I’m anti-abortion, and this meme really annoys me:
This meme is addressed to pro-lifers, but it only makes sense if it completely ignores the fundamental pro-life argument: abortion kills non-aggressive, innocent humans. To a pro-lifer this meme is roughly equivalent to “Don’t like murder? Don’t commit one.” Yeah great. Solid point.
Now, an abortion rights advocate might respond that abortion isn’t murder for a variety of reasons, and then we can have that debate. That debate is worth having because it’s actually addressing what the target audience–pro-lifers, in this case–are saying. The above meme completely ignores what pro-lifers are saying. What good is a point that ignores the central premise of the group you’re addressing?
And that’s why, even though I’m a gun rights advocate, this meme annoys me too:
This meme is addressed to gun control advocates, but it only makes sense if it completely ignores the fundamental gun control argument: permissive access to guns results in the deaths of non-aggressive, innocent humans. I imagine to a gun control advocate this meme is roughly equivalent to “Don’t like mass shootings? Don’t commit one.” Insightful, thanks.
I know gun rights advocates, including myself, argue that access to guns can and has saved lives. And I think that’s a debate worth having because it’s addressing what the target audience–gun control advocates, in this case–are saying. But the above meme completely ignores what they’re saying, in the exact same way the abortion meme did.
I understand memes by their very nature can’t be in-depth, nuanced arguments. But they could at least be remotely relevant to the audience they’re supposed to be addressing. That’s not too high of a hurdle, right?
Life Matters Journal has a new piece by an atheist who attended Reason Rally 2016. It includes her reflections on attending an event where it is assumed everyone is pro-choice because, well, logic, science, and reason. Her main takeaways are that many people don’t know the science, those that do know the science are willing to discriminate, and there is a religious nature to pro-choice adherents. It’s an interesting piece that you can read here. She writes,
For some reason though many of the same people who claim to trust only hard scientific evidence are willing to deny these basic biological truths in order to continue supporting the violence of abortion.
There is no reason for the secular community to be as pro-choice as they are; in fact as lovers of logic and reason it would only make sense for more atheists to be pro-life. I fear that the reason the pro-choice side is so successful with nonreligious people is partially that pro-lifers have marketed ourselves as a fundamentally religious/Christian movement.
I’ve written about pro-life atheists before. I think, in general, the pro-life movement hasn’t found a way to balance the fact that many pro-lifers are religious, but a lot of the hearts and minds they need to change are not. Thankfully atheist and agnostic voices have been getting stronger in the community, like at Secular Pro-Life. I say thankfully because, even though I am Mormon, I’ve always been more swayed by, or felt more comfortable sharing, logical and scientific arguments. In policy decisions I think those arguments can reach more people. Any movement that has science and ethics on its side should not be afraid to use those benefits.
I know we’ve had a lot of pro-life pieces here recently, I guess the March for Life that coincides with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade brings it out in us. The National Review has a great piece from an early 70s “anti-war, mother-earth, feminist, hippie college student” who once believed the pro-choice message. The piece explores how she was eventually persuaded otherwise (hint: science, the absence of rarity, and pro-womanhood.) It includes great quotables like
Abortion can’t push the rewind button on life and make it so she was never pregnant. It can make it easy for everyone around the woman to forget the pregnancy, but the woman herself may struggle.
Abortion gets presented to us as if it’s something women want; both pro-choice and pro-life rhetoric can reinforce that idea. But women do this only if all their other options look worse. It’s supposed to be “her choice,” yet so many women say, “I really didn’t have a choice.”
We had somehow bought the idea that abortion was necessary if women were going to rise in their professions and compete in the marketplace with men. But how had we come to agree that we will sacrifice our children, as the price of getting ahead? When does a man ever have to choose between his career and the life of his child?
Recently the Oregon State University Socratic Club hosted a debate on abortion between Dr. Nadine Strossen and Dr. Mike Adams. If a pro-lifer wants to learn how to effectively discuss this topic, this debate is the one to watch.
Mike made a number of great points. First and foremost, he would not let die the subject of defining what the fetus is. During his opening statement, he emphasizes repeatedly the indisputable fact that the fetus is a living, biological human being, complete with citations from textbooks. Later, when Nadine starts using the term potential life during the discussion section, he states (twice!) that dead things don’t grow. An audience member even chimes in later with a question asking whether these newly conceived, two-celled organisms have the DNA of a plant, a hippopotamus, or a human. The answer, of course, is human. It’s a seemingly stupid question, but I’ve found asking and answering that stupid question helpful on more than one occasion because it once again centers the discussion of the humanity of the fetus.
Mike also did a great job discussing the future value argument, which I would rate one of the best arguments for the philosophical value of the fetus. I really liked his analogy, which I hadn’t heard before, of taking a photo of the Grand Canyon on an old Polaroid camera. While the picture is developing, does it not have value? If my brother takes that picture and rips it up, have I not lost something of value, even though currently no picture existed on the film? I like the analogy in particular because it’s brief, an all-important attribute for using analogies in debates and discussions.
Mike made another good point on value. Many people will express uncertainty on the moral status of the fetus. If such uncertainty is the case, doesn’t that recommend caution and erring on the side of respecting human life, rather than destroying something (or rather, someone) whose value you do not know?
Lastly, Mike brought up probably my favorite pro-choice philosopher: Peter Singer. Peter Singer is the single most helpful pro-choice philosopher. Singer illustrates that, if one argues for gradualism (i.e. an entity gains worth as it gains functions like cognizance), you have to endorse potential infanticide if you’re going to be consistent because newborns lack many key mental characteristics, such as self-recognition, just like fetuses. The only caveat I would add to Mike’s argument is that Peter Singer does argue that the love parents have for their children means infanticide would almost always be terrible, but that’s not really a comfort because underlying that statement is a very grim sentiment: newborns and infants only have value and therefore the right to live because their parents love them.
Overall, I have found that pro-lifers in debates have to keep the value of the fetus at the center of the debate. It’s not that the bodily autonomy argument isn’t also important, or that women in general don’t merit a portion of the discussion, but all too often the entire debate will proceed without a single discussion of the fetus’ value. Some pro-choice debaters actively argue that the topic isn’t relevant because bodily autonomy would win out no matter what the moral status of the fetus. My view: Don’t listen. The moral status of the fetus is of utmost importance. If we’re going to make a moral and legal assessment between two entities, we have to know what the moral and legal status of those two entities is!
Speaking of bodily autonomy, one question with which Mike did struggle was the organ donation question. He made a distinction between strangers and children, which isn’t bad, but I think a better distinction (related to the child/stranger distinction) is that you aren’t responsible for a stranger’s state of dependence, whereas the mother and father are responsible for the fetus’ state of dependence. And if a person wants to discuss whether sex entails a responsibility to any resulting children, that sets up a comparison to child support, which almost no one, pro-life or pro-choice, opposes.
Overall, an excellent debate. I apologize in advance for not giving any coverage to Nadine Strossen. I didn’t find any of her arguments particularly compelling, especially when they focused on the fact that abortion is legal or that some religious people are ok with abortion. She’s clearly a very smart women, but I just didn’t find myself moved by any of her arguments. Anyways, if you have time to watch the full debate, I highly recommend it, and you can form your own opinions on Mike and Nadine’s arguments.
Kelsey Hazzard, president of Secular Pro-Life, an organization that promotes a pro-life stance based on science, has a excellent piece at Opposing Views about the religious tone of many abortion advocates. Hazzard discusses how this “magical thinking” was the basis of the Roe v. Wade decision and is a current pro-choicers are happy to ride, even if they are stereotypically the kind of people who would promote science first, as long as the result is more pro-choicers and more abortions.
Indeed, magical thinking is embedded in Roe v. Wade itself. The majority opinion discusses a variety of views concerning when human life begins… The notion that science is just one possible approach among many is a hallmark of magical thinking. The consensus of modern embryologists, and the beliefs of a civilization that thrived a millennium before the invention of the sonogram, are not equally valid. That the Supreme Court of the United States pretended that they were, and that such a farce remains good law more than forty years later, is an embarrassment to our legal system.
There are lots of articles about students (usually liberals) trying to prevent speakers (often conservatives) from speaking on campus. This is another article in that genre, but it is unusually interesting for a couple of reasons.
First, the object of the protests is a pro-choice, second-wave feminist.
Second, Helen Lewis (the author of the piece) decries the students for protesting Germaine Greer, and she is also a feminist.
So we’ve got a feminist defending a feminist from other feminists. All of whom, from what I can tell, are largely on the left: secular, pro-choice, etc. That is a really telling demonstration of just how hyper-ideological the left has become. Any deviation from orthodoxy, no matter how narrow, is met with outrage and suppression. No passes are given to the erstwhile titans of the field. Germaine Greer has been writing and advocating for feminism since the 1970s, but her half-century of work has earned her nothing. Feminism consumes its own.
Another interesting aspect, is that Lewis argues that the entire notion of protesting speakers itself exhibits a gender bias:
Student feminists want to stop the veteran feminist from speaking at universities – because of her beliefs about transgender people. But why are women always punished more than men for having controversial opinions?
So a feminist is attacking a feminist for attacking another feminist and, just for good measure, accusing them of perpetuating sexism and misogyny. I’m not merely chuckling with schadenfreude, mind you. I think Lewis is right. As an observer to the Mommy Wars and other examples of woman-on-woman repression, it seems that the mores and customs and assumptions of our culture (of all cultures) are largely dictated by women. And so, for example when complaints about modesty arise, I never find the accusation that men are busy policing women’s bodies to be very convincing. Sure, in Afghanistan or Iran that might be the case, but in the West when there is judgment and gossip about how one woman dresses, it is usually judgment and gossip from other women.
Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely examples of misogyny that come from men, and the harassment and abuse of women online is front and center. But it is worth noting that at least some of the complaints feminists have can be traced back… to other feminists.
This is, by the way, yet another reason why I do not accept the idea that “feminism” is just a name for “the idea that men and women are equal.” Clearly there is a lot more going on. Quite a lot more.
Last week Secular Pro-Life reported on an interesting case from Australia. A woman who (at the time) was 26 weeks pregnant with a healthy fetus believed that an abortion would ease her suicidal feelings. The problem is that there are no doctors in Australia (population 24 million) who are willing to perform an abortion on a healthy 26-week fetus. In the United States, by contrast, there are 4 such doctors. (There were 5 until Kermit Gosnell was locked away.)
I am not actually suggesting that any doctor will be forced to perform the abortion, but it does underscore the reality that “reproductive rights” are positive rather than negative rights. A negative right is a right to not have someone do something to you. A negative right to life, for example, means that nobody can kill you. But a positive right is a right to be given something. So a positive right to life might, for example, require someone else give you food or medicine. And thus, the Secular Pro-Life piece concludes:
Royal Women’s Hospital properly offered mental health care to the woman, and several individuals have come forward to adopt the child. But she remains fixated on abortion, and her case has become a rallying point for Australian abortion extremists. A local health minister “said she was concerned about limited access to abortion, particularly in regional areas of Victoria and was working on a new strategy for sexual and reproductive healthcare.”
What, short of conscripting doctors, would lead to a different result in this case?
I’m a little late with this post, since it came out in mid-October, but it’s about some political fundamentals and so it still applies. Besides, if you’re as depressed by Trump’s persistent popularity as I am, you need some good news. Yglesias’ main points in his article for Vox are that:
The GOP has a tremendous amount of political power right now, not only in the House and Senate but especially when you consider state-level positions across the nation.
A lot of the GOP infighting signals that the GOP actually has power worth fighting over and, more than that, the confidence that it can afford some infighting and still win
The Democrats have no real plan to regain power, but the GOP has at least two viable options to expand their own power base
This isn’t necessarily a prediction that the GOP is destined for success in the 2016 presidential campaign. The analysis has a lot more to do with the basically every other office in the United State (state and federal) except the White House. I’m not sure that GOP infighting is a clear-eyed as Yglesias seems to think (is there anything clear-eyed about Trump’s candidacy?), but I do think some of his analysis is very interesting, particularly this part:
Essentially every state on the map contains overlapping circles of rich people who don’t want to pay taxes and business owners who don’t want to comply with labor, public health, and environmental regulations. In states like Texas or South Carolina, where this agenda nicely complements a robust social conservatism, the GOP offers that up and wins with it. But in a Maryland or a New Jersey, the party of business manages to throw up candidates who either lack hard-edged socially conservative views or else successfully downplay them as irrelevant in the context of blue-state governance.
Democrats, of course, are conceptually aware of the possibility of nominating unusually conservative candidates to run in unusually conservative states. But there is a fundamental mismatch. No US state is so left-wing as to have created an environment in which business interests are economically or politically irrelevant. Vermont is not North Korea, in other words.
But there are many states in which labor unions are neither large nor powerful and non-labor national progressive donor networks are inherently populated by relatively affluent people who tend to be emotionally driven by progressive commitments on social or environmental issues. This is why an impassioned defense of the legality of late-term abortions could make Wendy Davis a viral sensation, a national media star, and someone capable of activating the kind of donor and volunteer networks needed to mount a statewide campaign. Unfortunately for Democrats, however, this is precisely the wrong issue profile to try to win statewide elections in conservative states.
In other words, the GOP can be competitive basically anywhere at the state level. This is why even several dark-blue states (Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois) have Democratic state legislatures but Republican governors. (Overall the GOP has 70% of state legislatures and almost 2/3rds of governors are from the GOP.) The GOP does this by abandoning it’s ideological base and just running based on business interests. But the DNC can’t do the opposite. There are several states where their equivalent to business interests (labor unions) are too weak, and so in order to compete at all they have to appeal to their own ideologues.
The one thing Yglesias doesn’t mention is this: if the GOP is actually the pragmatic and ideological flexible party while the DNC is more hobbled by their ideologues, why is the impression in the media basically the exact opposite. Everyone “knows” that the GOP is full of frothing-at-the-mouth crazies while the DNC has an image of balanced rationalism.
And that, I think, is the real problem. The GOP is truly closer to the values of most Americans whereas the DNC is responsive to the interests of an elite class that dominates the national conversation: Hollywood, the mainstream media, and higher education.
Which is also why this piece doesn’t actually instill a bunch of rah-rah partisan enthusiasm in me. I don’t see the road paved for GOP dominance and–frankly–the idea of the GOP in total charge actually makes me nervous. I mean, we mentioned Trump already, right? Look–assuming we’re talking about someone like Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush–I’ll take a future where the GOP dominates in House, Senate, and White House, but the proposition actually fills me with dread. It’s worth it for the SCOTUS seats, but I’d much rather see both parties competing for American voters across the nation than a conflict based on the GOP’s proficiency at state-level gerrymandering on the one hand and the DNC’s reliance on Hollywood/jouranlism/higher-education acting as unpaid PR flunkies on the other. There are no winners in that scenario.
One of the things people don’t realize about the pro-life movement is that “pro-life” is more than a euphemism for “anti-abortion.” There is a coherent philosophical outlook that underlies both the opposition to abortion and, for example, the opposition to legalized physician-assisted suicide. In both cases, there is a combination of (1) a deep-rooted belief that each human life has value, regardless of the capacity of the person in question and (2) a concern for the dignity and rights of society’s most vulnerable.
It is true that most of the pro-life movement is focused on the abortion issue most of the time, but that’s entirely natural: there are roughly 1 million abortions every year. That’s currently the biggest issue. But the movement also opposes legalizing physician-assisted suicide, and a couple of articles do a good job of explaining why.
First, from the Federalist, there is My Mom Just Died Of Brain Cancer. Here’s Why She Opposed Assisted Suicide. The article, by Mary Karner, explains why her mother Dr. Maggie Karner “used her last days on Earth” to campaign against physician-assisted suicide. The root of this opposition stems from the pro-life philosophy that I already mentioned. In an op-ed, Maggie Karner wrote that:
My brain may be cancerous, but I still have lots to contribute to society as a strong woman, wife and mother while my family can daily learn the value of caring for me in my last days with compassion and dignity.
The idea that a person’s dependence can be a blessing is a crucial and vital aspect of genuine humanism. We are not only valuable when we are strong and capable. We are also valuable when we are weak and incapable, because it is then that we give others the opportunity to sacrifice and to serve. Dr. Maggie Karner was not in denial. She didn’t think that, despite her debilitating and terminal diagnosis, she could keep positively contributing to her community or her family. She knew that, eventually, she would not be able to do so. But she understood that even then, she still had a vital role to play in the interdependent web of human society. Mary Karner agrees:
I’m here to say that she was right. No matter how hard it was and still is. She was so right. And the greatest honor of my life was to care for my mom in her last days.
Maggie Karner made another point as well. She raised the specter of a slippery-slope:
How long will it be before the right to die quickly devolves into the duty to die? What does this mean for all who are elderly, or disabled, or just wondering if they’ve become a burden to the family?
The important thing with slippery-slope arguments is to test them. Is the slope really slippery? And that brings us to the second article. This one is from the National Review: Assisted Suicide Increases Other Suicides. Wesley J. Smith states his thesis clearly:
I believe that assisted suicide advocacy pushes suicide generally because it communicates the message that self-termination is an acceptable way to end one’s suffering.
And then he backs it up with data. A new study in the Southern Medical Journal states find that, when physician-assisted suicide is legalized, there is an associated hike in self-inflicted suicide. This finding really underscores the risk Dr. Maggie Karner warned about: physician-assisted suicide isn’t just about providing a merciful death to those with terminal conditions. It changes the way we look at suicide. We are, as Smith writes, “becoming a pro-suicide culture.” This is inevitable. Once solution is seen as a good thing in some cases, as a solution, it is impossible for the scope of problems to which suicide is the answer not to begin to increase. And as it does, suicide will subtly shift from a mercy killing on behalf of someone who is suffering to an obligation of the old and the sick.
Humane societies care for their vulnerable members. They do not grease the slide towards death and call it mercy.
Two final points.
The first is that the pro-life attitude towards the law is far more nuanced than most critics would realize. The conventional logic is that the pro-life movement wants to ban abortion (for example) in order to coerce women into having children. This is so obvious that it seems strange to even question it. And yet, that’s not actually the case at all. Making something illegal is in fact almost never first and foremost an attempt to coercively modify human behavior. The criminal justice system does not exist to control behavior, but to provide consequences. Neither our laws nor our law enforcement agencies are set up to (for example) coerce people into not stealing or raping or murdering, but rather to catch and punish those who do after the fact. If we get a deterrent effect from that: great. But if we were actually in the business of enforcing laws via coercion, we’d have to start by getting rid of civil liberties.
On the contrary, the pro-life movement–and social conservatives in general–understand that “the law has a pedagogical function.” (That’s Smith citing U.C. Irvine professor of psychiatry Aaron Kheriaty.) In other words, there is a feedback mechanism between law and morality. It is impossible to legislate morality and foolish or insidious to try, but it is equally foolish or insidious to pretend that morality does not influence the law, or that laws do not influence morality. The biggest problem with Roe v. Wade is not that it formally permitted abortion, but rather that by enshrining abortion as a Constitutional right (in the United States the Constitution is our secular scripture) it essentially sacralized it. In a nation where abortion has been legalized gradually through the democratic process, the idea of “choice” would make much more sense because the law would have organically reflected people’s changing beliefs and would therefore reflect the nuanced and complex nature of abortion as a moral situation. But in a country where the highest court in the land determines that our founding document view abortion as a fundamental and inalienable civil right, all such nuance and complexity is wiped away.
Similarly, legalizing physician-assisted suicide (especially using “rights” rhetoric and especially if the courts are heavily involved) , will profoundly change the moral view of suicide in our nation, and that change will not be neatly contained within the category of suicides legally carried out by a physician. That’s what the evidence already demonstrates.
The second is an important clarification. The pro-life position holds that suicide is usually immoral, but it does not mandate that a person must be kept alive by all means necessary. This is a common false-choice fallacy, and it is simply not true. First–speaking legally–the right to refuse medical treatment (including the right to have someone with legal authority refuse it on you behalf) is an ancient aspect of our common law tradition. Second–speaking morally–the pro-life movement generally recognizes the Principle of Double Effect. Read the article for the full details, but here is the Cliff Notes version: you can’t deliberately kill someone to ease their suffering, but you can give them potentially lethally doses of pain medication if your sincere intent is to relieve suffering and not to bring about their death. In other words, the pro-life opposition to intentionally killing sick people doesn’t mean you have to make them suffer unnecessarily to keep them alive.
Just thought I’d get that one clarified, since I’ve seen it misunderstood (intentionally or not) on such a regular basis.
China ended its one-child policy this week, changing instead to a two-child policy. I don’t have much to say about it. A horrific, gendercidal attempt at social engineering that has led to immense human suffering has been softened. Yet, it is not enough. Sadly, as The Economist notes, many of those who wanted a second child have already been sterilized. I’m going to control myself and not lash out in anger over the lack of attention on my Facebook news feed or what seems to be actual support for the one-child policy in one form or another. Instead, I’ll just do what I usually do and post data:
Based on the now debunked threat of overpopulation that was popularized by Stanford University scholar Paul Ehrlich, the communist government subjected the Chinese people to forced sterilizations and abortions. Many newborn babies were either killed or left to die. Today, the Chinese population suffers from a dangerous gender imbalance that favors boys over girls at a ratio of 117:100, and a demographic implosion that threatens future economic growth and prosperity. In fact, as Human Progress advisory board member Matt Ridley shows in his book The Rational Optimist, population growth and economic expansion go hand in hand. The horrific consequences of the Chinese one-child policy are a reminder of what happens when governments are allowed to interfere in the deeply personal decisions of individual citizens and their families.
The claims of overpopulation doomsdayers were wrong. But those claims brought about immense misery. Let’s be grateful that we’re moving in a better direction.