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Punishment

April 1st, 2008 · 39 Comments

So, uh, yeah: If you’re a girl in your early teens and have no option but to carry to term an unplanned, unwanted pregnancy when you’re in no real position to care for a child, and when the burden of doing so is very likely to derail your future educational plans, the word for this is “punishment.”  Saying as much is not a gaffe; it’s called “not being a moron”.

Tags: Horse Race Politics · Sociology


       

 

39 responses so far ↓

  • 1 John Goes // Apr 1, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Look it up in a dictionary. Punishment strongly implies that you are being punished by someone or something. A more accurate and neutral description, not implying punishment from an angry God or strict ovaries is “consequences”.

    As an aside, though, having a baby and giving it up for adoption should not except in extraordinary conditions derail future education plans. It’s not easy, but let’s favor accuracy versus scaremongering.

  • 2 Julian Sanchez // Apr 1, 2008 at 8:15 am

    The punishment is imposed by someone — by whomever is responsible for the policy that prevents a girl from terminating the pregnancy.

  • 3 Chris Jones // Apr 1, 2008 at 8:32 am

    What John Goes said.

    The baby is precisely the “consequence” — and indeed the natural and easily foreseen consequence — of the action involved. It is not “punishment” to expect a person (child or adult) to be responsible for his or her actions. And that means to deal with the consequences of those actions in a morally acceptable way.

    In this way we return directly to the heart of the abortion question: whether killing the baby is a morally acceptable response to an unwanted pregnancy. If that were morally acceptable, then not allowing the mother to do so would be irrational, and that might lend some credence to seeing the baby as a “punishment.” As it is, however, the girl’s experience of carrying the child to term and either raising it or giving it up for adoption, though it surely involves suffering and permanent negative consequences for herself, remains purely and simply the consequences of her actions, not punishment meted out by anyone else.

    Of course, from the pro-choice side, there is no baby, there is only a foetus (a “lump of tissue”), so the “morally acceptable” qualifier is left out of the discussion. Without that dimension, opposition to abortion can be (and is) seen as a mechanism of social control over women’s sexuality. That is what leads to the rhetoric of referring to the baby as a punishment.

    But that, of course, is poppycock. It is a baby, and the pro-choicer’s moral obtuseness in failing or refusing to see that does not change the facts, and does not change a baby into a punishment.

  • 4 Julian Sanchez // Apr 1, 2008 at 9:11 am

    I should add, in light of that last comment, that that the grim satisfaction some soi-disant pro-lifers seem to take in forcing sexually active women to bear these “consequences” of their actions makes me think abortion restrictions are often punitive in intent as well as effect. I suppose we should be glad the haven’t taken the same stance on antibiotics yet.

  • 5 Chris Jones // Apr 1, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Mr Sanchez,

    In light of your last comment, I am in awe of your perspicacity in discerning my “grim satisfaction” and “punitive intent.” If only I had your ability to see into the human heart.

  • 6 John Goes // Apr 1, 2008 at 9:32 am

    posturing is beneath you. Just come out and say you think a fetus is not a human with rights. It does this discussion at large no service to pretend pro-lifers have come to their position from anything but considered and reasoned reflection. I’m sure we are all aware of those (on both sides) that are anything but reasonable, but trying to lump all pro-lifers (or pro-choicers, for that matter) in with this bunch is pure ad hominem.

    You are, however, apparently making a case that you may belong to this unreflective bunch. I assume Chris Jones’ comment was a sincere response based on reflection and see no reason why you cannot respond to it as such.

  • 7 John Goes // Apr 1, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I might add the obvious and apt pro-life response to Obama’s characterization of teen pregnancy as “punishment” is that the unborn child in abortion is killed for no crime but holding onto the mother for life. Agreement turns on one’s regard for the rights of the unborn child.

    It is interesting that the most extreme defenders of unrestricted (and sometimes free and subsidized) abortions are those obsessed with “sexual freedom”. Julian complains that Puritan pro-lifers want to punish those that commit sin, but could it not be that pro-choicers are so fixated on sexual freedom free of consequence that they are willing to endorse murder in its pursuit?

    The most rabid defenders of abortion are very often those who have been personally responsible for one or more.

  • 8 southpaw // Apr 1, 2008 at 10:48 am

    When you consciously deny a person the knowledge and resources with which they could avoid a consequence, you are punishing that person.

    For instance, if I see a child reaching for a pan in the oven with her bare hands, I can: (a) tell the child that the pan is hot and she’ll get burned if she doesn’t use an oven mitt, or (b) tell the child that the best way to avoid pain is never to eat hot food, or (c) say nothing at all and let her learn from the experience. If I do (b) or (c) and allow the child suffer the consequences when she inevitably reaches for the pan, I am punishing her.

  • 9 Gil // Apr 1, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I’m pro-choice, but I still quibble with appropriateness of “punished” in this context. I’d prefer “burdened,” and that would probably generate the same horror from anti-abortionists.

    I think there are many who would prohibit abortion even in the case of rape. That seems to demonstrate that they have non-punitive reasons for their position.

  • 10 Micha Ghertner // Apr 1, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    A heroin overdose is precisely the “consequence” — and indeed the natural and easily foreseen consequence — of the action involved: using heroic recreationally. It is not “punishment” to expect a person (child or adult) to be responsible for his or her actions. And that means to deal with the consequences of those actions in a morally acceptable way.

    In this way we return directly to the heart of the drug question: whether drug use, including heroin use, is a morally acceptable recreational activity. If it were morally acceptable, then not allowing heroin users access the drug naloxone would be irrational, and that might lend some credence to seeing the overdose as a “punishment.” As it is, however, the drug user’s experience of an overdose, though it surely involves suffering and permanent negative consequences for herself, remains purely and simply the consequences of her actions, not punishment meted out by anyone else.

    Which is why Dr. Bertha Madras, deputy director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy, recently told National Public Radio she opposes the distribution programs because…she believes life-threatening overdoses are an important deterrent to drug use.

    “Sometimes having an overdose, being in an emergency room, having that contact with a health care professional is enough to make a person snap into the reality of the situation and snap into having someone give them services,” Madras said.

    It is interesting that the most extreme opponents of abortions are those obsessed with “sexual freedom”. John Goes complains that hedonistic pro-choicers want to eliminate all of the negative consequences associated with the immoral, sinful behavior of those who engage in casual sex, but could it not be that pro-lifers are so fixated on puritan pseudo-morality that they are willing to endorse the slavery and suffering of young girls, and the murder of heroin users, in its pursuit?

  • 11 John Goes // Apr 1, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    Actually, Micha, those are precisely the two possibilities I outlined. The point was there was a neat flipside to the accusation that pro-lifers are merely Puritans who want everyone to stop having dangerous sex. Your drug analogy is quite beside the point, since there no immediate threat to another life involved in recreational drug use.

    As Gil pointed out, the fact that most pro-lifers consider abortion even after rape to be the taking of an innocent life goes some way in answering the charge that the pro-life position is arrived at by anything but a consideration of the intrinsic value of the unborn child, clinging to his/her mother for life, not out of any malicious desire to see someone “get what’s coming”.

  • 12 Micha Ghertner // Apr 1, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Gil’s point goes both ways, though. If it gets the pro-life even-in-case-of-rape folks off the hook for the charge of punitive motives, then it even more strongly demonstrates the punitive motives of pro-lifers with a rape-exception. The reasoning seems to be, since the rape victim didn’t ask to conceive, it would be adding insult to injury to make a rape victim carry her rapist’s baby to term. Which means, conversely, that those who conceive willingly deserve whatever misfortune they get.

    I’m not so sure “most” pro-lifers are consistently anti-abortion even in the case of rape. Is there evidence for this claim? I would expect, if we took a random sample of the American population, and only looked at those who self-identified as pro-life, we would find that most people’s views on abortion are hopelessly muddled, inconsistent with any one moral theory, and some sort of compromise between the two ends of the spectrum.

    Further, we can’t be entirely certain that those who are consistently against abortion even in cases of rape aren’t motivated by punitive reasoning; after all, they could have arrived at the pro-life with a rape exception position out of punitive motives, and then realized that making an exception for rape is inconsistent with their professed views (professed but not actual because their actual view would be less persuasive) that their only interest is the fetus, not punishing the mother.

    Is there a similar uncertainty in the other direction? That is, can we think of any reason other than punitive motives to make an exception for rape? I’m hard pressed to think of one. If there is no other explanation for making the exception, then Gil’s observation is stronger as evidence for Julian’s position than it is against it, since we can say with certainty that pro-lifers who make a rape exception are punitively motivated, but we can’t say with certainty that pro-lifers who don’t make a rape exception are not punitively motivated.

  • 13 Chris Jones // Apr 1, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    Micha,

    Your analogy is plausible, because in both my original discussion and in your analogy, somebody disapproves of a particular means of dealing with the consequences of an action. I disapprove of abortion as a way of responding to the consequences of sex, and Dr Madras disapproves of naxalone as a way of responding to drug overdoses. So far so good.

    The analogy fails, however, because while Dr Madras rejects naxalone precisely because it deals with consequences she wants addicts actually to suffer, I reject abortion because it is intrinsically evil — whether or not the pregnancy was caused by sexual activity I disapprove of. If naxalone had some other use, unconnected with the drug behaviour Dr Madras wishes to discourage, she presumably might not object to the drug itself. I, on the other hand, reject abortion without regard to the moral status of the woman’s sexual activity. It matters not whether a woman becomes pregnant through sex with her husband, through pre-marital sex, through adultery, through artificial insemination, or through parthenogenesis; the child within her womb is still a human person whose life and personal integrity ought to be respected.

    It is true that many religious believers disapprove of sex outside of marriage, and many religious believers disapprove of abortion. But it is a fallacy to think that there is a necessary causal connection between those two facts. If it were true that religious believers disapprove of abortion because they disapprove of extra-marital sex, then there should be substantial numbers of believers who reject abortion for single women but accept it for married women (whose sexual activity those believers entirely approve). I defy you to find anyone among the “moral conservatives” who says that abortion is wrong only for the unmarried.

  • 14 Chris Jones // Apr 1, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    Micha,

    The “rape exception” is a tough one. I am a fairly strict pro-lifer, pretty close to “absolutist.” Logical consistency would seem to require me to reject the rape exception, but for some reason that I can’t necessarily articulate, I am not willing to do so.

    It is not, however, because my opposition to abortion is driven by a punitive motive. It is driven by my belief in the utter sanctity of the human person, and my conviction that the unborn child is a human person who possesses that sanctity.

    No, my willingness to consider the rape exception comes from an understanding that human personhood, however important it is, is not the only value, and an understanding that there are some situations in which all of the available choices are evil. The rape exception arises in one such situation. To kill the child would be evil; but to carry the child to term might be irredeemably damaging to the rape victim. It will not do to be blind to that reality in the name of pro-life consistency.

    If I were a Christian pastor (I’m not), I would counsel a rape victim to try to summon the moral courage to bear the child (but I would not condemn her if she could not do so). If I were a legislator, I would not vote to outlaw abortion in such a circumstance.

    So much for logical consistency.

  • 15 John Goes // Apr 1, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Micha, what sophistry! There is probably a grain of truth to the charge that some pro-lifers have immoral motivations, as was provided above. To argue, however, that pro-lifers who don’t make exception for rape are punitively motivated because of their inconsistency is uncharitable and probably untrue empirically. I doubt you really believe it. The fact is many people feel for a rape victim and are willing to excuse a great deal, even murder, in order that a rape victim may “become whole”, to use a legal phrasing.

    This discussion ultimately turns on the moral obligations to the unborn child, weighed against the obligations toward the needs and comfort of the mother. Pro-choicers generally view the former obligations as nonexistent, hence the contorted reasoning about the motivations of pro-lifers coming from Mischa.

    A discussion of such motivations is not without value provided there is prior agreement on the moral nature of abortion and its legal status. At the very least such psychological speculation should be secondary to one’s principle moral argument. It is abundantly clear that no pro-choicer on this thread has betrayed even the most rudimentary understanding of the pro-life position.

    If you cannot even see the half truth in what you believe to be error, how confident can you be that you are clearly seeing the truth?

  • 16 Micha Ghertner // Apr 1, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Chris,

    I’m not sure I fully understand this part of your argument:

    To kill the child would be evil; but to carry the child to term might be irredeemably damaging to the rape victim.

    Couldn’t this be true of non-rape victims as well?

    You seem to be balancing the harm to the fetus with the harm to the mother, and using the instance of rape as a useful but imperfect heuristic for determining which direction this balance should lean; that is, you acknowledge that carrying a fetus to term may be harmful to the mother, but this harm is marginally outweighed by the harm to the fetus, except in the case of rape, where the harm to the mother may be marginally greater and thus more likely to push us over the tipping point to conclude that the mother’s interests outweigh the fetus’s.

    Granted, public policy often calls for this sort of imperfect heuristic (think age of consent laws), either because it would be too costly to weigh the costs and benefits on a case by case basis, or because the true costs and benefits in an individual case aren’t available to us, but the aggregate costs and benefits of many cases are.

    But only part of the abortion issue is a public policy question. The other part is a moral question. If we could examine an individual case without having to worry about cost, and if we could do so with the assurance that we knew all of the relevant costs and benefits, then we can’t as easily distinguish rape abortions from non-rape abortions; the rape would be just one consideration among many that would have the cost-benefit analysis.

    Could there be a case where a woman was not raped, her life not in danger from carrying the fetus to term, nevertheless be perfectly moral in aborting because doing otherwise would be irredeemably damaging to her?

  • 17 Micha Ghertner // Apr 1, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    John,

    To argue, however, that pro-lifers who don’t make exception for rape are punitively motivated because of their inconsistency is uncharitable and probably untrue empirically.

    This is not what I argued. It’s probably a typo; I think you meant to say, “pro-lifers who domake exception for rape are punitively motivated.”

    The fact is many people feel for a rape victim and are willing to excuse a great deal, even murder, in order that a rape victim may “become whole”, to use a legal phrasing.

    Is this rational morally defensible? It’s not the fetus’s fault its mother was raped. If A harms B, I don’t see how that gives B the right to harm C.

    Maybe I should have been more clear; I think most people don’t have a perfectly coherent or defensible position on abortion, and therefore may not have adopted that position out of any particular motive. But if, in theory, we could pick out some random person on the street and get them to engage in “considered and reasoned reflection,” would there be a morally and logically defensible rational for making an exception for rape, other than for punitive reasons? That is my question, and I think it’s pretty difficult if not impossible to come up with a non-punitive justification for the rape exception.

  • 18 Micha Ghertner // Apr 1, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    I notice a similarity here to other discussions I’ve had over the motivations behind certain ethical and public policy positions. Namely, I made the same sort of tentative claim about immigration that I made about abortion: there are no non-bigoted justifications for immigration restrictions. This does not mean that I think every person who wants to restrict immigration knowingly does so out of malice towards immigrants; only that I think it is impossible, after considered and reasoned reflection, to justify immigration restrictions without resorting to some form of anti-foreign bigotry. If I am correct and there are no non-bigoted justifications for restricting immigration, then even though many (most?) immigration restrictionists don’t think they are intentional bigots, the policies they support, whether they know it or not, rest on a foundation of bigotry.

    The same is true here: If I am correct that there are no defensible justifications for the rape exception other than punishment, then even though many (most?) pro-lifers who make an exception for rape don’t think they are intentionally trying to use abortion restrictions as a form of punishment, the policies they support, whether they know it or not, rest on a foundation of punishment.

    I don’t speak for Julian, but when I argue about the motivations behind ethical and public policy positions, I am arguing about the motivations necessary to make this or that justification; I’m not necessarily claiming that those who hold a certain position are aware of the full justification behind that position, or the motivation necessary to make that justification.

  • 19 John Goes // Apr 1, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Mischa, I do not find the rape exception to be consistent with a deep respect for the life of the unborn. I do not think rape victims should be jailed if they have an abortion, but the doctors should be punished or at least ostracized from the medical community for performing an abortion.

    In regard to your stated approach to both the immigration and abortion debate, why start at the ad hominem and work backward? Such an approach divorced from positive argument leaves you shackled to your initial biases. Now, I tend to lean toward more “open borders” thinking, but surely it isn’t bigoted to want to live among your own tribe, even if we personally dislike such “tribal” self identifications. After all, there is the opposite bigotry against cultural preservation, that surely motivates many open borders advocates, who would like nothing more than to erase all traditional cultural boundaries. I myself am introverted enough to not care too much about either way, my point is merely that you are not advancing the discussion by beginning with the man.

    As to your stubbornly maintaining your opinion about the rape exception as being motivated by a desire to punish, get real man. As I said I don’t believe rape is an excuse to kill the unborn, however if you cannot see that rape victims have in general an intrinsically more difficult pregnancy by several factors than those who had consensual sex, I question your perception human suffering. Having a rapist’s child growing within you is a greater psychological burden to come to terms with. Understanding (or understanding that one cannot fully understand) the plight of this rape victim, I believe that it is a crime and disservice to the rape victim (in addition to the intrinsic evil done to the baby, who is clinging for life) to aid her in aborting the baby. The scars of rape will not be cured by an abortion.

  • 20 Micha Ghertner // Apr 1, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    John,

    The reason why I sometimes “start at the ad hominem and work backward” is that the ad hominem works as an axiom. Most people don’t consider themselves bigoted, and don’t approve of bigotry, so if they can be convinced that one of the policy or ethical positions they hold can only be justified through bigotry, they are likely to change their position. Sometimes it’s important to show people that a position they hold is so horrible, not to prove to them that they are horrible people, but that their stated values are not consistent with that position.

    Whether or not it’s bigoted to want to live among your own tribe isn’t the question. The question is whether enforcing this preference on others who do not share your preferences can be justified on grounds other than bigotry.

    I do agree with you that rape victims in general more difficult pregnancies than non-rape victims; I discussed this issue in my response to Chris.

  • 21 Gil // Apr 2, 2008 at 1:06 am

    Micha,

    I think I may have a non-punitive story could an anti-abortionist who adopts a rape exception.

    Perhaps they think that there’s an obligation in the case of voluntary sex, but not in the case of rape. Sort of an implied contract.

    Maybe they think it’s like this:

    Suppose you need a kidney to survive and can’t find any volunteers. You find 10 potential donors and tell them that you’ll give each of them 10K to put their name in a hat and take a 1:10 chance of being picked to donate the kidney. Now, suppose that the “winner” accepted the deal, and spent the 10K, but later decided to back out of the deal and let you die, after it was too late to find any other donor to save you.

    I can imagine someone saying that he should be forced to follow through on his commitment, because he owes it to you; not as a punishment.

    But, I can also imagine him saying that someone who was kidnapped and placed on a table to have his kidney forcibly removed should be able to decline to save your life, even though they judge your death a tragedy.

  • 22 Gil // Apr 2, 2008 at 1:21 am

    Oops. Please change “could” to “of” in the first paragraph above.

    Also, after giving anti-abortionists an out, I must admit that my intuition is similar to Micha’s and Julian’s that many anti-abortionists are (at least partially) motivated to force a woman to be carry the pregnancy to term because they disapprove of her behavior and thus discount her autonomy afterwards.

    But, it’s always risky to impute bad motivations for the behavior of others. They’ll rarely agree, even if it’s true, so it’s unlikely to move things closer to agreement.

    Virtually everyone believes that he has good reasons for his position. So, this battle is better fought on the strength of the likely outcomes of the candidate policies. And, I think the case for pro-choice is very strong on such grounds.

  • 23 Chris Jones // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:36 am

    Micha,

    In reply to your number 16:

    I’m not sure I fully understand this part of your argument … Couldn’t this be true of non-rape victims as well?

    You understand my argument better than you think; what I said is indeed true of non-rape victims as well, and I fully agree that, as a policy matter, what is involved is balancing the harm to the baby with the harm to the mother. (I also agree that there is both a policy dimension and a moral dimension to the abortion question; these are clearly related but must be distinguished.)

    But the legal and policy status quo is that there is no balance between the mother and the baby. The baby as a human person with rights and interests to be considered simply does not exist under the current legal and policy regime. As a pro-lifer, I should regard any legal recognition of a need to “balance” the interests of the child with those of the mother as a huge victory.

    Could there be a case where a woman was not raped … nevertheless be perfectly moral in aborting?

    In the terms in which this question is asked, the answer is, in principle, yes. But it is on the same principle that we regard the taking of a human life permissible under other circumstances, such as self-defense, etc. The moral presumption against the taking of life is, and should be, very strong; and it should be just as strong in the case of abortion as it is in any other instance.

    There is another, deeper, level at which I would answer No to your question. As a matter of what we may call “philosophical morality,” there may be circumstances in which abortion might be (as you phrased it) “perfectly moral”; but from an orthodox Christian perspective, it could never be “perfectly” moral, because the way of moral perfection is the way of love. And love never seeks self. She who would seek “moral perfection” would seek to sacrifice her own good for the good of the child whom God has given her to care for.

    That, of course, is not a matter of law, nor certainly a matter of public policy. It is a spiritual matter, a matter of the heart, which can never be the purview of the state. But since you brought up the question of what is “perfectly” moral, it must be said what the way of moral perfection is.

  • 24 John Doe // Apr 2, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    If it were true that religious believers disapprove of abortion because they disapprove of extra-marital sex, then there should be substantial numbers of believers who reject abortion for single women but accept it for married women (whose sexual activity those believers entirely approve). I defy you to find anyone among the “moral conservatives” who says that abortion is wrong only for the unmarried.

    This is evidently an unanswerable point. Which ought to give people pause before so readily ascribing what they perceive to be bad motivations to pro-lifers.

    (Also, Micah, how about this reason for opposing immigration: The belief that there are too many people in America already. That’s not bigoted in any way whatsoever, and it’s often or usually aimed at native-born Americans as well.)

    Saying as much is not a gaffe; it’s called “not being a moron”.

    Look, dumbass (since that’s the level of discourse), what you’re doing is called begging the question. If, and only if, a fetus is unworthy of legal protection would it be possible to whine about the denial of a legal abortion to someone who wanted one. But if a fetus is, in fact, worthy of the minimal protection of not being killed, then it’s not a “punishment” to be told you can’t get an abortion, any more than it’s a “punishment” to be told that you can’t steal the $50,000 that would be crucially important to you.

  • 25 Gil // Apr 2, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    John Doe,

    Perhaps the punishers don’t object merely to pre-marital sex, but to any sex for recreation rather than procreation. So, they’re willing to punish married women, too.

    This may not be what’s happening, but it is an answer to the “unanswerable” point.

    And, as Micha wrote, it might be a part of the theory people are acting on, even though they don’t realize it explicitly.

  • 26 Micha Ghertner // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    Gil wrote what I was going to say in response, and more clearly than I would have to boot, so I’ll leave it at that.

    As for your other point on immigration, if a person believed that there are too many people in America already, besides the fact that they would be just plain wrong, we would expect them to support lots of other policies long before they would support immigration controls. If they don’t support these policies, we have reason to believe that this isn’t really their underlying motivation.

    Which policies must they support before immigration, you ask? Policies that prohibit current U.S. citizens from having more children. If you can show me someone who is both anti-immigration and in favor of imposing Chinese-style baby ban on Americans, then I might grant your point. Good luck with that.

    Next, if a person believed that there are too many people in America already, and yet this person treated people with equal consideration regardless of nationality, then he should be just as willing to forcibly expel U.S. citizens currently living in their country of birth as he is willing to forcibly prevent non-U.S. citizens from moving where they please. Again, if you can find such a person, I’ll concede the point; good luck.

    If you object to this on the grounds that actively expelling someone is significantly worse than actively preventing someone from entering, I would frame the question like this: Since you believe that there are too many people in America already, suppose you also believed that merely preventing more people from entering the country (through both immigration and baby controls) isn’t enough, and that we must reduce the current population by expelling at least some portion of it. Now, the most enthusiastic immigration opponents not only oppose additional immigration, but they oppose “illegal immigration” as well; that is, apart from wanting to prevent new arrivals from entering the country, they also want to expel those who are already living in the country but who did not get a government permission slip first. But if we are assuming that this hypothetical person treats people with equal consideration regardless of nationality, then he should be indifferent between expelling illegal immigrants and expelling perfectly legal, even native born citizens. Again, show me such a person.

  • 27 Chris Jones // Apr 3, 2008 at 7:37 am

    This may not be what’s happening, but it is an answer to the “unanswerable” point.

    It might be a valid answer to my point if it were indeed what was happening. But it is not what is happening.

    The idea that people are against abortion only because they don’t like the recreational sex that abortion facilitates is a very attractive one for pro-choicers. It allows them to frame the debate more favourably to their side. The only difficulty is that it is not true, and there is no evidence that you can marshal to show that it is true.

    In my view, people should be free to have whatever sort of consensual sex they like (consensual on both (or all) sides, of course) — whether I, as a believer, think it’s “moral” or not. But if, despite whatever measures they have taken to prevent it, a child results from that sexual activity, then don’t kill the baby. Not because the sex was evil, but because killing is evil.

    That is the pro-life position: not “don’t have sex”, but “don’t kill the baby.” When pro-choicers refuse to accept that, they are arguing against a position which we do not hold. That is intellectually dishonest.

  • 28 John Doe // Apr 3, 2008 at 8:47 am

    Micah —

    You have not offered a well-reasoned explanation for the absolutist position that it is “impossible, after considered and reasoned reflection, to justify immigration restrictions without resorting to some form of anti-foreign bigotry.”

    Clearly, it is quite possible to justify immigration restrictions on non-bigoted principles — over-population, for one.

    You suggest that anyone concerned about overpopulation should support a Chinese-style ban; that’s stupid, as such a ban would clearly be more of an intrusive interference in people’s private lives than an immigration restriction (which after all would at worst tell people to stay home).

    You also suggest that immigration restrictionists should be willing to expel native-born Americans. First, this is pulling a fast one; your original point was not that some immigration restrictionists are hypocrites, but that it’s literally impossible for there to be any non-bigoted principles here. Second, there’s no reason that someone worried about over-crowding would be required to support the expulsion of anyone at all. Third, even if someone worried about overpopulation wanted to expel people, there’s no reason that he should be indifferent to legal or illegal status (which you improperly conflate with “nationality”); instead, such a person could with perfect rationality say, “I’m fine with the tens of millions of legal immigrants who are here already; but if we’re going to expel anyone, let’s start with the people here illegally, whether they’re from Mexico or Scandinavia.” Such a person has not expressed bias against “nationality.”

    You’re just trying to steal a base by defining all disagreement with yourself as irrational and bigoted. That’s a fundamentally bad faith way to behave.

  • 29 John Doe // Apr 3, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Yeah, Chris — maybe as pro-lifers we should return the favor: “Pro-choicers never have any good faith belief in human liberty or any good faith belief in the nature of the fetus. They all really know that a fetus is a human being. The only reason that Julian and Micha support abortion is because they want to erase the evidence when they molest the next door neighbor’s daughter.”

    Inflammatory? Hell, yes. But how do you like it when what you perceive as a good faith belief in your own mind is completely discounted and replaced by a sordid motivation?

  • 30 Matt Tievsky // Apr 3, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Julian, characterizing prohibition of abortion as “punishment” of expectant mothers is accurate only if you assume that fetuses aren’t persons deserving of rights–which, of course, pro-lifers contest.

    If fetuses DO roughly share the moral status of babies, then requiring expectant mothers to carry to term is no more a “punishment” than imposing child support costs on a divorcing parent. In both cases, the legal burden is a responsibility to the child that’s inherent in parenthood, not a punishment. (The one possible exception I can see is pregnancy due to rape

    FWIW, I support abortion rights.

  • 31 Gil // Apr 3, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Matt,

    I would say that it also depends on whether there is a parental responsibility between the mother and the fetus, and that this includes the obligation to carry the pregnancy to term.

    Just as you would exclude the case of rape, many would deny that having voluntary sex implies a contract with the potential fetus that one accepts such a commitment.

  • 32 Matt Tievsky // Apr 3, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    Gil, you make an interesting point, but it doesn’t supply any reason why pro-lifers should accept Julian’s definition of abortion as punishment, given that pro-lifers argue that a mother DOES owe a responsibility to the young “person” she conceives (much as she owes a responsibility to care for a newborn, or at least put him/her up for adoption).

    I have to concur with some of the pro-lifers in this comments section–to call abortion prohibition a “punishment” is effectively an ad hominem argument that presumes the worst of pro-lifers’ beliefs: that pro-lifers are more interested in retribution against the mother than in protecting the unborn child. Based on my encounters with pro-lifers, I’ve seen nothing to support that view.

  • 33 Gil // Apr 3, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    I have agreed from the start that “punish” is probably not the best choice of word to use, for a variety of reasons.

    But, Julian’s second comment implied that he was considering the possibility of it being punitive in effect rather than purely in intent. So, we’re partially arguing about a symantic disagreement.

    It also seems to be true that Julian, Micha, and I have come to believe that at least some of those who oppose abortion, at least partially, might be affected by their disapproval of the sexual behavior itself and this makes it easier for them to coerce pregnant women.

    Perhaps you’ve never encountered anyone who gave you reason to suspect this, but I certainly have.

  • 34 Chris Jones // Apr 3, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Gil,

    I have rarely seen a sentence so highly qualified as your third paragraph — so much so that it is perhaps impossible to disagree with it. Especially since the actual subject of the sentence is the state of your belief. Who could deny that you “have come to believe” what you do, in fact, believe?

    Whether that belief has any basis in fact is another matter altogether. But even there it would be hard to deny that there could be “some” who “might” be affected (in some unspecified way) by their views on sexual behavior.

    Perhaps you are engaging in rhetorical understatement, but what you wrote is a far cry from the robust claim that an aggressive sexual prudery is the sole engine of the pro-life movement.

  • 35 Gil // Apr 4, 2008 at 1:13 am

    I don’t think it’s the sole engine. I’m not even sure it’s a significant part. And, I probably overqualified my statement a bit, because I didn’t it to be easily dismissed because a part of it has exceptions.

    My point is just that I understand why some might use the word punish, because they see a correlation between religion-inspired prudery and lifestyle condemnation and religion-inspired rejection of abortion rights.

    I don’t think many people believe they’re being punitive, and I don’t think it’s useful to accuse people of having bad motives. It might be wrong, and it’s unlikely to be helpful even if it’s right.

    But, it’s also hard to not form those kinds of theories about what’s motivating people who insist on a policy one judges to be irrational and harmful.

  • 36 Chris Jones // Apr 4, 2008 at 8:04 am

    they see a correlation between religion-inspired prudery and lifestyle condemnation and religion-inspired rejection of abortion rights.

    Are they not aware that correlation is not causation? and that to establish causation other evidence must be brought to bear besides simple correlation?

    it’s also hard to not form those kinds of theories about what’s motivating people …

    Perhaps the first step in determining what motivates someone is to ask him; and if his answer is sufficient to explain the phenomonon, Ockham’s razor tells us that we need go no further. The attribution of bad motives, where they have no explanatory power and are unsupported by any evidence beyond simple correlation, is simply a form of ad hominem argument.

    … who insist on a policy one judges to be irrational and harmful

    Surely it is not irrational to believe that an unborn human being is in fact a human person. You may think that belief is mistaken, but that does not make it irrational. And the entire pro-life position follows (quite rationally) from that premise. So I do not see where the pro-life stance is “irrational.”

    Similarly, those who are pro-choice believe that human personhood (with all the respect, rights, and protections it requires) comes into being at birth or at some other time, rather than at conception. This is a belief with which I disagree, but I cannot and do not claim that it is irrational. And the entire pro-choice position follows (quite rationally) from this belief. If the foetus is not a human person, then the rights of the one in the situation who is a human person (viz. the pregnant woman) are clearly paramount.

    If I, as a pro-lifer, can understand the logical structure of the pro-choice position, why can pro-choicers not understand the logical structure of our position? It is abundantly clear that the abortion controversy is a conflict of first principles: one side believes, foundationally, in the personhood of the child from the moment of conception; the other side believes, just as foundationally, that such personhood does not exist. Importing other premises into the argument (such as the purported “punitive intent”) serves only to muddy the waters.

  • 37 Gil // Apr 4, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Chris,

    Surely it is not irrational to believe that an unborn human being is in fact a human person.

    Well, if the choice of conception as the demarcation point for rights-bearing is grounded in religious authority and beyond the reach of criticism, then it is irrational. Adding “Surely” doesn’t help with this.

    Also, as I’ve indicated before, I don’t think the point of personhood ends the discussion. The prohibitionists also rely on their assertion that having sex confers parental responsibilities of the woman toward the fetus, and that these responsibilities include undergoing the full term of the pregnancy.

    Many of us think that the disapproval of recreational sex helps to motivate people to think that this conclusion is obvious. There’s a lack of sympathy for the position that people can have sex without commiting to the support of the potential fetus. Instead, we hear that these obligations are a natural consequence, and that “She should have thought of that before having sex!”

    Why can pro-choicers not understand the logical structure of our position?

    Why assume that you’re not understood, rather than considered profoundly mistaken? Do you feel impelled to make unfounded assumptions about what’s going on in the minds of your opponents?

    By the way, I too am “pro-life” in the sense that I prefer the birth outcome to the abortion outcome in the vast majority of cases. I think that having another child in the world, if there are people who are willing and able to raise him well, is a wonderful thing. And, I hope that we will soon have cultural attitudes and voluntary institutions that make the decision to carry the pregnancy to term much easier.

    But, I also think that legal prohibition is a terrible mistake. It imposes state coercion into an extremely private decision. One that I don’t think involves either murder or the abrogation of duties that should be legally enforced.

    Are you sure that you’ve completely understood the logical structure of my position? Your final assertions bring that into question.

    And, forgive me but I view an unwillingness to acknowledge that there’s a possiblity that the fetus could be a person and that it might still be a mistake to prohibit abortion as, well, irrational. And, let’s not forget harmful.

  • 38 Chris Jones // Apr 4, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    Gil,

    if the choice of conception as the demarcation point for rights-bearing is grounded in religious authority and beyond the reach of criticism, then it is irrational.

    In any rational discourse, there must necessarily be first principles — ideas that are the foundation, rather than the result, of our reasoning. Truths which are held to be self-evident, if you will. Every rational person has such first principles, whether or not he is “religious.”

    First principles are, in a sense, non-rational because they are not the result of reasoning. But they are hardly irrational, because rational discourse depends on them. The fact that the ideas which I take as first principles are informed to some extent by my religious beliefs does not ipso facto make those ideas “irrational.”

    If I were an atheist, but nonetheless believed that human personhood comes into being at conception, would you still regard that belief as irrational? or is any association with religious belief intrinsically irrational?

    In any case I think you seriously overestimate the extent to which the pro-life position is based on arbitrary religious dogma. The intimate connection between sexuality, procreation, and child-rearing (where “sexuality” is understood not only as the sexual act itself, but the whole complex of physical, emotional, and psychological interactions that are involved in a sexual bond between a man and a woman) is easily observed empirically. People of every religious faith, or of none, have experienced this and observed it throughout human history. The observation that the proper ends of human sexuality include not only pleasure but also the maintenance and strengthening of the emotional bonds between a man and a woman as well as the procreation of children, is hardly an exclusively religious one.

    Given that, it is not unreasonable to expect a man and a woman to be prepared to accept responsibility for any child which may result from their union. Nor to expect them not to evade that responsibility by killing the child.

    Why assume that you’re not understood, rather than considered profoundly mistaken?

    I don’t “assume” that I have not been understood. When my position is attributed not to reverence for the personhood of the unborn, but to hostility to the pregnant woman, I know that I have been misunderstood.

    I don’t think the point of personhood ends the discussion … there’s a possiblity that the fetus could be a person and that it might still be a mistake to prohibit abortion …

    I don’t necessarily disagree with this. The difficulty is that the blanket denial of personhood by most on the pro-choice side is taken to “end the discussion.” If we could agree that the unborn child is a human person deserving of respect and protection, we could then proceed to a discussion of how to balance the interests of the child and those of the mother, and we might arrive at a regime that is respectful of both — one that is more restrictive than what we have now, but well short of a blanket prohibition. If the child is a human person, then the presumption would have to be in favour of its rights, with the burden of proof on those who would deny that right in someone else’s interest. That would be far cry from the current legal regime, which is based on the denial of the personhood of the unborn.

  • 39 Gil // Apr 4, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Sorry, but I think calling the demarcation at conception choice a first principle is cheating.

    I don’t think an atheist would say this. There are many lower-level philosophical questions about the nature of people, and factual biological issues that would weigh on whether or not this is a good choice. It doesn’t make sense to just assert it.

    My objection was that it’s beyond criticism, not merely that it’s associated with religion.

    I don’t think you’ve been misunderstood. I think Julian, Micha, and I are very familiar with the logical structure of the prohibitionist arguments.

    And, I don’t think Julian meant that all opponents of legalized abortions were solely motivated by punitive intent. It seems that he meant, mainly, that their actions have a punitive effect.

    As for the “end of discussion”, I think the pro-choice people are right that there’s no need for further discussion if the fetus is not a rights-bearing person. But, the prohibitionist has a greater burden. He must show not only that it’s a rights-bearing person, but also that there’s a duty to endure the pregnancy that should be legally enforced.

    Clearly, we’ll not resolved all related issues in this comment thread. So, I’ll sign off of it now. It’s been fun, and I hope more has been clarified than has been obscured.

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