Tollefsen Argues “A Philosophical Case Against Abortion”

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Bioethicist Christopher Tollefsen, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, spoke last night on “The Philosophical Case Against Abortion,” hosted by Swarthmore Students Supporting Life. Tollefsen is co-author of Embryo: A Secular Defense of Human Life, which he wrote with Swarthmore alumnus Robert P. George.

Why a philosophical case rather than, say, a religious case? Tollefsen indicated that his aim in approaching the problem of abortion from a philosophical standpoint was to try to craft an argument that transcended religious lines in outlining a coherent, valid moral norm.

“To have a conversation together about the morality of abortion or any vexed moral issue… it makes sense to invoke a domain that involves natural reason, so that we don’t have to rely on revelation or revealed authority,” Tollefsen said. “It’s just good politics that if we want to make a case to someone, to be able to use a language that other people can share, concepts that other people can share, reasons that other people can share.”

According to the basic terms of Tollefsen’s argument as given in the talk, a human being is essentially a human being starting at the point of fertilization, and as such necessarily demands moral respect, thus rendering most acts of abortion (excepting extreme cases of threat to the mother’s life) an immoral act.

Jack Keefe from the Daily Gazette and Martha Marrazza from The Phoenix sat down with Tollefsen after the lecture and Q&A; session to discuss further consequences and extensions of his argument, and his opinions on recent technological and legislative developments.

Daily Gazette: I was curious about the moral implications [of your argument] … If we take as given your 35% or “my” 60% as being the actual percentages for fetuses or embryos that are spontaneously aborted, what are the moral imperatives that derive from these deaths that seem to be external from the choices of men or women, that don’t have an agent? What are we behooved to do in response to that?

Christopher Tollefsen: Some people argue that to be consistently pro-life about this means you have to think of this as the overwhelming problem that needs to be solved. I don’t think that it is for a few different reasons.

Suppose that it’s easy to tell whether somebody is in an early stage of pregnancy, and that there is one particular problem that people could suffer from we know causes these spontaneous abortions, and that there was one easy solution—that you could give everyone a pill, and if they took a pill once a week and nobody would get any spontaneous abortions. It seems to me obvious that we would do that. But none of those conditions seem to apply. As far as we know, there’s not one particular cause of spontaneous miscarriage. It’s not the case that we can tell who is going to have the spontaneous miscarriage… and it’s impossible that we could test or engage in some sort of proactive measure without being very intrusive into a lot of people’s lives. We can’t peg it to just people who are going to have this problem—it would have to be, given the knowledge that we have, all women who could possibly conceive. It doesn’t seem that the practical circumstances that would warrant making this a top priority or an especially pressing problem are there—one normally puts ones resources into a problem that one has a chance of solving.

The additional point that you made—which is also important—is that this is something that just happens. It’s not a moral wrong. The state is not obligated to take care of every possible thing that could just happen to people that could be detrimental to their welfare, but the state is obligated to take steps to ensure that no human being’s rights are being assaulted by other human beings…. But nobody thinks that the state has an obligation to protect them from every possible illness or disease they could possibly suffer.

DG: [That fact] also adds an interesting new dimension of moral calculation to having a child: can the question of having a child to begin with—the decision to conceive a child—have a moral dimension to it?

CT: I think it does. I don’t have a knowledge of the conditions under which one can do very early term damage, but for instance, if you’re intending to get pregnant, you should not be drinking excessive amounts of alcohol for the period of time you are getting pregnant or might be getting pregnant to… people probably have a responsibility if they are trying to get pregnant to have adequate nutrition. Commonsense things that doctors actually recommend to do… there is a kind of ethics of conception, and it makes sense, given that you know what you’re trying to do is to bring into existence a human being, and that there is some control of the circumstances under which that can happen.

The Phoenix: I have a question about viability and of technology getting more and more advanced—the earlier and earlier stages where we are able to sustain life outside of the womb—how does that complicate this question of where life begins, or is it all irrelevant because life begins at fertilization?

CT: Two things in this: The changes in viability and the changes in technology that make viability possible do show just how arbitrary the idea of viability as a moral marker is. There’s also an interesting question that I’m not going to offer an answer to, but there’s an interesting question in that if artificial wombs ever became a reality, whether it would be useful to offer artificial wombs to women who would otherwise seek to have an abortion… to remove the temptation, to remove some of the burdens, to save children who would otherwise be aborted. It doesn’t seem like this. It seems like artificial wombs could be a partial solution to the abortion problem.

DG: You were arguing that personhood is an essential quality from fertilization… but there’s also the sort-of neurological side [to explain], of the people who have a neurological view of personhood, of experience, consciousness, awareness. For instance, a number of countries, including the United States, officially define the cessation of life as being the end of an EEG signal… given that the emergence of the EEG can be placed between the 24-27 week [gestation] period on average, why would it be invalid to draw a line there at what is, conceivably, the most basic of neurological emergence?

CT: By way of clarification, the question I asked is when do human beings begin to exist? I framed everything I talked about as being an individual human being—what are you and I? We‘re individual human beings. When did we come into existence? We came into existence at the time when individual human being came into existence. Which human beings are worthy of moral respect? All human beings are deserving of moral respect. We can do all that without bringing in the language of personhood at all. We framed the whole thing in terms of being a human being.

From that standpoint, then, I think your question breaks into two questions. [One,] the presence of brain activity means that something that once wasn’t a human being now becomes a human being. I think, clearly, the answer is no—you have one biological entity that is generating for itself the support structures… it’s in control of its biological destiny, it makes eventually possible the emergence of brain activity, but when the brain activity comes it doesn’t change it from being one kind of thing into another type of thing… that’s, I think, the biological question, and I don’t think that any reputable biologist is going to say that it wasn’t a human being beforehand and now is.

If you ask the moral question, should brain activity make a difference for how we respond to this morally, should that be the marker, before which something doesn’t deserve moral respect and afterwards we think it does. Again, this idea of fundamental moral respect goes hand in hand with what we essentially are as human beings. The presence of brain activity is not a being-changing event… it doesn’t change something from being nothing. That reason, it seems arbitrary to take that as the marker for moral respect rather than taking this as an essential quality.

TP: I’m sure you’ve heard about the Minnesota Bill against sex selection [as a viable reason to abort]… it’s inserting intent into abortion, as we can determine sex very very early now… does intent matter for abortion, or is it the act itself?

CT: I don’t think you can separate the two: what our actions are is determined by what we’re intending to do. If I try to help somebody across the street because I want to take their money, as opposed to help somebody across the street because I want to help them out, I’m doing two different things. I think that one of the things in that kind of case—of sex selective abortions—bring out, is that, oddly enough, many people find them morally repulsive, even people who are in principle in favor of legalized abortion. I think that the deep question there is that if that is a consistent position. It isn’t obvious to me that if people think that abortion is morally permissible and can do it financial reasons, why can’t they do it for sex selection reasons? People who are in principle not opposed to abortion have conflicting intuitions that sometimes point them in different directions.


  1. I guess the main problem with this dude's arguments is that none of them are lucid enough for me to understand what he's trying to say. Artificial wombs?
    Not that I ever give moral philosopher's enough credit as logical human beings to expect this guy to make sense, but artificial wombs?

    So problem 1: if we're going to assign some sort of value to embryos so that abortion is immoral, then we can't discount the moral implications of auto-aborting embryos. Yeah, they do "just happen", but then so do mudslides, and I doubt Mr. Whatshisface would argue that we have no moral obligation to help mudslide victims just because they fell prey to natural circumstance.

    If you're going to go so far to treat an embryo like a human being, you should at least recognize the insane volume of moral problems that arise with that, the "humans beings" dying en masse, and address it in some way.

    The way this guy argues suggests that he doesn't want to think about what he's saying, which is kind of true of moral philosophers in general. Much like the radical utilitarian who cannot bring himself to harvest the organs of random individuals for the greater good, Captain Hug-A-Pharyngula is reluctant to accept the absurd moral implications inherent in his way of thinking.

    His bit about personhood and the essence of humanity looks like a semantics squabble and doesn't actually say anything substantial.

    As usual, I am directing everyone to go read something by Carl Sagan. This time around it's "Billions and Billions". He has a very helpful essay somewhere in there about this sort of thingummy.

  2. Argos,

    I think you are right to assert that one who believes that abortion is a moral wrong must deal with the implications of "auto-aborting embryos". However, just because identifying one thing as wrong (intentional abortion) illuminates another problem (auto-aborting embryos) does not make it incorrect or untrue.

    I believe simultaneously that abortion is a moral wrong, and that auto-aborting embryos pose a problem (although not necessary a "moral" one since the problem is not directly caused by the actions of any human being, but rather "nature").

    And to use your analogy, just as it is wise and fruitful for humans to invest their energies in learning about mudslides, and how to control, prevent, or direct them, it is also wise for us to invest our energies into preventing embryos from "auto-aborting". This should be a statement acceptable to all, at least for the reason of couples *trying* to conceive. Would you be opposed to research that would help couples conceive children?

    In other words, auto-aborting embryos are already a problem for couples wanting to conceive. If this is so, it should not be damaging to the pro-life cause to point out that consistency of thought in the pro-life camp would require them to view auto-aborting embryos as a problem.

    Thanks for your helpful challenge to us pro-lifers. It is easy to get caught up in the narrow debate about abortion and sometimes forget that pro-life should not mean only "pro-birth" but *pro-life* and all the implications of that (concern for the poor, elderly, orphaned, widowed, oppressed, victimized, etc.)

    Peter Green

  3. "Would you be opposed to research that would help couples conceive children?"

    Absolutely. Out of concern for the planet's resources and the strain the human population places upon them, as well as out of concern for the increases in drought and famine we are likely to experience within the next 100 years, I say the fewer humans born the better.

    Anyway, the money being placed into making more humans could be put to better use caring for the ones we already have.

  4. Couple things…

    1. Why is an embryo a human being at conception? Why aren't the sperm and egg counted as a human being before sex even happens? I suppose there is less potential for that specific sperm and that egg to lead to a baby, but it isn't like a fertilized egg is a guaranteed baby either.

    2. Say we do agree that an embryo is a human being and has a right not to be killed: Why is a woman obligated to endure numerous health problems as life-support for an embryo(human being)? It would be a generous act to be a form of life-support, but I don't think it is immoral to choose not to be so charitable at the expense of one's own health.

  5. Hey Jason,

    Those are really good questions. In the lecture Tollefsen addressed and expanded on them better than I can here, but I'll take a stab at summarizing.

    1. A fertilized egg has all the genetic make-up of a more developed human being, and while its growth is influence by environment (as growth after birth is also influenced by environment), it still contains the basic elements of a complete human being. A sperm or egg on their own does not have the complete human genetics, nor do they have the capability to develop into full humans until they interact, cease to be sperm and egg, and become a human.

    The argument is not really about potential of future viability, it is based on inherent personhood: we accept that you and I are human. We accept that infants, despite the many differences between them and adults, are also human. It also makes sense that a baby just after birth and a fetus just prior to birth, while still being different (using or not using lungs, etc.) still are the same basic thing: a human. The difference is not greater, than that between an infant and an adult. Going still further backwards, the point of conception is the only specific time where a distinction between the person and the non-person can be made. The fact that a fetus cannot survive on its own does not make it less human, just as we understand that someone on life-support, or a recently born infant are still human even though they cannot support themselves.

    2. The basic claim that Tollefsen made is that A) the fetus didn't choose to be stuck in the woman's body, so it is an innocent party, and B) we do not have the right to kill an innocent human even if their continued survival somehow reduces our comfort or health. This is not a case of charity (which implies going beyond what is a moral imperative) but rather of moral obligation not to kill another human being; and abortion's specific purpose is to kill the fetus.

    Tollefsen addressed some exceptional cases: in some circumstances, the mother's health may be such that continuing the pregnancy would result in her almost certain death. In this case, he said that you are not choosing between comfort and life, but between life and life. In this case, he suggests that the mother can make a fair choice, either to continue the pregnancy anyway or to have an abortion. This is because regardless of what happens, a life will be lost.

    Hope that answers your questions some!

    Chris Green

  6. I respect his points, but I still don't understand why some pro-lifers seem more concerned with preventing the "murder" of embryos than ensuring a decent standard of living for people who are already here. 🙁

  7. Hi Chris,

    1. A separated sperm and egg do have the complete human genetics, they just happen to not all be in one convenient location.

    A more peculiar take on this would involve every cell in our body being a human being because they contain our entire genetic code and have the potential to be cloned into a full human being.

    You say sperm and eggs don't have the capability to develop into a "full human" until they interact and cease to be a sperm and egg. I could make a similar argument about a fetus not being capable of developing into a "full human" until it is born and ceases to be a fetus.

    2. Every day we all make decisions to separate ourselves from innocent parties struggling to survive despite being well aware of their presence in the world. Helping people in these situations is generally regarded as an act of charity. How is keeping an embryo on life-support different from these acts of charity?

  8. I didn't go to the talk, but I assume that if Tollefson thinks abortion is immoral, he believes it should be illegal. If that's a stretch, let me know. In any event, hopefully someone can answer my question.

    If abortion is immoral, what's the appropriate punishment (under the law – let's keep this philosophical and not religious) for someone who has an immoral/illegal abortion? Should a woman who's had an abortion be tried for murder, and then probably given life imprisonment or (in some states) the death penalty? Would a situation in which the woman's life was at stake be considered self-defense? I've yet to hear a satisfactory answer to this.

  9. I've got a great solution to this moral quandary: responsibly implemented birth control! It's true, no method is as effective as abstinence, but many forms of contraception, when used correctly, are highly effective against fertilization. If we're serious about reducing the number of abortions, making birth control readily available and educating people about same seems more than reasonable, especially when compared to the alternative of changing hearts one person at a time and crossing our fingers for abstinence. However, that's only if this argument against abortion is purely a philosophical one and not a religious one, which I find it difficult to believe it is.

  10. Jason,

    I don't think you can make the similar argument of "a fetus not being capable of developing into a 'full human' until it is born and ceases to be a fetus."

    The question is, when the fetus is born, does it become a new organism? Is there a profound change in the essence of what this organism (a human mammal) is? There may be biological changes (for example, the ability to breathe), but there are more biological changes that will occur throughout a human being's life (cf. the no. of bones in an infant's body vs. the no. of bones in a 6-year-old's body).

    Also, the cloning example doesn't help much; for Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, the technique for cloning an embryo, you are right that non-sperm/ova cells have the capability of being cloned "into a human being." The part you're missing, however, is that an egg (without nucleus) is also required for SCNT – thus it is a process similar to fertilization, in that the egg and the somatic cell nucleus are required.

    Also, to answer Amalia's query, I don't think this is a religious question. It is tempting to think that people who are religious engage in this debate for the sake of religious conviction. As Robert P. George and Tollefsen write in their book "Embryo":

    "But we can know from philosophically informed reasoning what is morally permissible to do to human embryos, and how it is morally impermissible to treat them…Human beings are perfectly capable of understanding that it is morally wrong and unjust to treat embryonic human beings as less than fully human. We need religion to support such claims in this domain no more than we need religion to support claims of racial justice or the rights of the disabled." (p. 21)


  11. Certainly, Harry, the moral question may stand alone without religion to support it. My comment was in fact in reference to the implementation of birth control, which in my mind should be the most obvious way to go about drastically reducing the number of abortions, unless of course it is opposed to on a religious (or other) basis.

  12. The issue here is partly that even if one believes that embryos are human lives, one could only possibly believe that in a philosophical sense. If I show you a first-trimester embryo, all of your natural reason and powers of observation would tell you that no, that's not a person, that's some bloody-looking goop. Whereas a woman is, irrefutably, a person (to feminists, at least). Tollefson also has decided to define personhood as "human" whereas many, many people would argue that there is a separation between the two. If personhood and humanity were equivalent, a baby with anencephaly (born without a brain) would also be a person with full rights and that is obviously not the case.

    Jason — the argument you're making is one of change in number versus change in kind, which I challenged Prof. Tollefson on in e-mail and he has yet to get back to me.

  13. Is this guy completely ignorant of the way pegnancy works? Miscarrying a fetus happens because a woman's body rejects that fetus, for whatever reasons. So "solving" the "problem" of "auto-abortion" (what a stupid, dehumanzing phrase) will mean more babies born with birth defects, which means more anguish for parents, more strained families and more expense to society.

    You men are not going to like this, but I'm a pro-choice radical. When you can get pregnant, you can have a vote. Until then, let us control our bodies as much as you control yours.

  14. To Will T:
    This was one of the first questions that came up after the talk. Tollefsen basically said that the way in which abortion would be banned would not be to charge women who kill their fetuses with murder but to make it difficult for women to have abortions and to make it more appealing for them to keep their child/give it up for adoption. Ideally there would exist social programs to this end (emphasis on ideally). He also gave a philosophical argument as to why we shouldn't respond to abortions the same why we respond to murders (i.e. with criminal cases and what not), but I regret to say that I'm a little fuzzy about the details he provided. There must have been someone who was there recording his lecture (at the rate at which the Gazette and Phoenix reporters were typing, the almost certainly got most of his words down).

  15. Ariel, what do you mean by the change in number/kind argument?

    1. This is not about the personhood of the fetus, it is about the personhood of the mother. Do you believe a mother is a person? Do you believe she should be forced against her will by the state to carry a term to pregnancy, with all of the emotional, financial, and health costs that come with it? The embryo at conception is just two special cells. So what if they have the potential to become human? I don't understand why that's something we need to care about. Yes, I too came from a potential embryo, but the difference between me and that embryo is that I actually moved past just being a potential. If my mother aborted me 9 months before that, I would not have felt shitty about it because I would just have been two special cells without the capacity to feel, think, or be conscious of my own potential life or death.

    The mother, however, is NOT a potential person. She IS conscious of her emotional, physical, financial health. And as another conscious and conscientious person, I could NEVER force that on anyone.

    2. I just think its absurd to pretend there is any kind of moral consensus on the personhood of fetuses. You can equate abortion with murder all you want, but at the end of the day, 1 out of 3 American women will have abortions. I'm pretty sure there aren't that many of them going around murdering people. (And you can draw

  16. Hi all,
    I would like to join the conversation, if I may. Unfortunately, I did not attend the lecture (not out of disinterest, but out of time constraints).
    I can sympathize with many of the arguments being made here. I would just like to pose a question to readers/members of the Swarthmore community, one that Tollefson may have addressed in his lecture. I would very much appreciate to hear your thoughts.

    My question is as follows:
    There are (very unfortunately) numerous incidents of rape and incest that result in viable pregnancies. Let's suppose that the rape victims, in these cases, would be able to carry the children to full term without risk to their own health.

    What is the greater wrong in this circumstance: the act of rape/incest or the abortion the victim may choose to have (not out of serious concern for her own health, though of course all pregnancies come with their share of health risks, but because her getting pregnant was in no way in her control in the first place)?

    Is this a helpful/non-tendentious question? Is it even possible to "rank" the atrocity of wrongs(perhaps the wrongs are of different kinds, not of different degrees and so "incommensurable")?

    I would appreciate to hear your thoughts.

  17. Brianne,

    That's an excellent, tricky question. I think the real problem with the way we're framing this discussion on this board, at Swarthmore, and pretty much everywhere else. To treat all women, all pregnancies and all fetuses as exactly the same in any given circumstances is at best ridiculous and at worst incredibly dehumanizing to women. So I'll attempt to answer your question from a personal view rather than making sweeping assumptions about personhood or moral absolutes.

    I don’t see myself as human because I am an incredibly complex mass of trillions of cells. My humanity and the meaning in my life stem from my relationships with other people. Because I care for others and am loved, I know I am completely human. For me, human life begins when there is that first and most critical relationship between the child and his or her mother. Only when a woman forms some sort of covenant with a jiggling blob of cells in her uterus does it become a human life. No amount of electrical currents or fingerprints can confer that uniquely human characteristic of having a relationship with another human. I believe that life begins when the woman creates a covenant with those electrical currents and fingerprints and wants to bring a life into the world.

    So, in the question you pose, I think we need to think about it less as a comparison of an atrocity (rape or incest) with right to a medical procedure, and more in the line of how does this affect the woman? After surviving such horror as you mentioned, the least we can do as fellow human beings is to respect how she feels about the pregnancy. If she has formed a relationship with the fetus, it is our duty to support our fellow humans through the birth. But if she has not and does not want the pregnancy, I think we have the moral imperative to support her as well.

    Now, I’m about to use a religious word here, I can just imagine the responses, but I have thought about this from a Reform Judaism perspective, despite being Agnostic, and this informs how I see abortion in general, so in the spirit of giving one person’s opinion instead of a mandate, here goes. Reform Judaism says that a fetus can be a rodef, a pursuer, in certain cases, of the woman, of her emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health. If the fetus is rodef for her, she needs to abort it because she is a human life, should not be threatened in that way, and has no humanizing covenant with the rodef. I don’t know of anyone else who can determine whether or not her fetus is a life-to-be or a rodef except the woman herself.
    So it turns out I don’t have a concrete answer for you, but I can’t imagine that if I had given you one it would be satisfying.


  18. Jen, I really like your framing. But I do have one question then– what does that say for the humanity of children who are born to parents who don't love nor want them? (Aside from the business of wanting to prevent unwanted/unloved pregnancies.)

    I'm with you for the most part on the way you are framing this, but that is something that sticks out for me. What do you think?

  19. I think that your idea that a woman can pick and choose the right of the fetus to grow is self-indulgent. Judaism doesn't really see fetuses as potential pests to be eradicated at will. There is far more respect for the unborn, and the idea of the fetus as a rodef is very radical. ( A rodef (Hebrew רודף, lit. "pursuer"; pl. רודפים, rodefim), in traditional Jewish law, is one who is "pursuing" another to murder him or her.")
    Certainly there is a more positive idea of pregnancy in Judaism, or the religion would be down to even lower numbers from wanton abortions by paranoid women thinking the fetus is trying to destroy them.

    Surely women can extend themselves more to take responsibility for their pregnancies. Cases of rape and incest are rare compared to the self-indulgence of not getting birth control or of not abstaining. Once you've got that baby in you, at least take responsibility and let it grow. Who knows, if you keep waiting and having abortions, it may not be so easy to have those pregnancies when your fertility goes down in later years, and the damage to the uterus from repeated abortions is done. Give that fetus a break and let it live!

  20. Parent2 – Radical? Really? That argument is in the Sanhedrin. It was made by Rashi and Maimonides. It's hardly radical. Despite your use of Hebrew, that really makes me think you're not Jewish — that argument isn't something new that crazy liberals thought up, it's hundreds of years old and was put forth by the most influential of Jewish sages.

    As for the idea that there are women who use abortion as a form of birth control — that's a straw man. No one does that. One of my favorite quotes about abortion: "People need to understand that abortion is not just some kind of a belated birth-control option for slackers." Sometimes women make mistakes, and sometimes women get themselves into situations they don't anticipate, and sometimes things happen that are beyond a woman's control. These things also happen to men, but unfortunately (or perhaps not) men can't get pregnant. Give the fetus a break?! Why not give the woman a break for once, huh? Why not let the woman have control of her own body?

    And for that matter, why are you assuming that every woman will want to have a child in the future? Or that she won't be willing to adopt? Congratulations for assuming that every woman will want to have the same goals. I'll say it again: women are people. We're not all the same, we're individuals. And we have the exact same rights to bodily autonomy as men do.

  21. Oh, and to Urooj: what I mean about change in number versus change in kind is this —

    Mr. Tollefson makes the argument that the difference between a zygote and a human being is not a change in any sort of fundamental nature, but simply a change in number of cells (basically). He uses this idea to say that, as the zygote becomes the embryo becomes the fetus becomes the infant becomes a fully-grown human, and this is a continuous process with no change in fundamental nature, that the zygote is the moral equivalent of an adult person. I disagree with the idea that there is no change in kind. A zygote is a single totipotent (effectively, stem) cell. It has certain functions and capabilities. It acts in a totally different way than an organism made up of innumerable, differentiated cells. I would say that even though the one develops into the other, there is a change in kind, a change in fundamental nature. My example for this was that when water freezes into ice, it has become something fundamentally different, a crystalline solid rather than a liquid. Mr. Tollefson responded that if a lake freezes, it's still the same lake. To which I say, yes, it's the same entity but it has undergone a "fundamental transformation", it is no longer the same kind of thing. We do not treat a frozen lake the same way as we treat a liquid lake (for example, you can walk on a frozen lake and not a liquid one). So although the one develops continuously into the other, they are not fundamentally the same kind of thing.

  22. Oy! Sorry about replying a billion times! But: Brianne, your question presupposes that abortion is morally wrong. Since I and many others replying here don't agree with that stance, to us it is clear that the only wrong is the violation of the woman's body — which continues with the progression of the pregnancy.

    But if you would care to justify your presumed stance that abortion is morally wrong, I would be happy to debate that as well.

  23. Ariel-

    Unfortunately, I can't read all of your comments because they are not yet "approved by a site administrator."

    I would, however, like to note that, although I very much appreciate your remarks (and am largely sympathetic to them), I would ask that you refrain from making strong assumptions about MY personal views based on a question I asked. Yes, the answer to the question may be obvious to you, it may also beg several other questions, but I was hoping to hear from people for whom the answer was less obvious, for whom abortion IS perhaps a moral wrong. What I was trying to do is to make a case FOR abortion on pro-lifers terms. This is what we call, in philosophy, being charitable. If you really want to convince someone of an alternative view, you DON'T DENY THE LEGITIMACY of that view from the outset. You make concessions and show how your own view still stands up.

    I hope we can keep the lines of discussion open and be willing to hear all sides. I also hope that we can keep assumptions about one another's view down to a minimum.

  24. It is absurd to assume that in this age of effective birth control, all abortions are done for accidental pregnancies. Pregnancy is a natural outcome of activities that cause pregnancy. There are ways to avoid pregnancy that actually do work. If a woman becomes pregnant, generally she knew how it happens. If she is a severely delayed woman who is raped than she may not know, but this is rare. There is a responsibility that comes with having heterosexual sex, and this is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, unless you want to have abortions. Abortions are surgical procedures that are far more risky as an aggregate than most other types of birth control. The risk is physical and often psychological. There is also the consideration of the fetus and the creation of life.
    If you don't want to have a child by being pregnant and want to adopt instead, then use good birth control that works well, rather than waiting for an abortion. It's like if you don't want to make bread, don't put the flour and other ingredients together and put it in the oven. Especially if you are just going to tear up the bread and throw it away!

  25. Brianne —

    1. You asked "What is the greater wrong in this circumstance: the act of rape/incest or the abortion the victim may choose to have?" and you addressed it to "all". If you meant to address it only to people who are anti-choice, then I'm sorry that my response is of no use to you, but you did in fact ask that question of everyone.

    2. I did not, in that particular response, deny the legitimacy of an anti-choice (or "pro-life") view. What I said was I do not hold that view, and from my view — the view that you, apparently accidentally, asked for when you addressed the question to all of us — that does not consider abortion to be morally wrong, the question is meaningless.

    3. "Begging the question" is a logical fallacy in which the proposition which one means to prove is assumed in the premises with which one begins. It is not, as you suggest, a situation in which one question leads to several other questions.

    4. Every comment that is not yet approved by an admin has a link next to it that says "show anyway" to allow you to read them. Which apparently you figured out, since my last comment hasn't been approved by the admins either (stupid admins, having busy Swattie lives and stuff).

    5. I did say "presumed" with regards to your view, in the hopes of indicating that that presumption was an educated guess based on the content of your question and not a certainty on my part. I apologize if you took it as an accusation, I did not mean it to be so.

  26. Brianna: Your question is very interesting. I think that in the case of rape, the woman herself has to decide which she thinks is the greater wrong. Some women will carry the pregnancy to term, others will not. There are people whose mothers carried them to term from pregnancies that resulted from rape who have been very grateful for their mother's choosing to do this. Many women choose to abort the fetus in this case.
    There are also women and couples who knowingly carry pregnancies to term with resultant babies they know in advance will likely die, be disabled or just "different" such as babies with genetic defects. Other women and couples choose to abort these same pregnancies.
    The above cases are a small proportion of the abortions done in this country. But these cases speak to your question, I believe.

  27. WOW. Parent2, you are really quite uneducated with regards to many pertinent aspects of this conversation. Abortions are not just surgical procedures, they can be medical as well. Surgical abortions in the first trimester are very safe, as safe as any surgical procedure could possibly be. They are, I suppose, more risky than using a condom, but they are not more risky than, for example, the pill. The pill can have extremely adverse emotional and physical effects, and works very differently on different women. It also increases the risk of breast cancer which abortion does NOT do no matter what propaganda says.

    The idea that all birth control works perfectly all the time is a fallacy. Even vasectomy has a .15% risk of failure. Condoms have a 15% risk of failure with typical usage and 2% with perfect usage. Let me rephrase that: for every 100 couples that use condoms *perfectly*, 2 will conceive anyway. Yeah, all birth control works perfectly. As for "all abortions are done for accidental reasons" — I never claimed that all abortions are anything. But let me say this again: abortion is not a form of birth control and no one treats it that way. How do I know? I volunteer at an abortion clinic. Women do not waltz in to an abortion clinic, lightheartedly, having simply neglected birth control. To imply that they do is extremely insulting.

    As for the consideration of the fetus and the creation of life, that's exactly what we're debating here. You are begging the question.

    As for your last paragraph, that's just an incoherent mess.

  28. @parent 2:

    How dare you decide how women should live? How dare you suggest that women who make a mistake should be forced to undergo a pregnancy? Tell me, do you smoke? Drink? Exercise? Eat right? Drive too fast? Talk on your cell phone in the car? Until you lead a life without mistakes, you have no right to tell anyone else how to deal with theirs.

    You know perfectly well that it's a false comparison to argue abortion vs other forms of birth control. The correct comparison is abortion vs pregnancy and birth, and the latter are significantly more dangerous for the woman. That danger, by the way, is where the idea of the rodef comes from. In classical Judaism, as well as contemporary practice, a woman's life is worth more than that of a fetus, and rightly so.

    Your attitude is patronizing and gratuitously punitive. And what punishment do you propose for the equally guilty men in cases of unwanted pregnancy?

    If I were your daughter and I got pregnant accidentally, you are the last person I would come to for help.

    Laura H-also a parent

  29. Ariel-
    I know what begging the question is. I'm an honors philosophy major. What I meant to say is that, if my audience was, as you (perhaps rightfully) assumed it was, namely everyone or pro-choicers, I WOULD have been begging the question with my own question. Intended as it was for pro-lifers, no questions were begged. I would appreciate not being condescended to.
    Yes, and I can see that next to the comment it says "show anyway," but at the time of my comment, I was using a PC in McCabe and occasionally the text at the bottom of a recent comment blends into the text at the bottom of the Gazette's page (this does not happen on MACs)–meaning that I can only 1/3-1
    /2 of a complete comment is legible.
    I didn't address my audience explicitly because I wanted to avoid being combative or seeming like I was targeting people. Instead, I seem to have entered a combative dialogue with someone who, ironically, I agree with.

  30. Look, Brianne, I answered your question, that you explicitly directed at everyone, as in "Hi, all", in a civil way and your response was both heated and condescending (in my opinion). I appreciate your original motivation, and thank you for elaborating it, but you failed to communicate that intention and then jumped on me for not being able to read your mind. I don't care whether or not you want to continue sniping at each other — hopefully not — but if you do, don't yell at me for interpreting what you actually wrote instead of what you meant.

    (I apologize to anyone who's reading who wanted actual debate on abortion — that's what I wanted too, sadly.)

  31. Another very valid part of this debate that often gets left by the wayside is the quality of life of the fetus. If a woman who desires to abort her fetus for whatever reason can't obtain one and has to carry that baby to term, it is possible that she will come to love it, but it is much more likely that she will resent it and it will join the ranks of unloved children in the world. Yes, she might instead put it up for adoption, but there are far more unwanted children living in adoption agencies than there are people who want to adopt them, especially if they are not adopted at a very young age.

    There have been very persuasive studies in many disciplines that show a strong correlation between unwanted children and crime, most famously Steven Levitt in "Freakonomics". States that only achieved legalized abortion after Roe v. Wade showed drastically decreased crime rates 15-25 years later when the generations born around the time of abortion's legalization would be in their prime, crime committing years.

    Couldn't it be more merciful for a mother to abort her fetus early if she believes that carrying it to term would be likely to yield one of these results (unwanted children, overflowing adoption agencies) which would mostly likely yield a miserable life?

  32. "Who knows, if you keep waiting and having abortions, it may not be so easy to have those pregnancies when your fertility goes down in later years, and the damage to the uterus from repeated abortions is done. Give that fetus a break and let it live!"


    Make more babies to get more babies later? What the hell are we planning to do with all of these damn babies? They're a drain on our resources and we can't eat them.

  33. Ms. or Mr. Horowitz: Please note that condoms, for birth control, are meant to be used with another form of birth control to achieve the nearly 100% protection that will occur with the combination.

    There are NOT millions of accidental pregnancies in the US with the availability of such good birth control. It is failure to responsibly prevent pregnancy that leads to most US abortions. Not getting pregnant is far safer than pregnancy or medical or surgical means of abortion. Abortion has been used as birth control by millions of women in the US. Those are facts.

    To Ms. Laura H: I would hope that my daughter would be responsible enough to avoid accidental pregnancy, and mature enough to accept the responsibility of having the baby. Not politically correct in most Swarthmore circles, but good enough for the poor teenage mothers I work with, who generally, along with their families, do a great job of caring for their children.

  34. Argos: No, be responsible and don't get pregnant if you are thinking of either aborting or eating the baby. Birth control nowadays is very effective. This is not the 1920s. Women can control their bodies prior to pregnancy, too.

    Alex: Lots of surprise pregnancies lead to very loved babies. And the suggestion by some that aborting so many fetuses of poor people leads to decreased crime has been a source of contention and debate among certain poor groups who think they are targeted for abortions.

  35. Argos, repeated abortions can lead to fertility problems. I think it is better to plan pregnancies and then have the baby.

  36. Parent2 – Yeah, and men can control their bodies, too. Where's the responsibility for the men here? Maybe the men should be the ones that you're telling to practice abstinence and use multiple forms of birth control, because like I just told you, not all women can be on hormonal birth control.

    And let me summarize what you just did. I told you some numbers that were produced by scientifically-respectable studies to contradict your point. Then you said what you believe to be true, without offering ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL, and called it a fact. Not only did you totally fail to offer an argument, you did it while slut-shaming all those irresponsible women that fail to control things that are impossible to control. No form of birth control is 100% effective except for abstinence, and guess what? Adults like to have sex, and that's okay. Sometimes bad things happen when people have sex: condoms break, antibiotics negate the efficacy of hormonal birth control, etc. Are you REALLY saying that, due to that risk, instead of having a safe, routine medical procedure to be used as a last resort — and again I say, from experience with actual women at an actual abortion clinic, women use abortion as a LAST RESORT and NOT as birth control — we should all just abstain?

    As for your assertion that condoms are *meant* to get used with another form of birth control — where are you getting that? Because it's not from condom makers, who say on their websites that their products are effective for preventing pregnancy. It's not from the Mayo Clinic, which mentions nothing about backup BC on their page on condoms. It's not from the NIH, which found that condoms are effective in preventing pregnancy in a report from 2001. It's not from Joycelyn Elders, a former surgeon general who recommends parents teach their teenagers about condoms instead of abstinence. *Those* are what are generally called facts, not those baseless assertions you just posted.

  37. Alex,

    Concerning "mercy:"
    The point Tollefson made was, if my boss knows that when he fires me, I will sink to a life of despair and alcoholism (or the crime you allude to from Levitt), would it be better that he just kill me?


  38. Parent2,

    I know that there are unplanned pregnancies that lead to loved children. Mothers in those situations clearly don't abort the children for and whatever personal reasons they have decided that keeping the child is the better course for them. I was referring to the children who would be brought to term whose mothers did not come to that decision as the best for their lives if pro-life's goal of classifying abortion as immoral or illegal were to come about.

    I also said nothing about either the economic class of the mothers in question or of targeting or forcing anyone to have an abortion, as you seem to suggest.

  39. I just wonder how fulfilling/satisfactory sex can actually be when you have it with someone whose baby you would not be willing to bring into the world.

  40. Pro-Love – I think the consensus on that one is "very satisfying".

    Plus, there's a big difference between "I love you but right now isn't a good time for me to have a baby" and "I don't like you enough to think that your genes should be perpetuated, but we can still have sex". Not that either of those is wrong, but they are different things.

  41. This conversation will get nowhere–I don't care how many facts are cited–if we can't treat each other with respect and stop assuming that other people are idiots.

  42. DMX: Here's the thing. To some this may be a simple philosophical argument and nothing more. But to me, and to many other women, this is about our right to control our own bodies and our own lives. I take threats to that VERY seriously. I don't assume other people are idiots, but I do assume that if people are presenting anti-choice positions that they are just that — anti-choice. And I take that as a direct threat to my bodily autonomy and as treating all women with disrespect. I accept it if you or others think that that's radical or overly egregious, because this is the actual state of choice in this country: the clinic where I volunteer got blockaded with protesters several months ago. Even more recently, it and several other clinics in the area were vandalized with the clear intent of restricting access. Bills are proposed, and passed, in state legislatures that force women to get counseling, to have a waiting period, to be shown ultrasounds, all with the intent of guilting them out of having an abortion or making it a practical impossibility. There are still protesters at clinics every week, yelling obscenities at patients and attempting to physically stop them from going in those doors. And that is a direct result of people like parent2 and their hateful, misogynistic views.

  43. Yeah, let's all beat up on parent2 because she had the audacity to say:

    1) Women shouldn't have abortions.

    (Her arguments seem to be about why women should choose not to have an abortion, not about why abortions should be illegal.)


    2) Most abortions are not due to failures of birth control.

    Number 1 is her opinion (don't we like choice?) and number 2 is probably unknowable. I mean, can you imagine actually collecting reliable data on that issue? I'd love to know the answer, though.

    So, how exactly are these claims a threat to Ariel's bodily autonomy?

    Who cares! Let's call her hateful and instead of responding to her views, pretend we are debating a crazy rabid pro-lifer who has entirely different views. That way, we get to feel morally superior and never need to actually have a constructive dialogue!

  44. First of all, stop putting words in my mouth. I didn't call her hateful, I called her views hateful, and I stand by that position.

    I take the following to be threats to my bodily autonomy:
    "Once you've got that baby in you, at least take responsibility and let it grow."
    "Give that fetus a break and let it live!"
    "There is also the consideration of the fetus and the creation of life."
    "No, be responsible and don't get pregnant if you are thinking of…aborting"
    "I would hope that my daughter would be responsible enough to avoid accidental pregnancy, and mature enough to accept the responsibility of having the baby."
    These things suggest that:
    1) A fetus is a person with equivalent rights to me.
    2) It is irresponsible to have sex if you might abort an accidental pregnancy.
    3) It is irresponsible to have an abortion.
    4) It is immature to have an abortion.
    None of these things are true. If these were views put forth in a cultural vacuum, they would not bother me. But they are not in a cultural vacuum. they are in a context in which these arguments are used to restrict the right to choice in such a way that 87% of counties in the United States have no abortion providers. I know that these arguments are used to advance anti-choice causes because I read right-wing op-eds that use them, and statements from Republican politicians, and of course the protesters and they *all* use the same words as parent2.

    As for your second point, it's absolutely not unknowable. The Guttmacher Institute, which is a think tank that researches sexual and reproductive issues, released a study in 2008 showing that 54% of women who get abortions were using contraceptives when they got pregnant. A study by the CDC from 1999 shows that 52% of women who get abortions had no previous abortions and 26% had only one. The statements that women use abortion as a form of birth control and women who get abortions are irresponsible because they didn't use protection are lies.

  45. I'm with "pro-choice" on this one.

    And Ariel, I really respect that you are so passionate about a woman's right to choose. Honestly. But it seems like you believe pro-lifers are only passionate about eliminating that right to choose (you call them "anti-choice"). The pro-life women that I have encountered are simply passionate about saving the lives of unborn children (so you differ with them on when a fetus becomes a person, not necessarily on women's rights). They believe that babies are being murdered as a result of promiscuous sex. That might seem ridiculous to you, but until someone can definitively prove when life begins, it remains a valid point of view… and if people believe children are being killed, of course they are going to protest.

  46. Well, look, if someone is going to try to "save the lives of unborn children" by forcing me to carry a pregnancy when I don't want to and then have a child I don't want, that is eliminating my right to choose, no matter what they call it.

  47. Haha, well excuse me for thinking that calling someone's views hateful isn't like calling a person hateful.

    I love how you start out the response by saying I shouldn't put words in your mouth and then you go on to explain why it was okay for YOU to put words in parent2's mouth because we aren't in a "cultural vacuum". Right, that's consistent.

    Do her (assuming parent2 is a her) views "suggest" points 1-4? Well, depends on your perspective. Parent2 definitely didn't say 1-4. All her quotes are her trying to give her opinion about what is right to others, who can choose accordingly in this great democracy of ours. As long as that's her moral opinion and she's not advocating the laws lock everyone into her beliefs, I'm fine with what she has to say.

    And as much as I respect the esteemed Guttmacher Institute, I doubt their surveillance budget is large enough for them to be spying in all our bedrooms to see who is contraceptivized. I bet they gave people surveys instead. When surveyed, especially with questions amounting to "did you do the safe thing?" my guess is people tend to lie…
    (I did like the previous abortion stat though.)

    All I'm saying is it's disrespectful to ALL sides of a debate when you don't directly address a person's arguments, but instead assume their ulterior motives and attack those.

    And when your method of argument snares someone who probably agrees with your politics in full (i.e. the very nice and reasonable feminist, Brianne), you may want to rethink your approach.

    And that's it for my soap box appearance.

  48. Parent2, you misunderstand me. I find the fertility problems that may stem from repeated abortions to be a good thing. I'd like our population to be reduced drastically within the next 100 years. Seriously.

    And I'd rather not have to advocate for just sterilizing people against their will.

  49. Look, you can think that calling a view hateful and a person hateful are the same thing. I honestly don't think so, but fine, that's your opinion.

    What I did was offer quotes from parent2. I do not believe that I portrayed her as saying anything other than what she actually said, in quotes. I then offered my interpretation of those quotes, based on experience with other people who have used those same words almost verbatim. It is possible that parent2 is an outlier. I consider it unlikely but I concede its possibility.

    If you read our exchange carefully, I hope that you will see that I addressed parent2's arguments and she did not address mine. For example, parent2 offered an incorrect view of Jewish philosophy. I corrected her. She did not respond. Parent2 offered an incorrect view of proper condom usage. I asked her where she got that view. She did not respond. By contrast, when I offered personal experience as evidence that women do not use abortion as a form of birth control, parent2 replied that it is a fact that women do use abortion as a form of birth control without supporting that assertion with any evidence. As for "assuming her ulterior motives", what I in fact did was present my interpretation of her views as anti-choice. I stand by that interpretation. I did not say that I think she protests at clinics; I do not think that she does. I did not say, even, that I think she wants to outlaw abortion. I define anti-choice views as views that put the fetus on the same moral level as the living woman, as explained to Pro-Love above. If you have a different definition, you are welcome to it, but I will continue to go by mine.

    I find it interesting that you question the validity of the study that you don't like but not the study that you do like. Because people wouldn't lie about whether or not they had previous abortions, either? These are professional sociologists and I trust them to do their jobs well, and that means taking into account and correcting for things like lying on surveys.

  50. I concede that I actually agree with you about hateful views and hateful people, especially when it comes to issues I really care passionately about. My real point in bringing it up was that I did think your "interpretation of her views" was a stretch of language and rhetoric in the same way. "Hateful views" is to "hateful person" as "I think abortion is wrong" is to "we should outlaw abortion"

    (As for the studies, I don't think there's any good correction for lying on a survey, no matter how good a sociologist someone is. I bet the surveys are very useful for charting changes in contraceptive use among women who get abortions over time, but not very good at giving actual true spot values. Somehow, I did think people were less likely to lie for the CDC study question than the Guttmacher. But, I concede this wasn't necessarily well grounded.)

    These aren't my important points. My important one was noting out that the views parent2 expressed weren't actually anti-choice by how most people (I think) define anti-choice. I thought you were attacking views she didn't hold.

    Now you have clarified things. You were attacking her for views she does hold. You seem to be saying that providing any moral weight to a fetus in an abortion decision is anti-choice. (You use the phrase "on the same moral level as the living woman", but of course parent2 didn't say that. She just said there is the "consideration of…") I have the crazy idea that anti-choice is not letting women have a choice about having an abortion. Whether they consider the fetus worthy of moral consideration or not, I don't really care. I am fairly certain the majority of people would agree with the latter definition. In fact, by your definition, it seems like a pregnant woman who considers the destruction of a fetus to have some moral weight, but then has an abortion because of another overriding moral belief, is somehow anti-choice. If that's your opinion, you are entitled to it, but you may want to consider renaming your politics from "pro-choice" to something else, as it's somewhat dishonest when the name misrepresents your beliefs.

    In general, I think your second paragraph is euphemistic, especially the phrases, "I corrected," and "I offered personal experience". The actual posts read to me more like "You're wrong! (and not jewish!)" Parent2 didn't address your arguments, true, but I think you addressed hers a bit unfairly.

  51. Well, when she was factually wrong, I said that, because I really do believe that it's okay to tell people when things that they say are factually wrong. Other than that, how much clearer would you like me to be than, "this makes me think that you're not Jewish"? I didn't, after all, say, "You're obviously not a Jew".

    I consider it anti-choice to say, "Once you've got that baby in you, at least take responsibility and let it grow", for example. Because that does directly mean that if you don't "let that baby grow in you", you're being irresponsible, for example. Again, as I explained to Pro-Love, I consider it anti-choice to try to "save an unborn child", because it always comes at the cost of the bodily autonomy of the woman. You'll note that parent2, in the above sentence, refers not to a fetus or an embryo, but to a baby. Not a born baby, but a baby that needs to grow in a uterus of a woman. Referring to an embryo as a baby suggests, to me, the idea that an embryo is the moral equivalent of a born human being. Perhaps you do not agree with this interpretation. Again, it is based on my past experience of people who use the same words, and again, parent2 may be an outlier. But that phrasing suggests to me that parent2 does not just put some moral weight on an embryo, but moral weight equivalent to a born human being. Indeed, in comment #20, parent2 uses the phrase "respect for the unborn". I invite you to google that phrase and look at the websites on which it is found. Of course, this is correlation and not causation, and again, I concede the possibility that parent2 is extremely unusual in using anti-choice rhetoric without actually being anti-choice. In the unlikely event that this is the case, I apologize for misinterpreting her statements, but I stand by both my corrections of her statements that were factually incorrect and my views as elaborated in comments #44 and #48.

  52. Ariel,

    I’m interested in knowing why you write off the correlations between abortions and breast cancer as propaganda. At the very least, we should entertain them. Prochoice or prolife, if the correlation exists, it effects women, no? it seems at best in bad taste and at worst dangerous to outrightly dismiss something because it is associated with a view that is against what you believe in.

    Please don’t respond to me stridently or angrily. I really want to know why it is that the prochoice community does not entertain this idea as a potential reality. As I see it, there are a few common arguments as to why the link might not exist

    1. it’s just a correlation.

    2. there haven’t been systematic studies showing this.
    The way I see it, that makes sense. Doctors are overwhelmingly prochoice… just look at how our country is trying to force Catholics, who operate 624 hospitals in this country, to compromise their morals and commit acts they find morally reprehensible (I ask, where exactly is the choice in that, prochoice community?) since grants for studies must be approved by boards filled with prochoice researchers, and since there is no systematic protection of women by having certain data routinely collected on those that have abortions, it seems that dismissing research points fingers more at the prochoice community than at those doing the research.

    You say that birth control raises a women’s risk for breast cancer, and abortion does not, know matter what the propaganda says. Again, this is something I simply don’t understand. It seems perfectly realistic that having an abortion leads to increased breast cancer risk. I was under the impression that birth control increased ones risk for breast cancer b/c some contain estrogen, a known carcinogen. (world health organization). And that carcinogen can interact with ones breast in a way which causes cancer.

    It is also true that, while pregnant, a women’s estrogen level skyrockets. Her breasts also begin to change… cells multiply rapidly, and lobules in her breasts change from type I and II (susceptible to cancer) to type IV (cancer resistant). This is why childlessness is a risk factor for increased breast cancer risk–because a woman’s breasts never change to make her less susceptible to cancer. When an abortion cuts off a pregnancy mid-course, a woman is left with plenty of estrogen, and plenty of cancer-friendly breast tissue.

    Additionally, scientists seem to agree that premature birth (or miscarriage) before 32 weeks increases ones risk of breast cancer ([Melbye et al. Br J Cancer 1999; Hsieh et al. Lancet 1999; Vatten et al. Br J Cancer 2002; Innes and Byers Int J Cancer 2004])

    Finally, abortions also keep women from carrying their first full-term pregnancy (thus perpetuating their childlessness and preventing the mitigating effects of pregnancy). Ariel, I agree with you that I don’t think women use abortion as a form of birth control. However, in 2007, a British study (“Assessing the Damage”) indicated that 180,000 women had abortions. 100,000 had never had an abortion, while 80,000 had. Again, such studies are not possible in our own country because abortion clinics do not collect such detailed information. But I’m sure I could find others that report like-minded data.

    3. recall bias.
    This is the belief that cancer-stricken women will be more likely to admit to having had an abortion than those who are well. Yet, where were the recall bias screams when case-study subjects were assumed to tell the truth about numbers of sex partners and cervical cancer, anal intercourse and HIV, alcohol consumption and liver damage, etc? again, this seems to be the case of prochoice people disagreeing with a potential breast cancer link merely because it supports the prolife cause, when, in theory, there is nothing to prevent you from endorsing abortion even if you recognize that it might raise a women’s risk for cancer.

    I highly encourage people to check out the breast cancer prevention institutes website at

    Lastly, I’m interested in knowing what reasons prevent you from seeing the fetus as being worth the same morally as its mother? You talk about the women’s agency over her own body, but such agency doesn’t really say anything about what moral respect is due the fetus. One can feel that she has a right to do with her body what she will, including inflicting immoral acts on another deserving of moral respect. So, I’m curious. What about tollefsen’s arguments [his discussion of the embryo as a new entity separate from either sperm or egg which contains the essence of what makes every human human, the demonstration of how a developing fetus does not differ at all from a tiny baby who cannot think, to a prepubescent girl who has not begun to menstruate, to a twenty-something-year-old whose vocal chords and other assorted organs (perhaps even teeth) have not fully developed], etc, what about his logic do you question? The problem with your lake analogy is that a lake does not “continuously” develop into a frozen lake. We cannot continuously “develop” backward as a lake can when it unfreezes back into liquid water. Similarly, we treat plenty of different types of people in “fundamentally” different way. As a totally blind person, I cannot expect that anyone will let me behind the wheel of their car. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect that someone would verbally describe the actions of characters in a movie to a sighted person. These are fundamental differences in the way one would treat me compared to you. Does this make me more or less of a person than you are? Or more or less of a person than I was when I was younger and needed more help and descriptions, or more or less of a person than the average newborn who has vision only mildly better than my own? It seems that what you’re talking about is the type of respect that vacillates from person to person (from professor to student, etc), and not what underlies are truly continuous development as human beings; that which is present from the moment (or few days as scott gilbert would say) of our fertilization onward.

    finally, what did tollefsen say in reply to your "fundamentally" different approach to lakes and frozen lakes?

    I’m not a philosopher, I’m not a debater. I don’t plan on being able to match you or any other prochoice person. I just want to know.

  53. Ariel-
    (Let there be no mistake about to whom this comment is addressed.)
    First off, HOW we talk in the context of this debate is not irrelevant to the debate itself. So I don't take comments like this one or my previous one to detract from the discussion (in response to your statement, "I apologize to anyone who's reading who wanted actual debate on abortion — that's what I wanted too, sadly").
    I would just like to hazard a guess that most of the people here (and perhaps elsewhere) who have failed to respond to you have done so NOT because they found your points trenchant or your arguments compelling, but because they are exasperated and tired of being insulted.
    I agree whole-heartedly with your message. I disagree with your methods–not because I am any less a supporter of a woman's right to choose, but because I don't think you will persuade anyone with a rhetorical repertoire consisting of little more than insults and sarcasm. There are ways of responding to people with your facts and arguments that don't require snarky remarks such as "WOW. Parent2, you are really quite uneducated with regards to many pertinent aspects of this conversation."
    As for me, I am exasperated as well and will now be wiser about picking and choosing my battles.

  54. It seems that we are discussing the difference between responsibility and autonomy.

    Ariel is advocating an extreme form of autonomy or individualism in which a woman is not responsible in any way for maintaining a pregnancy (even if she happened to have an active – if unintentional – part in causing the pregnancy to occur). If we accept the argument that the fetus is a human with human rights, her view would be similar to saying "because I accidentally ended up holding someone by a rope dangling over a building, I have can let go if I want.". In both cases the actor is deciding that she has no moral responsibility to maintain the life of another person because such a responsibility would result in a restriction of her ability to act autonomously.

    I'm not sure how many people would agree that our right to act autonomously trumps a responsibility to refrain from killing other humans. Laws preventing me from drinking while driving hurt my autonomy and restrict my ability to choose how I spend my life, and yet they prevent the killing of human lives and are generally considered good in this country. We have accepted that perfect autonomy is impossible in a fair and safe social world, and this presupposition is the basis of much of what makes aspects of liberal and progressive thought appealing and good. (Traditional conservatism has failed to adequately wrestle with this issue, which is why it is lacking popularity now.)

    We cannot simply be isolated and autonomous creatures, we have responsibility to those around us: responsibilities not to play music loud enough to disturb them, responsibilities to build ADA-compliant buildings, responsibilities not to smoke in certain areas if it will affect others, and and so on. Unless we suggest either that pregnancy is a fundamentally different sort of issue, I don't see how we can dismiss the responsibilities to another human, especially ones that are an issue of that human's life or death, as less than our own right to act freely and autonomously.

    one of parent2's comments about responsibility for actions is also interesting. While there certainly are some cases in which a pregnant woman is raped (I recall reading somewhere that about 2% of abortions are as a result of rape), in every other case, the woman (and man — more on that in the paragraph below) performed an action which had at least some risk of resulting in pregnancy. Even if the pregnancy is unwanted, they have to take responsibility for their actions. If I go to a fancy jewelry store and pick up an expensive glass vase, and accidentally drop it, I am still responsible for repaying the cost of the item even if I can't afford it (and I certainly didn't mean to break it!). Isn't our responsibility even that much greater when someone's life is at stake? (please note, I am not suggesting we be unsympathetic to those who are unintentionally pregnant: rather the opposite, they should have society's support and assistance as much as possible. The ostracization that occurs in some areas as a result of unplanned pregnancies is cruel and evil. Nevertheless, parents are still responsible for their actions.)

    Earlier someone mentioned in passing that men cannot get pregnant, and seemed to imply that men can get away without any responsibilities. I completely disagree. As a man, I claim that men have equal responsibility in raising the child, and since he is not the childbearing parent, has a moral injunction to provide for his family in as many other ways as possible (particularly, he should put the current wage inequality between men and women to good use for once and earn money to support the mother and child). The cowardly abandonment of responsibility by fathers is one of the most disgusting and reprehensible facets of the problems surrounding abortion.

    I would be interested in hearing what pro-choice individuals have to say on this issue: if we accept the fetus as a living human, shouldn't our responsibility not to kill it override our right to personal autonomy?

    (Ariel, may I ask you not to respond to this comment right away? I would like to hear other responses, and it seems that others are less willing to respond after you have commented.)


  55. I was actually an early feminist who applauded Roe v Wade when the decision came down, as I truly thought abortion would then be a safe last resort, since there were so many good methods of birth control being developed.

    Abortion has become a form of birth control (BC). It appalls me that women so often take so little responsibility for their bodies, then get pregnant and abort the fetus. Most women who become pregnant are not using birth control, or are using it wrong (such as skipping pills). Yes condoms are not 100% effective for either BC or STD prevention. This we even knew back in the '70s and it has not changed at all. They need to be used in conjunction with another form of BC to be effective enough to really prevent pregnancies. They can break, or there can be spillage around them.

    For years I have been appalled because women, including "strong" women, and "feminists" like to now play the victim, the "whoops I had an accidental pregnancy" card. Then they become militant about a "woman's right to choose" when the time to be intelligent and thoughtful is way before getting pregnant. This means being responsible enough to get on BC, use a condom for STD and added pregnancy protection, and think about these aspects of protection before having sex.

    Women act as if they are victims or stupid in this regard, "Oh I just couldn't help myself" or "I just couldn't make to to the doctor's office and just couldn't wait to have sex" or "it just happened one time, I just thought it would be OK", or worse yet, "he just doesn't like to use a condom." In the latter case, the woman really needs to think about whom she's with.

    This is what I am chagrined about. Instead of marching for abortions, women need to organize even more to make BC even more available.

    Working with teen mothers, we can see that they know the score. They just think pregnancy wouldn't happen to them. Let's spend some of this "pro-choice" energy to expand their education and access to BC even more.

    As to my own personal beliefs that fetuses should not be killed by abortion, this was developed after seeing innumerable ultrasounds showing fetuses in all 3 trimesters quite happily swimming around in uteruses. I think they should be allowed to grow. Sorry if this is against popular culture, but I don't like to kill anything. Simple as that. Use good birth control. It's out there. Or abstain. Or have the baby you conceived. In other words, take control of your bodies, and take responsibility for what you have chosen to do. That's true feminism, in my opinion.

    I do try to counsel the very young mothers I work with to use good BC to avoid second pregnancies, which a high proportion of teenage mothers have in short order.

    I am not trying to offend any of you who fervently believe in abortion rights. My opinions have been based on years of experience in providing health care.

    By the way, as to a daughter of my own, I would hope that after all of the education about health and taking responsibility for one's actions and her body, she would have similar views to mine, and luckily, my children do, which gives me some peace.

  56. "Abortion has become a form of birth control (BC)."
    How do you know this?

    "For years I have been appalled because women, including "strong" women, and "feminists" like to now play the victim, the "whoops I had an accidental pregnancy" card."
    Um, how is that the victim card when the woman is taking pro-active steps to correct the mistake? Is the non-victim card "Well, the course of my life has been unalterably shifted, I'm going to probably have to drop out of school/leave career ambitions behind…BUT LOOK AT ME SO STRONG."

    Women act as if they are victims or stupid in this regard, "Oh I just couldn't help myself" or "I just couldn't make to to the doctor's office and just couldn't wait to have sex" or "it just happened one time, I just thought it would be OK"
    This is your characterization of the women who make the difficult, emotionally/financially costly decision of having an abortion? This is gross and I'm embarrassed that your older than me.

    P.S. I love how you have no words for the men who don't step up and take responsibility for wearing condoms, getting educated about sexual health, paying for birth control etc. etc.

    Also, Pro-Love, re babies/satisfying sex: May I quote Argos with a "LOLWUT?"

  57. Laura –

    I don't think that abortion causes breast cancer because the World Health Organization ( has concluded that it does not. You are free to not believe them. I personally trust them more than I trust the people who are contradicting them. Although I'm not a biologist, I believe it could make sense that miscarriage up to 32 weeks increases risk of breast cancer and abortion does not, as almost all abortions take place in the first trimester (12 weeks or before).

    In regards to your numbers about British abortions, I believe I quoted a relevant statistic to pro-choice, above.

    I disagree with Mr. Tollefson in that I think there is a distinct difference between biological humanity and personhood. I also think that a fetus does not have personhood. This is where the difference in kind comes in: a fetus will develop into a human, but this to me is a difference in kind and not in number. It's a much more important difference in kind than changing from a child to an adult or from a student to a professor. This is changing from not a person (and therefore not an entity with equal moral standing to a person) to a person. Mr. Tollefson defines personhood as solely being biologically human. I believe, however, that personhood means the ability to have agency, for example. Although fetuses might have that ability in the future, they do not in the first trimester.

    I quoted the lake example because that is what I had said to Mr. Tollefson in person. However there are many other physical processes that develop continuously and are not, practically speaking, reversible. For example, the kind of nuclear fission that happens in nuclear power plants is such a process.

    Brianne — it's fine with me that you disagree with my methods (I disagree with yours, as well), but I think you're misrepresenting them when you describe them as consisting of "little more than insults and sarcasm". In the post to which you refer, everything from the quoted sentence to the last sentence consists of reasoned responses to parent2's arguments. As for snark — I have not, I promise, snarked to Mr. Tollefson. I do not believe I snarked to Laura, above, or in my responses to pro-choice, DMX, Pro-Love, or Jason. I have snarked to you (and, again, I'm sorry we had a misunderstanding but I can only respond to your actions and not your intentions), and parent2. Parent2 has been posting things that are extremely offensive to me, whether she meant to or not (again, actions and not intentions). Then, instead of backing them up with evidence, she made spurious statements and referred to them as facts. You may note that parent2's post directly above is in a very different tone than her previous posts, and as such my reply, below, will not be snarky. But I do not believe it is my obligation to be unfailingly nice to people who are saying extremely offensive things.

    parent2 – Planned Parenthood is one of the biggest providers of birth control and sex ed in the United States of America. By contrast, anti-choice organizations crusade against not only the availability of abortion, but of birth control and of sexual education in schools that goes beyond abstinence. The women who march for abortions are the same women who organize to make BC even more available. Perhaps instead of advising us to redirect our energy, it would be more useful to criticize the people who are actually curtailing access to BC and education.

    As for true feminism – feminism is the belief that women are people. A large part of that is supporting the ability of women to make their own choices, even when you are appalled at what they do with that ability.

  58. Ariel – You do not have many supporters in this discussion. You may realize that this has happened to you before. Have you considered why that is? Because we both know it is NOT because there are more anti-choice people than pro-choice people on this campus.

    Consider that you might actually be hurting your cause by the way you attempt to engage in dialogue, which is, coincidentally, by telling your opponent not to bother engaging in dialogue because they are never going to have a single valid argument. You are asically angrily telling (I imagine your keyboard took a quite beating from all the ferocious typing you've done over the last few days) people who disagree with you that they are stupid, immoral people who know nothing about anything.

    This is not helpful. I am fervently pro-choice, and I want very much to land on your side, but your style of defense does not allow me to (and I know others have expressed this opinion before). I do not want to align myself with your argumentative style. If you really want to defend your side, you have to hear others arguments, then, perhaps, civilly try to persuade them to see your side.

    Yelling at someone rarely makes them want to agree with you. In fact, it pushes them even further away. And you have essentially alienated your own would-be supporters in the process.

  59. CVW – if you have a response to anything I actually said, rather than your perception of my tone, I would be happy to address it. I am not interested in defending my argumentative style to you; my patience with doing so ran out in my previous post. Anyone else who wishes to is welcome to yell at me. I assure you that it will be completely unproductive in terms of both the discussion at hand and my future "style of defense". But if it makes you feel better, by all means.

    And my keyboard is just fine, thanks.

  60. In defense of Ariel's tone, the internet is a very difficult medium over which to have civilized discussion simply because everything is up to interpretation of things like tone and background motive which can only be inferred without voice or visual cues. Also, the fact that postings are not as much exchanges as extended statements changes the idea of dialogue drastically and makes it much easier to get personally offended and upset. Perhaps it would be better if this were done with the main commentators meeting face to face.

  61. I find it a little bizarre to see that, in parent2's latest post, I agree with a fair amount of the basics of her position.

    Yes, I believe that more focus should be put on making Birth Control more available to everyone and educating that no single or even combination of methods is perfectly effective. The fact that birth control is not 100 percent effective even in places where sex education is in place is far too prevalent. Yes, there is still s slight failure rate even with a barrier and a hormonal method. The problem is that in a large portion of the country, some religiously motivated and some not, many people still see offering birth control as giving a green light to their children to have sex, not accepting that many of their children are having sex anyway and that birth control would be away to prevent further issues.

    Also, IF women were using abortion as a primary form of birth control, that would be an issue that would definitely need to be addressed, but I haven't seen any evidence that that is the case. And if 'strong' women are part of that 2% whose condoms just failed for no clear reason or the .02% whose combination of pill and condom just wasn't enough for some really determined sperm; or if they mess up on a single instance and forget to take a pill or miscommunicated and thought there was a condom or the condom broke, I think, as parent2 claims, that they should be able to fix that error. We have to remember that some pregnancies are in fact accidental and many are from a single lapse in judgment or miscommunication.

    And yes, I also agree that a fetus is alive whether we get into arguments about whether it is yet a person or not. But sometimes I believe that the responsible choice can be to say "I'm not mature enough right now" or "I'm not financially stable enough right now" or simply "I will have no affection for this child". And that all of those decisions can only be made by the woman it directly affects on a case by case basis.

  62. As for the fathers of the "surprise babies" that I see so many of: if the men are around, I also include them in my talks about taking responsibility for their bodies and about taking responsibility for not getting young women pregnant (unless they are trying to have a baby.) Unfortunately, too many of them leave the woman before the baby is born. Or the paternity is not clear. That is why it still is so often up to the woman to take responsibility in pregnancy issues. And to insist on male condoms, which is not easy for some of them to do. This is where I think the empowerment of women from an early age is important. So that they take control of their bodies many steps prior to the abortion decision.

    Empowerment of men is another issue. It reminds me of an old SNL skit where Dan Akroyd and John Belushi are talking about the establishment of a "white man's museum" so that white men can be more fairly represented in the (art) world. I really have to leave the empowerment of men to someone better and smarter than me, of which I am sure there are many at Swarthmore.

  63. Hi Jen and Brianne,

    Jen, Your right that Brianne’s questions is tricky and a very good one. However, I would beg you to please consider your criteria for what makes a human a person.

    Your definition of what constitutes personhood (aka, deserving of moral respect) hinges upon the presence of relationships, in particular, the knowledge you are loved and can love. However, so very many people do not fit into this category. What about the infants and early toddlers who have no knowledge whether they are loved or not loved–who cannot even recognize their own face in a mirror, whose relationships are purely on the subconscious level? What about the aged, whom have lost all those with whom they have previously had relationships? What about the mentally retarded, who mmight not experience the knowledge of being loved, or the very existence of their own relationships, in what we would deem a normative way? What about those who care nothing for love or relationships–those we deem sociopathological. What of those whose mental anguish is so great that they feel as though no one loves them–despite whether this is objectively true? And what of those who are neglected, abandoned by society–the elderly, the disabled, the abused who hear from an early age of their worthlessness and lovelessness?

    The problem with your criteria is that it exists on an incredible continuum, a continuum on which some grown adults do not even fit. This was tollefsen’s main point. That self-consciousness and other forms of “personhood” do not hold up because they exist on gradients, and because we vacillate along them throughout our own lifetimes. Suppose you were a amember of an Amish community who decided tnot to follow in traditional ways and was thus shunned from the community. Would the temporary shattering of these relationships, before your forged new ones, make you any less of a person, or any less deserving of moral respect? I’m sorry that’s probably a crude and slightly inaccurate analogy, but I hope you see my point.

    why not instead rely on the only criterion that exists in common to all humans, a criterion present from the act of fertilization onward?

  64. parent2 – I definitely agree that women should be empowered and taught to take control of their own bodies as early as possible. But it does no good to empower women if you insult them* and tell them they're wrong whenever they do something you don't like with that empowerment. I'm not saying you can't counsel someone that you personally know (for example, your daughter) against having an abortion if you think it's the wrong choice for her, individually, at that time, but don't say that it's bad, or irresponsible, or immature for all women, all the time, to get abortions. That is pretty much the opposite of empowerment.

    *Before anyone asks, I take calling women who get abortions immature and irresponsible as insults, as well as saying that they're "playing the victim".

  65. In response to the discussion of abortion being a form of birth control:

    I have definitely known women (specifically, teenage girls) who have used abortion as a form of birth control. They were not on the pill and their partners did not wear condoms. When they found out they were pregnant, they had an operation. How do I know all of this? They told me. So yes, abortion has been used as a form of birth control.

    On the other hand, I definitely believe that the majority of women do not use abortion as birth control–I am sure they use it as a last measure, and that it is often an excruciating decision.

    In any event, I think it's naive to make generalizations on either side of the argument. Maybe MOST women don't use abortion as BC, but some of them certainly do. Friends of mine from high school were careless about protection because they knew if they got pregnant, Mom and Dad would fix it. And Mom and Dad certainly did.

  66. Pro-Love – Sure, I'm always willing to concede outliers. I don't think this changes the argument — what I believe parent2 has been trying to say is that, by and large, women who get abortions are using them as BC. Furthermore, the fact that some people use a right in a way that many would consider inadvisable isn't a good argument for curtailing that right (I know you're not trying to say that it is — I'm just making the point for the point's sake).

  67. Here are the statistics about contraception usage and abortion from the Guttmacher Institute. This is from 1/2008. You ladies and gentlemen can do the math as to whether you think millions of abortions abortions are done due to lack of proper contraceptive usage or a massive failure of properly used contraception. A link to the whole fact sheet is at the bottom.


    • Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.[9]

    • Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex.[9]

    • Eight percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; nonuse is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic or less educated.[9]

    • About half of unintended pregnancies occur among the 11% of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives. Most of these women have practiced contraception in the past.[1,10]

  68. Right, see, those statistics, which you'll see I already quoted, say the following to me (others may of course interpret them differently):
    -We need better education about how to use birth control.
    -We need better education about when you can get pregnant (many women think they can't get pregnant immediately before, during, or immediately after their periods; this is not the case).
    -I would like to know what "concerns about contraception" comprises. I suspect that for many women, cost is involved. For a lot of people, condoms are expensive. The pill can be costly even if you do have health insurance which many, many Americans do not.

    They definitely don't suggest that women shouldn't be allowed to have abortions.

    However, parent2, I have a question for you: you have said that you think women need better education about sexual health and contraception. I agree with you. These numbers indicated a lack of said education. These people are being badly educated, in large part, because anti-choice lobbyists had power in Washington during the Bush years and still have power in state and local legislatures in more conservative areas of the country, leading to abstinence-only education that teaches, among other things, that birth control never works. So I would like to know, do you think it's irresponsible of these women to make decisions based on the information they've been told all their lives by parents and teachers?

    By the way, also among the statistics on those pages:
    "The risk of abortion complications is minimal: Fewer than 0.3% of abortion patients experience a complication that requires hospitalization."
    "Abortions performed in the first trimester pose virtually no long-term risk of such problems as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries."
    "Exhaustive reviews by panels convened by the U.S. and British governments have concluded that there is no association between abortion and breast cancer. There is also no indication that abortion is a risk factor for other cancers."
    "In repeated studies since the early 1980s, leading experts have concluded that abortion does not pose a hazard to women’s mental health."
    The highest risk of death to women who have abortions is to those who have abortions after 21 weeks (1.1% of all abortions). That risk is 1 in 11,000, or 0.0091%, for the 1.1% of abortions that happen after 21 weeks. The lowest risk, for the 61.3% of abortions that occur at or before 8 weeks, is literally 1 in 1 million. By contrast, a study found that the most commonly-performed surgery, arteriography, has a .06% risk of mortality at the *lowest*, and a 10% risk at the *highest*.

    These seem to make the case pretty strongly that abortion is safe.

  69. Parent2 – Yes, that's rather the point. But that's not what you were saying, was it? You said abortions were risky and that "the risk is physical and often psychological." According to the statistics I just quoted, that's simply incorrect.

    And I ask again: are you saying that women who are educated badly are acting irresponsibly when they get abortions? Because, parent2, there is a difference between being irresponsible and being ill-informed, and I think that what those statistics that you cited say is that women are ill-informed. And you've already agreed that that is in fact the case.

  70. Ariel Horowitz, in answer to your question to me:
    If the "pro-choice" groups really wanted to educate teens and adults (males and females) about contraception, they could have an all-out blitz of fundraising and action, as was done to elect Obama.

    Personally, I think they put way too much energy and funding into preserving abortion rights, and not enough into preventing pregnancies, because this would take time and money away from their legislative and legal cause to keep abortion legal.

    As an early feminist, I am extremely disappointed in the current mindset of the feminist movement. I would much rather see someone young and idealistic like you actively trying to promote education about pregnancy and prevention, raising funds to distribute this information and contraception and being proactive about this, rather than spending so much time defending abortion.

    It would be great if young people broke a bit from the older ones and went about this in a positive way, uniting even with the factions of antiabortion people who also want to promote pregnancy prevention with birth control.

    That's why I have spent time on this message board. I hope that maybe someday the feminist movement will return to its former positive state, as I remember it, instead of being seen by so many in a negative light. If there can be more consensus on the issues which are agreed upon by various groups, this would promote the kind of positive force that feminism was supposed to be, not all of this factionalism.

  71. Parent2 – Just so you know, I do promote pregnancy prevention. I spend time handing out condoms to everyone that passes a table. At the moment, with a full course load, I don't have time to become certified in sex ed, but I plan to do so once I graduate.

    As for "pro-choice" groups not wanting to educate teens and adults or promote contraception: Abortion comprises 3% of Planned Parenthood's spending on medical services. Contraception comprises 38%. The rest is mainly related to STI and cancer treatment and prevention. In dollars, they spend about $10 million on abortion yearly. By contrast, they spend $48 million on education. (

    Obama's campaign spent about $780 million — note that this does not include spending by PACs such as MoveOn. Planned Parenthood's total yearly budget, for running a multinational corporation that provides extensive medical services, is about $900 million. You seem to be suggesting that Planned Parenthood go bankrupt by spending about 85% of its budget on "an all-out blitz of fundraising and action". I suggest that instead criticizing pro-choice groups, who are already spending more on education than abortion, you direct your energies towards other entities. Entities such as our state and federal governments, who for the last 8 years have been supporting abstinence-only education, and the anti-choice lobbies that were fueling that support.

    And you still have not answered my question about whether or not you hold ill-informed women to be irresponsible.

  72. The states, via Medicaid, spend a lot of money on birth control for women.

    I really think I have to end this discussion, Ariel Horowitz. Despite my best efforts to try to make it more than your defensiveness and attacks on various people's personal beliefs and opinions, you are trying to condense everything I have said into one fairly nasty question.

    I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

  73. Ariel's question is legitimate. It's one I've been wondering about during this entire debate.
    In almost every post you've written, parent2, you've characterized women who get abortions as irresponsible. In fact, that's exactly the word you used. For example:

    "Surely women can extend themselves more to take responsibility for their pregnancies. Cases of rape and incest are rare compared to the self-indulgence of not getting birth control or of not abstaining. Once you've got that baby in you, at least take responsibility and let it grow."
    "I would hope that my daughter would be responsible enough to avoid accidental pregnancy, and mature enough to accept the responsibility of having the baby."
    "It appalls me that women so often take so little responsibility for their bodies, then get pregnant and abort the fetus."

    These quotes set up a fairly clear dichotomy: a woman can use birth control, making her responsible; or she can have an abortion and be "self-indulgent" and "immature."
    This argument takes every woman whose had an abortion, ever, and puts her into a box labeled "irresponsible," regardless of motives, cultural environment, or amount of sex-education.
    That is the argument you have presented. If that's not what you meant to express, then say so. If you really believe that environment doesn't constrain the decisions we can make–that a woman who misuses birth control is irresponsible no matter what–then say so, rather than refusing to answer the question and insulting the person who asked it. The question Ariel posed is only asking you to stand by your own sweeping assertions. Seems pretty fair to me.

  74. I'm somewhat baffled by the argument about abortion as BC. Birth control means, controlling birth. Abortion means, controlling a birth by ending the pregnancy. How is that not a form of BC, at least in a non-technical sense?

    Although that's not really what the issue is. The issue is whether the preborn are humans or not. Ariel believes that they are not, and that anyone who suggests they are is impinging on her "bodily autonomy" – an argument eerily similar to the argument slaveholders used prior to the Civil War. Is that a fair comparison? It is if you believe the preborn are humans. It's not if you believe that the preborn are not humans.

    Either way, it comes down to whether you think they are human or not (and what defines a human). If they are human, abortion is murder. If they are not, abortion is a valid choice (along the lines of getting one's ears pierced.)

    Not desiring to insult anyone, but to give clarity to the discussion,
    Peter Green

  75. Peter Green – Your "abortion as BC" question is one of semantics. When people say "women do/do not use abortion as a form of birth control", what they mean is "women do/do not rely on abortion as their primary means to avoid unwanted pregnancy, instead of using pre-emptive measures such as the pill, condoms, an IUD, etc." I apologize if you were confused.

    You left out a very important factor in your comparison there. The argument is "eerily similar" only if you believe that rights of bodily autonomy and property rights are of comparable importance. Yes, slaveholders used to argue that the suggestion that their slaves were people impinged on their property rights — but what a slaveowner loses when he loses the ability to own slaves is wealth. What a woman loses when she loses the ability to have an abortion is full agency as a human person. Slave is not to slaveowner as fetus is to woman because the fetus lives *inside the woman's body*. So no, I don't think that's a fair comparison even if you *do* believe that embryos are people.

    In any event, that is NOT what the issue is. The issue of abortion is about the ability of women to control our own bodies and lives. From an essay by Jill Filipovic, a writer and attorney: "legally forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy for nine months and give birth against her will and without her consent…is a use of women's bodies to serve the needs, ideologies, and desires of others". What you are missing when you say that the important question is whether or not a fetus is a human is that fully-grown people *still* don't have the right to co-opt another person's body for their own needs, ideologies, and desires. Anti-choice activists are not trying to give fetuses the same rights as people have. They are trying to give fetuses a right that no person has.

  76. Ariel,

    Your last sentence is a very interesting point, and one which I took some time to think over. However, I suppose one could equally say that pro-choice advocates are trying to give women a right no (individual) person has (ending the life of a human). But again that comes back to the question of whether the preborn are human or not.

  77. Peter Green – What it comes down to, really, is this: making abortion illegal takes away a fundamental human right, that of bodily autonomy, from the woman. Keeping it legal takes away what would be a fundamental human right, that to life, from the fetus, were it a human person (rather than simply biologically human). There is no way to give both the fetus and the woman full human rights. So whose rights are we going to restrict — who are we going to treat as less than human? The woman or the fetus? I argue that the woman fulfills all possible criteria for personhood (except to blatant misogynists), whereas the fetus fulfills, for example, Tollefson's criterion but not mine. There is no disagreement on whether or not women are people, but as we can clearly see, there is disagreement about whether or not fetuses are people. I think, therefore, that we must give the woman precedence.

  78. Ariel,

    Your summary is helpful, but let me add one or two more thoughts. You seem to be using a "lowest common denominator" argument (correct me if I'm wrong – which I'm sure you will) in stating that because there is disagreement about the personhood of the preborn and no disagreement concerning women, therefore, we should give prominence to women. However, that would equivocate "bodily autonomy" and "right to life". Without going into an argument myself, why I think life is a greater right, let me point out that most people both in history and in the world would agree that right to life is greater than "bodily autonomy" (at least as far as you define bodily autonomy). Of course this proves nothing except that morality varies from person to person, culture to culture, and age to age. Which brings us to the point at which I would say that morality (any and all forms) including the form of morality which would say that life or bodily autonomy are inherent goods, is impossible. Our discussion will degenerate (if it hasn't already) into an "I believe-you believe" argument. Without an outside arbiter, consensus is impossible – morality is impossible.

  79. Peter Green — The point I was trying to make wasn't so much that bodily autonomy and life are of equal importance, but that treating an entity as subhuman is treating an entity as subhuman no matter what right you're curtailing to get there. It's a matter of personal belief, as you say. To take your previous example of slaves, some people who were kidnapped or born into slavery committed suicide instead of giving up their bodily autonomy, others lived through it.

    The subjectivity inherent in moral judgments is why morality is a terrible basis for legislation. Almost all laws that we consider to be moral can in fact be justified with other, much more objective principles. But then of course the question is what principle to use and I'm sure there are a number of different ones that would all be reasonable but lead to different conclusions about abortion.

    This leads to majority-rule, and the majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases (, 54% for vs. 44% against. The margin there is 3 points more than that by which Obama won the popular vote, and that was called a mandate.

  80. Ariel,

    If you would prefer that I refer to you differently, please let me know. You may call me Peter, if you would like.

    I am curious what sort of other "objective principles" you are thinking of? Or how do you define "morality". I was confused by your second paragraph because I see morality and immorality in everything. It is immoral to cheat on an exam, steal, murder, disrespect the environment, etc. It is moral to respect human life, care for the poor, widowed, orphaned, sick, etc. And on and on I could go.

    In my mind the question is not whether to legislate morality since all laws are either making moral judgments or are based on moral values (the morality of protecting human life through drunk driving laws), but which morals to legislate. Can you explain briefly your distinction between "morality" and "objective principles"?

    Of course, majority rule comes with huge problems. For instance, which majority? State? Federal? World? I would guess (although I have no supporting data) that a majority of the world population is opposed to abortion. But, even so, what happens when the majority supports what we consider to be obviously immoral? In ancient Sparta little boys were given to older men to be their sexual playthings. Slavery has already been mentioned. The atrocious treatment of women thought the ages, and even to this day in many countries, are just a number of the problems that "majority rule" can't answer. But I'm sure I'm either misunderstanding you, or simplifying what you are saying. Can you clarify? Thanks.


  81. Peter – So, for example, we could legislate based on a principle of non-interference in the lives of others without their consent, within reasonable bounds (this is subjective — I don't think it's possible to be both practical and completely objective in these things). This would justify outlawing things such as murder, theft, harassment, assault, etc. It isn't a moral principle, rather one geared towards the smooth operation of society — clearly sometimes it can be morally right to interfere in the life of another, but it's much easier to run a society if you go by this guideline than if you go by the opposite.

    Another such principle would be one geared towards not abusing common resources or, basically, not having undue influence in the lives of groups. This would cover fraud, the environment, etc. Another would be that of trying to reduce the number of unproductive members of society. It's better for everyone if there are fewer poor people, or if orphans grow up into functional adults, or if sick people become healthy. All of these principles would lead to legislative problems, I'm sure, but so would everything upon which one could base a legal system. I prefer those problems to the problems that come with morality-based legislation, because so often morality comes down to religion and there are no logical arguments one can make against faith.

    As to your last paragraphs, two points:
    – Which majority? Usually countries go by national governments, although that's a fairly arbitrary decision (as are national borders in the first place). In America, some things are up to the states and other are up to the federal government, and the guidelines for which is which are, in some ways, the sort of principles I've been advocating for.
    -You've already admitted that morality is subjective across time and culture. In ancient Sparta, boys looked up to elder men and their sexual relationships were seen as honorable learning experiences — boys were only considered to be sexually attractive mid-puberty, when they had started to develop adult bodies but didn't have a lot of body hair. We see this behavior as immoral. They did not. If we went to that society right now and tried to force them to stop, it wouldn't work. Similarly with slavery — race relations are so messed up in this country partially because half the country came to one of two decisions (slavery is immoral/the Northern manufacturing-based economic system is superior to the Southern agrarian system) and then violently forced the other half to conform. We see female genital mutilation as atrocious, while many women who undergo it see it as essential to their future marriages, but that is slowly changing not because we're forcing those countries to stop, but because activists are convincing women, without force, that they should have bodily autonomy and full rights as people. What happens when the majority supports something that we consider to be immoral? The right way to change it, the way that will stick, is to try to convince people of the alternate point of view in the marketplace of ideas. We've been having the abortion debate, on these same terms, for over 35 years, and yet things are still much the same as they were in 1973 — in some states it's very hard to get an abortion, in others it's much easier. This debate can only happen because there are enough people advocating each side for them not to seem like crazy radicals. The anti-choice side won't stop fighting to outlaw abortion, so the pro-choice side can't stop fighting to keep it legal. If the status quo were switched, the opposite would be true.

    I'm not sure where this gets us — I believe what I believe and I'll fight for it, and the same is true for those who are anti-choice. Until one side convinces a much stronger majority of Americans of their rightness, the debate will continue.

  82. Ariel,

    But where does the principle on non-interference come from? And why is that "objective"? The principle of non-interference is only advantageous for the weak. If I am strong and want to steal from my neighbor, and believe that I can get away with it, why shouldn't I? To the individual (or nation) that takes advantage of another, the principle of non-interference is not at all objective, but it is your moral conviction that you are trying to foist on them. What gives you the right to impose your morals (or principles if you will) upon others?

    The same could be said for the principle of not abusing common resources. It is a conviction that not everyone shares. Otherwise, it wouldn't need to be stated. Something that everyone agrees with and abides by wouldn't need to be proposed. However such principles are in fact moral convictions about what is right and wrong.

    Of course you could answer that following these principles produces the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people (maybe even all people). But what if someone simply delights in chaos? What if they find their fulfillment in causing the pain of others? What right do you have to foist your convictions of principles upon them? Why is your flourishing (and the rest of society's flourishing) supposed to out way their own.

    Of course you could say that people are of equal value and therefore the desires of one can not out way the desires of the many. But that is based on the moral conviction that people are equal. Who's to say that they are not? Who's to say that one people group, or even individual does not have inherent value greater than another people group or individual?

    I am still not convinced that there is any such thing as amoral principles which can objectively guide us. I believe that morally or objective principles to rule and guide society are not possible.


  83. Peter – I'm not sure I understand most of your objections. None of the principles I mentioned come from a moral conviction. They come from the empirical observation that the most stable society is one that strikes a balance between anarchy and totalitarianism and the opinion that a stable society is a good thing. Not a moral good thing, but a practical good thing, since it supports the interests of the human species — it allows the most humans possible to live and reproduce. (Of course at this point we've rather overshot that. I imagine a decent argument could be made in favor of anarchy to cull the herd, but I have faith that science can find us a way out of our current mess without billions of people dying.)

    "Something that everyone agrees with and abides by wouldn't need to be proposed. However such principles are in fact moral convictions about what is right and wrong." But haven't we already agreed that not everyone agrees with various moral convictions?

    "What right do you have to foist your convictions of principles upon them? Why is your flourishing (and the rest of society's flourishing) supposed to out way their own." Because that's the social contract. By living in a society, we agree to have some measure of safety and convenience and in return we give up certain freedoms. A number of important philosophers have explored this theme (Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, etc.). Again, this isn't a question of moral good but one of practical good.

    I'm very confused by your post. You seem to be questioning the philosophical basis of society. If you think that both moral and amoral principles to guide society are impossible, what do you think should guide society? Or do you not think we should have society?

  84. Ariel,

    Sorry for the confusion. I think we're miscommunicating because we have different notions of what "morality" is. For instance, I consider "the opinion that a stable society is a good thing" to be a moral belief. In other words by saying it is "good" you are assigning moral value to it. I would argue that this is true even if it is for pragmatic reasons. Then it becomes a morality of pragmatism – what is good is what is useful.

    But perhaps the definition of morality is simple obscuring the real issue. Let me pose a few more questions which I'd love to hear your answer to: Why is a stable society better than an unstable one? As various movies have illustrated some people profit off of instability (Wag the Dog, Canadian Bacon). And of course the military industrial complex.

    But even if you could prove that stability is better for everyone, that still assumes that it is good to promote the well-being of humanity. Some would argue that humanity is a parasite on this planet and that in fact what is "good" is whatever hurts/destroys/decreases the effects of humanity. In fact how can we value humanity over anything. What separates us from plants or rocks? We are all, after all, just a conglomeration of elements interacting according to the laws of nature. We are not different in kind from an animal, plant, or even a rock. We are just more complex. And where does the justification come to value the complex over the simple?

    You might say that self-awareness, freedom of will (if it exists), etc. are what distinguish us from plants and animals, but even such things as those are the mere product of the chemical interactions in our bodies. And what prejudices one kind of chemical reaction over against another?

    One could also say that as evolutionary creatures we are simply living out our nature to survive. The human races needs to will survival, because it is part of our nature to will survival. But who says acting according to our nature is good? After all, our evolutionary nature would teach us to prey upon the weak. So our evolutionary survival instinct can't be justification for prejudicing the survival of the species over the non-survival of the species.

  85. Peter — Well, gee, if our starting assumptions are different to the point at which you're questioning whether the continued existence of humanity is a good thing, then I don't really know what else to say. I think I addressed most of your questions in my previous post. And, um, nice chatting with you!

  86. Ariel,

    I hope I have not offended, because that was in no way my intention. If I have, please forgive me – I can become a little overly enthusiastic, because I really enjoy charitable, vigorous discussion on these topics.

    I believe you are right, we may have come to an impasse. If you change your mind though, and are interested in continuing the conversation, my email is


    PS In the interest of honesty, I do think we should have a society guided by principles and I do believe that the human race should strive to survive. I just believe that the only foundation for such principles is a belief in a truly transcendent and immanent God after the Judeo-Christian fashion.

  87. Um, so now I'm confused. Ethics has nothing to do with rocks, because the idea of "good for a rock" is patently incoherent. I'm guessing, Peter, that you have at least a basic understanding of this, but let me repeat it anyway for the sake of the general audience.

    The western tradition of ethics is based in large part in the works of Aristotle, who viewed it as a question of purpose – from wiki's citation, "Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim." This is why rocks don't get to play: they have no aim. If this seems reasonable, there are some relatively straightforward things that can be said; if not, I'd like to hear specifically why you think that.

    For views that follow, in your words, "after the Judeo-Christian fashion," human life has a clear aim. That aim varies from view to view – to honor God, to make others' lives better, etc. – but there certainly IS such an aim for each such view. I will, again, assume here that you find Aristotle's teleological ethics compelling, which means now that we have to ask the question of why, exactly, that kind of aim can only exist in a world with (or, perhaps, be supported by) "a truly transcendent and immanent God."

    Evolution, which presumably needn't have a God behind its scenes, certainly has an aim: survival. One might argue what, exactly, is supposed to survive (species of animals? types of genes? etc.?), but clearly something is, or else there wouldn't be any emergent patterns. So at least initially it seems like principle-guided societies and species survival make a lot of sense even without God. Then again there are other religious views that have other kinds of gods or none at all and yet still propose to define the aim of human existence. I'm not particularly expert in any of these, but certainly Buddhism comes to mind. So why would your God be necessary?

    Moreover, why would your God necessarily help answer the question as you've put it? At least for some Jewish and Christian sects, the "aim" (here meaning "eventual destination") of humanity is (biological) extinction, which would somewhat undermine the whole principled-society thing as well. As I understand it, even those sects that view eternity as biologically realized do so under the assumption that it's miraculous – i.e., that humans couldn't affect it even if they tried. Thus, if you believe ought implies can, this view, too, destroys what we think of as morality.

    You could always just disagree with Aristotle, but then I think you get into some really serious problems. But I've gone on for long enough – what's your response?

  88. Larry,

    Thanks a lot for your interaction! I had stopped checking this thread, assuming it was dead. I hope you get this.

    There's a number of points in your response which will require in depth responses; I will try to hit them all.

    First, "good for a rock" is only incoherent in certain contexts. Coherence is defined by context. "The sky is dark" is incoherent in the context of a discussion on ethics. The same statement is coherent in a discussion of whether to have a picnic lunch. However, I'm sure you realize this. Your point is that "good for a rock" is incoherent in a discussion of ethics. I both agree and disagree. In the context of my own moral philosophy, "good for a rock" has tangential coherence. Intentionally destroying natural unique lithic beauty (such as "the old man in the mountain" which is, sadly, gone) is a violation of the good. Although that could be said to only relate to the violation of other humans' right to enjoy such beauty, I would argue that creation has a degree of moral rights, by virtue of being the creation of the Creator (follow me here, and I will defend my belief in a Creator later).

    However, in the naturalist evolutionary philosophical construction, "good for a rock" is as coherent as "good for a human". There is no substantial difference between the two. The only difference between a rock and a human is molecular complexity, and you would either have to presuppose or prove that molecular complexity is a measure of good. We both have the same end after all; the rock will erode into dust, and humans will die and decay into dust. The same molecules that make up humans might become part of a rock, and the same molecules that make up a rock might become part of a human.

    Second, Aristotle. You started your paragraph with "the western tradition…" What about the eastern tradition? Or any other tradition? What prejudices the western over any other tradition? Aristotle is a great philosopher, but there are other great philosophers who said things quite contrary. Who arbitrates between these? Is it a moral buffet in which everyone chooses what they prefer? Intuitively, at least, you do not believe that, because you responded to me trying to show me where I am wrong. Now perhaps you were just using that as a starting point: fair enough. But Aristotle's ethic, at least as far as the wiki article that you cited does not prove that "rock's don't get to play". After all, presumably there is some "form" of rock, for which the molecules are the substance. Rock is a form, as human is a form. Furthermore, you could argue that rocks don't get to play because they don't have self-consciousness. They can't chose their aim. Several things could be said to that though: first, we don't chose our ultimate aim of becoming dust either; second, what is self-consciousness but complex chemical reactions? In a naturalist philosophy there is no such thing as free-will or self-consciousness. They are illusions. Everything is a continual chain of cause and effect guided by the natural laws of the universe. The stimulus of reading my posts caused a chain reaction to begin in your head which predetermined that you would respond and what you would say.

    My beliefs in regards to Aristotle's teleological ethics are too complex to simply write down and is hindered by my relative ignorance concerning his finer points. I know this is unsatisfactory, but hopefully, what I believe will become know through the rest of the conversation.

    Larry, you've obviously thought through this carefully and have some excellent thoughts. I am enjoying the challenging discussion! I jumped the gun with my PS in the last post because I wanted to be honest about my beliefs. In order to get to that conclusion I had intended on developing a long argument. That is why it might have seemed to come out of the blue without justification.

    Let me see if I can answer some of your further thoughts. Evolution has an aim – you are correct in that – but as you rightly point out, there is no distinguishing which species should survive. Perhaps that isn't significant. Survival as an ethical foundation does provide a large base upon which to build a moral philosophy. However, this will lead us into a much deeper question. Is "evolution" an "emerging pattern" or is it a universal law? If it is a pattern, then it has no causal force, and, I would argue, no ethical weight. Patterns are descriptions of reality, not prescriptions. You would have to argue for a moral good to pattern coherence. And of course that would lead to the question of which pattern should one follow? Humans exhibit a pattern of brutal violence and evil. Is that a pattern that we are prescribed to follow? And if not, why do you prejudice the pattern of survival over violence? For that matter, death is a more consistent pattern than survival is.

    But what if it is a law of the universe (like gravity)? This leads to the question of what is a "law of the universe"? There is no transcendent law book which guides the universe. Scientists do not have access to some scientific textbook of the universe. The so called "natural laws" are in fact patterns. Gravity is a "law" not because someone wrote it (at least from the naturalist perspective) but because it is a consistent pattern (at least as far as we can tell). Of course there is no way of knowing that gravity will not change its' constant from 9.81 to 3.14 tomorrow. Flip a coin 100 times. If you get heads all 100 times, the odds of getting tails the 101st time is still only 50/50. Even though the so-called laws of nature demonstrate a high degree of consistency (some would argue perfect consistency, but that is a leap of faith which excludes anomalies, namely, miracles) there is no way of knowing that they will continue in that consistency. (As an aside, this is why the modern scientific enterprise was begun by Christians who believed in a consistent God who sustained the universe – modern science was built on the belief in a God). It may seem absurd to you in light of the several thousand years of consistently calculating the value of Pi, or the several hundred years of consistently recording the gravitational constant. However, In a universe supposedly tens of billions of years old, 3,000 years does not even come close to a satisfactory sample set. Natural processes take tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years to occur. For instance, every 50,000-100,000 years the magnetic poles reverse. Who's to say that the gravitational constant won't either?

    Even if evolution is a pattern or a law (which is really a pattern), that does not give a morally compelling reason why such a pattern should be continued. That is a description of reality, not a prescription.

    Your point about Christian and Jewish sects differing in their beliefs about the aim is well taken. Christians have become confused of late concerning what the Bible and the church has taught. I am firmly in the camp which believes that the telos of humankind is to be bodily raised from the dead to live on this earth which has been "made new" (fixed up, all the evil taken away, death, sickness, etc. destroyed). N. T. Wright's book "Surprised by Hope" does an excellent job of laying that out (he was interviewed by Stephen Colbert concerning this book a little while ago. Do a google search and you'll find the 6 min clip).

    But that isn't necessary for a Christian moral philosophy. I've gone on quite long enough, but I'll try to *quickly* sketch the beginnings of such a philosophy and why morality only makes sense with the believe in a Judeo-Christian God. I should say, though, that I absolutely mean no disrespect to anyone else's religion. I believe what I believe firmly, but I do not wish to offend anyone – challenge perhaps, but not offend.

    Morality needs a transcendent God because otherwise all morality is subjective, relative. We need an outside arbiter who will tell us that murder is wrong, otherwise the murderer will disagree with our moral beliefs, and we have no place from which to critique him. We are left saying, well I believe you should not murder me, but you believe you should, so I'll hold my belief and you hold yours. This shouldn't be controversial. It is the reason we have judges and third party arbiters. We need a transcendent source of morality otherwise morality devolves into "everyone/culture does what is right in their own eyes".

    An immanent God cannot solve evil, and immanent God, at best, is co-equal with evil, and at worst is part of the evil itself. For instance, if God indwells everyone then the murderer has as much claim to god-like authority as you do. And the patterns of violence and evil in this world have no solution. In fact they are part of God. We need a God outside of us, and outside of reality to judge, rule, and make things right. Furthermore, how would we know what good and evil are if God is completely immanent? If he has so identified with nature or us or both that we can't distinguish between them? What is evil and what is good? An immanent God can not and does not give us the answer.

    But a transcendent God will not do either. We need an immanent God because there is no reason to obey a transcendent God (I am thinking of the deists primarily). A transcendent God who made the universe and then left it, or who never involves himself in it, can not fix the evil of the world. Furthermore he can not provide a reason for obeying him. Sure, he made the universe but what do I care? He's not here and he's not coming back, and he doesn't concern himself with us, so why should I concern myself with him? Furthermore, how can we possibly know what is right or wrong is he is totally transcendent? He never speaks to us and so we can not know what he wants. A transcendent God is little better than an immanent God.

    We need a God who is simultaneously transcendent and immanent. A God who is outside of us, but interacts with us, enters into history to speak to us, tells us what is right and wrong and gives us a reason to care. We need a God who is transcendent in order to arbitrate morality and a God who is immanent in order to give us that morality. We need a God who is transcendent in order to be able to fix evil, and a God who is immanent in order to actually enter our universe and accomplish that. We also need a personal God (meaning He is a person) to interact with us. A personal God who arbitrates for us, and a personal God who interacts with us. The only God who fits the bill is the Judeo-Christian God. Islam has a transcendent God, some of the eastern religions have immanent Gods, but only Judaism and Christianity have a simultaneously transcendent and immanent God. The difference between Judaism and Christianity, fundamentally, is whether Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ the Messiah.

    This is a very brief sketch and for a much better job, see Tim Keller's best seller, "The Reason for God", and NT Wright's "Simply Christian". They both deal with the problem of evil as well.

    I'd love to here your thought, though, Larry. I've said enough!


  89. "Intentionally destroying natural unique lithic beauty (such as "the old man in the mountain" which is, sadly, gone) is a violation of the good."

    Aha: but a violation of *the* good need not be a violation of any specific thing's good. Take malaria: what's good for malaria is almost always bad for humans, which presumably makes it overall bad. So "doing x to a rock is bad" does not necessarily mean "doing x to a rock is bad for the rock."

    "The only difference between a rock and a human is molecular complexity, and you would either have to presuppose or prove that molecular complexity is a measure of good."

    That seems a bit overly simplistic. Would you say that there are no real differences between rocks and food? I hope not, even though clearly the only fundamental difference there is the arrangement of molecules. Humans are conscious, sensate, and active, whereas rocks are none of those things. Any one of those could be used as the basis for an atheistic morality. I'll probably defend one later on, so we'll wait til then for that.

    (I guess, though, that you could have used the word "substantial" more literally, but that would be missing the point. Just because rocks and humans are made of essentially the same substance doesn't make them morally equivalent.)

    "What prejudices the western over any other tradition?"

    Oh, nothing in particular, it's just the one I'm most familiar with. I also assumed that it would be the most intuitive for you, too, but if not feel free to use another.

    "…you could argue that rocks don't get to play because they don't have self-consciousness. They can't chose their aim. Several things could be said to that though: first, we don't chose our ultimate aim of becoming dust either; second, what is self-consciousness but complex chemical reactions?"

    Er, I seem to have misstated things somewhat: non-conscious things can have ends, too. I think Aristotle's examples were like a hammer and a knife, or something – things that are clearly non-conscious but that nonetheless can be called "good" or "bad" because they exist to serve a purpose. It also doesn't matter what consciousness is so long as it exists: unfree intention is just as capable of identifying ends as free intention is. Finally, not all purposes in Aristotle's sense are intended: he thought ours was to know stuff (typical philosopher!), but he never said that we were intentionally designed to know stuff. The reason rocks don't get to play, again, is simply that they exist without an end, without a purpose.

    "But what if it is a law of the universe (like gravity)? This leads to the question of what is a "law of the universe"? There is no transcendent law book which guides the universe. Scientists do not have access to some scientific textbook of the universe."

    (I skipped the other part cause I'm not going down that road.) I have to point out here that the last sentence doesn't prove the second-to-last. Much as I appreciate the Humean direction you're taking here, it's one thing to say that an argument for position p fails and another thing to say that position p itself is false. Even if you want to be ruthlessly skeptical, the most you can establish is that we do not know that seeming laws really are laws; saying that our ignorance proves the nonexistence of such laws is going too far. Anyway, evolution isn't a law in the sense that gravity is: it's a pretty trivial result of statistical axioms, which are (we think) of a different sort than physical laws.

    "Even if evolution is a pattern or a law (which is really a pattern), that does not give a morally compelling reason why such a pattern should be continued. That is a description of reality, not a prescription."

    This is the important observation. There's a lot to unpack here, so again I'll defer this.

    "I am firmly in the camp which believes that the telos of humankind is to be bodily raised from the dead to live on this earth which has been "made new.""

    So do you see something in Aristotle after all! Interesting – can I now ask you why this bodily resurrection would contribute to the good? It seems like it might be *fun* given certain conditions, but fun =/= good, right? I'll suggest an answer to this momentarily.

    "Morality needs a transcendent God because otherwise all morality is subjective, relative. We need an outside arbiter who will tell us that murder is wrong, otherwise the murderer will disagree with our moral beliefs, and we have no place from which to critique him."

    But why? I again refer you to Buddhism, on which the objective delimiters of morality are impersonal laws: are these subjective somehow just because they aren't conscious? If so, the laws of physics are much flimsier than we thought. Also, if your God is supposed to be beyond reproach, you may want to look into finding another god…

    "We need a God outside of us, and outside of reality to judge, rule, and make things right."

    We need to have things made right? It would be nice if things were made right, but I fail to see how this is a need: humans have been going for a pretty long time without any supernatural right-making on the horizon.

    "We need a God who is transcendent in order to arbitrate morality"

    Again, why? Buddhism does just fine without this

    "We also need a personal God (meaning He is a person) to interact with us."

    Where'd this come from? I certainly don't need to interact with God, especially not to understand morality.

    But what do I need in order to understand morality? One would think that the only thing I need is to understand humans, because if morality is at all relevant to us it must pertain to our benefit in some way or other. Thus, if I can understand what benefits humans, I will at least have found the absolute limits of morality, if not morality itself. Either that or ethics are totally foreign to humans, but in this case you and I are equally without footing in this argument.

    Obviously, what benefits humans depends on what humans are fundamentally. On your ontology I don't really have much to say, because your ontology is specifically defined to match your ethics. But on the assumption that humans are just a certain kind of animal, it's pretty clear that harms and aids still exist. At least there's hope for an atheistic ethics, then: the question is just how to narrow down the choices.

    Following a Darwin-Aristotle hybrid, we can start by saying that those things that harm us individually and/or hinder our ability to make our species more adaptable are wrong, whereas those things that help us individually and/or make our species more adaptable are right. This might seem like I'm falling right into your "but then all ethics are subjective!" trap, but in fact I'm not: the survival of the human species and the pleasantness of any given human life distinctly depend (at least locally) on the condition of other humans. There are some questions that arise about how much personal good it takes to outweigh the public good or vice versa, but these can be addressed in a case-by-case basis. (If you have some cases, I'd be happy to address them.) But where is the ambiguity in this, or the malleability? Ethical rules of this sort might not be written down in a book – though Biblical ethics ain't exactly crystal clear either – but that doesn't mean they're totally out of our ability to apprehend. And yes, there's very little chance that things will ever be made right – but so what? It seems like that's a conclusion we ought to have learned to live with a long time ago. If you think otherwise, I will be happy to disabuse you of that notion, because there is no getting away from injustice with your God.

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