Monday, February 28, 2011

Which Law Reduces the Most Evil? [Serge]

I've been reading the comments that have offered about Scott's posts here and here, and I can't help but wonder about this question. Right now abortion is considered a legal right for essentially all 9 months of pregnancy. We can all agree that this is an abominable situation that demands social justice. I believe we can also all agree that what we seek in the future is that every single human being, regardless of the circumstances of their conception, should be valued and protected by law.

However, in the meantime, lets imagine a continuum of laws that lie somewhere between the present situation and the one that we all seek after. Let me offer an example:

1. The present situation: abortion a legal right for basically all 9 months of pregnancy.
2. Abortion legal in the first trimester, but illegal thereafter.
3. Abortion illegal in all three trimesters with the exception of rape and incest.
4. The ideal situation: every human being is protected by law without exception.

Once again, we agree that the present situation (#1) is abominable and the ideal situation (#4) is what we should seek. It seems that absolutist position would hold that until #4 could be accomplished (which we agree is a laudable goal), that we should not support any reduction of abortion that could be accomplished by laws 2 or 3.

Do I have this correct? Could anyone offer a logical argument to support that we should reject 2 & 3 until we can accomplish 4?


  1. The absolutists need to understand what it means to win battles before we can win the war. Nowhere did Abby or Scott say that they condoned elective abortion in any form. They said quite the opposite in fact. Rather, we have to accept that a constitutional ammendment outlawing abortion is unlikely to happen over night. For the time being, we should not oppose laws that are better than the ones in place now.

    For example, equal opportunity for women and non-whites did not happen through one swooping act by the government but over years of political battle and many different laws being passed. Should civil rights defenders have supported no laws that improved the condition until it could be fixed entirely?

  2. Serge, this is devastating. Thanks for laying out the logic so clearly.

  3. Ultimately the argument that the absolutists are making is a great example of the 'Perfectionist fallacy'--does it really follow that nothing should be done until everything can be done? Of course not, and the end result of such thinking is the needless loss of more life to abortion. It commits a known logical fallacy that is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdam.

    Thank you, LTI, for coming to the defense of Johnson.

  4. The best arguments I have heard in favor of the absolutist position goes as follows: basically, any law that we fight for which is an "incrimentalist" law undermines our goal of reaching number 4. Why? Because it gives people the false assumption that the ends of what we are trying to do is get parental notifications or make a certain procedure illegal. 'So now the pro-lifers have passed a parental notification law and, what is this? They want more?'

    That is a very simplistic way of stating it, but it at least puts forward some other argument than "... and then you can kill the baby." It also does not make clear to our opponents that we value teh unborn not because it can feel pain or because it is viable, but simply because of what it is- a human being.

    There is also the fact that it really isn't making much of a statement to really get extremely excited about a 24 hour waiting period law. It's like a watered down version of Christianity- who wants a Christianity where it's just kumbaya huggy kissy feely and no real theology or very serious beliefs to get behind? So in that sense, I think personhood is much more attractive because it really gives someone something serious to get behind and support.

    But what this shows is that the real difference between incramentalists and absolutists is one of strategy, not morality. This is why I think it's somewhat deceptive when the only argument we tend to hear from the absolutists is "and then you can kill the baby" because when you press them to flesh out their argument more carefully, it's something like the above. Repeating ad nausium "and then you can kill the baby" makes it seem like the incrimentalists are committing some sort of moral evil when in fact, the real difference is about strategy.

    This is why I am behind personhood first and foremost, but I would never do anything to undermine incrimentalist laws. I think the personhood strategy is better- but it is just that, a strategy and not a moral issue like I think too many people make it out to be. Thus, I expect to feel the wrath of both sides.

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  6. I think an important difference between the compromise positions in this battle, rather than in other civil rights issues is that in abortion, the citizenry tends to support a middle-ground position in and of itself.

    Historically speaking, those middle-ground agreements involved a patchwork of concessions from both sides of the particular issue. Ours does not. This is different. Laws which restrict abortion but contain exceptions for rape and incest are not designed to represent a handshake by opposite sides of an issue. On the contrary, they are our side's attempt to pander to majority opinion.

    In other words, rewind 150+ years and I don't think you would find a large percentage of the population believing that slaves should be 3/5 of a person. Whereas today, you will find a LARGE percentage of people believe that the middle ground actually is the correct position. The subsequent fear is naturally that these types of legislation represent an end game, and not a stepping stone, and maybe we are fooling ourselves.

  7. I think an important difference between the compromise positions in this battle, rather than in other civil rights issues is that in abortion, the citizenry tends to support a middle-ground position in and of itself.

    Alex, according to you, there are a number of individuals who presently take a middle ground position. Using the numbering system in the post, they are uncomfortable with #1, but definitely would not support #4 at this time. Maybe they would support position #2 or 3.

    The question is how do we convince them to eventually support #4? Your answer is the best way to #4 is to not allow them to support laws 2 or 3. In fact, if they are allowed to support laws 2 or 3, that would dissuade them from ever supporting #4.

    This seems absurd on its face. The good news is at least it doesn't imply that we are immoral or sinful to support #2 or #3 with the goal of accomplishing #4 that so many others do.

  8. Serge,

    We undermine the Right to Life principle anytime we deal with abortion as a policy issue rather than as a matter of inviolable, inalienable principle.

    High school students generally take a middle-ground opinion about abortion, whereas they're all 100% against slavery as a matter of principle.

    Why? Because they've been taught (by us!) that abortion is a policy issue whereas slavery is a matter of principle.

  9. It seems to me that the best way to convince people that position #4 is the correct position and that 1-3 are grossly immoral is to actually work directly for position #4. We should push legislation that declares that unborn humans are persons from the beginning of life. This will put the issue in the public face and give us an opportunity to make our case.

    I'm not saying that we should oppose "regulation" legislation such as parental notification and ultrasound bills. I'm just saying that the best way to make our case for the personhood of the preborn is to actually put that very issue before the voters. Again and again and again.

  10. Drew,

    I don't disagree that the goal needs to be #4. I'm not opposed to working directly towards #4. That is not what the question was.

    Suppose we lobby incredibly hard for #4 but it fails. However, a separate bill like #3 looks like it will pass. Should we threaten pro-life politicians that we will remove their funding if they vote for #3? Or should we save the 99% of the children that we can until we can ensure that the law reflects that every human being is valued and protected by law?

  11. Serge, i'm not a purist. i support regulatory laws that try to save a few babies. In fact, Bob Enyart took me to the toolshed on his radio show because i gathered signatures for a parental notification law in Oregon in 2006.

    Two things bother me. First, i get really annoyed by purists who go hostile over regulations meant to save some babies. i've seen plenty of that in the responses on this website.

    Second, i don't understand how some "incrementalists" refuse to back personhood amendments. Personhood amendments allow us to teach the humanity of the unborn. The "it's the wrong time" nonsense is thoroughly unconvincing. It's never the wrong time to present our case.

  12. Thank you, Drew! I am thoroughly convinced that incremental measures set the movement back, but I don't doubt that those who support them are sincere. What I don't understand is why so many pro-lifers actively attack those of us who push for Personhood, or even lobby against such measures.

  13. David, that isn't the no-compromise position (or Personhood position) at all. Obviously, Personhood strategies are going on in about 40 states right now, trying to pass abortion bans in each one individually.

    It has often been a popular criticism of no-compromise people that we wouldn't allow a state to ban something that didn't apply in all states. It's only a straw man argument though -- no one holds that view.

    What we oppose is laws that say "abortion can only be allowed if..." (which undermines the principle of the Right to Life because if abortion is allowed for any reason, there IS no Right to Life, but merely a privilege bestowed by the government).


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