Monday, March 1, 2010

Abortion & the value of human life

Abortion has been on my mind a lot recently. Not for personal reasons. We've been discussing it in my biomedical ethics class, though I've unfortunately missed a lot of the discussion because of my grad school visits. On top of that, Angie the Anti-Theist, a blogger I follow, has been generating a media storm because of her decision to live-tweet her abortion. I fully support what she is doing - it's sad that talking about a legal medical procedure results in shock, hate mail, and death threats.

It probably does not surprise most of you that I am extremely pro-choice. The odd thing, though, is I don't talk about it a lot. I'm always wary of getting into abortion debates, because I feel like it's one of those topics that's a lose-lose situation. No one is going to change their minds, and I'll just get cranky at the particularly stupid comments. But I also know how important it is to speak up about how I feel:

Even if you could convince me that biological human life begins at conception, I would still be pro-choice.

Emotional arguments about beating hearts and fingers and brainwaves don't affect me at all. Abortion is unfortunate, but when it is the lesser of two evils, it should be an option. The whole "when does life begin" debate is totally irrelevant to me. And why do I say that?

Because I don't think we can honestly say all human life is of equal value.

I'd love to be a perfect liberal and say that all human life has infinite value and can never be compared or weighed, but I'd be lying to myself. I'd wager that none of us treat all human beings as having equal value when it really comes down to it. For example, think of this thought experiment:

You have the choice of killing one person or killing five people. They are equivalent in every way (job, age, personality, number of family of friends, etc). Do you kill one person or five? Most of us would say to kill the one. While killing anyone is unfortunate, in this case it is best to minimize the amount of total harm done.

But let's change it up a bit. What if the one person was a loved one - one of your parents, one of your siblings, your spouse, or your best friend. Would you still kill that one person to save the other five? Most people would not. This illustrates that there is something more to our decision making process than all humans having equal value.

Maybe that's a bit subjective because of our biology - through evolution we've slowly adapted to favor kin over non-kin. And since I don't believe we should simply be the product of our biology, let's use a more telling thought experiment: how we treat age. If there was a burning building and you could only save one person, do you save the 25 year old or the 80 year old? Most people say they would save the 25 year old, with their reasoning being that the 80 year old has had time to live a long, fulfilling life.

Replace that with an fetus and a 25 year old.

If we're using a simple metric of "total years lived," you could argue the fetus would win - the 25 year old already has lived 25 years, after all. But is number of years lived the only thing we use to assign value to human life? Again, I'd argue no. If there was a burning building and you have to save one of two people of equal age, who would you save: An elementary school teacher or a brain-dead person? A charity worker or a sex offender? A cancer researcher or a grocery bagger? The President or a unemployed alcoholic?

We feel bad about making judgement calls about people's worth, but it's something we do. That grocery bagger could be a great human being - but all things being equal, we see the cancer researcher as contributing more to society. Likewise, there are other negative traits we see as detracting. These traits all have fairly subjective value - what's worse, a sex-offender or an unemployed alcoholic? - but most of us still make these judgements. I'm not at all advocating eugenics or the widespread purging of unemployed alcoholics - I'm just trying to make a point that unless your answer to those questions is "I'd flip a coin," then you don't view all human life as having equal value.

So back to abortion.

To me, a fetus is on the bottom of the totem pole. A fetus does not feel emotional pain, does not have conscious thoughts, and does not have dreams to be a big shot football player some day. It does not have friends or families that it has made intimate connections with. It does not have career or life goals. It does not fear death because it does not have the mental capacity to understand what death is. It does not have a fated trajectory in life (you can't argue that this was the person who would go on to cure cancer). And in the case of a woman seeking abortion, it will not be missed by loved ones because it is not even wanted to begin with.

And to me, these are the things that make us human and give us worth. Not heartbeats or brainwaves or unique genetic composition. If a woman decides that continuing a pregnancy will severely detrimentally affect her life, she has every right to have an abortion. She has all of these attributes, and her quality of life far outweighs the existence of insentient cells.

Yes, quality of life, not just her life itself. To me, the value of an unwanted fetus is low enough to not outweigh quality decisions. An unwanted pregnancy going to make you have to drop out of school? Quit your job? Be depressed and stressed? Feel free to choose an abortion.

Obviously not everyone is going to agree with me. There are women out there who can see four cell zygotes as God-sent little babies. And to those women I say: Great! That's why I'm pro-choice. If you don't see unwanted fetuses as parasitic clumps of cells, then don't get an abortion. But this is one of the few areas that I will concede that philosophy does trump biology - that DNA and physiology alone cannot answer this ethical issue.

Note: There are many points about abortion that I have not addressed in this post, and they will likely come up in the comments. I will probably cover them in the future.


  1. Agreed completely. Was going to respond to your Twitter post, but this was already up.

  2. Here's the problem I have with this. When we look back over the history of humanity, at all the times that people have sought to divide the human species into "us" (those who matter, those who have rights, those who deserve to live or to be free) and "them" (everyone else) -- when has this ever been an uplifting pursuit? Our moral evolution has, to a large extent, consisted of gradually rejecting that kind of dichotomy.

    I also think that you can't have it both ways -- either our personhood is inherent in us, or it is granted by others. If we only gain personhood if others allow us to grow long enough to meet *their* criteria, then it's not inherent in us. That has troubling implications for human equality.

    It is certainly the case that we value the lives of those who are closest to us more than the lives of people we don't know or who resemble us less. And I don't think that will ever not be true. Frankly, I don't think it's bad that my daughter's life is more important *to me* than a stranger's. But that doesn't make her more of a person than the stranger.

    Thank you for putting your thoughts out there. I like your blog, and I hope this will not become a troll-infested conversation.

  3. Very well expressed point of view. I'll also add that no one should be allowed to tell anybody else what to do with their body. A woman's body. . . a woman's choice.

  4. APPLAUSE!!!!!

    I am totally, 100% with you on this point, and I'm so, so glad you finished this post.

    I think it's really really important for this argument to be out there, and not just because it is my argument for why abortion should be allowed. I think too many people justify abortion by playing with various aspects of the term "human life" so that a fetus doesn't count. And while I appreciate the general sentiment that motivates this reasoning, the simple fact is that the cells are human, they are unique(genetically), and they are alive. But that alone doesn't make them worth more, or even as much as, than the woman carrying them. Letting pro-lifers push us into corners over definitions is playing the game they want us to play. Yea, saying some human life is more valuable than other human life is even more blasphemous than arguing that a fetus isn't a human life in a lot of ways, but if that's really the argument we're making, we need to actually say it.

  5. Very, very well put, Jen. Bravo to everything you said. The idea that all human lives are of equal worth is rubbish. Personally, I calculate one’s worth by the effect(s) they have on the world and the people in it. Who, other than moral absolutists, could argue that, say, Hitler’s life is worth the same as Martin Luther King Jr.’s? A person who spread nothing but death, destruction and suffering throughout the world, as opposed to one who did everything he possibly could to help and free as many people as he did?

    If all you’re a good person and the world would be a little less brighter with you gone, then you have worth. If you’re just an asshole in general and the world would be better without you, then you don’t. Cold way to view things, perhaps, but it works for me.

  6. Thank you so much for this awesome post. I've been pro-choice for 30 years, but am often speechless when accosted by a pro-lifer. What do you say? And you said everything so well. I'll remember that for next time. Also my biggest issue with pro-lifers "why do you not trust the mother to make the right decision?" I'm old enough now that I'm experiencing lots of women having lots of problems getting pregnant wanting a baby so bad yet having miscarriage after miscarriage... If Nature can make an abortion why can't we? Also a friend had to abort after trying for two years to get pregnant because the baby would be born with devastating birth defects and probably die in infancy. And some people want even that kind of abortion illegal.

  7. I totally agree on rejecting equality. My one criticism is that you don't seem to appreciate the pro-life position. Given that they believe that all human life is equally valuable and that a fetus is a human, it follows that abortion is a moral wrong, it is a form of murder. And even you would agree that murder is not a personal choice, it is something that the state quite properly prohibits. Even the pro-lifers often don't take their view to its logical conclusion, they often don't want to send women who get abortions to jail. But given their view, saying "then don't get an abortion" to them really doesn't cut it.

  8. Frank: I concede that their argument is valid, but it's not sound. I guess that was more of my point than "don't get an abortion."

  9. "Do you think all human life has inherently equal value?" Absolutely.

  10. Why? Would you really flip a coin between your boyfriend and a murderer?

  11. One point I never see brought up: "giving the gift of life" is not always a favor. If the choice is (a) being born unwanted, to a mother who can't afford to raise me properly or is otherwise (in her opinion) unsuited to raising a child at this time, or (b) not being born at all, I'd pick (b) every time.

    Extensive debate between me (pro-choice) and one anti-choicer here, here; another debate with an anti-choice "progressive conservative" covering a number of topics including abortion is here.

    Frank Bellamy: the pro-life position as stated is untenable; it gives you no guidance on the question of abortion. If you have the baby, then you lower the quality of the mother's *and* baby's lives; if you abort, then the mother has a better life and might have *more* babies later on, when she is more financially secure. How is that not a good thing, if "life" is your primary value?

    Another implication of the so-called "pro-life" position: if an abortion-seeking woman is essentially trying to commit murder, then why in the world would you want her anywhere near a child? By their logic, the state should pay for the abortion and then involuntarily sterilize her.

  12. So, what's wrong with being an "unemployed alcoholist"? How does this compare with being a sex offender (which is a person hurting other people for hist fun)???

  13. I never ever said an unemployed alcoholic necessarily hurt other people or was as bad a sex offender. I just said most people would probably see the President as being more valuable.

  14. I've a few thoughts on the subject.

    I'm not only just pro-choice, but I think that sometimes, abortion is by far the best choice. Aborting a foetus/blastocyst is, as you point out, getting rid of a unfeeling, unconscious grouping of cells. You cause far more harm and pain when you slaughter a chicken or pig to eat. The idea that a foetus should be protected and be worth the same as a self-aware human or even an a living, feeling, breathing animal is ridiculous.

    Even among those that are strongly pro-choice, there is still the social stigma against having an abortion, a stigma I find ridiculous. Just like with the atheist and LGBTQ communities, I think those who have had abortions need to be more open about the fact so the stigma against it can be ameliorated. It should not be a shameful thing to chose to abort a pregnancy. Women's bodies abort pregnancies all the time naturally, and many that really should end in a natural miscarriage just happen to keep developing.

  15. "To me, a FETUS is on the bottom of the totem pole. A fetus does not feel emotional pain, does not have conscious thoughts, and does not have dreams to be a big shot football player some day. It does not have friends or families that it has made intimate connections with. It does not have career or life goals. It does not fear death because it does not have the mental capacity to understand what death is. It does not have a fated trajectory in life (you can't argue that this was the person who would go on to cure cancer). And in the case of a woman seeking abortion, it will not be missed by loved ones because it is not even wanted to begin with.

    And to me, these are the things that make us human and give us worth. Not heartbeats or brainwaves or unique genetic composition. If a woman decides that CONTINUING A PREGNANCY will severely detrimentally affect her life, she has every right to have an abortion. She has all of these attributes, and her quality of life far outweighs the existence of insentient cells."

    What if you change FETUS and write BABY, or instead of CONTINUING A PREGNANCY you say RAISING A KID?

    Who's just above "fetus" in the "the totem pole"?

  16. @Anonymous:
    Changing names and definitions is not an argument. A fetus is not a baby, and a pregnancy is not raising a child. A fetus is what will eventually become a baby if it follows its developmental path, and a pregnancy is the state before raising a child. At this stage, the fetus does not know or care about anything, as it can’t.

  17. @Joé McKen:
    At what stage does a being:

    1) Feels emotional pain,
    2) Has conscious thoughts,
    3) Has dreams to be a big shot football player some day,
    4) Has friends or families that it has made intimate connections with,
    5) Has career or life goals,
    6) Fears death because it does not have the mental capacity to understand what death is,
    7) Has a fated trajectory in life

  18. @Anonymous:
    At what time exactly? I don’t know; Jen could probably tell you. But I can tell you, quite certainly, that none of those attributes appear until either very late in the pregnancy, or after birth. Which you would know if you did any sort of reading on the subject.

  19. @Joé McKen:

    Neither do I know exactly when. And your italics on "eventually" and "before" are fine. I wanted to change those words to what was just before "fetus" and "continuing a pregnancy", because I wanted us to think:

    Who's just above "fetus" in the the totem pole?
    When the value of an unwanted fetus/kid is high enough to outweigh quality decision?

  20. I have to say, I'm not sure what Anonymous's argument is anymore. Allowing for poor phrasing, Anonymous is asking the kind of questions that anyone should ask when deciding whether to abort, which might be generally summarized as: does the gain from canceling or delaying this life outweigh the loss?

    Those favoring reproductive choice agree that these are good questions to ask. Next?

  21. Maybe totem pole wasn't the best analogy. I think very late into development/at birth/right after birth a human has some of the qualities I listed: It probably has made connections with others, has conscious thoughts (however simple), has some sort of fear. Most importantly, however, it is wanted by its mother and others. At that point, an undifferentiated fetus and a baby are light years apart - not merely next to each other on a totem pole.

    I'm not arguing for infanticide just because a baby inconveniences a mother, because if it's gone on that far (aka she didn't have an abortion), she missed her more responsible and humane opportunity. Though at the same time, if a 25 year old and a newborn were in a burning building, I'd still save the 25 year old.

    This is a complex subject, and I'm not sure if I'm doing the best at explaining my thoughts. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

  22. Jen, I agree with you on this 100%, although I don't think I would argue this position in quite the same way.

    I prefer to take the Peter Singer route and ask what is the fetus' ability to suffer (the answer is, practically none, given that its nervous system is un- or under-developed) compared to the mother's ability to suffer. In some cases, the right thing to do in order to minimise suffering is to abort.

    The question is not "is it alive" or "what is its potential" but "can it suffer"? I'm convinced that concerning ourselves first with avoiding suffering is what morality is, and never mind the rest.

    To the Anonymous arguing with Joe McKen, I believe you're confusing the argument by bringing in this notion of potential. It is irrelevant.

  23. mcbender, I agree with you, I think I was just trying to list various ways a person can suffer.

  24. Clarification duly noted. :P

    As I said, I don't really think we disagree, I was just trying to clarify the argument for the sake of your... visitors.

  25. 2) Has conscious thoughts,
    3) Has dreams to be a big shot football player some day,
    4) Has friends or families that it has made intimate connections with,
    5) Has career or life goals,
    6) Fears death because it does not have the mental capacity to understand what death is,

    I'd say I didn't have the ability to do all of those until I was well into my teens. Still working on #5. But that's just me.

  26. @mcbender

    Yeah, I think Peter Singer does make some compelling arguments about ethical considerations, but he stresses that if we're making live/death decisions based on their ability to suffer, than we should equally be considering the suffering that our actions cause on non-humans, especially when it comes to conservation, humanitarian aid, and vegetarianism.

  27. A brilliantly written piece. I agree with you 100%. I'm pro-choice, but if I was ever in the position of being pregnant I'm not entirely sure I could go through having an abortion. However, what I think and feel about the issue is personal and shouldn't dictate how others think and feel about it. This is my main gripe with pro-lifers that they dare to try to make what is an intensely personal decision for another person.

  28. I always liked Carl Sagan's argument for supporting choice--up to a certain age of fetus.

    We kill animals for all sorts of reasons, but we don't (purposely) kill humans. Why? What importantly separates humans from animals? Humans are sentient.

    What physical evidence can we show of sentience? Brain waves of certain types and certain strengths.

    When do human fetuses get those brain waves? At about 24 weeks, which happens to be on the edge of viability.

  29. @Dan!

    I know that Singer argues that, although I didn't think it was relevant to bring into this discussion.

    For the record, I am vegetarian. I'm not very "in-your-face" about it, though - among other things, I'm not sure society is ready yet to deal with that issue. Before we worry about accepting the idea that animals's suffering is relevant, I'd like to see people be more willing to acknowledge that that's true of their fellow humans.

  30. A couple years ago, a friend of mine posted an essay that sums up my feelings on the matter much better than I could. To paraphrase, it doesn't matter to me when "life begins", or whether the fetus has feelings. What matters is that, for all practical purposes, a fetus is a parasite. It is a woman's right to decide whether she will allow another organism to use her body as an incubator. He says it much better than I do, though.

  31. I was going to bring up when does a fetus become a baby but it's already been done.

    I'm generally pro-choice, but being a preemie who was born at 22 weeks (pretty close to the cut-off date, I think the earliest preemies who have survived were at 21 weeks, I spent three months in various intensive care units, starting with a full on incubator) the idea of abortions at any point terrifies me.

    I think abortion should have a cut off date where it goes from completely legal to no longer allowed. I'm not going to get into when, because that deserves entire tomes worth of thought and research, not a blog-comments worth, but at some point the life of the baby needs to supersede (or at least I feel it does, if its viable outside the womb I think it qualifies as a person). I mean, you wouldn't allow an abortion (without medical reasons) a week before the child was due anyways.

    The other question I have for everyone here is; what right does the father have? I do not believe it is as simple as 'a woman's right to choose". I'm not saying he should have veto power over her decision or anything, obviously she is the significantly more affected party, but saying that the father has no emotional investment or rights I think is swinging the pendulum too far to the other extreme.

    Just wanted to throw those out there and see what other people thought.


  32. The biggest thing I hate about the abortion debate is that everyone always tries to make it black and white. Either you're for it or you're against it, and there's no in between.
    I don't think that's true at all.

    I am very pro-choice, and think that a woman should be able to get an abortion, especially if the pregnancy is life-threatening, or if it was forced upon her in one manner or another.

    However, I also don't think abortions should be used as a form of birth control. But even here, I'm not against abortions, I'm just against WHY that person is getting the abortion. When they're walking into the clinic is not the time to lecture a girl on safe sex. Year before they have sex is when they should know about safe sex, so you don't have to worry about "Oops, I'm pregnant? And it's too late for Plan B because I didn't even take a pregnancy test until months when I started to take on weight?" (Obviously that's a bit extreme, but you get my point. Some people are idiots, plain and simple.)

    However, again, we shouldn't punish these girls by disallowing them to get abortions. We just need to accept this as something of a tragedy and admit that it could have turned out better if only the girl (and the boy) had known more about what they were doing.

    And finally, I would absolutely never want to see abortion become illegal. Even if you are against abortions, legality is not the option; public education is. The last thing we need is the return of the DIY abortion, which was ridiculously dangerous and deadly.

    In my opinion, in a "perfect" world, abortions would be performed rarely, and only in extreme situations, because no one would ever get pregnant when they really didn't mean/want to.
    But then, that's a dream world if I ever heard of one.

  33. I can't remember where I read this (which is a shame, as I'd like to provide attribution), but here's what I think is an interesting way of trying to reframe the abortion issue.

    It's a bit of a thought experiment, and it goes something like this:

    Mr Jones was at a party one evening, and eventually passed out after having had too much to drink. When he came to the following morning, he found himself in a strange room connected to an odd machine. Also connected to the machine was another man, Mr Smith, who was lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

    A doctor informed Jones of his situation. He was being used to power the life support machine that was keeping Smith alive (give me a break here, this is science fiction). Smith had recently suffered a debilitating accident that left him unconscious and paralysed, and it would take him about a year to recover. However, in order for Smith to recover, Jones would have to remain connected to the machine constantly for the entire year; if he were ever to break the connection, Smith would die. Jones would be permitted to travel provided that he took the machine and Smith with him wherever he went, which would be extremely inconvenient but feasible.

    Now, the question: Does Jones have the right to demand he be disconnected from the machine and that Smith be allowed to die? Or does Jones have a moral obligation to remain connected to the machine, at his own detriment, for a year, against his will and in aid to someone who is a complete stranger to him?

    It's not a perfect analogue of the abortion situation (they're not completely isomorphic, even though that was the intent in crafting this scenario), but I found it interesting the first time I came across it and I pass it on for what it may be worth.

    (For those who are wondering: my position is that Jones should be allowed to opt out, even though it causes Smith to die, although that feels much weirder to me ethically than the abortion scenario).

  34. This is always quite a contentious issue, but here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

    There are always very valid cases for an abortion to be a good option, many of which have been touched on already. The financial situation of the would-be parents, whether the child would have a good home to live in (I've never understood pro-life advocates who want a child brought into the world only to suffer in a abusive, poverty stricken, etc environment) and obviously one that is particularly and unfortunately relevant here in South Africa, in the case of rape. Another obvious time when it is a good option is the case where the mother's life is at risk.

    Right that's the end of the comment that most people here will agree with. Onto the part that's likely to get me lynched.

    Jesse mentioned further above about the rights of the father and I tend to agree. Obviously the right way is not to give the father veto over what happens, but I would, as a man, be absolutely devastated if my wife or girlfriend chose to abort when I have the means and the will to give that child a good home. Now obviously I'm not advocating women be simply incubators to pop out kids, it just seems slightly callous to abort a child when the father has the means and the will to raise the child because (as Jen stated as a valid reason to abort) it stressed the woman out.

    One last quick question, one of the other reasons Jen mentioned was if it forced her to quit work? What are the laws for maternity leave like in the states? Here every month a portion of your income tax goes to an Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) which you can then claim from during maternity leave with your company paying the remainder of your salary. You certainly can't lose your job for having to take maternity leave.

  35. That’s a very interesting analogy, mcbender. The similarities are nearly perfect (other than the obvious age and morphology difference), but there is one large difference that, IMO, renders it invalid in the frame of the abortion rights debate. The reason why it’d be easier to eliminate the fetus, is that as an unborn child, it has no – shall we say – “connections” to the outside world. It has no friends who care for it and would be heartbroken by its loss; no job, no status (or stature) in society, no role at all, basically. I’d even say that it doesn’t have as much of a connection with its would-be mother (and, by extension, family), in the sense that whilst the maternal/familial bond and protection is there, it hasn’t had an entire lifetime to build up that strong human connection.

    What I’m trying to argue (however clumsily) is that in the end, the world, and the people in it, wouldn’t really lose anything if a fetus was terminated, it they share no real connections yet. Whereas, the man in that analogy, Smith, most likely has a family, friends, and the whole niche he’s built up throughout his life (career, associates, home, whatever). This is why it would be more difficult to let him go, especially under the assumption that you know he’ll be okay after a certain (albeit lengthy) amount of time – many people would be hurt by his death, especially if we know he’ll be on his feet in only a matter of time.

    That’s just my way of seeing it, anyway. Not sure how many would share my views …

  36. I'm an instinctive pro-choicer, so please nobody misunderstand and flame me. However, I have two objections.

    1) "no one should be allowed to tell anybody else what to do with their body" is a tiresome meme. To make sense, it needs a rider, "when it does not affect anyone else". My freedom to swing my first ends where your nose begins, and all that. Murder is done with the body, we can't kill people by thoughts. The question is therefore whether this particular action with regard to a woman's body, namely abortion, affects another person or not, which in turn means that we must discuss whether a foetus is a person or not. If we vote no, the problem goes away; but the meme as it stands is false and dangerous, and doesn't let us off the hook of discussing this last question.

    2) I'm a bit queasy about Jen's subjectivism here. No, we don't in our actual lives regard the people around us as of equal worth, and yes, there's an evolved component to this, but so what? Time was when African-Americans were not -- subjectively -- regarded as of equal worth, neh? In my experience it's normally conservatives who argue from Is to Ought in this way, not progressives. Elsewhere, I think you have yourself argued that our nature is for transcending. I'd rather arrive at pro-choice by a different route, one that cannot be used to support nasty social theories.

    I dig mcbender's thought experiment. Reminds me of La Paglissima's profoundly gnostic take about abortion being the sword of self-defence against evil Mother Nature.

  37. @Hugo

    Two very good points that are much better articulated than I could ever have managed. Your first point in particular gave me quite a bit to think about. I've never seen it argued in quite that way.

  38. Jen: if you say you are not arguing that infanticide is ok then I think it's up to you to provide some criteria for distinguishing the two cases. The idea that the newborn is already wanted by its mother I don't think is relevant since if that was required then it would be ok for a mother to kill a newborn if she were unable to have an abortion. In my mind the viability and independence of the newborn is the obvious standard but just wondering if you agree? Also it's interesting to think how this will play out if at some point in the future most or all fetuses develop in-vitro...

    Frank: ZOMG, you are engaging in philosophical-type ethics arguments? Isn't that all humbug and the like?!

  39. Jen: if you say you are not arguing that infanticide is ok then I think it's up to you to provide some criteria for distinguishing the two cases. The idea that the newborn is already wanted by its mother I don't think is relevant since if that was required then it would be ok for a mother to kill a newborn if she were unable to have an abortion. In my mind the viability and independence of the newborn is the obvious standard but just wondering if you agree? Also it's interesting to think how this will play out if at some point in the future most or all fetuses develop in-vitro...

    Frank: ZOMG, you are engaging in philosophical-type ethics arguments? Isn't that all humbug and the like?!

  40. Yeah, Jen, I have to say that I disagree with you here, even though I'm stronly pro-choice, this is a bad argument, but most of the others above covered that. Mcbender's example is similar to one given by Judith Jarvis Thomson in the seventies. This is known as the violinist case in ethics debates, because Thomson uses a famous violinist in the place of mcbender's Smith.

    "(For those who are wondering: my position is that Jones should be allowed to opt out, even though it causes Smith to die, although that feels much weirder to me ethically than the abortion scenario)." That is likely because it is pretty ridiculous to hold that early stage embryos and the like are persons. This argument addresses the right to abortion even if the fetus counts as a person. It could also be argued that if a fetus has passed the 'person' benchmark in a pregnancy, then the woman still has the right to remove it from her body at any time, but that the method of removal should be altered to allow for a chance of survival if it is post-viability (barring health considerations and such). This, I think is interesting because it would essentially allow a thirty week removal of the fetus, but woudl not involve unessecary killing of the fetus to do so. So long as the woman's health allows, it might be a nice ethical compromise to have an abortion for pre-viable (or nonviable) fetuses and an elective induction of labour (or C-section) at any point afterwards. To use your analogy, Jones has the right to remove Smith at any time, but, if towards the end of the year, there is an option to remove Smith via a different method, which, while still high risk for Smith, gives a chance at survival. It seems like so long as the survival option does not cause a risk for Jones (more than the other option), that this would be preferred. The issue then in the abortion debate would be getting elective induction or c-section legalized for any point in the pregnancy (I can't see why anyone would want to utilize this pre-viability, but I don't see a problem if they did) and having elective abortions available for all pre-viable cases. This way, the pregnant woman still maintains the right to deny use of her body at any point, and the post-viable fetuses get a shot at survival.

  41. Very well said. Thank you for being strong enough to express your beliefs on a very tough issue.


  42. Grant: There are issues dealing with pregnancy and childbirth that far, far exceed simply "stressing the woman out."

    - It irreparably changes her body. Stretch marks, weight gain, hip shape. She'll never look the way she did before she got pregnant.

    - Cost of giving birth in a hospital. Are you footing the $10,000+ bill for that, as well? What about pre-natal care?

    - Our friends, family, coworkers, pretty much everyone in our lives will see that we're pregnant. Imagine the psychological havoc that will be. Having strangers in the street gleefully ask you, "When's the big day?" What about the explanations of where the baby is once you've given birth? Don't think women who give up their babies aren't judged as cold-hearted, selfish monsters. It will effect our life.

    - Legally, once we have the kid, we're obligated to provide you with child support. We have no way of knowing that you'll never play that card, no matter how much you reassure us that you won't.

    The situation is not so simple as simply being "stressful." Frankly, I think your comment came off as remarkably naive.

  43. I share Hugo's queasiness about the "human value" arguments in Jen's post. My question is, who decides a given person's value? I might think that my existence results in a net positive for the world at large, but who's to say that others see it that way? I would feel very uncomfortable if the continuation of my life was contingent on the decision of a third party, using some arbitrary criteria to determine if I had worth. I'm with Jen when it comes to abortion, but I hesitate to endorse her arguments for subjective valuation of human life.

  44. @Julie

    Thanks for the feedback, I feel I haven't expressed myself clearly. Of course I didn't mean to imply that the only side effect of being pregnant was being stressed out, far from it, it was simply one of the things that Jen mentioned which I didn't think entered into justifying having an abortion as a reason on it's own. Obviously there are many many more things to consider, not in the least is the quality of life of the woman herself and of the potential child.

    Obviously there is no way that giving the father a say could work (or at least none that I can think of) and I was merely stating that from an emotional point of view I would be devastated and would offer both the financial backing to have the child and all of the child's care thereafter. However, obviously that's just me, a lot of guys might promise that and then as you say, press for child support later (Although I'm sure this could be taken care of with a simple legal agreement waiving your right to claim, but that's not really the point)

    But at the end of the day, the woman has to carry the child to term and it is her body that gets put through all that that entails and therefore it is her right to decide. Ideally (and naively as you describe me) the decision of whether to abort or not would be a mutual one come to by both the mother and father of the child, obviously this is unrealistic.

  45. I'm more curious about what people here think about the fathers rights in this discussion and the legal ramifications of these decisions. A mans sperm fully belongs to him. However, biologically the fetus is half father DNA, but legally, the decision to abort/keep the fetus lies solely with the mother. This implies that the man no longer has any rights with regards to his sperm once it fertilizes an egg. What are the ethics and morals then of requiring child support to be paid after birth, since the law has already recognized no parental/decision rights for the father?

  46. Hi Jen,

    I'm the anonymous of the "totem" question which, by the way, nobody has answered. Who's just above?

    I know you won't change your mind because of some blog comments, but I appreciate you noticed the problem with the totem analogy.

    Infanticide was once acceptable because they were also at the bottom of the totem; but at some point the totem was re-defined.

    Please be careful... don't invite more to the bottom section.

    (Sorry for continuing the totem analogy)

    Have a nice life...

  47. Beautiful Jen, can I translate it to spanish and put it in my blog?

  48. It's interesting that I misremembered the "violinist" aspect of the scenario. I actually think I prefer it without it, because it's closer to an isomorph of the situation (in the case of a fetus, its aptitudes are not known in any way, hence why I wanted to specify that Smith was a complete unknown to Jones).

    While I could probably discuss that scenario for hours, I'm not sure it's worth it for me to weigh in. It elicited some interesting discussion, which was all the goal I had in posting it.

    As for other things...

    The issue of fathers' rights in these kind of scenarios is actually one I find quite interesting, and one I'd like to discuss. There are aspects of the American legal system (such as child support) which interact with this in interesting ways.

    There are four scenarios, so let's do the truth table.

    Father wants child, mother wants child
    -> have the child, no problem

    Father does not want child, mother does not want child
    -> abort, no problem

    Father wants child, mother does not want child
    -> This is the first interesting scenario.

    I think in this case it's perfectly reasonable to allow the decision to fall 100% upon the mother, because it's her body which is going to be affected by the course of the pregnancy.

    It's unfortunate for the father, but because pregnancy is an asymmetric situation in which all of the negative side effects affect the mother, it is not unreasonable for her to obtain the benefit of the inequality in this scenario.

    Father does not want child, mother wants child
    -> Here's the problem case.

    The mother is perfectly within her rights to have the child and raise it on her own; I won't contest that. However, as things stand currently, in America and possibly elsewhere she can sue the father for child support and obligate him financially in a significant way for 18 years or so. I think that's a problem.

    One possible solution is to allow the father the right to say, in a binding legal context, "I did not want to have this child and recommended abortion; I am therefore giving up all parental rights, understand that I will be no part of this child's life, etc etc" and then formally exempt him from the child support obligation.

    That's not ideal, because it allows the father to exert financial pressure on the mother to encourage her to abort (imagine, for instance, that the mother could not afford to take care of a child on her own, but could with the aid of child support payments from the father).

    However, I can't think of any other way to deal with this scenario fairly to both parties, and I'd be interested to see what others think.

  49. Hi Jen, I love your blog and have been reading for a while, although this is the first time I've left a comment. I agree with other commenters here that your points about the equality of human life -- though quite compelling and valid in my opinion -- don't necessarily make the best argument for allowing abortion. In my view, it comes down to the following:

    The common pro-life arguments that compare the fetus to an infant or a disabled person -- equating abortion to infanticide, murdering a coma patient, etc. -- have always struck me as vaguely dishonest because none of these persons depend on another person's body for survival.

    If a mother doesn't want to care for a newborn baby, it can be put in a foster home. If a family no longer wants to care for a disabled relative, someone else can step in to provide care and that person would be fine. If it were similarly possible to harmlessly extract the fetus from the woman's body at an extremely early stage and put it in a glass jar somewhere for incubation, we would be having an entirely different debate.

    There would still be legitimate questions as to whether it's ethical to create new persons in an already-overpopulated world where they are unlikely to be wanted or loved, and personally I don't think it would be a good idea to turn all the unwanted embryos currently frozen in fertility clinics into babies just because we could. But at least then it would be possible to address the question on its own.

    Until such technology exists, anyone who wants to talk about fetal rights or fetal personhood as though it's a separate issue -- as though pregnancy is trivial and the role of a woman's body as life support machine is inconsequential or irrelevant to the question -- is completely missing the mark and barely deserves to be taken seriously in my view.

  50. "Father does not want child, mother wants child
    -> Here's the problem case." Not really. At birth, both parents have completely equal rights. If a woman decides at birth that she does not want the baby, she still has the same child support requirements as the man. The only right he does not have is to continue or end an existing pregnancy, which is perfectly reasonable, because he's not the pregnant one. US law makes no obligations for support while pregnent, so she has covered her own pregnancy costs as well. She takes on all the costs and risks of the pregnancy, he takes on none (unless he elects to take on financial costs). The pregnancy also requires use of her body, but not of his. So rights over the pregnancy, both to terminate or continue, are the rights of the person who is pregnant.

    It boils down to the right to be free of unwanted medical procedures due to other's reproductive desires. I have no right to force my male partner to have a surgical procedure (vasectomy) because I do not desire children, and he has no right to force me to have a surgical procedure (abortion) because he does not want children. Do I get to refuse any responsibility for my children if I sign a form saying that I recommended a vasectomy and don't want the kid? Our rights begin and end in the same place, with control over our own bodies, it is just that the woman's body is involved for a longer and more significant portion of the baby making process. The fetus is parasitic to her, not him, so she has the rights to decide if she finds parasites acceptable or not. Rights over a born child are equal for both parties, as a born child no longer requires a parasitic attachment to one of the party's bodies.

    If you look at it from a certain perspective, all men have exactly the same abortion rights as women, just they are never in the position where they need to exercise them (with the exception of some trans men). Men have every right to abort if they become pregnant with a fetus that a woman does, just like I have every right to decide if testical removal is appropriate if I were to get testicle cancer. The fact that cis men do not become pregnant and people without testicles do not get testicle cancer and therefore may utilize bodily rights in these cases involves no legal discrimination. You can't claim that pedicures should be illegal if you happen to be born without feet just because you can never utilize them personally, and you can't claim that people should not have rights over their uteruses just because you happen to have been born without one.

  51. Don't make a straw man of my argument. The argument you're making sounds very much like the related "homosexuals have just as much of a right to marry members of the opposite sex as heterosexuals do, they just choose not to exercise it". Bollocks.

    Two people become subject to a legal contract once that child is born. Two people were involved in the instigation of the state which precipitated the child being born. It seems fair to me that both parties have a say in the outcome.

    I have never argued that the woman should not have the right to abort or not do so as she chooses. All I am arguing is that the father should have the option to opt out of legal fatherhood and child support if he has no say in the decision to bring the child to term, and would have argued for the opposite.

    The situation is inherently unequal, because the foetus parasitises only the woman's body. So far we agree. However, I see no reason to make the situation even more unequal simply because it already is so.

    While I run a serious risk of being accused of misogyny for making the following comment, here's what I'm afraid of in this scenario:

    I'm sure you've heard the stories (many likely apocryphal, some not) of some women deceiving men into getting them pregnant, either by sabotaging condoms, lying about taking birth control, etc. Some poor sap inevitably gets taken in, and winds up with a child he never planned for and finds himself paying child support bills for the next two decades.

    There are men who lie about that sort of thing too; there are just as many stories about men who claim to have had vasectomies when they in fact have not, etc, in order to convince women to have unprotected sex and/or to impregnate them. The asymmetry here is that at least in those scenarios, the woman is free to have an abortion; the man cannot obligate her to have the child.

    In the converse scenario, where it is the man who has been deceived, he's stuck. I'm not trying to excuse men who deceive women - frankly, I think this sort of behaviour on the part of either party is the moral equivalent of rape - but there needs to be equality in the ability to escape from such entrapment.

    Of course, such situations as these are rare. I won't pretend to argue that most people (male or female) act in this malicious manner, or even that many do. I am merely saying that this scenario needs to be considered, because otherwise it will be exploitable and will have detrimental overall consequences.

    (I apologise for getting so far off-topic, but I find this an interesting aspect of the subject to discuss. Hopefully I haven't offended anybody).

  52. I find it disgusting that any woman would force a man to pay child support for a baby he did not want. And I agree that the situation is unfairly skewed against men. If the woman doesn't want the child and they do, they're fucked. If the woman does want the child and they don't, they're fucked. In one of those scenarios there's just no getting around it. It's her body and her call to make, and as much as it may suck, he just has to accept that. In the other, I think there should be an "opt out" option for the father. It would have to be signed within 24 hours of birth, so no dead beat dads could retroactively decide years later that they don't want to pay child support anymore. But honestly, feminism is about gender equality. This is one area where equality isn't fully possible, but we're not doing anything to make it as equal as possible, either.

  53. You are missing the point. A fetus is an obligate parasite. As with a tapeworm, you may choose to host it, or you may take a vermifuge. Its right to life ends at your uterine wall.

    Don't worry. If medical science came up with a way of hosting fetuses in vitro, the anti-abortion movement would be front and center denying them health care.

  54. I agree with mcbender on this. A man's role in procreation is so insignificant (just a little squirt of sperm) that he should rightly have no say in whether a child is created -- it's the woman who has to go through the pregnancy, so it's 100% her choice. But from there, I don't see how it makes any sense to then claim that the man's role in procreation is somehow so significant that he should have to be financially responsible for the resulting child for almost two decades. These seem like two contradictory positions to me.

    "I think there should be an "opt out" option for the father. It would have to be signed within 24 hours of birth, so no dead beat dads could retroactively decide years later that they don't want to pay child support anymore."

    I think it would make more sense if rather than opting out, a man should have to opt in. If the two parents are already involved in a legal contract such as a marriage, his commitment is automatic. Otherwise, he should have to explicitly sign something agreeing to parental responsibility, financial and/or otherwise. He can opt in at any time before or after birth, but he can't walk away from that commitment after having made it.

  55. If there is one thing, at least, Pro-choicers (like me) and moderate "pro-lifers" (moderate, not extremist- which are the ones who kill. . . ironically) have in common is that we need to reduce the number of abortions. We do this by education, not making it illegal. The option always needs to be there.

    Second, if it's a serious relationship, or marriage, each person has a say (of course, the mother has more since she carries the "baby"). If she's single and in no relationship? The man has NO say. There are bastards than can coerce people into unwanted situations. . . this is why we educate people, to minimize these situations.

  56. Sare: re opt-ins, I believe that in the early Roman Republic, a newborn baby was placed on the ground before the husband. If he bent down and lifted the baby up, he was accepting parental responsibility, and if not, not.

    But what about his commitment being automatic in marriage if the child isn't the husband's? Imagine that you are married, but have been separated for some years, and then you produce a child by your new b/f. Should Hubby have to pay for it? I believe that is the current state of the law, at any rate where I live. I knew someone who pulled this one and held Hubby's feet to the fire for the child support; nice work if you can get it.

    Mcbender: nice doghouse you have here, is there room for another one?

  57. If a woman does not want a child at birth, she has no more rights to refuse child support and such than a man does if he does not want a child at birth. The only thing she has extra rights over is the pregnancy, which takes place in her body.

    " A man's role in procreation is so insignificant (just a little squirt of sperm) that he should rightly have no say in whether a child is create" Except he does have a say in whether fertilization occurs, as much of a say as the woman does. He also has full rights at birth, equal to those of the woman. The only difference in rights is during the 'growth' stage, which requires a woman either submit to a medical procedure to end the growth or allow the growth to continue with risks and effects on her body. She's not doing anything to him by allowing it to grow, in fact, she must take active (and expensive) steps to intervene, which, again, take place in her body, not his.

    As to 'opting in', if you want a legal position that grants no responsibility, you should have no legal garauntee of any rights. If a woman has complete responsibility for a child at birth,then she should have complete rights and absolute say as to whether or not any partner or other individual can share those rights. No child custody rights for male parents at birth, regardless of whether or not they want them. You don't get to ever claim a right to (even partial) custody at birth and at the same time claim that if you 'opt out' the other person has all of the legal responsibilities.

    FYI, eighty percent of single mothers receive 0 child support. A substantial majority of non-partner fathers pay nothing, so this myth that women who continue pregnancies their partner does not want routinely reap some kind of windfall is just bullshit.

  58. This comment has been removed by the author.

  59. Hugo Grinebiter: I take it you live somewhere outside of America. Because I am almost entirely sure that would *never* work in the U.S. The husband can easily take a paternity test, prove he is not the child's father, then have the marriage dissolved in a heart beat on the grounds his wife was adulterous. Previous separation or no, he would be able to easily get out of that.

  60. Hi Anonymous,

    You said, "If a woman does not want a child at birth, she has no more rights to refuse child support and such than a man does if he does not want a child at birth. The only thing she has extra rights over is the pregnancy, which takes place in her body."

    If she has rights over the pregnancy, then she can choose not to complete the pregnancy. If she chooses not to complete the pregnancy, then there is no child. She has effectively refused child support by not becoming a parent.

    So the question becomes the following: If a woman is able to choose whether, when, and with whom she becomes a parent, regardless of whether she's had sex with that person, then should a man be entitled to a similar degree of choice in the matter?

    My tentative answer to this question is "yes" -- but if there's some disagreement as to whether a woman should have that choice in the first place, then obviously discussing the second part of the question is meaningless.

    And I'm not sure it matters how often mcbender's scenario -- father does not want child, mother wants child -- actually happens in the real world. Even if it's only relevant in 5% or 1% or 0.1% of cases, that doesn't mean we can't have a discussion about what should happen in those cases when it does come up.

  61. Regarding the whole opt-in / opt-out thing, my thinking was that if you're going to allow some form of male forfeiture of parenthood, then it would be better to assume a default state of non-responsibility than to allow a man to abruptly abandon responsibility the day after the child is born. It just seemed like an unexpected decision in the latter case would result in huge problems, especially if it had been implied throughout the pregnancy that he would take responsibility.

    But these were just my thoughts on the matter, and I didn't mean to express any kind of certainty as to what would work out better in practice.

  62. @ Anonymous: The system in my country with child support is that the state pays the money upfront to the mother, and claims it from the father afterwards; if the state can't then get the money out of the father, it's not the mother's problem. Great idea. So I don't think the 80%-get-zero statistic applies to us. Agree, there should be no rights without responsibilities, and contrariwise.

    @Scott: Yes, I live a long way outside America. And it is only very recently that husbands won the right to DNA-check their putative offspring. The guy who brought the test lawsuit is someone I used to know, he was divorced but paying for a child that wasn't his. Maybe this right was subsequently taken away by new legislation, I don't know. Certainly never heard any more about it since.

    There is a lot of opposition here to men being allowed to demand a DNA test. Suggesting that a man might reasonably care about the paternity of the children produced by his wife and/or for whom he is paying support can lose you friends; I once raised this point as an abstract issue (#) with two women friends, separately, and they both threatened never to talk to me again if I didn't apologise.

    (#) No connection with my own situation, I've never been married or reproduced.

  63. Wow...

    Repeatedly many people here have stated that the man has no rights because his contribution is 'so insignificant, just a tiny squirt of sperm'. You act as if the man has no feelings whatsoever.

    That is so sexist it makes me sick. Apparently you've never met any of the male-support groups for fathers who really wanted a kid, but the mother chose to abort it, and are now going through depression because of it.

    Does the woman share an unequal and greater portion of hardship in a pregnancy? Undoubtedly. But to categorically deny any investment on the part of the guy? That because it's not in his body his opinion counts for nothing?

    Are you people who are saying this willing to accept ALL the corollaries?

    Are you going to never again complain about human rights abuses in another country? After all, you only have an 'emotional' investment, it's not in your country. It doesn't effect you.

    Are you never again going to campaign against environmental devastation outside your country? After all, it doesn't effect you.

    Are you never again going to donate to a charity outside your country because it doesn't effect you?

    The 'its not in his body' argument is bullsh*t, straight and simple.

  64. Strongly stated, JesseS. Excellent points, and well done.

  65. Ever shared a hospital room with an 8 month old whose unwed mom tried to cook him? Ever seen an 18 month old climbing into the dumpster looking for food because his mom had locked him out of the house so she could entertain? Do you know what a child who has been tortured with burning cigarettes looks like? Do you know what it's like to live with the physical scars of sexual torture and abuse and the emotional scars of "I hate you I wish you had died before you were born, you ruined my life? No? That would explain how you can be against abortion.

    And, men, stop complaining. If you want say over what happens to your semen after it leaves your body, use a condom, otherwise the woman whose body will endure pain, torture and possibly death gets to say what happens to it. If you fail to communicate with the person whose body you are leaving your genetic material in, OH WELL. Try discussing it with the next woman, she might be interested in sharing the raising of a child with you.

  66. Sorry if I offended you, JesseS, but I will stand by what I said: the woman should have 100% say in whether she will go through a pregnancy. A man's emotional investment, however strong, does not give him the right to make that decision.

    But I honestly didn't think it would be so controversial to observe that the male's contribution to the physical process of reproduction is insignificant compared to the woman's. I suppose I could have chosen my words more carefully with the "squirt of sperm" thing, but really...

  67. I don't like using percent values for this kind of thing, they don't accurately reflect reality.

    Should, at the end of the day, the decision be solely on the woman? Yes. However I think any woman considering an abortion should be legally required to consult the would-be father. It's still her decision, but he deserves the chance to influence that decision.

    It wasn't pointing out the insignificant contribution that offended me, biologically speaking it is insignificant, it was the casual disregard for the thoughts and feelings of a person, on absolute and categorical grounds, that offended me. I do appreciate the apology though. I probably shouldn't have reacted so strongly.

    However, in response to Gwenny;

    Your argument against a man having any say is absurd. You could say the EXACT same things to a woman;

    "Want an abortion? OH WELL. Maybe you shoulda thought about that before having sex!"

    See how offensive that is? Your argument is the exact same.

  68. JesseS, I have seen divorces over disagreements about whether or not to have children where no pregnancy or abortion occured. Wanting to have a child with someone else does not give you the right to force them to have a pregnancy or continue a pregnancy. If you want kids so bad, go have one with someone who actually wants to make babies with you.

  69. ". Apparently you've never met any of the male-support groups for fathers who really wanted a kid, but the mother chose to abort it, and are now going through depression because of it." See the post above. Also, have you ever sat in a room talking to women who nearly died from a puntured uterus from a pre-Roe abortion? Ever talked to the people who have lost mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, lovers, aunts, grandmothers, who died trying to exercise the right to end a pregnancy? Ever talked to the women who nearly died giving birth, or the loved ones of a woman who did die giving birth? Ever talked to a woman who now has been permanently injured giving birth? Ever talked to a woman who had to choose between feeding two kids or birthing another? Between a baby and education, work, school, life? "I feel sad that you don't want to do what I tell you" doesn't hold a candle to "my life may be at risk, my body will be permanently changed, my career and education will be permanently harmed, and I may spend the rest of my life pissing my pants'. Here's a list of the more common possible pregnancy complications and pretty much ever single one trumps the 'sad because you won't make babies with me' whining.

  70. @Anonymous:
    You are putting words into JesseS’s mouth. Read what he/she said; he/she explicitly stated that the father-to-be canNOT force a woman to carry through with a pregnancy if she does not want to. All JesseS is arguing for, is that though the end decision is not the father’s, he does have some say in influencing her end decision. As stated above, to claim that the father’s role is of no relevance or importance is more than just callous; it’s downright bullshit. Like it or not, humans are very emotional creatures, and therefore, emotional attachments to come into play as mitigating factors.

    This is why I don’t like to debate about fathers-to-be’s rights when it comes to the abortion debate; it’s a very thorny issue that even I’m unsure about. One one hand, the man cannot and should not force a woman to follow through with a pregnancy if she is unwilling or unable to – of course, seeing as this is the very point of abortion rights: the woman has the final say, period. But on the other hand, no-one has the right to deny the father-to-be his say in the matter, either. No-one’s said his word is law; only that he can, at the very least, “plead his case” when it comes to his own unborn child, so to speak.

  71. " biologically speaking it is insignificant, it was the casual disregard for the thoughts and feelings of a person, on absolute and categorical grounds" Yes, I do categorically seperate our people's ownership of their own body and of someone else's. A pregnant person vs. a not pregnant person are categorically different in that one of them is pregnant. The pregnancy, by definition, takes place in the pregnant person's body, not the nonpregnant person's body. The distinction here is not arbitrary, it is based on the very definitions of the concerned parties. We tend to refer to the pregnant person as the 'woman' because the majority of people who become pregnant are woman identified and the sperm provider as the 'man' because most sperm producers are male identified. However, for those men who do become pregnant and those women who do produce sperm (trans folks), the pregnant person still maintains the pregnant rights and the sperm provider still maintains sperm provider rights. Gender makes no difference, to me, in this situation, though the use of certain body parts, i.e. uterus, is extremely relevant.

    The reason that you don't get to make the decision about what goes on in someone else's uterus is precisely because IT'S NOT YOUR UTERUS and no amount of sperm changes that. At not one point of a pregnant person choosing to abort is a sperm provider denied rights over hir own body. No one forces hir to undergo a risky medical condition based on someone else's whim because they had sex with hir. At no point is ze forced to host a parasite in hir body. At no point is ze expected to allow rooms full of strangers to touch and thouroughly examine hir genatalia. At no point is ze forced to undergo extreme physical pain. At no point is ze forced to undergo permanent changes in hir body. Your expectations do not trump another's bodily autonomy. You don't own your lovers or their bodies, for any period of time, ever. "The 'its not in his body' argument is bullsh*t, straight and simple." How about I start coming over and chopping off your limbs? That's okay, right, because the fact that it's your body is in no way relevant. Having sex with a woman doesn't make her your property, no matter how much you want it to.

  72. The pregnant person vs sperm provider distinction is much like a distinction between a person with cancer and a person without cancer. The person with cancer has a right to receive cancer treatments or refuse them. The person without cancer does have the right to recieve cancer treatments and likely does not need the right to refuse them. Nothing about that is treating the person without cancer as inferior, it is just that they do not have the medical condition that would possibly need the treatment. Now, let us say that a person without cancer is the partner of a person with cancer. The person with cancer opts for no treatment, which the person without cancer objects to and feels sad about. This does not give the person without cancer the right to force the person with cancer to have treatment, nor does it involve denial of treatment rights to the person without cancer. The person with cancer is the one with the relevant medical condition and ze is the one with the rights over hir body, no matter how sad the partner may feel about it. The person with cancer also should not be obligated to consult the person without cancer first. You do not need permission from someone else for rights over your own body. Would it be better, if the person without cancer is not abusive, for them to discuss it? Yes, but there should not be a mandate.

    The same thing goes with abortions. The reason that the partner does not have pregnant person rights is because they are not in the condition of being pregnant. I know a lesbian who had a girlfriend who had a pregnancy scare (from sex before the relationship) and who agreed to accept parental rights and responsibilities over the child if the girlfriend was pregnant. It turned out she wasn't, but if she had been, the fact that her partner had the biology to become pregnant would not change which potential parent who had the abortion rights, because the pregnant person would still dictate the useage of her body. The fact that a majority of non-pregnant potential parents are male is a social convention, not a nessecity. It is not the fact that he is a sperm cell carrier (bio male) that denies him the right, but the fact that he is not carrying a pregnancy. Think about surogates as well. Certainly, even though they are not (usually) bio parents, they should still have rights over their bodies during the pregnancy. The ownership of the egg or sperm is not the key issue, the ownership of the uterus and the body that carries the pregnancy is. Even in states where surrogates are generally given zero rights at birth, they still maintain abortion rights. Being involved in the creation of a pregnancy by giving either egg or sperm does not give you rights over a pregnancy, having it happen in your uterus does.

  73. Has anyone been bothering to read my arguments at all?

    My sole point regarding the fathers is that there is a LEGAL inequality in many states currently that can obligate him financially, in a very crippling way, despite giving him no say in the matter. I think that there is something ethically wrong with that.

    I can't see how one can discount that and basically say "tough luck, it's not your body". I've already granted that the decision to terminate or not to terminate the pregnancy falls exclusively on the pregnant party. All I am arguing is that the other party not be punished as a result, should he have wished for another outcome.

    If there were no laws that obligated the father to pay child support merely for having contributed the sperms, there would be no issue here whatsoever.

    (A note: for those who are wondering, my interest in this issue is purely academic. I have no intention ever to have children, and will likely never be in a situation where I could possibly do so even accidentally).

  74. @Joé McKen;

    Thanks for the support. Since you seem to have understood exactly what I was trying to say at least I know it's not (likely) my writing skills that have sent Anonymous off onto several wild tangents.

    @ Anonymous;

    I'd argue with you Anonymous, but since you've decided to make up my side for me I don't see the point. In none of my posts have I ever argued that the non-pregnant party (since you take fair issue at the use of father) should have more say. I have simply argued that it be a requirement that they be consulted.

    @ McBender;

    Your proposals are interesting, but in practice they would be incredibly complicated. I agree, in principal, that there should be an opt-out (though I think it should be well before actual birth). However since I'm not a legal expert, and this strikes me as one of the most complicated issues you could come up with, I didn't feel qualified to comment beyond "I agree, but... damn that'd be complicated", and that alone didn't seem worth posting.

    However, along those lines, someone (maybe you) mentioned that in some areas men were required to pay child support and at the same time denied a paternity test. All I can say is a most inelegant WTF...

    It brings up an interesting point though, now that I'm thinking about it again, what defines a father? Genetics or time spent?


    Jenny and Joe start dating while she is pregnant with Joe's best friends baby. Joe's best friend died tragically in a car crash and they found solace in each other, which is where the relationship came from (no infidelity, nothing like that).

    Jenny carries the baby to term and gives birth to a bouncing baby girl named Jackie.

    Ten years later Jenny and Joe get a divorce.

    Joe has functioned as Jackie's father her entire life. Does the fact that he doesn't share a miniscule amount of DNA with her mean he doesn't have any parental obligations?

    Can he just up and leave? Conversely, can Jenny just up and leave, taking Jackie away from her 'Dad'?

  75. No problem, JesseS. You basically just told me what I believed in. =P I’ve never had a very clear image on just how the father-to-be’s rights vs. the expectant mother’s rights should be balanced in the abortion debate, but your position seems to be pretty much how I feel about it overall. The mother has the final say, this much is incontrovertible, but the father has the right to be consulted, at the very least, so it doesn’t feel like she’s just taking his chance at fatherhood away from him. For men who cherish the idea of children, this would understandably be quite heartbreaking.

    I’m not gonna respond to the multiple posts by Anonymous as they constitute nothing but a gigantic strawmen; how the babbler somehow managed to translate “it’s the woman’s choice, the man has the right to be consulted at least” into “men have control over women’s pregnancies!” is wholly beyond me. Someone needs some literacy courses.

    Also, your example is rather interesting. In my opinion, in such a case, DNA should be made irrelevant; if Joe has filled the child’s father role during her entire life and even prior to birth, then as far as I’m concerned, he is her father at 100% and deserves every right. I know nothing about how the law on the matter work, but I know he should have parental obligations, such as shared guardianship (or whatever you English-speakers call it) and some child support. Same way vice-versa, of course, if Jenny decides to leave, then she should also fulfill her parental obligations. It’s only fair.

    To me, DNA plays a completely insignificant role in determining parenthood, or parental obligations. It’s all about the bonds that are formed through nursing and raising the child. If a man impregnates a woman during a one-night stand and never sees her again, he should have no parental responsibilities, IMO. Although, if the woman is forced to raise the child as a single mother on limited means, then the issue once again becomes uncomfortably complicated; I then feel like he should have some obligation to help, seeing as he’s the one who got her pregnant, but then again, he didn’t actually participate in the pregnancy or the child-rearing … so the plot thickens.

  76. @JesseS:

    A small pet peeve, it's not McBender but M. C. Bender; it's just my initials (if you're going to address me, mcbender is fine). I should really use a different handle.

    That said, I agree with you that it's legally complicated, and might be difficult to implement... however, such is life. Not implementing a policy to deal with these sorts of situations seems to me like it would be even worse.

    Of course, IANAL, so I don't know how much such a policy would screw up the legal system currently in place.

    @Joe McKen:

    I think it's interesting that you and I are approaching the same situation from opposite ends. You seem to be more concerned about the father who wants to be a father but the mother wants to abort, while I'm more concerned with the converse scenario; perhaps all this does is highlight my own personal biases (in that I do not like and do not want children).

    The woman of limited means scenario gives me worry as well, because I agree that it's complicated. My gut reaction is to say, "well, she knew that she couldn't afford it and elected to have the child anyway, the financially imprudent thing to do; therefore, she should suffer the consequences", but I find that callous and, I think, an inappropriate response. However, I can't think of an alternative scenario that is fair to all parties involved.

    Perhaps all this is simply to say that I haven't thought this through as much as I ought to have. By commenting here, I'm merely thinking aloud.

  77. M. C. Bender (I’m a stickler for getting names right), I don’t think there’s anyone here who isn’t “merely thinking aloud”. ;-)

    To be honest, I don’t really think of myself as being biased towards the father or the mother; it’s not that I want kids or not (hell, I’m just 18 and still a virgin (and not ashamed of it!), so I think I’ve got some time to think it through, hehe). I’m merely passionate about what’s the fairest choice for both parties. Abortion is certainly primarily a feminine issue, what with it being the woman who has to go through the pregnancy with the ultimate goal of becoming a mother, but considering how fathers can develop equally strong bonds towards their offspring, even when still in the womb, I just think they should therefore have some sway over women’s end decision, whatever they may be. But in the end, it’s just an incredibly complicated and muddled issue that definitely has no absolutes; it’s not exactly a flowchart sort of situation with “yes/no” answers. I believe each and every case needs to be evaluated individually and subjectively, rather than pronouncing any general judgments.

    Also, my gut reaction is the same as yours when it comes to the single mother of limited means scenario: she knew she was pregnant and never had an abortion and nor did she give the child up for adoption, so it’s her own decision and she should be responsible, all that. But, as with you, I feel this is remarkably insensitive a reaction. As I said before, I guess each situation has to be evaluated and judged separately. (As with most of anything in life, I suppose.)

  78. Joe McKen, mcbender, JesseS: Kudos on all the civil and carefully thought out comments on these complicated issues. I just wanted to comment quickly on the idea that any woman considering an abortion should be legally required to consult the would-be father... While this sounds pretty good and reasonable in the abstract, I'm not so sure it would work out so well in practice.

    If the man and woman are already unable to communicate about the matter on their own, for whatever reason, I'm not sure that a government-mandated consultation session would do any good at all... And in the worst cases, I fear that it would just end up putting a woman who's already in a vulnerable position under an incredible amount of stress, pressure, and potentially emotional blackmail, perhaps even to the point of being shamed into doing something that's not best for her when it should be entirely her decision.

    I really don't mean to sound overly callous about all this, or to imply that men don't have feelings about it. I'm very much in love with a good, kind, patient man right now, and if I were to ever find myself considering an abortion, I wouldn't hesitate to talk to him about it. His input would be deeply valued and taken to heart while making the decision.

    But if I were in an abusive relationship, or no relationship, or not so lucky in any of a million other ways, I don't feel that the government should have any say in whether or to what extent I must consult the biological father before I decide whether to have a child or not.

    Ultimately, I think it should be between the woman, her doctor, and whoever else she willingly chooses to confide in, whether that includes her family, her friends, the biological father, any other romantic partners that happen to be involved, or even nobody at all.

  79. @Sarah: Your point about the government seems very sound to me. It might also serve to create yet another bureaucratic empire for the otherwise unemployable to frolic in.

  80. @Sarah: Indeed, I don't think anything good would come out of involving the government. We (by which I mean all countries) have enough bureaucratic empires for the otherwise unemployable to frolic in.

  81. @Sarah:
    I dunno about the others, but personally, I wouldn’t see it as a legal requirement; more of a … moral/ethical one. I don’t think it should be put into law explicitly, in case some unforseen situations arise where it would just cause problems. But if the woman does love, or at least respects, her partner, then she should at least let him know about her feelings and let them both try to sort through the affair together rather than her going it alone and the man ending up feeling cheated out of it and ignored. Again, it’s just fair.

    In the end, though, of course, no-one has any right over a woman’s uterus, or anything in it, other than the woman herself. It’s entirely her choice; but merely advocating that her partner, who may well be holding onto the idea of becoming a father, be at least informed of her decision prior to her carrying out the operation, seems rather … normal.

  82. Sorry, it looked as if the first post had failed, so I did it again. Next time, I'll wait a bit.

  83. Perhaps legal requirement is a bit extreme. I should explain the process in Alberta (where I am) and show where I thought it would fit in.

    In Alberta when you go into an abortion clinic you are required to first have a consult with either a doctor or a trained counselor. They go over possible alternatives, the risks involved and basically just try and make sure you are aware of everything before making a decision.

    I was envisioning it as an add-on to this step;

    They'd ask "do you know who the father is", "how close are you" etc.

    if the mother indicated that they were in a relationship, or that she still knew the father, the doctor would encourage them to come in together to talk about it.

    When the father showed up they'd have another consult. If he got verbally abusive security escorts him off the premises. If he changed her mind politely, then they'd immediately by referred to a pregnancy doctor (it's late sorry, I can't remember what they are called). If he didn't change her mind then at least the vast counseling and therapy resources at the clinic would be made immediately available to him.

    I was thinking more on a legal requirement for the doctor to bring it up rather then on a legal requirement for the mother. I worded it poorly.

  84. Addendum; the other benefit to this, and my main motivation, is that many abortion clinics deny access to the fathers, and this would fix that.

  85. @JesseS:
    Put like that, it does make sense. A man/father-to-be who’s in an active relationship with the mother should at least have the right to try and plead his case before she made her decision. The added steps you mentioned are perfectly reasonable.

    I didn’t know that many abortion clinics denied access to the fathers; I suppose it makes some shred of sense, in the manner that the father could potentially become hostile in such a situation and environment, but if he’s supportive of his partner’s decision, then he should at least have the right to be there with her.

  86. I don't think it's so much because of anything the father might so much as Alberta is very conservative (lots of people would like to just get rid of the clinics) and the clinics have limited resources and they've decided that fathers are important enough to share those with them.

    For all I know about clinics elsewhere in the world this might not be an issue and I could be talking out of my ass, but I've heard that the problem is more-or-less the same across both the rest of Canada and the U.S.

  87. Man, I'm going to bed because my typing is terrible.


    "...anything the father might DO* so much..."

    "...fathers areN'T* important enough..."

  88. Thanks for the clarification, JesseS -- if the suggestion is that a consultation with the biological father should be recommended but optional, and the woman can politely decline, then I don't think I'd have any particular problem with it. It's only when you start moving into the realm of actual legal requirements that I start to worry about unintended consequences.

    I would certainly agree that if you're in a loving (or even respectful) relationship with a person, you have a moral / ethical obligation to communicate with them about the prospect of ending a pregnancy, just like you have a moral / ethical obligation not to cheat on them, etc. I'm just not sure these are the kinds of things that are best achieved through laws or regulations.

  89. A fetus is the bottom of the totem pole? No, I think maybe animals, or bugs, occupy that position. A person is still a person whether or not they live inside a woman's belly.

    You know what, after reading this article I might believe that atheists occupy the bottom spot on the totem pole. Disgusting.

  90. I must say, after reading Anonymous’s brilliant reasoning, faultless logic, irrefutably-supported claims and trenchant comebacks to each of Jen’s points, I have now changed my mind about abortion rights.

    … or not.

  91. Hmmm, Anonymous may have accidentally brought up an interesting point (also; this topic has been making the rounds over at ScienceBlogs, specifically Primate Diaries, so its somewhat on my mind). Where DOES an animal fit on the totem pole?

    It has been shown that most, if not all, mammals have emotions of some sort, and that they most definitely feel pain. There is mounting evidence this extends all the way done through the animal kingdom, and personally would argue that birds and reptiles certainly hav the same emotional range as mammals.

    As pets I have both cats and an assortment of reptiles, mostly varanids (monitors, same family as the Komodo Dragon, but mine are much smaller), and I frequently act as a foster home for the CSPCA when they have reptiles that are significantly large then they are used to handling (boa constrictos, large varanids, some of which can grow up to 6-7 feet in length, tegus etc).

    It has been my experience that reptiles have the same range of emotions as my cats, they are just harder to pick up on because the body language is extremely different.

    For me animals and children sit equally on the totem pole. Crimes against animals and children are the same to me, it is all crimes against dependents. Things that you are responsible for and that cannot defend themselves.

    To get back to the somewhat beaten to death totem pole analogy, a fetus isn't some much 'below' animals on my pole, it is not even ON my totem pole. My totem pole is reserved for things that can experience suffering (which is why, going waaaay back to my original post, at some point before birth I argue for the fetus to be considered a baby).

  92. Interesting points, JesseS. I disagree that children and animals should be in the same place in the metaphorical totem pole; children (by which I mean in the age range of 4—12) are much more emotional, sapient and sentient (not to mention intelligent in general) than any animals, no matter how advanced they may be. Yes, I agree that the vast majority of animals share some capacity for emotionality – or, as one would put it, a capacity for suffering, both physically and psychologically – but definitely not all (such as insects and the likes, who simply don’t have the sort of brains or nervous systems that allow for such feelings). And I don’t believe that those that do – mammals, reptiles (at least, by your experience, as you said), and some others – should be equated to humans, no matter what age. Even children can feel and do much more than even the most evolved of animals, so it’s just not a fair comparison to make, IMO.

    I also agree that fetuses don’t have a spot on the totem pole – at least, not until the end stages of the pregnancy, at which point they can feel pain and show signs of more advanced mental activity. Until then, they don’t feel or know anything; nothing more than blobs of cells, as is put so often.

  93. Speaking of blobs of cells.... it is often pretended that "life (or personhood, or whatever) begins at conception" has always been Christian doctrine. It hasn't. In the middle ages (my area of expertise) it was held that God "quickens" the child in the womb, and it then shows this by kicking. That's in the second trimester, isn't it? It would seem to follow that before God has quickened the child, it can't be quick, that is, is not a living person. Must be a clump of cells or something. And indeed, in that period the Church didn't officially condone early abortion, but she didn't get her knickers in a twist over it either.

    So... the present Catholic doctrine is not in fact traditional, but something brand-new. Just how new I'm not sure; but my impression is twentieth century. What caused the shift? I don't know that either. It might have been all those pictures of foetuses sucking their thumbs, it might have been politics (e.g. one cardinal wanting to put one over on another cardinal). I shall leave that to someone who knows about the Vatican in the age of the John Pauls. Just don't let anyone kid you that the ancients or medievals thought that a two-month foetus was ensouled. They didn't.

  94. For the first time I'm going to have to disagree with you Joe, although only partially.

    First, where I will agree with you without any caveats is "Even children can feel and do much more than even the most evolved of animals, so it’s just not a fair comparison to make, IMO."

    Certainly I would agree that the average child in your chosen age group (4-12) has more nuanced emotions, is more capable, is more intelligent, etc.

    Where I strongly disagree is that this should give them a higher standing.

    To me the most important thing is whether they can experience suffering on both a physical and psychological level. To what range they can experience this is of no consequence to me, it is sufficient that they can.

  95. @ Hugo;

    Apparently we were posting at the same time since I missed yours. I wasn't aware of that history, and I find it very interesting. I'm going to have to go do some research now. Yay!

  96. @JesseS:
    We seem to be taking different approaches to this “equating-children-to-animals” thing. I don’t believe in any absolutes, and to me, “what range they can experience” physical and psychological feelings matters very much so. I find it illogical to place a creature such as a young human, and any animal, at the save level, if one creature is clearly mentally superior to the other. (I choose not to say “physically superior” as human children aren’t usually the most agile or dexterous of creatures.) From what you write, it sounds like you’re saying that because both groups are “dependents”, therefore, they’re equally important? This is quite wrong to me. A child shall always come first before an animal, at least to me.

  97. I'll through out some situations to you;

    There is a burning building with two children inside of the same age, one is normal in every sense of the word, one has severe developmental disabilities and will never be even minorly self sufficient. You can only save one.

    The normal child is clearly mentally superior. Most people would almost certainly save them rather then the disabled child.

    Same situation, but two normal children, but one happens to be your progeny.

    You choose the one that's yours.

    Now combine the situations, except the disabled child is yours. Would you really run in and save the clearly mentally superior one over your own child? I doubt it.

    On a personal level everyone is going to make different choices, but on a macro level, on the level where we formulate ideals or ethics or laws I think they should all be treated the same.

    So long as we have direct influence over another sentient (using the old definition of sentience meaning 'feeling, self aware') creature I feel we are duty-bound to treat them all the same.

    I feel that just as we must, on a macro level think of all humans as equal, even though on a personal level we know we won't live up to that lofty ideal (I doubt give the same situation, but a known skinhead and a university professor instead, I would have even the slightest guilt over choosing the professor every time), we should try do the same for the animal kingdom (which includes humans), even though we know that on a personal level we will fall short.

  98. I don’t see how your series of examples serves to demonstrate how children and animals are equal. Of course, the outcomes you described are exactly what I would do, but they serve only to show how personal biases and emotionality-based judgments affect one’s decisions in times of emergency. They do nothing to show how animals are equal or not to human children.

    Relatedly, a question: if you consider animals (at least, the more advanced ones) to be of equal value to human children, then what about human adults?

  99. Sorry, I wasn't quite clear, I was trying to show why I disagreed with worth-based ethics in general, I wasn't really addressing how humans and animals are equal.

    To me they are equal because they both have feelings. If I ran into a burning building to save a child, but ran into a cat first, I'd grab the cat and get it to safety first.

    I think the reason I'm having a hard time explaining my stance is because it's not that I have reasons to elevate animals to human status, it's that I DON'T have reasons to elevate humans above animal status. Does that make sense?

    To me so long as a creature has feelings it is accorded equal worth. I am one of those people who would be quite willing to be sterilized, and have half the world sterilized, in an effort to reduce human overpopulation and give animals some breathing room.

    In response to your second question; I don't see a difference between children and adults in humans, and therefore everything I have said about animals versus children you can replace child with adult and I will still consider it true.

    There are lots of examples people trot out for why humans are superior, generally they have to do with out evolved intellect and the technology we have accomplished with it. I do not find them impressive. We subjectively view our intelligence as unique and special because we have it, and they don't, but octopi have camouflage we can't even dream of, bats have echolocation, many reptiles, especially chelonians (turtles and tortoises), can live for centuries. To me these are equal to our vaunted intelligence in terms of making a species worthwhile.

    I feel that our intelligence obligates us to preserve and protect other creatures without it, much as I feel that someone who is naturally stronger has an obligation to protect those who are not.

    Obviously this raises more questions then it answers from a practical perspective. Life is always significantly more complicated then we'd like. I would like to just chip away at the belief that humans are innately superior, as I don't feel it is true on any level.

    That rambled on a bit more then I would've liked, if anything was unclear please point it out.

  100. I think I see what you’re doing. Basically, you see individual traits as being of equal value; intelligence is the same as emotionality and camouflage and speed/strength and so on. Well, I guess this is the line where our agreement splits; I do firmly believe in the superiority of intelligence as a trait, in terms of survival (though not necessarily longevity, which is different), and that all traits are not equal. To me, camouflage is worth less than speed (why hide when you can get away altogether?), which is worth less than flight (why run when you can leave your opponent below altogether?), which is worth less than intelligence (no need to fly away when you can avoid problems altogether) … and you get the idea.

    All adaptation certainly do have their uses – or else there wouldn’t be adaptations – but I think it’s wrong to consider them as equal. It’s similar to saying that because I have $100 and Bill Gates has ... however many tens of billions he has (rich sumbitch), our “trait” of having money is equal, because we both have money. You see what I mean? Some traits count for more and have more use than do others. That’s just obvious.

    Also, a bit of a sidenote, but longevity isn’t a particularly useful trait; sure, those creatures can live real long – under optimal conditions, that is – but that doesn’t mean their chances of getting injured, killed, hunted or mated/reproduced are any more or less. In terms of how it affects your survival odds, as an individual and a species, it’s nearly inconsequential. (Not to mention that most creatures who live real long usually do so thanks to a slower metabolism and calmer lifestyle, which tends to result in less reproduction, which further lessens their chances of survival as a species.)

    As I said, I do consider some traits to be worth more than others, and also, the amount to which individual traits are applied (not sure how to word that) – such as, how much more intelligent one species is over another, or how faster, how stronger, how longer it lives on average, etc. – to also have their own considerations. Humans and canines are both more intelligent than most other types of animals, but humans are still vastly more so than canines are. Which establishes their intellectual superiority.

    And seeing as our comparatively massive intellect allows us to do virtually anything – build advanced communities, organize our lives efficiently, protect ourselves with fortified defenses and attack with advanced weapons, communicate our intentions much more clearly with communications systems, whatever – I think that does, effectively, place us leaps and bounds over any other animal species on the planet. It’s just common sense to me.

    Of course, though, this is all macro/general talk. Humans are worth more than animals, but that doesn’t mean that, in some rare cases, I won’t elect to save, say, my beloved pet dog over a convicted child molester, if you get the idea. General superiority does not mean individual superiority – not always, anyway.

    … I wonder how tolerant Jen is to off-topic rambling? =P

  101. … and WAAAAAGH!!! O_O I SWEAR I didn’t realize I’d written that much. xD

  102. @JesseS: A news item that may interest you.

  103. Oh, I entirely agree that same traits are better. I, also, value intelligence over most other things. However, those are subjective value judgments, not objective, which to me invalidates them as a basis for ethics.

    To use your example, while Bill Gates is vastly richer then either of us, on ethical or legal grounds (I'm referring to how the legal system is supposed to work, not how it actually works) we are still equals.

    My point is that we cannot objectively decide that intelligence is superior to camouflage on a macro-level because we have a vested interest on it being superior. After all, due to the fact that we are highly likely to take ourselves out, and a good chunk of the biosphere with us for various reasons, we can not really claim that intelligence is objectively better can we?

    So while I, personally, go about my life in the belief that intelligence is one of the highest traits, and build my relationships around it, on an ethical level, at the top of my hierarchy, I cannot see any reason to artificially split humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.

    This is why I am a firm environmentalist, as well as an atheist.

    @ Hugo's link;

    That's really interesting. I, personally, wouldn't go that far, but then if I had my way humans wouldn't get lawyers either, it would all be down to forensics.

    I have a couple of friends in Switzerland, I'm going to have to talk to them about this. Thanks!

  104. « However, those are subjective value judgments, not objective, which to me invalidates them as a basis for ethics. »

    I disagree that the way we evaluate different traits’ value is subjective. If a trait is shown to create clearly better living conditions for a species and can demonstrably improve their chances of survival, then it’s superiority is quite objective, as its effects are concrete and observable. Intelligence is a superior trait because species with higher intellect tend to, on average, be more successful, and not only that, but we can clearly see how their increased intelligence helps them: the tools they use, hunting tactics, defense mechanisms, social structure, etc.

    « To use your example, while Bill Gates is vastly richer then either of us, on ethical or legal grounds (I'm referring to how the legal system is supposed to work, not how it actually works) we are still equals. »

    Oh, he’d just buy the entire system off. And probably his own little country. =P But joking aside, I do get your point. However, your example is faulty because in this case, the amount to which Gates possesses his trait (wealth) is an irrelevant matter when it comes to the judicial system. (Quick semi-random sidenote: one mustn’t confuse the legal system, the one tasked with the creation and application of laws, and the judicial system, the one tasked with enforcing the laws and disciplining those who contradict them.) In a purely logical scenario, Gates’ fortune is a pointless attribute when it comes to the courts; I meant more of the sort of trait that does help in some way or another.

    « After all, due to the fact that we are highly likely to take ourselves out, and a good chunk of the biosphere with us for various reasons, we can not really claim that intelligence is objectively better can we? »

    I see we share the trait of cynicism. ;-) But, getting to the point: humans’ propensity for self-destruction and, well, being so damn senseless so much of the time, can’t really be pinned on our comparatively massive intelligence, or intelligence in general – not directly. It’s human nature that makes us screw ourselves over so often, thanks to our weaknesses such as greed, shortsightedness, emotional instability, and so on. Intelligence is really just the “problem-solving” aspect to us – what allows us to figure out how to build bridges and harness electricity, basically. The way we use our intellect, for better or for worse, isn’t really related.

    I certainly am an environmentalist as well, though simply out of a sense of responsibility for our world and compassion for those living in it, human or otherwise. (Not to mention, I’m just a complete animal-lover, period. =3)

  105. "That's really interesting. I, personally, wouldn't go that far, but then if I had my way humans wouldn't get lawyers either, it would all be down to forensics."

    What worries me about the Swiss proposal is how they are going to do the cross-examination, so as to test what the animal's attorney claims.

  106. Without reading all 100+ comments on this great post, I'd just like to add that I agree with you, Jen, and I'm glad you wrote this. I'm sharing this on Facebook and opening the topic for debate. Let's hope it stays in the realm of mature discussion.

  107. with regards to the history post - it should be noted that abortion has occurred in pretty much every society throughout history. People often chose to think of it as "Restoring the menses" instead of "terminating a pregnancy." The methods were often extremely damaging. Likewise, contraceptive measures have been wide spread throughout history. I am thankful to live in a day and age where abortion and contraception are not damaging to my health, where I can become informed about my body, and where I have the right to chose what is best for me.