I am in the middle of an interesting discussion about abortion which is taking place across two left-wing, pro-choice blogs I frequent. It started out with this post:
Sufficient Scruples - Keeping It Real
The author, KTK argued that there really is no rational way to argue the pro-life position and that the only issue is women's autonomy. I was unconvinced that it was that simple. The next post was this:
Lean Left - How Not To Debate Abortion
Tgirsch argued that KTK's post was unnecessarily dismissive of pro-lifers and defended them as often motivated by genuine ethical concerns. In the comments which followed, I used my own ethical logic to try to deal with points which came up like the difficulty of Peter Singer's approach to newborn babies (which I will deal with in my next post) and the question of mental disabilities taking one outside of personhood. Now, KTK has made a new post:
Sufficient Scruples - Obligations To The Foetus
Here, he deals with what I consider to be a very interesting problem - pregnant women behaving such as to cause birth defects. He asserts that since the foetus is not a person, these acts are not immoral. I completely disagree with him, and use the example of a trap set before the intended victim's birth which kills them later to show that what is important is when the effects are felt, rather than when the acts are done.
I invite anyone who reads this blog to join in, either on these blogs or the comments section here. To my mind, one important thing that this shows is that abortion ethics are much more complicated than simply 'yes' or 'no'.
Here are some more blog posts on both sides of the issue, and some which branch out to further issues. I have commented on a number of them.
Philosophy, et cetera - Obligations Beyond the Fetus
Richard is of the same opinion as me that abortion is permissible while causing birth defects while pregnant is not.
Philosophy, et cetera - The Temporal Acrobatics of Harm
On the other hand, Richard believes that we can harm a person after they die, because if a person ever exists, then it has interests not bound by time. Personally, I cannot see any merit in this as it strikes me as ignoring how interests are tied to existing, conscious beings. Since beings are mortal, so are their interests. So we cannot harm anyone after they die.
LTI Blog - Do No Harm (Except For That Killing Thing)
LTI Blog - "Harming" a Living Human Being Non-Person Fetus Thing
LTI Blog - A Moral Obligation to Kill
In these three posts, responding to KTK and Richard, pro-life Serge argues that the issues of abortion and causing birth defects are tied up so that they stand and fall together. I have come out against this on grounds hopefully adequately summarised in one comment I made (although I may soon expand it to to a full posts once I am done with Singer!):
An early term foetus has no interests, and I maintain that a late term foetus has some but fewer than a full person, which are overridden by the mother’s rights to dignity and autonomy. However, once she makes the choice to continue the pregnancy, I don’t see anything wrong with that imposing new moral constraints on her. This does not violate her autonomy as she still has the opt-out clause of abortion.
So why should these obligations arise? Because the effect of the actions very much will be felt by a person, albeit later on. It is like kicking someone such that internal damage only causes pain and death a year on. The delay does not matter. A person quite foreseeably felt the effects, so it is wrong. The fact that in the birth defects case the ‘victim’ was not yet a person does not matter. The effects will harm a person, albeit with delayed action.