Friday, September 30, 2016

Is Consent to Sex Consent to Pregnancy? [Clinton Wilcox]

In her book Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent, sociologist Eileen McDonagh argued that pro-choice people should move the debate from being about choice to consent. In other words, instead of arguing a woman has a "right to choose" abortion, they should be arguing that an embryo only has the right to a woman's uterus if she grants consent to the uterus, and only if consent is ongoing. She argued that sex doesn't make a woman pregnant, sex only creates the embryo, and it's the embryo that makes the woman pregnant. Since the embryo occupies the woman's uterus against her will, the embryo is essentially a rapist, or a parasite (or perhaps one of the aliens from Alien). Since the embryo is essentially a rapist, the state has an obligation to protect her from this invader in the same way the state would use the police to protect her from an actual rapist.

That's the thesis of her book, essentially. McDonagh has succeeded to some degree in changing the abortion debate to be about consent. I don't encounter this argument when I'm talking to a pro-abortion-choice advocate in person. But I occasionally encounter this argument in on-line discussions. It doesn't hold up to scrutiny, and it's not an argument that is seriously defended by most pro-abortion-choice people. It's more of an argument pro-abortion-choice people keep in their quiver as a backup.

The argument fails for a few reasons, mainly because it has a wrong idea of where to place responsibility for the pregnancy. It's true that sex creates the embryo, but what is missed is not simply that the embryo is too young to have any rational idea of what is going on so he/she is not morally responsible for implanting in the uterus, but the embryo also is not causally responsible for implanting in the uterus. The woman's body is. Once the embryo is conceived from the sperm and the ovum, tiny hairs in the fallopian tube, called cilia, then pick up the newly conceived embryo and transport it into the uterus, where it then implants. It is the act of sex, itself, that not only conceives the embryo but also causes the embryo to implant in the uterus since it starts a chain reaction of causes and effects that results in pregnancy. Any woman who consensually engages in sex is responsible, morally and causally, for her pregnancy (of course, the man is responsible, too, but I am focusing on the woman for the purposes of this discussion). Since she engages in an act that is intrinsically ordered toward procreation, she is, then, morally responsible for caring for any embryo that results from this union.

On top of tacitly granting consent to the use of her uterus by virtue of the fact she consented to the act that created the embryo and placed the embryo in a state of dependence upon her, this consent cannot be revoked. If the only way to remove someone from your property is to kill them, you cannot evict them. By way of analogy, if I allow someone the use of my house, I can revoke consent at any time. However, if I have granted that person consent to use my storm cellar during a tornado, I cannot then revoke consent until the tornado is gone and there is no danger. Even the idea of tacit consent can be seen here. Suppose "Weird Al" Yankovic's in town. I go to where he is appearing, then I drug his drink and take him back to my home, refusing to let him leave until he signs all of my CD's. But suppose I live in Kansas and in the midst of trying to get his autograph, a tornado touches down near my house. I can't, then, turn him out and say "tough luck, pal. You refused to polka with me, so my storm cellar, my choice." I now have a tacit obligation to protect him in my storm cellar because I have placed him in a state of dependence on me for protection.

Another argument sometimes invoked to make this point is if you get into a car and get into an accident, you consented to drive but you did not consent to being in an accident. The doctor will still heal the person, even though they consented to get behind the wheel.

This is, of course, true. But driving is not an act that intrinsically leads to getting in an accident in the same way that sex intrinsically leads to getting pregnant. If everything works as it is intended, then having sex will conceive a child. However, in driving, getting in an accident is an abuse of the intended function of the car. The intended function is to transport people and objects.

To reiterate, this argument is not a very good one. It is also easy to show why the argument doesn't work. It requires denial of the metaphysical reality of cause and effect, namely that sex causes pregnancy; it doesn't just cause the embryo. The embryo would not exist if the man and woman did not have sex in the first place.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Love Unleashes Life: Abortion and the Art of Communicating Truth by Stephanie Gray [Clinton Wilcox]

(Full disclosure: Stephanie is a friend and I have had the pleasure of engaging in pro-life activism with her. As such, I'll be referring to her by her first name because it feels weird to me to call her Gray. Additionally, even though she's a friend, these are still my honest thoughts on her book.)

Love Unleashes Life is the newest book from pro-life advocate Stephanie Gray. It's a book that covers some of the intellectual and emotional arguments for abortion and how to respond to them, but the main focus of the book is in teaching people not just how to respond to these arguments, but also in how to engage in a more human way, by recognizing when emotional hang-ups and past trauma are undergirding someone's arguments.

This book should be on every pro-life advocate's bookshelf. There are a lot of books you can pick up to help respond to pro-abortion-choice arguments, but precious few books that help engaging pro-abortion-choice people in a way that cuts to the heart and responds not just to concerns people have but in responding to the trauma they have experienced in the past. Few books, if any, do that as well as Steph's book here.

This book seems to be largely intended for Christian readers. It's neither a pro nor a con, but I think worth pointing out, since I have nonreligious readers, as well. I do think nonreligious people can find a lot of value in this book, if they can overlook the Scripture references. And of course, the arguments she gives against these pro-abortion-choice arguments are nonreligious so as to appeal to the largest number of people possible and change more hearts and minds on the issue.

Aside from the aforementioned, one of the things that stood out in particular is the fact that it's an excellent primer on communicating a controversial message. If you want to be a good communicator you will do well to pick up this book. On top of that, it has good focus on how to use language well (for a couple of examples, she talks about avoiding the word "but" because it can sound dismissive, and about using personal pronouns, such as "he" and "she" when referring to the unborn).

I really enjoyed her discussion of double effect reasoning (pp. 64-65). Usually in discussions about abortions in the case of the woman's life being in jeopardy, the intentionality criterion is emphasized (e.g. that the unborn child's death is foreseen but unintended), but the other criteria for when double effect permits saving the woman's life in a life-threatening pregnancy aren't really discussed. Stephanie discusses all four criteria in some detail, to show what kinds of procedures double effect reasoning justifies. Her discussion even helped clarify my thinking a bit on this issue.

As great as this book is, there are still some areas I feel could use improvement (perhaps for consideration in a second edition sometime in the future), and they're mainly along the philosophical side of things.

Her book was mainly geared toward helping people like me talk more humanly about abortion, so it's not meant as a primer on the intellectual arguments for abortion choice. However, there were some arguments that were conspicuously missing.

In her discussion of rape, she trots out the toddler to show that since we would not kill a toddler who was conceived in rape, if the unborn are fully human we should not kill the unborn for this reason. That's true as far as it goes, but most pro-abortion-choice people argue the reason abortion is permissible in rape is because she has been made pregnant against her will, so we should not force her to use her body for this child because she did not consent to having sex. Steph did address bodily rights arguments, but didn't address them in the context of the rape discussion.

Another thing was her constant use of the term pre-born. I understand why she is using it, and I know many pro-life people who insist on using it (over the term "unborn"). The problem is that many pro-abortion-choice people consider the term "pre-born" to be a propagandistic term. It can lead to irrelevant debates over terminology if you use that term rather than unborn. It's possible that Steph's experience has shown her otherwise, but in my experience using "pre-born" instead of "unborn" can derail the conversation. At the very least, I thought the book could have used a brief section talking about why she opted to use "pre-born" instead of "unborn".

Her section about personhood is good, but I feel it didn't go far enough. Most of the way Steph responds to the question of personhood is by driving home the point that it's ageism -- the reason the unborn aren't conscious or self-aware is because they're too young to be conscious or self-aware, but will be in time. However, in our current age we are defending what has come to be considered a controversial proposition -- that there are such things as natures, and that numerical identity is retained even in the absence of psychological connectedness. Again, I realize the point of the book was not to go too deep into these arguments (and there are other books one can read to learn how to respond to these arguments), but I feel that we'd encounter a number of people who might actually answer "yes" to the question of whether or not age is a relevant factor in one's value, especially considering that euthanasia is becoming more accepted. So I would have liked to see addressed why consciousness or self-awareness are not relevant factors in determining one's value, since there are a number of people we'll have to respond to who hold to these types of arguments.

My final con was regarding her section of the teleological view of the uterus. This is a view I wholeheartedly endorse, and she's really the only person in the abortion literature I've seen defend this specific view (other thinkers defend teleological views, but it usually has to do with the personhood discussion and whether or not we're persons from fertilization). I like her argument, but there were a few counterarguments I came up with in my head that I wish she would have addressed. So basically this comes down to I really wish she would have responded to potential criticisms of her views because I'm very much interested in how she would respond to them.

The missing arguments aren't a huge deal, since it's not really the point of the book to give a full primer on these arguments. This book is an invaluable resource to a pro-life advocate's arsenal.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade by Daniel K. Williams [Clinton Wilcox]

Special thanks to Oxford University Press for the free copy to review.

Daniel Williams has done a great service to the pro-life field by researching and compiling this volume regarding the history of the pro-life movement. There are now two books on abortion history that I would suggest grace every pro-life advocate's bookshelves: Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History by Joseph Dellapenna, and now Defenders of the Unborn by Daniel K. Williams.

This book is meticulously researched and sourced. It tells the historical tale of how a movement of pro-life advocates, who were largely Catholic and Democrat, tried to work against the liberalization of abortion laws, which eventually culminated in Roe v. Wade, ending the ultimate safety of unborn children in the womb. It recounts not just how they fought against these bills, but also the progression of their arguments, from making Natural Law arguments, to Constitutional rights-based arguments, to showing abortion victim photography, to arguing that women are victims of the abortion culture. It shows how, even though the movement started as mainly Catholic Democrats, eventually it became a much more diverse movement.

I've been doing work in the abortion field for a long time now, and there's a lot of false information regarding abortion history and the history of the pro-life movement out there. I've heard much of it over and over again. One glaring historical error I hear is that there was no pro-life movement until after Roe v. Wade was passed. Williams shows that it simply isn't the case. There was much pro-life work being done before Roe v. Wade, in order to ensure that unborn human lives were protected.

It's also worth noting that Williams is very even-handed in his approach. He doesn't insult either side; in fact, he uses language that both sides use in the course of writing his book. So even though this book is written by a pro-life person, a pro-abortion-choice person can read this as a history book without getting offended by inflammatory language.

If there is one negative point to this book, it would just be that it's very matter-of-factly written, with a lot of information given to you, so it's pretty dry reading. It's not the kind of book you'd just sit down and finish in one or two sittings. But if you read it through, study it, and take notes, it will greatly benefit you, especially with all the false information regarding abortion history and the history of the pro-life movement is out there.