Pandaemonium

ABORTION, MEHDI HASAN, FREE SPEECH AND THE LEFT

Mehdi Hasan, political director of the Huffington Post UK, has an essay in the current issue of the New Statesman, of which he was until recently the political editor, arguing that the progressive stance on abortion is to oppose it. The article inevitably created a storm on Twitter and elsewhere on the web, a storm at which Hasan took umbrage.  ‘Time to add abortion to the list of issues – Islam, Iran’s nuclear programme etc – that can’t be discussed on Twitter’, he tweeted. He added that he was ‘v disappointed that lefties have confirmed every rightwing prejudice today: we close down debate, we enforce orthodoxies etc’. I will return later to the response to Hasan’s argument, but first a few words on his pro-life argument:

‘Abortion is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and “defending the innocent”, while left-wingers fetishise “choice”, selfishness and unbridled individualism.’

To pose the issues in this fashion is, as Mehdi Hasan must know, to distort the debate almost to meaninglessness. Yes, pro-abortionists talk about ‘choice’, but in slating ‘selfishness and unbridled individualism’ Hasan is willfully confusing the promotion of consumer choice and free market policies with the (collective) struggles that women have had to wage to win the right to make basic decisions about their own bodies. And yes, the right often talks of ‘equality’ and ‘human rights’ but it is striking that such equality and rights seemingly apply in this case only to the fetus and not to the woman.

The right to abortion is important because without the right to have control of their bodies in the way that men do women cannot enter the public sphere on an equal footing.  The defence of abortion rights is, therefore, the opposite of what Hasan suggests: not the assertion of individual selfishness, but the protection of that which is necessary for women fully to engage in collective life and not be tied to the private sphere. In any case, to deny women choice in this context is not to remove choice from the picture; it is simply to assert the right of someone else to make those choices for women.  In what way is that to promote equality?

Hasan makes the same error as many rightwing free marketers: he sees ‘autonomy’ and ‘society’ as somehow opposed to each other, contrasting ‘socialism (with its emphasis on equality, solidarity and community)’ with ‘liberalism (with its focus on individual freedom, autonomy and choice)’. In fact it is only in relation to others than individual autonomy can find expression. And it is only through the nurturing of autonomy that social relations can flourish.  Or, to put it another way, if we truly want to defend ‘equality, solidarity and community’, we also, paradoxically, have to defend ‘individual freedom, autonomy and choice’. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the debate over abortion.

‘”My body, my life, my choice.” Such rhetoric has always left me perplexed. Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?’

Hasan assumes here what he needs to demonstrate. His starting point is that a fetus’ humanity is a given and therefore not to protect it is to refuse to protect the weak and the vulnerable or to give voice to the voiceless. But whether or not a fetus is a ‘child’ or a ‘baby’ is precisely what the abortion debate is about.

The issue of abortion raises profound questions about what it means to be human, about when and how do we become human, about the nature of rights, and about who possesses them. Hasan was, of course, writing a magazine column, not a philosophical treatise. Nevertheless, if he wants to accuse supporters of abortion rights, and indeed women who have abortions, of ‘selfishness and unbridled individualism’, of not ‘protecting the weak and vulnerable’, or ‘giving a voice to the voiceless’, then he has to root those accusations in some real argument. If he wants to attack pro-abortionists for not defending ‘vulnerable children’ or ‘mute babies’, he has first to make the case that a fetus is a child or a baby that needs protection in the way that a child or a baby postpartum requires protection. This he signally fails to do. And this failure suggests that Hasan, like many pro-lifers, is simply deploying dog-whistle imagery and emotional rhetoric as a means of avoiding answering those difficult questions.

So let us (very) briefly tackle some of the questions that the abortion debate raises. A cell created by a fusion of egg and sperm is (if we ignore the possibility of cloning) a necessary condition of being a human being. It is not a sufficient condition. A human being is created in the long journey from being a single almost-invisible cell to becoming a self-conscious moral agent. That change does not happen at any one instant, but slowly and over time, so that, almost imperceptibly, a qualitatively different being is created.  But while this is a process, and there is no point at which a ‘non-human’ becomes a ‘human’, or a ‘non-person’ becomes a ‘person’, there are moral boundaries that mark qualitative shifts. Birth is one of those boundaries.

A fetus is a physical part of woman’s body. That is why we talk of  ‘a woman’s right to choose’.  Abortion is not about the killing of another human being but about a woman exercising her right to control her own body. The moral status of a fetus that is wanted, and that the woman sees as an unborn child, is different from the moral status of an unwanted fetus that she wishes to abort. Most societies recognize this in the moral and legal distinctions they draw between the abortion of an unwanted fetus and the killing of a wanted one.

Birth transforms that relationship. An entirely physical attachment becomes primarily, and increasingly, social. A fetus is an extension of the physical body of a woman. A newborn is part of the moral community of humans. Its moral status no longer depends upon the desires of the woman but derives from its membership of the moral community. In that change lies the moral difference between a fetus and a newborn, and between abortion and murder.

To put it another way, to be human is not simply a matter of biology, as Hasan and other pro-lifers seem to assert. Certainly there are physical, biological, genetic markers and boundaries that define us as human. But one also becomes human through a process by which we are socialized into the human community.  To ignore that is to ignore a fundamental aspect of human existence that, to the left, is vitally important.

‘Yes, a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body – but a baby isn’t part of her body. The 24-week-old foetus can’t be compared with an appendix, a kidney or a set of tonsils; it makes no sense to dismiss it as a “clump of cells” or a “blob of protoplasm”.’

It is true that a 24-week old fetus is not simply a ‘blob of protoplasm’.  But neither is it a human being or a person.  A fetus is physically attached to the mother’s body. Its relationship to the human world is primarily neither social nor moral but through that physical attachment. Hence, uniquely, its moral status derives, as I have already suggested, from the way that the woman views it, either as an unborn child or as an unwanted fetus.

A newborn may be physically helpless but it is not physically attached to another human being, and there is a qualitative change in its relationship to the wider human world. That relationship is now primarily, and increasingly, social and moral.  One does not, in other words, have to see a fetus as a ‘blob of protoplasm’ not to see it as a human person, or as possessed of rights that trump those of the woman.

‘To be honest, I would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith. I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.’

Nor do I. I, too, had the same feelings of awe and wonder and astonishment in watching the scans of my daughter, and at her birth. But that was because I, and my partner, had already thought of her as a person. Had the circumstances been different, however, and had my partner had to have an abortion, my response, and hers, would undoubtedly have been different. To use a parent’s response to the scan of a fetus that they regard as a person as a means of undermining the response of a woman who does not regard a fetus in the same way, and who wants to have an abortion, is once more to deploy emotional rhetoric in place of reasoned argument.

‘What I would like is for my fellow lefties and liberals to try to understand and respect the views of those of us who are pro-life, rather than demonise us as right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists.’

It is a claim that Hasan continued on Twitter following the publication of the article. ‘I get called ‘evil’, a ‘dickhead’, ‘sexist’, ‘mysogynist’, a ‘dictator’ and ‘the enemy’’, he complained. ‘So much for having a debate on a moral issue…’. He warned others against taking a pro-life stance: ‘You will get lynched online!’

I disagreed with much of the abuse that was thrown at Hasan; and it is true that there is often a mob mentality directed at those who challenge liberal orthodoxies.  But before getting too heated about the invective coming his way, perhaps Hasan could have looked at the construction and language of his own argument. His ‘you’re all so horrid to me’ accusations are a bit rich coming from someone who began his article by dismissing his critics as ‘fetishising selfishness and unbridled individualism’ and as being heartless about the ‘weak and vulnerable’, and who quotes Christopher Hitchens to the effect that ‘to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain . . . break some bones and rupture some organs.’ This is hardly an expression of the calm, reasoned argument that Hasan supposedly champions.

‘No other leftie’, Hasan tweeted, ‘will dare touch this subject given the ludicrous reaction I got today.’ All I can say is that I’m glad that supporters of abortion rights have thicker skins. Some of the abuse thrown at Hasan might have been unwarranted, but it was exceptionally mild compared to the vitriol (and, indeed, violence) continually directed at abortion activists, and indeed at women wanting abortions. Replacing rational debate with emotional rhetoric has been the hallmark of much pro-life argument. If Hasan really wants to challenge those who aim to stymie free speech and cut down reasoned debate, he might begin by looking more closely at pro-life tactics. Hasan wrote the article to elicit a response. He got the response. Then to play the victim card –  that was what was truly ludicrous.

Let me return finally to the question of whether the pro-life stance is a progressive position. It is true that one can oppose abortion and not necessarily be a ‘right-wing reactionary or medieval misogynist’. It is also true that many who oppose abortion are indeed ‘right-wing reactionaries or medieval misogynists’. The fact is, the argument for abortion rights came out of the struggle for women’s equality. Much of the argument against abortion rights comes from those opposed to such equality. The illusory rights of the fetus have been, and are being, used to curtail the real rights of women. If Hasan wants to make a left-wing case for opposition to abortion he will have to do more than pull at emotional heartstrings and play the victim.

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31 comments

  1. Regarding birth being one of those “moral boundaries that mark qualitative shifts”, what does that say about our decision to limit abortion after 24 weeks?

    Should supporters of abortion rights argue for abortions up until the point of birth, or does the acceptance that abortions should be limited after a certain point in the pregnancy constitute a tacit acceptance that at some point the moral status of the foetus changes in the womb?

    • aerliss

      I don’t speak for every supporter of choice but I’m of the opinion that until a foetus takes its first breath it is not fully a person. My stance is supported by the science (as I understand it, I am willing to change on that point), the higher functions of the brain, those that traditionally separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom, do not kick in until that first breath is taken. My stance is also supported by my reading of my holy book; the soul is imparted to us through God’s breath, upon our first breath. So emotional viewing of a fully formed foetus aside, I have no issue with the 24 week limit being dropped.

      I am most likely very alone in this stance and reasoning.

    • aerliss

      For me, personally ,the biology as I understand it and my reading of my holy book say that we take a step away from pure animal to “human” upon our first breath. That’s just me though.

      I had a longer response but WP deleted it.

    • @kadhimshubber, I think the time-limit debate is a bit of a red herring. No woman wants to have a late abortion. A small number are forced to by circumstances. As the old slogan goes, ‘As early as possible, as late as necessary’.

  2. It is also worth noting that while you often hear left-wing “pro-lifers” talking about protecting the innocent unborn and decrying choice as being shallow and selfish, you rarely see them fighting for, say, compulsory organ donation, or even a compulsory once-yearly blood donation. This would save so many lives, and at such a comparatively small cost to the individual!

    I would have a tiny bit more respect for those who complain that men never get a say in abortion (those all-female Parliaments running the show!!), if they were to fight equally hard for compulsory physical sacrifices from everyone, not just women.

  3. This is really very good – thank you for writing so calmly and clearly!

    – “A fetus is a physical part of woman’s body.”

    I would put it more strongly than that; a foetus is _made of_ the woman’s body. Something that has been elided in the discussion of women’s right to their own bodies ever since Aristotle decreed that the mother makes no contribution to the soul of the child she carries is that a womb isn’t just a passive container for the developing pregnancy, but an active part of a process that the woman’s entire body participates in (and makes sacrifices for).

    In the current state of scientific knowledge, a baby without sperm is possible; a baby without a uterus is unthinkable. The fact that the woman literally _creates_ the developing foetus makes the “it’s not part of her body” argument silly at best, sinister in its Aristotelianism at worst.

  4. KhanumBilquis

    Why start a discussion on abortion, free speech, and the left with a photo of a very pregnant naked woman at the top of the piece? It kept me from taking your piece seriously. And it also put a woman’s crotch at eye level as I attempted to read the first paragraph.

  5. KhanumBilquis

    Oh, here it is: “And this failure suggests that Hasan, like many pro-lifers, is simply deploying dog-whistle imagery and emotional rhetoric as a means of avoiding answering those difficult questions.” You’re engaging in this too, with your choice of images. Did you not realize that?

    • I have to say I find this argument somewhat bizarre. In what way is the image of a pregnant woman a ‘dog-whistle image’ in the context of an argument in defence of abortion rights? If anything, the very opposite. The image was meant, btw, to be ironic; I was, after all, attacking in my post the idea of women as little more than baby-carriers. And if that’s all that it took to keep you from taking my piece seriously, then all I can say is that you seem to be easily distracted from following an argument.

    • Juergen Martin Moeller

      Did you not realize that Kenan Maliks set of arguments is much more subtle and precise? By the way: I am against abortion – but against ideological Pro Life too! I was lucky that my parents in most difficult circumstances, but with all facilities for abortion, accepted me as no. seven.
      I wish that kind of optimism to all pregnant women. But I would never question their right to decide against the fetus. My father was a doctor and worked as protestant in a catholic clinic. They anyway had the habitude there to just throw away the fetus after a spontaneous abortus.

      It was my protestant father who changed this unsensible tradition and introduced for the mourning women a little ceremony and symbolic funerals for the fetuses.

      In a public discussion with a jesuite priest I stopped him once with this true story, when he exposed his dogmatic position, that human life begins with the insemination….

  6. CrazyBear

    another discussion going metaphysical…
    Contraception is legalization is most country of OCDE, and is supposed to be the proper answer to undesired pregnancies for all ages. whether women in their 20′s choosing longer studies. or women in their 30′s afraid of carrier degradation. And I mean there are ways to fight the later without arguing about foetus rights, precisely by improving worker’s rights.
    The fact is that the number of unwanted pregnancies is clearly on the decline for the past 30 years. [in France it went from less than 1/2 of total pregnancies, to like 1/3]. Moreover 1/4 of women having abortion did miss use contraception, so there is still answers to bring, before confronting “pro life”.
    Because despite democratization of contraception, abortion numbers are not decreasing… nor increasing! In fact in France, 30 years ago, unplanned pregnancies ended in abortions for 40% of cases, while now we are at 60%. I get the argument about more volatile sentimental life for young women, and carrier/financial concerns for older women, still you can’t answer anger over eased access to abortion by “Fuck It, its my body”. At least if you don’t want to hear back insults like “comfort abortions”.
    Finally you should look at what people are doing. In the US the majority of abortion are done in the 1st trimester. In France, 3/4 are done before the 8th week! there is no need to even consider bs argument about 24th week embryo. In the real world, it would not change much if the US or Britain brought down the limit of abortion down to 10/12 weeks, as are done in most EU countries. I feel inclined to adopt such stance, while avoiding your scientific debates about “foetus with a living human” and a clean yes/no answer that would allow/deny abortions anytime. I know nothing about these scientific studies, nor care, and feel its a lawyer thing.

      • CrazyBear

        But some contraception have the conveniance to be necessary for fighting the spread of STDs, so the case for subsidising it could be made easily. Whereas asking the governemnt to impose on private insurance to cover it would be more problemantic specially iwht something like 1/2 a billion at stake. I don’t worry much about US women, as they can aford a low cost procedure. I do want to know how to defend that practically in our ME countries.

  7. Step Left

    would you agree that the law should reflect a woman’s right to choose by removing the 24 week limit and theoretically allowing terminations right up to 38-40 weeks?

    • As I have already said, I think the time limit debate is a red herring. I favour the removal of the time limit not because I want to see abortions at 38 weeks but because it creates a false debate.

  8. Mark

    I agree with you in many respects. I am a pro-choice sort of individual (being a scientist and a medical student, I know that a fetus is not the same thing as a human).

    But I honestly do feel sympathy for a lot of pro-life people. Not all of them – some of them are simply using pro-life movements as a way to force religion into politics and counter feminism. But there are pro-life people who GENUINELY feel that a fetus is a human being. It’s a very real emotional and visceral response. It’s not faked,for the most part. They really do think that a fetus or an embryo is a person.

    If I thought as they did, I would be inspired to violence. I would probably do something crazy if I thought a fetus was a human being. I know they’re not – from a neurological and biological perspective, I don’t think they are fully human because they are not fully cognizant (or in the case of an embryo or a less-than-10 week old fetus, entirely incapable of cognition), but that’s because I’ve had the benefits of a good, secular education.

    A lot of these pro-lifers are not highly educated, or have religious and emotional baggage that stops them from being able to see the issue from a scientific standpoint (if you believe in the soul, it is very plausible for you to believe that an embryo or a fetus is a human being). A lot of these pro-lifers (and I’ve met many left-wingers who are pro-life), are wrong, but they are sincere in their beliefs, and they aren’t doing this to “Keep Women Down”. It’s a misguided, but very powerful drive they have to save what they think are babies.

    If we found out that some government organization was killing babies en mass, or that it was legal for any parent to simply throw their offspring into the wild, we’d be outraged. And rightfully so. Pro-lifers have the same feelings for fetuses and embryos. Again, those feelings are wrong from a scientific, secular outlook. But those feelings are there, and no one should discount them.

    I don’t think you do this, Mr. Malik, but many on the left do entirely discount the very visceral and emotional feelings pro-lifers have. Please, my fellow left-wing people, please understand that many of these pro-lifers are not inherently anti-women nor are they coming at this issue with a view to hurt women (after all, half of the fetuses they are trying to save are genetically female – they’re not trying to just save male fetuses). Now, their end-goal would hurt women and deprive them of choice (choice which I think women deserve), but that is not their intent, and yes, intent does matter. It always has. It always will.

    Most Pro-Lifers are not evil. They are misguided, sometimes dangerously misguided. They don’t deserve to win nor should they go unchallenged. I do not want the “Pro-Life” crowd to succeed.

    But I do feel sympathy with them, and I know exactly how insane I’d go if I shared their viewpoint on what constitutes human life. If I was raised as they were, if I didn’t have the education they had (and many pro-lifers couldn’t afford a decent education – a lot of them are rural/peasant folks), I’d be just like them. And that both scares me and illuminates me to the fact that we are all a product of our upbringing, pro-lifers included.

    • I am not dismissing the concerns of those who see abortion as murder. For instance, as I wrote in my Notes on Religious Freedom:

      We should not expect a doctor or a nurse, even in principle, to perform an abortion, if they feel to do so is against their beliefs. Whatever we may think of the belief that life begins at conception, it would be unreasonable in the extreme to expect those who do hold that belief to commit what they consider to be murder.

      At the same, while acknowledging that many people do think of abortion as murder, and that this is not a view that should be simply dismissed, neither should it be a reason for denying women their rights, including the right to abortion.

  9. Martin Budd

    “The illusory rights of the fetus have been, and are being, used to curtail the real rights of women.”
    The issue is whether foetus’s are simply and only a part of “their bodies”.and whether or not a 20-week foetus (in your example) is or is not actually a person. If so then conflicting rights of foetus and woman have to be balanced, and if then it is a question of life and death for one, but not the other, the other has to have a good case..
    Christopher Hitchens is talking about facts, not being emotive; yet emotions should not be dismissed as nonsense; otherwise there is a double standard. Do you advocate being coldly psychopathic on the one hand and warmly sympathetic on the other? To do so is to prejudge the status of a foetus, and put it in the same category as a tooth or a tonsil.

    More sophistry:-
    “To use a parent’s response to the scan of a fetus that they regard as a person as a means of undermining the response of a woman who does not regard a fetus in the same way, and who wants to have an abortion, is once more to deploy emotional rhetoric in place of reasoned argument.”
    So if I do not regard your wallet as yours I can take it?

    Martin Budd.

    • 
The issue is whether foetus’s are simply and only a part of “their bodies”.and whether or not a 20-week foetus (in your example) is or is not actually a person. If so then conflicting rights of foetus and woman have to be balanced, and if then it is a question of life and death for one, but not the other, the other has to have a good case.

      And I made an (admittedly brief) argument as to why we should not regard a fetus as a ‘person’. There is much more to be said on that, of course, and if I have the time I might write another post elucidating my argument further. You might disagree with that argument, you might believe that I don’t have a ‘good case’, but you are writing here as if I have never made that distinction. It might help actually to read the post.


      Christopher Hitchens is talking about facts, not being emotive; yet emotions should not be dismissed as nonsense; otherwise there is a double standard. Do you advocate being coldly psychopathic on the one hand and warmly sympathetic on the other? To do so is to prejudge the status of a foetus, and put it in the same category as a tooth or a tonsil.

      I had a feeling someone would come up with this line. No, I am not suggesting that we should all act like Spock from Star Trek. Emotions are vitally important in both moral and political life. My point was that pro-lifers often deploy emotional rhetoric not to enhance a debate but to shut it down. It is a ‘What else is there to say?’ argument. It was particularly ironic that Mehdi Hasan should deploy such tactics when one of his central pleas was for a more calm, rational debate.

      More sophistry:-
“To use a parent’s response to the scan of a fetus that they regard as a person as a means of undermining the response of a woman who does not regard a fetus in the same way, and who wants to have an abortion, is once more to deploy emotional rhetoric in place of reasoned argument.”
So if I do not regard your wallet as yours I can take it?

      I’m afraid you’ve lost me there. If there is an argument in that para, it’s buried too deep, at least for me to understand it. My point was this: I am glad for Mehdi’s joy at watching the scans of his daughters; I too was joyous at watching the scans of my daughter. But such joy of parents who see the fetus as a child should not be a weapon to be wielded against those who do not, and who wish to have an abortion.

  10. Anon

    This is an excellent post, calm and reasoned.

    Personally I don’t understand the limit reduction argument, abortions after 13 weeks are for medical reasons usually, and often there are problems that can’t be picked up before 12 weeks.

    I had an abortion as a teenager (well pre 12 weeks), and am now a mother in my 30s, when I was 24 weeks pregnant, I already had a huge bump, could feel him kick, had glimpsed him through 3 scans, and I thought often about the abortion time limit at the time, but despite my already strong bond to my baby, I feel the 24 week limit is right. at that point while babies can survive if born, they generally don’t, or are very severely disabled. The few abortions happening around this time are for good reason. My emotional reaction was empathy for how traumatic for the mother to have a late abortion, especially as in many cases these will have been babies who were wanted.

    Let’s also not forget that pregnancy is difficult, dangerous and sometimes fatal. A baby is physically made from the mother, and she must be allowed to give that willingly.

  11. Hazza

    Did you read his follow up article? It was mind boggling: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/10-things-i-learned-about_b_1966235.html

    He basically apologises for some of the things he said and seems to conclude that it is a pointless issue to discuss because it is “heated, emotive and complex”. As proven by his use of language and the use of language by some of the people who replied to his article.

    But not everyone threw insults is his direction with no point or purpose. Rational debate has ensued (Kenan obviously a perfect example as always, and a glance across Hasans twitter finds several other examples). So I’m not sure if he just thinks that an issue where people disagree with him is cause to give up on it and brand it undebatable, or that when he brings up a topic like abortion, lets his emotions get the better of him and so write some quite unpleasant things, that he expects other people to not do the same is quite ludicrous.

    Anyway, great article Kenan, thanks.

  12. MK

    To me, it is not possible to divorce actions from their consequences in this way. You cannot look at abortion without recognising that you are actively taking a course of action and, but for that action, a human being would be born.

    As a direct consequence of every abortion, one person who would have lived does not live. That may not be the same as killing a person who is alive, but it has to count for something.

  13. A very thoughtful piece. I am struck by the irony that a woman can be denied the right to choose because the foetus has (presumably) superior rights; but as soon as that foetus is born, if it’s a female, it has immediately lost those superior rights.

    It reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live quip about George Bush being anti-abortion but pro the death penalty: “I guess it’s all in the timing”.

  14. Julian

    Dear Kenan,

    Thanks as ever for a thoughtful piece. I would like to hear more from you about the idea that the moral value of a fetus depends upon maternal valuing. I support abortion because I think the mother’s life has greater moral value than the fetus’s: her rights trump any interests the fetus may have. If I have understood correctly you try to get beyond the opposition between the ‘pro-life’ position which, at its extreme sees full moral value arriving at conception, and those more liberal positions that equate moral value with person-hood. Many ‘gradualists’ see the fetus as gathering increasing moral value as it grows, a position reflected in the Abortion Act. Your position seems slightly different. The fetus accrues value because it is valued by others, firstly by the mother, then more widely by society. I am struggling though to understand the idea that what gives the fetus moral value is maternal valuing. This would seem to be a very precarious basis for moral value. The fetus could presumably lose all its moral value because the mother changes her mind. This seems to make moral value almost entirely subjective. I am struggling to find an equivalent. In markets we accept that value is dependent on valuing – if nobody thinks a watch is worth £3000, nobody will pay £3000 for it. There are, slightly poorer, analogies in aesthetics – there has to be some agreement that a thing is artistically valuable. But ordinarily we try to find some stronger underpinning for what we think morally valuable. I would really welcome your further thoughts.

    • I will write a longer piece on this when I have time. The point I am making is this: A fetus is not a human being or a person. Insofar as it has moral standing it is because the woman imbues it with moral status. Most societies, as I suggested, implicitly recognize this in the moral and legal distinctions they draw between the abortion of an unwanted fetus and the killing of a wanted one. The moral status of a child is very different from that of a fetus. Birth, as I wrote, marks a moral boundary. A newborn is part of the moral community of humans in a way the fetus is not. The moral status of child derives from its membership of the moral community of humans. That status is not ‘subjective’. In that change lies the moral difference between a fetus and a newborn, and between abortion and murder.

  15. You just can’t get around it: antiabortion is a theological stance and amounts to the establishment of a religion, albeit an ecumenical one. For all the lip service they pay to the idea, many religious individuals simply do not believe in the separation of church and state and wish to punish people for not buying into their metaphysics. It’s never enough to respect their beliefs. For them, religious freedom always involves some version of not respecting mine.

  16. Soda Fountain

    “Seal clubbing”

    Kenan,
    Let me list a few things, and, since you will know the final one is “Abortion,” I won’t list it:
    1. “Precision” bombing
    2. Landmines
    3. Seal clubbing
    4. Chinese sweatshops
    5. Strip mining, industrial dumping
    6. Foot binding
    7. Circus animal training

    Some of these practices have been outlawed as barbaric. Others have not yet been banned. What stands in the way of banning them is simply one thing: circumcision of their constant display, which should be attending the fancy talk of their promoters.

    We see above here lovely photos of babies and mothers. We do not see the very thing promoted, proclaimed as the height of civilization, however. In fact, it’s considered downright rude to embarrass the argument with its actual deeds.

    And it is on this basis that I proclaim that abortion and the above practices are merely supported by three: the theorist whose mind is at the game of naming things as some kind of blind Adam, the bigots of past guilt who dig themselves deeper in assurances of stability themselves as drug addicts encourage all to join in, and sociopaths, who are not an insignificant number, as prisons, elections, and armies prove.

    Now, it may be that, as the Bhagavad Gita says, that compassion is deceptive, to be withstood by a liberal mantra, here with a more modern one, I suppose, but a an “ordained” thing, a “right” to a mystical conception of “equality” – an equality nothing like any meaning before its adoption, however this is a luxury only of the world of money, cars, doctors, of doors, and most of all of alienation. And very well, it may be right that choice is a right, and a fair one, that “It’s my body” is soundly derived from a logical thought process of determining what is social good. But the words and the formulas stand no chance.

    The time is coming, and it is only a matter of time that progress, content distribution technology and whatever the next phases are of blogs and tweeting, shall push the thing before our eyes, and there will be no telling the flock “avert your eyes.” They will look.

    And when the secret sight is seen there will be no more toleration for barbarianism. And there will be no more carefully crafted jingle to sell this justice derivative of the other 1%: the percent of people who have an abortion every year.

    NOTES:
    1. The idea that fetuses are ever not homo sapiens is at least 100 years behind biological science.

    2. Roe V. Wade did not usher in the era of safe abortions nor availability of them, nor did it alter the frequency of them, but it did help drive down costs and it did introduce better reporting by gynecologists. In economic terms we can think of abortion a bit like eyeglasses. If you need it you’ll pay everything you’ve got to get it. Ironically it is now possible to have an early termination on your own safely via medication, a convenience which did not exist at that time.

    3. Both sides have been whipped into a frenzy, believing in dangerous-fool-other (those rednecks; those communists). There is no substantial constituency seeking to eliminate all forms of contraception or proposing criminal penalties for participants in abortion, nor ban abortion in those very rare cases of fetal abnormalities or atypical risk to the mother.

    4. In all of this one never considers the rights of a man. This is of course quite amusing, as it is men who are called upon to foot the bill. Equality, as usual, is just another pickup artist technique. Baby! I’ll save you, Baby! Displacement of sexual desire as a savior complex.

    5. These conversations never discuss how women use pregnancy as a device for social advancement, and abortion as a backup plan. This will only become more common as soon as it is inexpensive to test paternity of a fetus. It is an unwritten rule of manners, of society, that one should never suppose a woman responsible, yet one must always call women responsible.

    • 1 It is one thing to say that some practices now acknowledged as barbaric were once seen as acceptable. It is quite another to suggest that therefore abortion is barbaric. That is what they call a non-sequitur.

      2 The idea that abortions have not become safer in the era of legalized abortion is deluded.

      3 ‘The rights of a man’. What rights are those in this context? The right to determine what a woman does with her body?

      4 ‘How women use pregnancy as a device for social advancement, and abortion as a backup plan’. My word, what fantasy world do you live in?

      5 I assume you think that all doctors who perform abortions, and scientists that accept abortion, are also ’100 years behind biological science’. Perhaps you would like to give them all a lesson in biology?

      6 Finally, I encourage comments, and am happy to receive them. But they are supposed to be comments not posts. If you wish to write a 700-word ‘essay’, set up your own blog. Otherwise I might have to impose a word limit on comments on Pandaemonium.

  17. Berisha

    What choice is it when a woman is forced to get abortion out of economic necessity, because her country her community and possibly the man who is equally responsible for the pregnancy has abandoned her and left her with one choice, kill her baby? I am paraphrasing Susan B Anthony and a lot of other “first wave” Feminist leaders here. They believed abortion was primarily about men being sexually irresponsible, and occasionally women. That basically the rapist the sleazy boss the philanderer, is abortions biggest fan. At the end of the day they didn’t approve of a woman who did have the means to raise the child getting an abortion for convenience either. These women were passionately pro contraception though, they went to jail for teaching and distributing contraception. Much of the right wing Anti Abortion sentiment is very hypocritical. They are both against contraception and openly hostile to the poor. They also tend to believe in a “slut shaming” version of sexual morality that ends up being a major cause of abortion. A lot of women get abortions because they are ashamed they had sex, and a lot of men pressure women to get abortions for the same reason. Another issue, prenatal testing and the abortion of people with Down Syndrome and increasingly other disabilities. This is eugenics, a rather right wing cause. More importantly morally reprehensible. As an Autistic person you could say it “hurts my feelings” a lot of people apparently think I was a mistake that should have been aborted.

    Its not as black and white as you might think now is it. The Red State Blue State debate has become rather juvenile recently, its as if neither party’s agenda on important issues like the economy, taxes, war, and oil/coal drilling are all that different so they must find something to fight about. Even if you don’t agree its worth mentioning and knowing there is a left wing case to be made against abortion, or maybe just against being so flippin enthusiastically pro abortion. My position is its legal and I don’t really want that to change, especially because those that want to change that are gunning for all womens health care. I however refuse to jump up and down for abortion and go abortion on demand with a side of fries. I refuse to consider everyone against it a misogynist monster, I seem to know plenty of strong women who are definitely not Aunt Toms or something who are against abortion. I think its offensive to women really that this has become the one and only political issue women face apparently and the way the Democratic Party tries to use it in such a pandering talk down to you way.

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