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Too much to comment on here Lance... too many shades of gray which you pointed out. I am pro-choice, which as I have said before, does not mean anti-life. There are a million shades of gray in this argument and at one time or another all of them probably valid.

One thing I keep wondering about lately is if life begins at conception, then why aren't the pro-lifers all bent out of shape about the people who do IVF and which in most cases creates more embryos than they will ever need? That is almost premeditated if you get my drift. You know some will die. The person willingly says I will create however many embryos I can in order to hopefully get one child even though I know most of the embryos will not be used. Where is the furor over that? I am not against IVF, I am just questioning the logic of the pro-lifers... many of whom have probably created more embryos than they will need through IVF. Is that not blatant disregard for life? It's just a question that keeps popping up in my mind. I guess this is where we swing back into enlightened self-interest...

mrs. norman maine

If we lived in a wiser world, an application for a third-trimester abortion might perhaps go (quickly) before some kind of sage council which would balance the needs of the mother with the rights of the person/not a person. That sage council would not be called the Supreme Court.

But since we don't live in that world, I still believe it is better to assume that the mother, or the parents, are thinking beyond the "when does life begin?" question. Instead, they might be measuring the level of suffering the child might have to face outside the womb -- a severe birth defect, a crazy alcoholic father who won't let any kid of his be adopted but would almost certainly slap the kid around -- versus what might perceived as a quick and merciful end.

There must be as many reasons women seek a third-term abortion as there are women seeking one. Some no doubt are shallow ones, some compassionate, some anguished and uncertain.

The best society can do, and often does, is to give women the best medical and emotional support it possibly can. Surely a woman, her doctor and a counselor is a more appropriate troika to decide such a matter than are the three braches of goverment?


"Surely a woman, her doctor and a counselor is a more appropriate troika to decide such a matter than are the three braches of goverment?"



As one who has had an abortion, there is no reason ever for anyone but myself (and I was one of the lucky ones where my partner was involved) to be the deciding factor in this. This is not a government issue. It's a very personal matter. And what South Dakota is doing is telling all women that they have no say in their life. Not just their body, but their life. And that is just wrong. Having children changes your life. I now have two wonderful children, but it was at a time when I knew it was right. It was my choice. And they will no longer have that.


I hate to say it, but for me the personhood of the fetus is beside the point. Presumably one of the rights of human beings is the right to control their own bodies. This is why we do not legally require people with O-negative blood to donate blood, why we do not legally require parents to donate kidneys to their children, why we do not legally require children to donate marrow to their parents, why we do not legally require anyone to give up any of their body in order to support someone else's.

It is true that a fetus, especially one that is more pre-term than one that is nearly ready to be born, lacks the ability to live without the biological contribution of the woman in whose womb it exists. So why should its need for a woman's uterus trump the woman's right to control her own body, given that a need of this kind carries no legal compulsion for any other category of person?

Now, there may be moral or ethical obligations that devolve upon the mother -- or the blood donor, or the organ donor, et al. -- in a situation like this, but those are the purview of churches and individuals, not government. I especially do not approve of the legal imposition of the moral code of a belief system I find to be vicious, rigid, and anti-woman, as if my own moral code was not good enough.

I personally would be reluctant to have an abortion if I became pregnant, because I _do_ believe in that fetuses are more than just clusters of cells, but that decision to give over my body and health to the support of another human being should be MINE. Not my partner's, not the fetus's, and certainly not that of judgemental, self-righteous people who know nothing about me or my life and couldn't care less about what happens to me during the pregnancy or either me or the child after birth.

So whether the fetus is a pre-baby or a clump of parasitic cells is not decisve to me. Either one believes that women have the same right as men, children, and fetuses to control their own bodies, in which case one must reject restrictions on abortion of any kind, or one is choosing to see women as legally inferior to the rest of humanity.

We may wish that adult female human beings behave in selfless ways, but I find it morally repugnant to single them out for legal coercion when they choose to exercise the same rights to bodily integrity that the rest of humanity can exercise unimpeded.

blue girl

Lance, I know this your blog and you know how much I appreciate your posts and your points of view...but I just gotta say, Rana -- that was one excellent comment. Specifically ...

"This is why we do not legally require people with O-negative blood to donate blood, why we do not legally require parents to donate kidneys to their children, why we do not legally require children to donate marrow to their parents, why we do not legally require anyone to give up any of their body in order to support someone else's..." point -- and continuing -- "...there may be *moral* or *ethical* obligations that devolve upon the mother -- or the blood donor, or the organ donor, et al..."

Good point. I hadn't thought about it in that way. Thanks.


Twisty gets the main credit for that argument, I believe. I'm mostly just elaborating on what she'd said along those lines a week or two ago.


I also want to add that it feels weird to be disagreeing with you, Lance!



I'm not sure you did disagree. But so what if you did? This is the debate. We're supposed to be having it. The anti-abortion crowd doesn't want to debate. They don't want to live with the debate open.

I will ask you a question though.

I don't see how a "person" feeding on a mother's body from the inside is any different from one (breast) feeding on a mother from the outside. If the fetus is a person, but the mother still has no obligation to "save" its life because it's her body, why does she have an obligation to care for it after it's born? Isn't your argument also an argument for infanticide or abandonment? And can't an argument absolving fathers from child support be extrapolated from it?

Seems to me then it is important that the the fetus not be a person.

And part of the reason we don't require people to donate blood or kidneys is that the sick person who needs them has other alternatives.


Actually, a mother doesn't have a legal obligation to breastfeed her infant. She can bottlefeed it, have someone else bottlefeed it, or even choose to give up the infant for adoption and avoid the obligation entirely. Indeed, there is frequently social and legal pressure discouraging women from breastfeeding (laws against public "indecency" for example).

The child support for fathers doesn't hold water, because that is a financial obligation, not a biological one. The father's biological integrity is not compromised, nor his right to decide what to do with his body. (I have no problem with women incurring an equal legal financial obligation, btw.)

As for the sick-person-needing-a-donor-organ having other alternatives... I'd say it really depends on the organ and the health overall of the individual. Does a person who has lost most of his or her blood have alternatives beyond transfusion? A patient who will die without a new liver? What about situations like those where conjoined twins must have surgery or die - if one twin must die in order to allow the other to live, does that mean that we must legally prevent such surgery? What if it's not guaranteed death involved, but the risk of death? Does it mean that we must write laws that restrict the ability of twins as a group to make such difficult decisions? That we decide that conjoined twins are morally incompetent to make such decisions, unlike other human beings? If not, why do this to women?

In other words, it's not about the existence of alternatives, or the biological needs of the sick or dependent individuals -- it's about whether it is legally just to coerce people into providing biological support against their will, and, more to the point, whether it is legally just to coerce one group of people in that way while all other groups are guaranteed freedom from such legal coercion.

(Perhaps we should push doctors to develop artificial wombs, so that fetuses do have alternatives. Until then, the death of a fetus removed prematurely from a womb is indeed a tragedy -- but I would argue a worse one is legislating women into a class of people with fewer legal rights than other human beings.)


I do agree that these are the sorts of discussions that need to be had - it's a complicated issue! - but it's hard for me to not take it personally when people start talking about it in terms where all the "solutions" involve stripping me of my rights. It feels unfair, and it is.

When asked to weigh my responsibilities relative to a hypothetical fetus, and my belief that I have a moral and legal right to decide what happens to my own body -- the body I am inhabiting right now, the body I'm using to form these words and type them into the computer -- is it any surprise that I give the latter a higher priority? I don't seek to legally coerce others into giving up their health and lives for things I consider important - why do they get to do that to me just because I was born with two X chromosomes instead of just one?


Rana said: -- but I would argue a worse one is legislating women into a class of people with fewer legal rights than other human beings.

I think this is really the point of the legal issue. How can a government give higher priority to a potential citizen over an actual citizen? Aren't governments, in very basic terms, there to protect its citizens? Pregnant women are already members of society. Yes the fetus has the potential to be a member of society, but the current member's rights should take priority over the potential member's potential rights.

blue girl

Yeah, Rana -- I didn't see it that you were disagreeing with Lance either.

This is one great comment thread. Wish I could add more -- but, I'm pretty much pro-choice because I default to the "It's none of your damn business" reason. And you guys have articulated all the *reasoning* way better than I ever could.

Also -- I love Twisty.

mac macgillicuddy

"there is no reason ever for anyone but myself (and I was one of the lucky ones where my partner was involved) to be the deciding factor in this. This is not a government issue. It's a very personal matter."

I'm speaking strictly as a man, so take this for whatever it's worth, but Angie's statement sums up the whole reason there should be no law against abortion -- not because abortion is good, not because society condones it, not because of any reason other than what Angie points out. The absense of a law that specifically prevents women from getting an abortion is not the same thing as saying it's good, or that society condones it, or anything other than that this is, for whatever reason, not a matter for government to get involved in. We have plenty of issues for which this holds. This should be another.


Rana: "When asked to weigh my responsibilities relative to a hypothetical fetus, and my belief that I have a moral and legal right to decide what happens to my own body -- the body I am inhabiting right now, the body I'm using to form these words and type them into the computer -- is it any surprise that I give the latter a higher priority?"

I think you just stepped back from you "it doesn't matter if it's a person" position. Darnit. I had another question.


"How can a government give higher priority to a potential citizen over an actual citizen? Aren't governments, in very basic terms, there to protect its citizens? Pregnant women are already members of society. Yes the fetus has the potential to be a member of society, but the current member's rights should take priority over the potential member's potential rights."

I agree with this Claire, always have, that a complete and contributing human being should be of more worth than an embryo/fetus, but some members of government and the religious right are taking the stance that the citizen who is already here is trying to harm/murder the citizen who is not and therefore we must protect the one in danger. It IS trying to protect the "citizen" (the fetus) in danger.


But it's a silly argument, because a fetus can't be a citizen without being born or naturalized. It's only a potential citizen.

Actually, I'm with BG. It's none of anyone's business.

AARGH. Why is it that we (as a country) have to wait for things to get really, really bad before realize we are the wrong path? Illegal abortions are already back on the rise! This isn't about stopping abortion or keeping anyone safe. People will do what they feel they have to do, even if it's illegal and dangerous.

Do humans generally lack foresight? Or is it just when we act in large groups?


"Do humans generally lack foresight?"

I think this administration and its followers lack foresight, hindsight and any sight for that matter.


I don't think I did.

There are two situations involved here: what I (or any other woman) might or would do with an actual fetus inside my body, and what the legal position of women is relative to other legal persons, fetal or otherwise.

To me, this such a deeply personal question, that it is one that can only be answered one person at a time, as individual women in particular bodies and situations find themselves hosting particular fetuses.

But that's not what abortion LAWS are about -- those are about setting up generalized standards about abstract legal categories: "the fetus," "the pregnant woman," "women" -- and applying them in a blanket fashion to a reality that is much much more complicated than that.

That's what I meant about the "hypothetical fetus" -- laws such as these are not about what Rana will or will not do if she finds herself inhabited by Baby-Rana-to-Be -- they are about what women as a legal category are allowed to do vis-a-vis fetuses as a legal category.

The PROBLEM is that the experience of pregancy -- and the decision about whether to end it or not -- is not one experienced by legal fictions but by specific, individual, idiosyncratic human beings. Human beings who should not be denied their civil rights in the name of protecting other persons, especially when the "personhood" of those persons is debatable. Note that the debatable nature of the personhood of fetuses only strengthens the argument in favor of fully protecting women's rights to bodily integrity - that argument stands even in the case of fetuses being considered full legal persons.

Whatever the law decides about "women" and "fetuses" as abstractions is going to affect me as an individual in very direct and personal ways, simply by dint of my biology. Basically, the rubber hits the road inside my own body - yet under laws like these I am legally prevented from having a full say in how that law manifests itself in my physical person. Although a real fetus in my body would be unable to speak for itself, such laws would give it a legal voice that outweighs my own, simply because it and I belong to these legal categories of "fetus" and "woman", categories that are defined as offering to the individuals it contains, in the one case, full human rights, and in the other, constrained human rights.

Decisions made about a legal category - "the fetus" - are used as justifications for the coercion of actual women and the abrogation of their legal rights. That's why I get so angry: this is not about any specific fetus, but it IS about specific women like myself: my rights are abrogated no matter whether I have an abortion, carry a pregnancy to term, or never become pregnant at all. An actual fetus living in my womb doesn't take away my rights: a legal person called "the fetus" does, when the rights of "the fetus" are legally defined as trumping the rights of "women."


In fact, laws like these would not only give "the fetus" full human rights, they would give it rights granted to NO other group of legal persons: the right to parasitize another person against that person's will.


It is personal and again, no offense to men, but men will never have to deal with the full impact of such a decision. What annoys me with the whole debate is that the pro-lifers act as if women are all rushing out to abort. Who in their right mind gleefully gets an abortion no matter how beneficial the procedure might be to their current situation? I doubt few people take it lightly.

They are so adamant about stopping abortions and yet where are the pro-lifers when it comes to helping the children who are already here. Apparently these children lost their rights just by being born.

blue girl

"Who in their right mind gleefully gets an abortion no matter how beneficial the procedure might be to their current situation? I doubt few people take it lightly."

You know -- I'm not sure about this. You automatically think it's the rape victim, the incest victim -- the horrible cases, that drag themselves to get an abortion -- but, I bet there are plenty of women -- while not going "gleefully" to the abortion clinic -- they choose it because it's there to choose...another problem out of the way.

The studies on both sides are so biased that we'll never know. But I wouldn't assume there aren't plenty of women who would consider it "just quickly taking care of a little unfortunate problem."

That being said, it's still not the role of government, in my opinion, to tell women that they must carry an unwanted baby, no matter the reasons, to full term.

Patrick ONeill

This is the wrong question. The question is, can the government force a women to be pregnant and carry a foetus to term against her will ?

Harry Blackmun (who had a private interest in medicine) dreamed up the entire "viability" and "trimester" issue out of whole cloth when he wrote Roe v Wade. He thought he was finding a "compromise", not realizing that you can't compromise with religious nutjobs.

It is just as much a violation of a woman to force her to bear her rapists child against her will if the foetus is 8 months as it is when it is 1 month, except that the abuse lasts a shorter period of time.


One thing that seriously bugs me about the "God says so" aspect of the abortion debate, is that God never actually said so. Nowhere in the Bible does it actually say when a fetus becomes a person.

harry near indy

lance, your post on the issue is very, very thought provoking. i believe i'll read it a few more times before i come up with any reaction to it.

jennifer, the anti-abortion faction used to, or maybe still, call it "abortion on demand."

as if the woman who's going to get it storms into the clinic and yells, "gimme an abortion NOW, you m-----f-----s, or i'll kick your a---s."

(btw, i use dashes not because i'm a prude. it's because lance asked us not to use profanity because young folks often come here to read his comments on harry potter and other works of literature.)

and if ... maybe when ... roe vs wade is overturned, and it's up to the state legislatures to establish laws about abortion, i don't doubt that several states will outlaw.

what i'm afraid what will happen is this: they'll be a big push to outlaw forms of contraception -- condoms, birth-control pills, tubal ligations, vasectomies.

and that, imo, is bad, bad, bad.

although i don't agree with the anti-abortionists, i do understand their reasoning and beliefs. but as for anti-contraceptionists, well ... fools they be.

blue girl

"what i'm afraid what will happen is this: they'll be a big push to outlaw forms of contraception -- condoms, birth-control pills, tubal ligations, vasectomies."

Oh my God, you guys. This could indeed happen -- and actually has already started with pharmacists saying they can't/won't fill certain prescriptions because it's *against their faith.*

And we can't just be sitting around in our houses and cubicles blogging about it -- we'll have to hit the streets in huge numbers. Repeatedly. We will have to be *loud.*

Is it paranoid to think this could happen? God, with everything that's going on -- I think it could happen.

And if it does, I'll be in the streets like a lunatic and I hope you'll all join me.

blue girl

Harry, you do too use dashes because you're a prude -- admit it...c'mon.


There are a few pro-choice advocates who believe this and say it, who will argue that a fetus is not a person until it can survive on its own outside the womb.

...and not physically attached to the mother's body.

That's the subtlety you're missing. Actually, it's not all that subtle. A newborn doesn't have to be attached to a mother's body to survive.

In other words, what Rana said, and this comment is totally unnecessary because hers was just so brilliant.


Lance--'Tis a brave blogger indeed who will leap into the abortion fray. Frankly, I wish more of our public discourse featured a little of the honest doubt you express; but considering the issue is really as much a right-wing club as anything these days, I'm not surprised that the dreaded nuance is left to us reg'lar Americans.

Harry had an interesting point about the outlawing of all contraception. This actually feeds into something that's developed in my mind over the years.

To sum up: the pro-life movement is about sex.

Don't get me wrong. I have known pro-lifers with honest moral qualms about abortion (known pro-choicers that way, too). I'm sure there are a few dozen others. Maybe a few hundred--it's a big country.

But way back when, I remember a long magazine piece on Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. Terry made it clear, so clear you could feel the shudder while you read it, that he considered it horrible that two human beings might use each other's body's for pleasure. Married human beings, single human beings, it made no difference.

He wasn't the last person I read about (or talked to) who had, shall we say, similar "concerns." No doubt we all know pro-life rhetoric well enough to pick our own examples of this attitude. While I can understand honest disagreements over aborting a fetus, the opposition to condoms, the Pill, etc., baffles me every time I come across it. Until I remember what Terry said. And then I remember, this isn't going to stop with a ban on abortion. It can't, because banning abortion (even if in the highly unlikely scenario where it was illegal in blue states, too) won't "cleanse" America. Pro-lifers will just move on to the next sin. They've already laid the groundwork.

Earl Bockenfeld

Lance, this post which tries to answer 'When does a fetus become a full-fledged human being' is awesome. But with the Fundies on the march in South Dakota and elsewhere, a nuanced discussion of life is like taking a rock to a gun fight. There is no pro-life division, there is just "Forced Childbirth" and control over sex and the reproductive process by fundie control-freaks whose war-on-sex won't stop with ending abortion.

Once the Jesus-freak dudes control access to abortion, the Sanctity of Motherhood, already one of the most pervasive patriarchal lies, will once again assume its place as the centerpiece of female existence.

Of course, not every woman will be allowed to revel in the sanctity of motherhood. Controlling reproduction is not limited to restricting abortion. It's only a short hop from telling a victim of incest, as they may now do in South Dakota, "Tough s--t, you sick little Lolita" to the flipside: outlawing birth-control, and court-ordered sterilization of undesirables: junkies, loonies, liberals, cripples, women with genetic abnormalities, "welfare mothers" who just can't say no.

It's already happening. If you're a lesbian trying to get turkey-basted in a fertility clinic, good f--king luck.

I am not pro-abortion, but I am pro-choice. I think that Bill Clinton's formulation of "safe, legal and rare" is where we should focus. Save the unborn, screw the born. That's how this Administration, driven by its fundie base, sees the abortion issue. IT IS not only illogical, but extremely demeaning to OPPRESSIVELY force women to bear children, against their will. It's "Forced Childbirth"!

Anne Laurie

KC45s, you're absolutely right... for the hardcore Randall Terry types, abortion is a bad thing because it lets a woman "escape the consequences" of having sex. And since by their lights, having sex is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, the threatened consequences should be as terrible as possible. These are the people -- no lie! -- who are against the new vaccine for papilloma virus. Almost everyone who's had intercourse has been exposed to this virus, and for a certain percentage of women, it will eventually lead to cervical cancer. So, if we could get all the teenagers vaccinated against papilloma, we could theoretically eliminate cervical cancer in the next generation. But the hardcore fundamentalists are dead set against legalizing the vaccine, not just for THEIR teenagers but for ALL teenagers, because "it will encourage kids to have sex"...

However, vulgar person that I am, I'm also convinced that quite a few of the loudest anti-choice protesters have a vested interest in the PRODUCT of an unwanted pregnancy. Since the mid-1970s, the availability of healthy white newborns in the U.S. has plummeted. If you're the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, you can hire a couple of pregnant teenagers in Ireland, ship them to South America to give birth, and take home a matching set of adorable blond infants. But a lot of frustrated infertile couples in Red-State America don't have that kind of money or power. They're "reduced" to trolling the internet for a pregnant woman willing to give up her newborn (a risky & sometimes dangerous option, since women change their minds and con artists smell desperation), or to signing up with an international-adoption service that probably won't guarantee health, looks, or age. Ever since a friend of mine got blindsided by a very white protestor who held up an Asian infant and snarled, "Because of people like YOU, I had to settle for THIS!", I've kept an eye on the anti-choice arguments. And for a lot of people, even if they're not as brutally honest as that mother who "settled", the real issue is that they want more healthy white newborns available for placement in "good homes" like theirs. These are the people who don't want exceptions for rape, who argue for "parental consent" laws, who think that women requesting abortions should be made to watch horror movies, sit through bogus counseling sessions, outlast waiting periods, and all the other roadblocks... even while they cut prenatal medical services, WIC, and food stamps, or pass laws mandating that women on welfare should be forced to give up either their babies or their benefits. They just think there should be more healthy white newborns available -- it's all about the PRODUCT. But we are not going to get much honesty in this arena, because conventional wisdom is that Motherhood is Priceless... even though, in our brutally market-oriented economy, anything without a price is also without a value. Witness the "Snowflake Baby" phenomenon, where nice white couples pay thousands of dollars & undergo risky medical intervention to "adopt" nice white leftover embroyos from IVF clinics. The success rate is about 10%, at best, but Bush & his cronies have touted it as "the alternative" to using those embryos for stem-cell research, rather than just another boondoggle for would-be parents desperate for the "right" kind of offspring.


Wow ... this was an amazing post. And the comments are equally as thought provoking. I hope, Lance, that you don't mind that I put a link to this on my site, with all props to you of course.

Chris Clarke

Ever since a friend of mine got blindsided by a very white protestor who held up an Asian infant and snarled, "Because of people like YOU, I had to settle for THIS!"

And I'm sure that person will be a wonderful parent.

Pardon me while I seethe.


I'm with you, Lance. My attitude towards this is driven by dislike for members of either side of the debate who think they're the only ones who know what's right. On our side of the issue, the pro-choice side, I'm unhappy with those on either side who use worst-case-scenario arguments as ammo against legitimate debaters. The arguments that women are victims seem really ironic when they come from women who say they are feminists.

And I'm forced to admit that I belong to an older generation which has used abortion as a method of birth control whether because contraceptives were inconvenient, or not wholly effective, or because "I forgot" or "he didn't want to." I think we should be focusing less on rape and incest (of course abortion makes sense in such cases), and turn our attention to prevention: to education, to facing the extent to which popular culture pushes damn-the-consequences sex, and to first-rate, readily-available forms of birth control for both sexes at all ages. Oh, and to the kind of moral education which recognizes that, as Lance points out, we don't know everything.

Kate Marie

Look, I'm probably not welcome here, judging from some of the caricatures of "fundies" that I've seen in the comments (or even in some of Lance's posts on politics), but let me tell you where I'm coming from. I am not a "fundie," as usually defined. I am a Catholic woman who is pro-contraception (is there such a word?), pro-woman, and anti-abortion (and anti-death penalty, fwiw). My view on abortion is informed by my religious beliefs, but not *absolutely determined* by them.

Lance, I think your post is a good one, but I also think there's a bit of waffling involved in your acknowledgment that we don't leave decisions about right and wrong up to individuals to decide (especially when questions about human personhood and murder are involved)and your simultaneous insistence that it's "insane" to restrict first trimester abortions.

For those who continue to argue that restrictions on abortion are an unreasonable intrusion into a woman's personal life for the sake of a "potential" person, and that decisions about personhood/human life/etc. should be left to the person most affected by the outcome, do you argue the same with regard to, say, a "person" in the last stages of Alzheimer's? Why should society intrude on the family's choices regarding that person's (or perhaps "former person's") care -- including the decision to kill them? Why should society intrude on the choices of the mother of a month-old infant with Down's syndrome? What if that mother decides to define that infant as a non-person and act accordingly? What business is it of ours?

Now, of course, the choice to kill a person with Alzheimer's or an infant with Down's is more drastic than, say, deciding to abort a child (or "potential child") in the second trimester, but I would argue that the difference is one of degree and not of kind. Leaving the choice up to the individual, in one case, and up to society, in the others, doesn't make sense to me.

I would also argue that these are the kinds of questions/problems that result when one posits some sort of body/spirit or human/"person" dualism.

But I'm willing to discuss/debate the issue, precisely because I agree with Lance that it's something we should discuss as a society. I recognize that people can make reasonable, morally serious (as well as "bad faith")arguments for the "other side."

It just strikes me that some of you seem rather too willing to pat yourselves on the back for your rejection of "fundies" and assorted scary wingnuts. *Some* "wingnut" ideas should be rejected, obviously, just as some "moonbat" ideas should be rejected. The dimissal out of hand, though, is kind of convenient, isn't it? I think that Lance was trying to get beyond that with this post, but his reach somewhat exceeded his grasp ...

I am anti-abortion, for reasons that I think I can articulate reasonably well -- as well as most pro-choice advocates can articulate their reasons. Can we talk or can't we?

blue girl

Kate Marie -- I cannot, of course speak for Lance -- but I'm glad there are both wingnuts and moonbats in this comment thread! When I first started blogging I thought there would be a more give and take...but there's actually very little of it.

I was/am interested in your opinion.


Very impressed with your post...In my opinion, way too many folks on both sides of this issue just spout tag lines that they hear in the media, and seem to have put no thought into whether what they're saying makes any sense or not.

If it is true that someone must be a "person" before they are entitled to the most basic human right of "not being killed", then let me say, hooray!! Because if your definition of "becoming a person" includes said person being able to feel, think, and respond; pay attention to surroundings, and learn, then I know A LOT of "fetuses" in my life that apparently I am allowed to shoot!

Quite a few of the people in my life don't think, and many of them don't feel either. In fact, my own husband sometimes tells me I'm cold and dead inside, so is he entitled to strangle me in my sleep? He might be interested in the answer to that question... ;o) In my humble opinion, the number of "people" in this world who are pretty much useless, soul-less, and brain dead is HUGE! So if these are the characteristics that a "fetus" has to show before it can be considered a "person", then 90% of all fetuses will never become people, so we should kill them all.

Unfortunately, I believe that all a group of human cells needs to be considered a "person" is to be alive. If you are "living", then I have a responsibility to keep you that way, even if in my opinion you have nothing valuable to contribute to humanity.

And if it's true that it's a complete guess as to when a "fetus" becomes a "person", then ANY abortion could be killing a person. When last I checked, murder was a crime...Maybe it's just me, but I don't want there to be even a 1% chance that I'm committing murder...

But maybe that's just me...

N. Mallory

Having read your post and all of the discussion, I must admit my brain is spinning. I must agree with your thoughts that the area is certainly gray. I will say that I am pro-choice for that very reason; who am I to say to another person what the right thing to do is in their situation, whatever it might be? I don't know the absolute truth and I can't even begin to guess when a child in a womb becomes a real human being. As someone else mentioned, there's no mention of that in the Bible (and yes, I am a Christian, though admittedly I am exploring my trust in the Church at the moment).

For a similar reason I am unsure about the death penalty as well. Who am I to say whether or not God would approve or disapprove?

In both cases I believe that if it's a matter of faith, then it is a matter between that person and God and no one else.

And while I've never had an abortion or even had to have made the choice and though it's unlikely that I would in the future, I still resent the government's intrusion into my life on the principal of it. I think that if the government can force a woman to carry a child to term, it should also force some sort of cost on the father and it should be willing to care for that child when he or she is born. There are so many people having babies today who shouldn't be; it'd be nice if there was a back up plan for that too.

Coincidentally, I read somewhere that the rate of abortion in America is up since GWB took office and the reason has to do with the poor economy -- people are choosing not to have children because they can't afford to, not based on faith or needs for quick fixes and not all of these abortions are sought by single, unmarried, loose women.

Earl Bockenfeld

Kate Marie, I'm probably one of those commenters you referred to 'wingnut fundies' as excuses. It was not done as an argument, but seeing that their agenda is in the drivers seat as regards state laws and the Supreme Court.

Now, of course, the choice to kill a person with Alzheimer's or an infant with Down's is more drastic than, say, deciding to abort a child (or "potential child") in the second trimester, but I would argue that the difference is one of degree and not of kind. Leaving the choice up to the individual, in one case, and up to society, in the others, doesn't make sense to me..

Alzheimers is a tough example, because the patient remains relative healty while the disease destroys their mind. The same principle would apply to all kinds of physical conditions like cancer, ALS, MS where the patient has pain and loses physical body control with no chance of recovery. In those cases, the patient has access to a living will, do not resuscitate orders, refusal of medical treatments and/or operations, medical assisted suicide in Oregon, and the ultimate end-act of suicide by their own hand. I think that the difference here, is as you say, one of degree. Which puts it like abortion not a matter of kind - just a tangled mess of conflicted concerns, uncertainty, confusion and despair - or in other words, the human condition of the struggle to do the right thing.

You also mentioned an infant with Down's. It's been my experience, which is admittedly limited, that when a handicapped child is born, the family and other children are neglected to serve the needs and be an advocate for the handicap. This many times leads to divorce, finanical strain/ruin, and big trouble for the siblings. In other cases, when there are more finanical resources for care and treatments, the family can thrive. I just don't think you have a one-size fits all, and I can't understand the morality that saves a Down's baby but throws away their brothers and sisters.

Hissy Cat

An Alzheimer's patient is not biologically parasitizing another human being. Gramps may be draining your wallet, straining your marraige, and draining you emotionally, but here is what he is not doing: attaching himself to the wall of your uterus, absorbing nutrients out of your blood stream, relying on your lungs and heart for oxygen, releasing carbon dioxide and other waste products into your body to be excreted. Also-- and this, very importantly, goes back to what Rana wrote earlier-- persons can't be compelled to take care of Gramps. Not only are you not required by law to donate the hypothetical only liver on earth that will save his life; you are not compelled to visit him, or sort insurance, or do any of the things you might consider the ethical things to do. You can walk away from a dying relative and the court will appoint a case worker. It might be unthinkable, but it is not illegal.

The same is true for an infant with Down's Syndrome. No one is compelled to be it's parent. The woman who gave birth to the infant is free to put the child up for adoption or to leave the child in the proper hands at a Safe Abandonment Zone and that is perfectly legal.

You can't murder people. Obviously. But you don't have to let people cannibalize your body or time if don't want them to. Unless you are a woman with no access to abortion, in which case you have no choice.

Kate Marie

Thanks for your response, blue girl. Maybe I'll be less shy about chiming in occasionally.

Hissy Cat, do you think "cannibalize" -- or even "parasite" --is quite the appropriate term here?

You are wrong about Down's Syndrome children, in a certain sense. Yes, parents can put them up for adoption or abandon them (in some states) in a "safe abandonment" zone, but until a parent does either of those things, they are required by law to care for their child.

In any event, I'm unclear about what you're arguing here. Are you arguing that fetuses are persons, but mothers should be allowed to kill them because they are also "parasites" -- that, in effect, abortion is justifiable homocide?

My point is that definitions of personhood (and thus, of what constitutes murder) are not, except in the case of abortion, generally left up to individuals. Are you comfortable applying the "pro-choice" rule about individuals, rather than societies, defining personhood to all cases, rather than just abortion? Or are you saying that pregnant women get to decide whether their fetus is a person because the fetus is a parasite? That position strikes me as less coherent than the "justifiable homocide" position, since I'm not sure why the status of "parasite" should influence/change the designation of personhood.


I find the terms "cannabalize" and "parasite" at once both horrifying, and very funny...I could argue that all 3 of my "living" children, ages 4, 3 and 6 months, are complete Parasites. They drain me of money, of emotional and physical energy, they give me physical pain, in the form of headaches, and they never leave me alone or give me any peace.

I will say that when I was pregnant with all 3, I ABSOLUTELY felt like they were "cannibals". All 3 of my children were 10 pounds or over at birth, and while I carried them, they were like little tapeworms, depriving me of any nourishment for myself, and causing me to gorge myself 24/7.

But, you know, I "put" those tapeworm, parasitical cannibals inside me. By having sexual intercourse, I made myself vulnerable to contracting a "parasite". All 3 of my children were "accidents", even though both my husband and I are grown humans who know how to avoid contracting a parasite. And all 3 came at extremely inconvenient times.

Most women who contract a parasite willingly participated in the activity that brought the parasite about. Now don't get me wrong, I DO understand how scary it is to contract a parasite at an inconvenient time in life. It's almost paralyzing...But does that justify murder?

And I have to say, every single one of my annoying, inconvenient, cannabalisitc parasites have turned out to be the great loves of my life.

blue girl

" husband and I are grown humans who know how to avoid contracting a parasite."

Ha! Debating abortion can be funny! Who woulda ever've thunk it?


"My point is that definitions of personhood (and thus, of what constitutes murder) are not, except in the case of abortion, generally left up to individuals."

A woman doesn't really have to make a determination about her fetus's personhood to abort it. To my mind, the legality of abortion doesn't and shouldn't hinge upon fetal personhood, because I'd support abortion rights regardless, for the reasons blue girl mentioned. Even a person doesn't have the right to use another person's body for their own ends without their consent, even if that mean the person dies as a result. Look at conjoined twins, organ donation, etc. So a decision about whether to abort is not necessarily a judgment about whether the fetus is a person, just a judgement about whether you want to continue to let this being (sentient or not, person or not) use your body.


Besides it being an utterly immoral argument, any pro-choice argument that says that the fetus may be a person but who gives a damn is a political loser.

Most people are not pro or anti abortion. Polls showing most people are pro-choice, show only that they aren't sure and lean toward letting the woman decide for herself. But when they hear the debate as:

Right to Lifer: It's a baby and they're killing it!

Pro-choice: I don't give a damn if it's a baby, I want it out of my life even if it is a person and if that means killing it, fine!

They're going to side with the Right to Lifer.

Any argument that it doesn't matter if it's a baby, the woman has a right to kill it to save, not her life, not her health, but the trouble---and the man who is the father the worry and financial obligation---is an argument that abortion should be legal up until the moment the woman's water breaks and maybe until the head crowns.

For three months it's not a person. For the next three it very likely isn't. For the last three it is. This is the settled law of the land we Liberals supposedly wanted Alito to vow to uphold.


I'm not sure that I see how separating conjoined twins and abortion are similar? In the first instance, doctors are doing their damndest to SAVE both children's lives. Usually the children are going to die anyway, without the operation, so the operation is performed to try to save their lives.

Most fetuses (if left alone) are not going to die, and the doctors are "going in" with the express purpose of killing them.

Seems like what is being said here is that "location" determines value. If you're saying "hey, maybe it is a person...but whether it is or isn't, it doesn't have value because of where it is living for 9 months", that seems pretty scary. That we can put limits on human value...where you live, how smart/dumb you are, what diseases you might have; that these things can determine whether or not you have the right to actually "live"...that's a tad bit scary for me. I mean, I'D be okay, I'm cute, smart, disease-free, and live in a nice house, but that's just the luck of the draw!! ;o)

Wouldn't it be great if humans had been created like chickens, and we laid eggs? If human babies were born in eggs, would everyone then agree that it is wrong to kill them before they "hatch"?


"Besides it being an utterly immoral argument, any pro-choice argument that says that the fetus may be a person but who gives a damn is a political loser."

My argument wasn't "the fetus may be a person but who gives a damn?" I didn't clarify it very well. There are two different aspects at play. One is what a woman has the moral right to do, the other is what is morally right to do. It is confusing because they are two distinct ideas that use similar language, but I'll try to suss out the differences. If I were to sum it up succinctly, I'd say that no one should be forced to let another person use their body without their consent, but at the same time, there are situations where it is wrong for them to withhold consent.

Take an example completely unrelated to abortion and sex. Your city is being bombed. You have a bomb shelter with enough provisions for yourself plus several more people, and someone comes and asks to be let in. You have the right to say no. They have no claim to deserve to stay in your shelter. You don't owe them a spot in the shelter. At the same time, it would be wrong of you to say no, because of a separate moral principle that says that you ought to help people where you can.

Returning to the example of abortion, I would say that a woman has the moral right to refuse the use of her body, but there are situations where to do so would be selfish to the point of cruelty. Say a woman is 9+ months pregnant, but decides she doesn't want to be anymore, and wants nothing to do with the child. The right thing for her to do is to voluntarily undergo either labor or a C-section. For her to refuse to do so is morally wrong, not because she owes the child anything, but because it's selfish. However, there isn't anyone like this in the real world, and we shouldn't try to legislate as if there were. No one lets a pregnancy get so far along and then changes her mind unless she has a good reason, like her health or her life, or the child's chance of survival.


In saying no to the person asking to use your bomb shelter, you are not actually killing him. He can go look for another shelter to use. Now, if fetuses could do that, that might be an option. If a mother who didn't want her baby in her could find another woman who the fetus could be tranplanted into, then there you go! Issue solved. Maybe someday doctors will be able to do that, somehow extract a baby from the uterus and put it into another uterus...

But a fetus can't go look for another bomb shelter, and by saying to the fetus "sorry, you can't stay in my body", you are guaranteeing it's death. They can't physically try to save themselves some other way, like the man trying to use your bomb shelter.

Therein lies the difference between abortion, and anything else you try to compare it to.


I don't generally engage with debates about the intrinsic morality of abortion, as that is a question we all answer in different ways under different circumstances. I answered for myself a long while ago, but because I never had an abortion nor the need for one, I can't even say if my belief is rock-solid.

What I can say, as a hard-nosed practical liberal, is that I don't have to debate ensoulment, viability, changing doctrine or anything else to know what happens when you outlaw abortion, especially if you combine criminalization with a punitive and restrictive attitude toward birth control. All I have to do is look at Poland, Romania and a number of other countries. The grim statistics speak for themselves. I don't want that for my country, but I am so tired and dispirited by this debate. And more than anything else, I am fed to the teeth with people who believe one way about this issue and vote another. I hope the pro-choice women who voted for Bush are enjoying their tax refunds. They are about to reap what they have sown.


I have to take some issue with the notion that abortion is in its essence about killing the fetus. It's not -- the goal is to _remove_ the fetus from the woman's body -- but it is horrible and unfortunate that the fetus is normally killed as part of the process.

Note that I'm talking about the medical procedure itself as being fatal, not about the fetus's ability or inability to exist independently outside of the womb.

If it were possible to remove the fetus, intact and alive, from the womb, would there be as much anger about abortion? I don't know.

It seems that we are complicating three issues here, and they need to be separated out in order to make sense of the situation.

1) The medical procedures used to remove embryos and fetuses from the womb are frequently physically destructive, causing harm to the embryo or fetus in such ways as to cause death just as a result of the surgery.

2) An fetus removed unharmed cannot survive independently outside the womb until very late in the pregnancy.

3) Do human beings have a right to total control over the disposition of their physical selves? Do human beings have a right to demand biological support from other human beings, even if those others do not wish it?

The first two issues are medical matters, and if there's a question about the fetus being "murdered" it's something that must be addressed in the context of number 1.

It's number 3 that concerns me, and it's the one that bothers me the most, because this is an area where we move out of procedure and law and ethics into the realm of legal rights. My answers to those questions are Yes, and No. This means that all legal persons, which we may wish to define as all living human beings, have the right to bodily integrity, but do not have the right to force other people to give up theirs.

So an anti-abortion law (a) sets up women as a class of people denied that right to bodily integrity, and (b) sets up fetuses as a class of people with rights unavailable to anyone else -- the right to parasitize an unwilling host. (I know there are unsavory connotations about the word "parasite" - but, yes, we are talking about an organism drawing from the body of another organism to support itself, without giving anything in return. That _is_ the biological definition of a parasite.)

Moreover, it is not just pregnant women who are vulnerable to this abrogation of their rights: all female persons before menopause are vulnerable, because this right to bodily integrity is vulnerable to accident and criminal assault in a way no other person's rights are.

Get hit by a car and turn into a mental vegetable? No one can harvest your organs or take you off life support unless you have voluntarily agreed to these actions and given someone the power of attorney. There is no law saying you must give up a kidney because you became brain dead.

Develop Alzheimer's and be unable to function as an independent adult? No one is allowed to manage your _financial_ affairs without specific, legal intervention -- no one is allowed to force you to give blood or donate organs even with such power of attorney.

But if you are born female, and you become pregnant as a result of a physical attack, or because your birth control failed, or because you were ignorant, or you were careless -- poof! You have lost that right to bodily integrity.

It doesn't matter whether you chose pregnancy or not. You have lost your civil rights simply because some other person made a demand on your body. That such a person is an unborn fetus is beside the point - your civil rights have still been compromised.

If women's civil rights are so unimportant in the eyes of the law that an accident makes it okay to take them away, what, pray tell, is meant to protect them against other kinds of legally-sanctioned physical coercion?

And, if women are not to be set aside as a permanent category of second-class human beings, what is to prevent this abrogation of civil rights from being applied to people who are not women?

There are some things that the law and the government should not be given the power to do: the power to coerce someone into giving up their right to own and control their physical integrity is one of them.

THAT is what abortion laws are really about. The fetus is, in more ways than one, an innocent bystander in this fight to extend the control of the government at the expense of human rights.

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