Friday, April 20, 2007

What About The Victim?!?

Matthew Yglesias observes that pro-lifers "don't oppose abortion rights because they think such rights are bad for the health of pregnant women...They oppose it because they think fetuses have moral rights that ought to be instantiated as legal rights." He's right that this makes many anti-abortion arguments pretty disingenuous. I bring it up, though, because it reminds me of the only angle of the abortion debate I find interesting to discuss.

Basically, I'd go a step further than Yglesias and say that it's not just dishonest for opponents of abortion to appeal to public health arguments - that the procedures are physically dangerous, or emotionally traumatic, or whatever - but also contradictory. If you actually think that fetuses are people, with all of the ethical and legal rights that personhood entails, then there's no reason to be concerned about the health of a woman undergoing an abortion in the first place. After all, if a fetus is a person, then abortion is murder, and we don't arrange homicide laws to protect the health of murderers.

In fact, I would imagine that ordinary homicide is a pretty dangerous activity to engage in; you may be initiating an aggressive confrontation you can't win, for instance, or traumatizing yourself for life. Nevertheless, if I were to advocate stricter laws against murder on those grounds, I think people, and conservatives in particular, would be pretty uniform in their judgment that I was failing to adequately appreciate the wrongness of murder and the extent to which being a murderer costs you many of your rights.

The point is, Who cares about a murderer's health and well-being? It seems to me that to the extent that pro-lifers advocate protecting the health of would-be aborters, they don't really think abortion is all that serious of a moral infraction.


Zack said...

So an abortion to save the life of the mother is okay even for a pro-lifer because it's killing in self defense, is that correct? For the mother, at least. But still immoral for a doctor, right? Hippocratic oath, "playing God," whatever.

Anyhow, you're right ... but if they do think that fetuses have moral rights (the right to life being the most pressing), then isn't dishonesty ... justified? Wouldn't you lie to save a life?

Somebody who says anything to get what he's after is like an action movie villain, unless what he's after is saving lives, in which case he's an action movie hero. You're accidentally accusing pro-lifers of being John McClane instead of Hans Gruber. Whoops!

Paul said...

There's no general rule to the effect that lying to promote your agenda makes you more heroic, or even seem more heroic. If anything, I'd say the general effect is to make you seem desperate. Really, how you frame the lying is a function of your sympathy for the underlying agenda, but by-and-large heroes don't lie when honesty will get the job done.

The point wasn't about lying, though, it was about inconsistency, which probably has more to do with people not thinking through their moral assumptions. I don't really think there's much outright lying going on, I think there's a lot of moral confusion. I think pro-lifers and think they think fetuses are people, but wouldn't accept all the consequences of that belief if you pushed them on it.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

Then what do you think pro-lifers' real motivation actually is?

I think it's a combination of prejudice against the type of women who stereotypically get abortions, a belief that women as a gender aren't equipped to make their own decisions, and, in no small part, a very genuine belief that human life begins at fertilization.

I don't think it's inconsistent for pro-lifers to not face the logical conclusions of their "fetuses are people!" stance. Except for the most extreme fundies, even pro-lifers probably subconsciously recognize that fetuses, ya know, aren't the same as born people in their ability to comprehend their surroundings and feel pain, so they have to also subconsciously concede that abortion isn't the same as murder. They're also constricted by legal and social definitions of murder and life.

I'm quick to defend pro-lifers' motivations because, somewhat similarly, I feel it's immoral to kill animals for food. I know that, legally, killing a cow isn't murder; and I recognize that, cognitively, cows aren't the same as humans. Further, I'm constricted by a society that treats killing animals like harvesting wheat. (Abortion isn't treated with the same indifference.) Thus, as much as I genuinely believe that animals have the ability to feel pain and experience suffering, it's not logical to punish meat eaters as if they were murderers.

Paul said...

I think you're right about the motivations of pro-lifers, Rebecca. I think the belief about life beginning at conception is genuine in the sense that people really do believe it to be the case. I just think they don't think the implications of that belief all the way through.

Paul said...

I think it's also worth emphasizing that the pro-life movement as a whole does not take your nuanced view of life. The National Right to Life Committee, for instance, maintains that "The baby living in her mother is as distinct and unique a new person/human being as you are from me, and as deserving of protection under the law as we are."

Ned Williams said...

Well, whenever I use the argument that abortifacient pills are dangerous for women or that abortion is a dangerous medical procedure, it is based on the purported values or priorities or criteria of the person I'm trying to persuade. I make no secret of the fact that I think life begins at conception, so when I argue from pro-abortion-on-demand suppositions, I am merely expecting people in favor of allowing abortion to be consistent.