Anti-abortion: why is it even considered in public debate?

I believe pet rocks are alive and deserving of human rights. I have collected a lot of petition signatures from people agreeing with me. Now I demand the government must listen to me and pass laws protecting pet rocks. People who get rid of pet rocks they don’t want are criminals.

It sounds silly, but only because it’s not backed up by a relatively old and powerful religion. When you think about it, it’s exactly analogous to: I believe fetuses are alive and deserving of human rights. I have collected a lot of signatures on petitions agreeing with me. Now I demand the government must listen to me and pass laws protecting fetuses. People who get rid of fetuses they don’t want are criminals.

The reason it’s analogous is that you can’t prove a fetus is alive anymore than I can prove a pet rock is. You cannot demonstrate this in a way everyone can agree on, such as scientifically. Not even all Christians agree that the Bible supports an anti-abortion political platform:

They recognize that in our pluralistic society, politicians must not be allowed to impose laws about childbearing based on any particular belief about when life begins. The notion that life begins at the moment of conception is a belief held by some, but not all, religious groups.

Certainly non-believers have a whole range of ideas about whether a fetus is alive, and guess what? Non-believers have as much right to choose public policy as believers.

The view that a fetus is just as alive as a living woman or girl should strike us as pretty bizarre. As bizarre as, say, the idea that a chicken egg is a living bird and deserves equally humane treatment to the chicken that laid it. It’s a ludicrous assertion, and people should have to provide some kind of empirical proof of this aliveness in embryo before their point is considered.

But it gets worse, because when you argue that the woman’s right to use her body as she sees fit must bow to the fetus’ rights, you are actually arguing that a fetus is more deserving of basic, human, Constitutional rights than a woman or girl. So this position should strike us as not only bizarre, but deeply contrary to basic sense and logic, especially given the lack of empirical basis. You’re arguing that the chicken egg deserves more rights than the chicken.

Unfortunately, religion proceeded science in this country, and resistance to the very idea of science still rules the Republican party.

And that is the only reason why the anti-abortion platform even has a voice in this country. There is simply no scientific support for the idea that a fetus is alive before it’s mature enough to survive outside the womb. And that’s what the abortion laws in most states used to be based on – late term abortions of viable fetuses were only available to save the life of the mother.

When you are pitting the rights of a group of sentient beings against another group of beings, you should not only have to prove the other group is alive, but also as sentient as the first. That cannot be done in the case of fetuses, so why do we even have this national conversation?

Public policy must be decided by hard facts, not beliefs. Beliefs must be protected, of course, and that means anti-abortionists can not only refrain from getting abortions, but raise their kids to think that way and try to convince anyone and everyone who will listen that abortion is wrong.

It’s time everyone in this country – everyone who seriously respects the responsibilities and freedoms entailed in being an American, that is – acknowledge that facts are different from opinions, and only facts should be considered in determining public policy.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson tells us: “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” I know that’s something not everyone wants to hear. Those people need to get over it.

Comments

  1. Cheryl says

    As long as there are enough voters who don’t feel that it doesn’t violate the First Amendment for there to be laws motivated by the tenets of their religion/faith, abortion and birth control will continue to be contentious issues in politics.

    Public policy must be decided by hard facts, not beliefs. Beliefs must be protected, of course, and that means anti-abortionists can not only refrain from getting abortions, but raise their kids to think that way and try to convince anyone and everyone who will listen that abortion is wrong.

    It’s time everyone in this country – everyone who seriously respects the responsibilities and freedoms entailed in being an American, that is – acknowledge that facts are different from opinions, and only facts should be considered in determining public policy.

    Very well put.

  2. SunlessNick says

    But it gets worse, because when you argue that the woman’s right to use her body as she sees fit must bow to the fetus’ rights, you are actually arguing that a fetus is more deserving of basic, human, Constitutional rights than a woman or girl.

    Not just rights in general, but rights specifically to the use of her body. Which is in my view the logic of slavery.

  3. says

    Nuri, Thank you!

    Cheryl: As long as there are enough voters who don’t feel that it doesn’t violate the First Amendment for there to be laws motivated by the tenets of their religion/faith, abortion and birth control will continue to be contentious issues in politics.

    Yes, but why are public policy makers listening to them? People who claim animals deserve all the same rights as humans are dismissed as fools, and why? Surely animals are more obviously alive and arguably sentient than a fetus. The obvious answer might seem to be that anti-choice is a popular position and the idea of animals deserving human rights is not. But anti-choice is a minority now. Most Americans support the right to choose. Still we’re listening to this view that has no empirical support, no logic and not even majority support.

    It’s the same with the NRA. 4 million members, and they don’t even all agree that gun control will infringe their 2nd amendment rights, and yet we keep listening to this little group of people who refuse to even consider solutions that might result in lower sales of guns and ammo. Why do we grant them this power over public policy?

  4. says

    SunlessNick: Not just rights in general, but rights specifically to the use of her body. Which is in my view the logic of slavery.

    I very much agree.

    Cheryl, ah, you were talking about campaign financing. This is true, but now we’re seeing an unprecedented (in my lifetime, at least) situation where what the Republican base wants doesn’t correlate well with what the Republican money backers want. In 2014, they’re going to find (if it isn’t obvious to them already, and I suspect it is to some of the old timers and moderates) that if they keep pandering to the financiers, the base will move out from under them. Conversely, if they start pandering to the base, they’ll lose the financiers. It’s a bed they’ve made for themselves.

  5. says

    Just an addition to the argument about campaign financing. I’ve been thinking, and I cannot imagine Republicans taking up the cause of animals getting human rights with *any* amount of funding behind it. Why? Because it would offend a lot of people who believe we’re superior to animals and destined to use them however we see fit.

    Because abortion was illegal before, it’s a comfortable position. Because animals have never widely been thought of on the same level as humans, it’s a radical position. And I don’t think a billion dollars would change that.

    It’s just like the film industry. They have no idea how much or how little money they would make if they broke the formula and tried making new types of films. They just assume they’re better off sticking with the tried and true, and it sure looks like they’re going to stick with that until the industry dies out (it’s in big trouble, and becoming more replaceable with every little step forward in technology). So it’s not *just* money – it’s the comfort of regressing back to what you used to know.

  6. Cheryl says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Financing, and also the voters who support the organizations who pour funds into the candidates’ coffers. If the GOP didn’t cater/pander to the anti-abortion wishes of conservative Christians, how much would that come to bite them in the butt in terms of votes lost? If those voters didn’t vote GOP, who would they vote for? Voting for a candidate who represents their values and ethics is a HUGE deal to the people I go to church with.

  7. says

    Cheryl, actually the people at your church are an ever-shrinking minority among voters. They couldn’t save Akin and the rest of the “rape caucus”, and that proves they are now politically insignificant – wildly outnumbered by people who draw the line at re-victimizing rape survivors. And a big chunk of these socially uber-conservative voters are older, so that demographic is literally dying off a bit more with each election.

    Meanwhile, states are legalizing pot and gay marriage to varying degrees by referendum, wherein the people vote for the law itself directly. The only states enacting strong Republican agendas are those where gerrymandering gave Republican reps total control over that state. This strongly suggests that when the American people are allowed to speak for themselves instead of through representatives they didn’t elect*, they are far to the left of the Republican party on social values.

    *Democrats won the popular vote in the House and in many state legislatures by far, but thanks to gerrymandering, one Republican vote can be equal to 3-5 Democrat votes, which means the Republicans didn’t “win” most of the seats they’re occupying.

  8. says

    I think part of the reason anti-abortion still has such a strong hold is that the argument isn’t really scientific–it’s emotional. All the bumper stickers about “Abortion stops a beating heart,” rely on stopping at the warm fuzzies that people (in general, not everyone) have about babies, rather than considering that “heartbeat” doesn’t equal “person.” I think a lot of people conflate their feelings about babies with scientific realities about fetal development. For example, I said something pro-choice on Facebook, and a friend argued with me, talking mostly about how you feel when you get an ultrasound and hear your baby’s heartbeat (and how she doesn’t call it a fetus, it’s a *baby* dammit). I was tempted to reply, “My pet fish has a heartbeat. What’s your point?” but I’m pretty sure that would’ve made me look like a heartless monster who hates children, despite it being a true statement, and despite the fact that “heartbeat = person” isn’t logically defensible.

    Minor quibble, though–A fetus *is* alive. So is a dog, a goldfish, a tulip, a staph virus, and every cell in your body. What it’s not is a *person.* (I think “brain development sufficient to support consciousness” is a better definition of personhood than viability, only because viability is so dependent on access to medical technology and is subject to change. If there were artificial wombs 100 years from now, that wouldn’t make a newly fertilized egg a person.)

  9. says

    KellyK: Minor quibble, though–A fetus *is* alive.

    I’m talking legal definitions (the only kind applicable to a public policy discussion), not biological ones. States have to define life in legal terms so as to define death for such purposes as doctors declaring people dead when they could be “kept alive” on machines, life insurance paying out, etc. The common law definition is that life begins at birth. Some states have fetal homicide laws, which means that for the purposes of prosecuting homicides, and no other purpose, a fetus can be considered a murder victim.

  10. Quib says

    Y’know, even engaging with the question of whether or not the fetus is an alive person seems like giving in to having the kind of debate abortion opponents want to have and letting the right wing set the tone and narrative of the discussion (for the millionth time).
    Although it is kind of fun to examine things like how a heart beat is a big freaking deal, but who cares about lungs? or, y’know, a nervous system.

    Under what circumstances would a sentient, born human being be entitled to someone else’s body, health and/or lively hood? Even if their life depended on it, even they were a blood relative, even if the person who’s body they need was previously supporting them, I don’t think that’s a defensible position. More importantly, I don’t think that’s a position legislation can, much less should, enforce.

  11. says

    Quib, you’re right that we need to reframe the debate in terms of when one person is entitled to the use of another’s body, but I’m not sure we fully can given Roe v. Wade. That decision found that the right to abort came under the right to privacy, but they specifically allowed states to make late-term exemptions because at that point the fetus is capable of living outside the mother, which they felt gave it a right to life. That’s what the Republicans are trying to erode.

    But we should be talking about the right to privacy issues, and talking about it bravely and not letting anyone call us “baby killers.”

    Talking points to consider: if a woman has no right to deny a fetus the use of her body, then there are plenty of other times where one person’s right to life bumps up against another’s right to privacy:

    –Does a perfect match have the right to deny a relative a much-needed kidney or bone marrow transplant?
    –Do parents have the right to breed a child just in hopes it’ll have a kidney or bone marrow match for a dying older sibling? And can that second child possibly be construed as capable of consent if it’s under, say, 12 or 16?
    –Who gets to say whether a child will receive medical treatment, if the parents have beliefs that certain treatments would compromise his soul but the doctors believe that treatment is crucial to survival?
    –And you could look at employers as renting your privacy rights. While at work, you can be flat-out denied the right to parent your kids (i.e., pick up a sick child from school), drink on your lunch hour or see doctors as needed. In many ways, worker’s rights issues are deciding just how much of anyone’s privacy an employer can rent (think sexual harassment and demands for sex in exchange for continued employment).

    The only remotely credible argument against abortion rights IS the argument that the fetus is a human being with the right to live. And that’s why I’m arguing that the “is a human being” part must be proven scientifically, not by a majority vote or by lobbyist dollars, before we even begin to discuss it on any level.

  12. SunlessNick says

    Quib,

    Under what circumstances would a sentient, born human being be entitled to someone else’s body, health and/or lively hood?

    Even the dead aren’t required to give up their bodies without consent of some kind.

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