Can we reclaim the moral high ground in the debate about abortion as a part of thoughtful, wise loving and living? We won’t know until we try. Most Americans think of childbearing as a deeply personal or even sacred decision. So do most reproductive rights advocates. That is why we don’t think anybody’s boss or any institution should have a say in it. But for almost three decades, those of us who hold this view have failed to create a resonant conversation about why, sometimes, it is morally or spiritually imperative that a woman can stop a pregnancy that is underway.
Can pro-choice or pro-life be framed in moral terms?
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/13 at 03:11 PM
Was hoping a real philosopher, a heavyweight, would take it from ‘there’;but will write for brevity’s sake only that what
convinced me to the pro-choice position was a realisation abortion is no existential threat of any sort; and how the emotional reactions of the pro- ‘life’ indicate an hysterical basis on their part. Valerie goes into all the rest above.
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/14 at 03:04 PM
Intomorrow, the irony of your comments, as usual, astounds me: of course we get hysterical about the evil of child murder, since after all, the very word “hysteria” derives from Latin’s “from the womb”! Emotions are good for feminine survival and the concomitant survival of their offspring; emotion is useless and exhausting for fighting and hunting men.
With that point aside, being “pro-choice” is philosophically empty, since choices have objects. Personhood is cheapened by its subjective and arbitrary definition by a court, as opposed to its apparent and fantastic mystery in nature. Human trafficking doesn’t threaten the species; should we stop it?
Dr. Tarico, I am sorry for your loss. The evil one wants us to be self-reliant, wounded, and confused. I pray you will decide to deter women from this evil instead of encourage it.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/14 at 03:17 PM
Well, perhaps you are the heavyweight philosopher.
Will just write this:
if the pro- ‘life’ have been trying and continue to try to do something about abortion (rather than use it as a wedge issue, which may be the case) they’ve been ineffectual; in fact their stridency may have exacerbated the situation.
However we are merely talking past each other, Henry.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/14 at 08:52 PM
BTW, you write:
“The evil one wants us to be self-reliant…”
He wants us to be self-reliant?
Then the Devil isn’t so evil, is he?
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/14 at 09:34 PM
I will attest that many who wish to end abortion are ineffectual, indeed non-virtuous; vicious. It is so easy to hate people instead of hating evil; attacks against the irreducibly good. Because virtue is difficult, many give up. We cannot attain a supernatural end (i.e. the irreducible goodness of an ineffable mystery) by natural means, and thus failing to beseech and rely on a self-revealed gracious God is de facto undermining the ineffable good; choosing against its system.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/14 at 10:35 PM
Now we are getting somewhere, what you write is based on Scripture, not the ideology contained in “abortion is genocide, Thou Shalt Not Murder”; however ...
“Because virtue is difficult, many give up. We cannot attain a supernatural end (i.e. the irreducible goodness of an ineffable mystery) by natural means, and thus failing to beseech and rely on a self-revealed gracious God is de facto undermining the ineffable good; choosing against its system”
... you must admit one can only pursue virtue, not attain it. With rare exceptions (‘saints’), one can merely go through the motions of attaining virtue.
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/15 at 10:20 AM
I agree that performing motions without faith can cause one to miss the supernatural, who is a Person and who speaks. But what is the result of the types of motions which are virtuous? Virtue is a self-perpetuating state which is strengthened by continued acts of virtue, and which makes future acts and states of virtue more likely. But nothing about states of pleasure, contentment, or convenience (abortion) will guarantee future states of that same pleasure. The convenience of abortion yields the lifelong inconvenience of gnawing regret, the desertion of men denied of their sexual responsibilities or angered by the violence done to their woman and their child, who the men are naturally equipped to protect.
While basic human goods can’t be exhaustively instantiated (but instead are embodied and re-embodied as open-ended mysteries by virtuous actors), they don’t need to be crystalized as trophies on a shelf. Marriage, for example, is lauded for its growth and maturity; octogenarians don’t behave like twenty-somethings, and would be divorced if they did. We know “effective” when we see it, and not always when we quantify it.
Mr. Bowers, When you apologize for my loss you suggest that some other alternate reality is preferable to the one in which my daughter exists. Millions of people in this world exist only because their parents chose to abort one pregnancy and try again or wait until they could welcome a child with open arms, which they subsequently did. When a woman says, “I have a headache” one night and then “yes” the next; when a man decides to push a few more times before releasing, thus remixing his sperm; when a teenager abstains; when a woman coughs after coming—each of these sets in motion a different future, one with a different person or persons in it, just like an abortion does.
Your insistence that my daughter should not exist, that you are so sure you know the will of a deity that you would insist she is wrongfully born and apologize for the non-existince of an incompatible alternate reality; your willingess to dismiss all that is known about human errancy and cognitive psychology and the history of religion boggles the mind.
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/15 at 06:10 PM
To say that abortion or contraception, which each deprive a person of only their future life (and not their present or past life), is an indirect cause of a particular subsequent, loved, and very good child, nevertheless seems to assume too much determinacy in the sexual act. The nature of the act is not that it is procreative, but that it can likely be procreative in the absence of impediments. It can be performed perfectly, and yet non-fruitfully. No good child is ever really planned.
I apologize for the existence that was snuffed out in a society that was not effective and inspiring enough to prevent something so unfortunate; such a society is more guilty than any single villain.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/15 at 07:03 PM
“Virtue is a self-perpetuating state…”
Virtue is a sandcastle to be washed away in the tide. There are saints, but they are so extremely rare as to be freakish.
“Tricky as a priest” is valid; priests have one foot in the secular, the other in the spiritual. Someone asked a televangelist why he liked money so much and he replied,
“because I’m not stupid”
Those four words sum it up: how religion is materialism covered by a veneer of piousness—but when you cover manure with gold bars, the manure is still manure.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/15 at 10:02 PM
...BTW, Henry, the great flaw in Christian thinking is related to subject-object dualism. The Christian (the subject) thinks he is separated from the world (the object). In the past, subject-object dualism did not matter much, as the world was not changed much.
Christ was killed about 27 CE; from 27 to 1927, just say, the world was not changed much—but gradually, the world has been changed somewhat. So the Christian can no longer be “in the world but not of the world” as he could be from 27 to 1927.
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/16 at 09:23 PM
Intomorrow, I don’t think saints are that rare. I think many single moms and some people in hospital beds would make many of the canonized look lazy. The canonized tended to have a particular upbringing and particular gifts; it would have been beneath their dignity _not_ to have been noticed in life; they are, in the end, “unprofitable servants” (Lk 17:10) despite the heroism they displayed. Virtue is as much cooperation as it is striving, and striving will go amiss, due to the energy required (and not always utilized) for moral reflection.
Tell me more about subject-object dualism. Even Daoists admit to someone spinning the wheel of the universe, but decline to investigate further. If we are all made of qi, then what accounts for beauty and movement? It seems rather that forms make compounds, and that compounds collide at the atomic landscape interspersed with empty space which is simply non-designated matter. The rational soul is none such matter, nor empty space, but immaterial. Disagree?
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/16 at 09:40 PM
Henry, first I’ll stay on topic, then return to metaphysics.
One cannot be for and against something at the same time: question is, should Roe v Wade be overturned? my answer is no.
And beyond that, it isn’t an important issue, IMO—if all abortions were to cease, this country would remain the same and so would the rest of the world.
“Tell me more about subject-object dualism”
Am not good with large subjects; physics, math, consciousness. However it does appear a great flaw in Christianity (though Jesus, being deceased, is not culpable) is thinking we are separate from the world, we are “in the world but not of” it, and thus we can do what we want with the world—as long as we are guided by God. Problem is the last part: what if we are not guided by God, what if we only think we are being guided by God?
Respectfully Valerie, I wish some acknowledgement on the pro-choice side was made of the fact that abortion has been the most devastating tool for patriarchy ever invented. In the West, abortion is indeed one of the elements in the tool kit for women’s empowerment, but in non-Western countries abortion has prevented perhaps as many as 100 million girls from being born.
I have two young daughters and the key for me is not whether they will have access to the technology of abortion, but the general conditions in the society in which they live- do they have as many choices for self-actualization as men? I wish more attention was paid by feminist (and I am a feminist of sorts) not to defending a particular medical technology or technique which like all such techniques is morally questionable because the issue is what is it being used for?, but to improving the general condition of women not just in the West but world-wide.
“...China’s shortage of girls cannot be explained by poverty, political or economic system, by the level of socio-economic development or by educational level as these variables do not correspond to the demographic evidence. However, daughter shortage within China is closely associated with the distribution of Han Chinese culture within China proper, while the peripheries and most minority areas have more balanced sex ratios.”
Thanks for the extensive links, Kris. I will certainly check them out.
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/17 at 10:01 PM
Intomorrow, if abortion isn’t important then your opinion on Roe isn’t worth the ASCII characters you typed in mentioning it. But the importance of Roe wasn’t the author’s question, anyway. The author wishes to impart the word “blessing,” which derives from “blood-covenant,” to the unfailingly bloody process of abortion, and assert that this blessing is bequeathed upon some subsequent state of affairs like lilac petals from the sky, fragrant and innocent. Therefore, if her comments were in any sense made in justification of Roe, they would be examples of the state instituting a religion, which is unconstitutional. In any other sense, her inversion of religious language is mere pulp satanism.
But what of the risk that following God is an illusory venture? Surely you know Pascal’s wager: if the skeptic is right, he’ll never be vindicated; if the believer is right, both believer and skeptic will know it forever. “Although you have never seen him, you love him.”
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/18 at 10:10 AM
“if abortion isn’t important then your opinion on Roe isn’t worth the ASCII characters you typed in mentioning it.”
Abortion is important as a wedge issue to keep pro-life and pro-choice raising their blood pressures so they’ll need medication someone can sell them. The abortion issue is important to sell polemical books on the subject- and magazines. The abortion issue is imortant for lobbyists on both sides to make money. Abortion does make a difference in the sum total of the cosmos: >.0000000000000000000000000000001 percent difference. School prayer made a difference: it made the childrem feel a tiny bit better, as well as they would feel drinking a small cup of cola or iced tea. Most of what we think is important is insignificant in the sum total of things; tiny little things adding up to something small. Or perhaps nothing. IMO the mundane rules our lives- not the profound.
“But what of the risk that following God is an illusory venture? Surely you know Pascal’s wager: if the skeptic is right, he’ll never be vindicated; if the believer is right, both believer and skeptic will know it forever. ‘Although you have never seen him, you love him.’ ”
But if the Evil One is as powerful as you say he is then he can disguise himself as an angel of light, thus the Jesus you worship may be a demon, just another run-of-the-mill demon. How can you know for absolute sure? You may reply that you possess discernment yet the discernment you possess might be a gift from the Evil One—not from God. One might be thoroughly convinced the $20 dollar bill in one’s pocket is genuine, however when examined carefully it conceivably could be revealed to be counterfeit. The gem one has had for years could turn out to be a fugazy. If the Devil made Flip Wilson’s wife (the devil with the blue dress on) buy that dress, then the Devil can fool anyone.
It isn’t that you are wrong, it’s that you expect too much, Henry. The Christian’s expectations are excessively high, as the Marxist’s expectations are also: classlessness is unattainable. The libertarian exalts freedom; unfortunately, men crave power even more than they crave freedom.
Hi Rick and Kris -
Here is an alternate perspective:
While it is true that the one child rule has increased motivation for Han Chinese and other male-valuing cultures to abort females, I suspect that the one child rule has also done more than anything else to force the equalization of gender roles in China. Most Chinese do not abort their first pregnancy if they find themselves pregnant with a female. Instead, they invest in that female, as their only heir, the hopes and resources that would have gone into an eldest male. When a man has only daughters he is far more likely to advocate for girls having access to education and financial resources and the other trappings of power. If he has one child, he is unlikely to hand her off to another family with a dowry, assuming that his sons will provide for him in his old age. A one child rule breaks the assumptions of patrilineage and male inheritance. The Chinese one child rule was and is fundamentally disruptive to Chinese gender roles. Selective abortion of females is an attempt to get around this radical restructuring of gender roles, but it is only marginally effective in doing so.
The perspective found in your last comment is certainly a unique one that I did not previously consider.
I am a little reticent, however, to conflate a low number of children with higher quality parenting. Perhaps the majority of Chinese parents do keep the child if it is a girl, but I think we underestimate the psychological impact of so much “investment” being put into a sole heir- male or female- with the goal of the child achieving a high status, high income occupation. We saw this dealt with in a somewhat self-critical manner in “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”.
I also think it’s a little unfair to single out China as the sole society engaged in wide-spread gendercide, or to think that it is merely a result of their draconian one-child policy. India is just as guilty here even though the practice of selecting against girls is openly criticized by the Indian state.
Again, I believe this is an example of the moral neutrality of technology. Culture matters. The purpose to which a technology is used matters. The hope is that the hold of patriarchal societies can be eroded to the point where abortion is no longer used for preventing tens of millions of women from being in the world. The problem is that culture changes ever so slowly whereas technology moves so fast. Better to limit access to technology- especially technology used to screen for gender or than allow such a tragedy to continue.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/19 at 02:57 AM
The discussion on China is interesting—and depressing.
But what I have to say to Henry is I still think the abortion debate is blown entirely out of proportion; existential threats are far more important and it appears abortion is a wedge issue primarily, an emotional issue secondarily… and as the issue is blown out of proportion so too are the emotions involved.
Posted by Henry Bowers on 01/22 at 10:00 AM
Valerie’s China perspective admits of a desirable outcome, but it seems to me that consequentialism is always self-defeating; for if the threat against future children heightens appreciation for current children, how valuable _are_ the current children — or women and their rights — if future siblings are ultimately dispensable by arbitrary dictates of law? The “wedge issue” dissolves when one stops trying to commensurate basic goods with instrumental goods.
But Intomorrow: tell me more about the importance of certainty. We can inspect the $20 USD bill, but can we inspect inspection? The scientific method cannot prove itself. Admittedly, this rejoinder of mine is ad hominem and inconclusive, but faith is precisely that appeal to and from mystery. And some mysteries, it would seem, are worth investigating, as in living them out or responding to their appeal vs. attempting a non-cooperative analysis which by definition rejects mystery and declines appeal.
Posted by Intomorrow on 01/22 at 06:21 PM
To start off on-topic and then drift off, the clincher IMO is: one cannot be pro-life and pro-choice.. one must bite the bullet and choose.
Not that you are necessarily wrong in your overall outlook, Henry, but your expectations for humanity are way too high at this time. What is meant by ‘at this time’ is in the year 2013 there is no chance for a truly virtuous world. In the year 2113, perhaps a decent life is possible however so many things (and beings) will have changed by 2113, the word ‘virtue’ wont be the same. You can’t expect words to retain their meanings a century from now.
A century ago, 1913, ethics were less elastic; but then WWI came a year later and really washed the sandcastle of ancien morality away!
I’m not writing you are mistaken in what you write, only that you are a Don Quixote tilting at windmills and that today Dulcinaya wouldn’t want you to save her soul. We two can communicate because I am backward-looking. Difference is: I know the ultimate futility of looking backward, while you do not.