Friday, March 31, 2017

Another Look At the Violinist

Recently, a common objection that I have been hearing from street-level advocates of abortion-choice is the bodily autonomy argument. While doing outreach and discussing the topic of abortion with students on the college campus, this idea would be brought up quite often. The argument has been used and popularized since Judith J. Thomson made it in her 1971 article "The Violinist". Some pro-life authors have given very detailed responses to the argument. Two of my favorites have been Francis Beckwith's Defending Life and Chris Kaczor's The Ethics of Abortion. For this post, I will briefly give a few thoughts that I have about the argument itself, and it's limits.

To summarize the argument, it goes something like this: You wake up one morning to find yourself attached to a famous, unconscious violinist, who has a kidney ailment. The society of music lovers has placed him there, saying that he will need to use your kidneys for the next nine months, until he has recovered from his kidney ailment enough to function independent of you. Thomson then asks, given the situation, are you obligated to remain attached to him? It would be very nice of you to do so, but should you? She goes on to argue that it is not morally wrong to detach yourself, thereby killing the violinist, since he has no "right" to your body unless you consent to give it to him.

The argument has a lot of force, and has been critiqued by numerous authors, both pro-life and pro-choice. The more common street level objection goes something along the lines of "I have a right to do whatever I want with my body. Even though the unborn entity can be a full human person, I am the one who must ultimately decide."

Bodily autonomy has been, for a long time, a major driving force among the pro-choice movement, and I think it will continue to become that, as the science of embryology continues to affirm the existence of human beings from the point of conception.

A couple of questions do come to mind when it comes to bodily autonomy arguments for abortion:

1. To what extent is bodily autonomy unable to be restricted? Of course, women(and men) have very broad choices as to what they are able to do to their physical bodies, but even these choices seem to be limited when it comes to the rights of other human beings that may be infringed upon. Men don't have a right to sexually or physically harass women. No one has a right to driving under the influence, or to indecent exposure. Bodily autonomy is limited by the rights of other human beings, rights that spring from having a human nature(such as the right to not be unjustly killed). The only question then regarding abortion is whether there is a human being present in utero.

2. Would any abortions be immoral?
I have written a prior post on this topic, asking whether there would be times where a woman got an abortion for the sole purpose of selling the body parts of her unborn child for profit. What if another woman participated in a study where she was impregnated, carried the child to a later term, and then had an abortion so that doctors could learn how to develop safer procedures? Do we think that would be wrong? Many pro-choicers argue from hard cases, where abortion is considered to be a last resort. But why does that even need to be brought up? If bodily autonomy is virtually unlimited, why does it need to be just seen as a last resort? It must be because abortion really does intentionally kill an innocent human being, and doing so is close to impossible to justify.

To illustrate this, let's take another look at the violinist argument: Consider a woman who has a 20 year old son who happens to be a well-known violinist protégé(nicknamed "Young Stradivarius"). He becomes ill with a kidney infection, and his mother decides to donate the use of her kidneys until he makes a recovery(which will be in about nine months). Three months into the treatment, she finds out that her son has written a will in which he leaves all of his material wealth to his mother should he pass away. The mother, since she has given up the use of her body for a period of time, loses her job due to being unable to work, and is therefore being placed in a tougher financial situation. His mother, knowing that unhooking herself will kill him, now considers: Given that her "Bodily Autonomy" is absolute, she should be fully justified in unplugging, so she can get her son's money. If a person can choose to kill someone simply for being connected to them, but not wanting to be giving support, why couldn't we allow someone to use this justification for extremely frivolous reasons? But if it would be wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being for reasons that don't justify doing so, then the majority of arguments for elective abortions collapse.

The Bodily Autonomy argument seems, at it's core, an argument based solely in selfishness. The idea that a person may make the choice as to whether their own son or daughter dies, and has the full "right" to do so if they feel inclined, is one that needs to be deeply reconsidered.

Given that this is becoming a common argument at the street level, I think pro-life advocates would do well to deepen their understanding of it, and the broad implications it has.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Why Aren't Pro-Lifers More Consistent?" [Nathan Apodaca]

In my last post, I discussed the objection that is often being leveled at pro-lifers, in that they are inconsistent for their alleged hypocrisy when it comes to the issue of aid for foreign refugees. Today, I would like to discuss the issue of pro-life "hypocrisy" just a little bit further.

One of the most common accusations leveled against those who oppose abortion is "Why aren't you doing more to support the poor, or working to end poverty?" Or "Why don't pro-lifers give more support to things like national healthcare reform?"

These talking points have been very common pro-choice slogans for years, but they have become especially popular in light of recent political developments within the new Trump administration, regarding the ongoing debate over national health care reform. Along those lines, another very common slogan among street-level pro-choice activists has been to attack pro-lifers for their supposed unwillingness to adopt children who would have been aborted otherwise. During our pro-life outreach at my local university campus this past year, multiple people asked us why we weren't doing more to care for children who were already born, as opposed to simply "caring" for children who have yet to be born.

Frankly, as I discussed in my earlier post, these talking points also miss the point of the pro-life argument against abortion, by simply treating the unborn as if they were not fully human beings. No one talks this way regarding those whom they already agree are human. It is only when the humanity of the unborn is at issue is it dismissed entirely, and then they attack the character of those who are opposed to abortion.

It needs to be remembered that the debate over abortion is not about who we are going to provide government aid and support for, but rather about who we are going to intentionally kill, and whether we are justified in that killing. If it is wrong to intentionally take the life of an innocent human being, and if abortion does intentionally take the life of an innocent human being, then abortion is wrong. Even if pro-lifers do possess any number of character flaws (we are not perfect), abortion doesn't suddenly become wrong if every pro-lifer becomes a saint.

Second, these assertions are often leveled at pro-lifers who don't support a more progressive view of government on issues like poverty and healthcare. In many cases, opposition to a policy such as government-based health care gets one labeled "anti-poor" or results in being accused of wanting to deny Americans health insurance coverage.

In a recent video for the conservative think tank Prager University, economist Arthur Brooks makes the point that both liberals and conservatives completely agree that more should be done to limit the effects of poverty on the culture. Where conservatives and liberals disagree is the role that government should take in addressing the issue. Highlighting data from the last fifty years of welfare spending since President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" began, Brooks points out that the poverty rate has pretty much flat-lined, with barely a change in the rate of those living in poverty over the last fifty years.

Since many pro-lifers want to see legislation based in evidence, it is not inconsistent for them to oppose programs that will not result in more good, and could produce more suffering in the long run.

Lastly, and perhaps most strikingly, somehow the inconsistency argument is never applied to the views of pro-choice liberals. When objecting to the alleged character flaws in those who support the unborn but oppose anti-poverty legislation, many don't question the absurdity of supporting programs that are intended to help the small and the weak in society, while yet supporting the legalized killing of the smallest and weakest among us: the unborn. If the unborn are human, just like the rest of us, then obviously they should be protected in law just like other innocent people are.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Justifiable Child Killing: A Matter of Geography? [Mike Spencer]

In the newly released book, Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer, authors Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer painstakingly recount the media-censored story of convicted murderer, Kermit Gosnell, and his “house of horrors” abortion clinic in Philadelphia. Gosnell is serving a life sentence in prison for delivering babies in his clinic and then killing them by “snipping” (severing) their spinal cords with scissors. The court-documented details included in the book are almost too much to stomach. Insulated for decades from any medical or legal accountability, Gosnell plied his grisly trade in his filth-ridden, flea-infested killing center where he stored many of his victim’s severed feet as trophies in jars of formaldehyde and where toilets were occasionally blocked with fetal remains.

Although the name Kermit Gosnell is unknown to the vast majority of Americans, his decades-long killing spree allegedly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent children in this manner, dwarfing the number of victims produced by serial killers, Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy combined.

For obvious reasons, Planned Parenthood and their bedfellows in the media have sought to distance themselves from Gosnell. In fact, some have gone so far as to try to pin the blame for Gosnell on pro-lifers. For example, Jill Philipovic, writing an opinion piece for The Guardian (April 2013) brazenly asserted that “widespread adoption of pro-life laws created…Gosnell,” and stated, “The braying about Gosnell is a ploy to shame the media into covering the issue from the anti-abortion perspective, conflating the illegal procedures performed by Gosnell with safe, legal abortion. That conflation is necessary for the pro-life side to use the media coverage to promote unnecessary regulations of clinics, purposed solely to make abortion less accessible, and advocate for the very things that allowed Gosnell's clinic to exist in the first place.”

Philipovic is suffering from an acute case of denial. The cold fact is that killing children in or out of the womb is a mean and dirty business. Gosnell is guilty before our courts for brutally killing three infants on this side of the birth canal. He killed many others in this way, according to the testimony of his staff, but the prosecution was only able to secure a conviction for three of these little ones. However, Gosnell is guilty before Heaven’s court for brutally killing thousands of children on the other side of the birth canal too. No, Ms. Philipovic, Kermit Gosnell is not the anomaly or aberration you would have us believe him to be. The trail of spilled children’s blood does not lead only to the door of Kermit Gosnell’s clinic, but to every abortion clinic in our nation.

In an April, 2013 USA Today article, Kirsten Powers, known for her arduous defense of “progressivism” nonetheless castigated her comrades in the liberal media for turning a blind eye to the story;

“Regardless of such quibbles about whether Gosnell was killing the infants one second after they left the womb instead of partially inside or completely inside the womb — as in a routine late-term abortion — is merely a matter of geography. That one is murder and the other is a legal procedure is morally irreconcilable.”

Exactly. Abortion is the only legalized method of wantonly killing innocent human beings, and bizarrely, its justification is based solely on the victim’s location. A mother can lawfully have her son or daughter killed, but only if he or she is located in the womb, or at least in the birth canal. But splitting legal hairs over a human being’s location does nothing to change the nature or value of the one being killed, nor does it mitigate the injustice of such killing.

It’s simple really; human beings are precious and deserve legal protection, regardless of their location. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

"The Refugees Are People; Fertilized Eggs Are Not" [Nathan Apodaca]

Not too long ago, I organized a large pro-life outreach at California State University San Marcos. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a well known pro-life organization, brought its Genocide Awareness Project display to the campus this past February. A number of us participated in the display, and it sparked a fairly large counter-protest. The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) is a series of banners depicting the aftermath of abortion, comparing the way dehumanization has affected large groups of people, and explaining how abortion is a form of dehumanization.

In the midst of all the discussions that happened as a result of the display, a common objection that kept being brought up was that pro-life conservatives were inconsistent for opposing government aid for foreign refugees, while still arguing that the unborn should be cared for instead of being killed through elective abortion. A slogan that has made the rounds through discussions of abortion, whether online or in person, is that “If you think fertilized eggs are people, but refugee kids aren’t, then your concerns aren’t religious.”

Many pro-choicers use this objection to try and silence the opposition or to turn members of a listening audience against the pro-lifer’s arguments by focusing on the character of the pro-lifer instead of refuting the material presented. They do this while ignoring that abortions are not performed at the moment of conception but many weeks or even months afterward. Along with this, science tells us that the unborn entity in question is a full, yet immature, member of the human species. If it is wrong to intentionally harm an innocent human being, then it would be wrong to harm the unborn for the same reason it is wrong to intentionally harm any other innocent human being, such as innocent people fleeing the violence of their home country.

Given how bad this objection really is, I would rather ignore it. But many pro-life advocates have come across this objection while trying to understand how to answer it, so I decided it was time to lay out a response.

First, what does the objection assume? Instead of focusing on the status of the unborn, which is the key to the abortion debate, it simply ignores the issue altogether and attacks the person arguing in favor of the unborn’s moral worth. One young woman I spoke to said that people who are opposed to abortion are inconsistent for calling themselves “pro-life” while opposing aid for foreign refugees. However, this doesn’t follow. The abortion debate is not about who we are trying to support, but about who (or what) we are going to intentionally kill. Likewise, the debate over the refugee problem is not about who we are going to intentionally harm, but is about whether harm will unintentionally result from our care of foreign refugees, and whether that will be worth the risk.

Second, so what? Suppose pro-lifers really are inconsistent, heartless, and cruel when it comes to other issues. What exactly does that prove? That people who oppose abortion aren’t perfect? Furthermore, imagine saying to Civil Rights advocates in the 1960s, “How can you say that you are for Civil Rights when there are children being killed daily in the Vietnam War? You aren’t really for Civil Rights. You’re just anti-segregation!” Absurd, right? Here’s another example: Peter Singer and Michael Tooley both argue that newborns are not fully persons until a certain time after birth, and are therefore able to be justly killed. Imagine saying to someone, “Unless you are concerned about the plight of Middle Eastern refugees, you have no basis in opposing parents wanting to kill their newborns. You aren’t pro-child, you’re just anti-infanticide!”

The objection treats the unborn as if they are not fully human. No one in their right mind would use this argument to silence those who oppose the mistreatment of other human beings. It only makes sense if the unborn are not human. If the unborn are not human, then it makes perfect sense to abandon the fight against abortion and turn our efforts to helping alleviate the suffering from other acts of evil. But if the unborn are human, then this objection is nothing more than a callous dismissal of the moral issues involved in abortion.  Such reasoning is cold and foolish.

Finally, it’s not entirely clear what is meant by “helping” refugees. To what extent would pro-lifers, and conservatives in general, have to support foreign refugees in order for the Left to reconsider its own stance on the abortion issue? Do pro-lifers have to build houses and schools for people who emigrate to the US, before we can condemn abortion? And why does the only valid option intended to “help” refugees involve bringing them to the United States? Suppose pro-lifers want to care for them where they are at, or think that the defeat of ISIS is the best way to help people displaced by the war overseas? (Personally, I don’t think the situation will end until the war is over, and ISIS has been defeated.) Once all of these things have been done, will abortion suddenly become wrong? Will the person making this remark reconsider the morality of abortion, and the evidence for the humanity of the unborn once pro-lifers are acting “consistently”? I've yet to meet someone who said that they would.

The objection is nothing more than an appeal to emotion, in order to distract from the main issues at stake in the abortion debate: What are the unborn, and should we be killing them? It is an example of the ad hominem fallacy, attacking the person rather than attacking the argument.

Nevertheless, those who are outraged at the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East are perfectly right to feel compassion for those most affected by it. We should debate what the best methods are to bring an end to the disaster and show the love of Christ to those in need. But that does not, in any way, mean that those who disagree about the methods used are inconsistent in strongly opposing abortion. After all, if abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being, then we have a massive humanitarian crisis within our own borders. Anyone concerned about the lives of the innocent that are being lost overseas should be concerned as well by the loss of life through elective abortion.