Mission Statement

Mission Statement: This blog is dedicated to both political philosophy and application to current issues based on the ideas of limited government, free markets, and individual liberty. Additionally, this blog strives to create an atmosphere where intelligent discussions based on the principles of logic, no matter the viewpoints expressed in their conclusions, are not only welcome, but also thrive.

To learn more, feel free to read the introduction and subsequent posts which explain the aforementioned philosophy and purpose of this blog in more detail.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Issues 16: Abortion--Framing the Debate

          In light of my recent posts concerning the foundation of my political beliefs and ideas on how to properly discuss those beliefs with others, I wish to offer a case study. The case study I will present leaves plenty of room for contention as it is one of the most hotly debated issues today: abortion. I think this is an appropriate topic since it has many arguments that form the base idea, from the secular to the religious. The thought processes that then move forward from those base ideas also vary widely, making it a challenge to even identify the proper place to begin the discussion. I hope to live up to it.
          In this first post I will only try to identify what I believe to be the proper place to discuss the issue, the place where most views diverge. I will use the base idea that one individual shall not initiate force on another individual as the prime argument. Although there are many base ideas used, this one is in line with all Constitutional ideas and is therefore the best to use for discussing government policy. From here, we see the arguments presented by the two sides to support their position. The “pro-life” side argues that one should not have the authority to end a child’s life. The “pro-choice” side argues that a woman can do with her own body as she pleases without anyone dictating to her. I agree with both of these sentiments as they are written, as I think that most people do, and with both of the terms pro-life and pro-choice. I think they are misnomers for the positions they hold, since I and many others profess to be both at the same time. However, since they are in common use I will continue to use them throughout the discussion.
          To illustrate my point, consider this: no one seems to think it should be illegal for a man to launch his sperm into the air to die by masturbation or for a woman to drop her eggs to the same fate during menstruation. This is because these cells are obviously part of a person’s body, not an “individual” in terms of separate human life, and no one, even those who espouse a pro-life point of view, claim to be able to legislate what a person does with their own body (I understand there are exceptions to this, but I refer only to the stance of the pro-life argument, not each individual and their separate beliefs. The same is true for future blanket statements about the pro-choice argument). Similarly, no one suggests that a child, once born, is anything other than an individual due full protection of the law to include the prevention of initiation of force (once again, there are some that do but I refer to the position, not each individual).
          The point of contention, then, lies further back the chain of thinking. Each side spouting “you can’t kill a child” or “a woman has a right to choose what to do with her body” is completely pointless since those are principles to which all agree. The point of divergence in the beliefs is sometime during the period from just before conception to just after birth. One side seems to hold that an “individual,” as written in the base idea of an individual not initiating violence against another, does not become such until birth. The other argues that an individual becomes such at conception. Some argue for various points in between. However, the proper framing of the argument is not whether we should kill children or should violate a woman’s sanctity of her own body, but “at what point do parts of two people’s bodies cease being just parts and become a separate “individual” body?”
          To illustrate my point, I would like to include a quotation from Bertrand Russel, a famous mathematician. He said, “’But,’ you might say, ‘none of this shakes my belief that 2 and 2 are 4.’ You are quite right, except in marginal cases -- and it is only in marginal cases that you are doubtful whether a certain animal is a dog or a certain length is less than a meter. Two must be two of something, and the proposition ‘2 and 2 are 4’ is useless unless it can be applied. Two dogs and two dogs are certainly four dogs, but cases arise in which you are doubtful whether two of them are dogs. ‘Well, at any rate there are four animals,’ you may say. But there are microorganisms concerning which it is doubtful whether they are animals or plants. ‘Well, then living organisms,’ you say. But there are things of which it is doubtful whether they are living organisms or not. You will be driven into saying: ‘Two entities and two entities are four entities.’ When you have told me what you mean by ‘entity,’ we will resume the argument.”
          The point of this quote is to illustrate how an ill-defined margin creates room for argument. There is currently no decisive legal or scientific definition of human life. As such there is not clear definition of who should receive the benefits of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” or “individual not initiating force against another individual.” The point is the terms used to build the arguments are not completely defined, and so become the sticking point to any argument about abortion. I will not disagree with the conclusion of either side, that children deserve protection or that women deserve supremacy of their bodies. I will argue all day with anyone who says that is the entire reason for their belief, though. When traced back along their chain from their final position toward their base idea, pro-choice supporters and pro-life supporters both must eventually reach a point where they define the beginning of human life and governmental protections. Many do not realize that this point is where the discussion must be held. To properly address the issue of abortion we cannot continue to talk about what a woman can do with her body or what rights a child has, but must talk about when certain cells are not longer a part of someone’s body but a body of their own.
          This discussion in itself is a long and contentious one, but to not even realize that it is the central issue at hand is devastating to the level of debate we see on this issue. In my next posts I will address many arguments concerning this defining of human life, the role of religion in the argument, and how I believe the application of the non-initiation of force base idea and logic can bring a person to only one conclusion. I would love to hear discussion on the issue, but first I would love to hear discussion on where discussion on the issue should take place.


This guy said...

Just as all life is indeed yearning to live, it is not ever 100% known what it is to "live". We define it generally as being sentient, and self-sustaining, but not always. As this gray area relates to abortion and infanticide, there is a long history of life at many levels making the decision of whether born babies should live, in all species. Whether it's a desperate mother who drowns her girl in a river because she must have a boy to survive in a culture, or fish that eat 90% of their hatched babies for food, or anything of that sort, it is all the domain of the living to decide the issue based on what is best for the already living.

This said, it is considered unethical to terminate a life that has been through the birthing process. We all cringe at babies in dumpsters and the like. This is because our culture finds this practice barbaric. Other places on earth don't name babies until they are two year old, because they don't want to get too attached in a society plagued by disease and starvation. None is wrong. It is a reality of the riches we live in that we find this even a debate.

So, for the sake of a mother's choice to be legally responsible for another life for 18 years, we like to offer the ability to terminate a pregnancy. Women naturally have these occurrences regularly, for good and unfortunate reasons. We offer it as an artificial service as well. That this service is offered is the debate today.

I would extend the framework of your argument. It is where society is not repulsed by the extinguishing of a human being in its formative stages, born or not. We have just all accepted that killing babies after their birth is unacceptable here. This leaves a timeframe of the pregnancy to do it. Thus, a debate really comes down to where it is abnormal for either a mother to self-abort (natural) or when a fetus is either viable, or 'feels pain', or some other never-quite-logical point of when society feels this is acceptable.

The answer is that it is impossible to debate this, because just like religion, people come to their own conclusions as to when something is viable or sentient. Some people think that dogs are sentient to a level we should cause them no harm, but we practice canine euthanasia regularly. This proves only that human life is a different standard. As such, the different standard is influenced by those who would benefit to influence people.

And if you weren't sure, the two businesses that have a prime directive of manipulating the public's ethos is politics and religion.

So, this argument can only be had in the absence of partisans and pontificators. The logical place is when you look at accepted end-of-life practices in society, rigid as they are. This is when a person has no chance of viability, and no suffering in the process. As such, science generally defines that as prior to the third trimester.

But it is what we make it in this society. That we are overpopulated and struggle to feed most of the world, the real question is why does anyone look at abortion as bad? It's the best thing we could do. Second best is easing the adoption process. Next in line is to remove the economic incentives involved in procreation. But for right now, it's nothing but appropriate to allow abortion by all legal means, make illegal any restrictions to it, and only doctors who wish to decline based on third-trimester timing should be allowed. Otherwise, any girl that can get pregnant needs to be able to terminate the pregnancy at will, and without interference.

Bret “Ginx” Alan said...

Yeah... except that I can acknowledge that a fetus is still a human and be pro-choice. If a woman caught someone in her home and killed them, it would be ruled self defense. If it's in her body, suddenly it's debatable?

Ultimately, every attempt I have ever seen where "use of force" is the basis for any coherent ideology, there end up being exceptions. It's gotten to the point where I'm not even sure I buy the idea that force is something to be avoided. Maybe it's because I live in a culture that doesn't practice that ideology, or maybe it's because I can simply point to so many cases where the use of force is clearly justified after the fact, even though beforehand the issue is quite murky.

Live Free said...

This Guy, unlike fish, though, we are constrained by government. The question becomes what is its proper role? And the difference between the culture of naming later in life and abortion is that one is compeltely human-controlled force (legitimate or not) and the other is protection against events out of their hands. "It is where society is not repulsed by the extinguishing of a human being in its formative stages, born or not." The problem with using this as the basis of decision is that this principle already led to things like master races and countless genocides.

I agree with many of your comments in the last paragraph about practical matters, but I think that it is important to have this debate on a foundation of consistent logic, which is why I propose defining a starting point before even going on with the debate. It seems like you accept the need of a definition in your proposal of viability.

Bret, I understand your frustration with inconsistent application of principles. It really burns me, as well. That said, I think that most people agree that the initiation of force, distinguished from the legitimate use of defnesive or retaliatory force, is bad.

That said, your example made me think, but it still falls into the difference between "initiation" of force and "retaliatory" force. If I surgically opened a woman and crawled into body, I would completely support her right to kill me in retaliation. If she drugged me to render me unresponsive, and then did the same that I described above, it does not then impart her with the right to do anything to me. The difference is that in the initial case I initiated force and the she defended/retaliated. The later case I did no such thing, so her force was the initiated one. This ties into my framing of the abortion argument because a child, no matter where in its developmental path you choose to use the definition, did not intiate its own existence or bring itself into being. It is merely the product of the actions of others. It therefore did not initiate force. To do harm against it IS to initiate force, however. Therefore, the question becomes, "when is it no longer an appendage of a free person's body but an individual human being subject to the protection against initation of force?" Whether it is conception, birth, or in between, the debate devolves to first defining that answer to that question.

Thank you both for your comments, especially the thoughtful and logical nature of them both. That is exactly what I was hoping to see on this blog!

gtg723y said...

I would like to bring to the fore that there is still cannibalism and slavery practiced in various locations, we as a society look down our noses at those cultures. Therefor, as unacceptable as it may sound, not all cultures are equal. As a proof I will offer your own individual observations and experience and ask you, " Would you purposefully live in a culture where a woman will drown her own child because that child is the 'wrong' gender?". No, you wouldn't, or you wouldn't be here, part of this society. Would that woman at the river side trade places and societies with me? More than likely. So to use that argument that other societies do worse is a moot point.

The purpose of this debate is to shape our society, to determine what kind of society we are going to be. Are we going to be the kind of society other societies compare themselves to as a means of justifying their behavior, or are we going to be the society that has an honest debate about our behavior?

gtg723y said...

As per the actual debate, the best I have seen on the topic came from Penn Jillet. A brief synopsis of his argument is that our definition of when life begins should be based on our definition of when it ends. Currently we are defined and declared as dead when our heart is no longer capable of beating. The fore an extension of that would be for us to be defined and then declared as alive once our hearts start to beat.

A side note to his speech is that he knew that was the correct position to take as it is the only position capable of pissing off both the "pro-lifers" and the "pro-choicers" both the conservatives/republicans and the liberals/progressives/democrats at the same time

Live Free said...

Part of the problem with that argument is that the beginning and end of life are not symmetrical. The end of life is a transition from one individual living to one individual dying.

The beginning of life comes from other living things; it is continuous and does not involve a transition from death to life. It is instead the transition from two individual lives to a single, new individual life. The death/life analogy doesn't seem to meet the raionale required for a good definition.

Newcomer said...

It's precisely because the beginning and end of life are not symmetrical that life should be defined as beginning at conception. If I plant a flower seed in good soil that will support its growth (as the womb supports the life of an implanted embryo) and don't have any further contact with it, one of two things will happen. Either it will not develop properly (resulting in death), or it will develop into a flower. Is a freshly planted seed considered "alive"? Probably not. But an argument can be made that digging up the freshly planted seed will have the effect of preventing a live flower from developing where it otherwise would have once planted. Once all of the required elements to support life are present, even if the developing life is dependent on another source to continue (isn't yet self-sustaining), interrupting a life once it has begun to develop, is to kill it; to cause a life cycle to cease while in process. Therefore, life begins at the beginning, which is conception.

Newcomer said...


I'm not so sure about that. I would argue that while, yes, the beginning of life requires two other living beings to come together first, it is not exactly a continuum. Person 'A' and person 'B' are not each carrying a 1/2 of a live being within them that requires the two halves to join in order for the new being (person 'C') to develop. Rather, person 'A' and person 'B' each carry cells that in and of themselves, produce nothing. Their cells must be joined together at a precise moment, in a precise manner, and in a precise environment (either the woman's body or in a petrie dish). Yet, even when all of those conditions are optimally met, there is no guarantee that person 'A' and person 'B' can produce a new life (person 'C'). There is a static point when person 'C' does not exist at one moment but then is created in the very next moment.

Live Free said...

"There is a static point when person 'C' does not exist at one moment but then is created in the very next moment."

I agree completely, and I think that defining that moment is paramount to the government in abortion debate. I have argued with people who steadfastly believe that defining that point is irrelevent to the debate because abortion should or should not exist no matter what. That was my point in this post, merely to say that we need to define that point. I will momentarily post the follow-up, which is my attempt to define that point and invite discussion on the definition.