Reflections on life, marriage, and a young woman who is constantly learning how much there will always be to learn!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Abortion Discussion 2

(See previous post for part 1)

Fetuses are uniquely different from born human beings in major ways, which casts doubt on the claim that they can be classified as human beings. The most fundamental difference is that a fetus is totally dependent on a woman's body to survive. Anti-choicers might argue that born human beings can be entirely dependent on other people too, but the crucial difference is that they are not dependent on one, specific person to the exclusion of all others. Anybody can take care of a newborn infant (or disabled person), but only that pregnant woman can nurture her fetus. She can’t hire someone else to do it.

This point, though it might make for an interesting discussion, does not speak to whether or not the fetus is a human being with rights. In my view, it only speaks to an obvious difference between an unborn person and a born person. Most living things, when reproduction takes place, experience a delicate and immature stage when they must have special protection in order to develop. So it seems odd to suggest that these delicate and immature living things cannot be classified as members of the species that begot them...simply because they are more dependent (naturally) at that stage than older and more mature members.

Another key difference is that a fetus doesn't just depend on a woman's body for survival, it actually resides inside her body. Human beings must, by definition, be separate individuals. They do not gain the status of human being by virtue of living inside the body of another human being—the very thought is inherently ridiculous, even offensive.

I disagree. Human beings must, by definition, be "human beings" regardless of where they live. An unborn child, at seven months along, does not change his personhood status by virtue of whether he is in the womb or outside of it (if he is born premature). He is either a person or he is not.

This essay is too long for me to address every point, but let me jump down to where the author addresses the question: "Is a Fetus a Human Being Physically?"

The normal meaning of human being implies a physical body of a certain size and shape with common attributes (excepting disabilities). Early embryonic forms do not share basic commonalities that define us as human beings. For example, zygotes and blastocysts are barely visible to the naked eye and have no bodies, brains, skeleton, or internal organs. Are they materially substantial enough to count as human beings? Fetuses cannot breath or make sounds, and they cannot see or be seen (except by shadowy ultrasound). They absorb nourishment and expel waste via an umbilical cord and placenta, not via a mouth and anus as do all other human beings. Further, fetuses are not just miniature babies. At various stages, fetuses have eyes on stalks, notochords (instead of spines), fish-like gills, tails, downy fur, distorted torsos, spindly legs, giant heads, and alien-looking faces. In fact, an early human fetus is practically indistinguishable in appearance from a dog or pig fetus.

So, the author's argument here boils down to: The fetus does not look or act like (what I think) a person looks or acts like, therefore it is not a person. Wow. Her view of personhood seems arbitrarily narrow. EVERY born person of every age at one time passed through the preborn phase. Far from being an aberration, the preborn state is the normal (and temporary) passageway from conception to life in this world. So doesn't the burden fall on those who disclaim personhood of the unborn to prove that the fetus is inherently NOT a person until a certain point? (Not to simply opine on what the fetus looks like?)

Finally, the fetal brain is not yet capable of conscious thought and memory (which aren't fully actualized until two or three years after birth). But our complex brains are what set us apart from animals and define us as human beings. The brain is the seat of personhood.

Alright, thank you! Let's examine this more closely. From a secular perspective, I suppose that a more complex brain is the main distinctive that humans hold. From a biblical perspective, people also have a spirit--the TRUE seat of personhood, because it is eternal whereas the brain is not. So on this point, I will disagree with the author, but I will acknowledge that her point makes sense from a secular worldview.

However, let's take this to it's logical conclusion. If the brain is the seat of personhood, then brain-damaged folks are less of persons than the rest of us. The author admits that conscious thought and memory aren't fully actualized until a child reaches two or three years of age. So babies and toddlers (according to her argument) are also lesser human beings. To me, Peter Singer seems to hold an intellectually honest perspective on this point, when he allows that newborns, the elderly and brain-damaged people are not true persons and can be euthanized in certain circumstances, morally speaking. If the brain is the be-all, end-all of personhood, then Singer is right.

Near the end of the essay, the author gives us her philosophy of life: "Life is a Crap Shoot," but she's quick to assure us that this isn't as hopeless and depressing as it sounds:

This is not to say that human life doesn't have value. Of course it does, but only the value that we ourselves bestow on it—in biology, life is cheap, life is wasteful, and death is vital. Nature does not value humans any more than worms, and in all species, vast numbers of eggs and seeds don’t stand a chance of reaching maturity19. Life has been cheap throughout human history too—it's only modern medicine that has allowed us to keep most of our babies alive for the first time. Why shed futile tears over spilt milk and the biological facts of life? Instead, let's focus on protecting the rights and improving the quality of life of born human beings.

Perhaps it is this perspective, moreso than just the inherent personhood of the fetus, that separates the two sides. We can discuss the physical attributes of a human being along every developmental signpost till we're blue in the face: Yes, upon conception, the fetus is a genetically separate and complete being. Throughout gestation, nourishment and time are the only factors added. By eighteen weeks, the fetus can feel pain intensely. These are scientifically proveable facts about the physical nature of personhood.

But then there is the spiritual side of personhood that science cannot touch. This the side where *we* live--regardless of the state of our bodies--where our spirits find meaning. This spiritual knowledge is where the real disconnect lies. And it would seem that our author agrees to some extent:

Because there can be no consensus on the matter, the value accorded to a fetus is a subjective, personal matter. Individuals, not society as a whole, must choose what the status of a fetus should be, based on their personal beliefs, morality, and circumstances. And ultimately, this choice belongs only to pregnant women.

She's right that there cannot be a true 100% consensus about spiritual matters. In my next post, I'd like to expand on the general worldview behind the abortion rights position.

However, I need to point out that societal standards (especially those reinforced by law) rarely (if ever) represent the subjective beliefs of 100% of the people they regulate. We live in a country where the large majority of citizens claim to believe in the Christian God. Many of our foundational laws reflect biblical principles. These laws (such as laws against murder of born humans) are imposed upon ALL citizens, regardless of whether or not they personally support them. This is because we have historically held that these laws and standards are protections that uphold objective truths or essential rights of others. It makes no sense to create a "special class" for the rights of the unborn, and to say that this one class can and should remain individually subjective.

Just because we disagree about the nature of personhood, doesn't mean that we as a country shouldn't pursue an understanding on it and take a position on the side of caution. If there is even a chance that the fetus is a person created in the image of God with inherent worth and dignity (as the majority of us claim to believe about ourselves and other "born" humans)...the intentional death of millions upon millions of them is entirely unforgiveable. And we aren't doing ourselves any favors as a country by deferring the question.

Abortion Discussion 1

A discussion about abortion at Happy Feminist's blog a couple of weeks ago has prompted me to read and think more on this issue recently. I found it enlightening to be challenged directly by abortion rights advocates (as opposed to indirectly, through reading or observing others' debate), and thought some of my readers (assuming I still have any after my long absences of late:op ) might be interested in what I've been learning.

Though I had to abandon the discussion on HF's blog due to time constraints, I think it's better to share my thoughts here anyway. The blog comments format just isn't conducive to presenting a cohesive argument during a discussion! (Especially when you are the minority opinion: by the time you answer one question, somebody else is posing some other minor detail for consideration, and on and on it goes, with the main points of the argument often being neglected...) So here are some thoughts in one nice large lump:

In general, abortion rights advocates (ARA) don't want to dwell on consideration of whether or not the unborn child (of course, they prefer the term "fetus", so in discussion with them I mostly defer on this point) has "personhood" (i.e., is a member of the human race who has inherent dignity and rights as such). I raised this question multiple times, which I hold is THE foundation of the abortion debate, but it was: a) ignored; b) I was told that it wasn't important; or c) my fellow commenters refused to see it as a non-subjective question. (One notable exception was Happy Feminist, who actually agreed with me that this question was essential. She posed a 2-part question: Is the fetus a person with rights; and if so, to what extent do these rights supercede those of the mother?)

Since I failed to get much engagement of my question in the comments section, I asked for articles or websites from the pro-abortion rights side that seriously consider it. One commenter provided me with a link to one essay, and then recommended that I go looking for others (which I did, but ended up finding and getting caught up reading a bunch of good articles written from the pro-life perspective instead!). Here's some analysis of the ARA essay I was given:

At the outset, let me say that from a pro-choice point of view, the status of the fetus is a peripheral issue. Regardless of whether a fetus is a human being or has rights, women will have abortions anyway, even if it means breaking the law or risking their lives. Even women who believe that abortion is murder have chosen to get abortions, and will continue to do so.

OK. So the author is going to address the question "Is a Fetus a Human Being?", but she's letting us know from the outset that she doesn't consider it an essential question. Why? Because women will have abortions regardless. My thought on that is: I guess we shouldn't have concerned ourselves with whether the Jews were people or not because Hitler would have killed them regardless. Or whether the slaves were people or not because their masters would have used and abused them regardless. I don't really know how to respond to the argument that we shouldn't have certain laws or positions because people will thwart them. That's true of any law or position, is it not?

That's why we should leave the decision up to women’s moral conscience, and make sure that they are provided with safe, legal, accessible abortions. Because ultimately, the status of a fetus is a matter of subjective opinion, and the only opinion that counts is that of the pregnant woman.

Again...why is this matter subjective? Are the rights of any other humans on the planet considered subjective? Try this on for size: "That's why we should leave the decision up to slave-owner’s moral conscience, and make sure that they are provided with safe, legal, accessible slave-buying options. Because ultimately, the status of a slave is a matter of subjective opinion, and the only opinion that counts is that of the slave-owner." Sounds patently ridiculous, does it not? Because these days we understand that slaves ARE people with rights. We didn't come by that conclusion subjectively by considering the feelings and needs of the slave-owners. We had to consider the slaves objectively, separating THEM from the expediency and economic benefits that the institution of slavery provides. In the same way, don't we have to consider the unborn OBJECTIVELY, separate from the expediency of the abortion institution and the yes...even the feelings of the mother?

For example, a happily pregnant woman may feel love for her fetus as a special and unique human being, a welcome and highly anticipated member of her family. She names her fetus, refers to it as a baby, talks to it, and so on. But an unhappily pregnant woman may view her fetus with utter dismay, bordering on revulsion. She cannot bring herself to refer to it as anything other than "it," much less a human being. She is desperate to get rid of this unwelcome invader, and when she does, she feels tremendous relief. Both of these reactions to a fetus, and all reactions in between, are perfectly valid and natural. Both may even occur in the same woman, years apart.

I agree that all of these feelings are natural. Sometimes I feel like driving 100mph in a school zone. Sometimes I get mad and feel like screaming at somebody or kicking my dog. Does that mean my victims deserve that type of treatment? Does "natural" necessarily mean "right?" The flaws of such relativistic thinking are a whole separate discussion.

However, anti-choicers insist not only that a fetus is a human being, but that this status is an objective scientific fact. Unfortunately, they are assuming the very thing that requires proving, thereby committing the logical fallacy of "begging the question."

Assuming the very thing that requires proving. Such as that fetuses are NOT human beings? Yes...please...let us do look at the facts!

Biology, medicine, law, philosophy, and theology have no consensus on the issue, and neither does society as a whole. There will never be a consensus because of the subjective and unscientific nature of the claim, so we must give the benefit of the doubt to women, who are indisputable human beings with rights.

Methinks these assertions that the status of a fetus are subjective and unscientific require proving...

Anti-choicers must claim that fetuses are human beings, of course, or they really have no case against abortion. Since this claim is the cornerstone of their position, it should be critiqued in detail, from philosophical, legal, social, and biological perspectives. Even though it has little relevance for the actual practice of abortion, the assertion that fetuses are human beings has a potentially great impact on the rights of women.

OK. Please commence with your evidence!

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I Voted!

Did you?

It will be interesting to watch the results come in this evening. I'm not going to make any predictions...however I'm not really worried (which is unusual for me, unfortunately!). I feel at peace with the outcome. Yes...we live in an imperfect country, with imperfect leaders, and we are truly facing unprecedented dangers from out-of-control, intolerant enemies who seek to kill us and destroy our way of life. But GOD IS IN CONTROL! It's important to keep reminding ourselves of this. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge. Not a single event occurs that He does not ultimately use for His glory.

Religion of Peace

Interesting website here. It keeps a running documentation of all the violent attacks committed in the name of Islam (excluding legitimate combat situations), and also offers straight-shooting analysis of Radical Islam and the unprecedented problems western countries face in opposing it. Lots of sources, articles and links to other informative sites.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Homeschool Humor

I am now going to admit a potentially provocative fact about my sense of humor. I routinely make fun of my homeschool upbringing.

For instance, if somebody is teasing me about doing or saying something dumb (which does happen every once in a while:o), I'll sometimes jokingly offer "Well, I was homeschooled!" by way of explanation. Amongst ourselves, my sisters and friends and I make fun of the "homeschool uniform". The phrase "denim jumpers and hair-nets" is destined to invoke groans. Even my mom (who used to wear nothing but jumpers and denim skirts back in her early homeschool mom days--no hair-nets) often employs the phrase in a teasing manner.

My sisters and I also pride ourselves in our ability to pick out the homeschoolers in any given situation. The Trevor Masselys in the world aren't hard to spot (you'll probably recognize Trevor--the quintessential "perfect" homeschooler--if you ever received Josh Harris' magazine "New Attitude" many years ago. If you missed him the first time around, you can meet him here--scroll down--and here. :o)

So, yes...I am regularly irreverent of homeschooling. And this despite my view that homeschooling is a superior form of education and my plans to school any future children at home. In fact, I think I can make fun of homeschooling BECAUSE I am intimately familiar with it and know it to provide a wonderful and effective education in most cases. I can play up and enjoy all the stereotypes to humorous effect, either because they don't hit close to home at all (such as homeschooling producing ignorance or a complete lack of social skills--the opposite is usually true) or because homeschoolers DO nurture some quirks (the "uniform") that are quite funny at times. We should be able to laugh at ourselves! And so I do...often:o)

P.S. In serious conversation, I am happy to seriously address any concerns or misconceptions people might have about homeschooling. However, if people are just ignorant of the facts and want to assign various stereotypes to homeschoolers because they don't know what they're talking about, I'd rather be able to have a few snickers at their expense than get up in arms about it. A sense of humor is never out of place when one is a member of a small and often-maligned minority!:op

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Poor guys.

(Edit: *commence sarcasm*) Their sorry educations are all too evident. Hmm...maybe they were even homeschooled. That must be it! (Edit: *end sarcasm*)
Michelle Malkin has had lots of recent posts about the John Kerry controversy if you are in the dark about it! I don't normally post on political topics, but sometimes they're hard to pass up:o)
(ht: Candid Reflections for picture link)