Fetuses: Not your body.

Posted: December 19, 2010 in Philosophy, Politics

Since I mentioned abortion in my last post, I figure I’ll follow it up with my exposition on that topic.  This is another highly politicized issue where I’ve never felt strongly about a particular outcome, but I have felt strongly about how it’s discussed.






If you’re either of these people, I disagree with you.  But if I had to pick one as being more wrong, it would be the one on the left (both geometrically and politically).

The statement “abortion is murder” works semantically because the term “murder” is so poorly defined that you can apply it to just about anything.  The mistake this person is making is assuming that just because you call it “murder”, you’ve won the argument.  PETA says “Meat is Murder”.  Ok.  I’m not going to argue with that.  I’m going to keep right on eating meat, perfectly content to be a “murderer”.

The person on the left, however, is making the claim that a fetus can be part of her body.  She is essentially saying that the fetus is not a body itself.  How does that work?  At what point does the fetus become its own body?  I’ve heard some people claim that the fetus is a “parasite” on the mother (keep it classy, pro-choicers) and that it doesn’t become its own “person” with its own “body” until “the point of viability”, where “the baby can survive on its own outside the womb”.  Can a newborn baby “survive on its own outside the womb”?  Of course not.  This argument requires that babies and toddlers are part of their mother’s body, and are subject to termination at any time.  Not until the child is ready to venture out into the world and find its own sustenance does it gain “personhood” and escape the threat of abortion.  Let’s face the obvious:  the nature of reproduction is that the female of the species has a separate body, a separate person growing inside her.  Trying to call a fetus a “piece of tissue” or something like that is obfuscatory, absurd, and does nothing to further your cause.  It just makes you look like an ass.

Why do you suppose it is that pro-abortion activists make such ludicrous claims?  Well, let’s look at who the activists are:  primarily women and young people.  What could their motivation possibly be?  My answer may astonish you, knock you right out of your chair:  they want to be able to have sex without dealing with the unwanted consequences of it.  Yes, that’s right:  all this vitriol, all this screaming about rights and freedom, etc, etc is a smokescreen for crass, unadulterated selfishness.  Not that I think there’s anything wrong with selfishness.  I just have a problem with the bullshit arguments that are presented in its place.  If you want to be able to have sex, and then abort your baby when you accidentally get pregnant, fine.  Just fucking say so. Of course, no one wants to admit it when they’re just looking out for #1.

Believe it or not, there are decent, rational arguments to be made for permitting abortion that have nothing to do with shitty philosophising.  The more advanced pro-choice activists have these arguments in their arsenal, but routinely destroy their own credibility by reverting back to “rights” talk.  Let me say at this point that if you believe fetuses have souls, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for us to connect on this subject.  I’m an atheist; I don’t believe in gods or souls.  As far as I can see, we’re all just sacks of meat bouncing around in close proximity to each other in a world with scarce resources, and we have to make up rules in order for us to all get along nicely.  One of those rules has long been “Thou Shalt not Kill”.  (And yes, I believe humans invented this rule, not God.)  When this rule was created, you know, thousands of years ago, children were almost universally seen as valuable.  The more the better.  Hell, the whole purpose of women was just to kick one baby out after another.  As long as they were married.  If not, the woman would have to induce an abortion with a dagger or something.  It was either that or get stoned to death for adultery.  So, these other caveats *ahem* aside, people had no way to foresee the necessity or desire to abort kids.  It’s not like people had other things going for them.  They lived brutal lives of drudgery, and for the most part had little in the way of material possessions.  Kids were one’s only shot at greatness.  They were probably a great source of entertainment, too.

In the modern world, things are different.  Kids just don’t matter that much to us.  We have all sorts of cool things we can do with our time and spend our money on.  We can go on trips (and who wants to bring kids on those?), we can buy nice cars and houses, we can watch TV or play videogames, or just focus on our highly rewarding career.  There’s a lot of upward mobility in the modern world, and we don’t want our kids to get in the way of that.  And when people do have kids, its generally for a different set of reasons than in the pre-industrial era.  Kids are no longer our social security net — the government takes care of that.  In fact with child labor outlawed, mandatory K-12 education instituted, and the “cult of childhood” ingrained in our culture, children are now a massive expense.  People with prospects in life don’t want to have kids unless and until they’re going to be able to “do it right”.  Which brings us to another aspect of modern child-rearing:  it’s an ego-project.  Helicopter parents spend countless hours researching child development, and “the right” way to raise your child, and use the performance of their children as a status symbol.  In a world where the economic importance of children is nil, a completely different set of motives takes over.

Is any of this bad?  I’m not going to make a judgment on that now.  What I will say is this:  if children have no practical benefit, and are a drain on society’s resources, we should take any and all measures possible to ensure that people who don’t want kids don’t have them.  Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis of abortion.  What are the negative consequences of it?  With the possible exception of some minor psychic trauma for the mothers who get them, none that I can see.  What are the negative consequences of banning abortion?  Widespread poverty, illiteracy, overuse of resources, gang violence, back-alley abortions.  I know those of you who believe fetuses have souls see all of this as insubstantial in the face of MURDER.  And I can’t argue with you, unless you want to have a theological discussion.  I don’t.  But I can help you with your marketing.  If you want to stop people from having abortions, then don’t do this:










Periodically these people come onto the UW campus and agitate.  While I’m sure most people are shocked the first time they see these photos, I doubt many go away with a new-found resolve to never get an abortion.  What is DOES do is desensitise everyone to the sight of dead, bloody, torn-up fetus.  I’ve seen these photos so many times now, thanks to the pro-life activists, that I hardly bat an eye at them.  Thanks guys.  Now when my girlfriend gets an abortion, I might even ask to take the fetus home so I can dissect it.


Anyway, I think I’ve spoken my peace, and made my main points clear:  that the vast majority of the people involved in this debate are totally irrational.  It’s a debate worth having in a civilised fashion, and again, no easy answers.  Though I do think keeping abortion legal is probably a good idea.  I would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, it’s one of the worst Supreme Court rulings of all time, and it IS an example of judicial activism.  Laws should be created though the legislature, not the courts.  If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will likely remain legal in most states, and I predict that it will gain greater and greater acceptance as we enter the posthuman era of cloning, cybernetics, and consciousness transfer.

  1. Jesse says:

    Oh you defiantly have to post a blog on the “cult of childhood” now.

    I will say one of the more intelligent pro lifer arguments I’ve heard is they expressed a fear of a world where abortion is simply seen as a tool for “safe sex”. They had a sort of fear of that becoming a paradigm. While I don’t agree it should be repealed, I do understand the logic of what was said to me.

  2. Ingrid says:

    Firstly, I just wanted to clarify that usually when people talk about a fetus being viable, what they mean is that the its vital organs are developed fully-enough that its body could function outside of womb. Even Rousseau, who in the 18th century, made a (rather naive) argument for sending toddlers into nature so that they might learn fend for themselves at a young age (as animals do), believed that this could not be done until the child was finished nursing. So, even by his logic, your point about the semantics of the 1st person’s sign doesn’t really hold up. And the second part of your argument falls apart when you consider the fact that it’s these same “women and young people” who are also fighting for greater access to birth control and against abstinence-only sex-education in order to prevent against unwanted pregnancies. Lastly I find it highly offensive that you, as a man, feel like you have the obligation or the right to define pro-choice “women and young people’s” motivations in campaigning for a woman’s right to access abortion; your just perpetuating the idea that women’s opinions need to be validated by/interpreted through men’s opinions.

  3. The only thing I’m really interested in with this debate, is how abortion policy actually affects people. Here’s the thing.

    No one wants to have to have an abortion. Arguments about souls and bodies aside, abortions come with potentially fantastically expensive medical complications, are not particularly cheap even when everything goes right, and are usually rather traumatic for everyone involved. As far as real world, measurable consequences for having irresponsible sex goes, this ranks pretty high. Even if legal and readily available, they are a terrible thing to contemplate.

    I assume then, that the goal with anti-abortion policy, is to reduce the number of abortions people are having to the lowest number possible.

    If I thought that the evidence pointed to making abortions illegal being the way to do that, then I would be for it.

    As it turns out, the research I’ve done does not point that way. (If anyone would like trade studies, I’m all for that. I tried to be as objective as possible when I researched this – but I didn’t do the studies myself, so I can only try to pick peer reviewed, repeated things, and hope for the best.)

    Anyway, the studies and research seem to point to preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, as being the answer for reducing abortion rates. I think its safe to assume that abortions, even if illegal, would not vanish – they will simply become more dangerous for the people involved. Where abortions are illegal in combination with low access to birth control, no comprehensive sex education, and high poverty rate…abortion rates around the world in these areas, in these conditions, are the highest, and most dangerous.

    Preventing the unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortion would mean educating people on their options, giving them access to birth control, and making sure they understand how their bodies work. And yes, abstinence is a totally viable option, but it needs to be taught along side safe sex techniques, birth control techniques, and address how the body operates.

    So, in this political discussion, Im not pro-choice or pro-life. I consider myself to be pro-abortion-prevention, and these happen to be the steps I think most likely to reduce abortion rates to the lowest number possible in an imperfect world. I could be wrong though. *shrug*

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Tara.

      It seems to me that if you’re reasonably intelligent, preventing an unwanted pregnancy is not that difficult. Unfortunately, there are plenty of numbskulls running around with high time preferences, making babies and then regretting it later. I guess this is one way in which I’m pro-eugenics, or at least pro- social engineering. I think we should make sure that as many humans as possible are created in a fully conscious way, rather than being unwanted accidents. So I am actively in favor of abortion.

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