Sunday, July 16, 2006

Abortion Debate

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'.


Update:

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.

7 comments:

GrannyGrump said...

Since I recognize the fetus as a human being, I don't think there's much I can contribute here, but I've added you to my roundup and am encouraging others to pop in. I get some fiesty, thoughtful procohicers that ought to liven things up if they decide to come over.

Pejar said...

I'd be as glad to have dissenting people here as allies! We all need challenging, that's my view.

Just to clarify one thing. I don't deny that a foetus is biologically human. I do deny that it is a person - a term which refers to cognitive abilities and faculties.

Serge said...

pejar,

Hi Pejar, I'm the one who presented the challenge of a mother taking thalidomide to Kevin in the first place.

I am a physician, and there is an important aspect of your assessment which is medically wrong.

Thalidomide is not like a trap set that goes off after the fetus becomes a "person" (which is your view). In fact, virtually everything we know about thalidomide shows that it has NO EFFECT after the first trimester. In other words, the fetus was harmed only in the first trimester, before the time that your view gives it moral standing (which, of course, I strongly disagree with).

I agree with you that a mother who takes a medication that causes such harm to her child has performed a morally repugnant act. The thalidimide tragedy is considered one of the worst medical tragedies of modern times. My moral reaction is based on my belief in the intrinsic value of human beings. I'm wondering exactly what yours is based on, since the child who is harmed does not fit your criteria for moral standing (which is one reason why you may consider changing it).

If an early fetus has no moral standing, and can be intentioanlly killed by their mother for that very reason, what is the moral principle behind your assertion that it is wrong for an expectant mother to take a medication that merely has the potential to harm her offspring.

BTW, the initial post with more info can be found here: http://lti-blog.blogspot.com/2006/07/do-no-harm-except-for-that-killing.html

Blessings,

Serge

Pejar said...

Serge:

Thalidomide is not like a trap set that goes off after the fetus becomes a "person" (which is your view). In fact, virtually everything we know about thalidomide shows that it has NO EFFECT after the first trimester.

I think you misunderstand me, and I apologise if I was unclear. I am aware that thalidomide has its primary effect during pregnancy (although I did not realise quite how early). However, the after effects of this continue on well after the foetus develops interests, is born and becomes a person. So well after it has its influence on the woman's dignity and autonomy, it would still suffer from the effects of the medication. That is the problem.

My moral reaction is based on my belief in the intrinsic value of human beings. I'm wondering exactly what yours is based on, since the child who is harmed does not fit your criteria for moral standing

It may not have moral standing in the first trimester, but well after it develops interests and faculties it does continue to suffer the after effects. This is the wrong of it, not anything it does to it while it is incapable of interests.

In comparison to late term abortions, where a difficult value judgement is necessary, I think that the situation with early term abortions is remarkably clear. However, when it comes to actions which will harm a being / person to come which will have interests, it becomes much murkier, just like setting a trap before a person is even conceived. That was the point of the simile.

Tlaloc said...

"Just to clarify one thing. I don't deny that a foetus is biologically human. I do deny that it is a person - a term which refers to cognitive abilities and faculties."

I'm confused. If you believe the fetus is not a person then what exactly is the foundation of your pro-life views? Or do you not in fact have pro-life views? Maybe I have misunderstood you.

Pejar said...

No, I am pro-choice. For an explanation of why, see here (and also to a lesser extent a number of other posts here):

http://unifiedview.blogspot.com/2005/09/abortion-and-autonomy.html

Also please note that I believe that non-persons can have interests as long as they have faculties (ie. are conscious in some way). Early term foetuses have none of these and late term ones have some, but the interests of the latter are overridden by the interests of the mother.

aa said...

As I write this post—longhandOffice 2010in a spiral notebook—I’m 20,000 feet above eastern Washington, having Microsoft Office 2010just crossed above the Cascades on my return flight Microsoft wordto Chicago. I visited Seattle for the weekend to Office 2007and I have known each other for 20 years now. They Microsoft Officehad a lovely ceremony, and the trip in general was fantastic.Microsoft Office 2007In the 13 years since I left Seattle, I’ve Office 2007 keyvisited six or seven times, and I always return to wherever has Office 2007 downloadOffice 2007 Professionalbecome home with mixed feelings about the place. It Outlook 2010both alarms and pleases me to see howMicrosoft outlookthat once-familiar areas seem almost foreign. ForMicrosoft outlook 2010neighborhoods have changed, to the point Windows 7 as have cookie-cutter, here-today-and-gone-tomorrow nightclubs that cater to the shiny shirt crowd.