THE HUMBLE LIBERTARIAN

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Abortion Debate: A Reasoned, Scientific Pro-Life Argument

Human Fetus at 10 Weeks - Photo by drsuparna (CC)


In the following essay I will address the issue of abortion and defend the pro-life position unemotionally, in a tasteful manner, and without reference to religious scripture to support my assertions. Plain reason and the evidence of science make the issue clear enough. My only demand of the reader is that you would also suspend your emotional predispositions and genuinely read and reflect on the validity of the propositions I make.


The Argument Outlined

My primary argument takes the following syllogistic form:


IF: 1. Every human being has the right to live, which should be protected by law,

AND: 2. From the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings,

THEN: 3. The unborn have the right to live, which should be protected by law.

If one accepts the first two premises, then the pro-life position stated in the conclusion is inescapable. Surely, few people will have any qualms about the first premise. Human beings have the right to live and if the law exists to protect anything at all, it exists to protect human beings from violent aggression that ends their lives.

But while the first premise is not likely to encounter much opposition, the second one is the target of a number of evasions and obfuscations, and as a whole, the pro-life movement has failed to adequately and clearly address this issue and to do so without referring to Christian Scripture and thereby immediately ending helpful dialogue with those who don't share its religious premises.


The Central Issue of the Abortion Debate

However this is the central issue of the debate. All of the other side issues are ultimately irrelevant (though I will address them later). If conception does not create a separate human being, then what a woman does with the byproduct of conception is truly her own business (as what she does with her own tonsils or appendix is her own business).

But if conception does create a human being, and all human beings have a right to live, which should be protected by law, then the debate is over: the government should protect the lives of the unborn by prohibiting abortion. The crux of the issue is the ontological status of the living matter created by the act of conception. What is it?


Is a Human Embryo Alive?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, life is, “a material complex or individual characterized by the capacity to perform certain functional activities, including metabolism, growth, reproduction, and some form of responsiveness and adaptation.” After conception, human embryos exhibit all of these features.

A fertilized human embryo carries out the processes of metabolism, it grows and develops, it responds to stimuli and maintains homeostasis, and it contains the genetic potential for reproduction. While it is not capable of reproducing at such an early stage in its development, neither is a four year old boy; the important issue is that it has reproductive potential, or to be even more accurate, that it belongs to a genus which can reproduce itself as a whole, as not all particular living organisms are fertile.

Someone might counter that the embryo is unviable- that it can not "do all of these things by itself." Actually, a fertilized embryo does carry out metabolism by itself. When people make this objection, they mean that the fetus only processes energy that it acquires from its mother who actively acquires it herself. Yet there are many other organisms which are considered separate, living beings that also live inside the mother (in her skin, digestive tract, and elsewhere) and acquire their energy from her.

All organisms acquire their energy from their environment. And for some organisms, their environment is another organism. Such is the temporary state of the unborn human being until it reaches a transition into the next stage of its life cycle, infancy. The embryo or fetus is getting no "help" in absorbing and processing the energy. It doesn't simply remain passive while energy is actively pushed through it from an external source. By its own power, it actively works to obtain energy from its environment and process it to grow and develop, which it also does by itself.

The mother's womb is not a factory, actively assembling a new organism from passive parts. It is a nourishing environment in which the new organism actively replicates and specializes its cells to grow and develop. The embryo's reproductive potential is also independent from the mother. It exists as a series of codes in the embryo's genes. Lastly, a fertilized embryo does react to stimuli as an independent and fully-functioning organism without being "helped" to do so by the mother.

So clearly it is alive by an objective and scientific definition of what life is. What kind of life is it?


Alive and Human

It is human life. It is not plant life. It is not a chicken embryo. It is a human embryo. A fertilized human embryo has its own unique genetic human signature that is different than that of either of its parents. This shows that it is clearly not additional tissue mass belonging to the mother. The genetic material in each cell of the developing embryo has a unique identity separate from the mother's. Additionally, developing male fetuses have penises, so asserting that they are simply unviable tissue mass belonging to the woman carrying them is problematic, as this would mean that the woman in question has a penis.

As well as being separate and unique, a fertilized embryo is ontologically no different than a human toddler, adolescent, or adult. Nothing is added to or taken from the embryo except food and waste products (which is no different than for any human being). At no point does the embryo undergo any fundamental, ontological change after conception; it simply grows and develops just like a toddler grows and develops, or a thirteen year old girl.

Thus, it is an error to claim, "It's not a human, it's a fetus." That would be like saying, "It's not a human, it's an infant," or, "It's not a human, it's an adolescent." These are category fallacies. The proper answer to these assertions would be, "Sure it's a fetus, sure it's an infant, and sure it's an adolescent. It's a human fetus, a human infant, and a human adolescent." These are simply stages of development in the human life cycle.

A human starts as an embryo, becomes a fetus, is born an infant, develops into a child, grows into an adolescent, matures into adulthood, and eventually dies. Scientifically and philosophically, there is no good reason to believe a human being is created at birth, because nothing is created at birth. At birth, a fetus simply changes location and changes its mode of acquiring food and dispensing waste, but at no point does it become something entirely new or different. Life begins at conception and proceeds through its stages until death. From the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings.


"Pro-Choice" is an Evasion

Having demonstrated that premise 2 of the syllogism is objectively and scientifically true, anyone who also accepts the first one is compelled to accept the conclusion, that the unborn have the right to live, which should be protected by law. Yet supporters of legalized abortion shy from this issue and generally refuse to directly confront arguments about the ontological status of the unborn.

They prefer instead to argue that they don't believe in forcing their values on others, and that people should be free to choose. Rather than address the most relevant issue, which is when a human being comes into existence and whether or not the unborn are human beings, their evasion of this matter is so fundamentally at the root of their stand that they have named themselves after it. They call themselves "pro-choice."

This is an evasion of the issue. If the unborn child is in fact a living human being (as I have shown above), then no one has the right to choose to kill her any more than they have the right to choose to kill a 14 year old girl, and by supporting legal restrictions on abortion, you are not forcing your morality on others any more than you are when you support laws that prevent people from murdering 14 year old girls.

Furthermore, in most cases, this claim is simply untrue, because the person making it will generally have no qualms about forcing their values on others by supporting taxpayer-funded stem-cell research or subsidies for abortions (to name only two examples), in which case they do not believe in the individual's right to choose or not choose to financially support these things. If "pro-choice" individuals were honest or consistent, they would also have no qualms about forcing on others their value of not murdering people.

Additionally, this line of reasoning has frightening parallels to another controversial civil rights issue: slavery.


The Abortion/Slavery Parallel

In an 1860 speech to Congress, Stephen A. Douglas said: “We, in those measures, established a great principle, rebuking [this] doctrine of intervention by the Congress of the United States to prohibit slavery in the Territories.” Douglas wanted slavery to remain legal. His argument was not that he liked or believed in slavery, but that he believed in the state’s right to choose.

The concept was called popular sovereignty and enjoyed wide support. The "great principle" Douglas refers to is the state's right to choose. How many times have you heard apologists for the Confederacy say that the issue was not slavery, but state's rights? They evaded the issue in the same manner that modern proponents of legalized abortion say that the issue is not abortion, but women's rights.

See the danger and logical flaws inherent in this line of "reasoning?" Nobody has the right to choose to enslave or murder other human beings. So if unborn children are living humans, then we have no right to take their lives. If they are indeed living human beings, this conclusion is inescapable. The only way to ever logically prove that abortion should be legal is to show scientifically that the unborn are not separate and living human beings or to justify the legalization of murder.


Other Objections

Another common objection is that women will be forced to perform back alley abortions if abortions are made illegal. This too, is an evasion of the issue. If the unborn are living human beings, it is wrong to murder them and laws should prevent their murder. If a woman tries to circumvent the law in order to kill an innocent human being, it is not the fault of the law that she risks bearing certain consequences for her actions, and the woman is certainly not being "forced" to do anything.

Besides, this claim is factually inaccurate. Calculated to conjure up images of abortions in filthy alleys, "back alley abortion" is a loaded term for what are more accurately called "illegal abortions" -which happened in clinics. According to Planned Parenthood’s own Alan Guttmacher in his 1959 book Babies by Choice or by Chance: "The technique of the well-accredited criminal abortionist is usually good. They have to be good to stay in business, since otherwise they would be extremely vulnerable to police action."

I'm sure there are many other objections, but let me say that all of the ones I have heard evade rather than address the actual issue: where life begins. From a purely objective and scientific point of view, using sound, textbook definitions of life, it is clear that life begins at conception. Sound reasoning then would lead its reasoner to conclude that if human beings have a right to life which must be protected by law, then abortion must be outlawed.


A Civil Rights Issue for the 21st Century

This is one of the most important civil rights issues facing modern countries today. Similar to the issue of slavery in the 19th century, there is an entire class of people who are being treated as less than human, and the debate hinges on whether or not they are human. Through the sound application of reason and scientific inquiry, it becomes clear that after conception, the unborn are human beings, and that therefore governments should recognize and enforce for them as it should for all human beings, the rights which Nature grants them.

Let me address one more thing: Some people feel like it is futile to continue to have a discourse over the issue of abortion because people feel too strongly about it and have already made up their minds as to what they think. This is wrong. I've heard this time and again, and I want to stress that it is in fact only people with this attitude toward an issue who will never change anyone's minds about it.

People throughout history have changed their minds on social issues. When the United States was new, there was no suffrage or equal rights for women and racial minorities. Almost universally in the United States today, the general populace recognizes that this was wrong and that women and non-whites are entitled to their basic rights as human beings, and the law recognizes it too.

It took many years and decades of struggle involving emotions just as fierce if not more fierce than those surrounding the Pro-Life Movement in the 21st century. But victories for freedom were won and people did change their minds. That is how change happens. I encourage you to explore and understand this issue and stand ready to defend the rights of all living people, including the unborn. Change can happen, and I believe change will happen, and I will work tirelessly to advocate change for a freer, better world. Please join me.





The Abortion Debate: A Reasoned, Scientific, Pro-Life Argument

47 comments:

  1. I must agree with you, and especially on the point that a human life is formed at the moment of conception.

    This was hammered home to me when my youngest son was born at 26 weeks gestation - around 5 1/2 months. (Normal gestation is 40 weeks.)

    Anybody who could say that it was just a "fetus" and not a "person" need only look at my son today - a healthy, happy boy.

    As long as a human being has a chance to live, then that human being should be allowed to have that chance.

    On a corollary issue, I find several people who are pro-life are also pro-death penalty.

    I find fault with this, too.

    If life is life, then murder is also murder, whether at the hands of a criminal or at the hands of the government.

    Our justice system is flawed. As long as we have juries and judges made up of human beings, there is always the possibility of error.

    When there is the alternative option of sentencing someone to life without parole versus killing him, I believe that life without parole should be the sentence.

    That sentence can be reversed if, by some chance, it is discovered that the conviction was in error.

    We can't, unfortunately, correct the error if we've executed an innocent person.

    Just like we can't reverse an abortion.

    Killing is killing - whether you call it murder, abortion, choice, execution or justice. It's irreversible and uncorrectable. Once done, it can never be taken back. That human life can never be replaced.

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  2. Thanks, TennZen. I have a cousin who was also born very premature like your son- several family friends who were hitherto "pro-choice" became pro-life after seeing her alive and breathing with all her fingers and toes (she could fit in the space of one's hand).

    On the issue of the death penalty, I would say the question comes down to the difference between non-violence and non-aggression. If one is a strict non-violent pacifist, then your position is the correct one to take (but additionally, such a person's only political recourse would be to some form of anarchy, as the military and police use force).

    But I am not a non-violent pacifist- I'm a non-aggressionist. I believe that the initiation of force is wrong, but the use of force to respond to an aggressor in one's or another's defense, is legitimate. Therefore, capital punishment is a legitimate operation of a civil society in dealing with aggressors.

    Though it may not be 100% perfect, we can't expect 100% perfection from any institution or policy in order to sanction it, or else we would have no instititutions and no policies. That said, we should strive for 100% perfection, and I will readily admit that the desire to see capital criminals executed is rather low on my priority list. I am most certainly not "bloodthirsty" so to speak.

    I don't know what you think about all that, TennZen, but I can say that while I do not adhere to strict non-violence myself, I can certainly respect an honest pacifist and have admired and flirted with its precepts time and again.

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  3. I must respectfully disagree.

    You said, "Though it may not be 100% perfect, we can't expect 100% perfection from any institution or policy in order to sanction it..."

    I understand what you're saying.

    However, this is human life - our most basic freedom. There is no room for error when it comes to taking a human life. Even if just one person out of a million happens to be not guilty, that is one too many, and we all bear the blood on our hands.

    When it comes to taking a human life, shouldn't we accept nothing less than 100% certainty? What if your life were on the line - if they were about to give you a lethal injection, and you were innocent? Would your opinion change?

    You said, "the use of force to respond to an aggressor is legitimate. Therefore, capital punishment is a legitimate operation" I do not see comparing this to police use of force or military action as comparing "apples to apples." To carry out a death sentence is not an act of defense or protection. I argue that it is vengeance, plain and simple - especially when society could just as easily be protected by a sentence of life without parole.

    Our criminal justice system holds itself out to be a system of correction. Inmates go to prison to be "rehabilitated." "Correction" and "rehabilitation" infer change and guidance, not termination. What rehabilitation is there in carrying out a death sentence? None.

    I would also refer you to Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) in which the US Supreme Court set forth the 4 principles that determine 'cruel and unusual punishment,' per the 8th Amendment:
    - "that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity," especially torture.
    - "A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion."
    - "A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society."
    - "A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary."

    The death penalty today would fall under the 2nd and 4th principle. Death sentences today are handed out in an arbitrary fashion. And the punishment is unnecessary, because there is an alternative.

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  4. I must disagree. I do see your point about life, according to you, beginning at conception (though I am not sure I agree with that either). But following your line of logic, what then, do you propose to do about miscarriages? Do you seek to also blame the mother for the accidental death of her embryo? If life really does begin at conception, then you would blame the mother for the death of the embryo (accident or not) the way you would blame one for the accidental death of a new born or adolescent. The two stages of life are not comparable in this sense.

    You are talking about the very essence of life, the fetus, embryo, etc. and no matter how you lay out your argument, the line between this and science is fuzzy. The cells could not grow, nor metabolize, nor exist without the mother. Even with premature babies that are still able to survive, they did not get to that point without the necessary time spent in the womb. You cannot remove the mother from the equation so easily.

    You could write a million of these "reasoned, scientific" essays and you still would not have the right to say what I can or cannot do with my uterus, my womb, my body - regardless of when you happen to think life begins.

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  5. I will admit I did not read the whole article. Here is my take on abortion. Making it illegal does not stop it from happening. The purpose of the law should be to punish someone for harming another, without his or her permission. The problem with a fetus/baby, is that there is no way to get permission to kill him or her. So how can justice be served, if we do not know what the baby's desires were? As such, the punishment should not be too severe for an abortion.

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  6. There are quite a few things that I was interested in responding to in this article, but many of my responses have already been alluded to or mentioned by others, so I will restrain myself to only adding ones that haven't been mentioned yet.

    As far as abortion goes, what is your opinion when the health/life of the mother is reasonably in danger?

    Another question which I am afraid will steer the discussion far off course (but I'd like to mention anyway) is why we assume that the fetus, if given the choice, would want to be born in the first place? Who's to say they wouldn't come to believe nonexistence is preferable to existence? That may seem so weird as to be irrelevant, but I think it's a valid point. Either way, we'll be making a decision for the fetus that the fetus may not have wanted.

    One final thing I would like to point out is that Thomas Aquinas did not believe that human life began at conception as the soul was not inserted fully formed, but rather developed over time like the body.

    And as far as the death penalty goes, I agree with just about everything TennZen has said, but there are some things I'd like to add to it as well. I think the death penalty doesn't make sense either morally or economically. I remember reading that appeals & everything else involved with executing someone leads it to cost more than giving someone life in prison (I can find the source, if you would like). Also, why is executing someone morally superior to(or a better way of serving justice) than sentencing them to life in prison? If it's not, then wouldn't it be better to keep the person alive, in case of an error? According to http://www.abanet.org/irr/hr/fall97/deathpen.html, about 1 percent of Death Row inmates are found to be innocent in the U.S. I am of the belief that even if a single person was found to be wrongly executed, that would be a strong case for reassessing the punishment.

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  7. 1) W. E.: I think that your point of view needs some further development. I'm a pro-life libertarian, but one of the major hurdles I needed to overcome was the "eviction argument". Essentially it throws a wrench into your original modus ponens. You see, any die-hard libertarian would admit that a person has no legal duty to preserve another's life—only to not POSITIVELY kill that other. An 'abortion' in the literal sense only involves 'evicting' an unborn baby from the womb and leaving it to its own devices. Refusing to feed and house a person is not the same, legally, as killing that person. If you suggest that a baby has a right to life protected by law from NEGATIVE interference, then you would also need to allow the state to require people to feed the poor, provide healthcare, etc.

    2) TennZen: I'm also against the death penalty, but you need to remember that there's a big difference between an innocent human life and a human life convicted of a crime. And it doesn't help to appeal to the chance that the conviction is in error, because if there is any reasonable doubt, we shouldn't be sentencing the person in the first place. Our judicial system should not be leaving room for error.

    3) W. E.: The reason I don't believe capital punishment is a legitimate operation of a civil society is because it isn't necessary. We are no longer living in a time where we need to end a murderer's life to protect the community from him. We can sufficiently restrain him if we believe he is too great a threat to ever run free. So what is the point of killing them?

    4) Anonymous: You claim that the author cannot tell you what you can or cannot do with your body. Can he tell you that you cannot kill another person on the street with your body?

    5) Spidey: First of all, you assert that making it illegal does not stop it from happening. I'd like to point out that theft occurs fairly frequently, even though it is illegal. Should we decriminalize it? Secondly, you suggest that because we cannot get permission to kill a baby, punishment should not be severe. Would the same be true of sleeping people? Or people unable to speak? You can't seriously suggest that we should assume that the baby wishes to die.

    6) Brandon: If 1 percent of death row inmates are found to be innocent, than surely that is a strong case for reassessing not the punishment itself, but the way we convict people of crimes. It would be just a tragic to find out 1 percent of life-sentence servers were innocent. Our legal system is only allowed to make Type II errors, not Type I. The doctrine is called "innocent until proven guilty".

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  8. Spidey,
    Is it not also illegal to kill somebody else even with their permission? As I recall, Dr. Jack Kevorkian served 8 years for 2nd degree murder for such an act.

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  9. Steve: That's true, but most libertarians would probably say that it shouldn't be. In the same way, it's illegal in the U.S. to attempt suicide, but it shouldn't be.

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  10. Wow... that's a lot to respond to! Thanks for all the great conversation folks!

    @TennZen @Brandon on capital punishment: The goal of rehabilitation presupposes that we are trying to reintegrate an individual into society.

    Some individuals commit crimes so egregious that, as Locke argues, they have put themselves at war with human society and should be removed from it.

    This isn't (or at least shouldn't be) a matter of vengeance, but of protecting and preserving a civil society. The process may not be perfect (as there are casualties in war), but it is- I believe- moral and justified.

    That said, once again I must stress that it is very, very low down on my priority list to make sure capital criminals are "getting the chair."

    I'm not bothered by a state that doesn't practice capital punishment. I'm not demanding that we do so. I am simply saying that I think it could be moral for a state to do so.

    @Anonymous Miscarriages aren't an act of violence on the part of the mother and I wouldn't propose to punish her for them any more than I would propose to punish a mother because her two-year-old died of flu.

    @Spidey That's actually an argument I would make. Because the child cannot consent, we have no right to take its life because we have no way of telling what it wants. An eight month old cannot consent either, though I'm sure that you would not sanction the legalization of infanticide on the basis of the premise you advanced.

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  11. @Brandon When the life of the mother really is in danger, you are faced with the decision of who to save. Doctors are sometimes faced with this decision (in emergencies for example) and must practice triage.

    This isn't a crime, because as an accident of nature, two people's lives cannot both be saved. We can't punish the mother or doctor for making either choice, and I feel terrible for anyone who is faced with such a horrible decision.

    As for the fetus' choice- I will refer you to my response to Spidey and ask again if using that premise, you would be willing to sanction the legalization of infanticide. If not, then the premise is insufficient for the legalization of abortion.

    @Michael On capital punishment, I can't say that I find any fault with your response. It seems to indicate that you agree that capital punishment is not immoral, because you imply that at some point in the past it was necessary to maintain a civil society.

    You simply believe it is no longer necessary (and is perhaps impractical). I wouldn't really find much to quibble or argue with there.

    On abortion, I am inclined to agree that your objection does need to be overcome. At first, I do want to quibble that a vast number of abortions are not done by a mere "eviction" method, but involve active violence against the fetus (and forgive me for being graphic) such as dismemberment or burning with saline.

    Now to the actual argument- I doubt anyone would use "the die-hard libertarian's" reasoning to conclude that a mother can abandon a 2 year old somewhere or not feed it. Which leads us to question the premise itself.

    I would argue that children pose an interesting problem to libertarians (Locke has to deal extensively with them in the 2nd Treatise) in this manner, and the solution is that children have positive rights.

    On the one hand they lack some liberties, as we give parents the power to coerce them (especially when they're very young) to keep them safe and healthy. At the same time parents have a positive responsibility to their children.

    If a parent leaves an infant lying in a crib without formula until it dies (again, forgive my use of a horrifying illustration), the parent has not coerced it, but he certainly bears responsibility for its death, and I think we would agree that laws which protect children against this are justified.

    This is because children have positive rights, not positive rights that we can extrapolate from to justify a welfare state, but simply a one-time, positive right to nourishment and protection from their parents until they become adults.

    Noting that you are a self-described pro-life libertarian, may I ask if my answer is how you resolve the problem you posed? If not, then what?

    @Steve Even setting aside the issue of euthanasia- if Dr. Kevorkian had euthanized me while I was sleeping without my consent, we wouldn't say that it's justified because I may have hated my life and wanted to be euthanized after all.

    I may have, but we don't know, so without my consent, it's murder (whether we believe in euthanasia or not). Which is why the lack of consent issue is a problem not for the pro-life side, but for the pro-choice side. In fact, I'm quite puzzled that it's been brought up twice as an objection.

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  12. W.E.: That's basically how I've solved it—but children don't have positive rights, at least not in the sense that they impose positive duty on ME (unless they're my children). If children have unrestricted positive rights, that means we ALL have to keep them alive.

    What I think children DO have is an implicitly-formed contract with their parents. When you get into a taxi, you don't need to have the driver sign a contract to ensure that he doesn't suddenly drive off a bridge, even though it is his taxi. In his agreement to transport you, it's implied that he won't kill you. Likewise, when parents conceive of a child, they create a contract with that child, promising to protect it until they can hand it off to somebody else (through adoption, or, when technology allows, by transplanting the embryo/fetus to another woman).

    In the ideal libertarian society, that contract would need to be with BOTH biological parents. I do think it's odd that people can be in favor of mandatory child support payments by biological fathers, and yet be pro-choice.

    That contract would also allow government to intervene in parenting in certain circumstances.

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  14. Wesley good article.

    I love people who like to make their own opinion heard, in the context of an article they disagree with, but did not themselves read. Intellectual charity at its zenith.

    Brandon L:

    Your appeal to Thomas Aquinas begs the question on many levels, especially in categorical mistakes. First, Thomas Aquinas explicitly forbids abortion and any contraceptive actions (cf. In Romans, c. I, lect. 8 n. 149) so appealing to him is odd, to say the least. Secondly, Aquinas does indeed hold a different view on the ontology of hominization than our Mr. Wesley. Nevertheless, this isn't an argument pro-abortion. At most, it might present an alternative argument contra abortion. However, there are many recondite aspects to Thomas Aquinas's ontology that would take too long to delineate to make this clear. So I'll suggest an article if you are interested. Suffice it to say, do not appeal to Thomas on abortion points unless you know what you are talking about. It is difficult to think you do, with regards to Thomas, especially when the antecedent objection you put forth asserts the gross and metaphysically untenable position that non-existence might possibly be better than existence. "Better" "Goodness" etc. are all, ontologically, only made intelligible, and then desirable insofar as they are ordered and found by existence. Non-existence is a privation of "better" "goodness" one must negate existence to even make such notions intelligible.

    For a contemporary "Thomistic" account see the cogent essays of G.E.M. Anscombe: "Human Essence" "Were you a zygote?" and "Embryos and Final Causes" all available in the collected volume: "Human Life Action Ethics Philosophy".

    A number of the other silly objections brought up here concerning capital punishment, immoral pacifism, and back alley abortions are entirely undermined by Philipa Foot's distinction in "Killing and Letting Die." In brief, there is a radically ethical distinction (and in "Action Theory) in initiating a fatal action/sequence, like an abortion, and permitting a fatal sequence, like a miscarriage (for whoever brought up that absurd example). It is morally illicit to initiate a fatal sequence, for this is violation of a negative moral precept, viz., we should not murder. Qualification are required for "permitting" in some of the more recondite cases of not impeding a fatal sequence.

    Also, Wesley, you might want to make more perspicuous your first principle as regarding the ontology of "rights". We do not have a right to life, unless by this we mean that it is a manner of saying that it is a negative precept, i.e., right. One might say, we have the right to not be unjustly killed, i.e., murdered. But strictly speaking, one does not have right to life, but to the prohibition of their unjust demise. Innumerable difficulties are avoided in ethics and theory of human action if you make this distinction. For more on this distinction see: Anscombe, (same volume)"Prolegomena to a pursuit of the Definition of Murder: The Illegal and the Unlawful" and "Murder and the Morality of Euthanasia".

    Wesley, I hope you are well.

    DDH

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  15. Wes, beautiful article, you hit all the high points with very sound reasonable arguments. Thank you for doing so without Bible verses. I am a born again, very conservative, Christian, but I can’t seem to make people understand that the Bible will not be an argument for people who believe it is a fairy tale anyway. I would also like to point out that some argue life as viability of the fetus which doesn't make sense because we are moving forward scientifically everyday so that would mean the definition of life would change often. Ironically pro-choicers also like to say it is a choice when in fact many women make the decision to abort because they feel it is their only option. I also encourage everyone to check out the current issues with Planned Parenthood and the Lila Rose video she did exposing them covering up statutory rape. Our tax money in Tennessee goes to support PP and TN Right to Life is trying to stop this from happening. We also need to be watching for those who would kill few day old infants, infanticide, and those born alive after an abortion, case in point: Obama and the Infant Protection Act.

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  16. This is very well done and I couldn't agree more. If anyone is interested, I have posted on my blog a constitutional approach to the abortion issue, which is decidedly pro-life.

    http://indefenseoftheconstitution.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-abortion-is-unconstitutional.html

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  17. @Daniel I can guess at what difficulties may arise from claiming a "right to life" as opposed to a "right to not be unjustly killed," but am of course curious to know what your source says. Thanks for letting me know.

    @Suzie You're correct that it's a tough battle we have ahead of us and many fronts on which to fight it. Are you active with TN Right to Life?

    @Daryl Thanks Daryl. I read it. The Constitutional argument is important, because as some folks see it, it's an entirely legal issue (and law is somehow in a vacuum, unrelated to or derived from reality).

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  18. Great article, very well reasoned. It always irks me when people assume I must be pro-choice due to my libertarian leanings, when in truth being a biologist plays a far larger role, and is the reason I am pro-life.

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  19. Right- the issue is very much that of the ontological status of the preborn, and with a little bit of science and some clear, philosophical thinking, it is not difficult to see that we've got a human being after the point of conception.

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  20. Wes, I am involved in the TN Right to Life. I am also president of the Belmont Students for Life. If anyone is interested we have a facebook page.

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  21. Hi, I just found this blog... fantastic. I am a lifelong libertarian and pro-choice. While your argument is sound, please consider the consequences to liberty of the following. I am a father of two small children, we would have never considered an abortion. However, my wife had two miscarriages. Under your logic (and law) each of those would have HAD to have been investigated BY THE POLICE for possible homicide. did she take a morning after pill? did she take some other abortifacent? Clearly that would be murder. Did she ride a rollercoaster or drink too much? Negligent homocide.. manslaughter. This follows naturally from your argument since every life would deserve to have the circumnstances of its death investigated and the murderers punished. Is this the kind of police state we want. I see no way out if one deems life begins at conception. For those who have children or have had miscarriages, we know better. Human Life begins at quickening. Most spontaneous abortions begin before the mother knows she is pregnant. Many women (most, perhaps) have spontaneously aborted and never known they were pregnant. I'm suprised frankly that so many women believe in the life begins at conception argument.. they must have never been pregnant (or never known it). This nitpick aside, congratulations on a fantastic blog. More power to you! I am a fan!

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  22. One additonal commemnt, please pardon my garrulousness. Miscarriage is a private, painful difficult time for a woman. "Life begins at conception" laws would require her (or more grotesquely, her spouse) to call the police and have the potential murder investigated. Worse, it would obligate anyone who knew about it to call the police, lest they be an accessory. The consquences of deeming what is (in its early stages) a part of a woman's body a human being is so frightening, the apparatus that it would take to enforce so huge, that I think this may be one of the deciding issues of liberarianism. How can one be both a libertarian and support a state that would have to have "miscarriage investigation units" at the police station? Miscarriage his happens every day. We can't weasel out of it and exempt miscarriage, since we have pills that can induce it and it would be very difficult to tell whether it was natural or induced without toxicology tests. Worse yet, only the woman would know of it, so she would live in fear of being found out. The logic won't hold. You can outlaw abortion providers, you can outlaw morning after pills, but you cannot outlaw abortion... nature does it itself every day, in fact the medical term for miscarriage is 'spontaneous abortion". Please consider the consequenses of the position as well as the logic.

    The miscarriage example is not absurd at all, after abortion is ultimately about intent. If a woman miscarries naturally it is not murder, but if she applies artificial means to induce it, she it is. If she neglects the fetus to such a degree that it dies or miscarries, she may be guilty of manslaughter. Murder is always about intent, that is why we have self-defense, unpremeditated murder, premeditated murder, manslaughter, negligent homicide, etc. And again, I'm not trying to be antagonistic, if anything I am trying to help you strengthen your case, even though I disagree with it. Yours, in liberty. Gary

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  23. Hey, thanks so much for your kind words and extensive response to my article, Gary.

    I think you answer your own objection when you say "Most spontaneous abortions begin before the mother knows she is pregnant. Many women (most, perhaps) have spontaneously aborted and never known they were pregnant."

    As this is true, and because we understand that needless inquiry into every menstruation a woman has is clearly absurd, intrusive, and unnecessary, it is unlikely that we will end up by having "miscarriage" police.

    Miscarriages are, as you point out, common and often happen (along w/ the pregnancy) unnoticed by the woman. They are very clearly not an act of murder or negligence, but happen very easily in the natural course of things.

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  24. Thank you for your kind reply. I think you are missing my point. My point is that a miscarriage can also be "unnatural" as in artificially induced. Some birth control devices create a miscarriage. The morning after pill creates a miscarriage. An abortion is an artificially induced miscarriage. It's obvious that when a woman goes to get an abortion, she intends to end the pregnancy, but she may also end it purposefully in her own home through birth control devices or a dose of hormones.

    If a just-conceived blastocyst is actually HUMAN then we MUST have investigations into miscarriages to determine if they were artificially induced. IF THEY WERE ARTIFICIALLY INDUCED, IT IS BY DEFINITION PREMEDITATED MURDER. Don't you see that this is where the logic leads? To not do so would mean that we allow murder to go quietly ignored.

    Sorry to belabor this point, but I think it is a something that has not been thought through by the rational pro-life camp.

    My point of this is to demonstrate to you that declaring a day-old blastocyst, something that is INVISIBLE to the naked eye as a human is leads to disturbing consequenses. If we do, then we must in good conscience investigate whether a woman has induced miscarriage. It is inescapable and as a libertarian, I don't want a state powerful enough to do that. If I were a "life begins at conception" absolutist, I would have no choice.

    I think that you are actually betraying the real truth here. You don't actually believe a blastocyst or zygote "is human" but only one that is potentially so. If it is human, then all ended pregnancies must be investigated, just as child abuse, neglect and most importantly, the death of a child must be.

    I think it's important for pro-life libertarians to think hard about this and decide whether their position is emotional or rational and follow the logic to its conclusions. It will make your position stronger.

    thank you again for your block and for your obvious efforts to think deeply about this critical subject, one that deeply divides libertarians.

    All the best, Gary

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  25. Gary: I certainly believe that a blastocyst or zygote "is human", if it in fact is a living organism with human DNA.

    Appealing to the emotional nature of a miscarriage doesn't really work as a reason not to investigate, unless you're prepared to not investigate the death of an infant just because it may cause emotional trauma for the mother.

    And you don't have to support highly aggressive police tactics just because you support criminalization of something. I think that theft should be illegal, but that doesn't mean I would support a search of everyone's garage every time a car goes missing. Not all potential crimes necessitate an investigation.

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  26. Thank you for coming to the correct conclusion from the logic; I appreciate your integrity.

    Now here is where the problem lies. This would be a MURDER investigation. It is not car theft. You sure better investigate everytime a child is goes missing or dies. It is not the same thing at car theft and it trivializes human life to reduce it to a property crime.

    There is no statute of limitations on murder and police departments pull out all the stops to investigate them (or should). You would be talking about the murder of a child here. If the blastocyst or zygote is human, then it has every bit as much right to live as a 3 year old or a 20 year old or as a 90 year old. We spare no expense to investigate when a 3 year old goes missing, a 1-day old would deserve no less.

    As This is not car theft, I see no way to escape highly agressive investigations into ALL miscarriages, if we are to set up a legal system with integrity that treats life as beginning at conception.

    The severity of the potential crime (murder) would demand it. If it is determined that the baby that was miscarried (the 1-day old zygote human) died of natural causes (i.e. spontaneous abortion aka miscarriage) the woman and any accessories would be exonerated. But that would have to come out after a thorough investigation and quite possibly a murder trial.

    I applaud the steadfastness of your convictions, but if you are going to codify them into law, please have the courage to play it out to its conclusion. The human life you are protecting by these laws deserves no less.

    Human life begins at conception = every miscarriage thoroughly and completely investigated. Women who do not disclose a miscarriage would be obstructing an investigation. If it is suspected that the woman induced the miscarriage and enough evidence is available, then she should be put on trial for murder.

    Don't flinch from this, pro-life libertarians, Have the courage of your convictions. I have to have the courage of mine.

    Again, thanks for your integrity.

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  27. Gary, I understand that "a miscarriage can also be 'unnatural.'" It does not follow from this that every miscarriage is inherently suspect- because they can and often happen naturally.

    If we apply to this issue, the same principle which we apply elsewhere in Western jurisprudence- that police need probable cause to investigate a crime- then the pro-life libertarian need not endorse an imprudently active police force.

    Because a miscarriage is a perfectly natural occurence, it is not probable cause for a police investigation or a phone call to the police.

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  28. W.E. Well said.

    However the problem is that, while a miscarriage is not nessesarily a murder, by your logic it is a human death.

    At least some level of investigation would have to occur so that a death certificate could be issued, would you not agree?

    At that point, the investigator or record, the County Coroner, would determine if "foul play" was suspected, and warrants issued if he or she determined it was.

    Even this is too much for a simple miscarriage, and the implication of the woman being under suspicion until cleared buy the coroner is grotesque to me.

    This is what already happens with late-term babies who die in the womb. A death certificate is issued and the lack of "foul play" is certified by the state.

    If a baby is still born the authorities must be notified. that is current law. Under your definition of "life beginning at conception" all miscarriages must be reported to the coroner, who will then refer the case to the police if foul play is suspected.

    There is no way around this if you want to treat an embryo the same as a late term fetus or a small infant. They would have to be treated the same.

    My point is they are not the same, your point is they are, so it is up to you to create some legal dodge to maintain that they are the same but do not have to be treated as such. the relative commonality of miscarriages is irrelevant. Stillbirths and infant deaths were once very common and still are in many parts of the world. If it is a human child, the procedures must be the same.

    My point is not that we are going there, it is an exercise for you to deeply think about what you are saying. A one-day old blastocyst is a child. Ok, then let's treat it properly. But let's be ready to accept ALL the consequences to women, our privacy and our liberty once we do so.

    Thank you for the opportunity of letting me engage you in this debate. I think we are both better libertarians for it.

    Gary

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  29. W.E. to kind of bring this argument to a close:

    The problem I see it is that "human begins at conception" is not a scientific proposition as much as a legal one. It is an arbitrary point that we determine, in law, to declare something human. Whether based on science or religion, tradition or whim is irrelevant. The point is we make it LAW. And making it law has consequenses. (We do this at the end of life as well, although not with the same argument. We tend to declare human life over when brain waves cease. A blastocyst has no brain waves.)

    In any case, the point is that if we declare that life begins at conception and codify it into law, we must drastically increase the intrusiveness of the state if we are to be consistent. And we MUST be consistent because the US constitution and every state consitution state we have a right to "Equal protection under the law"

    Your legal formulation of the beginning of human life is that it begins at the moment of conception. Therefore, every zygotic or embryonic death is the death of a person. As such it must have a death certificate, cause of death determined, and be counted in the national death rates and records in both the CDC Morbidity and Mortality statistics and the US. Census. It does not necessarily have to be named, but usually its parents are named on the certificate. Every woman who miscarries will have dead babies in her file. Does the Coroner "examine the body". Under current law, he does or gets another physicican to certify cause of death.

    I don't even want to begin to talk about the psychological ramifications of this inexorable chain of events, but if we are to have integrity about our laws, then we must carry them out. My wife had two miscarriages. We now have two beautiful young children. If we had to be dragged through the mechanisms of the state to account for the "deaths" of our first two children, I'm not sure we would have had the will to try again. That is the power of law, that is the power of the state.

    The simple anwer to this dilemma is that it is fine to BELIEVE that life begins at conception and to mourn its loss and fight against abortion, but not to use the power of the state to enforce that belief.

    My email is ggorka@sonic.net if you want to take this offline, I don't want to monopolize your blog!

    All the best, Gary

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  30. Gary- sorry for dropping off the face of this thread! Things got hectic with the tea parties, helping orchestrate Rand Paul's million dollar moneybomb on Aug 20th, and making preparations for the PAC where I'm about to take over responsibilities as the Deputy Treasurer.

    Are you still following this thread/subscribed to the comment updates? If so- I would be perfectly happy to continue the conversation right here on the thread so that other readers can benefit from what's being said and pipe in when they like.

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  31. Gary: I've heard the brainwave argument before—the fact that we tend to consider human life over when brain waves have ceased, and so we might consider not treating a zygote human because it doesn't yet have brain waves. The key word, however, is 'yet'. We would not consider a human life over if it temporarily didn't have brain waves, as long as we had good evidence that brainwaves would resume (not sure if this is medically possible, but you get my drift).

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  32. W. E.
    I have been making your exact case for decades, but never as well. This is, simply said, the best essay on the subject I have ever read. Congratulations. As an aside, I have been working conceptually on such a piece, but I have never been satisfied with the result. That project has now been scraped since I cannot think of anything useful to add. I must also commend those who posted comments on this thread, even, and maybe especially, those I disagree with. Well reasoned debate is the only way we will ever get past the "canned" responses that are usually heard on this "third rail" subject.
    Grant
    http://whatwethinkandwhy.blogspot.com

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  33. Thank you very much, Grant. I sincerely hope we can disseminate this line of reasoning so successfully that it will have a revolutionary impact on American policy with respect to abortion.

    I hope just as sincerely that this proliferation would be accompanied and tempered by a spirit of genuine compassion and willingness to help women who are pregnant and in need of support.

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  34. from the discussion up there about children, i would humbly disagree with the original statement in the discussion. abortion is not "letting the child die from neglect". i highly doubt that sticking a pair of knives into the baby's skull and sucking out it's brains is "neglect".

    as for children, well, children need to be taken care of, as they aren't mature enough to actually do anything. they need to be taught various lessons and learn many life experiences, and therefore, the adults are needed to do so. allowing the child to die from neglect is, therefore, unacceptable. once the child becomes an adult, he/she (should) have learned the various lessons and knowledge needed to survive, and thus, is no longer under anyone's responsibility.

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  35. btw, great article. using hard science against the "pro choicers" is genius. great points, too.

    (i double posted because i forgot to say this bit).

    thanks again for the article.

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  36. Dear Anonymous from 6-Dec:

    It's true that most versions of abortion today go much further than 'letting a child die from neglect'; but what if those versions were banned and the only remaining version was true abortion—simple eviction from the uterus? I know it isn't pleasant to think about, but would your position change?

    If not, then it's not really the positive killing that bothers you so much as it is the death itself.

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  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  38. Thank you for the great essay on life!! God bless you. Let us all stand up for those little babies who can not defend themselves!

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  39. This is essentially the fallacy of equivocation. A biological homo sapien and a philosophical human are too different things. It does not have to be a "chicken fetus or a plant fetus" to fail to meet the criteria for "human", i.e., rational animal.

    Also, almost everyone in history has problems with the first premise, whether they'd like to pretend otherwise or not. It is, after all, a contradiction-- if one person threatens another's exercise of their life and can only be stopped by lethal force as frequently, they cannot both have the right to that life.

    Claiming the fetus has such a right is equivalent to having the fetus make a claim on the mother's life, since the latter is the sole means of enforcing the former.

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  40. This is the kind of dialogue that is critically absent from ANY mainstream media, or educational treatment of the issue. In my opinion, it is impossible within the constraints imposed by the rabid name calling, hatred and politicization by demagogues, that has co-opted the discussion. It is a huge disservice to prohibit free expression of ideas, and debate on any subject, especially one as vital to our societal health as this one. My hats off to the author of the essay and all who participated, and eternal shame on those who keep the light of truth and freedom obfuscated. Thanks for providing the forum!

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