identifies you, unerringly, as a fraud.

Anonymous said...

Rand taught that the rights of man were not a gift from god or gods, tyrant, majority, society, government, or any other form of human whim. Why then, do you argue that man's rights are subject to the whim(s) of women?

No person has the right to live at the expense of another. A fetus cannot live without the support of the woman bearing it, and if she does not want to provide that support for whatever reason, including her whim, then it cannot claim the right to her support any more than any human being can. And if removing that support entails killing the fetus, so be it--a slave is perfectly justified in killing anyone keeping him in slavery, and a woman is perfectly justified in killing the fetus if she does not wish to support it, since that is the only way to free herself from supporting it. After birth the child can live without the mother's support, and since at that point her refusing her support doesn't kill it, its right to live means she can't kill it.

You claim that a woman has an absolute right to an abortion. What if no person would willingly provide that service? Does she still have a right, and if so, upon whose back do you park the obligation of fulfilling her alleged right?...To be a right, conceptually, it cannot rely for its exercise upon any other person's active involvement. "Abortion rights," as such, fails this simple test.

And by the same token there is no right to free exchange of goods, either. If there is no one willing to buy what you have to sell, then by your argument you can't conclude he has a right to sell it. In other words, you're just obfuscating the issue with silly word-play: Change the wording of his claim to "an unqualified [note: not absolute] right to seek to abort a fetus," and your argument collapses.

I laugh heartily when the perpetual bachelors of academe advocate abortion, because in point of fact, they are most often hoping to 'score' and wish to do so without consequence.

And I sneer at the perpetual horndogs of the anti-abortion movement who obviously in point of fact most often are hoping that by eliminating abortion (and quite often birth control is a target of theirs as well) they can better pressure women into giving them oral sex, since their personalities clearly won't secure it otherwise.

markamerica said...

Dear Anonymous,

"No person has the right to live at the expense of another."

A child most certainly has the right to live at the expense of its parents. In logic, as well as in law, this is manifestly true. A man is obligated at conception, so long as the woman chooses to carry the product to fruition. Why the duplicitous claim? A man must support the fruit of this union, however casual and temporary, but the woman may discharge this obligation at any time until birth?

"A fetus cannot live without the support of the woman bearing it, and if she does not want to provide that support for whatever reason, including her whim, then it cannot claim the right to her support any more than any human being can."

An infant cannot live without the support of some person(s) bearing the burden of support. By this construct, any person abandoning a child in a dumpster suffers no moral deficit. S/he simply no longer wished to provide that support, for whatever reason. "It cannot claim the right to support any more than any human being can." Are you catching onto the absurdity of your position?

And if removing that support entails killing the fetus, so be it--a slave is perfectly justified in killing anyone keeping him in slavery, and a woman is perfectly justified in killing the fetus if she does not wish to support it, since that is the only way to free herself from supporting it. After birth the child can live without the mother's support, and since at that point her refusing her support doesn't kill it, its right to live means she can't kill it.

Here you make the futile argument that a woman is a slave to her child. A few requisite facts intercede to reveal this fallacy, among them being that children are generally the product of consentual sex. Had either the man or the woman not known about the potentialities involved? In choosing to lay the risk, and have the sexual encounter, both surrender any claim to having been enslaved. More to the point, however, women frequently alleviate this condition of alleged bondage by surrendering the child for adoption. She needn't kill it in order to be relieved of this burden.

"And by the same token there is no right to free exchange of goods, either. If there is no one willing to buy what you have to sell, then by your argument you can't conclude he has a right to sell it. In other words, you're just obfuscating the issue with silly word-play: Change the wording of his claim to "an unqualified [note: not absolute] right to seek to abort a fetus," and your argument collapses."

He has a right to offer it for sale. Whether there are takers is another matter. There is no right to sell what no other will buy, just as there is no right to buy what others either will not willingly sell, or have not produced for sale. You lack precision in language, and this lacking is according you no mercy. One can seek to abort, or seek to purchase, but the right to seek a thing is not the same as the right of acquisition. Once more, precision, friend.

And I sneer at the perpetual horndogs of the anti-abortion movement who obviously in point of fact most often are hoping that by eliminating abortion (and quite often birth control is a target of theirs as well) they can better pressure women into giving them oral sex, since their personalities clearly won't secure it otherwise.

Do you know such people? I am neither a horn-dog nor a member of any anti-abortion movement. I've been happily wed to the same woman for more than two decades, and do not seek oral sex, let alone the sad attempt to pressure women into it. Whatever my personality may or may not have secured, it has certainly managed to carry me through 43 years, 22 of them engaged and subsequently wedded to the same woman, without failure or infidelity. We chose to have a child, with concrete notions about what that child would be, and what it meant to us. We decided that for our sakes, and the sake of that child, that there should be no attempt at siblings. We preferred to devote the entirety of our time, resources, and attention to a single child.

My life aside, it never ceases to amaze me that those remaining alive who have suffered most from abortion become its staunchest advocates. It is as though born of the irrational notion that misery loves company. The anger accompanying such outbursts almost always takes the form of a pyschological confession, plain to all.

Anonymous said...

A child most certainly has the right to live at the expense of its parents.

If they choose to accept that obligation by carrying the fetus to term and not giving it up for adoption. If they do give it up for adoption, then no, it does not have a right to supprt by either of its parents, but only of anyone else who voluntarily chooses to undertake that obligation. Similarly, if a woman chooses to keep a fetus, then once it is born she has an obligation to support it if she does not offer it up for adoption, but that does not imply that she has an

Here you make the futile argument that a woman is a slave to her child. A few requisite facts intercede to reveal this fallacy, among them being that children are generally the product of consentual sex. Had either the man or the woman not known about the potentialities involved? In choosing to lay the risk...

You showed some restraint in punnery there...

...and have the sexual encounter, both surrender any claim to having been enslaved.

Nonsense. In certain parts of Africa in the 18th century, going for a walk in certain areas entailed a substantial risk of becoming enslaved. By your argument, anyone who went walking in those areas and was enslaved as a result was asking for it and has no claim to freedom. Pregnancy is a possible result of sex, but you are begging the question to claim that anyone having sex must therefore accept any pregnancies that result. You can also contract venereal disease from sex; that does not mean that the morally responsible act is to allow it to come to fruition. You can only argue this for a fetus if you have already shown that the fetus has the right to be supported by the woman bearing it. This you assuredly have not done.

More to the point, however, women frequently alleviate this condition of alleged bondage by surrendering the child for adoption. She needn't kill it in order to be relieved of this burden.

So bondage for nine months is not a violation of a woman's rights then? What's the limit in your moral universe for when involuntary servitude to another's well-being stops being immaturity and becomes a violation of rights? It doesn't matter if it is for "only" nine months or if the great majority of other women are overjoyed to raise a child at the proper points in their lives--they have every right to raise their children if they wish. (Note too that women are not thereby "relieved of this burden." They are relieved of the added burden of 18 years of parenthood; they are not relieved of nine months of pregnancy. You really should strive for greater precision in language, sir--its persistent lack underneath all your rodomontade does you no service.)

He has a right to offer it for sale. Whether there are takers is another matter.

A right is the freedom to pursue an action, not a guarantee at others' expense of its fruit. This is assumed in Mr. Provenzo's posts. You refuse to recognize him making this distinction for abortion and claim that he's not rigorous enough for your tastes, yet the worst thing is it's not even important--the morally important question is whether a woman can get an abortion if someone is willing to perform it.

There is no right to sell what no other will buy...

False. There is no right to force others to buy what you offer for sale. That does not mean you don't have the right to sell something if no one buys it, it simply means your right cannot be exercised. (You show an obtuse confusion throughout this discussion between negative and positive rights shocking in someone who is obviously trying to pass himself off as a past master at political philosophy. You ought to go brush up on the basics--this is the sort of half-baked midnight bull session I'd expect from a college freshman who knows how to make distinctions but has no idea how to determine whether they make a difference. It's a sad failing in someone of your age.)

...just as there is no right to buy what others either will not willingly sell, or have not produced for sale.

So what? That is understood in saying someone has a right to sell his labor or its product freely--that right does not go away if no one exercises his right to buy it. A right means freedom to pursue an end. Mr. Provenzo has made clear that he's not claiming women have a right to abortion at others' expense; he's no welfare statist. In any case, this is pure obscurantist tomfoolery on your part, since the whole point of your argument is that women simply should not have the freedom to pursue an abortion even if someone is willing to perform it.

You lack precision in language, and this lacking is according you no mercy.

And you lack felicity in language, sir, and this lack (not "lacking," which is ugly) makes you sound like a third-rate Buckley too much in love with the sound of his own voice to produce words fit for others' ears--but then that was often true of Buckley himself, so so much the worse for you. ("...is according you no mercy"? You write like an overblown freshman or politician. Lacks don't accord mercy, nor do lackings for that matter. Only you could accord me mercy in that sentence--a mercy you refused to accord any of us simply by penning such a pretentious ugliness--and any other mercy is not what I'm asking for, so save it for someone who cares.)

One can seek to abort, or seek to purchase, but the right to seek a thing is not the same as the right of acquisition.

Which is an irrelevant distinction of your own that Mr. Provenzo had already stated was not his meaning.

Once more, precision, friend.

After you, Alphonse.

Do you know such people? I am neither a horn-dog nor a member of any anti-abortion movement.

I've actually met a couple, yes. I have not, however, met any pro-choice men like you describe. No doubt some exist. They are, however, irrelevant to the moral issue, and bringing them up was unworthy of you.

My life aside, it never ceases to amaze me that those remaining alive who have suffered most from abortion become its staunchest advocates. It is as though born of the irrational notion that misery loves company. The anger accompanying such outbursts almost always takes the form of a pyschological confession, plain to all.

And again you smear all people in favor of the right to abortion with a psychologizing stereotype that is false in my experience of all the ones I know. Tell us, do you claim Nick Provenzo fits this description? Ed Cline? Diana and Paul Hsieh? Myrhaf? On what basis? None, so far as I can tell. So why do you persist in bringing it up then? A fondness for character assassin, perhaps?

Santiago Chiva, Granada said...

On the topic of abortion, even many people who defend the possibility of legal abortions, they say they are not pro-abortion, but they don’t want to punish women who are in this difficult situation. In Germany a curious thing has happened. Something that reflects that legal abortion affects adversely to the country. And also that the change is possible: you can promote a culture of life with the support of the citizens, when really there is a real wish of avoid abortions. Since the liberalization of abortion in this country, the number of abortions is officially four million. For that reason, among others, children are seen as an unintended effect of having sex. Many people thought it was necessary to promote greater social acceptance of children in an aging society. And civil society acted, without waiting for action by the State to promote births. They joined several media organizations in a campaign. Interestingly, after the campaign, the birth rate has risen in Germany. The video is exciting. Look here: http://es.youtube.com/watch?v=SztG8JpxvHY
Santiago Chiva (Granada, Spain)

Anthony said...

"A fetus is not a human being and the argument that Nick has offered is the best, most fundamental reason why abortion is a woman's right."

I agree with the conclusion, but I think saying that "a fetus is not a human being" begs the question. *Why* is a fetus not a human being?

I'd say it's more true that a fetus is not a human being because it doesn't have rights than that a fetus doesn't have rights because it is not a human being.

"But even if a fetus were a human being, why would one human being possess the right to the use of another human being's body against their will?"

See Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person

Abortion necessarily requires "killing" the fetus before extraction, otherwise it would be murder.

Under Florida law, which I'm most familiar with and which is on the less restrictive side, use of deadly force is allowed when you are:

"Trying to protect yourself or another person from death or serious bodily harm;" OR "Trying to prevent a forcible felony, such as rape, robbery, burglary or kidnapping."

The forcible felony can't apply, since a fetus of course does not possess the mens rea to commit a felony. So by this argument, an abortion would be permitted only "to protect yourself or another person from death or serious bodily harm".

Anthony said...

Here's a question I have for Objectivists: Does a newborn child have a legal and/or moral right to be supported *by his/her parents*, and if so, to what extent, and why?

Be specific, and juxtapose this with your answer with regard to a viable fetus. Don't base your justification on a child being a "human being" without giving a justification for your definition of "human being", a justification for why a "human being" has a right to live off of the backs of another, and specifically why the people who created that "human being" are responsible for providing this support.

My intuition is that the answer to the question is "Yes", but frankly, I can't come up with a rational justification for it within the framework of Objectivism.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be an assumption that all organisations and individuals connected with Down's Syndrome are anti-abortion - that is not the case. They know firsthand how difficult it can be to raise a child with a learning disability and are in favour of freedom of choice.

What upsets them is that families are making ill-informed choices often based on information in media articles and that people with a pre-natal diagnosis who choose to continue the pregnancy are treated so badly for doing so.

Your statement "Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child's life upon others." is just one example.

If you look at the progress that individuals with DS have made in the past decade or two, since society became more accepting and supportive, you will see that more and more of them are living independently and even working. Ok they may not have high powered, high salaried positions, but then neither do a lot of the rest of the population.

Presumably if there was some way of testing in pregnancy to identify those babies who would turn in to drug addicts and unemployed layabouts, you would feel their mothers had a moral obligation to terminate too! Where do we draw the line?

If you genuinely are for freedom of choice, please don't colour the picture inaccurately or make it a moral issue - for some people termination is morally wrong!

Acolyte4236 said...

First, the term fetus is a Latin term for “baby.” Second, the change in location from the womb to outside the womb doesn’t affect the status or identity of the child. Neither does being connected to the mother change the nature of the child anymore than a blood transfusion from one human to another changes the recipient into a non-human entity. Dependence doesn’t alter the nature of the dependent. A gold ball in the womb is still a golf ball. Furthermore, the child has its own distinct blood type and DNA and is therefore not equivalent to an organ or other constituent of the woman’s body. And just FYI, the umbilical cord isn’t usually cut till after the child is born. If location makes all the difference then being connected can’t and vice versa.

An acorn is the same species as an oak tree and there is nothing essentially different between the two anymore than there is between an prepubescent child and a teenager. The child is not potentially alive as some dead hunk of matter. It is an undisputable biological fact that it is alive. Here the confusion on your part is between life and personhood. Of course, personhood is a philosophically ambiguous concept and there is no clear consensus among metaphysicians and ethicists as to what constitutes a person. Your criteria of consciousness is no help either for the same reason, not to mention the fact that your gloss is a throw back to Descartes and Locke and so quite far from being philosophically unsuspicious.

The mere connection of dependence of the child to the mother doesn’t change the fundamental nature of the child as being a human being. The child isn’t part of the woman’s body for it has its own DNA and it is self organizing in a way that the woman’s body is not. Further, humans do not regulate most of their bodily functions and the law limits their ability to do so in a legion of ways. So it is by no means obvious that even if the child were a mere part of the woman’s body that she would have unfettered legal right to do as she wishes.

But why is biological independence the defining factor of personhood in both morality and under the law? Why isn't it the moment of conception, or the first instance of fetal heartbeat, or the first instance of fetal brain wave activity (just to name a few of the benchmarks often put forward by anti-abortion activists)? Again, it is the nature of the direct physical connection between the fetus and the mother. Physically attached to a woman in the manner a fetus is, the woman's right to regulate the processes of her own body is controlling. Unattached and physically independent, the fetus is thus transformed; it is a person no different from anyone else and enjoys all the individual rights of personhood. In any case, you are arbitrarily assuming a strong conception of autonomy which children out of the woman, let alone most adults fail to meet since every human on the planet is practically dependent on others for food, goods, protection, et al.

And biologically nature gives precedence to the child. If the mother lacks nutrient intake, the body will, without her consent, take nutrients from her body and give it to the child. The woman will starve but the child will live. And the Pro-Life position does not wish to make women a mere conduit for children. Rather we seek to protect the fundamental right to live for all human beings.
If men and women engage in baby making behavior then they should be responsible for the babies that they make. Killing the baby doesn’t make them responsible for their behavior.

And to say that pro-life people should restrict the application of their views to themselves is question begging for if the child is human then their views should not be restricted in application. The same was true of the pro-slavery lobby in the US. They argued that they merely wished to protect the rights of slave owners over their property, but this begged the question as to whether slaves were human beings. The question here is whether human beings can be legitimately classed as property and you seem to think that they do.

Raising a child is a tremendous commitment, but those who engage in baby making behavior take on that responsibility to themselves. And it is interesting that you write that the child is a “life created by its parents.” Is it a human life or not? If so, when did the parents create that life, at birth? And why does the woman have a right to reject an obligation of life that she has already consented to produce? If she and a male engage freely in baby making behavior then why aren’t they both responsible for the life? And if you claim that a child should be a choice, then why bother calling a fetus? If you agree that it is a child then what you favor is full blown infanticide and I have to wonder why its location should even matter.

And it doesn’t follow from the fact that 90% of women who abort children with disabilities do so in a legally protected bubble that their action is moral. The question is whether such an action is moral. Buying slaves was a legally uncoerced action based on rational self interest as well but it was obviously immoral.

As for the difficulty of having a Down Syndrome child and raising them, I would think that it would be obvious that it would be difficult, but that would only impel us to support such persons to ease the difficulty rather than to inflict more unnecessary harm and suffering by killing the child, especially without due process.

If you defend the right of everyone to perform their own analysis and act on their own good judgment, do you support the right to own slaves? Why not since it is perfectly consistent with your egoism? And if it is not eugenics for a woman to kill her child for such a reason why not? A simple denial isn’t sufficient to imply that it is not eugenics. Why think that all eugenics entails involuntary actors? History is replete with examples where they do not.

Steve Rodgers said...

>Second, the change in location from the womb to outside the womb doesn’t affect the status or identity of the child.

Then why the big fuss over birthdays?

>A gold ball in the womb is still a golf ball.

No, it would still be a gold ball. But taking your typo for what it is, you still miss the unique status of a fetus within the womb and the relationship between it and the woman. The woman's interests have to come first. It is her body and she must be able to control its function in order to serve her interests.

And don't get me wrong; a fetus can become a legal human being the moment after birth, but until that birth, it's status is different as a function of its very different nature.

>Buying slaves was a legally uncoerced action based on rational self interest as well but it was obviously immoral.

I disagree with your characterization of slavery as an institution based upon rational self interest. There is nothing rational about negating the minds of human beings and reducing them to mere automatons. You may receive the benefit of their rote labor at the hand of your whip, but precious little more. And then there is the angle that they wave a powerful incentive to kill you outright if it would make them free. Your interest would be properly served by banishing such coercion and trading with the newly liberated ex-slaves to mutual advantage and that's capitalism.

>If you defend the right of everyone to perform their own analysis and act on their own good judgment, do you support the right to own slaves? Why not since it is perfectly consistent with your egoism?

You are projecting your own corrupt view of selfish interest here. See the above as to why this Objectivist rejects it.

>And if it is not eugenics for a woman to kill her child for such a reason why not?

This is where I diverge from Mr. Provenzo a little, but without disagreeing with his central point (and let me make this absolutely clear—not one iota). A woman may in fact choose an abortion for irrational reasons. She may seek to practice eugenics. I would oppose this as immoral. Nevertheless, her irrationality cannot be used as a club to deny the rights of other woman to make their own choices about their own bodies. Kant's philosophy is immoral, but a person is perfectly free to be an altruist because it is his life and he must live it by his own mind. Such is the same for women choosing to have abortions for bad reasons. We may not approve; we may find their choice appalling, but they still rate the freedom because the rational must have their freedom, period.

I wish to thank you for your thoughtful comments and I hope you will come back with your further insights if you wish to share them. The issue deserves more thoughtfulness than we have seen in the past few days and while we don't agree, your manner of presenting your argument is a welcome refrain from the bile and venom we Objectivists have witnessed in response to our position on this issue.

Acolyte4236 said...

Steve,

Birthdays harken back to a pre-scientific time. I prefer not to craft public policy and moral theory based on folk practices grounded in antiquated biology.

Yes I meant “golf” both times. Why do the woman’s interests have to come first? Simply saying so doesn’t amount to a reason for thinking so. Second it begs the question as to whether the human being in the womb is human and has a natural right to live just as much as any other. If it does, then it isn't clear why the woman's should come first and that they shouldn't be treated as equals. Being helpless and dependent doesn’t attenuate that right but rather accentuates it.

Second, it is not her body for her body is defined by a distinct DNA code, blood type, limbs etc. If it were her body, the women with male children would be hermaphrodites.

The baby doesn’t have a different nature than the woman, which is why she is giving birth to it. It has a human nature like every other member of the species. Like produces like. If you check its DNA you aren’t going to find a rabbit.

First, slaves were not thought to be fully human and so they fit your criteria. Second, even if they were, slavery certainly seemed to benefit other rational agents and for a very long time. Rational self interest doesn't entail mutual self respecting self interest. Even if your naïve rationalism were true, self interest doesn’t preclude slavery. And even if I were only to receive monetary benefits from slavery, that certainly seemed to serve self interest sufficiently well for centuries and still does. Few were the slave owners that were killed by their slaves. In fact, the relation was usually the other way around.


Why think that my hypothetical judgment to own slaves is morally corrupt if it is in my self interest? Abortion is grounded on the same reasoning. It is in my self interest to label a child as property and then to kill it. The fundamental reasoning is the same as slavery-this is my property so I can do with it what I wish. Your criteria of egoism either dons positive moral value on slavery or it is inadequate as a moral criteria. If you were a Platonist you might have the metaphysical ground to stand on, but you’re not.

In fact most women have abortions in the US for convenience. Less than 2% are done for rape or incest and only a few more are done out of medical necessity to save the live of the mother. Do you favor screening the 90% of women to prevent them from doing something immoral? And if you permit them to do so as your reasoning suggests why not permit slave owners to own slaves on the very same basis? To say that the slaves are human is just the point. To appeal to consciousness won’t help either since pre-born children have REM sleep and experience pain and pleasure at least as early as the fourth month. Freedom isn’t a blank check to do the grossly immoral, unless you are an anarchist and oppose the rule of law. Some immoral choices are made illegal. So the question is, why not make this one so? Certainly it is in the interests of the state to have future citizens, tax payers and soldiers. And this is an especially hard lesson for say Europeans who could not see that what was framed as a private good, was in fact a corporate detriment to all individuals, which is why they are facing population crashes and even possible extinction. In any case, nothing you wrote explains why it isn’t eugenics.


As for Objectivism I don’t think replacing God with a ubiquitous, immutable force called Reason is an advance. Reason is just a God substitute as Nietzsche noted. Putting forth reason as a starting point isn’t an adequate basis for an epistemological theory either since it is just as arbitrary and irrational as any other axiom. Whatever the foundation of knowledge is, it can’t be arbitrary and I haven’t seen anything from Objectivists to make me think that their entire edifice isn’t arbitrary and irrational for that very reason.

Russ said...

Well Acolyte, I see you are showing the true colors of those who argue against abortion. Your exhibit of the emotion-laden crazy, irrational, and "totally mindless" attitudes of the pro-life movement must be in there somewhere, right?

Acolyte4236 said...

Russ,

Even if everything you claimed were true of, it still would not imply that the pro-life position is false or that my arguments were bad ones. One can have false premises and a true conclusion. And further logic and psychology are not identical so that it is possible for someone psychologically off balance to give a logically valid and sound argument.

As they stand then, your comments amount to a genetic fallacy, attacking the source of the argument rather than the argument itself. I would have expected more from "Objectivists" who pride themselves on being reasonable.

As my comments stand, my presentation has been dispassionate and centered on questions of the strength of truth preserving inferences. If insulting me and attacking me personally is the best you can do, then you have already shown that you lack a reasoned position and are you in the irrational position of those whom you denegrate.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Acolyte4236 has conducted himself here as I wish many more would. Let us respect that by keeping the debate here focused on the facts, not personalities.