Friday, June 11, 2010

First Trimester

Today I shall turn my typical levity toward a topic of much public consideration, the fact that abortions are not illegal in the United States, and why I believe this is a positive state. To do this I must explain my hopes for the government, which is that their interference in private life be constricted to that necessary to foster a civil society, in order to illuminate why they should stay out of the abortion issue. I shall then proceed to illustrate why this metric is a more natural measure of our government's action by than the popular moral metric, used by most advocates of outlawing abortion.

If I were to sum up my position on abortion with a catchphrase it would be, "I support a woman's right to choose not to have an abortion." Firstly, it sounds like something Stephen Colbert might say, which is intrinsically worthwhile. Secondly, it accurately encapsulates what I want to emphasize, that I, like most people I know, do not consider an abortion the ideal choice. That said, for a woman to choose not to have one she must have the choice to have one. Why ought we legally leave the choice up to her? Having an abortion may not be the ideal choice, but sometimes birth is less ideal, either for the mother, or the future child, or both, and the mother seems the most qualified individual to discern the least objectionable path. If compassion for a woman in an overwhelming situation is insufficient reason in our rights and rationality driven society, how about the reason that it is none of our business.

It is my opinion that the state should exist to impose such conditions necessary to foster a civil society, no more, no less. To that end, we have laws governing the methods of transportation to try to keep it safe and reliable, we have laws protecting members of society so they can carry out their business in the public sphere, protecting property so we feel comfortable leaving it unattended, and so on. Gestating masses should be protected in the same manner as property, albeit irreplaceable property, in order for pregnant women to feel safe and welcome in society. However, since they have neither business in nor conception of the public sphere, gestating masses have no reason to need the protection afforded to members of society, that is, statutes prohibiting their harm or elimination by anyone. Thus, to reiterate what I have stated above, it is not the state's business whether a woman chooses to undergo an abortion.

As a Christian, this position puts me at odds with the political positions of many who share my goal. However, arguing against legal abortions on moral grounds seems to be hijacking the debate. The state is not, and I would assume most Christians would agree should not be, a moral entity. Though I believe there is great benefit to be had in a relationship with Jesus, I would be horrified if the government were to attempt to enforce such a relationship upon public society. Verily, such a thing is intrinsically impossible, as the concept of forcing someone into a healthy religious relationship contains two antithetical concepts, namely a healthy relationship and forcing someone into it. Similarly, to take any matter of personal moral belief and make it a matter of public policy both reduces it's moral significance, as now refraining from it is no longer purely an act of worship but also a civic obligation, and tarnishes the credibility of the government, as obliging the moral beliefs of all citizens is also intrinsically impossible, so to arbitrarily favor some code over another seems patently unjust.

If this reasoning seems insufficient to warrant the divorce of morality and governance, consider this summation of the situation. There is a large population of living entities that some, but certainly not all, citizens believe deserve full ethical treatment of citizens, physical protection as autonomous agents, but are currently being legally killed without due process. Members of this population have no effective means to protect their interests, assuming that they have any, for they lack even the communication ability to outline what those interests would be. Because they are non-members of society, I would argue, drawing from social contract theory, that society has no direct obligation to them, only indirect obligation through their caretaker. Putting philosophy into practice I eat them all the time. I am of course speaking of animals, they are tasty. If we are to prohibit abortions due to almost identical conditions, it would be a gross injustice to refrain from obliging the faction advocating for animals without a sound, factual difference in the arguments.

Note that it would be intellectual sabotage to, at this point, attempt to frame the argument as a debate on different moral weight that humans inherently have. This is not a practical matter for public policy, but rather a precept of personal belief, similar to whether gestating masses deserve human status. I espouse an organization of government not to enforce one morality or another, but to preserve the context of a civil society within which we can grow and share our morality with one another. When held to these standards outlawing abortion fails to have supporting cause.


Mr Petrovich said...


Karen said...

Perhaps this is less about your views on abortion and more on your views on how our government should act in general? I think that abortion is an interesting matter because it seems difficult for people on either side of the issue to understand the other side. As you stated, it is difficult to be a Christian and be at all alright with making abortion legal.

You know I lean toward allowing people to make their own choices instead of having our government regulate everything. However, this all being said, doesn't it say something about our society when we don't value our unborn children? Yet, we can't regulate people to force them to value the "mass they are gestating." The question then is, "What do we do to help people care?" Then perhaps love wins over regulation. Perhaps that is when we will have a significant effect on people.

Last, I want to comment that I enjoy your unique style of writing. I haven't read anything you've written in awhile, and I can hear the philosophy major in you.

"I shall then proceed to illustrate why this metric is a more natural measure of our government's action by than the popular moral metric, used by most advocates of outlawing abortion."
I couldn't help but think about your mathiness as I read this... :)

Kenny said...

Good catch Karen, in my post I do specify it is about legal abortions, but I left that out on FB. I guess even I become deceptive when I advertise something.

Randy said...

Interesting, Kenny. I take it, then, that you would say that it should be legal to kill unacculturated hermits since those who live outside society have no claim on it.

I do think that by interacting with some object (a fetus or hermit, for instance) a society is dependent in some way on that object. The object may have no claim of rights in society, but its treatment does affect society. For this reason, I think it is insufficient to say that the government does not need to act to protect that object simply because it has no claim of rights. This is because establishing a civil society may require more than just protecting rights. Of course, the responsibility would probably be on your detractor to show that this is the case.

Lee Ann said...

I agree with your position. But what argument would you present to counteract the thinking that personhood begins at conception and therefore abortion is murder? The U.S. Civilization regards murder as wrong, right? I view one's stance on abortion as a religious point of view, since various U.S. religions have different thoughts on this and religious views can't be governmentally selected according to the Constitution.

As to the Christian religion, not all Christians believe abortion is wrong. Some place more emphasis on the need to love and care for people who are already born. But now there are so many Christian mega-churches that teach that abortion is wrong, but seem to be mainly focused on prosperity Christianity -- their OWN prosperity, not everyone's. (I kind of think they don't understand Christ's life and feelings about the rich not going to heaven.)

But still, if someone is convinced abortion is murder and society outlaws murder, give me a convincing argument to use against outlawing abortion when I'm talking to someone who thinks it's murder. This is more than an academic question. Someone in my fair town has a huge sign in his window: Obama = Murder on Demand.

Or are we destined to have this fight (and deaths of people already born resulting from it) in perpetuity?

Lee Ann

Kenny said...

First off, I quite agree that many individual Christians do not consider abortion as taboo, example A myself. However, Christians as a political unit do.

Randy, if the hermit is abiding by the laws of the nation then how is he outside of society? I wouldn't equivocate being social with being a member of society. A good rule of thumb is that if you are living in close enough quarters with someone to kill them, you are probably in a society with them. Also, I wouldn't, and didn't, say governments should only protect rights, but that they should protect their members in order to foster community.

As to whether abortion is murder or not, I wouldn't say it is more than academic so much as un-academic. The best definition of murder I've heard is a killing that the government disproves of, in which case abortion is obviously not murder. The argument that abortion is murder is based entirely on that assertion, and thus there is no counterargument to make. On the other hand, if you just want to have some fun with them, try the following:
1) The government outlaws murder right? (Since this is part of their argument, they should agree)
2) Abortion is legal right? (If they are sane they should agree)
3) Therefore abortion is not murder.

Not going to change someone's mind probably, but is correct logic at least.

Kenny said...

First off, I'd have to say that because it is the best definition of murder you have heard does not imply that it is the best definition, and that would lead to the possibility that there could be murder allowed by government.

On the point that gestating masses are outside of society I would have to dissent. I would view society being dependent upon said masses for its continued existence. For society to continue there must be a continuing supply of new members, correct? I would consider ensuring the continued supply of new members of paramount importance to society and that this importance should grant them the same protections granted members of society.

Depending on response I may have another point to bring up.

Kenny said...

Hey now, that's hardly fair. If you are going to denigrate my definition of murder how about you put a contender in the ring? I agree it has problems, especially if different states disagree! But for the argument I made it was good, since it was a working premise of the other side, always nice to stipulate to their definitions.

While a complete or almost complete lack of reproduction would end society, and maybe harm society, it seems factually far fetched. A robot revolution also would harm society, but I'll keep using my computer until I think SkyNet is a realistic worst case scenario. I'm not sure society has an interest in keeping itself going, but I'll refrain from arguing that until it becomes more pertinent, for now we are in no danger of under-populating ourselves out of existence. Also, society depending on something, and needing to give it citizenship are two separate things. For example, without rapid communication our government and markets would probably crash, but we do not give computers citizenship. Which is good, because then Ctrl+Alt+Del would be murder. Someone should put that on a T-shirt.

Lastly, when I read about this comment in my E-mail my first thought was that it took a long time to register my last comment, my second thought was mildly horrified surprise at the things I was saying. In the morning my brain does not work so good.

Kenny. said...

Mruder - The killing of someone I don't approve of. (I not meaning me personally, but rather the person reading the definition)

Does that work? I realize that it doesn't provide a uniform definition, but neither did yours, right? At least this definition acknowledges that it changes from person to person. It would seem to be an appropriate definition in that there are those that feel capital punishment or abortion (euthanasia?) is state sondoned murder, and while for others is wouldn't be murder. Not a particularly useful definition perhaps, but the problems appeal to me for some perverse reason.

I would have to argue that no matter how important computers are they won't become members of society, at least while we both agree that skynet isn't soming anytime soon. I feel that the difference is that the gestating mass is probably going to become a member of society would make it deserving of society's protection. Society grants protections to its members, but society could certainly survive if I killed a few people here and there, much like it would survive with a reduced birth rate. The only difference that I see is that you and I are already members and recieve protection, while the gestating mass will be a member (barring misscarrige/abortion/etc.) I would still think that the future members of society should recieve protection for the same reasons that current members recieve them.

I added a period, does that help?

Kenny said...

Thanks for proposing an alternative. I would have to agree that this is what most people say when they use murder in an argument (ie "war is murder," "abortion is murder," "meat is murder"). But it is not all that useful for interpersonal dialogue because of its high subjectivity ("cloud computing is murder"). So, I wouldn't want to use your definition when crafting legislation, or debating legislation.

As for comparing membership with potential membership. A society that permits it's members to be arbitrarily slain will end up with paranoid, probably violent, antisocial members. I maintain that the reason to outlaw murder is to keep citizens civil and feeling safe. Since fetuses are unaware of their danger, whether or not we can abort them will change their outlook on society very little.

Kelsey said...

This was a very thoughtful and insightful discussion of the abortion debate. This is certainly an instance where what I would choose disagrees with the choices I think women should have.

My proposal, however, is that abortion is not really the issue, but unwanted pregnancy. I personally feel that this debate is analogous with many others in our society which simply reflect a lack of ability to take responsibility for our own actions. Most of us understand how babies are made, yet approximately half of all pregnancies are unplanned. This makes no sense to me, if birth control methods are 84-99% effective. There are even natural family planning methods which reach these high success rates. Abortion is just a symptom of the problem.