REPLY #7 TO
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his 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.
(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
(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
(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
(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
(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) ...how 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
(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
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