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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).

This is the first of a two-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

Whether or not you consider something to be "wrong" is not an answer to the question of whether or not you can force feed that opinion to somebody else.
(R) Yes, it is. We have countless laws that all of us are forced to obey - they are "force fed to us" because we as a society have decided that certain things are wrong.
(MB) "We as a society" is the key phrase in that argument. "We as a society" have decided that abortion is legal. In most places outside of this country, abortion is also legal and is barely even an issue. That being the case, what right do the anti-abortion protesters have to restrict access to clinics, harass pregnant women, terrorize doctors, and try to force-feed their morality to those who don't share their views? Certainly, Fundamentalist Christians are not "we as a society".

To answer your questions, it is certainly very possible that the murder of a total stranger will affect my life. Consider that this stranger most likely does something in his life that either directly or indirectly affects something that happens in mine.
(R) Hmmmmm - but an unborn child won't eventually do the same thing?
(MB) "Eventually", perhaps. But, if that unborn child is never born due to abortion or stillbirth, that "eventually" will never happen. That can't be said for the aforementioned stranger.

(R) What you're saying is that if someone affects your life NOW, then they are worthy of consideration, but if they will only affect your life LATER, then they are not?
(MB) Nope. I'm saying that an unborn child does not and can not affect my life in any way. That can't be said for those of us who have been born and who are walking around now (figuratively speaking). Now, if you're going to rely on "eventual" effects, how far back in the reproductive process are you willing to extrapolate that argument? Will you agree that a woman should never refuse to have sex with a man since she might get pregnant and give birth to someone who would eventually affect somebody's life?

(R) Of course, your whole paragraph is a straw man. The point is that people have value regardless of whether they affect your life or not. Do you agree with that?
(MB) That all depends on how you are going to define and justify "value". What is the nature of this "value" and from where does it derive?

Now, you can't say that a woman who freely makes a decision to have an abortion has done something that will affect your life in any similar way.
(R) Why not? She has ended the life of a person - a stranger. And in the same breath that you argue that the stranger has value, you turn around and say that the unborn child does not. Both are strangers, both will eventually impact someone in some way.
(MB) Oh, please. It's an indefensible rhetorical stretch to consider an unborn child to be a "stranger" in the same sense that the average unknown person on the street is a "stranger".
    This argument also fails to consider that a woman who aborts one unborn child can normally conceive and bear a live child at a later time. Now, how does her decision to abort the first pregnancy and carry the second to term have any effect on your life?

Notice that none of this has anything whatsoever to do with any moral determination of "right" or "wrong".
(R) Sure it does. You argued against the death of the stranger based on a calculus of right and wrong that factored in whether the person would affect you or anyone else.
(MB) No, I didn't argue that the death of the stranger was either right or wrong. I argued that his death could have some effect on my life whereas the abortion of an unborn child could not.

It simply addresses the question of whose views on this matter constitute the force feeding of opinions to somebody else.
(R) Don't your views "force feed" the availability of something which I view to be offensive?
(MB) Not until you can explain how a woman's freedom to choose abortion can have any effect on your life and how your support of restrictions on that freedom will not have any effect on that woman's life.

(R) If I were to propose something you find offensive, would your opposition be an attempt to "force feed" your opinion on me?
(MB) That all depends on what was being proposed, what the views of the majority might be, what effects the proposition would have and what is in compliance with the laws of the land.

(R) This whole "force feeding" business is yet another straw man.
(MB) Not at all. Considering the arguments I've already advanced, what about the anti-abortion position can not be considered to be a "force feeding" of an opinion?

If so, in order to defend that view without begging any questions, you will need to provide a specific, supportable and generally accepted definition of "humanity" that is free from any theological implications. I submit that no such definition exists.
(R) I disagree, but again it's a straw man. You're telling me that I have to provide you with a definition that limits the discussion to a universe which only includes facts that support your case. Any facts that support my case are deemed out of bounds.
(MB) Nope. I'm just asking you to give precise support to your arguments instead of relying upon vague terminology, presuppositions and appeals to emotion. Details are not "straw men". If you're going to advance "humanity" as an argument, it is reasonable to ask for its definition.

(R) In any case, I will define "humanity" as the living product of the union of one human sperm and one human egg.
(MB) OK. Now, why is it important above all other considerations that any and all instances of this "humanity" be preserved?

The problem here is that I'm not talking about a "child" and I'm certainly not talking about a "child" in the connotation that you wish to apply to the word. I'm talking about the circumstances of the conception and how they can affect decision concerning abortion.
(R) Of course YOU'RE not, but I am.
(MB) But, if you're going to dispute my arguments, you will need to address what I'm talking about and not what you want to talk about. Besides, you didn't even answer the question that was put to you. Instead, you ignored it in favor of picking on my use of the word "child". And, you did it again in this follow-up. This would indicate it is an uncomfortable question.

(R) Again, when you frame the debate using only terminology acceptible to your viewpoint, then the opponent doesn't stand a chance.
(MB) That would be nice...*grin*...but that's not what I'm doing. I'm simply not going to allow a case to be built around vague notions and undefined concepts. I realize that many people "know" what these things mean, but it's also true that most of those folks are wrong. If my opponent doesn't stand a chance, it's only because his arguments' weaknesses are exposed under critical analysis.

(R) You outlaw terms like "morality", "right and wrong", "child", "humanity" and then posit that therefore you are correct.
(MB) I've not outlawed any terms. I've only asked for your definitions of a few of them. The fact that you have to argue about giving such definitions does not bode well for the arguments which depend upon them.

(R) Will you allow me to outlaw a few of your terms?
(MB) Such as? Please explain why you would wish to outlaw them.

(R) I don't wish to proceed in that fashion but rather am offering a critique. I think it IS a child, you don't. Why should I submit to your limited definition?
(MB) You don't have to and that wasn't the point. The point was that you were picking at my usage of a particular word while ignoring the larger point of the argument that was being made. And, you're still doing it!

The fact that you're concentrating on the word "child" instead of the actual point concerning the circumstances of conception would seem to belie that evaluation.
(R) On the contrary. I asked you a question about whether a grown child conceived through rape had less value than one who wasn't. Of course the answer to that is no.
(MB) I'd say that any two grown children, in and of themselves, are equal rather than going off into the gray area of "value". But, discounting that for now, you are correct.

(R) This leads to your argument that the child in the womb isn't really a child and therefore the circumstances of his conception DO matter.
(MB) This leads to my understanding that a fetus developing in the womb and a grown person walking down the street are two different things. You have yet to explain why the circumstances of a conception via rape do not make any difference to the woman who is pregnant. If the woman chooses to give birth to such a child, she does so willingly. This means that the situation will be, for all intents and purposes, equal to that of giving birth to a child conceived with her chosen life partner. If the woman does not willingly choose to give birth to a rape-conceived child, why should she be forced to do so?

(R) I feel that he IS a child and therefore is of as much value as any other baby in the womb.
(MB) Oh? Then why would "we as a society" consider such a child to be "illegitimate"? This is why the definition of the word "value" is necessary for the advancement of your argument.

(R) Is that so hard to understand?
(MB) Absolutely! I don't understand the rationalizations for forcing a woman to bear an unwanted child. Does the woman not also have "value"? And, isn't that value diminished by forcing her to go through with every pregnancy (no matter what its circumstances might be) rather than allowing her to bear the number of children she wants when she wants to bear them?

I realize that you're not defending rape. However, it seems that the rape is certainly getting undercard billing in your argument. Are you saying that all conceptions must be treated as equals no matter what their circumstances?
(R) Since it is my position that what is conceived is a child, and that all children (and people) should be treated as equals, then the answer is yes.
(MB) Would this also include conceptions as a result of incest, sex between unmarried adults and sex (consentual or otherwise) with underaged girls?

If so, that amounts to a virtual sanctioning of rape if that crime results in a pregnancy.B (R) No, it doesn't. The rapist is put in prison or worse, pays restitution to the woman for the cost and inconvenience of the pregnancy, and the woman can give the child to an adoption agency if she wishes. In no way does this postion even remotely "sanction" rape. For you to suggest that is does is yet another straw man.
(MB) How? What if the woman can't bear the thought of giving birth to any child conceived by rape? How is she going to receive "restitution" for that? Allowing her the option of aborting the fetus would be the best solution for her, wouldn't it? If you can't permit this, you are still ignoring or belittling the effect of the rape in favor of forcing your own version of morality upon her.

This has nothing to do with whether or not any individual life is more or less "worthy" than any other life. That, in itself, is a separate issue of debate.
(R) Another critique - again you have excluded a central portion of my argument. Shall I exclude the "woman's decision" from being included in any further debate?
(MB) You can't do that because that is the central question here! Should the question of abortion be one about a woman's right to choose or one of forcing a moral viewpoint upon her? Now, this particular part of the debate concerns the effect of a rape-induced pregnancy on the woman and what limits should be set on her ability to recover from it. That is the point here and it has nothing to do with any undefined "value" that the fetus might have.

(R) Again, my point is that since I believe we are talking about a child, the notion of whether one life is more worthy than another is ridiculous.
(MB) That is a ridiculous notion in any case. The whole point here is the woman's decision of how she wishes to recover from the rape.

(R) Thus, to go back and address your original assertion - the position outlawing abortions in the case of rape or incest is not imcomprehensible. It is actually quite logical once you start with the fact that I'm talking about the life of a child who was conceived under admittedly horrible circumstances.
(MB) It's only "logical" if you work under the indefensible presupposition that an unborn fetus is the equal of a grown person. To do that is to come back to the still-unanswered question of what "value" is possessed by any fetus, born child or grown person.

Now, can you address the actual point here and give me a straight answer as to whether or not you believe that a woman must be forced to bear a child who was conceived unwillingly as a result of a violent act?
(R) I believe I did. The answer is yes, because I believe that we are indeed debating the life of a child. The fact that he was conceived through a violent act is horrible. But I feel it is worse to condemn this child to death as another consequence of the horrible act.
(MB) Why? What is "lost" if a rape-conceived fetus is aborted? And, don't give me that stuff about a "potential life" again or you'll just be justifying one undefined proposition in terms of another one. I submit that there's no way this question can be answered without resorting to theology.

The argument is weak since it is not supported by any evidence and relies upon a vague definition of "life".
(R) You consider it vague. I don't. I think it's very specific. Life begins at conception. What's vague about that? The evidence is clear to any High School student who studies reproductive systems.
(MB) I can bring up any number of examples to demonstrate how vague the term "life" is if you want to use it as an anti-abortion justification. A tumor has "life". So does a carrot. Isn't it obvious that what you really mean here is "human life" and that placing this on some sort of pedestal above all other forms of life implies that it has some quality that is absent in other living things?

It is nothing but a combination of emotional and religious beliefs that are being passed off as "fact".
(R) What's so emotional about it? What's religious about it? In any case, what's wrong with using emotional and religious arguments?
(MB) It's emotional since it is based on an non-factual characteristic called "value". It's religious since it ultimately depends on the Christian notion that humans possess a "soul" which comes from Yahweh. What's wrong with it is that neither belief has any facts with which it can be supported. Without facts, any judgmental opinion is nothing but arbitrary morality. The arbitrary morality of one person is not a conclusive argument in establishing what another person should or should not do.

(R) In your view, does "emotional" or "religious" = "wrong" while "secular" = "right"? Is this your argument?B (MB) Nope. Emotional and religious arguments are arbitrary and non-factual, are beset by inherent limits, are very prone to presupposition and carry a self-referential force. Secular arguments are fact-based, subject to constant review, are not constrained to any limits and carry a force proportional to the evidence which supports them.

(R) How about we proceed as follows. I won't use any religious arguments and you won't use any secular ones - does that seem fair? (sarcasm)B (MB) Then, neither one of us will have anything to argue. Yet, we will still be faced with the same questions.

(R) Lastly, there is not one "religious" argument in this post.
(MB) Is the notion that human life has "value" not based in religion?

You won't have to do much reading to discover that the stack of secular government atrocities is *much* shorter than the stack of God-sanctioned or God-inspired atrocities.
(R) I disagree, but again, that's not the point. If there isn't a God, then ALL these atrocities were committed by man, weren't they?
(MB) Absolutely. However, even though all those atrocities were actually committed by men, most were *inspired* by some variation of the notion that "God's Will" was being done.

Your comment also neatly evades the point I introduced. If God is what is commonly claimed there should be *no* atrocities connected with him.
(R) Exactly MY point. I don't think God commits atrocities - MAN does.
(MB) Then, you agree that God doesn't exist? If you don't agree with that, would you agree with the claim that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-seeing? If so, then how can Man do anything that God doesn't know about, doesn't approve of, and is unable to stop?

(R) If you want to address the question of evil co-existing with God, then that's a completely different point and is not likely to be solved by you and I, given that man has been discussing it for the last two or three thousand years.
(MB) The Argument from the Existence of Evil is a very powerful one that most theists avoid with all their might. It can only be defeated at the cost of abandoning a belief in the almighty nature of God. This has been known for a long time, but is avoided by the apologetic mumbling "Well, we're not capable of understanding the true nature of God". This, of course, follows upon a long series of arguments which depend upon that nature.

This is a common rationalization and question which serves to demonstrate that the "life begins at conception" bit has truly not been sufficiently thought out. Let's assume that we make it a law that "life begins at conception" and that such a life, from the very first moment of its existence, has all the rights and protections that you and I enjoy. This would mean that the ending of that life would have to be addressed by the law in the same way that the ending of your life or my life is addressed. <examples snipped>
    Now, if the law says that "life begins at conception", all of these cases involve the end of a "life" at some point. If that "life" is to be considered equal to yours and mine, the end of that life will have to be handled in a similar manner. The obvious question concerns how we go about enforcing this.

(R) Before I answer this I want to establish whether this is another straw man or if you really want to know this could be addressed?
(MB) No, this is not a straw man. Yes, I want to know how you will address these problems. If I didn't want to know, I wouldn't have brought them up in the first place.

Now, it is known that upwards of 80% of a woman's fertilized eggs do not lead to live birth for any of a number of reasons. For example, many such eggs do not successfully implant in the woman's uterus due to the immediate onset of her period, a defect in the egg, illness in the mother, etc. Others are spontaneously aborted or even resorbed back into the woman's body. Of course, we are all familiar with common miscarriages or stillbirths.
    Now, if the law says that "life begins at conception", all of these cases involve the end of a "life" at some point. If that "life" is to be considered equal to yours and mine, the end of that life will have to be handled in a similar manner. The obvious question concerns how we go about enforcing this. How will we know that a woman has ever had a "life" in her womb and properly account for all cases? It would seem that all sexually-active women would have to take daily pregnancy tests to see if she was pregnant so that any "life" she may conceive could be properly accounted for and protected in the eyes of the law. Not only that, if any such pregnant woman failed to produce a live birth, there would have to be an investigation into the cause of that failure, so that the "death" could be properly handled. If the woman is judged to have done something which resulted in or contributed to the "death", she could reasonably expect to face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter all the way to 1st degree murder.

(R) Your examples of accounting for eggs and what-not are hypotheticals that are far more outrageous than mine about the ability of medical science to keep a baby alive.
(MB) Why are these examples "hypothetical"? They are logical results of any legal recognition that "life begins at conception" and that such life is to be treated in exactly the same way as your life or my life. You may well call your own argument "outrageous", but mine is not. Its implications might well produce outrage in all those women who would be affected by them, however. To defeat my argument, you are going to have to demonstrate why the examples given would not be the logical results of a legal declaration that "life begins at conception" and that such life is to have all the same rights, privileges, and protections that you and I enjoy.

(R) Outlawing abortion would amount to outlawing abortion clinics, and sales of abortion drugs. To suggest the rest of this is simply ridiculous.
(MB) You're simply brushing aside an uncomfortable argument by slinging insults at it. Why don't you think that there would be any change in how a legal edict that "life begins at conception" would force us to account for all such lives? Don't you believe your own argument that all lives are equal? Or, does your argument require us to have another definition of "life"?

I don't see how the "life begins at conception" crowd can avoid this. If their arguments are consistent, this scenario is inevitable. If they blow it off, the "life begins at conception" argument becomes all but meaningless. You don't consider this a "serious problem"?
(R) Your scenarios are no more inevitable than a ludicrous assertion that giving policemen guns and the right to arrest speeders leads to summary executions at the side of the road. One does not follow from the other - it's a straw man.
(MB) Non sequitur. You are going to have to address my arguments directly instead of dancing around them. Either "life begins at conception" or it does not. Either "all lives are equal" or they are not. Either an unborn child at any stage of its development is equal to a grown child or it is not. Either "all conceptions are equal" or they are not. If you wish to make all of these things matters of law, then you *must* address their consequences or explain why they should be excepted.

(R) Currently women take vitamins, have frequent examinations, avoid smoking and drugs, and do lots of other important preventative steps to make sure that their baby is healthy. The fact that women take these actions while they are pregnant only strengthens the argument. Why would they bother doing all that if the child inside them wasn't alive?
(MB) Many women *do* do such things even when they are not pregnant. They don't have to believe that their developing child is "alive" or "equal to a grown child" in order to do whatever they can to help ensure that it is healthy when it is born. It is a matter of medical fact that certain actions by the mother help or hinder the eventual health of the child she will bear. This fact is entirely secular in nature.

(R) My point was that you were originally making an argument about how inconvenient it was for a woman to carry a baby to term. I am more than willing to admit that there are convenient things that are right, however abortion isn't one of them.
(MB) Since it has not yet been established whether or not abortion is "right", it is immaterial as to whether or not it is "convenient".

My argument has nothing to do with convenience.
(R) Good. I hope you won't feel it necessary to bring up once again because I don't think it's very compelling.
(MB) I wasn't the one who initially tried to argue that women want abortions for "convenience". My argument is that women should be allowed to choose whether or not to have an abortion and that the decision should not be forced upon them (either pro or con) by anybody else.

It has everything to do with allowing the woman to exercise a free choice and not forcing that choice on her. I will have no quibbles at all with whatever the result of her free choice might be. Can you say the same thing?
(R) When we're talking about her "choice" to kill a baby, I feel it is well worth quibbling about.
(MB) Since I don't believe there's any "killing" involved, the quibble returns to the matter of who gets to make the choice.

However, the anti-abortion advocates in this country are overwhelmingly Christian and their arguments are grounded in Christian doctrine, correct?
(R) So? Aren't the abortion advocates overwhelmingly secular and their arguments grounded in humanist doctrine? What do these facts have to do with anything?
(MB) They have to do with the fact that you previously stated that you haven't advanced any religious arguments whereas you now admit that you have done so. Also, pro-choice people include a large number of non-Fundamentalist Christians while you'd be hard-pressed to scare up more than a handful of anti-abortion non-Christians.

And, isn't part of that doctrine that human life is "special" because it possesses a "soul"?
(R) I don't know. I think that human life is special because it is human life. It is special in and of itself.
(MB) That is a fine sentiment, but it carries no force other than pure emotion for purposes of reasoned argument.

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