Merry Christmas

December 25, 2009

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him,

and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life,

and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light,

that all might believe through him.

He was not the light,

but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light,

which enlightens everyone,

was coming into the world.

He was in the world,

and the world was made through him,

yet the world did not know him.

He came to his own,

and his own people did not receive him.

But to all who did receive him,

who believed in his name,

he gave the right to become children of God,

who were born,

not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man,

but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,

and we have seen his glory,

glory as of the only Son from the Father,

full of grace and truth.

(John bore witness about him, and cried out,

“This was he of whom I said,

‘He who comes after me ranks before me,

because he was before me.'”)

And from his fullness we have all received,

grace upon grace.

For the law was given through Moses;

grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God;

the only God, who is at the Father’s side,

he has made him known.

(John 1:1-18 ESV)

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Follow-up: what about “therapeutic abortions”?

December 14, 2009

David Kjos made a really good comment on my previous post on abortion arguments on Twitter. Since Haloscan will be going bye-bye in a couple of weeks, I thought it appropriate to simply copy the comment here and reply rather than do so in the comments.

He writes:

This is off-topic, but …

On the “therapeutic abortion”:

I can agree if certain death for both mother and child is imminent. But I don’t believe abortion to save the life of the mother should be a foregone conclusion, or considered self-defense.

First, it’s not self defense because the child is not assaulting the mother.

Second, what mother or father would not — or should not — stand between an armed assailant and their child, or risk their lives in any number of ways, to save that child? We naturally expect that kind of self sacrifice. How is risking one’s life in order to carry a child to term different?

Back on-topic, you are so right about the absurdity of the extreme case argument. What if a[n unemployed] green man from Mars with no medical insurance and no family or church to call upon suddenly needs a gizzard transplant? Am I allowed to rob a bank to finance the operation?

Thanks for the question.

I suppose that the textbook case of a life-threatening pregnancy is an ectopic pregnancy, in which a zygote implants somewhere other than the uterine lining, typically the Fallopian tube. Many ectopic pregnancies will abort spontaneously, but about half do not. Left untreated, a developing fetus will eventually grow to the point that it causes serious tissue damage or hemorrhaging that can lead to the death of the mother – and therefore also of the unborn child, who is almost always non-viable at this stage of gestation. Recent surgeries have successfully saved the life of both mother and child, but my arguments here are based on the past situation where no such surgery was available (and my assumption that such procedures are still somewhat rare and experimental).

A therapeutic abortion is not “self-defense” in the same sense as, say, shooting an armed robber or a rabid animal that is attacking you. Rather, it’s more like defending yourself against a life-threatening cancer. While I don’t regard pregnancy like a disease by any stretch, the situations are comparable in that nothing is attacking the mother with malicious intent, but an otherwise normal biological function has gone very wrong and now threatens her life.

So the situation that I was considering when I wrote my previous post was not merely one in which the mother is risking her health by carrying the child to term – rather, it is one in which (as David says) death is virtually imminent and drastic measures must be taken to prevent it. Not doing so isn’t a mere risk, nor is it analogous to a parent risking his or her own life to shield a child from harm; it’s tantamount to suicide.

Suppose a patient went into a surgeon’s office and requested the amputation of her leg above the knee. No medical condition required the amputation; the patient simply had a sexual fetish associated with amputees. If the doctor carried out the surgery, it would be a mutilation and he would be guilty of medical malpractice. (In fact, the desire to become an amputee is considered a mental illness called Bodily Integrity Identity Disorder.) On the other hand, if the same woman had cancer, and the only way to stop the disease were to amputate her leg above the knee, the same procedure (while still disfiguring) is now life-saving surgery.

And this is how I see abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, when no other life-saving measure is possible that would preserve the life of both mother and child. Obviously I don’t deny that the unborn child is a human being deserving of life, or that therapeutic abortion is other than a necessary evil. It’s just that in some cases, drastic measures are required to save one life instead of losing two. The intent is not to kill, but to save life, albeit with “collateral damage.”

Again, let me stress one more time: such conditions are very rare. And just because some abortions may be medically justifiable in the face of a life-threatening pregnancy, that does not mean we can morally justify millions of abortions that have been carried out for no medically necessary reason.


Trotting out the “12-year-old rape victim”

December 11, 2009

I have recently been following – sometimes against my better judgment, and frequently against my better emotional fitness – the #prolife hashtag on Twitter. In addition to the expected news stories and retweets, there are a small but vocal cadre of poor-choice Twittererers who also make liberal use of the tag. Not that they have much to say: mostly factoids, misrepresentations of the pro-life position, and vapid bumper-sticker aphorisms that don’t really mean anything: “If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?” (When you thnk killing people is a valid moral option, should I trust you with the choice?)

Inevitably, at least daily, someone will bring up what pro-life writers like Scott Klusendorf call the “hard cases.” On Twitter, this tweet is typical of what I see:

[W]hat about the 12 yr old girls who have been raped by their fathers & could die during pregnancy.

This one is so extreme, it manages to hit all the talking points: very young pregnancy, rape, incest, and danger to life. Surely, in such an instance, we can tolerate just one abortion, right?

But hold on. First of all, any one of those “hard cases” is very rare. And I’d hazard a guess that all four at once is so exceedingly rare, it’s well nigh impossible.

And that’s the main problem with “hard case” casuistry: at best, you can make a case for abortion in those hard cases, but you can’t justify extending the argument to any and every abortion being morally permissible. If I were to admit that abortion is justified for the 12-year-old incest-rape-victim ectopic-pregnancy girl, how does that justify the hundreds of thousands of abortions that are carried out every year on adult women whose pregnancy is healthy, normal, and the result of a consensual sexual encounter where the condom happened to break?

The question to ask in these cases (unfortunately too complex to express in 140 characters) goes something like this:

If I concede that abortion is morally justifiable in this hard case (be it rape, incest, or whatever), will you join me to oppose abortions carried out for no such pressing reason?

If the pro-abortion-choice person says yes, as Klusendorf says, you may have gained an ally in working to end abortion on demand. On the other hand, if she says no, then she isn’t really concerned with the hypothetical 12-year-old rape victim. The “hard case” exception is a red herring.

The unstated assumption in this argument is that “if difficult circumstance X [as well as Y, Z, and W in this particular epic tweet] obtains, then abortion is justified.” But it’s not necessarily so.

I’m a hard-justice kind of person. Not only do I support the death penalty, I feel it’s also justified in a number of serious offenses beyond homicide – rape being one of those. String the rapist up by his testicles with concertina wire, and let him bleed to death. But it doesn’t follow that a pregnancy caused by rape justifies an abortion. Regardless of his origin, someone conceived by rape is still a human being. A woman raped has certainly been victimized, but that cannot justify her victimizing another human being in turn, because of the sins of his father. It seems to me also that the same argument applies to the case of incest.

In a very small number of pregnancies, there is a very real danger to the physical health of the mother. And in this case, I believe that a therapeutic abortion may be justified if it would save her life. Although it is an unpleasant alternative, it might be an act of self-defense. Better that one person lives, than two die.

The use of a 12-year-old in this argument is ambiguous. Is it dangerous to the health of a girl of that young age? In that case, it’s just a variation on the “health of the mother” argument. If it’s simply a matter of a 12-year-old girl being too young to be a mother, on the other hand, then it’s no different from any appeal to poverty or bad circumstances. Being 12 years old does not change the humanity of your unborn offspring, and therefore its moral status is no different than the offspring of an adult woman with a healthy pregnancy: you can’t just “choose” to kill human beings merely because you don’t want them.

It is wrong to kill blameless human beings without appropriate justification. That is axiomatic. And I don’t find anything in the above to be appropriate justification. There is no “12-year-old pregnant rape and incest victim” exception to the axiom, no matter how many times the pro-poor-choice tweeters trot it out.1 The purpose of these “hard cases” is not to make a coherent argument for abortion rights; rather, it’s intended to short-circuit your reason and go for your emotions. (After all, who would be so heartless as to “punish” a 12-year-old girl with twin Lovecraftian horrors of pregnancy and childbirth?) Don’t be snowed, and don’t be afraid to call it the emotionalistic nonsense that it is.

Postscript: If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, my nick is “RansomOttawa.” If I recognize you as a personal friend or someone I know (or am interested in) from online, I’ll probably return the favour. I do tend to be a bit high-volume when it comes to trading blows with the #prochoice clowns, so be warned.

Footnote

1 My opponent in this instance, however, didn’t find this so axiomatic: as he later said, “there are no absolutes in this world”; and, a few minutes later, “I think there absolutely should be a victim exception.” Wrap your head around that dizzying intellect for a minute. Then, he called me an idiot for pointing out the obvious.