In my post yesterday, I neglected to discuss an important aspect of abortive considerations: mitigating circumstances. I cannot in good conscience leave out this subject since it plays a part in the premises of the previous argument.
I hate to write about abortion again – people might mistakenly think it’s a “Big Issue” for me – but this objection brought itself forward in my mind, and I have to get it out.
There are two premises that I cannot seem to find good reason to deny:
- Abortion deprives a distinct and biologically human organism* of a vital future right.
- In any scenario involving two human organisms, one of which is fundamentally dependent on the other, where there is a conflict of rights between the two, prudence demands that, ceteris paribus, the autonomous party allow her rights to be abrogated (especially when they are of lesser importance) in order that the dependent party’s rights are satisfied.
The first premise is merely a definition which I think is quite defensible. The second, on the other hand, is a matter of prudence: if we have to choose which human gets to have her rights validated when there is a conflict (given the above situation), the non-autonomous individual’s rights trump the autonomous party’s.
The evidence I have for this matter of prudence is largely that which I feel as a parent: if my children, who depend on me for their survival, require something (time, resources, etc.) that will deny me something in return (as is very common in parenthood), then I am obligated as a parent to make the sacrifice. It would take an extreme case to bring about any potential counterexamples: for instance, if one’s child is standing in front of an oncoming train, I might have a hard time saying that it is obligatory for any given parent to put herself in front of the train in order to save the child (although I am of the personal conviction that I would feel obligated given those circumstances). There are, as such, many cases where such an action would be supererogatory: it would be a great personal sacrifice that would befit a parent’s general responsibility to protect his or her child as much as is humanly possible but not necessarily immoral if not performed. (Indeed, if a parent did not make this choice, then they are likely deserving of compassion rather than condemnation.)
If I am right and this premise holds, then it is equally applicable to the type of parenthood that obtains upon conception (the genesis of a biological child). This would seem to demolish many pro-abortion arguments, especially the notion that the mother’s right to bodily autonomy supersedes any rights of the fetus since the mother’s autonomy (which the fetus lacks) is precisely the reason why the mother should make the sacrifice in the vast majority of circumstances (see here for some more circumstantial considerations). In the act of procreation, the woman assumes a responsibility as a mother to her child that demands obligation. Abortion is thus an outright violation of that responsibility – not mere negligence, but willful violation.
Thus, I come to the following syllogism (Pind = ‘independent party’; Pdep = ‘dependent party’):
- For any action A performed by Pind, it will be immoral if the net shift in rights from Pind to Pdep results in an outcome beneficial for Pind and detrimental to Pdep.
- The deprivation of a fundamental right to Pdep in order to secure another for Pind results in a positive net shift to Pind.
- Therefore, any such A will be immoral.
Since this class of actions seems directly relevant to abortion, it would appear to be both valid and sound.
Have I missed something? This seems a reasonable objection to abortion along grounds that are not religious.
*This is true even in the cases of identical twins and chimaeras: there is at least one biologically human organism which is genetically distinct from its parents.
One of my favorite quotes on “freethinkers” – a term which I find to be a misnomer at worst and not broadly applicable (i.e. not applicable to all who bear the label) at best – comes from a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh in response to his brother Theo:
Freethinker, that is really a word I detest, although I have to use it occasionally faute de mieux [for want of anything better]. The fact is that I do my best to think things through and try in my actions to take account of reason and common sense. And trying to belittle someone would be quite contrary to that. So it is perfectly true that on occasion I have said to Father, “Do try to think this or that through,” or, “To my mind, this or that does not stand up,” but that is not trying to belittle someone. I am not Father’s enemy if I tell him the truth for a change, not even that time I lost my temper and did so in salty language. Only it did no good, and Father took it amiss.
It should be said here that Van Gogh’s point of view was decidedly different than mine: marked by criticism of religious organization, as in the sentence directly following – “In case Father refers to my saying that, ever since I have acquired so much dessous les cartes, I haven’t given two pins for the morality and the religious system of the clergy and their academic ideas, then I absolutely refuse to take that back, for I truly mean it.” (Van Gogh did have a similar position to mine in one respect, however – his father was also a minister.)
What appeals to me so much about this quote is that it sets out a perfectly reasonable position that cannot be assumed solely by the “freethinker” movement (i.e. atheists and agnostics). A Christian like myself can certainly try to think things through and account for reason. As much as the claim is made, reason and logic are not the sole property of “freethinkers,” nor are they the only group to utilize them, and it is worth stating that fact whenever necessary.
In the comments of Ed Brayton’s blog, an argument was set forth regarding abortion and hell, which I will summarize as such:
- Most Christians believe that babies are not responsible for their salvation and so go to heaven if they die before a so-called ‘age of accountability.’ (Premise)
- Abortion kills unborn babies at a point where they are not morally culpable for their salvation. (Premise)
- Individuals going to heaven rather than hell is an intrinsic good. (Premise)
- Therefore, abortion results in an intrinsic good by ensuring the salvation of aborted babies. (from 1-3)
If it’s not completely apparent how tendentious and simplistic this is, let me spell it out.
There are some arguments which I will likely never be persuaded to use. One such method of argumentation is the slippery slope (SS):
- If A occurs, then B will necessarily (or very probably) occur.
- If B occurs, then C will necessarily (or very probably) occur.
- [Repeat conditional premises as necessary]
- C is an undesirable event.
- In order to prevent C, it is necessary to prevent A.
SS arguments are very commonly fallacious, even though it is a matter of content and not form that makes them so. (A philosophy professor of mine pointed out, quite rightly, that they are simply extended forms of modus tollens and, less commonly, modus ponens.) This tendency toward fallacy is one of the main reasons I dislike them, and I believe that this tendency is due to the utter difficulty in thoroughly establishing the necessity of any given event.
One big problem I notice frequently with people is that people want to take grammatical rules of word structure and universalize them. When we see an ending on a word, we know what that ending means from other words, and we attempt to apply the meaning to the word in question. This isn’t a bad idea, but it can backfire.
In an introductory philosophy class I took a few years ago, I encountered an argument (presented as an example to analyze logical structure, not as one the instructor necessarily endorsed) that has intrigued me for quite a while. It may not be entirely defensible, but it is somewhat thought-provoking nonetheless.
The argument was as follows:
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