Obama's Abortion Statement

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Justin Taylor notes that President Obama, by implication, seems to have endorsed the following claims in his statement on abortion on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

1. The will of the stronger is the rule of law.
2. Women are congenitally inferior and need the availability of certain medical procedures that require the killing of an innocent to stand on equal footing with men.

The first claim, while he doesn't endorse it in general and certainly resists it in many cases, does seem to me to be true of his view of abortion. The stronger get to decide for the weaker whether their lives are worth living. Now this is softened because Obama's view of abortion is derived from his view that this is to compensate for women's being less strong than men and thus needing the availability of this procedure to prevent the will of the stronger ruling. So it's sort of ironic that he would advocate on the next level down (women with respect to their fetal children) the exact principle he seems to want to resist on the higher level (women with respect to men). It is a little strange, though, to think that social injustice on one level can be fought by introducing a social injustice with an uncontroversially weaker group.

His move to justify the first claim seems to me to rely on the second claim. I think Frank Beckwith's comment, that Justin included in an update to the post, is correct to say that such a view amounts to a pretty severe form of male chauvinism. One of the things I find refreshing in third-wave versions of feminism is their insistence that women should be recognized as good in what they are without having to compare them with male standards to consider them successful or expecting them to have to be like men in every way to be equal. Pro-life feminists have recognized that most abortion rhetoric, including comments like the President's speech on this occasion, runs contrary to seeing women as equal. Even if I were to grant some of the pro-choice arguments, I'd be loath to accept those that begin with the premise that women simply are inferior and thus need to be compensated for that by giving them permission to end the lives of their own offspring so they can be equal to men. That's not an argument that I could ever see myself appreciating even if I were convinced that there's nothing wrong with abortion.

I'm sure some will object to what I'm saying here by pointing out that pro-choice positions don't accept full moral status for the fetus. Given that, it follows that there need not be the kind of concern for the fetus that would make it a case of the stronger taking advantage of the weaker. While that's true of the standard pro-choice position, it doesn't help with the second observation, since that doesn't rely on the wrongness of abortion but on a view of women's equality. Also, it's not available to President Obama, since his view on abortion is that he doesn't know if it's wrong because he isn't qualified to try to figure that out. He doesn't let that get in the way of allowing something that, for all he knows, might be morally horrific, so I'm not sure his view is all that coherent (if indeed he's being honest about his claim that he doesn't have a view). But one thing is clear. He can't, without contradicting his clear statements in the past, respond to the first claim by asserting that a fetus has no or relatively small moral claim to a right to life.

I'm certainly hoping he's going to be a better President than I expected him to be during the campaign. For the sake of this country, I want him to succeed at the good things he's trying to do and hope he has good ideas that will move the country in a better direction on many fronts. But on this issue all I can do is pray he has a miraculous change of heart. His support for a bill that will surely increase the number of abortions, while insisting repeatedly that he wants to make abortion safe, legal, and rare strikes me as typical politician's rhetoric to play to both sides while not occupying a middle ground at all, something not at all consistent with his image of moving away from such dishonesty. Perhaps there will be ways that his administration will bring needed change to the U.S. government. There are enough warning signs about his reform message conflicting with his choices for his cabinet that I'm wondering if he's going to manage to maintain his reform image at all. Two cabinet appointees who I thought were demonstraqbly unqualified in their respective positions because of immoral behavior related to their specialty (Geithner and Holder) were approved, and two more (Richardson and Daschle) withdrew in the face of corruption complaints. That's a pretty high number for the Hope and Change messiah. But there's still hope that he'll introduce some significant positive changes given some of the refreshing moves he's made already, even if his record so far also raises some serious concerns.

But one thing I've become sure of. On this issue at least, he's either very confused (i.e. intellectually dishonest within his own mind) or obfuscating (i.e. rhetorically dishonest with the public), and I see little hope of the bi-partisan cooperation he was proclaiming on this issue when he courted the evangelical vote if he continues to support a bill that will remove most ways of legislatively restricting instances of abortion, restrictions most of the nation agrees with. I contend that he's not honoring the sense of moderation that he appealed to in order to get elected when he takes that kind of extreme view.


I think it's utterly unreasonable ("very confused", though that is not the same thing as intellectual dishonesty) to attribute either claim to Obama on the basis of his statement.

He said he wants women to have the same opportunities as men. Now, there are many possible obstacles in life that may limit our options, and an unwanted pregnancy is surely one of them. This is a pro tanto reason in favour of abortion. It hardly follows from this claim that women are "congenitally inferior".

And there's absolutely nothing in his statement to suggest that the reason why women should decide the fate of their unborn children is because they are "stronger".

I think it's utterly unreasonable ("very confused", though that is not the same thing as intellectual dishonesty) to attribute either claim to Obama on the basis of his statement.

Agreed. I'm willing to say that he endorsed them by implication, but I'm not willing to attribute the sayings to him, which would mean that he would explicitly agree with them. He surely wouldn't if you made them explicit.

He said he wants women to have the same opportunities as men. Now, there are many possible obstacles in life that may limit our options, and an unwanted pregnancy is surely one of them. This is a pro tanto reason in favour of abortion. It hardly follows from this claim that women are "congenitally inferior".

Right. But it does follow from the stronger claim that women are not equal without the availability of abortion. If genuine equality requires the availability of abortion, and this is because women's bodies make them not equal, then I think it follows that women are congenitally inferior.

And there's absolutely nothing in his statement to suggest that the reason why women should decide the fate of their unborn children is because they are "stronger".

Well, there's also nothing in (1) to suggest that the reason why the will of the stronger is the rule of law is because they are stronger. Even so, the reason why women get to choose and fetuses don't certainly does have to do with the strength of women's capabilities to enforce death on a fetus, which does have to do with being stronger. If fetuses could fight back and succeed, we wouldn't have quite the same situation, would we?

If I understand Taylor correctly, he's claiming that support for Roe v Wade - all by itself - commits one to 1. How that's supposed to follow is beyond me.

The (irrelevant) material in between the Obama quote and this conclusion, where Taylor's talking about Warren's question, is playing an illicit role in reaching this conclusion. Illicit in more than one way, since Obama didn't answer the question at all (there's just no added information to help us draw that conclusion) and since Taylor assumes that the concepts of rights and human rights are purely legal - they aren't.

And I fail to see how the Obama quote commits him to 2. If you think abortion rights help equalize opportunity, that doesn't commit you to the view that women are unequal in a sense of "inferior." It commits you to the view that they are different somehow - but that's trivially true. There's some rather disingenuous equivocation going on here.

think Obama talks about women in his statement due to the simple biological fact that women get pregnant and to date men have not been observed to get pregnant (with one possible exception depending on how you want to classify a woman who had a sex change operation). Should some odd confluence of events result in a sci-fi case of a pregnant man I would imagine both Roe.v.Wade and Obama would say that the man would have equal access to abortion that women would.

Hence your #2 point is dead in the water. Abortion is not some special feature of being a woman but rather a fact of life that women face.

Regarding #1 "The will of the stronger is the rule of law."

Most pro-lifers seem unable to notice that they are trying to engage in a slight of hand with the law. A right not to be deprived of life without due process of law applies only to your relationship with the gov't, not your mother or anyone else. Whatever you want to say about Roe it is ultimately the fact that it is not government having abortions but women who choose to have them. The right's language may have application when talking about the gov't of China which forces abortion on women against their will, but not the US gov't.

This is the more conservative view of rights and there's good reason behind it. It costs the gov't nothing to simply refrain from killing you but the gov't may or maynot be able to give you life. A 'right to life' becomes something the gov't cannot guarantee in the manner it guarantees the right not to be deprived of life by it. Every day there are people who die because they are denied, say, kidneys that the gov't could give them by implementing a mandatory draft forcing healthy people to give up one of their kidneys. Yet no such mandate will ever be passed or seriously considered due to the privacy issues Obama spoke about in his actual statement. That privacy is, simply, the gov't may not invade your body even if it means some other person's body will die.

This point is almost always ignored by pro-lifers. Hence we get this post and many like it that refuse to address the actual arguments made and instead insists on debating imaginary arguments no one has ever made.

I think we all have to struggle to stay dispassionate when it comes to discussing abortion, and if I fail too please forgive me:

‘…the premise that women simply are inferior and thus need to be compensated for that by giving them permission to end the lives of their own offspring so they can be equal to men’

Yes, otherwise Sarah can’t be equal to Abraham! Sorry, but I just don’t get the point. I think women are demonstrably ‘inferior’ in certain respects, which is why e.g. women can be raped by men. In this context I can’t see how denying women the right to abort an unwanted pregnancy restores ‘women’s equality’. It sounds absurd.

‘he doesn't know if it's wrong because he isn't qualified to try to figure that out. He doesn't let that get in the way …, so I'm not sure his view is all that coherent’

Obama is not qualified to figure out if Jack is the wrong match for Jill either. I think that if the state is not qualified to figure out if Jill should marry Jack or abort a particular pregnancy, it’s not incoherent that it should be down to Jill to make up her mind.

‘all I can do is pray he has a miraculous change of heart’

Don’t you think it would be wrong for Obama to backtrack over implementing the policy voters mandated him to implement, even if he did have a ‘miraculous change of heart’?

No, but you see, what he says doesn't even imply (1) or (2). In fact, if anything, I'd say that his argument implies ~(1) and comes very close to implying ~(2). The only way - the only way - to connect Obama to either of those is to absolutely and entirely mangle what he was trying to say, which is exactly what you're doing here. I know you think abortions are super-evil, but that's no excuse to plainly and unapologetically toxify the debate by turning every pro-choice advocate into the most cartoonish straw man you can imagine.

Nate, I'm not sure why you think a multi-item criticism, ending with a particular criticism about the stronger and the weaker, amounts to inserting a number of irrelevant things in between the quote and the last item in the list. He gives several arguments, not all of them equally good in my view, but the final one is the one I zeroed in on. Whether those other items are relevant doesn't matter, because he doesn't depend on them for his final point. It simply follows from unmitigated support for Roe v. Wade, which Obama very plainly has offered.

I'm not sure how to make it clearer that support for Roe v. Wade involves a commitment to 1. It seems obvious to me. You've got a legal decision giving a choice to one group to determine whatever they want with respect to another group. The group given the choice is the stronger group. Therefore, the stronger group gets to decide whatever they want about what happens to the weaker group. How is that not the law backing the will of the stronger?

I agree that there are two questions that Warren might have had in mind when he asked about rights. He could just as easily have meant moral rights, and not knowing what you think about theology and science might lead you not to know what you think about moral rights. But surely Obama has a view on the legal rights question, and it seems to me that you can't justifiably have such a view without having a view on moral rights. So I think the criticism of Obama is fair, even if it isn't spelled out as clearly as I'd like.

As for 2, I think you're misconstruing Beckwith's argument. He's not saying that there's no sense in which women are different where we ought to seek to eradicate that difference. He's also not saying that pro-choice views all commit this mistake. He's singling out a particular way of arguing for the pro-choice view, one that says whether women can commit feticide is a basic issue of equality, as if somehow women couldn't live as full and meaningful lives if feticide were illegal. Such a view denigrates motherhood and the things that women have traditionally done that men often are not good at or incapable of doing.

We're beginning to recognize that it's normal and fully human to engage in activities of motherhood such as being pregnant, breastfeeding, and using modes of thinking that have been more common among women. The idea that pregnancy of the potential of being in a condition where you incur a moral obligation to care for a growing human in the fetal stage is somehow a bad thing that prevents someone from equality seems to me to be misogynist. The pro-choice argument that relies on this as a premise thus does exactly what Beckwith says it does. Some people who make it might inconsistently believe that motherhood is a good thing, but people do believe inconsistent things.

Boonton, you assume that difference implies inequality. I don't. That's why your view leads to #2. Once you count it as inequality, those facts of life become something more. They become the view that something positive and good that's very much a part of being a woman can be accurately and morally thought of and spoken of as something bad and worth overcoming. That strikes me as a deep evil committed against women.

As for #1, the implication of your view is simply crazy. I don't advocate removing all enforcement of murder laws. But the idea that a right to life is merely the government's inability to kill me would lead to that. Reductio. It would be one thing if abortion were just the denial of sustenance and care to a fetus, as Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous paper pretends. But that's not so. Abortion is an act of killing. Simple removal of the fetus would still be wrong, in my view, for the same reasons it would be wrong for me to ignore a baby someone left on my porch without my permission and allow it to die, but that's not what we're discussing when we discuss the morality of abortion, which is outright feticide and not just the denial of the fetus of a place to live and of nutrition. You don't evict someone from a house by sucking their brains out or stabbing them in their vital organs with sharp implements. Thomson's argument completely ignores that.

You're not going to get very far with me by assuming a libertarian theory of rights. I'm committed to welfare rights, because I don't advocate moral spinelessness in individuals (thus generating moral welfare duties) or in government (thus justifying the creation of duties for the government to protect and promote life and well-being).

Sorry, but I just don’t get the point. I think women are demonstrably ‘inferior’ in certain respects, which is why e.g. women can be raped by men. In this context I can’t see how denying women the right to abort an unwanted pregnancy restores ‘women’s equality’. It sounds absurd.,/i>

The idea seems to be that men have the privilege of being immoral and abandoning their children, so we somehow hove a collective responsibility to let women do it too. Women can, of course, do it postpartum, but the only way to allow women to do it now given our current technology, is for it to be legal to kill them off. It's still absurd, but that's the basic argument.

Obama is not qualified to figure out if Jack is the wrong match for Jill either. I think that if the state is not qualified to figure out if Jill should marry Jack or abort a particular pregnancy, it’s not incoherent that it should be down to Jill to make up her mind.

But Obama is clearly qualified to make a determination that murder is wrong and ought to be enforced as a crime, or he'd have it in his agenda to remove those laws from the books. That means the only question is then whether abortion constitutes murder. If he can't settle that question, then he has no business supporting a policy that assumes a negative answer. A right to life is basic to the Constitution, and which humans have that right is an important legal question that he ought to have a view on. He does have a view on it, but his answer to that question assumed he didn't or that he didn't have the moral views that such a legal question should rely on.

Don’t you think it would be wrong for Obama to backtrack over implementing the policy voters mandated him to implement, even if he did have a ‘miraculous change of heart’?

Absolutely not. I note that Richard, who commented first on this post, was in full agreement with me on the meta-political issue in that post, even though we disagree strongly on this issue. I won't repeat the arguments in that post, which is the purpose of linking to it, but I will register my view here that I think it's immoral to go along with an immoral law just because you happened to run a campaign on the opposite view before you realized the law was immoral.

Larry Niven Impersonator, your comment is (1) an assertion without argument and (2) some pretty accusatory name-calling without argument. I don't generally approve such comments, since name-calling and unsupported assertion don't usually make for a very productive conversation. But I did approve it, for one reason, which is to note that you seem to be doing the very thing you accuse me of. How is it not toxifying the debate to accuse me of a pretty serious philosophical blunder disguised under rhetorical sleight-of-hand when you provide no argument for such a charge?

" right to life is basic to the Constitution"

As I pointed out this is not a right that is basic too or even in the Constitution. Your 'right to life' is a right that not to have the government take your life without due process. There is no 'right to life' at the behest of other people, the economy, society etc. If you think there is, then may I take one of your kidney's should I ever need a transplant regardless of whether or not you want to give one up?

I'm not sure how to make it clearer that support for Roe v. Wade involves a commitment to 1. It seems obvious to me. You've got a legal decision giving a choice to one group to determine whatever they want with respect to another group. The group given the choice is the stronger group. Therefore, the stronger group gets to decide whatever they want about what happens to the weaker group. How is that not the law backing the will of the stronger

That this 'seems obvious to' you indicates how your thought on this matter has been geared more towards setting up strawmen rather than serious discussion. In Roe one 'group' (pregnant women) does not decide what they want in respect to another 'group' (unborn babies).

First, we are talking about individuals. It's a pregnant woman not a group that decides. Last time I checked an unborn baby can only exist in a single woman. It may take a village to raise a child but it takes one woman and only one to birth one.

Second, the 'deciding' is only in respect to the woman's body. The woman cannot decide anything regarding the baby except as the decision is the result of the baby being inside of her body. The woman cannot decide babies inside other women's bodies will be aborted, she cannot decide babies not inside her body will be killed. Yes her property claim to her own body is 'stronger' than the claim other people have on it. That has nothing to do with her being 'stronger' than the unborn child.

To see this imagine it becomes possible to create an artifical womb or to 'freeze' an unborn embryo to be later implanted in a willing volunteer. If your argument was correct, then Roe would essentially say that despite the possibility of relieving the woman of the unwanted pregnancy without killing the fetus the woman nevertheless has the right to kill the fetus. But if you actually read the decision (and it's always amazing how many pro-lifers will pontificate about Roe having never actually read it....fair is fair many pro-choicers do the same) you'll notice that the court recognized both the interests of the woman as well as the interests of the state in protecting the life of the baby. If such technology became available it seems pretty clear the state could mandate its use in cases where a woman wants an abortion and that would not be a violation of Roe.

I read 1 as a Thrasymachus like position. The rule of law is the will of the stronger in the sense that something is law in virtue of its being the will of the stronger (the connection isn't just coincidental). Strength shouldn't matter, so 1 is a bad thing (there are readings of 1 on which 1 isn't bad or as obviously bad, but they're obviously not the sense intended). Accepting the reasoning behind Roe v Wade does not obviously commit one to this reading of 1 because there's no talk about strength in there. The court appealed to other reasons, good or bad. Someone would have to take a very close look at the reasoning to demonstrate a commitment to 1 in the sense intended.

On your reading of Beckwith, Beckwith reads the Obama quote as suggesting an overly narrow view of what counts as success (he's not just attacking a particularly bad argument for abortion rights, but one he takes Obama to be advancing or supporting in the quote). Beckwith clearly takes Obama to be saying that women can only achieve this standard of success if abortions are legal. And the congenitally inferior talk seems to be suggesting some link between the ability/opportunity to meet that standard and one's worth such that if one does not or cannot meet it, then one is, in virtue of that, inferior.

The Obama quote is consistent with there being other standards of success - like being a good mother. Furthermore, looking at the quote, Obama seems to think it important for women to be able to choose and have the opportunity to meet their own standards of success. He thinks that the presence or absence of abortion rights can, in certain situations, make a big difference as to whether or not a woman will have the ability and opportunity to meet those standards - not that without them women couldn't meet those standards at all. Finally, the sort of connection between achievement and worth Beckwith is attributing just isn't there. If anything, the quote endorses a connection in the opposite direction: because women are equally worthy, they should have rights that give them many of the same abilities and opportunities (or, at least, this strikes me as the most charitable way of reading the quote).

Finally, I should point out, because it seems to have been lost, that Obama's talking about more than just abortion. He's also talking about contraception, health information and so on - what Roe v Wade was explicitly about. The right to all this stuff, he thinks, is important. Even if some of the considerations offered are less compelling in support of abortion rights, those aren't the only rights at issue.

Actually, scratch that last bit - I got Roe v Wade confused with another case I read recently.

Boonton, here's the fifth amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

It has "life, liberty, or property" instead of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" from the Declaration of Independence, but both recognize a right to life as pretty fundamental. It may be that the appearance in the Constitution is in the context of government action against a person, but the reference to the Declaration is obvious and surely deliberate, and I don't see how the historical context allows for seeing the right to life as simply a right not to have the government kill you without due process. If you're right, then there can't be any constitutionally-sanctioned laws against murder. Do you really think that?

As I've already explained, there's a difference between thinking you have a right to someone's organs and thinking you have a right for them not to kill you. As Thomson points out in her famous paper, the right to life doesn't involve a right to have people do everything necessary for you to survive. What she fails to see is that such an observation doesn't stop the right to life from still being a right for them not to kill you, and abortion kills the fetus. Not having an obligation to do everything necessary for someone to survive doesn't mean you have no obligation to refrain from killing them.

Do you honestly want to claim that only one abortion has taken place since Roe v. Wade? Americans collectively kill a million fetuses a year. The considerations leading someone to want to abort are varied, and this isn't some conspiracy the way Planned Parenthood had originally intended it to be back when its primary goal was ridding the population of unwanteds, but it's still a legal reality that women are the group given the ability to make that choice.

I never said a woman's right to abort derives from her being stronger and having the ability to do so while the fetus has no ability to resist successfully (they usually do resist). I even explicitly mentioned in a comment above that that wasn't what I meant. I simply meant that it's true that those in the group with power over the other are not therefore seeing themselves as responsible to behave morally but as able to abuse that power and kill instead. It is literally true that the stronger can abuse the weaker here, and the law allows them to do it with impunity. The status quo gives the stronger group a legal right to do whatever they want to the weaker group. I don't see how you can deny that.

The artificial womb argument is actually Laurence Thomas' criticism of Judith Jarvis Thomson's paper, and it's one I've been giving for quite a while. Thomson-style libertarian arguments like the one you're giving do not give a right to the death of the fetus. They give a right to its removal. If it then dies, then so be it. If I were to accept Thomson's argument (which I don't), I could not on that basis endorse any abortion procedure that kills a fetus before its removal. I'd have to allow only for procedures that remove the fetus. But I've never seen anyone endorse that position after accepting an argument like the one you're giving, which makes me think that argument isn't the real reason for favoring legalized abortion.

Thanks for the feedback. A few points:

I find ‘current technology’ considerations quite interesting in unraveling intuitions: Is there a ‘pro-life’ call to invest in the development of technology which would allow a first trimester foetus removed intact to be brought to term artificially? (IVF procedures are already in place; perhaps there would be no need for anyone to get pregnant in order to procreate.)

‘That means the only question is then whether abortion constitutes murder. If he can't settle that question, then he has no business supporting a policy that assumes a negative answer.’

If he can’t settle that question, then I suppose he has no business supporting a policy that assumes a positive answer either. Obama’s policy leaves it to women to choose. I see no inconsistency if Jill decides she doesn’t want a baby, say, at 20, while she’s a student, and then goes on to become a mum at 30, after she’s established in her job. True, non-human female mammals don’t normally have a choice, but I expect their goals and aspirations in life are different to Jill’s.

I thought Obama is president, not an absolute monarch. He was elected on the Democratic party platform. He’s free to convert to Hinduism and stop eating beef, but he’s not thereby entitled to outlaw McDonalds. I think the decent thing for him to do, if he underwent such ‘miraculous change’, would be to resign his position as president; it’s about ‘what the voters want’ as much as it’s about ‘what Obama promised his voters’. (I don’t know enough about the US constitution but in parliamentary democracies, when there’s a need for a fresh mandate, prime ministers can seek a vote of confidence or call an early election.)


"It has "life, liberty, or property" instead of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" from the Declaration of Independence, but both recognize a right to life as pretty fundamental. It may be that the appearance in the Constitution is in the context of government action against a person, but the reference to the Declaration is obvious and surely deliberate"

And again this is in the context of gov't action. You are asserting that the Declaration and the Constitutionial rights to not being deprived of life are really rights to be provided life at the expense of other indivdual's. Doesn't work that way and the idea would have been very alien to the Founders. Consider an easy example, if you are starving do you have a right to steal from a neighbor with bread? Your reading would say yes, as a matter of fact your reading would say if you are starving and your neighbor refuses to share his bread he is violating your 'right to life' and the gov't has the right to punish him.

Of course starvation is an extreme example and no one feels good about convicting a starving man of theft for taking a loaf of bread. How about a man who has bread but steals a steak? People being sickly due to malnutrition would have been well known to the world the founders lived in. Those who couldn't afford a rich diet got sick faster and died sooner. Was their right to life violated?

" I don't see how the historical context allows for seeing the right to life as simply a right not to have the government kill you without due process. If you're right, then there can't be any constitutionally-sanctioned laws against murder. Do you really think that?"

Why not? Imagine a law against murder. Does that violate your right to life? No. To liberty? No. To the pursuit of happiness? Well maybe if murder makes you happy but if such a law is enacted with due process you don't have a complaint.

What it does NOT mandate though is a law against murder. The gov't is not obligated to have a law against murder (or a particular type of murder). Nor is it obligated to have laws against kidnapping or theft.

Instead of applying your theory to life try to apply it to property and see the fun that results. How about copyrights? The law says that copyrighted material may be used if the use falls under 'fair use'. Doesn't this violate your right to not be deprived of your property? You don't get to introduce a novel reading of 'life, liberty and property' (or 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness') just for one issue. If you're going to insist on it it's going to have to apply to all three and to issues beyond just abortion.

"Do you honestly want to claim that only one abortion has taken place since Roe v. Wade? Americans collectively kill a million fetuses a year. "

No individual Americans kill a million fetuses a year. 'We' don't collectively have abortions anymore than 'we' collectively get stone cold drunk or 'we' collectively have extramarital affairs. Because we occupy a legal jurisdiction with others who have abortions doesn't collectively dilute their responsiblities for their decisions. Now we are collectively responsible for our government's actions because we all have an opportunity to take part in the political system. The actions of the gov't are collectively our responsibility. If our gov't, for example, insituted China's policy of mandatory abortion (which it could if you reject the reasoning behind Roe), we would collectively be responsible for that ACT of gov't.

Now feel free to pull out the 'no man's an island' card. Yes yes I suppose if I was more cheerful maybe that person over there would have tried drug rehab just one more time and maybe that relative would have tried harder to keep their marriage together etc. etc. All of that's quite true but it doesn't alter the fact that by seeking to socialize individual responsibility you're just trying to do for ethics what socialism does for economies.

The difference between a choice that causes death and a choice for death
"As Thomson points out in her famous paper, the right to life doesn't involve a right to have people do everything necessary for you to survive. What she fails to see is that such an observation doesn't stop the right to life from still being a right for them not to kill you, and abortion kills the fetus. "

Where this argument hinges, and I don't like arguments over semantics but sometimes they are important, is whether abortion is about the removal of a fetus which necessarily results in death or if abortion is about killing the fetus through removal. Here's an oddball example that might illustrate the difference. Suppose a woman presents herself to the medical establishment with an odd sort of fetish. She wishes to give birth to a stillborn baby. She would like doctors to inject something into her uterus to kill an unborn baby during a period where abortion would normally be legal yet at the same time inhibit, as much as possible, her uterus from birthing the body until she approaches 9 months.

If abortion is a right to kill then such a request would be no problem. Doctors could refuse to do it on ethical grounds but the state legislature couldn't outlaw it should a doctor appear who was willing to do it. On the other hand, if abortion is a right to remove an unwanted pregnancy this request could be outlawed by the gov't. I would put forth the reasoning of Roe would favor the second reading over the first. Abortion is about a right of a woman to refuse the use of her body by another. This refusal is fundamentally no different than your refusal to donate your kidney to me. You may mount an argument that making the refusal is deeply immoral. I can imagine scenarios where maybe my needing a kidney is a direct result of your irresponsibility (perhaps my kidneys are failing because you accidently gave me antifreeze to drink...or not so accidently....) Nonetheless the law does not recognize that the gov't has a right to force you to do so nor does my 'right to life' allow me to demand the gov't permit me to take it from you by force.

In the case of the woman who wishes her body to host the killing of a fetus, this is not about a refusal to let one's body be used for another. I can refuse to give you a kidney and the law can't force me to do otherwise. But the law can stop me from giving you one of my kidney's purposefully filled with poisens and deadly viruses in an attempt to kill you.

"But I've never seen anyone endorse that position after accepting an argument like the one you're giving, which makes me think that argument isn't the real reason for favoring legalized abortion."

Most likely the reason you've never seen it is that the point is moot for the time. There is no way to remove without killing so it's academic to debate whether Roe could allow a state to insist on removal without killing. While 'what if' scenarios are important the fact is courts rule on the cases they are presented.

Nate, I don't think Justin's line about the stronger meant a Thrasymachean view of justice. I think he just meant that we're only paying attention to the stronger and ignoring the weaker. Maybe it's because I'm more familiar with how evangelicals think, but it strikes me as a statement in the context of the insistence in the prophets, including Jesus, on not ignoring the weak in society. That's the general framework that I think this is coming out of, and it's certainly how I was thinking of 1.

You're right that Obama talks of other standards of success. But if he endorses the argument I've explained, then I do think he considers the standard in question to be a necessary condition of equality, and that's what Beckwith is balking at.

European Observer, I do think pro-lifers have sought to improve the chances of survival after premature births. They have certainly rejoiced as viability has moved earlier and earlier to a point where it's now about halfway through pregnancy rather than about 2/3 of the way in, as it was when Roe v. Wade was decided.

Keep in mind that some pro-lifers oppose IVF. If they think full moral status begins at conception, as many pro-lifers do, then any IVF they support will have to take serious precautions to implant as many embryos as have a chance to survive, and some hesitate even to create them when they have a lower chance of viability than in ordinary sexual reproduction.

If I faced a choice between A and B, and I knew that A would have no chance of killing anyone, and B might well kill someone, is it ok to do B? I don't think so. How, then, can someone advocate a policy that might allow millions of murders per year? The burden of proof is clearly on the side that thinks abortion is not murder. If anyone is agnostic on the question, it's utterly irresponsible morally speaking to advocate a policy that treats it as perfectly ok to do it.

The Constitution provides for how Obama became President. It doesn't bind him to do all the things that led people to support him. It may reflect badly on him if he changes his views for no good reason, but I think it would be immoral for him not to act according to his conscience if he came to change his mind on important moral views. The Constitution does allow for impeachment if there's public outcry, but it's better to do what's right and be impeached than to act immorally simply because the electorate wanted you to do so.

Consider an easy example, if you are starving do you have a right to steal from a neighbor with bread? Your reading would say yes, as a matter of fact your reading would say if you are starving and your neighbor refuses to share his bread he is violating your 'right to life' and the gov't has the right to punish him.

No, I have now twice explained why that's not true. I'll do so again. There's a distinction between a requirement not to kill someone and a requirement to provide everything the person needs to survive. I don't think there's a legal requirement to provide anyone with everything necessary for their survival. I do think there's a legal requirement, based on a constitutional right, that I not kill anyone. Your example of the bread is a straightforward example of the first category. Abortion is an example of the second category, presuming that a fetus has the status necessary to have that right (which I think it does).

I'm not sure what you're getting at with the rights discussion. Since laws against murder certainly do interfere with liberty, your basic assumption seems to be wrong. Some people do want to murder, and if there are laws against murder then their liberty is limited. At the same time, murder itself interferes with my liberty, since there are lots of things I'm not free to do if I'm dead. What that means is that these rights can't be absolute. There have to be exceptions, at the very least for cases when you have a conflict of rights. Once that's clear, then if follows that certain laws will serve one right while interfering with another. That seems to me to explain the copyright case, but I'm not actually sure what your point there was supposed to be.

I'm not trying to socialize individual responsibility. I'm simply recognizing that, as a part of the government in being a voting citizen and a participant in the exercise of free speech about political matters, I have responsibilities to do what I can (what's in my power and within my sphere of influence) to move the government toward ways that serve my neighbor the best. The best ways of serving my neighbor are by promoting my neighbor's individual well-being, which is best done primarily by encouraging ways to help my neighbor be a better person. The main reason I favor this Aristotelian conception of the purpose of government is because I don't think the libertarian view allows me as an individual to seek to influence those around me in the best way I possibly can. There's only so much you can do, but if you can prevent the evils with the worst effects by government prohibition of such activities and serious enforcement, I can't see how it's morally ok not to make the attempt.

It's not socialism, either. There's a spectrum between socialism and libertarianism. I occupy a spot in between the two, both on this issue and on economic issues. I don't think it's stealing for the government to use tax money primarily provided by richer people for use to care for the material needs of those who don't pay any taxes because they're unable to work or in an educational program that will help them to contribute more to the economy in the future. But that doesn't mean I advocate even as left-of-center an economic view as mainstream Democrats. The same goes for government enforcement of moral obligations. The analogue of socialism would have the government enforcing penalties on every immoral act possible, and the analogue of libertarianism has it enforcing none. I'm certainly between those extremes.

I don't think your concluding example works, for reasons I've already stated. Doctors already provide the procedure of killing the fetus in the uterus, so what they'd be refusing to do is not that. What they'd be refusing to do is make every effort to prevent its expulsion once dead until the ninth month. This doesn't show that the status quo doesn't grant the death of the fetus. All it shows is that the current legal state of play doesn't give a woman the right to such a ridiculous kind of medical care holding a dead fetus inside her until the ninth month.

What the abortion case and the kidney case have in common is that both can involve involuntary use of one's body. What the abortion case has that the kidney case doesn't have is that another right is involved, the right to life of the fetus. The question is whether that right to life outweighs the right to property of one's own body. I think it's clear that it does morally. Roe treats it as if it doesn't. I'm not convinced by their legal arguments in terms of what the Constitution actually requires, but I'm certainly not convinced that such legal arguments, if they were genuinely based on proper interpretation of the Constitution, would be good policy. A right to life is the most fundamental of any of the rights in the Constitution. This is something Hobbes and Locke would both have agreed on, so there's no question of it being some later 20th century idea or anything.

On the last point, I'm not talking about the case of when there is such technology. I'm talking about the case of when there's not. The view I haven't seen pro-choicers move to endorse is the view that abortion should be outlawed if it is intended to kill the fetus and should only be done in ways that remove the fetus, even if it's clearly going to die once it's out. You don't need future technology to face that issue. All you need is any actual abortion case.

I’m not sure we disagree over politicians' conversions. I agree one shouldn’t act immorally, which is why I suggested Obama should then resign. I think it would be immoral if he sought to implement a new-found personal agenda contradicting the platform he was elected on whilst knowing full-well that his electoral base objected to the U-turn.

‘If I faced a choice between A and B, and I knew that A would have no chance of killing anyone, and B might well kill someone, is it ok to do B? I don't think so’.

I expect those who talk of ‘collateral damage’ might well think so.

‘If anyone is agnostic on the question, it's utterly irresponsible morally speaking to advocate a policy that treats it as perfectly ok to do it.’

If the policy advocated treated abortion as perfectly OK, it wouldn’t be part of a package of measures intended to reduce abortions. Of course, abortion could be effectively eliminated if e.g. males had vasectomies at puberty which could only be reversed temporarily on application by a female partner. The burden of such a policy to males seems minute compared to the burden to females of carrying foetuses to term and giving birth to a million unwanted babies each year, though I note that in your view there's no legal requirement to provide abandoned newborns with everything necessary for their survival.

Many people think teleology involves bankrupt physics/metaphysics. But getting pregnant and giving birth can’t be ‘of the essence’ of being female if there are sea-horses. Moreover, not all species reproduce sexually. The technological womb scenario was intended to decouple (i) the right to life of a foetus from (ii) prescriptions to women of the sort of life they should settle for, and the pursuits they should find meaningful and fulfilling, qua women. Some people may nurture romanticised notions of mammalian functions, but they’re more likely to be those who don’t get monthly periods, C- sections or bits of their nipples chewed off by nursing infants. To my mind, capital punishment is a much clearer case of murdering a person than abortion could ever be and yet it’s legal in a country until recently intent on regulating women’s wombs whilst being reluctant to regulate the markets. I do appreciate that some pro-lifers object to IVF. Some pro-lifers object to contraception too, which suggests that ‘pro-life’ is at least as much about (ii) as it may be about (i).

I wonder if maybe you're thinking of elected positions as justified by the consent of the people (or by the consent of the people's elected representatives in the case of a parliamentary system). The founders of the U.S. system certainly had such a view. I'm just not sure the system they set up reflects that, or we could have special elections anytime to recall people. The means of impeachment they did set up didn't involve political preferences not being satisfied. It involved commission of federal crimes. So I don't think there's really room in the system for ongoing consent being necessary, just consent at the time of voting.

Collateral damage introduces a wrinkle not in my example. I was taking A and B to be relatively equivalent except that one involved killing. If that's not true, then insert your favorite just war theory. On mine, the threshold for serious consequences has to be pretty serious to allow for knowingly doing something that kills innocents, but it's not so high that it never happens. I wouldn't advocate bombing civilian houses because you suspect Saddam Hussein is there, as the U.S. was willing to do in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, and I think dropping the nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki qualifies as terrorism. But I think there are plenty of real-life cases where the collateral damage is real and bad but small enough to justify knowingly doing something that will have that side effect given seriousness of the greater goal. I don't think abortion is ever in that category in any real life cases.

I'm not convinced Obama seriously wants to reduce abortions. He says that to get moderate pro-lifers willing to support him, but he resists every single attempt to reduce abortions proposed by the other side. He supports a bill that would remove almost every restriction in any state that limits abortion. That's not the sort of thing someone who really wants to reduce abortion would advocate.

But you're right that his actual words say that he wants to reduce abortion, which does limit the claim that he treats it as perfectly ok. He at least sees it (in his official language) as unfortunate when an abortion occurs. I don't think that implies that he ever thinks it's morally wrong, though. You can think something is unfortunate without thinking it's wrong. He hasn't given me any indication that he thinks abortion is ever wrong, so as far as I can tell his official position doesn't disapprove of any actual instance of abortion, thus treating it as perfectly ok to do.

I don't think there should be laws requiring us to do everything possible to protect newborns, no. Sometimes a life-saving operation takes more resources than we should put to it without much chance of success, especially if it's putting off the inevitable anyway. But I do think there should be laws requiring us to go well out of our way to protect those who are likely to live if we help them and to comfort those who are likely to die, including the kind of thing the Born-Alive Act does but also including the kind of Good Samaritan law common in Europe but not common in the U.S. where if you see someone who needs help you have a legal obligation to help them, even if it's just to make sure they're safe within the best of your ability and ensure only that some authority is informed of the situation. I would certainly include infants in this, especially ones left in your care on your doorstep.

As for teleology, there are several things I should say. One is that when speaking of the essence of being female in this context, it's understood that we're using restricted quantification to limit the context to humans. Seahorses aren't counterexamples in this context, but we're not talking about being female in general. Also, I wasn't necessarily using 'essence' the way Aristotle would. I wasn't talking about essential properties in metaphysics. I was talking about the core associations we have when we think of paradigm cases of womanhood in our social ordering of human reality. Words don't always have the technical sense philosophers give them.

Some people may nurture romanticised notions of mammalian functions, but they’re more likely to be those who don’t get monthly periods, C- sections or bits of their nipples chewed off by nursing infants.

Rest assured that my wife believes this much more fully than I do, precisely because she's a woman and is insulted in her womanhood by the people I'm criticized. She's glad that I understand this as well as I do, but I'm sure she doesn't think I've identified with the concern as fully as she has.

You still speak of regulating women's wombs as if the only thing going on is controlling women, when the argument for limiting abortion has nothing to do with controlling women. It has to do with saving lives. It still seems like an Orwellian manipulation of the words to present it as a parallel that isn't really parallel.

I don't think the argument against contraception is about what women should settle for. It's about what constitutes a better life, particularly what constitutes better sex (and in some ways of putting it what counts as sex at all, since some Catholics don't think sex with a condom is really genuine sex, even if they also think it's enough like sex to be immoral outside a marriage relationship). It's about what kind of unitive function sex should have in a marriage, with a view I find implausible about whether sex with contraception can do that. But finding the argument implausible doesn't mean I think it's about telling women what sort of life they should settle for, as if second best should be good enough. It's rather than contraception, on this view, is second best, and it's wrong to settle for second best when you can have what's best. That doesn't seem like (ii) to me.

Capital punishment has a long history of moral argument on both sides, but it's always been obvious to me that it's the killing of someone who is very much not innocent, whereas abortion is the killing of those who have the most right to be considered innocent. How can you think capital punishment has a better claim to being considered murder? It's clearly got stronger arguments in its favor, even if you don't ultimately find them successful (I happen to find them compelling).

"I find ‘current technology’ considerations quite interesting in unraveling intuitions: Is there a ‘pro-life’ call to invest in the development of technology which would allow a first trimester foetus removed intact to be brought to term artificially?"

Not that I've heard of. Such a feat, though, is a little like interstellar travel. Yes it's theoretically possible but the only investment in it at the moment is in sci-fi stories.

"If I faced a choice between A and B, and I knew that A would have no chance of killing anyone, and B might well kill someone, is it ok to do B? I don't think so. How, then, can someone advocate a policy that might allow millions of murders per year?"

No one's advocating a policy, unless you're in China. The question is who has the choice. You would argue that the choice should be with state gov't. Why? Why not the Fed. gov't? Why not the United Nations? There's no difference between setting the choice at a very high level and setting the choice at the level closest to the situation, the pregnant woman. You're statement here is not about the ethics of the choice but about what the ethics of choosing B rather than A are.

"No, I have now twice explained why that's not true. I'll do so again. There's a distinction between a requirement not to kill someone and a requirement to provide everything the person needs to survive."

Here is exhibit A for why pro-lifers have often fared so much worse than the could have. You're admitting that being required to give my bread to a starving person is providing them with something they need to provide but you're forgetting that a woman provides her unborn child with life itself. The consistant degregation of pregnancy that many pro-lifers unknowingly commit is often amazing. One argument for leaving the choice to the woman can be that it would force pro-lifers to actually show some respect to a woman choosing A rather than B. Instead the preferred mode for the pro-life movement has been to expect A and concentrate on how much punishment needs to be doled out for B.

"I do think there's a legal requirement, based on a constitutional right, that I not kill anyone."

The error you are making is that you forget the Constitution is a pact between the states and the Federal gov't and between the people collectively. It is not a compact between individuals. If your argument is not just a fancy form of special pleading, you need to explain how this view of right not only impacts abortion but other areas where life, liberty and property may be impacted by the actions of others rather than gov't.

"What the abortion case and the kidney case have in common is that both can involve involuntary use of one's body. What the abortion case has that the kidney case doesn't have is that another right is involved, the right to life of the fetus."

And why do fetuses have a right to life that kidney patients don't? Your view of rights here is smelling more and more like special pleading. You say the right to 'life, liberty and property' applies not only to protect the individual against gov't but also individual against individual and also acts not as a negative right (a right to left alone) but a positive one (the right to command the resources of the state). Yet the only place you'll apply this reasoning is abortion. When it comes to property you fall silent. When it comes to anyone else's life the trees blossom with spurious reasoning (ohhh bread is 'providing' for someone's life but pregnancy is not.....people with failing kidney's don't have a right to life).

I think of Obama’s election manifesto as binding on him now he’s president. In the conversion scenario I think he’d be in breach of contract, but he’s the lawyer. I have no privileged access to Obama’s mind. I can only judge by what he says. I find it hard to condone ‘damage’ collateral to the search for the bomb that wasn’t. I find it hard to accept that the life-span worth bothering about expires at birth, and I don’t know which authority could take care of a million unwanted babies in the absence of a legal requirement (i.e. budget provision). It’s not clear to me what I’ve done to insult your wife but it seems she’s taken offence; it was not my intention to offend anyone and I’m sorry if I did. I just don’t think that I’m criticising a person if I disagree with a view that person or that person’s spouse holds; and anyway I’m fallible! Incidentally, what’s Orwellian if I can’t discern which foetus’s life those pro-lifers who oppose contraception want to save? People advising women to settle for nothing than the best sounds innocuous enough, but I doubt how anyone can tell what’s best for any particular woman at any particular time. I’m suspicious of claims to objective hierarchies and commensurability. A woman on the pill will get off it when she wants to conceive. If that’s the only time she has ‘genuine’ sex by someone’s book, then so be it; especially if she can’t tell the difference. But even if there is a difference, since when was ‘having the best sex’ elevated to summum bonum, so that it would be unreasonable for a woman who wants to avoid having an abortion to settle for ‘second best’ sex with contraception? There are some questions we seem unable to settle: Better left to individuals to make up their own minds, on a case by case basis. I agree it’s messy and unsatisfactory, but such is often ‘human reality’. Finally, I said that compared to abortion capital punishment is a much clearer case of murdering a person, and I stand by that. Thanks for the chat.

Boonton, you don't have to advocate China's policy to advocate a policy that allows millions of abortions. Obama has advocated exactly such a policy.

I wouldn't have any problem with federal laws banning abortion. I'm not a "leave it to the states" type, although that would be preferable to the current situation. So the slippery slope argument that you seem to intend for the "leave it to the states" view won't work on me. But I do think such a view has a defense. Someone might think it should be done at whatever level is constitutionally permissible, and they might think the U.S. Constitution doesn't allow laws like that at the federal level. I have no qualms about such laws, though, because I think legalized abortion is unconstitutional.

You're still not seeing the distinction I'm making. What I'm denying is that there is always an obligation to provide for someone who needs something to survive. That doesn't mean I think there's never a case where we have obligations to provide for someone who needs something to survive. Surely I have an obligation to provide sustenance for my kids except in extreme cases where it would take violating a more important obligation to provide in such a way. I also think I have an obligation to provide for a baby left on my doorstep, at least until I can get the kid into the hands of proper authorities. I would insist that by the same reasoning parents have obligations to care for their unborn children. That we don't have absolute and universal obligations to care for everyone who might need it simply doesn't imply that we have no obligations ever of that sort. I resist the kidney example because it seems like a clear case when I don't have such an obligation. The case of someone's obligations to their own children, however, just doesn't seem parallel in the relevant ways.

You're also continuing to ignore that any actual case of abortion isn't simply a way to deny someone sustenance. Given technological limitations, the only way it can be done is by actual killing. So opposition to abortion isn't simply opposition to the denial of sustenance. If it's justifiable to stop killing but not justifiable to enforce sustenance, then it's justifiable to stop abortion even if abortion also involves the denial of sustenance. This idea that a right to life requires providing sustenance in the organ case just because it requires providing sustenance to prevent killing ignores the most fundamental feature of the abortion case, i.e. that it's killing.

I haven't been silent about property. It's a right. Like the other rights we're discussing, I pointed out that when no other rights interfere there's an obligation to enforce property rights by criminalizing property violations, but when other rights do interfere we go with the more fundamental one, which in the case of abortion is the right to life. That's not ignoring the question. It's stating my view on it.

European observer, whether a bomb is really there doesn't matter. Whether there's good reason to think there is a bomb is what matters. If it's Iraq you're obliquely referring to, then there are a number of further issues, most notably the several other arguments for invading that opponents of the war usually omit.

I don't hold that the life-span worth bothering about expires at birth. I never said such a thing, and nothing I've argued implies such a thing. It's ridiculous to put such a view in my mouth. That I think there are circumstances where a right to life is either overridden or forfeited does not mean the right to life disappears at birth. That's just crazy. I happen to think it can be overridden before birth as well. If it took aborting a fetus to save Earth from a virus that would wipe out all life on the planet, I might well think it's morally required, not just allowed.

When did I say you insulted my wife? All I did is say that the argument I'm criticizing is one that she finds offensive. I have no idea if she's even read this conversation. I just know her view on the issue.

What I called Orwellian was the accusation that pro-lifers are motivated by some fetish to control women's wombs. Your response, which changes the subject to the issue of contraception, doesn't seem relevant at all. I'm not going to spend my time getting into the details of a view I don't hold. I just thought you were drastically misrepresenting the motivations behind such a view, and your response is to argue against the view rather than defending your misrepresentation of their motives, which had nothing to do with my point. I don't agree with the view either, so arguing against it does nothing for me and doesn't touch my complaint.

"Boonton, you don't have to advocate China's policy to advocate a policy that allows millions of abortions."

Allow is a big assumption. It assumes you have authority to disallow. I could go around saying I allow the sun to rise every morning but I'd be looked at as a fool since there's nothing I could do to stop the sun if I wanted too. Now of course the gov't could disallow a lot of things because it is usually stronger than any one individual or even large group of individuals. But you're not an advocate of law being strength over weakness are you? So one has to do better than that.

To say 'allow', then, you must demonstrate that Obama has legitimate authority to use the gov't to stop abortion. This would be easier if you were consistent in your reasoning but you are not. You would not say Obama can 'disallow' deaths from lack of organ donations by forcing unwilling people to give up their organs. You would not even say Obama could 'disallow' death by starvation by voiding property rights. Instad you pin your case to a Rube Goldberg argument that surgically creates just the rights you want and nothing more.

"But I do think such a view has a defense. Someone might think it should be done at whatever level is constitutionally permissible, and they might think the U.S. Constitution doesn't allow laws like that at the federal level. I have no qualms about such laws, though, because I think legalized abortion is unconstitutional."

Since you're willing to entertain a 'leave it to the states' approach why not 'leave it to the woman'? It's not even worth getting into an argument about the Constitution here because it's clear you aren't even aware of what the Constitution says, that the Roe decision said, or even the basics of how our legal system works. But just for a lark, try to articulate what you think 'legalized abortion is unconstitutional' looks like in an actual legal judgement.

"That we don't have absolute and universal obligations to care for everyone who might need it simply doesn't imply that we have no obligations ever of that sort. I resist the kidney example because it seems like a clear case when I don't have such an obligation. The case of someone's obligations to their own children, however, just doesn't seem parallel in the relevant ways."

This, though, has nothing to do with the argument you've been making over a 'right to life'. If I have a right to life then I don't need to check my DNA first to see if you're my dad or not. I have a right to life. Your obligation based argument is more coherent and sensible than your rights based one. I would say, though, that this doesn't resolve the question of where the state has the authority to force this obligation to be meet.

Yes you have an obligation to feed your kids. The state can and does sometimes take action to enforce it. But you also have an obligation to love them. If you fail to do so you are a horrible person, you should be ashamed, etc. etc. but no sane person would even think of suggesting a Federal or State law punishing 'lack of love' as a crime with prosecutors, juries and judges trying to decide whether or not you're guilty of shorting your kids love.

Ohhh by the way, since you are resisting the kidney idea how about examining the kidney idea when the one that needs the kidney is your kid. Does the gov't then put you on the operating table at the point of a gun? Or will your kidney escape yet again with a yet another well crafted argument.

No doubt your answer will be yes it is hard for a court to measure love but easy for it to measure killing. My response is consider what exactly the relationship is between a woman and an unborn child. The relationship is one of complete dependence, at least before the point of viability (which one day might be pushed all the way back to implantation...but probably not in our lifetimes). Everything a mother does impacts and influences the unborn child. If the state is obligation to stop her from aborting why not stop her from smoking? From taking medications? Even from watching loud porn all day long? After all, if social services came in and saw you letting a newborn baby smoke, drink or even watch porn they'd be on you.

Ultimately, I think the view presented here reduces woman to the status of incubators. The state not only must push the 'don't destruct' button but gets to push all the buttons. This view, I think, is upside down. This is an area that is so intimate the state has almost no authority at all and the woman has ultimate authority. This is a temporary state of affairs. When a baby is born, while the mother still maintains a lot of authority the state has more say, when a child is school age even more authority is ceded to the state as well as the child assuming authority over his own life as he ages. But this is the natural order of things. We are quite literally at our mothers mercy.

Your view is ultimately upside down. You blame Obama for a million abortions and barely notice a million live births. You glorify political/legal power as if that is the only legitimate type of power in the universe. It has it's place but it is not everything. In this issue, it is next to nothing. A woman who does not want a pregnancy but is denied abortion by political power has a thousand ways to lash out at the unborn child. Some of them life threatening to herself and dramatic but many of them quite subtle.

This, I suspect, is why pro-lifers seem oddly ignorant of real life abortion. Ask any other activist group how they are doing and they will respond with some objective measure of what they are actually, supposedly, fighting for. Ask an AIDS group how they are doing and they will probably give tell you HIV infection rates are going up or down, survival rates for AIDS are up or down, out of X number of drugs or vaccines Y are showing promise and Z are not etc. Ask your Chamber of Commerce how things are going and they will probably reference how many business licenses were granted last year versus this. But ask a pro-lifer how the world is going and he will almost certainly talk about anything but how many abortions actually are or aren't happening. Success is measured in judges being appointed, rather trivial sniping with pro-choice groups in legal briefs and so on. In fact, quite a few of them are probably not even aware how many abortions are happening, who is having them, why, what it would take to stop them etc. Never has an advocacy group managed to achieve such an insulation from the subject matter of its advocacy.

Maybe I'm just thinking of that old George Michael video but I dimly recall from the 80's a 'choose life' meme that long ago pettered out. I've thought about the abortion issue for a long time and it has seemed to me for a while that the pro-life movement made a strategic error at some point. It became less about abortion and more, at some point, about legal gamesmenship. There are natural reasons for this. Legal games are cleaner, they can be played at a nice desk in DC entertaining clients on expense accounts in crisp business suits. Also such a movement can more easily make alliances with political parties (in this case Republicans). But such a shift comes with a price and I think the price has been a disconnect with real abortion, real pregnancy and finally real women whose authority, at the end, gets dissed big time by many pro-lifers. I think the movement would have been more successful if it had comprimised. Let legal abortion stand but try to make a serious effort to sell life as an option both politically and to actual women .

You can say I'm wrong but I think you'd have a harder time saying honestly that the pro-life movement has been a dismal failure. Count up SC Justices on your scorecards all you want millions of abortions have happened. If your organization is dedicated to stopping abortion that's failure. That means millions aren't buying what you're selling even if you can get one or two Justices to go in. Many pro-lifers like to bring up the Dred Scott case in order to equate it to Roe but there's an interesting aspect to Dred Scott.....after the decision slavery was technically legal in the entire US. No state could technically call itself free and could prohibit slave owners from moving into or travelling through its borders. Yet, the reality of it was that if you were a slave owner you would be very foolish to bring your slave into many 'free' areas. At the end of the day slave owners won the legal ground but they literally lost the war

Yes, it is Iraq I obliquely referred to. I didn’t deliberately omit anything; it just seems absurd that people should die in Iraq because people in the US may have lax epistemic standards.

If you think that (a) there should be legal constraints in place, preventing women from terminating unwanted pregnancies, and (b) there should be no legal requirement to provide for unwanted babies, then it seems to me you’re implicitly committed to the view that the life-span worth bothering with expires at birth.

‘If it took aborting a fetus to save Earth from a virus that would wipe out all life on the planet, I might well think it's morally required, not just allowed.’

Interesting you should say that; see this report of a UK policy advisor’s claim that having more than two children is environmentally irresponsible (http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article5627634.ece).

I think contraception is relevant. If you don’t think contraception is wrong and you want to see abortions reduced, over which we’d agree, perhaps you’d do well to isolate those who oppose contraception in the pro-life movement. I have no idea what their motives may be, but lobbying against comprehensive sex education and access to contraception goes far beyond expressing a view that women should settle for nothing than the best: It’s effectively an attempt to impose ‘what’s best’, and a sure way to increase demand for abortion.

I find the IVF case fascinating because there’s an embryo, presumably with a right to life, whilst there’s nobody pregnant with it. Are there rights without corresponding responsibilities? I think pushing cases is helpful, which is why I suggested considering the ‘reversible-only-on-female-partner’s-request vasectomy initiative’, let’s call it ROOF. No person endorsing ROOF in principle as a way of eliminating abortion could be accused of trying to control women. But you didn’t comment on that.


Thanks for letting me know artificial wombs are currently fiction! As I said, I wanted to disentangle intuitions over foetal rights vs women’s obligations. I was also aiming at a reductio, investing in bringing all unwanted foetuses to term whilst refusing to invest in providing for a million unwanted babies thereafter, but evidently it didn’t work very well.


‘…she's a woman and is insulted in her womanhood by the people I'm criticized.’

Reading this made me feel vaguely uneasy; I’m relieved to learn I read it wrong.

Hi there
I think my comment must’ve got swallowed up in cyberspace. Seeing what you said about saving the earth, I thought you might care to read this report of a UK policy advisor’s claim that having more than two children is 'environmentally irresponsible' (http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article5627634.ece). And btw a clarification: I thought I’d admitted people’s motives are opaque to me; what I could hazard would be a rational reconstruction, but I didn’t do even that. I suggested that opposition to contraception is relevant to the debate. It’s effectively an attempt to impose ‘what’s best’ and a sure way to increase demand for abortion.

Boonton, my view on government authority is the same one Paul expresses in Romans 13. Ultimately, the authority of any government derives from its appointment by God to enforce justice, including to punish the wrongdoer. So yes, governments do have the authority to disallow, because God gives them that authority. It's kind of funny that you make the strange assertion that I "glorify political/legal power as if that is the only legitimate type of power in the universe" when the only reason governments have any authority at all, on my view, is because the most important power and authority in the universe allows it to be a steward of that authority to enforce justice. Then you say my view is upside-down when it's pretty clear that you've got my vie upside-down to begin with.

(I would say the same of individual rights, by the way. I'm a Lockean on individual rights. I have no rights in myself, but God has property rights over me, and other people violate those when they do things to me that God hasn't given them permission to do. Thus, derivatively, I can speak of individual rights dependent on God's property rights. But these are derivative. If God's appointed authority extends legal rights on top of this, then those are legal creations. The fundamental moral reason not to mistreat me, though, is because it mistreats God to mistreat me. That is true in the most fundamental sense before any calculation based on intrinsic value enters into the discussion.)

You continue to ignore the distinction between those who do wrong in a very clear way and those who don't do something that might be very good but might be one option among many, some of which would be even better. The distinction between perfect and imperfect duties is crucial in moral philosophy, and the political distinction I'm making depends on that. You don't enforce the duty to help others when there might be other ways to help other people that are more important. You do enforce the duty not to do awful things to others, because even when there are other important concerns there are some things you just shouldn't do except in very bizarre and extremely rare circumstances, and it's appropriate and I would say even morally obligatory to institute punishments for failures of a certain magnitude in such matters. I have repeatedly made this distinction, and you have repeatedly ignored it while asserting without argument that there's no difference between the two. By your reasoning, an obligation not to kill someone means you have to do everything in your power to make that person live as long as possible, and that's just not so.

I'm not sure where your death by starvation thing is coming from. I would think the government surely can prevent someone from starving someone else to death, but it's got nothing to do with property rights. Murder laws aren't based on a right to property.

I'm not willing to entertain a "leave it to the states" approach except as a better alternative to a "leave it to the woman" approach. My claim was not that it would be ok to leave it to the states but better to do it at the federal level. My view is that it's immoral not to prevent abortion, period. If you can't stop it at the federal level, then settling for leaving it to the states is still better than leaving it to individuals.

I've read the Constitution many times, and I've looked in depth at the Roe opinion and the later ones that supersede it. You keep asserting without any real evidence that I haven't read it. This conversation is over if you're going to resort to pretending you have a better knowledge of what I've read than I myself have.

The proper legal argument would recognize the rights accorded to persons in the Constitution, recognize the the word 'person' in English can indeed refer to a person in the fetal stage of development and would certainly have allowed that during the times the relevant amendments were written, and therefore conclude that the fetal stage of development isn't an exception to when someone has a right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution, a right that isn't outweighed by the property rights of a woman over her body and that certainly isn't outweighed by unenumerated rights like a privacy right that isn't even mentioned in the Constitution.

You're bringing together several arguments. One is the argument that abortion is immoral. Another is that it should be illegal. I've discussed both. The issue with parental responsibility is part of the former. It makes something already a crime a much worse crime, and it might actually be legitimate for it to affect the degree of the sentence in the legal context. But I'm not about to restrict the penalty to the parent, who probably faces mitigating factors due to whatever (or, quite often, whoever) pressured her to have an abortion in the first place. The psychological harm they face as a result of having put their own child to death is reason for moral deference and serious mitigation when it comes to figuring out an appropriate sentence, if in fact any (and I'm certainly open to there being cases where little or no penalty is appropriate). Physicians who perform abortions, on the other hand, have little excuse for their heartlessness and willingness to make lots of money off taking advantage of someone's desperate situation in order to commit such a despicable act.

I wouldn't have any problem if the government made it illegal for people to smoke while pregnant. They make it illegal to do lots of other things when pregnant. Of course, I'd be happy if they just made it illegal to produce or sell cigarettes to begin with. My friends who smoke would be unhappy that I hold such a view, but if we're going to regulate potentially-dangerous drugs then surely tobacco should be one of them. It's certainly more dangerous than most of what the FDA regulates, so why not require prescription to use it for any of its very few if any medicinal purposes, or just outlaw it entirely? Even on the jaundiced theory of justice that libertarians accept, it's appropriate for the government to make provisions for defending its citizens, and I'd be happy to have more protection from the smoke that I might have to breathe and that my kids might have to breathe every time we go out in public.

There are degrees of harm that anyone can cause someone else. I expect the government to step in when parents seriously abuse their children at any stage of development. The more serious, the more reason for the government to administer punishment. Whether the child is born doesn't matter. How serious the harm is does. You present examples that come in degrees, and the degree of punishment should reflect the degree of harm. Killing is a pretty serious harm. Harming in lesser ways like eating unhealthily or smoking while pregnant or around one's older kids might well deserve a punishment of some sort as well. We do punish people for driving their kids around without seatbelts. Why not enforce smoking laws? This is a bullet I'm certainly willing to bite, presuming you can craft the laws in enforceable ways. Some of the reason for not enforcing certain things is that it's not really possible to do so.

You're simply wrong about pro-lifers and numbers of abortions. I regularly hear pro-choicers wrongly stating that abortion has gone up under Bush, whereas the exact opposite is true, and pro-lifers regularly respond with the actual numbers. The pro-life activist organizations are well aware that the restrictions they've been successfully getting passed have reduced abortion numbers. It's part of their argument against removing those restrictions with FOCA.

European Observer, your comment got through fine, as you can now see. I just hadn't had much time over the weekend to get back to the comments here, and I hadn't approved anything since Friday night, I believe.

You assert that I hold that there should be no legal requirement to provide for unwanted babies. Why do you think that? Haven't I said the opposite several times in this thread? I very plainly said that I have an obligation to make sure a baby left on my front porch is taken care of.

I find it ludicrous to claim that more than one child per couple is irresponsible. There isn't too much population in this world. The problem is in distribution, not numbers, and whether it's responsible to have more children has a lot more to do with whether you can care for them and whether you can be the sort of person who will help them contribute to the world positively rather than being a drain on the world in various ways (including non-resource issues such as being a moral drain). Such claims have been based on outdated science that was shown wrong decades ago. Maybe there's more argument in what you link to. I don't have the time to look at it now. But I'm not expecting much given what I've seen in the past.

I'm not going to deny allies in resisting abortion, even if I don't agree with them on other things. The issue is too important to have several splinter groups who have no effect. I don't support organizations that refuse to allow the teaching of sex ed that discusses contraception, but I also won't support organizations that refuse to allow sex ed that emphasizes abstinence as the best method. Combining the two has the best results, as Bush's ignored successes in Africa have shown.

I do have problems with ROOF, but perhaps I'd be convinced if it could be established that it could be done without any repercussions whatsoever. With current technology, no vasectomy can be guaranteed to be undone. It's not mere devotion to property rights over one's body that I'd rely on in resisting it. I think it's wrong to mutilate your own or someone else's body, other things being equal, and that gives me enough pause to want to resist applying such a procedure to every male.

I've got a friend who thinks this should be done to both men and women (provided the technology arises where it can be done safely and reversibly) and only reversed if they can establish the moral capability of being good parents. Funnily enough, this friend is a libertarian. He thinks the safety of children provides reason enough to outweigh libertarian arguments against the policy.

My main resistance to his proposal isn't based on a libertarian notion of a right to live your life the way you want but more on a worry that you are doing damage to something important for the survival of the species that we probably still won't know enough about even if we can find that in most cases it seems reversible and seems harmless enough in other ways. That's usually never the case, just as it was never the case that hormonal contraception was harmless the way it's often presented as being. It's pretty psychologically and physiologically damaging, it turns out, even with a year's use, and many people use it for years without a break. I have deep resistance to alterations to one's body of such sorts.

I’m pleasantly surprised at your response; yet what difference it makes to a baby’s rights if it’s left on your doorstep or in the public toilet still eludes me. When we’re talking about a million or so logistics do matter. Until and unless there’s an established legal requirement to provide for unwanted babies, why would pro-lifers think one is better off being abandoned to die rather than aborted as an embryo if ‘it's putting off the inevitable anyway’? Is it in the hope that ‘something’ might happen in the meantime? Something nobody currently has the mandate and resources to make sure does happen?

Actually the claim is that more than two children per couple, or per woman, would be irresponsible. But I fully agree the problem is in distribution and the ability to care for offspring in every way. What should be the implications for e.g. our immigration policies? We may have figured out evolution but I think we’re playing right into the hands of the selfish gene; we’re still being irrational.

I can’t see why ROOF should be applied to both men and women if it’s sufficient that it be applied to men. (Incidentally, is your friend with a mind more perverse than mine a Platonist?) I share the concern about reversibility. Perhaps each male could have a sperm sample frozen before the procedure for backup. But I appreciate your reaction in principle.

I’m glad to hear Bush’s policies have had some success somewhere, but why don’t they seem to work in the US? I understand you have the highest teenage pregnancy/teenage STD infection rates in the developed world. (Catholics and teenagers appear to have fanciful notions of what precisely constitutes sex.) I’m not sure how emphatic an emphasis on abstinence would satisfy you. Kids are taught to check both ways before they cross the road so they don’t get hit by traffic. Staying at home is of course an option, but would you insist children be taught staying at home is unconditionally ‘the best’ option?

I do wish you would try to work something out with the opposition! I think those who reject comprehensive sex-ed and access to contraception aren’t your allies at all; on the contrary, they create confusion and resentment and turn the pro-life movement into a caricature of what it could be and what virtually everyone could embrace. Labels don’t seem to me to help except to polarise debate over what’s arguably a continuum. There seems to be so much that could be achieved, especially if I understand correctly your position over ‘eviction’ so you could go along with the morning-after pill and very early abortion triggering a miscarriage.

A couple of points over your response to Boonton, if I may:
Considering that, depending on your definition of abortion and complicity, you’d have to convict and punish up to about half the American population, I hope you do get a whiff of reductio and appreciate why for some this is sufficient to seek equilibrium elsewhere. Your position about legislation and enforceability seems pragmatically sensible. If you’re prepared to drop it because you can’t enforce it, fine. But if you’re not prepared to drop it, perhaps you ought to reconsider in deference to what you ought to enforce it: I’m not familiar with any evidence that the majority of women who have an abortion feel that they’ve ‘put their own child to death’ or that they’ve been pressured into it (who pressures those who pressure?) or that they’ve suffered psychological harm. I’m pretty sure no one enjoys it, but what if most women just feel relieved? As for the responsibility or motives of those who stand to gain, this has more to do with the idiosyncrasies of the healthcare system in the US (which can’t be the making of the doctors alone) and is a non-issue in a welfare state context.

I wouldn’t seek to reduce the number of abortions via the introduction of legal restrictions for a number of reasons, one of which is sensitivity to changes in government, such as you’re now faced with. I think a tactic that would yield more stable results in the long run would be to invest in decreasing demand in the first place. And I think that in achieving this objective your association so far with the anti-contraception crowd amounts to having shot yourselves in the foot.

Anyway, your theoretical position makes much better sense to me now. Of course you seem to carry some heavy metaphysical baggage whilst I travel light; but this isn't necessarily an obstacle to recognising a fair point when one sees one. I think you’ve made a fair number of those.

I don't follow. It's indeed illegal to drop off your newborn in a public restroom. People get convicted of murder pretty regularly for dropping off their newborn in a dumpster.

There is in fact now a federal law (which I should note Obama wouldn't support in the Illinois state Senate) requiring a second doctor to be present at an abortion in case the fetus survives and to provide for care to save its life if there's a chance of viability and to comfort the child even in cases where there's no chance of continued survival. This was a rare example of complete bi-partisan cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, such that no Senator voted against it at the national level (it was before Obama was in the U.S. Senate). If this isn't an example of what you're talking about, I don't know what is.

I don't know if my friend is a Platonist in a general sense. I know Plato came up in his dissertation, but it was rich in drawing on the history of philosophy in general, even some relatively minor figures. But I'd be surprised if he didn't draw on some of the material in the Republic that I'm guessing you're referring to.

My understanding is that abstinence-only sex ed is what doesn't work, but that's not what Bush supports and what he initiated in Africa. His program promoted condom use. It just emphasized abstinence as the best method of avoiding pregnancy, which most sex ed programs don't do. My private high school did do that, at least with the biology Ph.D. who taught the version of it that I had to sit through, but I get the sense that that's far from typical, and if so then the programs most kids go through are actually dishonest in emphasizing the effectiveness of methods that really are no guarantee. The Bush model is actually more honest by emphasizing the failure rates of even the best methods of contraception. There's been a lot of criticism of Bush's efforts on this issue that get the the facts pretty wrong. They see the word 'abstinence', and all logic goes out the window, failing to distinguish between emphasizing abstinence and teaching only abstinence.

I'm not sure you've got my position right on eviction. My view is not that eviction is ok. It's that the pro-choice argument that I see in Judith Jarvis Thomson based on a libertarian right to control one's own body does not justify abortion but eviction, even in cases where eviction causes death. It wouldn't justify cases of death in order to evict, just cases of eviction that happen to cause death. Current abortion methods mostly cause death before eviction. But I don't endorse the eviction argument either. I don't think we have absolute property rights over our own bodies. If there were a case of eviction not leading to death, that would be another matter, but it's not.

I certainly don't support early abortion triggering a miscarriage. I'm not sure how anything I said could have led you to think that. My position is that killing a human being is wrong except in very rare circumstances where another moral issue outweighs the prohibition on killing, and I don't think abortion cases generally provide that. I presented one science fiction case where it might, where the fetus in question, if born, would release a virus that would wipe out all life on earth or something like that. But I would hesitate with consequences far less severe, and I know of no actual abortion case with consequences that drastic.

My view on the morning-after pill is undecided. There are people who think it and other hormonal contraceptives can serve as abortifacients in a minority of cases, and there are those who don't think that's true at all. I've seen people on both sides of the abortion question appearing on both sides of that dispute, and I have no idea where the truth lies. If it turns out that it can't be an abortifacient, then I have no problem with it. If it turns out that it can have that effect, then I'd be extremely cautious about its use, especially if the chances of that effect are much higher than with ordinary hormonal contraception. An abortifacient effect would mean that it can cause the termination of life of a fertilized egg, which would amount to killing. While I await a consensus on that issue, I don't support the morning-after pill but haven't expressed serious opposition to it either. I'm just not sure what to say about it. I certainly don't think federal funds should be paying for it, though. Condoms are the best method of contraception from a pro-life perspective, and if the government is going to be paying for contraception it should be paying for them rather than hormonal methods. The current practice is actually the reverse of that.

Given that only about half the population of the U.S. is female, and the majority of the pro-life movement is female, it can't be more than a quarter of the U.S. population who have had abortions, and that assumes everyone is of the right age to be in a position to have had them and to have been sexually active and to have preferred that option over the alternatives, all of which are false assumptions about many women. I don't know what percentage of Americans have had abortions, but it's certainly nowhere close to half the population. If I had to guess, I'd probably put it more like like 10-15%. But keep in mind what I said about who would face the stiff penalties, and it's not the women having the abortions but the doctors willing to violate the Hippocratic oath who perform them, and it's only if you pursue this retroactively that all who have had abortions would be targeted anyway. Do you really think people would pursue abortions at the same rate if it were illegal? That's extremely doubtful. So you present a crazy scenario for enforcement, but it's not remotely what would happen.

It doesn't matter if women feel they've put their child to death. Why are you introducing their feelings? Whether they have done so has nothing to do with how they feel about it. It's well-documented that many cases of abortion come from pressure from boyfriends, parents, and husbands when the women wouldn't prefer to have one. It's not as clear-cut a choice as many on the pro-choice side present it as. This is especially so with teenagers. It's also well-documented that having an abortion often results in psychological harm. The U.S. Supreme Court referred to some of this data in a recent decision. It's consistent with this that many women feel relieved and don't feel as if they killed their child.

I have no political association with the anti-contraception crowd, so I'm not sure where you're getting that from. When they agree with me on an issue, and we both support a measure or a candidate, I will support the same measure or candidate that they support. That involves political coalitions of a sort. Sometimes a candidate will be a mixed bag, favoring some things I support and some things I don't. But that's always going to be true, and I favor those who more closely support the things I'm most concerned to accomplish. It doesn't mean putting a rubber stamp on everything they want, and it doesn't mean supporting things that I don't agree with. So how does working with them on measures that are good shoot my goals in the foot?

OK, so dropping off a newborn in a public restroom is illegal. Is there a Mount Taygetus in the US then, so that American women persuaded by whatever means to carry unwanted pregnancies to term may deposit their unwanted newborns at the rate of a million a year so they may be taken care of by the ‘proper authorities’? Your ‘rare example of complete bi-partisan cooperation’ sounds to me like a rare example of complete myopic indulgence! In a country with 40 or so million people without healthcare coverage mandating the presence of two doctors in the circumstances just can’t be the priority. You know, anything that looks laudable enough and unlikely to cost much politicians may gladly endorse. But it could still be a waste of resources better deployed elsewhere.

I don’t know enough about the content of competing sex-ed curricula. I bet everyone agrees that no contraceptive method is 100% effective and that kids should be made aware of comparative failure rates. But I think we can also recognise why in an educational context it may be counterproductive to put the emphasis on failure, e.g. point to accidents involving harm to people wearing seat-belts if we’re trying to persuade kids to buckle-up when riding in cars.

What I can’t see is why a sex-ed programme would single out the condom when its failure rate is way above the pill’s. This sounds like ‘all logic goes out the window’ too. Another problem with ‘condoms only’ is that their use is not within the female’s control. But I take your point about costs. I suppose the reason hormonal methods are subsidised is because they involve drugs for which you need a prescription.

Abortion is not a clear choice, you’re right. And I appreciate your being open minded about the morning-after pill. The interesting thing about it is that even if there is a fertilised egg floating in the woman’s body it’s like in the IVF case: There’s nobody pregnant. So the situation is I think as clear a case of pure eviction as you can get. There’s no denial of nutrients and I presume the egg may well pass out of the body unharmed, but so what? What's epistemically fascinating is that irrespective of intentions the woman doesn’t know if there’s anything being evicted or not. In early abortion I think there is denial of nutrition because the lining collapses and the embryo dislodges from the uterine wall. It’s been some time since I read Thomson’s article but it looks to me like some bullet to bite if you deny the analogy.

The projection I was working from was that at current rates around 33% of American women will have at least one abortion by age 45, so that’s easily about 33% of the total population if the man involved is thought to be complicit for not having pleaded ‘I beg you, just bring this baby to term and I’ll raise it all by myself if need be’. Since almost one in five abortions involves a teenager we can work upwards from there assuming both parents are complicit too if they didn’t plead with their daughter as above and further up to include all doctors involved in abortions unless they’re also females who’ve had an abortion themselves or males responsible or parents etc. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that the majority of the pro-life movement is female. Around 30% of women who have abortions identify themselves as Catholic.

I admitted the scenario was dependent on definitions. But if you'd now insist that women are aware that methods of contraception they regularly use can and do cause abortion then we’re facing an even crazier scenario with the statistics sky-rocketing and terms like ‘negligence’ or ‘murdering a person’ losing all meaning, in my view. I was pushing a reductio since I felt you were having it rather easy on yourself, being both pro-capital punishment and too ready to concede mitigating factors in the case of a woman who had an abortion which you might be unwilling to concede in the case of a woman who had committed a less controversial type of murder. What if she stood up unrepentant and in defiance claiming it was her inalienable right to do as she did? I doubt you'd be prepared to explain such an attitude in terms of the psychological damage involved; but you may try!

Do I really think people would pursue abortions at the same rate if it were illegal? Well, abortion is illegal in most of Latin America and abortion rates are estimated to be higher there than anywhere in the US or Europe. In Europe, Irish women pop to the UK or Spain for the weekend to have their abortions. Of course it’s easier for the better-off to have their ways. The rest have to make do with the back street and the self-imposed capital punishment that often entails.

I think I’ve failed to convey my point about the difference between seeking to reduce demand for abortion vs seeking to reduce access via dubious legislation. What I suggested was that by co-operating with those opposing contraception and relying on legal obstacles you may have unnecessarily restricted the armoury at your disposal and missed the opportunity to invest in measures that would have curbed demand anyway independently. I think Obama will get there eventually but I also think you may be partly responsible if it’ll be later than sooner.

You guessed right I was referring to the Republic! I hope I’ve covered all your points.

There are laws that allow parents to drop off unwanted children at hospitals and other locations. I believe this occurs at the state level, but most states have such laws. I know New York, where I live, does. I support such laws, and so do most pro-lifers. I believe the National Right to Life organization has endorsed these laws.

The emphasis of the teacher who taught sex ed to my class was simply on the facts. He contrasted the factual picture in a number of cases with the magical thinking of teenagers that it couldn't happen to them. This include both thinking that conception couldn't occur without contraception and that conception couldn't occur with contraception. The conception rate is certainly much higher without contraception, and he emphasizes that. But he also pointed out that even using multiple contraception methods at once, which is the most effective strategy, is not foolproof. Sometimes it fails. Abstinence really is the only 100% guaranteed method (leaving aside coerced sex where someone who seeks to be abstinent has no control over what happens anyway).

Condom use is within a woman's control to the same extent that sex is within her control. She has just as much ability to say no to someone who refuses to use a condom as she does to say not to sex at all. My point isn't to restrict people's access to contraceptives but to point out in a sex ed curriculum what the facts are: (a) there is some dispute over whether hormonal contraceptives can have an abortifacient effect, which many pro-life people would worry about, (b) there are health consequences of hormonal contraceptives, including mental health concerns, (c) barrier methods are the only way to decrease the chances of STD infection, and (d) there is always the chance of conception even with the most effective methods.

The way you've worked out the numbers makes more sense to me now, but I very much doubt anyone is proposing that it would be criminal merely not to say anything in opposition to a woman who decides to have an abortion. If you do include those who pressure her, then the numbers probably do go up a bit. But remember that most pro-lifers are proposing to make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion. I don't get the sense that most pro-lifers want women who seek abortions to be criminals, just those who do the killing. I wouldn't include negligence in using hormonal treatments whose effects aren't determined yet, either.

It’s encouraging to hear the National Right to Life is following a move to the left!

You seem to have had a sensible teacher, though you don’t say if he was Catholic. Did he also say how many of you were likely to have had sex by the time you left school? (Parents who think their own child will be in the minority may not be immune to magical thinking either.) Coerced sex can happen to people who don’t seek to be abstinent as well as to those who do, and that’s when the girl who relies on hormonal methods has the advantage. But leaving that aside, were you really told that abstinence from sex is ‘the only’ 100% guaranteed method when e.g. having homosexual sex is just as effective in avoiding a pregnancy? Unless we distinguish the goal of (i) preventing unwanted pregnancies from (ii) preventing sex altogether, we risk getting tangled up again in an analogue of the ‘controlling women vs saving lives’ muddle, which I take it we’ve cleared up. Perhaps the people who see the word ‘abstinence’ and go overboard are merely objecting to the conflation of (i) and (ii). If so, I think they’re right and I expect you’d agree.

Of your points, I find (a), (c) and (d) fairly uncontroversial, though it does seems odd to insist on including (d) at least without adding that everything else we do in our everyday life involves taking calculated risks. Regarding (b) it seems fair to note e.g. the lower failure rates, female control and cost-benefit considerations: Whilst carrying a pregnancy to term involves a far greater risk to a woman’s health and life compared to a first trimester abortion, this hasn’t stopped women from going on to have babies. But I’m not sure how exactly to evaluate ‘the facts’ unless I know the questions and the objectives.

I accept what you state the pro-lifers’ proposals are in the case of criminalisation of abortion but they still look to me like ad hoc manoeuvring in the face of reductio: You’re prepared to let a woman off if she pays a doctor for her abortion but you’re not prepared to let her off if she pays an assassin to kill the man responsible for her pregnancy. However, as legislative change in a direction you’d favour is currently unlikely anyway and since your position seems defensible in other respects, I think you’ll be able to pursue your objectives effectively through other means. If you look out you may well find allies in novel quarters and I think you’ll be right not to deny them just because you don’t agree with them on everything. And thanks for this exchange. It’s been illuminating.

I did some searching, and I found that NRTL has been endorsing Safe Haven laws. I know George W. Bush signed one into law when he was governor of Texas, and Mike Huckabee did so in Arkansas when he was governor there. So prominent pro-life politicians have also supported them. In my experience, it's people on the the left who have opposed such laws, saying they support parental abandonment of children, which of course is not a very positive way to describe the policy.

No, my biology teacher who taught sex ed also was definitely not Catholic. He's an atheist. It was in a highly Catholic area, though, and most of the students present were Catholic. They seem to have been as favorable toward this method of presentation as I was.

But leaving that aside, were you really told that abstinence from sex is ‘the only’ 100% guaranteed method when e.g. having homosexual sex is just as effective in avoiding a pregnancy?

Yes. This was the late 80s, and this guy was already at least in his 50s, so he might have been born when Franklin Roosevelt was President. The same teacher might have been less heteronormative today, but I don't know. It's certainly true when you're talking about HIV prevention, even if it's not true of pregnancy, and that got at least as much attention as pregnancy in this curriculum (or at least in his emphasis). At any rate, this guy certainly wasn't confusing the goal of preventing sex altogether with preventing pregnancy. He had no religious reasons for preventing sex altogether, although for all I know he might well have preferred that teenagers be putting off sex longer than is typical. He didn't comment on that much, from what I remember.

My emphasis with (b) is to compare it with barrier methods, which are superior anyway because of their disease prevention. It's also less expensive.

No, we do recognize excusing factors and mitigating factors for penalties with ordinary cases of murder or hiring of assassins. The question is whether the factors with abortion are enough to justify such mitigation. Given the psychological issues and the fact that men and some women not been in such a position, there's at least some argument for mitigation. I haven't been convinced that such arguments justify abortion morally, but they might leave room for not treating it as serious on the part of the woman seeking an abortion as it is for the person who doesn't face such factors who still goes along with it and actually commits the act.

Actually, legislative change in the direction I favor is quite common. It's just that the court systems keep invalidating it, and it's the highest court that really matters. If Obama only gets to replace liberal justices and then a judicial conservative becomes President and manages to move the Court one vote in a conservative direction, there could be serious change on this. There is already going to be piecemeal change with the current lineup, given Anthony Kennedy's recent move to the right after his feeling betrayed by Sandra Day O'Connor when she took his good faith vote to imply far more than he'd intended and insisted that a decision he supported required allowing partial-birth abortion.

Thanks for looking up and setting out the facts! It’s a pity I don’t really understand your judicial appointments system or know all the people you mention so as to appreciate the significance of the info or likelihood of scenarios as well as you can or intend me to. I suspect whether abortion is legal or not may affect our perception of whether it’s reasonable or not for a woman to go on to have a baby she has no intention of bringing up herself. I still have no idea how the US government could deal with an ‘unwanted baby mountain’ growing at a rate of a million per annum and I’d be surprised if politicians weren’t in awe at the prospect of such an operation.

I asked if the teacher was Catholic(!) because it wasn’t clear to me what ‘abstinence’ involves abstaining from. It sounds fine to take ‘Catholic sex’ to be the paradigm of high-risk behaviour as far as pregnancy is concerned and go on from there to discuss contraception. But STD goes wider and is also a risk with behaviours not so far documented to have lead to pregnancy, e.g. oral sex, in which case pro-lifers are unlikely to have much to say qua pro-lifers.

Re your (b) I did note the worry about certain contraceptives being ‘abortifacient’, though I think there’s equivocation here: My concern, on your behalf, is that if the failure rates or the risks to life and health of ‘suspect’ hormonal contraception are inflated a woman in a stable relationship may well come to a rational decision to go for ‘Catholic sex’ and take the risk of having an abortion or two before she’ll reconsider. I’m not sure you’d welcome this outcome. At another extreme, a woman who feels she just couldn’t bring herself to go through with an abortion may insist on simultaneous employment of hormonal, chemical and barrier methods plus keeping fingers crossed for the duration. You can call her a control-freak but you may not call her irrational. We just can’t tell a priori how the information we provide is going to be used by individual people in decision making. Here’s a pragmatic incentive to be as accurate and comprehensive as we can.

The enforcement scenario still doesn’t look quite right to me. Doctors may seem like convenient scapegoats but they may also be becoming irrelevant: Women increasingly seem to favour early DIY methods, and I’m not sure how you’d handle those.

Indeed, there seem to be few adults who wouldn’t prefer teenagers to postpone having sex! But I wonder till when, and why.

Well, George W. Bush was President for the last eight years, and Mike Huckabee was a strong contender for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2008, and all signs indicate that he intends to run again in 2012. He's a major political figure from a pro-life perspective, and he's a former evangelical pastor, so he's pretty typical of a lot of conservative Christian voters.

Sandra Day O'Connor was the justice on the Supreme Court who was most associated with the status quo on abortion. She was a swing voter between the liberal and conservative camps on the Supreme Court, but she fashioned the opinions that led to the current jurisprudence on that issue. She surprised conservatives, who thought they had a majority on abortion issues, when she managed to get another swing justice Anthony Kennedy to vote with her in a 1992 case that upheld the availability of abortion. It was a 5-4 vote. Kennedy later refused to join her on partial-birth abortion, saying it was never what he'd intended when he gave his vote to her opinion in 1992, and once she was off the court her issued an abortion decision that rolled back several of the ways O'Connor had applied the 1992 opinion that he turned out not to have taken the way she and the liberals on the court had meant it.

I'm pretty convinced that without the ease of abortion for mere convenience people will be a lot more responsible in preventing conception. With abortion to fall back on, there's a lot less incentive to use contraception.

I'm not sure how Catholic sex is the paradigm of high-risk behavior, because Catholic sex is restricted to within marriage. Maybe you get high-risk behavior if you take some of the restrictions of the Catholic view but not others, and surely there are some who strangely do that, but that's their problem. It doesn't say anything about the Catholic view. It says something about one Catholic teaching combined with the denial of another Catholic teaching. The same is even more true of the view that someone can engage in Catholic sex and then have an abortion. That's not the Catholic view but a strange combination of one Catholic view with a view Catholics would say is deeply immoral. This should certainly affect the amount of energy and moral reasoning devoted to the different issues. If the emphasis on their view of contraception is winning people over without winning them over on the importance of abstinence outside marriage and the immorality of abortion, then something is wrong with their presentation, and they need to rethink how they communicate their overall position and the balance of which issues get how much emphasis. But it's not a criticism of the Catholic position to say that some people take some of it and leave the rest aside and thus engage in risky behavior. It's a criticism of the strange "pick and choose" methodology of such people who are pretending to be faithful to the Catholic view while doing nothing of the sort.

The penalty scheme I have in mind doesn't have no penalty for a woman having an abortion, just more room for mitigation. So the absence of doctors doesn't make laws against abortion entirely ineffective in such cases. It would just pay more attention to factors like pre-meditation, potentially excusing circumstances, mental health factors, coercive circumstances, and so on. I imagine this taking place in the penalty phase but perhaps also in determining whether the conviction is of murder or manslaughter and which degree of murder or manslaughter. These are all factors already in effect with murder and manslaughter cases, so it doesn't involve a huge revision to the legal code. It just involves a more serious application of these kinds of principles and a legal enforcement of higher standards for juries or judges when they might seek to impose a more serious penalty.

We've got lots of laws (and I'm sure more in the U.S. than in most of Europe) restricting sex among minors and between minors and adults. In the U.S. it varies from state to state. Sometimes it's automatically rape if an adult has sex with a child of a certain age, but as the child's age increases those laws begin to make more allowances, especially if the age difference between the two parties is within a few years but still on opposite sides of the usual age of consent. So there certainly already is enforcement of laws that seek to prevent teenage sex, and there are allowances for certain kinds of exceptions. One moral justification for this is that sexual consequences are much more severe than most activities we would seek to prevent adolescents from engaging in, and combine that with the scientific evidence that moral development isn't really complete until something like age 25, and we do have some justification for some legal methods of encouraging putting off sexual activity until later. I would argue that there are moral reasons for restricting sex entirely to within a committed marriage, but I'm not going to recommend enforcing something like that by law, and it doesn't help much anyway given that many people willing to call their relationship a marriage prove by their willingness to divorce that they weren't really committed to a marriage to begin with. It's the permanent commitment that really makes the difference. I'm not sure there can be responsible sex without at least a willingness of both parties to get married and raise any resulting child if conception were to occur. But even those with much more permissive views on sexual morality should be able to recognize that an age group whose poor moral judgment has auto insurance companies charging the highest rates to perhaps ought to be encouraged not to engage in one of the most potentially consequence-ridden activities in human existence.

I do appreciate your spelling things out for me! It’s striking how politicised judicial appointments can be in the US and how much turns on the Roe decision. It’s not quite like that in Europe. (Btw I was aware that George W. Bush was President for the last eight years. What I disputed was that he’d patented this calculus whereby no matter how you fix the variables the result is always ‘condoms only’ and whoever challenges the output must be irrational.) I think I can see why in principle states may resent a pre-emptive Court decision but referenda seeking to restrict abortion were in fact defeated everywhere in the last election.

I’m not sure how seriously people are exercised by questions of the degree to which a third of American women may be guilty of ‘murder or manslaughter’, not least because most of these women have already given birth to and are bringing up children or certainly plan to do so provided they won’t have hit the menopause by the time they’re released from prison. I suspect the reason the pro-life movement may not have yet fully worked out or cost its policies in terms of projected socioeconomic impact is because such policies can only be effectively enforced in cloud-cuckoo-land.

‘I'm pretty convinced that without the ease of abortion for mere convenience people will be a lot more responsible in preventing conception.’

So you’d want women to behave like the control-freak who just knows she could never bring herself to have an abortion. But then you’ve got some explaining to do for endorsing methods of contraception such as ‘condoms only’ rather than the 'simultaneous employment of hormonal, chemical and barrier methods plus keeping fingers crossed for the duration’.

‘With abortion to fall back on, there's a lot less incentive to use contraception.’

It depends. But there won’t be more incentive to use contraception if you insist on emphasising contraceptive failure and call sex-ed programmes which don’t do so ‘dishonest’. Nor do you provide incentive to use contraception through graphic descriptions exclusively of the damage popular contraceptives can do to a woman’s health. You’re only shooting yourselves in the foot, and you’re running fast out of feet to shoot into.

'I'm not sure how Catholic sex is the paradigm of high-risk behavior, because Catholic sex is restricted to within marriage.’

Marriage is not a method of contraception. So I’d maintain ‘Catholic sex’ is the paradigm of high-risk behaviour. A perfectly compliant Catholic woman marrying at 25 could easily produce within the rest of her fertile lifetime the 14 children which the Californian lady recently produced in record time with a little help from friends.

Thanks for setting out the position. I’m sympathetic to the views you express re teenage sex and I like the analogy with insurance premium rates. The onset of puberty has certainly not kept up with the evolution of social constructions of maturity but I guess there’ve been times when most humans were dead by age 25. It does seem odd to tell kids they can’t vote till 18 though they can have sex at 16, yet it would be even odder not to have cut the umbilical cord by the age of voting. But I was thinking more in terms of what it may mean for parents that like them their kids are having sex too, that they’re growing up: The ‘end’ of parenthood (nicely ambiguous!) qua devolution of authority till becoming obsolete may involve mixed feelings, and it may take a rare combination of humility, self-confidence and selfless love to ‘let go’.

I'm not sure where you're getting this condoms-only calculus from. That's neither my view nor the view I attributed to the previous President. My view is that condoms are morally and pragmatically preferable to chemical/hormonal methods of contraception and that it's perfectly ok for a government to encourage them instead of the reverse. My understanding of Bush's approach was simply that it included education about all contraception but encouraged abstinence as the most effective method. I never said it's immoral to use condoms and other methods. I simply said that, of the two, condoms are preferable. Someone using both has significantly reduced the chances of a possible abortifacient effect, and as you pointed out we don't generally have a problem with doing something that has a small but real risk of someone being killed. But if someone is only going to use one, I prefer they use condoms for the reasons I've given, and the government's emphasis on the other seems wrong to me. That's not the same as expecting no one ever to use the other.

There were a few referenda on abortion in a few (if I remember correctly, only two) states in the last election. Most states didn't consider tissue. In some of the states, the proposal was more sweeping than people thought was appropriate at this time, but there were two reasons for that. One is that pro-choice voters didn't want to restrict abortion to that extent (and keep in mind that one of these proposals was pretty much a ban on almost all abortion). The other is that pro-lifers don't want to start a court battle that can't be won until there's a majority on the Supreme Court that will overturn Roe. That's at least going to take one more conservative appointee or a total change of heart from Justice Kennedy, who has only had a partial change of heart so far. So many pro-lifers opposed these laws knowing that they'd be overturned immediately and insisted on choosing battles according to what has a chance of standing up in court given the current arrangement of things. Given that it was pretty clear before the election that Obama was going to win, it was clear that such a change wouldn't happen until at least the President who follows him, whoever and whenever that might be.

I have a hard time seeing someone as a control freak for not wanting to kill her own child. Such a view strikes me as heartless and morally tone-deaf. All it takes is not being cruel and selfish not to want to kill your own child. Some people have abortions who have mixed feelings about them, but to see it as being a control freak to decide never to do such a thing is on most pro-choice views supererogatory (but on my view is more accurately just being a minimally-decent human being).

I'm not sure what you mean by emphasizing contraceptive failure. Mentioning that there is a 1% chance of failure of a given method, sometimes depending on how correctly it is used, does not amount to emphasizing failure. I have no idea what graphic descriptions you mean, but if a sex ed program does give graphic descriptions of the damage contraceptive chemicals can do then it is indeed being honest, since those effects are possible. They should certainly indicate how likely they are, and they should include graphic descriptions of what abortion actually does to a fetus (something usually avoided in sex ed, as I understand) and the facts about the stages of development of a fetus so they understand how much worse it would be to have an abortion.

Of course marriage isn't a method of contraception. Marriage is an environment where children who result will be cared for by any decent people in that marriage. So if contraception results then it's not a major upheaval.

As for the Catholic view, they do advocate natural family planning (which, unlike the rhythm method, is actually relatively reliable). So a faithful Catholic who does intend to have 14 children certainly can, but a Catholic who wants to space out children or limit themselves to a few can do so while remaining faithful to Catholic teaching. I don't agree with the view. I think it's harmful to a marriage to avoid sex during the time when a woman is most sexually interested. But I don't think the view has the result you say it has unless the people involved aren't fully informed, which is the point of including all this information in a sex ed class.

I argued that we can’t do other people’s thinking for them and tried to isolate the pro-life concern to reduce unwanted pregnancies from other objectives. In this context I considered a woman who wouldn’t resort to abortion under any circumstances and so insisted on using multiple contraceptive methods simultaneously plus magic(!), and commented tongue-in-cheek that ‘You can call her a control-freak but you may not call her irrational’. It didn’t seem to bother you then but ‘control-freak’ was just shorthand for referring back to that example. You reported having being taught that the ‘most effective’ contraceptive method involves employing multiple contraceptives at once. I asked why pro-lifers would endorse, qua pro-lifers, any contraceptive method other than the method ‘most effective’ in preventing pregnancy. I still think it’s a fair question to ask since the difference in failure rates can only be mopped up by more abortions than would be necessary if the more reliable method were used.

You express a preference for condoms, you think it follows ‘if someone is only going to use one’ that the woman uses none and judge the government's emphasis to be ‘wrong’. (How a government can promote ‘abstinence only’, ‘condoms only’ and discourage condoms whilst encouraging hormonal contraception all at the same time beats me but I probably misread or missed something so never mind.) Unless whimsical your assessments clearly presuppose some sweeping optimisation calculus which invariably churns out the answer ‘condoms only’ for all people at all times, against which I offered two counterexamples. But you seem unimpressed and insist on straying back into what I tried to warn may be treacherous territory.

So please consider the following paraphrase: ‘I'm not sure what you mean by emphasizing the risks of childbirth. Mentioning that there is a 1% chance of death or 30% chance of undergoing major abdominal surgery, sometimes depending on where you live, does not amount to emphasizing risk. I have no idea what graphic descriptions you mean, but if an ante-natal program does give graphic descriptions of the damage childbirth can do then it is indeed being honest, since those effects are possible. They should certainly indicate how likely they are, and they should include graphic descriptions of what agonising labour or a C-section actually does to a woman (something usually avoided in ante-natal classes, as I understand) and the facts about the risks to life and health of carrying a pregnancy to term so they understand how much worse it would be to give birth.’ Do you think that, as long as Roe stands, the US government should support the development of ‘abortion only’ ante-natal education classes along these lines?

Marriage may be largely irrelevant to bringing up offspring or to whether it’s an ‘upheaval’ to do so. If, say, a teenager finds herself pregnant how can marrying another teenager make a difference? Because there’ll be a joint commitment to pooling their pocket-money? Teenage marriages seem particularly volatile anyway and I think one can be both decent and disinclined to propose or accept in the circumstances: He may want to graduate from school, be independent financially, do the stuff people legitimately aspire to. She has the right to do likewise, I think.

I don’t support the Catholic view any more than you seem to but I admit there’s a consistency to it I find appealing. As for the reliability of ‘approved’ contraception methods, you may have hit upon an explanation why abortion rates may be higher among Catholic populations.

On referenda I agree with those who take exercises in futility to be worse than useless. So after this informative detour into the workings of US politics and the Supreme Court, for which I thank you, it still seems to me that under the current administration pro-lifers open-minded about contraception could help make a real difference on the ground where it matters.

I don't think you can talk about the Catholic view and then move back to a more general view by ignoring part of the view and talking about pro-lifers qua pro-lifers. It would be one thing to challenge the Catholic view on consistency grounds, but you can't just treat one aspect of the view in isolation of the rest in doing so. With most Catholics, there are several exceptionless moral obligations (i.e. perfect duties in Kantian terminology) that you can't overcome just because of an important but imperfect duty (again, in Kantian terminology) to protect life. Doing wrong on the usual Catholic view is always worse than allowing the greatest evil by someone else. The consequences never overcome a perfect duty, and I think they'd see the duty not to contracept as such a perfect duty. I don't agree with such a view, but I don't think we can challenge it on consistency grounds just because they do admit to a very strong imperfect duty to protect life. The view is consistent in that regard.

How a government can promote ‘abstinence only’, ‘condoms only’ and discourage condoms whilst encouraging hormonal contraception all at the same time beats me

I'm not sure how you got that from me. What I said is that abstinence ought to be emphasized in sex ed, and in the process they ought to give accurate information, both (1) in how deceptive it can be to think contraception will not fail (since it does fail for that 1% or however much, and they could well be in that 1%) and (2) in how much greater the chances of pregnancy will be with no contraception. They also ought to make it clear that hormonal/chemical methods do nothing about STD transmission, whereas condoms have a failure rate but a relatively small one and therefore are best to be part of whatever they do outside of a committed, monogamous relationship, ideally one with the strongest commitment possible, with actual vows.

When it comes to government funds to provide contraception, it's backwards to focus only on hormonal/chemical methods when condoms prevent disease and don't have the long-term health consequences. That doesn't mean they should just cover condoms but that it's backwards to support the method that protects less and has some adverse consequences when they could support the method that protects more and has few adverse consequences except if there's a latex allergy or something. It was a criticism of the one-sided approach Medicaid takes with contraceptives, pointing out that if they're going to take the one-sided approach they shouldn't take the less-effective side of the two. It wasn't a claim that they should simply take the other side and ignore this one entirely.

I can't see how it could be remotely morally responsible to refuse marriage and become a deadbeat dad just because you want to complete schooling. For one thing, you can complete schooling while married. I'm in school full-time right now, and my wife doesn't work. I teach half-time. We've got four kids. We manage. For another, it's certainly possible to get engaged to be married, in the meantime taking care of the responsibilities one can manage, while not actually getting married until completing school. If it's more ideal in the long term, I'm open to that being the best option. I'm not sure it usually will, but maybe it will sometimes. The obligation to get married doesn't necessarily mean it's an obligation to marry immediately.

Since most of the rest of your arguments seem directed against a view I don't hold and haven't defended in the way you're saying I have, I'm not sure what else to say.

I don’t think we disagree about the Catholic view: It’s as consistent and coherent as it’s utopian. The problem with defending a more realistic alternative, like you’re trying to do, is to make principled distinctions and I respect the effort because it takes one down a more challenging as well as potentially fruitful road; I’m only trying to help.

From a pro-life perspective, I think STD-prevention, women’s health concerns and cost to government budget are all red-herrings: (a) STD-prevention: I offered as counterexample a woman who’s gone steady since rightly or wrongly people who feel they’re in stable relationships aren’t particularly bothered about STDs. More importantly it’s hard to see why, from a pro-life perspective, an unwanted pregnancy should be averted only to the extent that an STD-prevention device happens to provide contraception: The condom is only a Tier-II contraceptive method with a failure rate at best at least double the rate of Tier-I contraceptives and at worst comparable to that of ‘Catholic approved’ methods. (b) Women’s health concerns: The pro-life position seems unreasonable and inconsistent. How does being a pro-lifer qualify one to second-guess a woman and her doctor? Of course a woman may not stay on hormonal contraception forever; if she’s over thirty and smokes two packs a day she may well be told she has to quit smoking or go off the pill. More importantly any gynaecologist will admit that, compared to a first trimester abortion, continuing with a pregnancy involves a far greater risk of injury to a woman’s physical or mental health. (c) Cost to government budget: A ‘fit-and-forget’ copper IUD is a non-hormonal contraceptive method which works out cheaper over 10 or 12 years compared to condoms and is certainly an investment against managing an ‘unwanted baby mountain’.

I hope it’s clear that I’m not arguing against the claim that condoms are the contraceptive panacea in order to show that something else is but in order to show that there may be no panacea. It’s hard enough to optimise wrt a single variable at a time, let alone wrt several all at once. And it just seems absurd for a pro-lifer to insist, purportedly on grounds of risk to women’s health and cost to the public purse, on a second-rate contraceptive which is certain to result in more unintended pregnancies than need be when such pregnancies ought to be terminated on the very same grounds of risk to women’s health or cost to the public purse! I’ve tried to make this point in several different ways and I’m still not sure what your response is.

The ‘abstinence’ slogan I also find dubious. I’ve said before it’s not clear to me what one ought to abstain from because I’m not sure exactly what counts as ‘sex’ from a pro-life perspective. If pro-lifers agree that homosexual sex is unlikely to result in pregnancies, unwanted or wanted, I can’t see why they’d care whether homosexually inclined people remain abstinent or not. I think your primary focus ought to be heterosexual sexual activity of a specific sort and women in particular: Men don’t risk finding themselves unintentionally pregnant and facing the ‘carry-on or terminate’ dilemma.

I have reservations about the teenage pregnancy scenarios too. First, I’m not sure how the ‘engagement’ option would work out: With baby living at teenage mum’s family house and at her family’s expense? What if in the circumstances the family couldn't offer the teenager and her siblings the kind of life and opportunities they think they deserve? Is the girl’s mum morally required to deprive her own kids or maybe have an abortion herself in order to provide for the ‘engaged’ daughter’s offspring? Does she have to quit her job and look after a grandchild so her daughter may go back to school or just employ a nanny? Secondly, I thought marriage was commitment to a person, not a foetus. Even if you think a foetus is a person it’s not the foetus one is marrying. I can’t blame those who may find it demeaning or self-defeating to make or accept a marriage proposal out of ‘obligation’. Not wanting to be a deadbeat dad may be a good thing but it hardly turns a guy into the unturndownable suitor. I have no good argument why a woman should choose to study philosophy rather than marry and churn out babies but to my knowledge not many a female philosophy student is inundated with offers by males who long to stay at home and bring up her kids so she may pursue her philosophical career.

I don’t know why you think my arguments don’t touch you or how to express myself more clearly. I just feel it’ll be a pity if the pro-life movement degenerates to occupying the sidelines of American history alongside the prohibition.

The woman in a steady relationship isn't a counter-example to the STD concern. There are surely people who aren't worried about STDs, and maybe they have good enough reason not to be worried about them. The question is whether a public assistance program that only provides chemical-hormonal contraception is a good idea, given that STD-prevention is a health goal, and the point of providing contraceptives is women's health, not just pregnancy-prevention. If any people receiving the benefit would have used condoms in risky-sex situations but don't because their plan only provides the pill, then the program has done less than it could to protect those people's health. I find this situation to be incredible, on the very premises such programs are based on.

Pro-lifers aren't trying to dictate what is best medically for any given woman in any given situation. There are cases where a given woman's long-term health is going to be adversely affected by a pregnancy taken to full term, even though abortion in general is adverse for a woman's health. But that's not the primary pro-life concern. If it's morally wrong to end the life of a fetus for improved health conditions (and this is so even if it's not approaching the moral status of murder, as long as it's sufficiently serious), then it's unconscionable for a government to allow people to engage in such an act. That's the pro-life view. It doesn't matter if it might be healthier. It would be healthier for me to kill healthy people and take the organs to replace my failing ones. When another life is at stake, that issue takes priority over health, privacy, and self-determination concerns. You don't agree with the view, but that's what the view holds, so it doesn't make sense to call it inconsistent simply because it denies a premise you accept and then also denies something that follows from the premise that you accept that it doesn't accept.

The problem with the IUD is that it's abortifacient. A lot of pro-lifers worry about potential abortifacient effects of the pill and certainly worry about that with higher doses, as in the morning-after pill. The science isn't really clear on that, as far as I've been able to tell, so I'm withholding judgment. But IUDs are explicitly designed to be abortifacient, aren't they? No pro-lifer who accepts full moral status at conception is going to think they count as a government-sponsored alternative to the pill, because that in effect has the government paying for something that's morally equivalent to abortion. That's why the government under Bush wasn't paying to kill embryos. It's not quite half the country that opposes it, the way it is with most abortions, but it's a sizable voting bloc.

Pro-lifers qua pro-life won't be opposing homosexual sex. There are plenty of pro-lifers who oppose it for other reasons, but that's not as pro-lifers. So I'm not sure what the issue here is. The call to abstain from sex for pregnancy reasons isn't going to be directed at those engaging in same-sex relations. It's directed at those engaging in sex that could lead to pregnancy. I don't agree that the focus should be women, though, because that seems to treat men as if they're not responsible for the effects of their sexual relations when conception occurs. I can't condone such an approach, since it's what's led to the deadbeat dad phenomenon that increases the number of unwanted pregnancies to begin with. They wouldn't be at their current level, and there wouldn't be as many abortions, if more men were to take responsibility for their actions and be willing to help raise their children. It's been shown that a noteworthy portion of abortions come from a boyfriend pressuring a girlfriend to abort (either actively or through refusal to participate) because he doesn't want the responsibility of having a child.

In the extreme scenario you describe when even the grandparents can't help take care of a child of the teenage mom, there are plenty of alternatives, most notably adoption. Adoption isn't ideal, but it's better to be adopted than killed, and most reasons not to put up a child for adoption that prefer death are hard to see as anything but selfish.

I don't see marriage as reduced to commitment to a person, but whatever it is and what motivates someone to take part in it are separable. In most of the history of marriage, the motive hasn't been commitment to a person, even if that's what marriage is. It's only very recently that romantic love has even been part of the motivation for marriage. In many arranged-marriage cultures, marriage partners often come to love each other, but it's not the initial motivation. Moral considerations ought to outweigh such personal preferences anyway. Otherwise, abortion is surely a matter of convenience, particularly a very modern, Western, socially-constructed sort of convenience.

Your woman philosopher example is in the same category. We're clearly back to abortion for mere convenience if it comes down to abortion for the sake of being able to study philosophy.

I don't expect the pro-life movement to go down in history as being in the same category as prohibition supporters. People may well come to see the parallels between tolerance of abortion and tolerance of slavery, and the pro-life movement will be hailed as the morally courageous abolitionists if this era of moral blindness for the sake of personal convenience, a trait especially noteworthy among those who resisted making slavery illegal, with arguments that are disturbingly similar to the standard pro-choice arguments. But whether cultural changes moves in the direction of accurate assessment of a particular practice shouldn't determine what I do if I'm convinced of the moral importance of an issue where the government is going the wrong direction.

‘The question is whether a public assistance program that only provides chemical-hormonal contraception is a good idea, given that STD-prevention is a health goal, and the point of providing contraceptives is women's health, not just pregnancy-prevention.’

The question still seems to me to be besides the point.

‘…abortion in general is adverse for a woman's health. But that's not the primary pro-life concern.’

That the continuance of the pregnancy would involve greater risk of injury to a woman’s physical or mental health than if the pregnancy were terminated is language lifted right out of the 1967 Abortion Act (UK) setting out grounds for abortion. So your assessment of risks to a woman’s health can’t be right or the Act would provide virtually no legal entitlement to an abortion. But it’s precisely because women’s health is not the primary pro-life concern that I’d rather you stayed away from dubious assessments given the risk of apparent inconsistency or even hypocrisy charges.

‘The problem with the IUD is that it's abortifacient.’

Now this sounds honest and to the point. (I think I’ve said before there’s equivocation involved: If a woman can have an abortion by using ‘abortifacient’ contraceptives then a Petri-dish in an IVF lab can have an abortion too and that’s reductio enough for me but never mind.) If the goal is to achieve a reduction in the number of abortions we need to have an abortion measure and a baseline. There is such a measure currently in place and I thought that was agreed. I appreciate the pro-life concern in principle but I think that casting doubt on the way abortion statistics are currently collected would be another shot in the foot. If it was left to pro-lifers to decide what contraceptives should be available to a woman I think they’d be faced with a dilemma between allowing a vague possibility of abortions due to contraception not registering in the stats as against putting up with higher abortion stats. Given current estimates that between 50-70% of fertilised eggs never implant or if they do they’re subsequently naturally wasted, trying to establish the extent of any suspected ‘abortifacient’ effect over and above seems to me like looking for needles in haystacks. (And I hope pro-lifers won’t be calling next for used tampons to be given a proper burial just in case.) I’m not confusing ontology with epistemology; I’m just looking for a tangible way forward and this is not it.

I don’t think people have a clear idea exactly how an IUD works; it just does. I appreciate your being deferential to those concerned it may sometimes prevent implantation. But since you don’t oppose contraception in principle and since you’re willing to suspend judgement over what the science isn’t out on yet then you have options available to you which may not be open to other pro-lifers. And exercising those options would only promote the common pro-life cause.

‘That's why the government under Bush wasn't paying to kill embryos.’

Right, the government under Bush was only paying to kill those duly condemned to capital punishment and others not so duly condemned as long as they were Iraqis. So under the present government pro-lifers may have no more say as to where their taxes go than those who oppose the war did. Fair enough?

‘I don't agree that the focus should be women, though, because that seems to treat men as if they're not responsible for the effects of their sexual relations when conception occurs.’

I guess it does! Your motive is laudable but really I’d rather men did their moral growing-up somewhere else: Not on women’s backs and not over what you described as one of the most potentially consequential activities in human existence; because the consequences de facto burden women, and drawing in teenagers’ parents only blurs lines of responsibility for all. I’d be inclined to agree that choosing abortion over adoption is selfish if pregnancy and childbirth weren’t so more hazardous and costly than abortion. But anyway you don’t seriously expect social services in the US to place a million infants every year. The real game is to bring down the numbers in the first place.

‘It's only very recently that romantic love has even been part of the motivation for marriage.’

I don’t know what timescales you have in mind. Was the goddess Aphrodite and her son Eros worshipped ‘recently’?

‘In many arranged-marriage cultures, marriage partners often come to love each other, but it's not the initial motivation. Moral considerations ought to outweigh such personal preferences anyway.’

You are some ‘Republican’. I don’t know if furthering dad’s business interests is a good reason to marry someone but this is not the world we live in. We prefer to live with our own mistakes than other people’s. The fact is that girls get their periods earlier and have babies later. The window of opportunity for falling in love or in a mess is expanding. Given a choice, I wouldn’t like to be a contraceptive accident brought up in a marriage contracted out of a sense of duty and wouldn’t want to have frustrated and resentful people striving to fulfil their moral obligations for parents. I’d crave what’s not a right, which is to be loved! Perhaps the underlying problem is that we’re trying to erect islets of reason in what’s an ocean of irrationality.

‘Otherwise, abortion is surely a matter of convenience, particularly a very modern, Western, socially-constructed sort of convenience.’

Abortion is at least as ancient as Aphrodite worship. It’s the criminalisation of abortion which is arguably a modern Western construct, though I can’t see anything wrong in principle with that. The right of proletarians or women to vote is a fairly modern social construct too. But I’m surprised you seem willing to pronounce a fellow philosopher who may aspire to your situation as being after ‘mere convenience’. Was what motivated you to bring about the state of affairs you’re in your ‘mere convenience’? If it is, why is it OK for you and not for her? If it isn’t, why dismiss her motives as ‘mere convenience’?

I told you that I agree with you about what information should be provided in sex ed classes. I also said that I disagree with current U.S. policy on providing contraceptives. When I bring up the second point, you say it's beside the point. But then you keep bringing up the issue as if it's important, when that's the only point we seem to disagree on. So I'm not sure why you keep bringing it up if the one point we disagree on is beside the point.

Women's health is not the primary pro-life concern. It's also not the primary pro-choice concern. It's simply one concern in the mix. The primary pro-choice concern is self-determination held to such a ridiculously high absolute that it outweighs even the concerns of human life, something I find unconscionable. But it's in the mix, and it does provide one official argument for allowing abortion, even if only an extremely small percentage of actual abortions have anything to do with a woman's health. Some pro-lifers do acknowledge exceptions when abortion might be excusable or justified if a woman's life is at stake, so it's not as if this concern is entirely outside the discussion on the pro-life side. But it's only a very small percentage of cases, and it's pulling a lot more weight in the pro-choice argument than is justified by how often it actually is that a woman's health is seriously threatened by a pregnancy.

At any rate, I see no connection between this point and whether inconsistency or hypocrisy charges might be apt. If a position is inconsistent or if an individual says one thing and does another, the fact that a particular UK law mentions health (or that any other particular laws mention health) does not make that position any more consistent or that individual's views cohere any better with their actions. My claim in this post was that President Obama makes a lot of statements to try to pretend to pro-lifers that he's giving attention to their concerns, but then he opposes any restriction of abortion whatsoever, even in the last trimester, when such restrictions, as they have gradually been implemented over the last several decades, have consistently corresponded with decreases in abortion. He pulls out lies (whether his or someone else's that he trusts I can't say) about abortion increasing under Bush (which simply isn't true) to avoid this. He dodges the most fundamental question behind any moral view on the matter by saying it's above his pay grade, even though any policy preference depends wholly on how you answer that question.

The fact that a UK law justifies allowing abortion because of health concerns isn't exactly relevant to that issue. Only if every single instance of any law restricting abortion had legitimate health exceptions that weren't present in such laws could this argument work, but the U.S. Supreme Court has required health exceptions in any law restricting abortion, so any law remaining has them already, and even those laws would be removed by the Freedom of Choice Act that Obama said he'd sign as his first act as President.

A Petri-dish isn't a morally responsible being. Unfortunate events occur in nature all the time. That doesn't make it right to perform acts leading to them ourselves. Some unfortunate occurrences can't be helped, and in other cases it's worth risking them for some higher purpose, but in some cases it's wrong to put yourself in a position to make it likely that they occur. The pro-life position is that it's morally wrong to put yourself in a position to increase the chances of an embryo's death in a significant enough way, and that rules out abortifacient contraception (if they do have that effect, which as I said is at most a worry at this point and is not clearly established). It also rules out in vitro methods of conception if you aren't going to develop all the viable-enough embryos at some point. For some, it would prevent them from even creating embryos if you had good reason to believe there would be a significant number of them that will not be viable.

I'm not saying this should be your view or that you should find it plausible if you don't think full moral status begins at conception. I'm saying that this is the pro-life view that you're criticizing, and a criticism of it as inconsistent, hypocritical, or counterproductive to its own aims does have to take into account the fundamental basis of the view.

My own view is that it is better for a full human embryo to die earlier than later, so I would count an early death as less bad for it than a later one, during say the third month of pregnancy. The difference is that, while both involve the intrinsic bad of death, one also involves the further bad of pain to the fetus. That's ignoring the state of those making the decision. I think it's also worse for the one making the decision (worse as if harming their well-being more) to come to that point after having nurtured a life for three months (whether voluntarily or involuntarily), which then severs an already-existing biological connection that would naturally develop. So there are several factors that make later abortion worse than earlier abortifacient effects, just in terms of the consequences, and when you factor in the character of someone who makes the choice to end a life earlier compared with the character of someone who makes the choice to end the life later, I think that adds to the later abortion being a worse act.

But it's consistent with all that to think both actions are wrong if deliberate, and I think that's what the standard pro-life view is going to say, even if natural miscarriages and so on, especially very early on, are frequent and yet not treated as terribly unfortunate. Most such cases are non-viable, and we might wish that they were viable, but short of that there's no hope that things were otherwise. Not so with an embryo we simply choose not to implant that would have a very good chance of developing or a conceptus that chemical contraception might cause not to implant that would otherwise become a healthily-developing fetus. So I don't think the worries you're raising make the pro-life position impossible. It just takes some nuancing to capture the various elements in a coherent way.

I should be clear that my suspending of judgment on the abortifacient effect issue is not a move to thinking it has no such effect. Suspending judgment means we should be aware that there may well be such an effect, and that means a pro-lifer should be worried about the possibility. With less empistemic certainty, we may have less worry and thus oppose it less fervently, but there will remain some level of resistance. An example of how this might go is that a friend of mine who is pro-life is worried about this, but his wife takes hormonal contraceptives because of hormonal regulation and not to prevent conception. So they use condoms as well to try to reduce the chances of a conceptus forming that might then be prevented from implanting if the abortifacient effect is present. It isn't incredibly costly to put on a condom, but it doesn't stop them from treating his wife's hormonal imbalance in that way either. So they simply do both, and it reduces the chances of such a possible effect.

But I think it also means worrying less about contraceptives by such a means than I might otherwise do, and I would just want it mentioned in a sex ed class that some scientists think it might have such an effect while others disagree. In the interest of honesty and full information, I think that would be good. I don't propose removing it from the curriculum, and I don't propose that health insurance wouldn't cover it at all. I just think they should also cover condoms if they're going to cover any.

I don't know of any policy in the Bush Administration to kill Iraqis merely for being Iraqis. Just as there is due process for capital punishment, so is there due process for initiating combat with a foreign nation, and that process was carried out by the U.S. Congress with the same information Bush had. They were happy to think it was enough information then until it was politically convenient for them to forget that or pretend otherwise. The actual justifications stood up to inquiry, and the media's revisionism of what those justifications were basically set up a straw man to shoot down, shooting it down with inaccurate or twisted information.

You're certainly right that the previous administration did things that people opposed. That's always going to happen. But it was proper for those people to express their opposition, even if their arguments were fallacious. So too I'm going to express my opposition when I disapprove of what the government is doing. So I'm not sure what your point is. I don't disagree with what the government was doing, so I'm not going to oppose it. I do disagree with what it's doing here, so I'm going to oppose it.

But there's a further disanalogy. Bush seemed much more honest about the fact that we're not a mere democracy, where the popular opinion just wins out. We elect people with a more complex process, precisely to limit the possibility that popular opinion will swing quickly one way irrationally, as (in my view) happened with the outrage against the invasion of Iraq. Obama, on the other hand, seems to want to reflect the popular call for change in his administration's key values in a way that seems to make him more beholden to looking at polls to see what people really want. If, in the name of changing things to meet more with popular approval, he begins to implement policies that do not meet with popular support or policies that the population of the U.S. is very mixed on, then I think it's fair to call him on that. He's taking the call for change in certain areas and acting as if that call for change covers other kinds of change that didn't at all drive the election that put him into authority. So it's a misuse of the main theme of his election to change things that don't have the popular support that he as a person has and then to classify it under the theme that got him elected. It disturbs me greatly that he's been doing an awful lot of that.

I don't think illegalizing abortion would mean placing a million adoptions a year. Most people who have abortions wouldn't put their child up for adoption if they didn't abort. They'd simply raise the child. I think the justifications people give for abortions in polls should show that. It's very rare that abortion is for circumstances when it would be impossible to raise a child. Most abortions are for convenience, and someone who has an abortion for convenience is more likely to raise the child if the law requires them to bring the child to term. Either that or they'd find someone in their life to raise the child for them, as my wife's cousin did with her first three biological children (she finally did raise the fourth herself).

Eros and Aphrodite aren't about romantic love but about sexual attraction and pleasure. That's why Plato's Symposium was so radical for suggesting something higher than physical attraction (although what he proposed wasn't romantic love either, once he got to the end of Socrates' speech). There certainly wasn't a high value placed on what we call romantic love between husband and wife. Most of the participants of the discussion seemed to think it was impossible to have an intellectual component of love between a man and a woman because of their view of women's incapacities intellectually. I think the modern social construction of romantic love has actually very little in common with ancient notions of love.

I'm not saying we should have arranged marriages in our culture. I'm just pointing out that the institution of marriage is much older than the idea that personal preferences are all that matters in marriage. The latter view is actually very harmful, since it's led to the easy-divorce culture that assumes it's best to leave someone behind simply because your initial infatuation has gone away. What we call romantic love is not the kind of love that marriage needs to be based on. It needs to be based on other-regarding interest in the other person for their own sake rather than putting our own needs first. No marriage can survive if it's to be based on romantic love, which ebbs and flows at any given moment. Emotions can't be the basis of a long-term relationship. It has to be moral commitment to the other's good for the other's sake. But once you introduce that, then a lot of the reasons for abortion disappear pretty quickly, and the possible motivations for marriage multiply.

You present a choice of being raised in a duty-marriage and being raised in a love-marriage. The kind of love that you would want, though, is not the romantic love social construction but the kind of love I am saying should be the basis of a duty-marriage. My duty to love my wife is exactly the kind of love you would want your parents to have for you and for each other. Whether they also treat each other like infatuated teenagers is irrelevant. Whether they'll sacrifice for each other because of the good of the other and not for selfish reasons, whether they care about what happens to each other and to you out of genuine concern is what you want. That's what I'm saying is the obligation of a parent, to develop that.

I'm not saying abortion is new, just that the most frequent modern, Western abortions are motivated by an idea wedded to modern, Western privilege. The privileged in other times and places have sometimes had such reasons, but very few abortions nowadays are really motivated by an impossible situation due to conditions as difficult as those in most of the history of the world who have had abortions. Even the poor in the U.S. and Europe are privileged in comparison to most of the population of the world throughout its history.

It's not impossible to have a decently-sized family on a low income and still have a fruitful and productive life. I'm the sole breadwinner for a family of six, and I'm doing it on a part-time adjunct philosopher instructor salary with some help from some self-employment income and a little help from family now and then (such as a low-rent situation in a house my parents purchased where we live).

Not everyone has the kind of help we have, but with higher expenses and less income would come higher benefits from the government, so it's beyond me how it would ever be so impossible as to be worth killing your child. Some may think that, but it's their privilege that makes them think so. One of my fellow adjuncts made some comment about a week ago that her husband needs to find a job, because she can't support her family of four by herself while teaching five courses as an adjunct faculty member, and each of her five courses pays more than either of my two. She's just become used to certain unnecessary comforts and doesn't want to reduce her standard of living to focus on what's more important. Those things have value, and other things equal it's often better to have them than not, but it's certainly not worth killing your child to preserve them (not that this woman would have done so, I'm guessing; but she did think it was worth her husband finding a job, and I don't think it would be worth my wife finding a job -- and we both have small infants who need a full-time caregiver).

I'm not sure anyone would aspire to my position, either. People might aspire to achieving the Ph.D. degree and getting a tenure-track job, neither of which I've done. Some might aspire to getting into a Ph.D. program, which I have done, and finishing the coursework and beginning a dissertation, which I've done, but I doubt they'd aspire to taking over a decade to do so while teaching adjunct courses to make ends meet and provide for their family in the process. It wasn't mere convenience that led me to seek my degree, but it was my commitment to more important things than mere convenience that led me and my wife not to choose to abort our children when they came along. If we had chosen that, then it would have been for mere convenience, because the only motivation would have been to speed up my degree progress and make life in some ways more comfortable for us a little sooner. That is indeed a matter of convenience. I made a choice that continuing my degree was more important than material benefit, since abortion was not an option. Someone who chooses abortion to make the same choice while having that material benefit is indeed choosing convenience over moral responsibility, in my view.

It’s been a bit tortuous getting here but I won’t object to more pleasant surprises. I think it shows we have different backgrounds though so I’d like to say a few things about the 1967 Abortion Act: It decriminalises a termination of pregnancy if two doctors form the opinion (a) ‘that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman’, or (b) ‘that the termination is necessary to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman’, or (c) ‘that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated’. (There’s a further ground (d) about foetal handicap, and ground (a) also extends to the health of any existing children, which we can ignore for now.)

I think what you call ‘health exceptions’ in the US would come under paras (b) and (c) above which are unrestricted in terms of pregnancy stage. As you can imagine the vast majority of abortions are carried out under para (a) which however still means that they’re allowed explicitly on ‘health grounds’ since two doctors have to agree that carrying on with the pregnancy would involve risks to the woman’s health greater than the abortion. I’m not sure whether you’d challenge the medical opinion or challenge whether the law should defer to such opinion. But I admit I took it for granted that abortion is safer or it would be illegal, which I hope explains why I became weary whenever you’d mention a woman’s health: I thought ‘No! You’ve lost ab initio’.

I don’t know when ‘full moral status begins’ so I’m open to it starting at conception; so my position mirrors yours over ‘abortifacient’ contraceptives: I suspend judgment while remaining alive to the possibilities. The problem is having to decide whether p or not-p when in either case we seem to end up with reductio arguments and where there seems to be no principled way to tell which premises to reject. In the circumstances I think Obama’s got it exactly right. I don’t think I’m dodging the issue or that any policy depends on how I answer the question. I just can’t think of any honest option other than to remain epistemically agnostic, legislatively neutral and pragmatically focused on reducing instances of the dilemma. How effective the policy will be depends on what constraints we accept in pursuing the pragmatic task: The immediate mass extermination of all women might seem a touch eccentric but, really, is debating the rates in which a copper IUD may not work by killing sperm or preventing ovulation but may prevent implantation of a statistically moribund egg instead any better? It makes me feel like a scholastic estimating numbers of angels on pinheads while there are babies in Africa who never live to see their first birthday for lack of access to something as basic as clean water or a DTP vaccine.

Even if the pro-life view is that every fertilised egg has a right to a hospitable womb lining to latch onto I can’t see why it takes priority over the objective of cutting infant mortality rates, where the chances of success are moreover so much higher than with volatile eggs. Your frighteningly conscientious pro-life friend who uses a condom because his wife’s on the pill may have noble motives but in my view he would promote the pro-life cause more effectively if he ditched condoms and donated the money to UNICEF.

I regret having commented once again about Bush and Iraq but at least I managed to resist biting the ‘slavery’ bait so I’ll console myself with that. As you say it happens all the time that our taxes don’t go towards implementing the agenda of the party we vote for especially when our party loses the elections, which is why I’m not convinced you should oppose what Obama’s trying to do: Because unlike most of your fellow pro-lifers you’re able to go along with comprehensive sex education and access to contraceptives programmes and you don’t want to wait for some four-year multiple before your favourite party comes in again or pray for justices of certain persuasions and not others to have fatal heart-attacks. (Of course if you’d oppose Obama if he’d do things in his manifesto and oppose him if he’d do things not in his manifesto then I guess you’d oppose Obama whatever he did.)

More importantly though you haven’t set out the alternative to Obama’s policy yet. You haven’t specified what exceptions, if any, the abortion ban will have. Just please don’t say there’ll be an exception for rape because I find it intellectually and morally offensive and sufficient grounds for calling pro-lifers inconsistent and hypocritical. (Of course if there’s no exception for rape the legislation is unlikely to pass, so here we are.) In any event I think you overestimate the effect of legislation when women can order abortion pills over the internet or engage in abortion tourism; I suspect the dispute over abortion stats may be partly due to such factors. I think you overestimate women too; you seem to think that wanting to bring up 15 children entails being able to do so. You called a scenario ‘extreme’ because it was based on the assumption that families have finite resources available to juggle. You expect a woman to drop everything and confine herself to raising unwanted babies, whether her own or her daughter’s, as long as some Prince Charming promises to stay by their side. You apparently harbour the delusion that the moment a woman marries the risk of unwanted pregnancy magically evaporates. I do think you’re legislating for a utopia and I see nothing wrong with that except it doesn’t quite constitute a credible political proposal.

About the history of marriage you’re right; I didn’t mean to dispute that. But the institution of marriage is unlikely to be older than sexual attraction itself, which may feel not so different now than it did in antiquity. I certainly didn’t have Plato in mind, rather Sappho or Sophocles. Poetry and literature can capture some stuff better I think. I agree a marriage doesn’t need to be based on romantic love but then what? I can understand how a duty may arise from a contract but how do I choose who to sign a contract with, if anyone? Do you have an algorithm to propose for picking partners, such that one is also picked by the partner picked? If not, then it seems we’re back to some arbitrary process or other, however we may call it. I don’t know why people should mate rather than not mate, or bring up kids rather than not. Nor do I know why one should resort to IVF techniques involving one’s own genetic material rather than adopt. People just do, and there are evolutionary accounts which do a decent job explaining why. But if there is a difference between bringing up one’s own child and bringing up someone else’s child it must be morally opaque to God; and I suppose same goes for killing one’s own child vis-à-vis killing anyone else’s.

With divorce rates I’ll help you out: I think you’re right about lapses in romantic love as far as teenage marriages go, otherwise they may have more to do with women becoming financially self-sufficient. How much abuse do you think a woman ought to take before she shows a guy the door? If people felt they had no option but to put up with whatever would you rest content just because it might make for better stats? I wouldn’t. And I’d certainly object to forcing women to have or bring up babies they don’t want, assuming it could be done. I don’t think a child would thrive within a duty-marriage as you describe it (bleak, austere, Kantian) more than it would in a professionally-run platonic state nursery; but I may be wrong. Still, a million additional babies is a million additional babies: Someone will have to pay for their healthcare and their schooling through their taxes, and it won’t be their mums who may have quit their jobs and gone on benefit. (I say this because I got the impression that in your parts the ‘ism’ which starts with ‘social’ has negative connotations.)

But I really liked the way you argued the ‘better sooner rather than later’ case for abortion. It was caring and sensitive. And of course I agree about living standards in the U.S. and Europe compared to elsewhere or other times and that a fruitful and productive life can be had on a low income; so would Diogenes, except I’m not sure exactly what conclusions you'd like me to draw.

I hadn’t realised feminism had made such strides in the US that men don’t get equal pay for equal work with women; I suggest you get in touch with your Trade Union rep. And I do appreciate your sharing personal stuff, though I feel as if I’ve accidentally pried through your window or over your tax return: slightly embarrassed.

I don't think the UK law you're talking about is anywhere near as tolerant of something counting as a health exception as the U.S. case law, which has almost entirely been decided in the judicial branch and mostly upheld by the Supreme Court, rather than by any legislation. There was actually a big flap with Obama announcing during the campaign that he didn't think it should count as a health exception if someone merely has some mental anguish over something without having a diagnosable mental illness, and the pro-choice activist groups that he's beholden to were outraged, because his statement conflicts with judicial fiat according to the Supreme Court and lower court interpretations of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the two decisions that have mostly clearly set out the state of affairs legislators are currently restricted by. I'm not sure he ever clarified what he meant, but his views are clearly contradictory given that he's endorsed both decisions and the status quo along with endorsing the Freedom of Choice Act that would remove any third-trimester restrictions of when an abortion can take place. I don't think everything he's said is even compatible, never mind defensible.

I think one main disagreement between us is over whether epistemic agnosticism justifies legal neutrality or precautionary legal restriction. You take the former on this sort of issue, and I take the latter. I'm guessing we probably won't make much progress on that with further discussion, although it would probably be interesting to bring in similar cases not involving abortion that raise the same general moral questions. I don't really have the patience to do that right now, though.

I certainly don't accept a rape exception. I accept a "life of the mother" exception legally, although I'm not sure such cases are always morally justified. Sometimes the right thing to do is sacrifice yourself for another, especially your own child, but when other children are dependent on you I don't think that's necessarily so. I don't support blanket health exceptions, because I don't think non-life-threatening health concerns for one person outweigh life considerations for another. Quality of life doesn't trump life itself. If it's clearly an issue of a definite threat to the life of the mother, that's another story. I do think the UK law is too permissive, even if it's more restrictive than the current US judicially-mandated status quo.

My main view on the matter, though, is that I'd prefer a situation that restricts abortion more than the current state of things, even if it allows abortions that I don't think should be allowed. I'm not one of these people who won't support a law that doesn't go all the way to where I would want it. If it moves partially that way by disallowing something I think should be disallowed, then I'll support it even if it doesn't disallow something I think should be disallowed. So if a law came up that couldn't pass without a rape restriction but could pass with one, I'd encourage pro-life legislators to vote for it while publicly expressing their wish that they could get a law passed without it. I don't think you need to be inconsistent to vote for a law with a rape restriction. But you're right that it's hard to justify the rape exception on pro-life grounds.

I'm not assuming that wanting to bring up 15 children means one is able to do so. I'm not encouraging anyone to try deliberately to have 15 children and raise them all by themselves. There are Catholic-sanctioned ways of minimizing the number of children one has so that it surely won't get to that point without someone trying to get it to that point, and I don't think we should legislate against people having too many children but perhaps only declare certain people in a case-by-case basis of being incompetent to raise their children.

I simply don't think you need to drop everything to raise children, and I gave my own example as evidence of that. I don't have any illusion that a married couple with one child might not want another child, but my contention is that their being married increases the likelihood that they will be better able to care for their child than if one of the parents raised the child singly. I'm not sure why that's supposed to make further unwanted children impossible. It just sets them up in a better situation if they occur than would otherwise be the case, and it makes the currently-existing child much better off on a number of levels.

I'm not suggesting any method of picking partners. The only reason for going into that was to show that we've only recently decided that marriage needs to involve romantic love of a very particular sort, and that assumption has caused the high divorce rate and high single-parent rate of our time. It wasn't to suggesting changing the general way we do things but to show that there's a problematic element in one of the main supports for resisting marriage when a child occurs. Why would we have to replace our entire social order just to recognize that our resistance to marrying when a child occurs might be based in something morally problematic?

I'm going to resist you on the moral considerations regarding one's own vs. someone else's children. I'm firmly committed to special obligations that result from already being in a certain sort of relationship. I have a stronger obligation to provide for my own kids than I do to provide for the neighbor's kids. It would be wrong for me to kill either, but it's more wrong for me to kill my own because of my special obligations. It involves a reversal both of the general obligation not to kill but also of the parental obligation for special care.

But you're right that this doesn't justify the desire to have your own biological children as opposed to adopting, and even if it did provide some moral weight in that direction, there's clearly great moral weight in the other direction because of the great need. I don't go as far as those who say we ought only to adopt already-existing children, but I think those considerations are in the mix to the point where it's excessive to devote great resources toward having your own biological children when there's such a great need for adoptive parents.

I think you've got Kant all wrong, much in the way Stocker does. I'm guessing you're following him in your criticism of duty-marriage. As I've said, the duty is to develop the kind of love that is indeed caring for the sake of the other. How could that be damaging to a child more than having no parents would be, when parental love or something very closely analogous has been demonstrated to be crucial in moral formation? Without the kind of love that I'm in fact defending, I don't think parental love is worth all that much. It's awful when parents care for their children only because they happen to get some emotional benefit from it, as if the pleasure they get from their children is what makes the parent-child relationship valuable. Having children because you want to fill a need is entirely the wrong reason to have children, and it's entirely the wrong way to raise a child. Making a decision to care for the child for the child's sake is certainly better for the parent and the child.

I'm not fully Kantian on this issue, because I don't think he's right about moral evaluation only being internal to the agent's own understanding of what they do. But I'm Kantian enough in thinking the most fundamental moral praise should be reserved for when people go against their inclinations, whereas simply going along with good inclinations is not as morally praiseworthy because it's not as difficult, and some people much more naturally do good things that others have a very hard time doing. I don't think the virtue approach works, because it either doesn't allow for anything distinctively moral (the virtues involved in tennis playing are no better than those involved in self-sacrificial love) or depends on some moral theory anyway. I find deontological theories (but a little more Ross-leaning than Kant-leaning) to be the most plausible on that score, and I actually think there's good reason to say that Plato and the Stoics would have agreed if they had our conceptual resources, so I don't think this is a modern view in its rough outline (although it's probably very idiosyncratic in the formulation I'd give in the details, not having appeared quite like this anywhere in the history of philosophy).

I wasn't saying that men don't get equal pay with women. I was saying that it's easier for women to get certain kinds of jobs. My friends have discovered that it's been much easier for her to get interviews than for him, and I don't think this reflects the quality of their work and teaching or the kinds of support they've gotten from their advisers. They both work in the same sub-field of philosophy and had the same set of philosophers working with them, people at the top of the field. They've applied to all the same jobs. There has been at least one job that told them they might hire her but not him, and several have interviewed her and not him. The inequality isn't so much pay for the same job but access to jobs. Feminism is indeed the cause of this, and it has advanced to the point where some academic jobs will favor women over men if other things are equal. As for unions, the adjunct faculty at my college just founded a union. It will be awhile before there's significant change.

Hi, I expect you’re talking to me though I can’t see my post up there. Thanks for the reply.

Not too many Catholic people seem to restrict themselves to Catholic-sanctioned ways of minimizing the number of children they have. The best predictor of fertility is a woman’s education level. In Europe several governments provide incentives for women to have a second or third child. I bet no one would advocate risking Catholic-sanctioned contraception to control population growth in places like China. In rural areas where women may be thought of as means to others’ ends rather than ends in themselves and there’s no ready access to ultrasounds people are known to keep a bucket full of water by the labour bed in case a female baby is born. The one-child policy may be pushing patriarchy to its limits. The point is that quality of life does seem to matter to people even if it may be problematic to define what the good life is; for you mere life may be good enough. But I’m perplexed you keep putting yourself up as an example that one can have it all or do it all. You say you have four children, but did you really carry four pregnancies to term yourself? Did you go in labour or recovered from a caesarean on four occasions? Did you breastfeed four babies? Did you take four successive bouts of maternity leave followed by unpaid leave? What I’m suggesting is that after you do all these things and then go back to work you may realise the world hasn’t exactly stood still in the meantime. If you were e.g. a surgeon you’d probably constitute a public health hazard, and have to go back in training all over again. If the pregnancies were deliberate or welcome anyway, fine, but there’s certainly a price to pay, social and personal. Unless you’re for patriarchy I’m sure you can see why a woman may be disadvantaged if she can’t control her fertility: It wouldn’t be right to resent your colleague when you’re passed over for promotion if she was there when you weren’t to report for duty when you didn’t and shoulder the weight of your absence so you’d have the option to jump back in. I’m not sure if of feminism you think well or ill. People don’t expect a philosophy job to be easier for a woman to get compared to, say, a job at a kindergarten and perhaps this is precisely why the rest being equal a board might go for a woman appointee so as to improve their stats. I’d favour a lottery.

I’m not sure I understand what a ‘duty’ is if you can have it towards a woman you fell in love with at first sight or you think you left pregnant or because your mum or the Delphic Oracle told you to marry her and when it’s up to a woman to accept or decline your marriage proposal for any or no reason at all. Are you suggesting it’s wrong for a woman to refuse a marriage proposal, or that she needs to provide reasons? Perhaps you think that a woman who falls accidentally pregnant ought to propose marriage to the man responsible for her pregnancy. But you also hold that a woman has an obligation to bring an unwanted pregnancy to term which isn’t conditional on what anyone else may or may not be prepared to do. I doubt you’re suggesting that marriage is only to be contracted between a pregnant woman and whoever got her that way: This wouldn’t be exactly unproblematic or in line with current ‘social order’. That two people may have more resources to make available to a family than one person sounds intuitively plausible, and three people may have even more resources to make available etc. But there are costs to such resource sharing and you still haven’t specified what grounds, if any, your ideal self-sacrificial agent may have for divorce. A guy’s willingness to commit may make little difference (i) if he can be made to pay child support, or (ii) if he doesn’t have sufficient income as in the teenage scenarios, and (iii) since married women have abortions too. But if, as you say, you’re not suggesting any method of picking partners I wonder how you can also blame one for refusing to pick a partner at all or for not picking the one you think they ought to.

I think our understanding of what we do may be a construct, an a posteriori rationalisation. I certainly agree that inclinations can be relevant to moral evaluation, which is why I find the idea of a special ‘self-sacrificial’ duty to love others as long as they’re carriers of my genes or instrumental in bringing carriers of my own genes about rather dubious; because such commitment to others for the others’ sake can be observationally indistinguishable from a selfish commitment to me for my own sake. If we’re inclined to feed for the reasons other mammals feed perhaps we’re inclined breed for the reasons other mammals breed. I just can’t see how from an objective point of view one’s own kids are more deserving of being taken care of than anyone else’s kids. Nor can I think what your morally perfect biological parent has to offer a kid that a platonic nurse will not other than what biology accounts for which morality may not. So please resist me all you like against special obligations; I resist me too, psychologically, and if you can also think of a moral argument to ground the resistance I’d want to listen.

So the problem with a rape exception isn’t just that it's hard to justify on pro-life grounds, it’s that it’s so easy to explain on evolutionary grounds: A man would indeed be inclined to support an ‘exception for rape’ since he wouldn’t want to expend his own resources in bringing up who’s not a carrier of his own genes. But such ad hoc tinkering of moral theory, consistent only in that it tracks behaviour evolution entails I find suspect. I thought you might condone a ‘life of the mother’ exception at least pre-viability when a sacrifice would be without a beneficiary. However, if responsibilities to pre-existing children matter I can’t see how you can dismiss an exception on the grounds of a non-life-threatening health concern where the concern is that the woman would be prevented from discharging those responsibilities; because if the answer is that in that case someone else may look after her kids then I suppose you could do away with the ‘life of the mother’ exception also. But we can’t turn women into martyrs by law. I’m bothered by ‘abortion bans’ with a rape clause, a life patch, an incest provision and whatever else just plastered on to secure the required majority. Intellectual integrity requires one to acknowledge a reductio of one’s position where one feels the pull of a counter-argument, not seek to bury the tension under ad hoc amendments ostensibly in the name of expediency. The 1967 Act may not be perfect; it isn’t about rights, it’s about balancing health risks. As the pregnancy progresses the balance may change. It makes no mention of rape or incest. It was amended to allow reference to a woman’s ‘reasonably foreseeable environment’ in assessing risks of injury to the health of any children so as to cover e.g. selective reduction of a multiple pregnancy following IVF. When it comes to legal drafting being subtle and systematic rather than crude and haphazard isn’t just about aesthetics.

Regarding the Freedom of Choice Act, I’d expect you to welcome the regulation of abortion by law in principle. Perhaps you don’t agree with what the Act provides but then perhaps your problem with Roe is that you don’t approve of what it entails rather than that it’s a judicial decision. So you like what you like and you don’t like what you don’t like. This sounds fine but far from sufficient to establish that the views of those who may not like what you do are ‘clearly contradictory’. I admit I’m prejudiced against George W. Bush. Would you admit you’re prejudiced against Obama? Of course the difference is I’m not American while you are and Bush is no longer president while Obama is and I try to remain open to persuasion whilst Obama apparently just can’t do right by you: If he says something you agree with, about reducing abortions, you question his sincerity. If he says something you don’t agree with, about abortion stats, again you question his sincerity rather than fight him on the merits. If he doesn’t take popular opinion into account you call him on that. If he does take popular opinion into account then he’s not as honest as Bush who was heroically prepared to rescue rationality from the claws of ‘mere democracy’. Do you really believe Bush was a philosopher-king? Sarah Palin was certainly a beauty queen, an attractive lady capable of winking suggestively enough. But I think you’re unaware or perhaps don’t care that the rest of the world sighed with relief when Obama got elected just as we’d watched in disbelief when Mrs Palin was nominated. Of course philosophers have a right to their own prejudices as long as they’re prepared to recognise them as such.

Invoking the precautionary principle sounds like an interesting idea; I’ll certainly look out for your post when you get to it. And good luck with the union.

I'm not sure why your comment didn't appear, but I accepted it for publication when I posted my last comment. I re-saved the entire entry, and it appeared.

I'm not saying I've faced every negative aspect of childbearing. I'm saying that the negative aspects of childbearing are ultimately worth it given that it's a moral issue at stake rather than one of mere convenience. If I had put years of my life into being a medical doctor and had to sacrifice even a few more years to save a life, it would be wrong not to. It would be putting convenience over life, and I find that unconscionable. My reason for bring up my own case is that I've clearly put my career on hold to some degree because of our children, and I've clearly not had a terrible life because of that. It certainly wouldn't have justified an abortion if that would have allowed me to get a tenure-track job several years sooner.

Sometimes there's a price to pay for doing the right thing. That doesn't mean it's ok to say it's too much to pay and then do the wrong thing. It also doesn't mean the government should allow people to do terrible things just to let people have easier lives.

I'm completely at a loss as to your framing of the issue of marriage after conceiving. When two people conceive a child, they now have an obligation to that child because of their preventable causal role in initiating its existence, one they knew could happen even if they used contraception. All I've claimed is that, other things being equal, couples who conceive children out of wedlock are better off taking care of that child in a married relationship. Providing counterexamples to an absolute claim doesn't do much to refute what was never more than a general claim that might have exceptions. Your counterexamples get more and more remote, and now you're not just finding social circumstances that might make it hard to get married but are postulating divine oracles and suggesting the idea that marriage is only plausible in the case of prior pregnancy. I've just lost touch completely with how this has anything to do with anything I've said.

The moral argument for special obligations is that you incur them because your actions create the situation in question or the relationships you're already in require them. If I cause a child's existence, I have to take responsibility for that child first off, before others get involved if I turn out to fail at that responsibility. It may well be that I'm the next in line to take responsibility if my neighbor's kids need looking after, but it's my neighbor's responsibility first. This is a moral presumption, not an absolute. I can also take on a responsibility by adopting a child. By adopting a child, I acquire a responsibility to care for that child that I don't have (as strongly) for the kid next door. If I have the resources to provide for both and good reason to think my help is needed with the other, it might be the right thing to do to help, but the immediate and stronger obligation is to my own kid, in both the adopted and biological case.

With already-existing relationships like those of older family members, some greater obligation appears because I owe them gratitude. As a Christian, I have justifications that you might not accept, of course. I think God has placed us in circumstances in order to be the ones to provide for those around us, and sometimes that means placing us with family members to provide for. I've seen people argue for such things on secular grounds, however. Feminist ethics usually includes something like that, for example.

Pre-viability sacrificial cases where the beneficiary isn't likely to live might count as further exceptions, yes. If someone else can look after the kids, then the life-for-life case doesn't give an exception when the mother's life is at stake if the only reason you care about the life of the mother is because of her role in caring for children. But presumably you don't think her own life is valueless in itself, so I'm not sure why you aren't considering that. These are the hard cases, as any moral case is when you have to decide between saving one life or another. The presumption, in my view, is against killing one to save one, unless other issues more strongly move in that direction to counteract that presumption. But these are complex cases. I certainly don't think every case of abortion to save the life of the mother are automatically morally justified.

It doesn't seem to me to be a reductio to point out that things are more complex that the absolutist might have them. It's a reductio of the absolutist position. But just because an absolutist isn't right on the moral issues doesn't mean we should allow most cases of something that's usually wrong.

Keith DeRose has presented me with an argument for outlawing all torture, even the exceptional cases when it's morally allowed, because it's impossible to guarantee honest and careful oversight by morally mature people of when a given case of torture is one of the morally permissible exceptions. My argument here is probably similar enough that I'd like to see a proposal for how they're different if you want to drive a wedge between these two kinds of cases. Both involve something often morally wrong, without any good way of providing likely-to-be-successful safeguards that factor in the relevant moral issues, but with some exceptions when it seems morally ok or maybe even morally required. How is the law going to reflect that? With Keith's approach to torture, we disallow it entirely. With your approach to abortion, we allow it entirely. If I can't condone either, you say my approach refuses to accept counterexamples when in reality it's just attempting to recognize the moral complexity.

I do think federal law can regulate abortion in restricting it. I think Roe was a bad decision because it pretends there's a constitutional right that there isn't, and lean strongly toward the view that it allows something that violates a constitutional right that really is present in the U.S. Constitution. If the latter view is correct, then it's inappropriate for federal law to do anything other than restrict abortion more than it already does, and this isn't just because of my policy preference. It's because of what the Constitution allows.

The reason I gave for thinking Obama's views are contradictory isn't because they disagree with mine. He flat-out contradicts himself. He says he would disallow abortions in the third trimester for the sake of non-diagnosable health conditions (e.g. mental distress or harm that isn't a mental illness) but then supports a law that would remove all such restrictions. That isn't the only incoherence in his discussion of the issue, but it's the one I pointed to above that I think must be what you're responding to.

I would admit that I've become less-inclined to interpret certain kinds of statements from Obama with as much charity as I might, but that's after trying to give him the benefit of the doubt on a lot of things and also after knowing what his views are (and thus that certain more charitable explanations of his words are very unlikely). I have liked a lot of what Obama has done. I thought he made some relatively good decisions early on with some that I didn't agree with. I like some of how he frames things, even if I think a lot of his rhetoric misrepresents the other side by defining his view as the American view. My ultimate dilemma on several issues has been whether to conclude that he's smart but dishonest or honest but not as smart as everyone credits him with being. It's hard to know which is more charitable.

On Iraq, I think Bush was right, and he steadfastly did what he knew was right in the face of dishonest historical revisionism by the opposing party that ended up reframing the debate to be about something other than what it ever was when numerous key members of the other side had agreed with Bush when faced with the same information he had. That doesn't make him a philosopher-king, but it does make him the sort of leader who did what was right despite ignorant opposition from the highest levels of intellectual sophistication.

As for Sarah Palin, I think she's a smart non-intellectual, a lot like Bush, who was the victim of a massive campaign of misinformation and misrepresentation that's been shown (to those paying attention) to have been a complete fabrication, one that the mainstream media seemed perfectly willing to go along with. She's been a pretty good governor, and I think she would have been a good vice-president for McCain if he'd won. I spent a lot of time looking into some of the claims in detail, including here, here, and here.

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