I'll comprimise. I don't like the term entirely, but it'll do. Just like there are pro-gun-rights and pro-gambling-rights (and there used to be pro-slavery-rights).

Is it just for the sake of disagreeing with the religious? Is it because they see being anti-abortion-rights as being a strictly religious viewpoint? Are anti-abortion-rights atheists worried about fitting in? Is it just a coincidence?

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Do you, as a person, have the right to use another person's body without their explicit and ongoing consent?

If you answer 'no' to this question (which you should), then personhood is not an issue.

It is a red herring.

It is irrelevant.
I have a hard time with this issue. One side of me knows I have no right to tell anybody what to do with their body. The world is overpopulated and we are running out of resources to support future generations, if the human race keeps at its pace. Which will lead to war or loss of life. Children are being born to people who can't care for them, so for me abortion is a loss of human life issue and where do we draw the line. When cellular life is termination I have no issue whatsoever. When 20 week abortion like the Jezzy points out just makes me ill, but in cases that have medical issues that will greatly affect the child's life I don't a issue then. Hopefully science will detect these thing sooner an the issue will go away for some, and they can choose have the abortion sooner. So count me under glad I don't have to make that choice; I know that's a cop out but I am really confused with this issue. As for the religious viewpoint or disagreeing with them I don't care about them or their sky fairy.
Steve wrote on January 28…for me abortion is a loss of human life issue…

Actually, it is a matter of a potential human life that does not actualize that potential. But women have an ovum corresponding to the months of her life for a period lasting decades. Each of them is also a potential human life.

These days most women exercise reproductive restraint, and just have a couple of children. When a young woman has an unplanned pregnancy, frequently carrying it to term will mean that she will become a single parent, and have to end her education early. It will probably mean that she will not have a child later, when she could be better prepared to provide a materially and emotionally sufficient home for her child. So abortion is usually not “a loss of human life” issue.

A woman does her child no favor by giving birth to it when she has no life partner, when the child will grow up in poverty and neglected. Her child will be much better off if she simply defers childbirth to a time in her life when she can be a better parent.

Steve continued… and where do we draw the line. When cellular life is termination I have no issue whatsoever. When 20 week abortion like the Jezzy points out just makes me ill….

Who is “the Jezzy?”

I pointed out in my previous post to this folder that trying to “draw a line” based upon medical attributes of the fetus is a naturalistic fallacy. People claim that personhood begins at conception, or sentience, or brain wave activity, or independent viability, or according to some calendar date. But they have no real argument against someone who simply chooses a different time to designate as personhood. They are not arguing medical facts, but individual, subjective and personal moral tastes.

Steve continued…but in cases that have medical issues that will greatly affect the child’s life I don't a issue then. Hopefully science will detect these thing sooner an the issue will go away for some, and they can choose have the abortion sooner. So count me under glad I don't have to make that choice; I know that's a cop out but I am really confused with this issue. As for the religious viewpoint or disagreeing with them I don't care about them or their sky fairy.

Science can identify fetal defects earlier to inform the abortion decision. But it can never tell you when a fetus becomes a person, or a state interest, or becomes valuable.
There is no naturalistic fallacy if all I am doing is stating equivalence of nature. A nine month old fetus is equivalent to a newborn baby. I took it as a given that newborns have a right to life and clearly stated that if they dont then my argument doesnt hold in present form. If you believe a newborn baby isnt really a person we could have an interesting discussion on that. If killing a newborn is murder then it is murder also to kill a nine-month fetus. If killing newborns isnt wrong and it is just an arbitrary line we have to draw as a society then it would be true that even the latest abortions arent wrong.

I have never found someone who took that position though.
Steve wrote on January 28 There is no naturalistic fallacy if all I am doing is stating equivalence of nature.

True. There is only a naturalistic fallacy if you infer personhood or human rights on the basis of physical attributes or conditions of medical facts.

Steve continued A nine month old fetus is equivalent to a newborn baby. I took it as a given that newborns have a right to life and clearly stated that if they don’t then my argument doesn’t hold in present form.

That’s it. The naturalistic fallacy.

Steve continued If you believe a newborn baby isn’t really a person we could have an interesting discussion on that.

Of course it is. We could refer, for example, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Steve continued If killing a newborn is murder then it is murder also to kill a nine-month fetus.

No, that is called an abortion. The difference is that a baby has been born, and a fetus has not. Society can, of course, decide that at any given time in a pregnancy, that it chooses to invest the fetus with rights, even rights fully equal to those that are guaranteed by law to actual people. The question is, on what basis do we decide that? Since ethical obligation cannot be derived from conditions of fact, we just have to decide on the source of fetal value. This is what I asked you for in an earlier post. Then we have to decide if that value is universal and objective, or personal and subjective. That is the crux of adequately addressing abortion as a moral issue.

Steve continued If killing newborns isn’t wrong and it is just an arbitrary line we have to draw as a society then it would be true that even the latest abortions aren’t wrong.

Birth is hardly an arbitrary line. It distinguishes a person from a potential person. It distinguishes individuals who can be aborted from those for whom “abortion” is impossible.

Steve continued I have never found someone who took that position though.

It will probably be informative for you to read through the other folders on Atheist Nexus devoted to this identical topic.
I don't think that the distinction between a fetus and a newborn is as clearcut as you say that it is. There have been cultures where infanticide has been common. A person from such a culture may also say that a newborn is also merely a potential person.
I am not, obviously, making any intrinsic physiological distinction between a fetus and a baby. Rather, it is a moral distinction, because any argument for the principle that we should not murder another human cannot demonstrate that we should not abort a fetus. For example, We can say that I should not murder another person because then I would have to admit that, under certain circumstances at least, it would be OK for somebody else to murder me. Consistency objectively requires me to support the value of the life of others. But that argument does not deter me at all from aborting a fetus, because I cannot myself be aborted. True, it would have permitted me to be aborted before birth, but I would agree that that is morally acceptable. I really would not care.

Of course you can value a fetus, make it a state interest, and make it illegal to perform or allow an abortion. What I am asking is why, how you justify attributing value to the fetus. The only claims that I have seen are either fallacious, by attributing human value to a developing human, or else personal and subjective.

As far as someone from another culture claiming that a baaby is a potential person, I would have to hear their argument, and how they respond to the Rationalist argument.
I am not convinced by your argument because you could equally say that you don't care whether infants under the age of 2 years are killed because you are over the age of two.

I think that the abortion of a near-birth fetus is objectionable for the same reason that I think that the killing of an infant is objectionable - because it cheapens human life and I don't wish to live in a society where human life is cheap. I think that encouraging late term abortions would cheapen human life since developed fetuses have many human characteristics.
Deborah wrote on February 1 I am not convinced by your argument because you could equally say that you don't care whether infants under the age of 2 years are killed because you are over the age of two.

I am a utilitiarian – that is, I believe that the correct moral action is the one that results in the greatest good for the greatest number. When discussing most actions, there is never any problem deciding who is included in “the greatest number.” That is always everyone who is affected by the action. The utilitarian moral analysis counts the interests of every person equally. That is why I cannot count the interest of any two year-old any less than my own. The question only becomes a problem when we are discussing the rights of fetuses and animals. Must we also include the interests of potential humans and animals on that same basis?

When every fetus and embryo and blastula and morula is recognized as a person, then indeed, every abortion is a murder. This is easy for a Christian to accept and understand, because he regards the human soul as the source of its value. At conception, they say, God “breathes a new soul” the new person, making him equal in moral value to you and me. Since we are atheists, obviously we reject the superstition of “ensoulment,” but, if we resolve to value potential human life as equal to that of human life, if every “potential person” is recognized as a person, then we also have responsibility for every egg and every sperm that we allow to “die.” But this is unworkable and ridiculous.

So there is a widespread moral belief that fetal value grows in parallel to gestation. This theory is stated in the Roe v. Wade decision in the assertion that “state interest” increases with fetal development. Even organizations that defend legal rights to abortion play this game, arguing that at some point the fetus becomes a person and that from that time abortion is murder. But some people argue that “personhood” arises at conception, others say at sentience or response to pain, others attribute it to some characteristic brain activity, others tie it to independent viability. But human rights are not things that a doctor can see with a sonogram or detect by amniocentesis. The arguments are pointless, because when people disagree when “personhood” arises, we cannot say that one person is right, and the other wrong, because they are debating values that are individual and subjective.

This is why we can only discuss the morality of abortion when we clarify the source of fetal value. I brought up the Rationalist argument for the value of human life, because of its claim to objectivity, its claim that denying the value of human life necessarily leads to a logical and practical contradiction. I also showed that it cannot be stretched to apply to fetal life.

As I mentioned above, I am a utilitarian. I would argue that human value, human rights, and principles such as “do not murder” are valid because societies that accept them produce a higher standard of living and quality of life. People can argue with this, but at least we will be talking about something real and objective – consequences in peoples’ lives.

Deborah continued I think that the abortion of a near-birth fetus is objectionable for the same reason that I think that the killing of an infant is objectionable - because it cheapens human life and I don't wish to live in a society where human life is cheap. I think that encouraging late term abortions would cheapen human life since developed fetuses have many human characteristics.

If you feel that if you do not value fetuses, it will cause you to value humans less, I think that that is an important personal value. Probably for your own psychological comfort and stability, you should never have an abortion. On the other hand, I think that you are very wrong to assert that a society does not value fetuses as ‘persons’ will in consequence value humans less. Nations which have laws protecting women’s rights to reproductive autonomy, including the right to terminate her pregnancy, have better human rights records than those that do not, and place a higher value on the quality of the citizen’s lives than on the prerogatives of government.

By the way, are you related to Steve? The two of you have an uncanny resemblance.
No, I am not related to Steve.

Regarding your statement "So there is a widespread moral belief that fetal value grows in parallel to gestation."

I see two possible bases for the widespread moral belief:
(i) that a fetus of an advanced stage of development has interests of its own that should be protected or at least taken into consideration; and
(ii) that the interests of society are served when a fetus of an advanced stage of development has some measure of protection from harm, for example by placing some limitations on the legality of late term abortions.

Although an argument could be made on the basis of (i), I was actually trying make an argument on the basis of (ii).

I think that routinised violence in a society perpetrated by humans on other humans, can make violence an ordinary, unremarkable occurrence to members of that society, thus leading to an indifference to violence and a general coarsening of attitudes. I am concerned that legalising late term abortions would have the same effect. This is my opinion but I think that it is shared by many others, and that it provides an explanation for the abovementioned moral belief amongst many members of society, including atheists.

More generally, I think that there is a widespread belief that it is in the interests of society that reverence for human life and the integrity of human bodies should be promoted. The limitations placed on late term abortions are just one expression of this belief. It is expressed in other ways too. For example, in the widespread taboo on cannibalism (including the cannibalism of persons who died a natural death).

Thus, people who are of this view believe that the interests of society as a whole would be detrimentally affected by the promotion of unrestricted access to late term abortions, and that, for the reasons mentioned above, this would not lead to the geatest good for the greatest number. If this were a small minority viewpoint, I could understand that a utilitarian would see such views as not being of much account. But if it is the viewpoint of the majority of society, surely a utilitarian should take it seriously?
I'll have more time this evening to read your post closely, but I want to point out that research indicates that legalizing abortion has an inverse relationship to crime. Wherever abortion is legalized, crime rates go down about twenty years later.

This is likely caused by children not being born to women who are not in a position to provide them a materially secure home in which they will receive sufficient nurturing and attention. Such dysfunctional homes produce a high proportion of children who commit violent crime when they are 18 - 24.

The study by John Donohue of Yale University and Steven Levitt of University of Chicago was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2001.
Deborah wrote on February 2 …the interests of society are served when a fetus of an advanced stage of development has some measure of protection from harm, for example by placing some limitations on the legality of late term abortions….

I think that routinised violence in a society perpetrated by humans on other humans, can make violence an ordinary, unremarkable occurrence to members of that society, thus leading to an indifference to violence and a general coarsening of attitudes. I am concerned that legalising late term abortions would have the same effect.


I like this approach, because its validity can be tested by examining experience in the real world. In my post yesterday I mentioned studies that showed that legalizing abortion resulted in a drop in crime rates about 20 years later, as there are fewer children who were reared in dysfunctional homes.

Nostalgia for an idyllic time of innocence and virtue is hard to justify on objective criteria. Social conservatives often yearn for the simple times in the 1950s, before the rebellion against tradition that characterized the ‘60s. Or the War Generation in the 1940s, or the noble suffering of the Depression years, or the rugged independence and self-reliance of the epoch of the frontier. But direct statistical comparisons are difficult, and changes in the level of violence are the result of multiple causes. Any comparison would have to take into account the enormous progress that has been made in the intervening years against social injustice, through the passage of laws that have greatly improved the lives of people of color and of women. Around the world, giving women control over their reproductive lives by making health services available such as contraceptives and abortion are strongly associated with reducing poverty. (Yes, I will have to find if studies confirm this.)

So it will be very difficult to prove the effects of legal abortion on society, and surely intelligent and honest people may disagree. But at least we will be talking about things real and objective – actual consequences in people’s lives.

Deborah continued: This is my opinion but I think that it is shared by many others, and that it provides an explanation for the abovementioned moral belief amongst many members of society, including atheists.

I first encountered the argument in the early 60s, specifically from Catholic clergy. But I do not know of any nation in which legalizing abortion has led to increased violence or diminished respect for life. The Scandinavian nations legalized abortions before nearly all of our states, but they have very good human rights records. Compare that to the epidemic of murder going on in Mexico, where all abortions are illegal.

If there are any cases of increased violence or diminished respect for life in a nation or state that legalizes abortion, I would love to hear about it.

Deborah continued: More generally, I think that there is a widespread belief that it is in the interests of society that reverence for human life and the integrity of human bodies should be promoted. The limitations placed on late term abortions are just one expression of this belief. It is expressed in other ways too. For example, in the widespread taboo on cannibalism (including the cannibalism of persons who died a natural death).

You don’t have a right, within this argument, to call fetuses “human life,” as this assumes the ‘personhood’ that you have to prove in order to prove a case for human rights for the fetus, including the right to life.

In an earlier post I showed that the rationalist proof of the universal value of human life collapses when we try to extend it to include fetuses. I also mentioned that the conventionalist argument from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only asserts rights “from birth.” From a utilitarian standpoint, the quality of life in society is clearly improved when we recognize human rights, but that does not appear to be the case with respect to fetal rights.

I don’t know anything at all about cannibalism. Some women eat their placentas – I’ve seen a recipe for placental stew. Isn’t that cannibalism? I don’t think there is any law against that.

Deborah continued: Thus, people who are of this view believe that the interests of society as a whole would be detrimentally affected by the promotion of unrestricted access to late term abortions, and that, for the reasons mentioned above, this would not lead to the greatest good for the greatest number. If this were a small minority viewpoint, I could understand that a utilitarian would see such views as not being of much account. But if it is the viewpoint of the majority of society, surely a utilitarian should take it seriously?

In utilitarianism, the right action is the one that leads to the greatest surplus of benefit over harm. This restricts the analysis to objective facts – peoples’ opinions are not a moral consideration.

In a utilitarian analysis, each person is the ultimate judge of whether an action harms him or benefits him. Whenever anyone tries to judge the harm or benefit to others, we have to recognize the exposure to subjectivist errors. Of course it is impractical to survey everyone who is affected by a broad social policy on how it affects him alone, so we do make assumptions and guesses. But it is always required then to examine those assumptions when reasonable challenges are raised.

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