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It’s Blog for Choice Day: why I’m pro-choice.

by Bill Prendergast on January 23, 2013 · 5 comments

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Here’s why I’m pro-choice, and have been for more than thirty years: it’s not a human being.

If we were talking about protecting the life of a human being, then we’d have to admit that Roe was incorrectly decided and a woman has no fundamental right to choose to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. The purpose of law is to protect human life, interests, and rights.

But when we’re talking about protecting life in the womb, we’re not talking about protecting a human being–we’re talking about a fertilized human egg (a zygote,) a blastocyst, an embryo in the first trimester. Those things aren’t human beings.

I’m going to tell you why I’m sure a fertilized human egg isn’t a human being. But first: let me tell why some pro-life physicians think they are. (CONTINUED)
From a pro-life physician’s standpoint, the fertilized egg is a human being from the moment of conception. Here’s why:

Pro-life physician argument one: It’s the result of mating between two human beings, therefore the resulting living thing must be considered human. (Paraphrase: If its mom was a human and the dad was a human, the thing growing in mom’s womb has got to be human–right? I mean–it’s not a chicken…)

Response: Even if the mom was human and the dad was human…the result of that union does not necessarily constitute a human being. A hypothetical to demonstrate: A man is decapitated in a horrible traffic accident. Via some miracle of cooincidence, physicians with the proper equipment are on the scene, and via another medical triumph: they manage to keep the victim’s heart beating, blood pumping, lungs breathing. They take the victim back into the hospital–and there, with the help of medical equipment of the future: they are able to enclose and stabilize the victim–and keep the heart beating, the blood pumping, the lungs breathing.

Unfortunately the victim’s head was destroyed in the accident. So even though the physicians can continue to keep the victim “alive”: there is no technology or chance that the victim’s mind and consciousness can ever be restored.

Question: in that state we’re imagining–can the victim be considered “a human being?”

It’s a philosophical question and it’s a matter of opinion, but I think most of us would answer “no.” Even though this thing is “alive” (heart beating, breathing, etc.) and even though it is undoubtedly human as a matter of species (the offspring of a human mother and father)–I think that those facts alone are not enough to qualify this entity as “a human being.”

(If you think my gory hypothetical story is too far-fetched to be relevant: consider the philosophical and moral dilemma regarding the fate of human beings who have irretrievably lost mind and consciousness and self-awareness through illness and accident. Consider the questions facing surviving family and care-providers and society in those cases, and you will see that my gory hypothetical about “what constitutes a human being,” is far-fetched but quite relevant.)

For the same reason that most people would say the victim in my story is no longer a human being: I believe that that “human life” does not “exist from the moment of conception.” Just like the victim in my story: no mind, no consciousness, no self-awareness–none of those things, at this given point in time…means that the thing the thing we are talking about is not “a human being.” The fact that it was a human being or will become a human being (because its progenitors were human) doesn’t mean that it is a human being, regardless of stage of development or circumstance. And the fact that the tissue is human as a matter of species isn’t determinative either: as we saw with the headless, breathing victim, “species” isn’t the essential determinant in concluding something is a human being.

2) Pro-life physician argument two: It’s alive, it’s a living thing. When you terminate a pregnancy, you’re killing a living thing.

Response: True, but irrelevant. If the thing that you are terminating is not a human being, there’s no real moral or philosophical issue to quarrel about. (Unless you believe (as some minorities around the world do) that killing any living thing is a transgression.) The entity growing in the womb from the moment of conception is living, but so are the carrots growing in my garden, so is the fish I’ll have for dinner next week, so is a dog that I might have to put down due to serious illness. Killing a human being is usually objectionable; ending life that isn’t human is permissible in countless circumstances.

So I concluded that a thing without mind or consciousness or self-awareness is not “a human being” (or “person” if you like the relevant constitutional language.) Even if it is the living result of human procreation–these facts, by themselves, are enough to qualify it as “a human being.”

Now an opponent of Roe would say: that’s just your opinion. Yes. That’s my opinion, that’s my conclusion–in the same way that a Roe opponent’s opinion or conclusion is “just his philosophical or religious or logically derived opinion; his conclusion.”

There is no reason why a Roe opponent’s opinion about “what constitutes a human being” should trump mine, and become law. But there are at least two reasons why my opinion about “what constitutes a human being” should trump that of a Roe opponents.

The first reason is the Roe decision itself. It is the law of the land, handed down by a lawful government. It indicates that my opinion is supported by law and that the opinion of Roe opponents is wrong. (If the courts and legislature believed that Roe opponents were right, and that a fertilized egg or blastocyst or embryo is indeed a human being or “person”: these officials would end the Roe policy. And they haven’t. Thus: my opinion that an embryo is not a human being “trumps” the opinion of a Roe opponent, as a matter of law.)

The second reason my opinion seems to trump that of a Roe opponent: the verdict of the American people on the issue. For forty years the American people have accepted the Roe decision and stood by it. They’ve stood by the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion in the first trimester (despite strenuous and chronic attempts of Roe opponents to end that right.) Once again: if the American people believed that a fertilized egg or embryo in the first trimester constituted a human being–in the same way that they are human beings–they would demand that Roe be overturned.

They haven’t demanded that and they’re not demanding that now. On these grounds, my personal opinion once again “beats” the opinion of a Roe opponent, in that my personal opinion on this matter has more societal support.

I understand: just because my opinion coincides with that of officials who regularly consider the matter, that doesn’t end the controversy over “what is or is not a human being.” In our culture personal moral, philosophical and religious matters of opinion are not decided by elected officials and judges. And they shouldn’t be. But when there is a disagreement about which choices are prohibited and which are permitted–elected officials and judges are charged with deciding that. So as a practical matter, their opinion as to “what is/is not a human being” is authoritative.

And I also understand: just because my opinion coincides with that of that of the majority that condones and supports Roe: that doesn’t end controversy about “what is or is not a human being.” The fact that an opinion enjoys widespread support doesn’t mean it’s correct. But in a representative democracy, the majority’s opinion counts for a lot in determining which rights we have, which choices are permissible.

So a Roe opponent has a right to maintain their opinion as to “what is or is not a human being”–regardless of the fact that the law says otherwise and society at large says otherwise.

But a Roe opponent does not have the right to use law to force a Roe supporter to act in accordance with that opinion–against the verdict of officials recognizing Roe as law, against the verdict of fellow citizens who continue to support Roe. Roe opponents have no such right…

…no matter how fervently they are convinced that “a human life is in existence from the moment of conception.” That is their personal or philosophical or religious belief; Roe opponents have no right to bind the choices of fellow citizens who disagree with their personal, philosophical, or religious beliefs. (I wouldn’t use law compel one of them to choose abortion despite their personal belief on this matter of “what is a human being.” So why do they assume they have the right to use law to prevent fellow citizens from acting on their personal belief on the same matter?)

Those are some of the reasons I’ve always supported reproductive choice. There are other, equally important reasons. For example: I believe in the right of a woman to control decisions affecting her own body, health, and life.

If I’m sure–as sure as I can be–that a fertilized egg is not “a human being” in the same sense that you or I are human beings…what makes Roe opponents think they have the right to force me (or anyone else) to behave as if it is a human being? The truth is: they have no such right; not as a matter of law, logic, or public morals.    

AO January 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

You almost addressed the obvious hole in your “human being” reasoning with your first example, “So even though the physicians can continue to keep the victim “alive”: there is no technology or chance that the victim’s mind and consciousness can ever be restored. ”  In the case of abortion, is there technology that could be used resulting in an alive human being?  What is the potential of the zygote?  If it’s not a human being, why abort it?  It’s nothing too important.

as to your point about pro-choicers being in the everlasting majority, “Nearly half of Americans think of themselves as pro-life, often a larger percentage than considers itself “pro-choice.” State governments are passing what protections for unborn children they can, given the Court’s hostility. The number of abortions has been dropping, if slowly, for years.”  

Of course pro lifers can use the law if they gain the majority in the supreme court.  We use force to enforce a lot of laws you probably don’t agree with.

Bill Prendergast January 23, 2013 at 12:24 pm

first objection:

“If it’s not a human being, why abort it?  It’s nothing too important.”

1) You argue that if I’m right (“it’s not a human being”) then “it’s nothing too important.” That’s a non sequitur. “Not human” does not equal “nothing too important.” Many non-human things have great importance in particular contexts–examples include money, the weather, a fertilized human egg (in light of future consequences for the pregnant woman’s life and health.)

2) Despite the pose you assume, I don’t think I have to spell out the reasons that a woman might choose to “abort it,” even though it’s not a human being. Those reasons are all too clear to the people affected, and to most other people. The point remains: whether or not the entity we are talking about does or does not qualify as a human being. If it is in a woman’s body and does not qualify as a human being, the choice about whether or not to remove it is for the woman affected. Not for you, or for me, or for pro-lifers.

“In the case of abortion, is there technology that could be used resulting in an alive human being?”

Of course there is technology that could used to facilitate the growth of an embryo into “an alive human being.” But “the existence of such technology” does not make “a zygote or first trimester embryo” the same as “a human being”–any more than the existence of “poultry incubator technology” means that “a chicken egg” is the same as “a chicken.”

In any case, you missed the point of the story of headless victim kept alive by technology. That is a story about how even something that was once definitely human, can be found to be “not human”–despite the fact that its tissues are of the human species, its parents were humans, and its heart is still beating, etc. Even something that did once qualify as human, no longer qualifies where there is: no mind, plus no consciousness, plus no self-awareness.

For the same reasons I believe that a fertilized egg or first trimester embryo is not a human being. Even though its tissues are those of the human species, its parents are human, and its heart may be beating, etc.: no mind, plus no consciousness, plus no self-awareness equals “no human being”–just as the headless victim being kept alive is no longer a human being, and for the same reasons. The best you can say for the fertilized egg or first trimester embryo is that: “if all goes well and the proper measures are taken, this fertilized egg or embryo will eventually become a human being–it is not yet human.”

Thus the availability of measures or technologies that would enable the fertilized egg to eventually grow into a human being are not relevant to my point: that in the earliest stages of pregnancy, it has not yet become a human being and so does not merit the legal protections we guarantee to human beings or “persons.”


as to your point about pro-choicers being in the everlasting majority,

…I never said that pro-choicers are “the everlasting majority.” When you argue dishonestly and are caught doing that, you discredit your own case and reputation.

“Nearly half of Americans think of themselves as pro-life, often a larger percentage than considers itself “pro-choice.” State governments are passing what protections for unborn children they can, given the Court’s hostility. The number of abortions has been dropping, if slowly, for years.”

To extent that any of that is true, none it discredits or refutes my argument and conclusion that “it’s not a human being.” As I already pointed out at length in the post above: public sentiment and official decisions by government bodies cannot settle the philosophical, moral, and religious issue of “what is or is not a human being.” It goes both ways: even if an overwhelming number of officials and the public disagreed with me–that would not refute my opinion on a philosophical, religious, and moral issue.

(And as I explained above) I introduced official and public opinion on the issue to show that–as a practical matter affecting American decision making on this philosophical, moral and religious question:

1) despite strenuous opposition and advocacy from Roe opponents for forty years, there has been no public or official repeal of Roe’s first trimester doctrine. Which means that as practical matter and for the last forty years, an effective majority of the public accepts Roe.

2) if the public and its representatives agreed that “a human being exists from the moment of conception,” they would not accept the Roe first trimester doctrine as a practical matter. Thus (however much polls may shift either way from year to year) an effective majority of the public and officials accept the argument that an embryo in the first trimester is not a “person”/”a human being.”  

Of course pro lifers can use the law if they gain the majority in the supreme court.  We use force to enforce a lot of laws you probably don’t agree with.    

I agree with that; I don’t know why you seem to believe I disagree. “Of course pro-lifers can use the law if they gain the majority in the Supreme Court”–no argument about that assessment of how our republic works. As you say, “we use force to enforce a lot of laws (I) probably don’t agree with.” If the “officials” on the Supreme Court were to declare a first trimester embryo a “person” under the US Constitution, the federal government and states would be compelled to use force under law to protect it.

I never said that that was not the case. What I said was this (and please read it carefully this time, noting the emphasis):

“But a Roe opponent does not have the right to use law to force a Roe supporter to act in accordance with that opinion–*against the verdict of officials* recognizing Roe as law, against the verdict of fellow citizens who continue to support Roe. Roe opponents have no such right…”

The verdict of officials (including the Supreme Court) is that the Roe doctrine on the first trimester is the law. That’s never been overturned. Thus “a Roe opponent” (whether an anti-abortion politician or a demonstrator on a picket line outside a clinic) has no right to use law to bind a pregnant woman’s decision to elect abortion in the first trimester. Unless Roe is overturned: no such right exists to use the law in such a way exists in Roe opponents.

Roe opponents may argue for overturning Roe, they may support or enact laws designed to discourage abortion or access to same–but because Roe is the law of the land, they have no right to use law to stop a woman electing abortion in the first trimester.

It’s not really a controversial or “hard to understand” position.  

AO January 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm

It’s not just that there is technology that could be used that would result in a “human being” under your definition, it is the very real likelihood of a “human being” if you don’t use technology to end it.  Just because the headless victim is no longer a “human being” doesn’t mean it never was, and the zygote not yet being a human being doesn’t mean it never will be.  You don’t need technology to have babies.

Infants are not self-aware, delivering the baby and cutting the umbilical cord is only a part of the developing brain of the baby.

Bill Prendergast January 24, 2013 at 4:32 am

You write:

“It’s not just that there is technology that could be used that would result in a “human being” under your definition, it is the very real likelihood of a “human being” if you don’t use technology to end it.”

All true (and thanks for sticking strictly to the truth, instead of putting views in my mouth that don’t hold.)

It is true that “there is the very real likelihood of a human being, if we don’t use technology to prevent it.” That is also true of “sexual intercourse with birth control technology”–”there is a very real likelihood of a human being, if we don’t employ birth control technology.” But there is no “taking of a human life” via use of birth control technology, because the entities involved are not yet “human beings.” Ditto the fertilized egg/embryo in the first trimester–in my opinion (for the reasons I gave), those things are not yet human beings. Therefore it’s the pregnant woman’s business as to whether or not to terminate.

Once we determine that the entity growing in a woman’s womb has become a human being (because it’s developed mind AND consciousness AND self-awareness)–there are two human beings involved, and (in my opinion) the law comes into play to determine the rights of both persons.

But “what is a human being?” is still a very difficult determination to make (if you don’t accept the dogmatic religious assertion that “life begins at the moment the sperm fertilizes the egg.”) I say that a human being doesn’t exist unless this living thing is of the human species AND has “mind” AND “consciousness” AND “self-awareness;” you point out (correctly) that that can’t be right because an infant is not yet “self-aware” at that early stage of post-natal development.

Point to you–but I remind you that there is no controversy about whether a post-natal infant is a human being or not. On the other hand, there is a controversy about when life in the womb becomes “a human being.”

So I may modify my definition of “what is a human being” based on your correct observation about “self-awareness” as a necessary factor for human being status. But that doesn’t change the fact that the first trimester entity discussed in Roe has neither mind nor consciousness nor self-awareness–and thus cannot qualify as a “human being” in the sense that you are, or I am, or an infant is.

As you seem to concede: the entity in the first trimester is “the very real likelihood of a human being,” and a zygote not yet a human being may become one. True again, but all this concedes that the entity we are talking about is not yet human. And therefore terminating a pregnancy at this early stage doesn’t constitute taking a human life…and therefore a decision to terminate a pregnancy remains a legitimate personal choice for the pregnant woman.

You need not point out to me that “just because the headless victim is no longer a “human being” doesn’t mean it never was.” We have both been in agreement about that throughout this discussion; that premise is a given in my original post. Repeating it does not tend to prove your point or undermine my view.

Similarly: some may argue (to contradict my view) that a “post-natal” person in coma may have neither “mind” nor “consciousness” nor “self-awareness”…but is undoubtedly “a human being.” Because that patient once enjoyed human consciousness, and self-awareness: I would agree–if physicians and officials and family members concluded that the patient’s coma was “temporary; with a chance for recovery.” But if physicians, officials and family members determined that the patient’s condition was irreversible and thus permanent: I would say the patient is like my headless victim, no longer human, and it would be permissible to decide to end life-sustaining measures.

That’s what I would say, given my personal definition of “what constitutes a human being.” I respect the right of others to disagree with me about “what constitutes a human being.” (if, for example, family members decided to continue life sustaining measures for the patient in a permanent coma at their own expense–I consider that none of my business and none of the government’s business.) But I do not respect any alleged right of private citizens to impose their definition of “what constitutes a human being” on me, or other people who differ with them.

So you see that I have considered (and continue to consider) the consequences.

give2attain January 29, 2013 at 8:39 pm

http://www.babycenter.com/feta

http://message.snopes.com/show

How about this from a pragmatic anti-abortion pro-choice Conservative… The fetus is a human being that we are willing to give their parents permission to kill. (ie physician assisted suicide with parental approval) Since forcing the unwanted baby to be delivered would likely be worse for the child than death in many situations.

Of course, I also support physician assisted suicide, military action, capitol punishment, hunting, etc. So I am okay with the legal killing of humans and animals.

Personally I think Bill is working to rationalize his Pro-Choice beliefs.  Being more of a Libertarian in my social beliefs, I am happy to let the Parents make this poor decision instead of making the child pay for their irresponsibility through poverty, neglect, abuse, etc…  
For more of my thoughts on the topic:
http://give2attain.blogspot.co
http://give2attain.blogspot.co

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