Sunday, September 03, 2006

My thoughts on abortion

Posting has obviously been light as of late (i.e., the month of August is missing). That's because on August 10 my second daughter, Catelin Elizabeth, was born. Everyone is doing well physically, though my and my wife's sanity is taking a beating. In lieu of regular posting, I'll post a comment on abortion I wrote about 6 months ago in a comment on Patterico's site (I believe) slightly modified. Refute me if you can:

If you believe unborn babies have individual rights then abortion is simply a question of competing individual rights (the mother’s and the baby’s) to be decided by one's morality. Which gets us to question two - when does an unborn baby have individual rights?

Conception? That is sticky because many conceptions do not result in pregnancy (i.e., the zygote does not implant in the uterus but simply washes out in the next menstrual cycle). Also, what do we do with all those frozen zygotes out there?

I'll table this decision for now and argue from the premise that a baby is entitled to all individual human rights at least when the baby develops a brain stem. It may be earlier, but babies develop brain stems very early. An unborn baby with a brain stem is indistinguishable morally from a newborn baby. I’ve seen them both. There really is not much difference, other than size. You have to pull a Peter Singer and argue that infanticide should be legal if you believe that killing unborn babies with brain stems should be legal.

(Full disclosure: I just came from my wife's ultra-sound appointment for our second baby. He (I want a boy) is three months old now, just creeping out of his first trimester, nowhere near viability outside the womb. Yet he, like our first, was quite active in the ultra sound. I didn't see him suck his thumb, like I saw with our first at three months, but he's just as much of a baby now as he will be in six months when he's born. The thought that my wife could legally kill him (1) for any reason, (2) whenever she wants up to and including when he's half-way born (3) without even telling me, and (needless to say) (4) without my permission, boggles my mind. She would never do that though, which is one reason why I married her.)

What about the woman’s personal autonomy? Doesn’t she have the right to do what ever she wishes with her body? No, of course not and you are silly for even thinking such a thought. Not even the most radical libertarian (when I say radical, I mean a libertarian who would have no problem with doctors performing voluntary physical mutilation/amputation to satisfy perverse sexual desires) believes you have a right to kill another innocent human being with "your body."

But in any event, let’s give the personal autonomy argument some weight. Does the mother’s autonomy outweigh the baby’s right to life? As the father of now two children, one inside and one outside, and as any parent will tell you, believe us that babies are much MUCH less trouble on the inside than outside. If you think being pregnant is an inconvenience, try being a parent to a newborn. Being pregnant is a mild inconvenience. But I’m a man, you say. Yes, but I have a pregnant wife. I know from whence I speak.

If it is justifiable to kill your baby to avoid inconvenience to your personal autonomy, you ought to be able to kill your newborn, who is a LOT more of an inconvenience outside than inside. Since you can’t do that, you can’t kill your unborn baby for mere “personal autonomy” reasons.

Does it matter that once a baby is outside, anyone can sustain its life, but while it is inside, only the mother can? To answer that it does matter, you have to also hold the position that it would not be murder if parents let their newborn starve, because it was a mild inconvenience to care for him/her, in a situation when no one else was willing or able to take care of the baby. The fact that adoption exists does not relieve parents of their primary moral responsibility to care for their child. If a couple is, say, sailing on a boat across the Pacific Ocean with their newborn, and their shipmates decide not to help with the baby, or they have no shipmates, can they just give up feeding their child whenever they feel like they are being too inconvenienced? Think of any other situation where immediate help from others is not available. Can you simply allow your baby to die for convenience reasons? I hope you answer no.

Put another way, the situation with a live baby would have to be so dire, that the parents’ life must be in danger, to justify killing and/or neglecting it to death. There may be extreme circumstances usually only the subject of fiction where such a situation arises. The same rules apply to an unborn baby. Most pro-life advocates support a “life of the mother” exception in the dire situation where we must choose between saving only one of two innocent lives. This is a terribly thorny philosophical question with no clear consensus. (My BA is in Philosophy, I know.)

Is the unborn baby just a parasite? Ok, then is a leach a parasite? A leach sucks on you from the outside. Ticks suck on you from the outside. Whether an organism sucks on you from the inside or outside makes no difference as to whether it is a parasite. Thus, newborn babies are parasites just as much as unborn babies. “Detaching” your newborn baby “parasite” without providing for alternate sustenance (i.e., adoption) is murder. Since killing born babies is murder, so is killing unborn babies. Formula? Give me a break. It is easier to breast feed than stir up formula everywhere you go. From a pure labor requirement point of view, breast feeding is much less of a drain on bodily resources.

I’m sure some of you who are pro-killing babies will complain about the dire circumstances many women find themselves in, where abortion is the only way out. I dispute that on the facts. At least in the U.S., it is hard to conceive of a possible situation where the situation is so dire that the woman cannot give birth to the child then give it up for adoption.

What about social stigma? Suppose an unmarried 15 year-old girl from a devout Christian family in a devout Christian community gets pregnant. Assume we can be reasonably sure this will ruin her social status and she will be forever ostracized from her family and community. Is a secret abortion acceptable then? Rephrase the question thusly – does social ostracization justify murder? I would feel quite bad for the young pregnant woman. I would not allow her to kill an innocent life to avoid serious social troubles. Michael Douglas killed Glenn Close (eventually) in Fatal Attraction, but only after she became a knife-wielding maniac trying to kill him. What if, at the first sign that she might blow the whistle to his wife on their affair, he off’ed Glenn? He sure would avoid a lot of social stigma, just as bad as the 15 year-old pregnant devout Christian would suffer. I don’t see the moral distinction between the two cases.

In short, I see no moral distinction between an unborn baby with a brain stem and a newborn baby. Every argument I’ve heard attempting to justify why it is ok to kill your unborn baby in certain circumstances simply falls apart when you apply those identical circumstances to a newborn baby. I hope people will try in this thread. I hope their failure will convince fence-sitters to oppose infanticide.