Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

The strongest argument against abortion concerns the question "When does life begin?". Since our legal system has many laws prohibiting the taking of human life, if it can be conclusively demonstrated that if "human life" also applies to an unborn fetus, then those laws would also apply. However, our legal system never has granted the other rights and privileges of "human life" to the unborn. For example, they are not counted among the country's population until after birth. Expectant parents cannot take tax credits for unborn children. Death certificates are not filed for stillborn fetuses, and so on. To make the moralistic "life begins at conception" argument a legal fact would bring about all make and manner of ugly ramifications that would have no justification either in medical fact or in societal custom.
(R) I feel have to debate some of the points that you raise in the text above. I realize that this is a complex and difficult topic, and that to summarize it in a short space necessarily leads to simplifications and misinterpretations. Nonetheless...
(MB) It certainly is a difficult issue and one that shouldn't be taken lightly. We may not be able to do complete justice to it here, but we can try to examine some of the major points surrounding it. Let's see what you've got to say...

(R) First off, it seems as if the issue you are most concerned with (on the basis of the arguments you make) is that of the "legal definitions and problems".
(MB) I consider it to be primarily a legal issue since I haven't heard any convincing religious and/or moral arguments against abortion. Also, since the legal system is what will, in the end, determine the legality or illegality of abortion and any penalties associated with it, I feel that the legal issues must be ironed out first. The moral arguments can contribute towards the formulation of laws, but shouldn't be the absolute determinant of them.

(R) To my mind this is secondary to the issue of "do we *believe* that we have a duty [to match up with all our rights] to protect the 'life' (existence) of a "person-in-formation".
(MB) Since I don't buy the essentially-moralistic "person-in-formation" argument (for several reasons), I can't consider it to be of primary importance here.

(R) Using parallels is always problematic but... the issue of "should women have the vote?" has *some* similarities here so I will use it. If an anti-voter at the time had started complaining about the legal and administrative problems - or even lack of "societal customs" of giving women a vote when they had not, for most of history, had one before - I do not think they would have been addressing the more basic issues at stake. Similarly, the problems of 'tax credits' or 'population count' are interesting to discuss but cannot really be considered until some of the more fundamental issues are considered first.
(MB) The women's suffrage issue has its own importance, of course, but I don't think that it is equivalent to anything involving abortion. There are no conceivable (no pun intended) legal problems with women's suffrage that can compare to some that would be introduced if life was legally defined to begin at conception and if, from that point forward, the egg/zygote/fetus was to be granted all the rights and privileges of being a "human being".
    For example, how would women react to a law that mandated a trip to the doctor for pregnancy testing after every time they had sex? The exact time of conception would have to be established for the purposes of granting rights and privileges to the "new human". Also, there is legal precedent for charges of child abuse being brought against a mother whose substance abuse or other activities while pregnant caused injury to her baby. Wouldn't this have to be carried all the way back to the moment of conception under the "life begins at birth" scenario? Imagine a regimen of vigorous exercise that results in the loss of a newly-fertilized egg. It is possible that charges all the way up to involuntary manslaughter could be brought against the mother. Yes, I know that it sounds absurd, but I don't see how such things could be escaped under a strict legal interpretation that "life begins at birth".

(R) I am not sure as to what you mean by "medical facts". A "fact" that can fairly readily be determined is whether or not a woman is pregnant and, roughly, when that occurred. What we *do* with the fact is, of course, a matter of opinion and belief.
(MB) Right now, our laws don't mandate an exact determination of the moment of conception. It is entirely possible, however, for that to change if the legal definition of "human life" changes. This is where medical facts come into play. The developing egg/zygote/fetus doesn't even become recognizably human until around two months or so after conception and does not become capable of living on its own until about its sixth month. Until the point at which it becomes viable, it's difficult to consider it to be a "human life". Up until its second month or so, it might even be difficult to consider it to be "human". Sure, it has "potential", but that is similar to saying that a tree should be protected because it has the "potential" to become a house.

(R) It is no more "logical" or "reasonable" (in legal terms, anyway) to give a fetus rights, than it is to withhold certain rights from children until some arbitrary date. If we do this for the latter case, we can certainly do it for the former. This is not to say that the rights should be the *same* - this is clearly up for debate.
(MB) Agreed. For children, the granting or denial of rights can be justified on many grounds. While it is admittedly arbitrary to say, for example, that one becomes an "adult" at 18 years of age, there are few who would disagree that a dividing line needs to be drawn somewhere and that there aren't any clearly definable transitions at which such a line could otherwise be drawn. For almost all other purposes, however, a child is still considered to be a "person". It is just as illegal to murder a newborn as it is to murder an adult. Such status has not yet been granted by our legal system to the unborn. If it ever is, however, we must be careful about where the boundaries are to be drawn.

(R) Your choice of the point of birth as the point where life begins is based on an existing legal definition and *not* a medical one.
(MB) True, and I've said the same thing myself in two previous replies. This just demonstrates the separation of the legal definition of "life" from the medical or biological definitions.

(R) (Ditto for your conclusion that a fetus is not "human" - I think you went a bit overboard here...)
(MB) "Human" is, again, more of a legal consideration. Therefore, my conclusion here dovetails with my overall view on this issue. Being "human" implies certain rights and privileges. Being "alive" does not.

(R) Clearly, from a medical point of view, our life begins at the moment of conception: ...
(MB) Here, once again, we must be careful about unintentionally equating "life" with "humanity". It is the quality of "humanity" that gains somebody their legal rights. "Life" is a quality possessed by all species of things, great and small, plant and animal and bacteria, on this planet.

(R) we treat from that point on is very much a matter of our personal beliefs... and may or may not take into account the circumstances surrounding the "why" of the fetus exists in the first place.
(MB) "Why" questions always tend to raise theological issues that introduce their own thorny problems. Until such issues can be shown to have any validity in the first place, it's better to set them aside until the more relevant legal and medical questions have been answered satisfactorally.

(R) You also raise the issue "Why should the fetus have the opportunity to live? In other words, what is irretrievably lost if the fetus does not live?" I could, in philosophical terms, raise the issue about any human at any point in their lives. The answer is simply "we do not know" and because we do not know, we have a duty to protect that life-in-formation until he/she can answer for themselves...
(MB) What if we don't like the answer we receive from him/her? This point can be argued in so many mutually-exclusive and unresolvable directions that it becomes meaningless as a way to help solve the bigger issue. For example: the rhetorical question "What if the child would have grown up to become the next Einstein or Mozart or Michael Jordan?" can be countered by the equally rhetorical "What if the child would have grown up to become the next Hitler or Vlad the Impaler or Pol Pot?" or even "What if the child would have grown up to become nothing special at all?".
    The real answer here is that all people -- both great and otherwise -- tend overwhelmingly to be products of their environment. Education, upbringing, and training are the primary factors in producing those who excel. This means that there's nothing inherently special about an individual unborn child. If that individual was never born, it doesn't mean that we've lost either the next Mozart or the next Hitler. Another could be born and raised to eventually fill that slot.
    Once the child has been born, however, and begins to learn and to demonstrate skills and abilities, the situation changes. Once a slot of potential or actual greatness or uniqueness (either good or bad) has become occupied, then the loss of that particular individual has real meaning. Since no such slot can possibly be filled by an unborn child, there can be no "loss" that has any real meaning from this perspective.
    If such "what if" arguments can be used to justify outlawing abortion, what would prevent others from taking the same arguments to ludicrous extremes? How would women like to find out that they were committing a crime by using birth control? After all, this would prevent the conception of a child that might just become something special. In fact, one might even go so far as to make it illegal for a woman to refuse to have sex with any man who desires her (or vice-versa, of course) for the same "what if" reason. Obviously, one must be careful to consider all possible consequences of any rationale used to justify a moral argument.

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