AUTHOR’S NOTE: I was planning on publishing this post earlier, but of course all of the stories about the DC scandals broke. So I’m just going to publish this now. My intention is to make this the last political post on this website for a time, and then switch gears to writing more stuff on, well, writing, productivity, and other matters. But I still need to get this off my chest, as this is, sadly, a very serious issue which should not be. I’m also sick of being called names because I am pro-choice. This has got to end.
Here is my view.
When the Gosnell trial of the so-called “abortion doctor” in Michigan broke a few months ago, there was a lot of anger. Now that Gosnell has been convicted of the murder of 3 babies born alive, there are of course many attacks on the pro-choice position and upholding the pro-life argument. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t like Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion in this country.
Naturally, the usual pro-life language reared it’s head. “Abortion is murder!” people scream. “Babykillers!” they shout in our faces–both in real life and online. It should come as no surprise that I think both statements are totally and utterly false and without merit. That is the intent of this post, to explain why I am pro-choice and why the argument that abortion is murder is wrong. First, I don’t expect to actually convert anyone. People are far too entrenched on both sides of the debate. I’m simply expressing my opinion. Second, I assume that my expressing my pro-choice opinion, I will offend a lot of people, but I will leave it to Stephen Fry to speak for me on this issue:
Now, with that out of the way, let me begin.
Where do rights come from? That is the foundation that under-girds all of political philosophy and indeed politics. Our natural rights as human beings. Even the most entrenched utilitarian still appeals to natural rights to make his philosophy work. It is the skeletal framework that keeps the skyscraper of civilization standing tall.
The religious person, and indeed, most conservatives, argue that our natural rights come from God (hence the phrase “God-given rights.”) This theory has its origins in Enlightenment thinkers who nonetheless still believed in a deity. As an igtheist, I naturally reject that theory, and I think even those who believe in a deity probably should too (for more on that, visit this article written by a “secular humanist theist:” Secular Humanism: Not Just for Atheists).
To me, where rights come from is from human sapience. We have the ability to think, to reason. We, alone on planet Earth, are self-aware. It makes us human beings and not animals. Therefore, from our cognitive ability, we have the natural right to liberty, to have freedom of thought and speech and religion (or lack thereof.) And because we have a natural right to liberty, we also have a natural right to life, to keep that liberty going (because, obviously, killing us would also attack our natural right to liberty.) And derived from those two rights, there is a natural right to property, or to owning that which we legitimately acquire. And also, I would argue, we have a natural right to revolution–that when institutions threaten our natural rights, we have the right, or perhaps better described as the duty, to reform or fix those institutions. Whether that involves public education, advocacy, electoral campaigns, referenda, civil disobedience, or at the very extreme end of the scale, armed revolt, we have a right to fix those institutions that harm us and threaten our rights.*
Now why am I going into rights theory? I delve into this academic subject because there is really only one category of entity that has rights: people. Inanimate objects such as rocks, computers, and my foot do not have rights. Ideas and dreams do not rights. Fictional characters do not have rights. Abstract notions such as “a society” or “a culture” do not have rights either. There is some argument over whether animals have rights; personally I come down against animals’ having rights, but that’s a different topic. The point is, individual persons have rights. And that leads directly into one of the major points surrounding the abortion debate.
What this debate is really about is personhood. At what point does a lump of cells and biological material become a person? Now that’s a very tricky thing to answer, but I really think the go-to standby for the pro-life crowd, that personhood begins at conception (or fertilization), is fundamentally flawed, and if I dare say so in what has been up to now a fairly serious blog post….utterly stupid. Here’s what I’m on about.
What do we have at conception? We have the first part of the pregnancy, a zygote. And what is a zygote? A cell. A big fat cell, mind you, but a cell nonetheless. And what does a zygote look like?
Now, can you really look at that blob, and say, “Yes, that is unmistakably a human person”? I bet $20 that if you looked at that without any accompanying text there would be less than a 50/50 chance you would guess it’s a human cell at all.
But let me move on for a second. The zygote stays like this for about five days, and then, on the fifth day,
it rose from the dead it starts splitting and becomes a blastocyst. Which looks like this:
Now, what I am trying to get at here through my admittedly snide commentary is that these are clearly just cells, not people. And if we’re going to say that human personhood begins at conception, then we must also say that every single one of the cells in our body is also a human being. If we go to the bathroom and urinate, and flush out those old cells, we’re actually murdering hundreds if not thousands if not millions of elderly people. Any time you scrape yourself and you bleed we’re facing a national tragedy of monumental proportions. And, for the guys (women, you may just slap me now or look away if you prefer), every time you masturbate, you are murdering millions of your own children. You are worse than Hitler.
It’s pretty obvious then that this is a nonsensical position to take. Granting personhood to a cell is not reasonable. But then where do we draw the line? At the embryo? At the fetus? They certainly look human, don’t they? And the major organs have developed…except for one particular one.
Yes. The brain.
As I examined the abortion issue, and as it became clear to me this was an argument over personhood, I had to find out when the neonatal cortex–i.e., the brain–was actually coming online. In 2005, Dr. Mark Rosen of the University of California, noted in an interview to Discover magazine that the wiring for the brain doesn’t really form until 28 weeks into a pregnancy, well into the third trimester. In 2001, a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in the UK told Parliament that things didn’t start forming until 24-26 weeks.
So, if we take the view that rights derive from higher cognitive functions in your brain and thus that is what defines a person (an argument which, I grant, is not followed by a lot of other people), then abortion can only be made illegal at, the earliest, 22-24 weeks, maybe 26-28. So we can set that as a “pro-life” line of no return. But what’s interesting is that according to the CDC, 91.7% of all abortions occur before the 14th week of pregnancy–and over 64% of those took place before the ninth week. That leaves only 8.3% of all abortions occuring in the 14th week or later. In fact, only 1.3% of all abortions occurred 21 weeks or later. That’s an incredibly tiny amount that occur during the period where abortion is actually threatening a person.
What this means is that the abortion debate is largely irrelevant, pointless, and stupid. Yes, I will agree with the pro-life people that we should draw the line at some point–but I draw it far later than they would, at a time period when almost nobody is having them, and so functionally I am pro-choice. I mean, why have an argument over something that happens in fewer than 2% of cases?
But what is also means is that, clearly, abortion is not murder, and calling pro-choice people “baby-killers” is just wrong. (This is also not even including the part where pro-choice people are not explicitly advocating for abortion, merely for women to have the choice, hence the name, of having one or not.)
Now, if you’re a pregnant woman and you see a scan of your fetus and suddenly you feel all emotional and think “I can’t go through with an abortion,” that’s okay. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that whatsoever. It is your choice. I will not demonize those women who think about having an abortion and reject it. I just want to make that clear.
Now, to address some criticisms which I know I will receive: What about people who are brain-dead? Or in a coma? Or who are mentally handicapped? This actually comes up quite a bit. So what is my answer? Well, it begins with something you don’t see very often, which is unfortunate because we should. It’s a bit of humility.
I. DON’T. KNOW.
No, really, I don’t. These are issues that I’ve been grappling with for some time now. I’ll take a stab at them, but that’s all they’ll be.
- Brain-dead people: Well, if you’re brain dead…..you’re dead. That’s now the medical standard for death, since so many people with heart death end up being resuscitated. But if your brain goes, you go.
- Coma: The way I see this is that the brain is still there, the cognition is all still there–it’s just locked inside and can’t get to the surface. That’s very different from a early-term fetus or embryo which doesn’t have cognition at all.
- Mentally handicapped: Here, there is cognition, it’s just damaged, or perhaps a better term will be “suboptimal.” (There’s really no way of getting around this, unfortunately.) However, that’s a far cry from something that has no cognition at all.
- Children: For the most part, I consider children to “probationary adults,” not yet fully rational, but still cognitional. I’ve heard arguments that children aren’t sentient until they turn 7, but I mostly regard that kind of stuff as crap.
Now let’s say you’ve read everything I’ve written so far and you’re still pro-life. You still think that fetuses are human persons. Fine. But you should still be pro-choice. Why? It’s really simple: do you want to give government the power to insert itself into a woman’s uterus and start dictating what goes on in there?
If you give the government to control what happens inside your own body, then you’ve given them control over everything. Drug prohibition, diet control, hell at that point the government could probably tell you what you could or couldn’t wear. And a government that has that power makes everything else in the world meaningless. If you can’t even control your own body, then how are you going to have any liberty, any freedom, make any choice, lead any sort of life? If you can’t even control your own body, wouldn’t you be a slave?
Wouldn’t letting the government into a woman’s body open up the door to even more abuses by government? Even more tyranny? Even more of the sort of shenanigans that we see now, every day, by the Obama Administration?
Whatever way you lean politically, the only choice on abortion is pro-choice.
As I said when I started this post, I didn’t expect to change anyone’s opinion. I really, really don’t. But this is where I stand. And I would take it as a major kindness if you would stop labeling me, and people like me, as murderers, because we have come to the logical conclusion that personhood begins later than you would like it to. Reality may not be the way you like it, but screaming about it doesn’t help anyone, certainly not your own cause.
And if anyone has been offended by anything I’ve said here, let me again point you to Stephen Fry:
*It should be noted that I’m not a professional moral philosopher and this is probably not the most rigorous of natural rights theory; however, it is what makes sense to me, although it may be changed in the future.