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But there is more common ground among opposing sides than is realized. And there would be even more yet if the issue were discussed and portrayed in a rational way that sought mutually agreeable solutions rather than unconditional victories, particularly solutions that are consistent with those principles in many other areas of life that involve relevantly similar moral features (good samaritanism, normal privacy freedoms and limitations, definitions and consequences of negligence, responsibility limitations in non-negligent accident, etc.) areas where we already have accepted law and public consensus, or at least less divisive debate about which laws ought to be changed and what the content of the new laws ought to be (such as conditions allowing the withdrawal of life-support).
Many pro-life and pro-choice advocates cannot even accurately state the other sides' position; and many people cannot even state their own position in a way they would be comfortable with after even just a few questions that get them to reflect on it. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes, for example, that giving a woman choice over whether to have an abortion or not means that she cannot make a wrong choice or choice that she would regret -- a choice made, and honored, say, in a moment of panic or fear, or a choice made on wrong information about the health of the fetus, the likely future quality of life of her child, or insufficient information about the resources available to help her have, care for, and successfully rear a healthy child. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes that abortion should be a person's chosen first-line method of birth control or method of gender determination. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes that promiscuity or sexual irresponsibility (male or female) is a good thing or that either ought to be encouraged. Almost no pro-choice advocate thinks that teen-age sex or teen-age pregnancy is a good thing. Almost no pro-choice advocate believes that abortion is or ought to be considered a casual event or that it should be undertaken without reverence and respect for the life or potential life that is being ended. Almost none but the most zealous pro-life advocates think babies should be made to be born if that means they only suffer painfully and prolongedly until they die with nothing to somehow make up for that suffering. Almost no pro-life advocate can consistently maintain for any length of time their initial view that quantity of life is more important than quality, or, put in another way, that life under all circumstances is better than, and preferable to death under any circumstance. (They would have to disavow Patrick Henry's revered statement "Give me liberty or give me death", for example.) Almost no pro-choice advocate thinks abortion is a good thing; but many simply think it is sometimes the best of a bunch of bad options; and that it would be better if women's other options were better so that abortion would not have to be chosen. Pro-choice advocates would prefer to see fewer abortions chosen voluntarily -- not by making abortion even less desirable due to more punishment, but by making the other alternative (in regard to having and rearing one's children reasonably) proportionally more desirable than it currently is. Almost no pro-life advocate argues that it is better to force women to have babies they do not want than to help them want the babies they might have.
This booklet tries, first, to show what the worst and least relevant, least valid, of the abortion arguments from both sides are; second, to show what the real issues are, and how many of them relate to areas of settled law and accepted, or acceptably changing, public moral opinion; and third, it tries to offer some solutions that might be acceptable to, a much greater majority of Americans -- particularly with modifications that others might suggest -- than current law or any of the proposed laws I have seen yet. Even if some of my particular ideas are wrong, I believe my approach points the way to a far better way to focus the debate and deal with the issue of abortion, which the Congress or state governments may eventually have to.
The point of this is to try to make the debate more rational, more productive, and less divisive by (1) searching for the most common ground possible, (2) pointing out morally relevant similarities to other areas of life that are not controversial, (3) eliminating the common illogical and confusing arguments, (4) discussing the real needs of pregnant women and mothers, and seeking to find out what acceptable laws and social changes might be necessary and sufficient to bring about more uncoerced and truly voluntary choices for birth rather than abortion, and (5) fostering awareness of more reasonably effective ways of reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. Then, after that we can perhaps leave to pure politics and power struggles the far fewer kinds of cases that might not be mutually resolved.
Appendix I is a curtailed version of some of the ideas expressed in the main body of this booklet. It was written at a different time primarily for those interested in introducing programs that help solve the abortion problem and that help resolve the controversy. I believe it depicts at least the minimal understanding legislators ought to have before enacting laws related to abortion.
The Use of Hypothetical Situations
A Note About Terminology
Similarly, when I talk about "fetal life" or "death", I do not mean to imply "life" or "death" as in following birth. Nor do I now mean to imply that they are necessarily different. The use of the terms by themselves is not meant to imply something not stated. I generally use the words "terminating the fetus" instead of "killing" the fetus because I do think "killing" has particular, strong connotations, but I realize "terminating" may be too cold and dispassionate for many. Again, nothing is meant to be hidden by my choice of words; I am only trying to stay as neutral in use of language as possible. My specific, individual arguments are not neutral and their meanings are not hidden.
The Abortion Debate
Purposes of this Paper
Abortion is often debated as a women's rights issue or as a rights issue for the unborn. It is neither. It would be wrong to protect women's rights by simply ignoring the case for the unborn; and it would be wrong to protect the unborns' rights by simply ignoring the case for women. The issue is not who has rights; both sides have some rights, or at least considerations to take into account. The issue is not who has rights, but what is right, and when, and why. Further, I will try to show that there are many things society could easily do that would protect both women and unborn children by making both motherhood and growing up not so tragically burdensome in many cases and thereby prevent abortion from becoming a necessary consideration in those cases. Many women who seek abortions do not really want them, but see them regrettably as their only reasonable choice. If there were better choices or options available in such cases, as I think there easily could be if society simply wants there to be, women and their unborn children would both be better off. Both could have their "rights" preserved.
This paper will deal individually with different types of cases in which abortions might be desired and what merit those cases may or may not have. There is not room here for a discussion of the proper relationship between ethics and religion (I have written about that elsewhere), even if a particular religious interpretation under discussion accurately were to reflect God's will. And it is not even likely that an unbiased person could justifiably claim a thorough and certain understanding of God's views on the subject. Just concerning the Bible, let alone religions for whom the Bible is not central, there is such a vast difference among sincere and scholarly interpretations by its adherents about what the passages referring to abortion or to abortionists mean or imply, (or to what exceptions they must admit or to what overriding conflicting laws they must submit) that it seems unhelpful to try to ascertain what is right by mere study of Scripture. American law and American court decisions, given such ideological differences, seem particularly well-served in this matter to keep the first amendment boundary between (particular) religion(s) or religious denominations. Further, many theological arguments in such matters tend to give non-Biblical, purely philosophically moral arguments to support, or even to make, their Biblical interpretations. These seem to me to be irrelevant to their purpose; they cannot, with any consistency, I believe, use their reason to find God's word by figuring out first what is morally right, and thus what God probably meant, and at the same time reject reason as a means for judging what is right and wrong.
I am simply interested in this paper in the moral arguments about abortion without regard to whether they might also support some particular Scriptural interpretations or not. This paper will deal, not with unsubstantiated and unargued, non-reasoned claims for ethical principles based on authority, but with evidence that is given either for abortions in certain cases or against them in others, evidence that is meant to be logical and also compassionate and understanding. Such a method is not infallible, but the mistakes it engenders are at least correctable by use of the method itself. Logic is always open to other logical rebuttal; and compassion is always open to compassion that encompasses more correct understanding. The nature of a rational, intelligent, compassionate ethical discussion gives the hope that if error of either sort is made, it can be discovered and corrected by further thought, understanding of experience, and discussion. Present political and judicial rhetoric and decisions do not give me that hope. I am also not given that hope by some seemingly entrenched, unreflective, and irrationally dogmatic religious views or by some of the equally unreflective and irrationally dogmatic supposedly "liberal" or "modern" views. Neither the total "pro-life" nor the total "pro-choice" side seems to me to have a monopoly on the right or even on being reasonable on this issue. In this paper I also wish to point out the lack of merit, and sometimes even the total lack of relevance, of some of the more politically popular or well-publicized arguments on both sides of the abortion issue. I think there are better and more relevant considerations that can shed more light on the subject.
There are a number of cases I wish to consider in terms of the rightness or wrongness of abortion. These are (1) conception due to rape, (2) unwanted fetus or embryo conceived by non-negligent accident, (3) unwanted fetus or embryo conceived by negligent accident, (4) fetus or embryo whose birth endangers the life of the pregnant woman, and (5) fetus or embryo that is likely to be born to a life of very low quality because of either (a) severe physical and/or mental birth defects or (b) some reason other than such defects, for example, malnutrition and likely starvation in a drought-stricken, impoverished country.
I also wish to discuss these kinds of cases of abortion not only in regard to science and society as they are at this writing, but as to how societal or social perspectives might be philosophically modified and how medical science is likely someday to be, the latter in ways that will bring whole new problems to the question of abortion -- as well as whole new solutions. The particular medical science developments I wish to take into account are those of transplant or machine maintenance of a human embryo (though particularly a later stage embryo, which as of this writing is still not medically feasible; transplant is already done in other animals, notably cattle); and the particular social perspective changes I wish to take into account are (1) some sort of "nurturing" assistance for the children of educationally and socially disadvantaged families -- not necessarily just "ghetto" families and not necessarily welfare nor governmental assistance, but personal relationships and mentoring that will give expectation that a child will not have to be born into such a hopeless or terrible situation that an abortion might be better for it, (2) a change in adoption policy and child-rearing that would enable people who "give up" babies for adoption to have some influence over, and some direct knowledge of, their child's development, (3) elimination of unfair discrimination, particularly job discrimination, based on unwed motherhood and the stigma attaching to someone's being an "illegitimate" child, and (4) a change in the way we view the responsibility for rearing children, both in regard to financial obligations, and in regard to their moral, physical, and academic education. I wish to consider these four social changes because it seems to me that they would drastically reduce the number of abortions by reducing many people's feeling of need for an abortion as their only alternative to a very unhappy or wrongful birth. And to eliminate or reduce abortions voluntarily, by eliminating or reducing the (perceived) need for them, would be a good thing.
In line with the idea of being primarily able to reduce the number of abortions voluntarily, this paper is not meant to be a blueprint for laws that either require or forbid abortions in certain cases; it is meant rather to (1) suggest a rational and informed approach for a doctor, for a woman, and for any advisers (advisers, not decision makers) she might seek (or be required to seek) to decide whether abortion would be right in her circumstance or not, (2) suggest for those cases that do come before the judiciary a more enlightened, direct, and rational approach than the courts now seem to take, (3) suggest a rational and informed approach for legislators to take when formulating whatever laws might have effects on abortions, such as adoption procedures and the legal rights of people who "give up" their babies for adoption, or, in the future, their embryos for transplant.
The paper is not meant to be a blueprint for laws determining abortion because, unlike what some opponents of abortion would have us believe, not all women who seek abortions do so out of selfish (trivial) convenience for themselves; and for those women of conscience who are honestly trying to do the right thing, abortion (even if right) is often still a traumatic and sad experience that will linger in memory for life, without it being made more difficult by legislators, lawyers, judges, and juries -- particularly those who (seem to) lack sympathy, understanding, and/or sense. Legal procedures often are time-consuming, enervating, and expensive; they are often logically frustrating and morally disenchanting; and they are not always morally fair, even when legally valid.2 The toll this all exacts on people who use the courts when they are certain they are in the right sometimes is more than it is worth, even if they win, and particularly if they lose. To subject a sincerely morally perplexed and psychologically troubled woman unhappily contemplating an abortion to the argumentative, posturing process courtrooms often involve does not seem the most humane way to deal with this problem.
The April 1988 Ms. magazine cover story about the test case of Alabama's parent notification law in minors' abortion cases illustrates, by a real life nightmare, the worst of the abortion debate -- on the one side a judge, who in this account and in the daily Birmingham newspaper accounts, seems to have no understanding of, or concern for, the girl's difficulty and torment; and on the other side an abortion clinic director who sees abortion as the right thing simply because the girl thinks that is what she needs. But what seems evident in the story, though it obviously tries to be more sympathetic to the abortion side, is that what the girl really would rather do is to be able to have the child if there were any way she could rear it herself without ruining its life and her own life by doing so. It seems to me that this is the story of a girl who needs help rearing a child (and protection from her stepfather) but who ends up caught only between people who would terminate her pregnancy and people who would not allow its termination but would also not help her rear the child and/or would prefer for her to give it up for adoption. Neither side sees what she needs or tries to get it for her. So she and the child -- whether it is born or aborted -- both lose. Further, the legal issue here is only whether she is mature enough to make the decision herself, not whether the decision is a reasonable one or the most reasonable one or not. It is the form of the decision, not its substance and reasonableness, that the law, I believe, wrongly finds important.
It seems to me that a compassionate society would want to help a woman be truly informed of all the possible practical options available to her, of all the likely practical and psychological consequences for herself whatever she decides (and for her child, should she choose to give birth to it), of the insights and wisdom gained later by those women who, in the past, made such decisions under circumstances that were most similar to hers, and of the philosophical nature or basis for her decision. This does not mean to badger her with harangues by people with a close-minded view, but to offer the most experienced, understanding, philosophical, and sympathetic counseling available from at least one counselor who is not irrationally wed to some pre-determined recommendation regardless of the facts in a particular case. Just as it may be to a family's best interest for a parent in many kinds of cases to let a child make a mistake for him/herself to discover instead of paternalistically coercing the child into doing the right thing, it may be that in many kinds of cases of contemplated abortion it is best for society to let a woman make the most understanding and informed choice she can, rather than force her into an action she cannot really accept. This does not mean letting her act on whim, in panic, or alone without aid to cope with burdens that others might easily help her overcome, burdens which are unnecessarily pressing her to an unwise decision.
Popular, But Pitifully Weak, Arguments
1) The criterion of unaided viability or survivability:
this should have no bearing on whether a fetus should be maintained or not since a) perfectly healthy human babies, infants, and even many children and some adults could not survive without the aid of others. They would have no idea how to provide or gather food, and in the case of babies, no ability to do such even if they had the idea. Hence, if unaided survivability were the criterion for whether something could be allowed to have its existence terminated, we would be allowed to terminate far more than seems justified; and b) there are a number of cases of disease or accident where a person can live only with a medical machine -- and I mean here, not terminal cases, but either patients who need machines temporarily until their bodies can (re)gain sufficient function or patients who may never regain such function, but who are nevertheless not near death -- such as polio victims who cannot breathe unaided by some sort of respirator or iron lung, heart patients requiring pacemakers, etc. Here too, if technologically unassisted survivability were the criteria, we could be allowed to terminate the lives of far more than clearly is morally acceptable in a society where all kinds of technological assistance from ambulances to respirators and all kinds of machinery for diagnosis, medication, and surgery are frequently readily available.
There will quite possibly be a time when technology will allow us to maintain, without a pregnant woman's body, a fetus from some time at or near conception until time of maturation. And there may be a time when very young fertilized eggs or embryos can routinely be transplanted from a woman who does not want to be pregnant to a woman who wants to be or who is willing to be. Then we will need to make the distinction between removal of the fetus (or fertilized egg) from a woman who does not want to, or could not without grave risk, have a baby on the one hand, and, on the other hand, termination of that fetus' life or ability to survive. Hence, maintaining a fetus to maturity (i.e., birth or infancy) would be more like maintaining a temporarily incapacitated person until they can survive on their own. This would not mean necessarily though that no fetal life could morally be terminated -- I will return to this question.
2) The claim that life is always of more value than its lack. This seems to be clearly false or at least unbelieved by most, if not all people, without even looking at the case of lives which face wretched existence such as those in constant starvation, fear, poverty, disease, lack of shelter from severe elements, loneliness, cruel abuse, or whatever. No rational person believes, and rightly so, that every baby who can possibly be conceived and born should therefore be tried to be conceived and have born. Even with today's technology, that would be far more fertilized eggs than could be produced even by couples having sex all the time. Laboratory fertilization is or could be more efficient than intercourse. Yet not even the anti-abortionist, anti-(artificial)-birth control Catholic Church holds the view that all possible conceptions should be attempted, even in marriage, let alone, of course, outside of marriage, from puberty to menarche, even by sexual intercourse, let alone by whatever more efficient technology may be available. No one could satisfactorily seriously argue that whatever life could exist should be required to have attempted to exist. Even those who would like to have large families come to a point where they realize it would be unfair to the mother or to both parents or to other family members and even to the next possible future child itself to try to conceive another one. And,of course, people who want smaller families usually make that determination on the basis of similar judgments of both fairness to parents and already-born siblings, and the quality of life that the next child would be subject to if another were conceived and born. So even though one might be opposed to abortion and even to "artificial" birth control, there is properly still no call for total required conception. Even the Catholic Church is not opposed to all birth control, not to abstinence nor rhythm method, or even technologically assisted rhythm methods helping to better judge the times of ovulation or fertility and infertility. Even a group wanting to multiply their numbers as much as feasible would probably want to exempt some people or some ages from the requirement of conception. And, of course, those who want a higher quality of life for their children than just mere shelter and a subsistence level of food and medicine would have commensurately greater qualifications to meet before they thought it right to try to conceive a(nother) child.
Abortion advocates often point to the lack of quality of life a given fetus may encounter once born, and anti-abortionists often totally ignore or discount as irrelevant the question of quality of life the fetus is likely to face once born. From both the facts that we rightfully do not seek total conception of every possible egg, nor the extermination of every unhappy already-living human being, it seems that quality of life has some bearing on the value of the existence of life, but that it is not the only consideration. I will return later to this issue.
There are also some people who seem to have a particularly inconsistent view -- those who hold that all conceived babies should be allowed to be born regardless of their quality of life because life is a virtual absolute value, and who also hold that it is right to let people (let alone make or draft people to) go to war in defense of something such as property, liberty, economic and/or social system, where defense of life is not at issue. One cannot consistently hold that life is the most important thing there is and that it is all right for one to risk his life for something of less value. This inconsistency seems particularly odd since it seems to put greater value on (potential) life that is not yet self-conscious than it puts on life that is already self-conscious and may even have a reasonably known particularly (deservedly) bright future.
The issue of whether seriously unhealthy or seriously malformed fetuses should be identified and aborted:
since quality of life does seem to be a consideration, and since certain kinds of defects assure suffering and preclude even minimal quality of life, it seems that anyone arguing severely deformed or fatally or morbidly ill fetuses should be allowed to be born (or "forced" to be born and thus forced to suffer) needs to have and to show some very good reasons why. The simplistic argument that abortionists are playing God is not sufficient. We are playing God either way, since we have the power either way (assuming the real God does not intervene the opposite way and really play God) for bringing about abortion or live delivery. We are playing God just as much to make someone be born as when we keep someone from being born. We are playing God in the sense of creating life or denying life when we decide and try to conceive a child and when we abstain from intercourse in order to be sure we do not conceive a child we could.
3) The claim that privacy allows a woman to do what she wants with her
obviously privacy does not override an already-born child's right not to have its life terminated by its parents, under normal circumstances. How strong a prima facie right privacy is under any circumstances is in fact a difficult question on its own. In America, where liberty is prized so highly, privacy is often seen to be more valued than its lack, even when that lack might prevent harm some might otherwise plan and initiate in private. Nevertheless privacy is not a total protection against the prevention or prosecution of grievous wrongs. If abortion of a normal fetus is anywhere nearly as serious as murder of an innocent and normal infant, privacy would hardly warrant non-interference. And there are far lesser offenses than murder that privacy does not protect. Privacy is not an absolute right; it is a right that stronger rights can override and that some circumstances can render untenable.
I once ventured upon some adolescent boys getting ready to torture a young cat by throwing it into a mass of sticker bushes to see how it would do. I interceded on behalf of the cat. The main antagonist, a fairly large boy, was displeased by my intervention and said that I had no business interfering with their fun. His main comment was that it was his cat and he could do anything he wanted to it. I take it that this is a form of the privacy (and private property) argument, that this was a private matter and I had no right to intervene. I did not at the time see fit to argue the merits of the case on that particular issue and instead gave him other grounds which I thought might appeal to him. I suggested that if he could not see any reason to see the similarity between the cat's feelings and his own that I might help him see the relationship in this instance between the cat's well-being and his own. This convinced him for the time at least that harming the cat might not be in his own best interest. But it occurred to me later that the cat's being his cat gave him not less responsibility for its well-being, as he seemed to think, but gave him even more responsibility for its well-being. In general, the owners of pets and the parents of young children are held responsible for at least certain minimal standards of their charges' welfare. Recently enacted laws in a number of states requiring parents to have their children in car restraints while the car is in motion is another example of balancing parental privacy with child welfare on the side of the welfare rather than privacy. And it does seem to me, having seen so many parents who dangerously, carelessly, and recklessly allow their children to ride standing up on the front seat (as if to give their heads better aim at the windshields in case of sudden braking or frontal collision) that the innocent child should have a champion in the state if the parents do not fulfill reasonable obligations. In general, a woman does have some responsibility toward her children and even toward her unborn fetus. How much is open to discussion. And in general parents cannot justifiably treat their children any way they would want to, especially if that means harming or killing the child, or risking its life or health needlessly. I would expect there to be made similar cases for fetal rights, though just how much, and whether it could preclude abortion or not, and under what circumstances, is what is at issue. The point here is that privacy, by itself, is insufficient to morally justify abortion and/or other sorts of fetal harm -- regardless of the Supreme Court's legal decision.
[I would hazard the guess, though this has no bearing on my argument above, that privacy is morally justified to let people do things that others would find distasteful to witness, but not to do things which are actually wrong. There are many things we do that we do not even care people know we do, or might do; we just do not want them to watch us doing them. There are many things we know other people do, or might do; we just do not want to (have to) watch them doing them. Hence, absent strong evidence something wrong is occurring in a home or other non-public place, privacy is protected in order to keep people from being embarrassed or disgraced; it is not protected in order that they can do wrong.]3
4) On the issue of trying to decide whether the
fetus has a soul or when, or whether it is alive, or a live human being
or when, or whether killing a fetus is murder or not, and if so, when:
this is a question that either is more difficult than the question of the rightness of abortion, or is impossible to answer because there can be no answer other than simply one by fiat. It is impossible to discover whether a fetus is alive or is a human being or can be murdered because there is nothing to discover about either life or fetuses (or fertilized eggs) that can count for or against whether they coincide or not. We already know to a great extent in what ways fetuses are like born people and in what ways they are different. The question is whether the similarities or differences are more relevant. That cannot be answered because the concept of "alive" and "human being" have never before been either readily applied to, nor kept from applying to, fetuses in the past and because there are not clear cut enough definitions already for us to be able to tell whether they should apply or not.
To take another kind of similar case: suppose that it turns out we are never able, from a practical standpoint, to viably thaw out people who are cryogenically frozen in the hope that whatever disease they had before freezing can someday be cured. We, of course, might say that such people are "frozen alive", but are they really still alive? There is no telling, not because we don't know anything about them, but because the concept of "alive" never was clearly enough defined or used before to let us discover whether it applies in such a case or not. There would be nothing to discover, just a stipulation or decision to be made, an arbitrary stipulation or decision. Whether embryos or fetuses should be called alive or human or not is not really important; what is important is that normal fetuses, without abortions being performed, generally become human beings -- this is the most salient fact. Whether they should be called human or alive, or things that can be murdered, at a stage earlier than they were before is an arbitrary matter to be pronounced rather than discovered. But the most salient point about fetuses is that in a fairly short time -- at birth -- they will be alive and human. If we stipulated that a four day old fetus was not yet alive or human, and that a five day old fetus was, it seems to me that the fact killing it on the fifth day would be called murder and killing it on the fourth day would not be called murder makes virtually no difference in the morality of the situation. I doubt it would make any difference to the fetus. Consciousness or self-consciousness would be insignificant on the fifth day and nothing else of any moral relevance would be significantly different either. I am not saying that when some people die makes no difference; I am only saying that I think when a fetus dies makes no difference, no significant moral difference. I think that may also be true of a newborn baby; that a newborn baby dies is significant, but whether it dies on its second day after birth or its third day seems to be of little consequence relative to continuing to live. Whether a fetus is killed or not is morally significant, not when. At the other end of the spectrum there is a joke on an old Jewish toast that one should live "to be 120 years old". One fellow toasts to his friend that he should live to be "120 and three days." The friend asks why the extra three days, and the one giving the toast says "because I don't want you should drop dead all of a sudden." The point of the humor is that it is hard to imagine that for most people it would matter much at all whether they live to be 120 or 120 and three days. Three days at the beginning of a short life or at the end of a long life, it seems to me, are of very little consequence, absent something very special that could only happen in those three days time.
Of course, the older a fetus is, the more psychologically close to it its mother may be, and so the more grievous the loss may be to her. But the mother's feelings or anyone else's feelings are not so important a factor in the morality of abortion as is the fact that a life or potential life is terminated. If the mother did not care at all, or actually wished the fetus to be dead, that would not, by itself, make killing it be right. Certainly in the case of an adult's being murdered, it is only a relatively minor consideration in the morality of the situation whether anyone else is grieved or not because the victim was killed.
Ronald Reagan's argument was that since we cannot tell whether a fetus is alive or not, should we not err on the side of safety -- that is, not taking what could be a life. But the argument, in some cases -- e.g., a case of known severe retardation or of severe deformity -- can be turned around equally well; should we not err on the side of safety -- that is, prevent it from becoming alive, therefore keeping it from suffering and or dying. The point is that it might be better to abort, before it becomes alive, something that, once alive, (whether at birth or the day after conception or whenever) would have a terrible life. One argument for pre-fertilization birth control is that one is not thereby murdering anything. One is not murdering sperm cells nor unfertilized eggs simply because one does not let them meet. The problem with Reagan's argument is that it really is not clear which is the safe side, if one really does not know whether there is life yet or not. Of course, if terminating the pregnancy intentionally is wrong, doing it if the fetus is already alive would be worse than doing it if it were not yet alive. But if terminating the pregnancy is right, it would be better to terminate the pregnancy before the fetus is alive. The main issue really is not then whether the fetus may or may not yet be alive (especially, as in Reagan's argument, we cannot tell); the issue is whether or not the pregnancy should be terminated, period.
5) There are movies of actual abortions (including a famous or notorious one of the fetus, "The Silent Scream") intended to either scare people out of abortions or convince them it is too terrible a thing to permit. Now there may be more or less humane ways to perform abortions, and of course abortions, if they are right at all, should be performed as humanely for the woman and fetus as possible. Showing there is resistance by the fetus to leaving the womb or that the process is somewhat sickening, however, by itself does not show that abortion is wrong. Films of childbirth are also not generally pleasant to watch, and I would imagine that a movie taken of the fetus on the inside as it goes through labor and vaginal birth would not make it look like it was celebrating either. Babies certainly are not born smiling. The hospital where my wife and I were to have our first child gave expecting couples a childbirth preparation course, at the end of which they showed a childbirth film intended to inspire confidence. It didn't. To my wife and me, and many of the others in the class, this particular film was very frightening. My wife was eight months pregnant at the time, and our feeling was we should just leave the baby in there the rest of her life; that this whole thing was a mistake. Fortunately, though childbirth was no picnic for her or the baby, it was not nearly so bad as the film had made it seem. And, of course, childbirth is not generally a wrong thing, even if it is not a very pleasant thing to watch. The fact that abortion movies are physically nauseating does not show that abortion is wrong any more than nauseating childbirth films, eye surgery films, or any other sort of medical procedure films show those things to be wrong.
Of course, abortion is a sad thing to see, but that is because abortion is a sad thing. No one who argues for abortion can reasonably hold that it is a good thing, only that it is the right thing in certain circumstances. Just as no one can ever rightfully claim that a mastectomy is a good thing or a happy thing, only that it is the right thing in certain circumstances. Anyone facing a mastectomy would probably feel even worse about doing that if they had to watch a film showing the procedure first. How one reacts to any medical kind of film does not, by itself, show anything about the moral rightness or wrongness of the procedure.
"The Silent Scream" was also intended, I believe, to argue that the fetus resists being aborted and by doing so shows that even an early embryo has a will to live and/or is aware of efforts to end its life. There is medical neurological argument to the contrary, but that is perhaps questionable too. I would rather argue that the apparent resistance to abortion is far less likely a sign of awareness of what is going on than it is some sort of reflex or reaction to a specific stimulus. Babies or children (and even adults) sometimes draw away from or seem to resist stimuli without having any reason for it, and sometimes are even attracted to things which are fatal or painful. In fact, it is often very difficult to get children to understand about death and that certain things can kill them or hurt them very badly. Trying to teach children to be careful around cars, for example, is not an easy task. I find it difficult to believe that an embryo has an understanding of death and danger that a child does not.
More Relevant Kinds of Arguments
However, I don't think that abortion is justified in cases of incest
on the basis of incest alone. Incest between an adult and a minor
child is either rape or statutory rape, or (and this may be the
justification for statutory rape), it is sex with someone (the child) who
is not mature enough to give a meaningful and realistic consent because
they are unlikely to sufficiently appreciate the consequences. In
either case, the justification for abortion would be the one given below
for rape. If the incestuous couple are consenting adults however,
then it seems to me that the alleged grounds for abortion are consideration
for the physical (genetic) health of the baby or some concern about its
mental health, given its parentage or its rearing. But, if
are the grounds, they are not peculiar to incest, and do not even necessarily
follow from incest. So unless we are going to base abortion on the
basis of the (probable) mental and/or physical health of the child in all
cases, it does not seem to me that we should do it in cases of incest just
because they are cases of incest. A genetic defect, or a terrible
family environment, due to incest is no different from a genetic defect,
or a dysfunctional family life, resulting from a non-incestuous conception.
(1) The issue of the baby's life versus the mother's life where only one is likely to survive. A good case could be made for saving the mother -- or at least making the choice hers -- solely on the grounds of self-defense. No one can be made to sacrifice life or reasonable health on the grounds that it would benefit another, not even a child, let alone an unborn child. It may be very saintly to sacrifice your life for another, but it is almost never obligatory.
[Let me point out that abortion on grounds of self-defense can only refer to self-defense against loss of life or severe damage to health, not something like loss of a little happiness or a slightly longer recovery period. You may justifiably kill someone you reasonably believe would otherwise kill you or badly hurt you, but you cannot justifiably kill someone who you know would otherwise only lower your standard of living a bit. This is not to say there may be no other grounds for abortion.]
(2) Conceptions resulting from rape and/or conceptions resulting in known severely deformed fetuses. Let me first make the distinction for the remainder of this paper between abortion that is merely removal or abandonment of the fetus from the pregnant woman's body, and abortion that is also intended to end the life of the fetus. At the present time, abortion that is abandonment, if performed early enough in pregnancy, invariably is also abortion that will result in the demise of the fetus. However, there is reason to believe that, as medical science advances, the fetus will be able to survive earlier and earlier removal from the womb, either by technological maintenance or possibly even by transplant into another woman.
But in a very real sense we already have the "technology" to keep normal fetuses alive -- we keep them in the womb, and treat the pregnant woman's body like a kind of life support machine that needs maintenance (sleep, food, vitamins, etc.). Hence, we have a method which allows unwanted babies to be born healthy -- do not allow it to be aborted for abandonment until after the time technology will insure such abandonment is not going to be fatal to it. This would treat the mother not as an individual, but as a kind of marvelous machine, or as a person whose rights only begin where the fetal rights end.
It is often claimed that, apart from one's specially incurred obligations (such as keeping promises, repaying debts, honoring contracts, finishing certain jobs one begins, keeping appointments, etc.), the obligation to do positive good is much weaker than the obligation to do no harm (to innocent people). That is, one has no general duty to (go out of his way to) help someone, but one always has a duty not to harm an innocent person. Unwanted pregnancy, however, is one kind of case where not doing positive good (to the fetus by continuing to carry it) will cause harm (its death). However, the principle that doing harm is worse than not doing good, even if harm results, is not a good moral principle, even if it is an operating legal principle. It is a special case of a broader moral principle that I think is sound -- that a person is morally responsible to be a good Samaritan proportionally as the good that is achieved for others is greater than the risk one must take, harm or loss one must incur, or effort he must expend in achieving or trying for that good. For example, we cannot expect or require people to sacrifice their lives for others; but we could expect or demand of a person who knows a building is about to be demolished by dynamite that he at least verbally warn someone who passes him walking toward the building as he is walking away from it. This is true even if he had nothing to do with the demolition of the building. In other words things which have great benefit for others (or prevent great harm to them) and which require little or no risk, effort, or loss to oneself are things which one should do; and the obligation decreases as the proportion decreases between cost or risk to self and gain for others.
But this is only in regard to situations where you have not knowingly or negligently incurred some special obligation or responsibility (such as making a promise, borrowing money, etc.). If you put dynamite in a building to be razed, you have a much higher responsibility, and must take greater efforts and even risks if necessary, to ensure no one wanders into that building than you do if you had nothing to do with putting it there but simply know it is there.
The analogy or application to rape should be fairly obvious; since the woman is not responsible in any way for the fetus, she may choose to, but cannot be required to, maintain its well-being until it can survive without her. The fetus, though itself innocent, is the victim of a circumstance the woman is not responsible for; and good Samaritanism cannot demand the kind of sacrifice she would have to make to carry the fetus toward term if she does not want to. That sacrifice includes great effort, as well as emotional and physical stress. A woman might volunteer to make such a sacrifice, and that may be a very laudable choice, but she cannot be required or expected to make such a sacrifice. Such a sacrifice would be above the call of duty, not a duty or obligation in itself. A woman cannot be justifiably treated simply as a machine that this fetus is hooked up to as a life support system. Legal demands for doing positive good, as opposed to not doing positive harm, to another are far weaker than moral demands. Except for the military draft and payment of taxes (and then only if one has something to pay taxes on) for the collective good (schools, highways, defense, etc.) we do not legally require innocent people to do positive benefit for others they have not themselves taken on some special obligation to benefit. The only people we make actually help others are people convicted of a crime whose sentence for punishment and rehabilitation is, or includes, some sort of service program. The law demands no one else act as a good Samaritan at sacrifice to himself even when another person's life is at stake. No one is required to give bone marrow to another who might be saved by such a transplant; no one is required to donate a kidney to someone whose life it could save and who will probably die without such a donation. No able person is even required to give blood, though that is a replenishable resource, safe to donate and would probably save many lives. Our society does not even require the donation of organs for transplant when someone has died, and presumably then has no use for them. Organ donation, even at death, is strictly a voluntary choice. Generally we do not "cannibalize" parts from living or dead people who did not "will" such parts to others while they were alive. Whether this is right or wrong, it seems to me to be inconsistent with requiring a woman who is not responsible for her pregnancy (as in rape) to support its completion with her body organs, even though they are left inside her.
One of my friends objects to this analogy because she thinks there is a fundamental difference between allowing your organs to be used to save someone outside of yourself and someone "inside" of you "for whom you are responsible." My response is that (1) the raped pregnant woman is not responsible for the fetus's being inside her and (2) the responsibility for saving either life is exactly the same; inside or outside is irrelevant. If you can save someone else's life by donating an organ you do not really need or giving up some part of you, such as blood, that you can replenish naturally, you are just as responsible for saving or ending the life whether it is inside of you or outside of you, in the next room or in the next county or the next country. Proximity or position have no particular bearing. I am not here arguing that we ought to require blood giving and organ donation, etc. I am only arguing that it is inconsistent not to, especially after a donor is dead, and at the same time hold that women must use their organs as life support for fetuses they did not voluntarily or negligently cause.
I will address the question about what rights a woman should have to terminate the fetus' life when technology will be sufficiently advanced to have machines support a very young fetus to maturity once she has had it removed from her body. It may be that before such machines are available that other women could be implanted with the fetus to nurture it to birth. Even then the issue may arise of whether the conceptual mother can legitimately seek termination of the fetal life as well as just removal of it from her body, even though there may be willing new hosts available. The point for now though is that at least a rape-induced pregnant woman can justify removal of a fetus from her womb on the grounds she is not responsible for having created it there and cannot be, under any normal (present) concept of good Samaritanism, made responsible for its well-being.
And, it seems at least somewhat plausible to me, that a woman carrying a known severely deformed fetus might be able to deserve an abortion if she wants it for the same reason. Because in a sense she did not intentionally or negligently conceive this very unfortunate, prospective suffering, and difficult to care for kind of a child. If her intention was to conceive and bear a healthy baby (or she was at least not unwilling to do that, even if not actually intending to), and she took prudent measures to insure any conceived child would be healthy, she is not thereby responsible for maintaining a deformed fetus, one that will have a very sad and/or suffering kind of life, if born, and bring much sorrow because of that to its family.
This is not the strongest argument in favor of abortion in this kind of case, but I think it is a consideration. I also realize this argument runs some risk of being used to avoid or deny responsibility for the care of a born, but sickly or deformed child, which no one realized would be born that way and which no one, of course, intentionally conceived or gestated that way either. However, there are legal procedures for such parental abandonment and there are facilities available to at least minimally care for such children.
Whether the mother-to-be of a known deformed fetus with the right to remove that fetus from her womb also should have the right to seek termination of its life even if its life might otherwise be saved (again, by embryo transplant or by technology) is a question I will address later.
(3) Concerning the issue of abortion with regard to normally healthy,
non-rape engendered fetuses:
first with regard to removal, second with regard to termination of fetal life. Once technology reaches the point where a very young fetus can be safely transplanted from one woman to another or reaches the point where an embryo can be safely maintained mechanically until it reaches maturity, it would seem to be morally quite unproblematic, for any woman who wants to, to be allowed to have an embryo removed from her womb so that it could be transplanted or put on life-support equipment. There would no longer be the question of termination of the fetal life. However, (1) that point is not yet approached by science, and so early abandonment is now concommitant with fetal death; (2) there may be cases in the future where a biological genetic (as opposed to a biological gestation) parent (when fetal transplants become possible) may not only seek fetal removal, but fetal death too -- not wanting the embryo to be implanted into a volunteer's host womb or to be nurtured to "birth" or maturity by technology. In this second case, should the genetic parents have the right to determine whether the fetus should be allowed to survive or not?
In such a hypothetical future case -- in which young fetuses removed from a genetic mother's body will be able to be saved and allowed to mature either by machinery or by transplant into a new gestation mother's womb -- genetic mothers will be in a very similar position to that which genetic fathers are now: they will have contributed half the cause of the conception and half the genetic character of the baby and the embryo will be able to mature to birth outside of their body and with no physical burden or health risk to them. In regard to determining whether the fetal life should be terminated or not, I suspect the law will treat genetic mothers who give up their embryo to a machine or another woman in similar ways it now treats genetic fathers. That is, I assume that without some strong argument to the contrary, the genetic mother or father will have no right to terminate the life of an abandoned fetus as long as there is a suitable recipient gestation mother available or as long as sufficient life-support systems are available. (Of course, there may be some question about payment of whatever medical expenses and fetal-support as well as child support, but I do not wish to get into arguments about responsibility for financing abortions, child support, fetal support, embryo implantations, etc.) Whether, however, present legal treatment of genetic fathers, and similar future treatment of genetic mothers whose embryos are removed early is itself right is another issue, an issue I will discuss later with regard to rights, responsibilities, and emotions concerning child bearing and child rearing.
I come now to the heart of the abortion issue, and perhaps the most difficult of the problems: the problem of whether it can be right to terminate the life of a fetus, and who should have the right to make the choice, and under what circumstances. There are a number of things I would like to say first on this issue.
First, abortion is always a bad thing because it does end a unique, particular life or a very near, potential life; yet it may not be the wrong thing, since it may be the best alternative of a bunch of bad alternatives, or it may be the result of a right that overrides a greater good. Some right actions in life are those which involve bad things, for example when someone has to have their leg amputated in order to save their life, or when someone has to have prolonged and painful treatment to prevent rabies when the dog who bit them cannot be found. A bad option can be the right option to choose in making a decision if it (1) is based on a right that overrides other actions or if it (2) is the best option open to the agent who will perform the action and is an option that does not violate some overriding right. An example concerning such an overriding right, usually given in ethics classes, is the right of an innocent person not to be punished for a crime authorities know he did not commit but could frame him for to the public, just in order to deter future potential criminals, even if that were to save countless future victims. Innocent people have a right not to be punished just to serve as an example of what would happen to a person guilty of a particular kind of crime, regardless of how much better conditions would be if some innocent person was occasionally punished, or even executed, that way. Hence, with regard to abortion, abortion of a fetus (which leads to its death) may be right if it is the best of a bunch of bad alternatives available, or if there is some overriding reason or some other right which overrides the fetal right to life, as in the case where the mother's life is in jeopardy if she carries the child long enough for it to be viable (i.e., the mother's right of self-defense). Likewise abortion would be wrong if it is not the best alternative and/or if the fetus has a right to life overriding alternatives even though those alternatives may make others better off in the long run. So the question comes to whether there are better alternatives than termination of the fetus or not, and whether in different cases there are rights which override the best alternatives -- either on behalf of the fetus when termination gives the better situation for others, or on behalf of others when non-termination gives the better situation for the fetus and/or those other than the genetic parent(s).
I have already argued that in cases of rape and self defense of the mother that medical removal of the fetus is morally allowable if the genetic mother rationally chooses that, even if that leads to the termination of the fetal life. I will later discuss such cases pertaining to the hypothetical future state when medical removal need not necessarily terminate the fetal life, because of machine maintenance or fetal transplant. I also think that it would take a strong argument to justify saving a severely deformed fetus since no one conceived such a child intentionally or would advocate doing so, and since we are talking about deformities that cause great suffering and/or a bad (worse) death later (after self-awareness occurs and after the effort to mature has progressed) and deformities that destroy or severely limit one's chances for a life of any quality. As I said earlier, no one can seriously hold that life just by itself is better than no life and that every baby that could be conceived and born ought to be. There seems to be at least minimally necessary quality to make creating a baby a good thing. The question is whether it is more humane to terminate what would be an irredeemably terribly suffering life as early as possible (before some amount of self-consciousness, effort at life, and/or hope for the future occurs -- more about these later) or to simply let that life play out its natural course. I myself think that though some suffering may be worthwhile in some lives, there can be suffering that can have no justification whatsoever. And I think lives which have this kind of suffering with little or no positive or redeeming value are, prima facie, better off ended as early as possible, ending the suffering as early as possible, unless there is some overriding specific circumstance to the contrary (such as knowledge that a person consciously does not want to die even under these circumstances). To change my mind I would have to see some argument I have not yet seen as to why an innocent baby should be made to suffer in a life that knows only unremitting torment. I cannot see how it is at all good or right for life to be only like some kind of endless punishment or suffering.
Insofar as life is not likely to be cruel, but does not offer much hope for much good, much growth, or much mental and/or physical development, proportionately stronger arguments are needed to show earlier death is a right thing. I think such arguments perhaps can be given, but I cannot fully articulate them here. I personally have a strong feeling, for example, that someone who cannot progress beyond, say the mental age of a four year old is somehow doomed to a very sad -- and in a way, non-human, pet-like -- life beyond that age. That is a very sad situation and I am not certain what would be best for such a person. I would have to see arguments I have not yet seen on either side.
Now let me say that I think abortion should not be a first resort standard form of birth control. There are better and more humane birth control methods that do not require unreasonable effort to use. That is, I do not think it is right for a person to whom pregnancy is unacceptable to have intercourse without using some reasonably effective form of birth control simply with the idea that she (or, if a male, his partner) will get an abortion if pregnancy occurs. Unless abortion were to become both psychologically and physically less painful and difficult than it now is, most women are not likely to do this more than once anyway, but even now I would think it better to spare any woman or couple this trauma, and any embryo this kind of end, even one unnecessary time.
Second, each embryo is a particular individual that has the potential to become, in a relatively short time, a particular person. Conception is a rather miraculous, complex event (even, and perhaps especially, if one understands it scientifically) and it seems to me that, at the very least, unnecessary, unjustified abortion is in some sense insensitively wasteful, and unappreciative of the event and of the value of each particular individual character that is already, by virtue of conception, partly along the path to becoming a particular person. Life, because it can be good, is not something to squander needlessly or take for granted. And to end the already beginning development of a particular individual that can never be recreated is not something to take lightly even though that individual may not yet have attained the consciousness to be aware of its own end. (Even in adults, it is not the self-awareness of one's own dying that is the worst thing about death; it is not even always a bad thing about death if it allows one to "come to terms" with one's own death. It is the loss of potential for good, particularly for good that has been, in a sense, earned by the individual's struggle toward development and maturity, and/or for potential good that seems very likely to occur, given a particular person's gifts and promise.4 It is hardly a defense against homicide or a satisfying diminution of its tragedy that one killed an innocent and good person instantly while that person was asleep or unconscious or in a way that "he never knew what hit him". Similarly, the fact that a relatively young person dies of natural causes painlessly and without warning may lessen the tragedy of such an event relative to his dying in a more traumatic way, but it does not keep the death from being a tragic loss).
The fact an embryo may not know it is being terminated and may not feel any pain in being terminated is not alone justification or sufficient grounds for terminating its development; it is only grounds for making such terminations, when they are justified, less terrible and inhumane than they might be at some later time, whether natural or man-made. The basic justification for any abortion is essentially that -- apart from cases such as likely maternal death in pregnancy, where someone else has a right overriding the fetus' development -- it is the best time for the aborted individual to die (i.e., have its development ended), and that the longer the individual develops, matures, or lives, the worse for him or her. In any such case evidence needs to be given for that, and that evidence and argument needs to be substantial. This is probably the implicit argument given by people who do have the best interest of the embryo and/or future person at heart. It is the implicit part of my earlier argument that causing a person to be born to a life of unremitting and unredeeming pain and/or sorrow seems to be much crueler than aborting that person as an embryo. This is sometimes part of the argument for cases involving pain and sorrow that are terrible, though not unremitting, and other kinds of cases, as in severe retardation or brain damage, that may not involve much suffering as such at all for the individual him/herself, but which still seem either unredeemingly sorrowful enough, or which for a different reason make the individual's life such he or she would have somehow been better off not to have been born than to live the kind of life he/she does. I only mention these cases to explain their general line of reasoning; I do not go into their specifics here.
As I said earlier, one is not required to be a good Samaritan, especially when the effort to help is very dangerous or is disproportionately taxing or potentially costly compared to the amount of good that might be done the person helped. Sometimes it might even be wrong to try to be a good Samaritan. There are conditions under which it would be foolhardy to pick up a hitch-hiker. It would be wrong, I think, for someone to try to retrieve a known already dead comrade's body from the middle of a mine-field in a battle. When the effort or risk incurred is a legitimate or reasonable one and the goal a worthwhile one, then good Samaritanism is still not necessarily an obligation, but a good deed, a deed above and beyond the call of duty. As the effort that needs to be made to help is less, and as the amount of good such an effort can do grows, good Samaritanism does approach and finally become an obligation. I would think it morally obligatory to at least verbally warn an innocent person you saw walking toward a building about to be dynamited, though you are not required to run into the building after him as the blast is about to go off.
But if you are the cause of the problem the other person faces, you do have an obligation to make a greater effort or take a greater risk than someone else who would simply be a good Samaritan in doing so. A trivial example would be a store that exchanges faulty merchandise bought there and a store that might help out someone by exchanging the merchandise even though it was not purchased there. The store where it was purchased has a moral obligation; the other store is just being very helpful when it does not have to be. An unhurt driver who causes an accident has a greater obligation to try to help the people he has hurt than does someone else just driving by when there are many people around who could help. In a sense, those who are responsible for another's problem -- either through intention or culpable negligence -- relinquish their right not to have to make a proportionately greater effort to help the individual they have harmed or put at risk.
With regard to cases of normally healthy fetuses, the relevance of this to abortion is that those who are more responsible (either through intention or culpable negligence) for conceiving a child have a greater obligation to make sacrifices for a child than someone, such as a rape victim, who is not responsible for the conception. Generally, people who conceive children intentionally, apart from some special or acute circumstance, will not want an abortion, so I would like here to address the notion of negligence. I think there are at least two kinds of negligence, one culpable, one not: (1) negligence out of a kind of ignorance -- lack of real understanding, even though one might have been told the information and is able to repeat what one has been told -- ignorance which is not culpable; and (2) negligence out of lack of concern -- lack of behaving responsibly,5 which is culpable. In cases where ignorance is due to lack of concern, that kind of ignorance is culpable -- the person is responsible for being ignorant, and ignorance is not an excuse because the person should have known better. It is often, but not always, difficult to tell whether ignorance is culpable or not, but I am not so much interested here in whether one can tell as I am in trying to decide what is right when one can tell.
Young people particularly, though not exclusively, are vulnerable to a number of myths about fertility and birth control and can make a mistake about the reasonable effectiveness of the birth control method they use. Or they may use no method at all, getting swept away by passion or hesitancy to stop past a certain sexual point and/or simply believing, though for no good reason, that they are not susceptible to (causing) pregnancy.
I would argue that those who become pregnant out of non-culpable ignorance
or by accident -- i.e., those who get pregnant though using a reasonable
form of birth control in a reasonable way, such as someone with an IUD,
someone who is taking birth control pills that turn out to be a too weak
dosage, someone who has been told by a doctor they cannot get (or cause)
pregnancy, etc. -- have less obligation to make sacrifices for a child
they conceive than does someone who simply acts irresponsibly or does not
care whether they get pregnant, or cause a pregnancy, or not. Some people
have very strong sex drives, at least at times; and if they sincerely,
rationally (even if incorrectly), and honestly believe, they will not conceive
a child, it is unreasonable to expect them to forego sex if they have no
other reason not to. Now I think (and have written elsewhere about it)
that there are many things besides potential pregnancy that have a bearing
on whether sex (and what kind of sex or what "degree" of sex) is right
or not at a particular time between any two people, but many people are
very ignorant about the psychological, emotional, and social aspects of
sex, let alone the physiological aspects; and many people, if they are
going to learn about these things at all, are going to do so by trial and
error, some of which will result in unwanted pregnancy, and some of which
will result in other unwanted and unforeseen sorrows and tragedies. American
society in general has not found very good ways to educate people about
many aspects of sex, and until it does, it can hardly expect people not
to make the same kind of mistakes others have made. And I think it can
hardly hold them totally to blame for the kinds of mistakes human beings
are likely to make without more help.
But that being said, the message to everyone ought to be that
penile/vaginal intercourse, i.e., coitus, between fertile men and women always risks pregnancy,
even with birth control, because most birth control can fail, and that
no one should have intercourse with someone who might be fertile whom
they don't want to be the other parent of their child or at a time they
do not want to have a, or another, child. The only sure way to
prevent pregnancy if you are both fertile or potentially fertile and
neither of you wants to cause pregnancy, is not to have vaginal
intercourse or let viable sperm get inside the vagina in some artificial
way. The first 30 or so years of the availability of oral contraception
for women, the pill, it was said to be 100% effective. That
turned out not to be true. Even when I first wrote this essay, in
the 1980's, I believed that oral contraception, if used daily as
directed, was 100% effective, though I didn't trust oral contraception
to prevent pregnancy because I had heard too many stories of women who
accidentally missed a dose or who lied about using oral contraception or
who lied about not wanting to become pregnant. But still, I
mistakenly believed that if used properly, it was totally
effective. But it is not effective under all conditions, even when
used daily as directed, most notably or commonly failing when the woman
using it is also taking antibiotics. Antibiotics can cause
oral contraceptives not to be effective or reliable. But even
apart from that, the common warning now for most contraception is that
it is 99% effective. Now, I don't know what that means exactly,
but it certainly seems to imply if you have intercourse twice a week,
that means it will fail at least once a year, which seems not to be good
odds. Of course the woman may not be fertile when the birth
control method fails, so pregnancy with intercourse twice a week may
only occur on average once every few years. But some people have
intercourse more than twice a week, and possibly women are more likely
to be desirous of sex and have intercourse when they are most likely to
be fertile and close to ovulation. But whatever the mathematical
probability of pregnancy is, a 1% failure rate with sex 100 or more
times a year is not acceptable odds for avoiding pregnancy if avoiding
pregnancy is really important for you.
If the day comes about when very young embryos can be transplanted or maintained by machine until maturity, then I think women who it is clear were negligent or irresponsible in conceiving a child should be allowed to have the embryo removed from their own womb if they do not wish to carry it or give birth to it, but should not have the right to have its life terminated if there is proper care available and someone reasonably suitable available who wants to rear the child. In cases like this, involving potential future technology, a woman who irresponsibly conceives children she does not want but that other suitable potential parents might, seems to me to be in the exactly analogous position of a man today who irresponsibly causes a girl to become pregnant, a girl who decides she would like to have the baby. Barring any legitimate argument to the contrary, it seems he forfeits any right he might have had to have the fetus terminated by his unconcern about its being created in the first place.
By irresponsibly getting (someone) pregnant, I mean that the couple
had vaginal intercourse despite knowing that it risked a seriously
unwanted pregnancy. Insofar as the risk is greater (because no
birth control is used or less reliable birth control is used, or the
birth control is not used in the best or most reasonable way), the
irresponsibility is worse. And the culpability is worse.
Further, I consider both
partners to be responsible for seeing that a reasonable contraceptive
is reasonably utilized relative to the undesirability of the pregnancy.
That is, for example, a woman who knows her husband
has had a successful vasectomy and whose semen no longer contains sperm
need not use any birth control method herself
when she has sex with her husband; but a fertile woman inclined to have
sex with a stranger or a new partner who claims to have had a vasectomy
is taking risk (as far as she can tell) that he is telling the truth or
that it was successfully performed. Hence, if she gets pregnant in the
latter case, it seems to me she is partly responsible for that
Similarly, a man is responsible in part for a pregnancy if he uses no
birth control in having intercourse with someone
whose word he simply takes that she is (naturally or artificially)
at the time. Unless you know that one or both of you is absolutely
infertile, you run some risk of pregnancy any time you have vaginal
I think the determination whether it is right to abort a pregnancy or
not of an irresponsibly
conceived fetus simply because the woman does not want the
child to be born (for no good reason -- just her desire it be terminated
or her desire not to go through pregnancy) is much more difficult,
though particularly in those cases where although the people should have
known they were unnecessarily risking pregnancy, they in some real
sense actually didn't know or realize it. I really
do not have a fully developed answer here. It seems to me that if
anyone were so callous or insensitive and lazy, or whatever, as to
and repeatedly consider abortion to be a first resort form of birth
even after counseling, that society (or any given doctor) might have the
right to refuse her an abortion or might even have the right to suggest,
seek, or demand her sterilization at some point, (in return for that
particularly if the sterilization was medically reversible when he or
became more responsible. I don't know whether that is too harsh or
not, but at this point it seems to me reasonable and not too
harsh. Certainly parents do not have the right to repeatedly
abuse their children; and society has the right to take their children
from them. I would think that similarly a man or woman would not have
right to repeatedly "abuse" or squander potential particular lives by
creating embryos for no good reason and then destroying them. And just
as the first case of possible or borderline child abuse by a parent is
the most difficult to understand how to treat, the first case of
irresponsibly getting pregnant and wanting an abortion is difficult to
decide what is right to do, and how right it is to consider her feelings
or whether she has forfeited any right to have her feelings considered.
I understand making mistakes of judgment and I understand lack of
or lack of knowledge -- that is not necessarily irresponsible, or at
least not necessarily culpably irresponsible behavior -- but I do
not understand totally uncaring, irresponsible behavior and I am not
to people who behave that way. I personally think such behavior, if it
exists, causes the guilty person to forfeit rights related to his/her
behavior -- in this case forfeits the right not to be made a good
to (i.e., the right not to be specially obligated to) the fetus, but
made instead to nurture and care for it till term. But I may be overly
strict or judgmental due to lack of understanding. I am willing to
arguments as to why selfish, irresponsible people do not incur special
obligations toward their victims or for the consequences of their
actions. I am willing to entertain arguments as to why the innocent
of irresponsible behavior and others should be made to bear the burden
of that behavior in order to bail out the perpetrator from accepting the
consequences of it. They just need to be good arguments.
However, as the title of this subsection indicates, it is difficult
to ascribe responsibility or negligence for pregnancy to anyone who is
misinformed or incompletely informed by a society at large that promotes
casual, indiscriminate, even empty sexuality among people who are not
married and which does not fully inform even married couples about the
risks they are taking with intercourse. This is particularly true
when, in addition, society allows and even promotes as a right (and the
right thing to do whenever desired), ready abortion on-demand for those,
whether married or not, who don't want to be pregnant -- without full
and proper explanations about birth control and about the significance
of low probability/high frequency acts whose consequences can be
devastating. People unwilling to have, or unable to properly care
for, a child they conceive should not have intercourse that (even
slightly) risks conception. In one sense, anyone who does is
morally responsible for the pregnancy they cause and the care of any
child they have. But as long as most people do not know
that in a meaningful way -- because parents and society either don't
properly explain (and make certain people know the significance of) the
risks of intercourse and the responsibilities of parenthood, or because
parents and society try to
deter all passion and sexual activity through what should be known to
be disbelieved irrational
fear or unaccepted and unacceptable Draconian punishment -- then, in
another sense, people are not fully or solely culpable for a pregnancy
they had been taught was not likely to occur and were taught can be
easily ended if
it does. And they are also not fully and solely responsible for
conceiving a child they will have that they are not properly prepared to
raise when they were never really made aware of the obligations and
effort required for raising a child properly. And until society
accepts the responsibility to make sure
people know and really understands the risk of intercourse for causing
pregnancy and until society promotes alternative ways to have 100% safe
(if not even more satisfying) sex (whether with or without orgasm), and
until society quits promoting intercourse using at best 99% effective
contraception where pregnancies would be seriously wrong and unwanted,
unwanted pregnancies are going to occur in large numbers (e.g., roughly
one million abortions per year in the U.S. alone since Roe v. Wade), and
it will be unfair to punish women or couples who are not totally at
fault for having had the sex they did. Society in general, and
parents in particular, are contributorily negligent for unwanted
pregnancies caused by people not really given the opportunity to be
fully and effectively taught to be aware of the risks they are taking
and the responsibilities they should be assuming by having
intercourse. (And I don't believe that in this day and age, it can
be effective to tell children that all sex outside of marriage is wrong
and dangerous, even without intercourse. That false genie is out
of the bottle. And even if that would work to prevent unwanted
conceptions outside of marriage, it would not prevent the unwanted
pregnancies that occur within marriage by people who love each other and
simply mistakenly thought the intercourse they were having was safe and
reasonable. And it would not prevent the wrongfully desired
pregnancies by people too young or otherwise incapable of properly
raising the children they will have.) And abortions will continue
to be either allowed or prohibited, by and large unreasonably either
(By "unwanted" conceptions or pregnancies I mean those pregnancies
people will terminate if allowed or whose children they will not love or
treat right if born; I do not mean pregnancies that are at first
surprising, scary, and not sought but ultimately acceptable to the
couple. A pregnancy can be unwanted, particularly at first, but
not unwilling to be accepted. Those are not the problematic
"unwanted" ones. A question usually asked of couples by the
Catholic Church prior to the exchange of wedding vows is "Are
you prepared to accept children lovingly ...?", which is different from
asking whether they intend to have children or will love and accept
only intended children. The Church recognizes that it is the loving
acceptance of conceived
children that is important, not just their being actively intentionally
conceived. I think that is a reasonable position. There are
many right things in life one should be willing to do even if one was
not originally wanting to do them and even for some things for which
one's willingness is initially somewhat reluctant. And while the
Church officially opposes 'artificial' or medical birth control, a
position with which I don't agree as it is stated, that position could
be understood to be consistent with part of mine -- that since birth
control can fail, one should only be engaging in intercourse, even in
marriage, if one is willing to lovingly accept children that might
result from it though they were neither particularly sought nor
purposefully intended to be conceived by the intercourse.)
Beliefs, Attitudes, and Issues About the Quality of LifeThis is important because how we perceive or measure quality of life influences our ideas about whether abortion is in the embryo's best interest or not.
Some people feel that life is basically a burden which, with luck, has some happy moments and a certain measure of contentment. Some people feel that life is an unqualified good full of wonderful opportunities with periodic moments of sorrow. In between, some people feel that life simply has its ups and downs and unless one is either very fortunate or very unfortunate, it is neither basically wonderful nor basically terrible. Economic and social circumstances play some part in determining how people look at life in this regard, but people in similar economic and/or social circumstances often have different outlooks, and sometimes people in less fortunate economic circumstances have a happier view of life than those in relatively comfortable surroundings. Economic conditions are not the sole determinant of one's view of the quality of life. The relative proportion of obstacles to opportunities in any given situation is often in the mind of the beholder, not unlike the view of whether a given glass is described as half empty or half full. Whether philosophy or psychology will some day be able to account for or be able at will to influence how one values or perceives the value of his/her circumstances or not, remains to be seen. Though it is not clear to me what accounts for one's perceptions about the quality of life, it is clear people often do have some perceptions about what kinds of things make life worth living or not. And here I am not so much interested in what sorts of things different people might consider to make life worthwhile or not as I am interested in showing how ideas about the quality of life have a bearing on the morality (rightness or wrongness) of abortion.
Though not always a total determinant, one's view of the quality of life more or less influences one's ideas about the value of life and whether to conceive it, let it be born, and/or let it continue. It may not be a total determinant, for example, someone may practice birth control but may feel that a child that is accidentally conceived still ought not to be aborted for religious reasons or because "fate" seemed to conceive it and "decree" its birth. Or one might feel that a contemplated child's probably lower than desirable future quality of life does not justify intentionally conceiving one, but that the quality of life is not likely to be so bad that it justifies terminating one that is already conceived.
And, though I doubt two people with widely divergent attitudes toward the value of life might be able to come to an agreement, there is certainly room for discussion, especially for people with less divergent initial attitudes. For example, one person might feel that they should not conceive (more) children they cannot afford to send to college. But a friend might point out what great parents they (would) make, how good they are with children, how happy children are around them, how much they have to offer children apart from money, etc. And the friend might point out how scholarship money might be readily available and/or how college is not necessary for a high quality of life anyway because there are other ways to obtain knowledge and wisdom. The friend may be able to reasonably then bring about a change in attitude about what the contemplated child's quality of life is likely to be.
In one "M*A*S*H" television episode, Charles convinces a concert pianist who has lost his right arm in battle that he has still not lost his gift of musicianship because musicianship is in one's head, not in one's fingers -- that there is still a life worth living, even in music, ahead for this man though he will not be able to be the concert pianist he had been training to be. Doctor's often simply have to ignore an accident victim's immediate pleas just to be left alone to let die because they are certain that in time the person will be well enough to be glad they did not die. This is not to say doctors are always right about how a person will feel later or that life is always reasonable to have extended. Sometimes extensions can simply prolong unmitigated pain and sorrow. The point is though, that these issues can be rationally discussed and sometimes people can learn and profit from the discussion.
Further, it seems to me, that there is much room for improvement in the quality of life society offers its citizens, and that successful efforts in this direction, to actually improve the quality of life for people instead of just trying to change their attitude about the existing quality of life, will naturally allow more people to decide life is more worth conceiving, giving birth to, and generally extending. This would be analogous to adding more water to the glass rather than trying to convince someone to see it as being half full rather than half empty. Some of this may require reallocation of financial resources, but much will simply require the right kind of leadership (government, media, business, etc.) to channel people's working for the good life to more productive goals and efforts. For example, a few years ago, a retirement center was combined in a way with a day care center -- almost like an extended family situation, where, with help, older people who wanted to, took care of the children, to the benefit of the children and themselves. This was a much better situation for both groups than separate facilities, and probably even cost less. Particularly in urban areas, ours is not a close-knit and not a very personally compassionate society. Raising charitable contributions is business, and giving to charity is often simply just considered to be one more financial obligation rather than a source of joy in personally helping someone else. There are some instances, such as Big Brothers/Sisters, church, service group, and hospital volunteer groups, and little league (soccer, football, baseball, softball, basketball, etc.) coaching where the gift is of time and talent more than money, takes place on a very personal level, and is rewarding for the giver as well as the receiver. But there are many, many more areas of life that such personal assistance and interaction could help raise the quality of life for everyone and make this the kind of society that more people could agree makes life a blessing rather than a burden and source of travail.
I would think that the greater the (perceived) quality of life in a society, the fewer abortions there would be, for two reasons: (1) rearing accidentally conceived children would not be such a difficult (and sometimes almost impossible) burden because there would be help available, for example, even just day-care facilities at work or school; and (2) one would not be so likely to feel one is doing the child a favor by not "forcing it to be born" into conditions that no one should have to endure -- conditions that might even make the person himself wish he had never been born. Remember I am not necessarily just talking about trying to provide a life with the minimal "basic" necessities of food, shelter, clothing, and medicine, but also trying to provide all the kinds of things that make human life more worth living -- love, compassion, understanding, opportunities for mental or intellectual development, being treated fairly, etc. -- the kinds of emotional, psychological, "spiritual" necessities of the soul that can even sometimes, though not as a rule, transcend inescapable poor health and/or poverty.
I believe if someone has a legitimate argument that causing a child to be born into a certain kind of life would be far worse for the child than not allowing it be born at all, then it would be wrong for society or someone else to make that child be born while doing nothing to try to help that child have a worthwhile life. And this is particularly true if it is well within society's or that person's power to help the child have a worthwhile life. I think it is wrong to force someone to have a child that cannot be properly nurtured without help, help that one then intentionally withholds. It seems more rational, more right, and more compassionate to help a person prevail over the legitimate objections he/she has against having his/her innocent child be born, if one wants her/him to have a child, than to require her/him to have the child that you then essentially consign to a life of needless suffering.
And I am not talking about simply giving money (such as welfare) to people who have children they could not otherwise afford. That may be of great need but of relatively little help anyway. I am speaking about having adequate, nurturing (not just child-warehousing) day care available; I am speaking about fostering climates where "illegitimacy" and/or relatively low financial means is not a severely limiting obstacle or punishing stigma; I am talking about fostering the kind of society in general that is truly nurturing and granting of opportunity to all children regardless of the kind of family situation they have been born to. Some of this may take a certain amount of reallocation of the wealth of society, but I think mostly it simply requires the kind of leadership that says our society's children are important and that we need to nurture their development where we can, and at least not hinder it where we cannot. Short of that, it seems to me we cannot simply ignore any woman's possibly legitimate and compassionate argument that her baby would be better off not to be born than to be born to a life of suffering, particularly suffering that might be easily alleviated if only people cared enough to help.
Some might say that helping people rear children who could otherwise not afford it would only encourage such people to have children; and some might say that not ostracizing and/or otherwise punishing people who get pregnant out of wedlock will only encourage promiscuity and "illegitimacy". I doubt that social fear is the (only) reasonable societal method of birth control. And I doubt people would intentionally have more children than they really want to just because they might be able to financially afford to. Further, many relatively wealthy people do not do a particularly good job of rearing their children; and their children could benefit from a society more oriented toward properly nurturing children as well. Further, it seems to me incumbent upon those opponents of abortion (particularly perhaps the most ideologically adamant opponents) not to hold that only wealthy people deserve to have (the most) children or that children should be born only to people with money to rear them regardless of who overall might make good parents and who not very good parents. I would think that an abortion opponent might prefer to see a child born that society has to help with than to see a child aborted because a society would not help even though it could have. And I would hope an opponent to abortion would prefer to see a few innocent children be born that might not have been had they not have been able to be reared properly than to see children born who cannot be properly reared.
There may be some situations where a person or couple really does want to give away a baby and not see that child again; and, of course, adopting out should be available to them. But "forced" adopting out, particularly where it means losing all contact between genetically biological parent and child, should be eliminated as much as possible. This is on the grounds of humane reasons -- if unnecessary, people should not have to give up their babies if they do not want to and if they have not forfeited the right to them by abuse or some such grounds -- but also on the grounds that insofar as a child is like one of the parents in particularly important aspects, that parent may best understand its needs. Extreme cases would be having Mozart, Mickey Mantle, and John Stuart Mill swapped around to be raised by each others' fathers. Each father helped develop his son's gifts in the ways that the other fathers, even if contemporaries could not have imagined or accomplished. And although these are extreme cases, genetic parents often see traits in their children that they themselves understand and appreciate in ways others cannot. This is not to say, of course, that genetic parents always understand or know what is best for their children.
We live in a society, however, that makes legal (whether biological or adoptive) parents almost totally responsible for their children's upbringing, even when other people might be able to make more of a contribution to a child's development. This sometimes puts too much of a burden on legal parents and it precludes many others, who could make a contribution to children's development, from being able to do so. Hence in adoption, biological parents are excluded from their children; and without adoption, some people who could make great contributions to children's lives would never get to do so. And in the meantime many parents are overburdened trying to rear their children and many children suffer from being primarily with parents who cannot nurture them as well as they might be nurtured.
If society is going to make the determination that birth is preferable to abortion, then society needs to help in the nurturing of children, because (1) children -- if they are expected to become mature, contributing adults, need nurturing, (2) children deserve good nurturing if we choose for them to be born; you should not just let children be born and then essentially ignore them, and (3) children -- apart from the joy they bring -- are not themselves productive, but are users of society's goods and services. The nurturing of children costs society, in that children require adults to look after them, thus taking those adults out of other sorts of productive labor. Other things being equal, in terms of the total productivity of society, it does not matter which adults (parents or hired persons -- private or public) tend to children, the net decrease in financially profitable productivity is the same. Children cost money -- to their parents and to society (even when the parents themselves pay the money). So if society wants women to bear children they would otherwise abort, society must make adjustments for these children being born.
I think it would be most productive and fairest and best for many employers to provide on-site or near-site daycare, both for working mothers and fathers, since childcare attention is nomrally not so full-time or time-consuming that it does not permit non-parental productivity. It is silly to keep people out of the workplace full time just because they have to be and/or want to be accessible to their children, and actually with them part time. Children could be brought to (safe) work places, for efficient and stimulating, professional, educational, group childcare, along with personal parental, and other adult, attention on a part time, intermittent basis during working hours.
That is for productivity; but there is also a fairness issue. If society is going to treat women fairly, men must absorb not only (some of) the financial costs of childrearing, but also some of its work. Quality of life is not just a matter of money; it involves what services and products are available. And men can provide many or all of the same kinds of socially nurturing activities women can. It is discriminatory and exploitive to force women (who do not want to) to do all the work themselves, no matter how much they are "paid" for it, just because they are the ones who bear children. It is bad enough for husbands to do that; worse for society to do it. Modern, relatively affluent society, including the work place, needs to put child rearing ahead of pure monetary profit and efficiency and financial productivity, particularly if society is going to urge, insist, or legislate that women must have children they would otherwise abort. Surely we can do with somewhat fewer carphones or color TV's, somewhat slower mail, somewhat less turnover in new cars, or, in short, fewer conveniences and luxuries, in order to be more compassionate and caring to children, and to treat those who care for them with more respect.
If, as in the days of closer relationships with neighbors, and more availability of extended family members, children could be in the company of a greater number of people with a broader range of interests and knowledge, it would probably benefit both children, parents, and people who would like to nurture children but who may not (yet) be in a position to have any (more) of their own. Apart from having the availability for those working parents who want it, on-site or near-site employment daycare, I do not have any particular plan about how to bring this about; there are probably many ways. The easiest way probably would be for people to somehow advertise childcare or mentoring availability and have parents interview them and check personal references. Picking adult companions for your children would then be like picking baby sitters for them; the idea is to make adult companionship as socially acceptable as teenage baby sitting. The only caveat I would have is opposition to having it be impersonally and/or bureaucratically licensed or regulated since such control often gives a false sense of legitimacy to things or programs of actually little value, and excludes things or programs of real value on trivial grounds.
The reason I think it would not be too difficult to bring about programs like this, and to make them seem socially acceptable and desirable, is that we have some things like it in place now which are socially accepted or desired, but for specific endeavors, not general nurturing. Many adults voluntarily coach various little league sports (baseball, football, basketball, soccer, etc.); many volunteer to help with church youth activities; some (but relatively few) schools offer after-school adult volunteer mentoring help for students with their studies, often in particular their reading skills. The idea would be to expand such adult/child coaching/mentoring/advising contacts into broader, more generally nurturing opportunities. I think that both children and adults would benefit, and that communities would greatly benefit.
Programs of this sort would give parents respite from the constancy of child-rearing, would give those who love children and are good with them but have none of their own (of the particular ages they are interested in) the opportunity to interact with and teach children, and would give children a greater variety of good experiences.
I would think programs like this would help remedy and remove the abortion-adoption dilemma for those pregnant women (and expecting couples) who feel they cannot adequately rear a child by themselves but who also feel they could not bear to have one that they give away never to see again.
Similarly, it seems to me that if adoption laws and policies were broadened so that biological parents could interact in some, perhaps limited, way with a child they have given up for adoption -- in order to watch the child grow and/or aid in his/her development -- in the same way a neighbor, friend, aunt, or grandparent could, and with just as limited "rights", giving a baby up for adoption might become a more attractive option, relative to abortion, than it is now. I realize there will be problems with this, but it seems those problems would be preferable to pregnant women's having to decide between abortion and the present system of giving up a baby for adoption. The fact that many women choose abortion over adoption, even though they themselves find abortion a terrible option, seems to me to indicate that adoption, as it now stands must be a really horrendous option for a woman to consider. My suspicion is that it has to do with losing all contact with one's living and growing biological child, and that if this alone were changed, allowing a child to be adopted by someone else (instead of just "giving it up" for adoption) would be a much better option than it is now.
I think that there would be less of a burden on adopted children and the mothers and fathers who gave them up for adoption if we did not have the policy that once you give up a child for adoption you can play no role in its childhood development. To make this feasible, of course, there needs to be a major adjustment in attitude about how children are to be raised and influenced. Many parents try to exert far more control over what ideas their children are exposed to than is either possible or perhaps even necessary. Rather than discussing why they are opposed to particular ideas their children might hear from others, they would rather try to keep the children from hearing the ideas at all. This seems to me to be counter-productive in many cases since children will often hear those ideas anyway and then not have the benefit of rational forewarning. It seems, as far as ideas and communication go, there should be nothing more difficult about letting a genetic parent talk with one's adopted children than there is with with letting one's neighbors or a teacher or a friend influence the child. Perhaps adoptions could even be set up between genetic parents and adopting parents who have many similar views about important things in case adoptive parents might still be unsettled about what kinds of ideas children might get from their genetic parents if such parents were allowed to interact with their children.
In regard to who should have ultimate authority over the child's upbringing, it seems to me either 1) the adoptive parents could be given that legal right easily enough, or at least given the same kinds of legal rights with regard to their children as they do over grandparents, teachers, and school programs with which they disagree; 2) adoptive parents might have to solve problems with genetic parents in the same way they do with each other and with their older children -- certainly two parents do not always agree about how their children should be reared, but they generally can work it out somehow without having to go to the courts or have the state be an arbitrator; 3) we could (in a perfect world) abandon the idea of its being important who has authority and instead concentrate efforts on trying to decide and publicize what kinds of things are important in regard to rearing children and why.
At any rate, it seems to me a goal to be strived for that a couple who has to give up a child for adoption (or for embryo transplant and adoption) should, while understanding and accepting the "ground rules," be able to interact with those children just as siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, and friends do; they should not have to give up all interaction with their genetic offspring just because someone else has taken "primary" or "primary financial" responsibility for the child. Of course, there will be some unusual and highly publicized cases that may end up in court, but I think these will be proportionally minimal, and certainly insufficient reason to forbid such interaction.
Morally, I think we all are responsible for innocent children when we can help them anyway. I think states like Tennessee and Alabama have done the right thing, for example, by passing laws requiring children to be in some sort of seat restraint in moving cars. All too often one sees little children standing, let alone sitting, on the front seat of cars with their heads particularly vulnerable to injury during a crash or even a sudden stop. There may be some question of liberty about requiring adults to have their seat belts fastened, but surely no adult has the right to flagrantly risk the life of an innocent child, even (or especially) if that child is his/her own.
Yet to a great extent our culture tends to give a kind of property status6 to children; their legal parents are often considered, even legally, as having certain rights, as well as obligations, that other adults do not have. So, for example, in some states a teacher may not spank a child, though the parents may, even though it might be better in some cases for the teacher to be able to administer a spanking at the appropriate time. Parents often have a legal right (though not a moral right) to ill-treat their children in ways (such as emotional abuse, whether intentional or not) as long as there is not fairly substantial physical abuse. Our courts and institutions often let even fairly substantial physical harm occur to children and still leave them in the "custody" or their parents, even when this is likely to be rather dangerous to the safety of the child. They bend over backwards not to have to "take away" a child from its parents. It strikes me as not totally unlike letting a person mistreat a valuable, historical painting so long as he is the owner of it and it is legally his, though bad parenting involves far more inhumane and unacceptable consequences.
I think this is a mistaken attitude that could be changed through media consciousness-raising and that should be changed. And it is part of a pervasive attitude about the nature of child-rearing that I think makes adoption (and perhaps even future embryo transplant with adoption) an unattractive alternative even to something as traumatic, terrible, sad, and unattractive as abortion. Children are innocent, and should be able to receive help from whoever can give it, whether that is the biological parent or someone else. In a sense, the children of a community belong to all the adults of the community because they depend on them. That does not mean that any adult, including children's parents, though can treat them any arbitrary way they like.
I suspect that the genetic link between parents and children is less important -- apart from both medical history and the potential like-minded understanding and similar abilities kinds of cases that I mentioned earlier exemplified by the Mills, Mozarts, and Mantles -- than either the natural affection an adult might have for any child or the kind of bond that develops between children and parents, or between any people, who put a lot of time and effort (particularly when that time and effort yield gratifying results) into their upbringing. My evidence for this is that adopting parents often have as much of a bond with their children as any biological parent who rears his/her own children. Further, grandparents or other blood relatives, may have less of a bond with a child then someone who is not related biologically. And, often, biologically unrelated "kindred spirits" will form closer adult-child attachments than will children and their genetic parents who do not "understand" each other.
However, the genetic bond, particularly for women, seems to be very important psychologically. While thinking about the ideas for this paper, I spoke with two women who seemed to me to have inconsistent views about one's (natural or moral) rights concerning their genetic offspring. These women saw no reason that an unmarried father (or father-to-be) should have any say about whether the fetus is aborted or not, how the pregnant woman should take care of her own health and well-being, and whether the baby should be offered for adoption or not. Yet they thought a woman should be able to decide that an embryo she does not want to carry (which could feasibly be transplanted into the womb of a woman who wants to rear it) could be terminated instead of transplanted. These women seemed to think that there is some more important relationship, and responsibility and rights, between a mother and child than between a father and child -- even if the genetic mother is not the one who will carry the embryo in her body until it is born. Unlike me, they think the physical aspects of pregnancy are not what sometimes creates an earlier emotional attachment not open to fathers, but that something does at a female genetic level or very early gestation time for a woman. One of these women, an attorney, even saw no reason why a man should have any determination about abortion even if he were forced, say at gunpoint, to have intercourse with some woman who wanted to have a child. It seems to me this kind of distinction between a genetic mother's rights and a genetic father's rights is unwarranted in a case where the genetic mother does not have to be, or is not, the gestation mother.
And actually, the attitude seems wrong to me in both cases because it gives too much right to a genetic mother -- total arbitrary control over the embryo's life -- and it gives too little consideration (namely none) to the genetic father's feelings and views, and to his possible contributions to the quality of life of the child. But this is an issue perhaps more for future discussion, should the technology become available, though it helps shed some light on our present attitudes about parenthood, parental rights, and parent-child relationships, attitudes which have a bearing on the validity of arguments for certain classes of abortions -- those involving the issues of "parental" rights and quality of life of a child who cannot be reared or nurtured by a biological parent.
Life's being a good thing because of what good things living things can experience and achieve, death is always a bad thing insofar as it makes impossible those experiences and achievements. Death is also a bad thing for a victim who wants to live longer, regardless of what achievements or experiences may or may not have been open to that victim.
I believe death is less tragic, other things being equal, when 1) a person is himself or herself ready for it, than when he or she is not; 2) a person not ready for it dies without knowledge of it (e.g., suddenly and painlessly in sleep or in a swift and unexpected accident); 3) a person is unlikely to experience much (more) good from being alive, particularly when only (or much) sorrow, pain, or grief is what is left to them in life; (4) they are not going to achieve, accomplish, or contribute to others much more then they already have.
Regarding (1), one of the merciful things about dying peacefully from a painful illness, if anything can be said to be merciful about dying that way, is that usually the victim is ready for his/her death by the time it comes; the pain and the mental and physical incapacitation are usually so great at the end that, given the inability to recover, death is at least a welcome end to the suffering.
In terms of the second case of death being less tragic, we often hear people make such comments about victims as: "at least he didn't suffer; it was quick," or "he never knew what hit him; it was all over in an instant," or "she died in her sleep, peacefully and without fear or pain; she was lucky to go that way." As I said earlier, unawareness of one's death does not make death a good thing, it only sometimes makes it not as bad a way to die as some other ways.
Dying quickly without awareness and dying after a long illness can both be less tragic because they are not necessarily opposites of each other, but opposites of "being aware of dying when you are not ready for it" and sometimes opposites of dying from painful death. Of course, one might suffer a painful death even at the end of a long illness, and one might never have come to terms with his/her death even though the illness gave one ample opportunity to do so and to get one's effects in order. In such cases, the long illness makes one's death more tragic, not less. Death after a prolonged illness is only less tragic when the victim, because of the illness, has been able to "come to grips" with his/her death and accept it with a kind of peace and understanding. Similarly, quick death is more tragic if it prevents someone who could come to grips with his/her own death from doing so.
The positive side of (3 and 4) above is the kind of case exemplified by the death of older people who lived full and productive and happy lives, who lived the kind of life they wanted, who have accomplished the kinds of things they wanted and have no particular dreams left to chase or to seek to fulfill. There is a quiet contentment about their lives that causes them no regret that it will end before they get to do something they want to. They have eaten the apple; they don't seek to devour the whole orchard. On the less positive side, I think we on the outside find another person's death somehow less tragic if they never did much of anything and do not seem about to change that pattern, especially perhaps, those that have lived so by choice and not by disability or inability. So although they may not have tasted an apple, they have never reached for any and are unlikely to no matter how much longer they live.
To me what seems the most tragic deaths are those of people who have so much good they could experience and appreciate or contribute, particularly when they are on the brink of those experiences and achievements, and the deaths of people who have some goal or desire (that if not a great or good one, is at least not a bad one) they have worked toward, particularly when they are close to realizing that goal. And these cases are made particularly poignant and tragic when the person has previously put in hard work and has experienced some difficulty or suffering in order to achieve his goal or dream. The more work and more suffering, the more tragic the unrealization of the goal. Examples are people who die after retiring from some job (particularly perhaps an unfulfilling one) they had for forty or fifty years and who are so looking forward to retirement, students who die near graduation from high school or college or graduate degree programs when they are finally about to reap some of the rewards of their work in life. Although many people think children are the ones who have the happiest lives, it seems to me that adults are the ones who have the greatest potential for joy and goodness in life and are the ones who often have worked for it and have the capacity to appreciate it most. Children are perhaps most easily amused, but I think that children also most easily suffer and sorrow. I think growing up, no matter how much fun it can be, often requires a lot of hard work and a certain amount of fear, worry, and suffering, almost always because of the demands of outside influences, parents, teachers, peer pressure, etc. I realize there are others who think childhood or college are the best years of one's life because they have more joy than work or more joy than sorrow. Perhaps it is different for different people. People who feel this latter way might feel that death near college graduation is less tragic than later on. They might feel it is better to let an embryo experience and enjoy what it can of childhood even if you know it won't survive childhood (by much).
At any rate, it seems to me to be these are the kinds of things that people should consider in determining whether or not to terminate the life of a given fetus when one is considering simply what is best for the fetus and the person it would become if allowed to survive, cases where others' overriding rights are not at issue (as in maternal self-defense). One should consider what its future will most likely be like, and what its beliefs will likely be about the value and worth of the kind of life you are bringing it into. Anti-abortionists often say that abortion does not give the embryo a chance to be born; but if you feel the embryo will be born into a life of misery and suffer grievously and incommensurately from it, your reply would be that by abortion you are not forcing it to be born, born to a life that will only prolong its misery and suffering. Whether we are giving the gift of life to our children or are simply forcing them to come into an unsatisfactory existence are not just two ways of looking at the same thing, but are radically different evaluations of the same thing.
In deciding fetal termination, we can not take into account the fetus' views about what it wants, or would want to do, because we have no way of knowing what that might be. Neither it nor an infant nor an irreversibly comatose person will probably be sorrowfully aware of his/her own death (if humanely done) or of any denial of his/her reaching his/her desired goals. An embryo will not have tasted the apple, nor will it have tasted bitter fruit, nor will it have put in much effort or hard work to achieve anything. Any humanely done abortion will not be causing prolonged pain or frustrating its desires nor making it face up to a death it fears or wants not to have. What abortion will do is to end its ability to have a future of good or bad. Infants differ from embryos in that each day they live they develop more the capacity for achievements, joys, sorrows, self-awareness, fears, etc. Plus they are putting in "work" each day as they grow and as they assimilate and adapt to the environment. Each day more of a history or biography develops and more self-consciousness or self-awareness develops.
But probably the most important factor -- for anyone: embryo, infant, child, adult, elderly person -- for deciding the correctness of terminating a life that one may have the right to terminate, if such a right exists (apart from cases involving cases of killing someone else in self-defense or defense of someone else who is innocent and is being attacked, etc.), is the issue of whether the quality of life will be worth living or not, for how long, and at what price or benefit. For a self-conscious person aware of life and death there is also the question of how much they want to live, regardless of the cost or quality of life. But even a person's desire to die at some particular time is insufficient by itself to justify killing them or allowing them to die. The condition that causes a desire to die may be temporary. There may be much less drastic and less permanent solutions than death. Emergency room physicians know there are many trauma victims who in the short run are in such despair and/or pain that they think death is the only solution, but who will, if saved, some time later see their reasoning during trauma was clouded and shortsighted, and be glad the doctor did not listen to them and allow them to die. Similarly often, severely depressed people, such as those out of work or experiencing the failure of a deep relationship, loss of a loved one, great financial loss, etc., might have only a temporary, though quite strong, belief that the prolongation of their own life would only be worse for them.
I wrote earlier about improving the quality of life by changing society and/or society's attitudes. Philosophers and theologians have long recognized there are naturally occurring evils or ills and man-made evils. Compassion and understanding can go a long way in softening the sorrow caused even by natural ills or evils (illness, age, accident, natural disasters, etc.), evils which at the time are impervious to human control. Even the tragedy and sorrow of death and severe physical suffering can be ameliorated by understanding and compassion. The Birmingham Museum of art exhibited a collection of paintings created in the last 250 years on the subject of medicine in America; and somehow the early paintings depicting death scenes in homes with physician and family members helplessly and despairingly waiting by the bedside seem less tragic and less dismal than the paintings of people lying by themselves in cold, dispassionate, sterile ICU's. If our society was even just more understanding and compassionate toward elderly people who have a difficult time getting around by themselves, such elderly people would probably not as often perceive themselves and the remainder of their lives as being burdens, and would in many cases probably have a greater desire to continue living and would find life more enjoyable. How we view the elderly is a question of attitude and perception, but that attitude has a tremendous effect on how they value life, and on how we will when we are in their position.
Now there will be disagreement between abortionists and anti-abortionists on what the quality of life for an individual embryo is likely to be worth, how it should be valued; and there may be some clear cut cases and many that are not clear cut as to whether the value of life will be appreciable and able to be appreciated or not. But this is one of the most important areas of discussion. And more importantly, people need to try to make the world (or particular environment at issue) a better place, so that fetal termination of at least normal, healthy, embryo's will not have to be in anyone's mind a more attractive alternative than allowing birth to occur.
Further, it seems to me that one role of the state (not as a bureaucracy, but as a group concerned about its individual members) in abortion should be to require and see to it that sufficient, good, understanding, counseling and information is available to anyone who might seek an abortion so that at least their decision is an informed one that takes into account all alternatives. For example, if someone thought they could not afford to rear a child adequately in certain regards, but they found out that resources were available to more than adequately take care of those concerns, they would probably happily choose not to abort. Such counseling is important. And in general, counseling that helped people first come to understand why specifically they thought abortion was preferable to giving birth and then helped them know whether their reasons were valid or not would be helpful in two ways: (1) letting people see they did not really "need" abortions they really did not want anyway, that better, more agreeable options were available, and (2) helping ease the pain of those who do have valid reasons for abortion, with compassionate understanding and by helping them realize they are doing the right thing and that they may feel sorrow but they need not feel guilt.
I have left to last what seems to me to be the most difficult question, the question of how much value to put on a genetic parent's desire that his or her baby not be allowed to mature to birth, especially when that embryo might, in the near future, be viable, whether naturally or by fetal transplant or technological maintenance. One kind of example would be the embryo of a rape victim who, I have already argued, should have the right to have the fetus removed from her body if she chooses. If, once it is so removed, it could be maintained until "birth" or maturation, should it be if the genetic mother does not want her genes mixed with those of the rapist. Similarly the case of a deformed fetus or even simply of any unwanted, non-negligently conceived fetus. To what extent should our genetic offspring be ours or our total responsibility; and to what extent should a child or embryo be considered simply a separate entity which we do not have the moral right to have terminated any more than we have the right to terminate the life of any other person.
There are a number of observations I would like to make about the nature of the parent-child relationship which, I believe, have relevance to this issue:
1) Parents who have adopted, often, but not always, develop as strong an attachment to adopted children as biological parents do to their genetic children.
2) Some teachers or friends develop a strong bond with children who they seem to especially understand or appreciate, or with whom they are "kindred spirits".
3) Grandparents and other relatives often, but not always, have a weaker attachment to a child than do its parents, and subsequently weaker emotional attachments to subsequent generations, even though there is still a genetic link.
4) Although some people seem to feel a bond with their children at birth (or with a mother, perhaps even during pregnancy), some people require a longer period of time of interaction and (gratifying or successful) rearing of the child before a bond develops and strengthens.
5) Some genetic parents do not form any sort of bond with their children.
6) Some genetic parents do not treat their children correctly, severe physical abuse (and perhaps severe psychological/emotional abuse) often being the worst, or at least the most obvious, forms of incorrect rearing. Some of these parents profess (the feeling of) love for their children.
7) Some relatives (parent-children, siblings, cousins, aunt/uncle-nephew/niece, grandparent-child, etc.) develop best friend relationships; others do not. Some of the ones that do not, often do not even like each other very much. I do not know whether anyone knows what are the causal factors involved.
8) Some people believe they are responsible for other people and for other children; some only believe they are responsible for themselves and their immediate family. I am not certain what fosters such beliefs either way or whether such beliefs tend to influence which children one becomes attached to. In other words, do some people become attached only or primarily to those they believe they have responsibility to? Would changing their beliefs about their responsibilities change their feelings toward their own, and other, children.
9) Some children are much more psychologically and emotionally like their parents (or some other relative) than others.
10) By "bond" or "attachment" in the above context, I mean some sort of emotional and/or psychological concern or feeling for the child. People who do not have this bond may be just as good and moral parents or guardians to children as people who do, and they may be just as physically affectionate, or they may even be better parents, since emotional involvement in many kinds of relationships (professional or personal) sometimes clouds judgment. For example, people with a strong psychological feeling or empathy for their children may not discipline them in a way that is in the child's best developmental interest; they may spoil them; they may keep them from becoming mature, independent persons.
The point of stating these observations is that it seems to me that 1) some people are in a better position than others to understand a (prospective) child's best interests and best needs -- and thus in a better position to understand the (prospective) child's quality of life (and/or the child's self-perception of that quality) and 2) some people have a great psychological concern of their own involved in what happens to (their) children -- and thus perhaps have more at stake, and perhaps, then, should have more to say about how (their) (prospective) children should be treated. I suspect much more research needs to be done and much more reflection needs to be given to 1) who is most likely to understand the needs of children, 2) what the needs of children really are, 3) the factors that give rise to emotional bonds with children, and 4) how biologically deep-seated, and/or learned, and/or arbitrary and accidental, and/or how important and reasonable these bonds or feelings are. Insofar as a parent is likely to understand that the quality of life for his/her child will make that child miserable, and insofar as that parent has a reasonable and legitimate (not just arbitrary or accidental) concern of his/her own for the quality of life the child will experience, the parent's informed choice, I think ought to have more weight. The question is whether the prospective parent faced with the consideration of abortion is more (probably) knowledgeable about the prospective child's needs, and whether that prospective parent's own psychological feelings are reasonable and/or reasonably changeable or not.
Take the case of brutal rape-induced pregnancy, for example. Surely no one would want their child to be raised by a person with a brutal rapist mentality, taught in school by someone with such a mentality, to be friends with such a person, nor to be married to such a person. We would do everything we could to prevent such exposures to our children. But if genetic make-up has much to do with such a mentality, if we allow our child to be born, we are quite possibly dooming someone who is in part like us to be always influenced by someone who has the very kind of character we would never want our child exposed to, because it would be a permanent, inherent part of them. Even if a sensitive woman would not have to rear, or even gestate, such a child, does she not have some very strong right to want to terminate the fetal life at a very early stage in order to prevent the kind of quality of life she envisions for a child that is genetically (and in certain ways, emotionally) half hers? I do not know. I am not certain enough is known about how we develop into the kinds of human beings we become, and/or how we develop our views on the value of the quality of our own life to know how reasonable such an argument might be. Again, however, the argument of the friend of mine -- that the (prospective) baby is innocent, and should not be terminated because of his father's crime -- is irrelevant, because the pregnant woman who would give the above kind of argument also sees the child as innocent and therefore undeserving of being made to live a kind of life that would be horrible. I doubt any rape-induced woman even entertains the idea of aborting the child in order to punish the rapist for his crime. Tay-Sachs disease or Downs syndrome is perhaps a more obvious or more arguable kind of case. The compassionate prospective parent is not arguing that the baby should be aborted because it is somehow guilty of something, or would be hard to rear, but because the child is innocent and does not deserve to be made to live the kind of life and die the kind of early death that such defects cause. Compassion and appreciation of the baby's innocence can be on both sides of the argument. They, by themselves, do not determine what is right to do.
Abortion, Religion, Morality, and Law
1) Most people agree that abortion is a bad thing, but since not all bad things are wrong because some bad things are the best available or ]east evil option (e.g., cancer surgery), the question is whether abortion is always the wrong thing. Because most people agree that abortion is a bad thing, most people agree that it should not be a "first line" method of birth control. Abortion, purely on demand or whim, is not morally defensible, for reasons I will not go into here, but can if necessary. (Even people who argue that abortion should be a woman's choice, realize that a woman can make a wrong choice, and that the mere fact of having a right to choose does not make a choice infallible. "Pro-choice" advocates are not pro-abortion advocates; nor are they in favor of abortion as a first-line method of birth control or a method of birth control for trivial reasons, such as gender determination of children.) There are non-Draconian ways of socially and legally promoting not wanting abortion as a first line method of birth control or whimsical demand, and they should be employed.
Further, people tend to agree on abortions in case of rape, incest, or danger to the mother as cases of abortion that, though unfortunate for the baby, are not wrong. There is a better way to discuss such cases than these particular ones, however; ways which capture their general essence. I will discuss them shortly.
2) Most people would also agree that if an act is wrong, the law should seek the fairest, most reasonable way to prevent its occurrence; and that the remedy itself should be as unharmful as feasible. Simple bans, with punishment for their violation, are not always the most effective, most efficient, most socially acceptable, or most humane methods of preventing wrongdoing. They are not likely to be in abortion -- particularly for those kinds of cases of abortion that large numbers of people currently tend to believe justified, and any law prohibiting them to be unjustified. Something besides punishing bans are needed to drastically reduce such cases.
3) Hence, the government needs to make clear it wants to reduce the number of wrongful abortions in as humane and as effective a way as possible, and that the laws it passes and programs it adopts are intended to do that. The government needs to make it clear that insofar as these programs and laws prove either not humane or not effective, they will need to be changed. The goal is more important than the particular law or program, because laws and programs are only means to achieving that goal. People should not be confused between the means and the end -- especially if there is, as I believe, a pretty broad consensus about the ends, though little current agreement about the means. The reason there has been such little current agreement has been the nature of the debate, which has been little beyond a debate between supposed fetal rights to life and supposed women's rights to choose over their private actions. (Both those issues are red-herrings which disguise the real issues, since neither privacy nor life are absolute moral or legal rights. There are circumstances under which we morally and legally permit the taking of life or the invasion of privacy.) So we tend to get all-or-nothing laws and court decisions which avoid the underlying issues and which waste time and energy in divisive jockeying for political domination, frequently with only temporary victories for either side, and yet permanent turmoil for society.
Rape, Incest, Life of the Mother
2) 1 believe the underlying justification for allowing abortion in the case of rape is that good samaritanism is not legally required for any situation for which the subject is not responsible. (Even in some cases where a person may be at fault, the law still does not require good samaritanism of him -- for example, if you injure someone's kidneys in an auto accident which is your fault, you are not required to donate one of your kidneys to that person even if that would save his life.) Neither giving blood while alive, nor donating organs upon death, are legally required, even though it is known that hundreds or thousands of people will die without such donations. Further, even if responsibility for pregnancy is grounds for having to accept its consequences, there are cases besides rape, where a woman may not be responsible for the pregnancy and so may not legitimately be required to accept its natural consequences. And laws concerning abortion will need to reflect that. More about that shortly.
3) I, and almost all others I have met who think about it, do not think there is justification for abortion on the grounds of incest alone. If the incest is rape --statutory or forced-- rape is the justification for abortion. If the incest is not rape, but occurs between consenting adults, the only arguments would be for social reasons or severe genetic defect reasons. If those arguments have any merit, they should have the same merit in all cases of pregnancy --incestuous or not-- involving social problems or genetic (or other kinds of) severe defects.
Responsibility for Pregnancy
There will be disagreement especially about the first case, but I think the evidence is clear that many young girls do not really understand the risks of sex. They may be able to pass a biology test in school, but it has no meaning to them personally. Age is not the factor; naivete or ignorance are the factors. Even many college students have naive views about sex. Many, simply incorrectly, do not realistically think they could get pregnant or ill from intercourse. ("I won't get AIDS; 1 only have sex with my friends" is one comment quoted from a college student.) Some people say every girl who voluntarily has sex knows, or ought to know, she risks pregnancy by doing so. I believe that is simply not true. In our society where sex is emphasized so much in movies, on TV, in magazines, in ads and commercials and in popular music, very little of that emphasis involves the risk of pregnancy or disease. Even in college ethics classes where students are asked to describe things to take into account before having sex, they will often not mention pregnancy or disease. Their considerations are about getting caught, both people consenting, not having an underage partner, not having a married partner, etc. To expect some thirteen year-old girl in this culture --as it now stands-- to realize that she ought to resist peer pressure and boyfriend pressure by understanding the risk of pregnancy, is to expect far too much. Further, if we would allow abortion for statutory rape, on the grounds the minor did not fully understand what she was doing when she had sex with a legal adult, we ought to realize she had no more understanding if she had sex with another minor. Moreover, just attaining a certain age does not mean one will have the knowledge or wisdom, or even the information, that is presumed to have been acquired by that age.
The law probably should reflect this issue of understanding the relationship between sex and pregnancy, and therefore being morally responsible for consequences of sex. Doctors or counselors (or someone) may need to certify that they reasonably believe a pregnant girl or woman did not have the proper information about the risks of intercourse when she got pregnant, if abortions are to be allowed in this kind of case. Sexually implicit material (e.g., records, movies, tv, magazine articles, and music videos), particularly that aimed at children and teenagers probably ought to carry prominent warnings about the relationship between sex and pregnancy (and infectious disease). This may seem unnecessary to adults, especially those brought up in times where sex was intentionally a taboo topic that was filled with all kinds of scary warnings when it was discussed or alluded to at all, but it is probably very necessary for children in today's society. There are those who think children and young teens should not have sexual information because it promotes risky experimentation. The fact is that it is almost impossible to keep such information from them, so it is reasonable to attach factual warnings to that information. The government need not teach about sex to those unexposed to sexually implicit materials, but it can try to insure that such material that is intended for or likely to reach children and teens carries suitable and prominent accurate warnings about the risks of sex.
Also doctors should be required to be very careful and very certain when they discuss the supposed "impossibility" of pregnancy with a patient, so that they do not contribute to causing undesirable pregnancies. Perhaps forms need to be given to and signed by patients saying they understand the probabilities of any particular form of birth control prescribed by a physician.
If it wanted to
go this far, a state or a community could even require fertile people to
be given factual information about the relationship between intercourse
and pregnancy, along with information about their being responsible even
for consequences that had low probability of occurring, and thus
prevent ignorance from being a justification of
abortion. Such knowledge alone would probably also reduce the amount of
intercourse and pregnancies, and thereby the number of abortions (even
[But there is much more to this. See the above section in the main essay: "A Serious Problem in Today's Society about Culpability, Negligence, and Responsibility".]
Severely Deformed Fetus
Those who dispute this, however, have a very different view of the value of life. They do not see it as an unqualified good. They see life as worth living only if it has at least some minimal quality. (What that minimal quality must be may be difficult to determine, but most of this group would claim it at least must be better than a short life filled primarily with pain, sorrow, suffering and fear, which ends with an agonizing death at an early age.) They believe that to have a baby be born who will only suffer is NOT to give it a "chance at life", but to force it to be born. They believe that a baby is more mercifully well-off to be killed (as humanely as possible) in the womb than to have to be born into a life of misery and suffering that will end in early death. You do not have to agree with this view, but you have to understand it. If you understand it, you will at least not see those who favor abortion in this case as some sort of wanton murderers. None of them thinks killing the fetus is a good thing; they simply think it prevents a worse evil, that of making an innocent being suffer when it need not. They believe abortion is the more merciful choice; anti-abortionists in this kind of case say letting it be born is the more merciful choice. There are ways to help determine which is the more merciful option, but a legislature cannot easily do that, and until it is done, this would be one of the more difficult kinds of cases for a legislature to justifiably ban or to achieve any kind of social consensus about.
Now anti-abortionists say abortion advocates are making a choice for the baby in this kind of case. They are! But so are anti-abortionists! Neither are different in that regard. Anti-abortionists are taking away its option (as abortion advocates in this kind of case see it) not to have to attain self-consciousness of its impending death or to suffer for the years it must live in agony until it can die of natural causes. This is the option you have to understand that abortion advocates believe anti-abortionists are forcing on the child, by choosing not to abort.
In many areas of life, far removed from questions of life and death, parents are faced with all kinds of choices they must make about their children's lives -- choices which they must force on their children no matter which way they decide. Parents choose where to live; where children will attend school; whether to try to influence or interfere with who their friends are or not; whether to support any choice in any area of life they make or not; whether to make them do their homework or not; whether to make them take music lessons and practice their instrument or not; you choose what tv you let them watch or not; you control their bedtime; their diet; their clothes; the information you make freely accessible to them or the information you try to prevent them from having. Etc. etc. You may succeed or fail in all this, but whatever you try to do, insofar as you succeed at all, you are making choices for the child -- and you are doing this no matter which side you take on any of these questions. Take the simple case of musical instrument practice. If a child has to wait until he or she is old enough to want to play a musical instrument, you may have denied him the opportunity to learn to play it as well as they might have; that is, if you had made them study and practice. Many musicians as adults are glad their parents made them study music, though they hated that as children. Many adults whose parents let them quit, wish their parents had not let them quit. The issue in these cases, and in abortion of severely deformed babies, is not who makes the choice, but what is the right choice to make on behalf of the child. To repeat, this is one of the most difficult cases for a legislature to justifiably ban or to achieve any kind of social consensus about.
Unsavory "Solutions" to the Abortion Issue
2) Uninformed, irrational, unsympathetic purely legalistic prevention of abortions by those who do not understand the legitimate needs, legitimate concerns, and morally justified rights of the pregnant woman, as well as the rights and needs of the child, both unborn and once it is born. In too many court cases both sides may argue for the wrong thing. In a recent case in Birmingham, what a minor seems to really have wanted would have been to have and rear her own child with protection from her physically abusive step-father and with some opportunity to be able to complete high school and college and still be able to care for her baby herself somehow. Yet that was not the issue in court. The issue in court was her either having an abortion or giving the baby up for adoption. Courts are not the best place to decide these kinds of cases because the process should not be adversarial; victory is not the issue; doing what is right or best or most helpful is the issue. The government needs to establish more humane and more reasonable places and ways to decide individual cases of abortion --e.g., panels of social workers or some such.
3) Adoption (as it stands now, without any legitimately recognized interaction between biological parent and child) as the only alternative to abortion where someone cannot provide for a child they would like to see adequately provided for if they are going to have it. Alternative adoption procedures need to be tested on limited scale where all interaction between parent and child is not cut off. Various forms of "shared" child-rearing might be experimented with, promoting "extended non-biologically-related families." Adoption as it is now, seems not the most humane that it could most practicably be.
Also adoption on financial grounds is unsavory because it says that poor people or young people without means of support, but who want to have their babies and give them some reasonable future to look forward to, must give them away to people with more money or resources. This country should not allow financial resources to determine who can rear babies.
Finally, adoption is an unsatisfactory alternative to abortion because many non-white or handicapped children do not have a very good chance of being adopted.
4) Permitting obstacles to women's having and rearing children:
(ii) Mothers and/or fathers should be allowed to care for their children at or near work, if necessary; and employers and society should have to reasonably share the costs and accept the "inefficiency" (if any) of that kind of societal policy. Society cannot justifiably say innocent children's lives are more important than anything else, including women's lives, and then say money and efficient commerce are more important than how women or children are treated.
(iii) It should not just be parents' free market responsibility for rearing and providing for children. All who are concerned about children's lives, and about preventing abortion, need to see they also have an obligation to help those parents who need help rearing children. This does not mean simply financial or material help, but it means helping provide the kinds of nurture and real, personal help that children need and deserve. Society often places obstacles in the way of family development; society needs to understands its responsibility in helping families surmount those obstacles. It is unsavory and inhumane, I think, for example for wealthy churches to try to prevent abortions by force instead of by providing day-care opportunities, so that women who would like to rear their own children do not feel the need to have an abortion because they cannot rear those children and still work to improve their lives and their children's lives. It would be far better to eliminate abortions by eliminating the felt need for abortions. Abortion needs clearly to be the least attractive alternative to childbirth -- not because we make abortion more traumatic. punishing, and difficult than it is, but because we make childbirth, childhood, and rearing children more reasonable than they are now.
Some will argue that to do so will encourage pregnancies. I doubt that. Pregnancy and child-rearing are not so much fun that people are going to go through with it just because they can better afford to. Many people do not have all the children they can afford; and many poor people have children they cannot afford. I doubt help with child-rearing will by itself dangerously enhance population growth.
6) Abortion procedures that are not as reasonably humane for the fetus as is feasible. Current procedures in favor, as I understand it, cut up the fetus in the womb. That does not seem the most humane way to permit justified abortions if there are better alternatives as to method. Even if such alternatives may cause more discomfort or unhappiness for the woman. If the fetal life is to be terminated, it should be in the most respectful way.
The following addresses issues that seem to need further elaboration or emphasis than is presented in the main body of this pamphlet. It was written in response to a previous discussion with a particular group about abortion.
There were two basic disagreements left from our previous discussion about abortion. I want to try one more time here to explain, and argue for, my position on these remaining areas of dispute. If you are not convinced of my position, I want you at least to understand it. I don't believe you understood it the other day.
Severely Deformed Fetus
Those of us who dispute you on this, however, have a very different view of the value of life. We do not see it as an unqualified good. We see life as worth living only if it has at least some minimal quality. (We never discussed what that minimal quality must be, but we want to claim it at least must be better than a short life filled with pain, sorrow, suffering and fear.) We believe that to have a baby be born who will only suffer is NOT to give it a "chance at life," but to FORCE it to be born, We believe that a baby is more mercifully well-off to be killed (as humanely as possible) in the womb than to have to be born into a life of misery and suffering that will end in early death. You do not have to agree with this view, but you have to understand it. If you understand it, you will at least not see those of us who favor abortion in this case as some sort of wanton murderers. None of us thinks killing the fetus is a good thing; we simply think it prevents a worse evil, that of making an innocent being suffer when it need not. We believe abortion is the more merciful choice; you say letting it be born is the more merciful choice. There are ways to help determine which is the more merciful option, but that involves having experiences with severely deformed babies, and/or discussing such experiences.
Now you say we are making a choice for the baby. We are! But SO ARE YOU! We are no different in that regard. You are taking away its option (as we see it) not to have to suffer for the years it must live in agony until it can die of natural causes. This is the option you have to understand that we believe you are forcing on the child, by your choice not to abort. In many areas of life, far removed from questions of life and death, parents are faced with all kinds of choices they must make about their children's lives and force on them. You choose where to live; where they will attend school; whether to influence or interfere with who their friends are or not; whether to support any choice in any area of life they make or not; whether to make them do their homework or not; whether to make them take music lessons and practice their instrument or not; you choose what tv you let them watch or not; you control their bedtime; their diet; their clothes; the information you make freely accessible to them or the information you try to prevent them from having. Etc., etc. You may succeed or fail in all this, but whatever you try to do, insofar as you succeed at all, you are making choices for the child -- and you are doing this no matter which side you take on any of these questions. Take the simple case of musical instrument practice. If a child has to wait until he or she is old enough to want to play a musical instrument, you may have denied him the opportunity to learn to play it as well as they might have; that is, if you had made them study and practice. Many musicians as adults are glad their parents made them study music, though they hated that as children. Many adults whose parents let them quit, wish their parents had not let them quit. The Issue in these cases, and in abortion of severely deformed babies, is not who makes the choice, but what is the right choice to make on behalf of the child.
Accepting the Consequences of Actions For Which You Were Responsible
We are not disagreed that women who carelessly
or negligently get pregnant, or who willingly assume the risk of pregnancy,
or who intentionally get pregnant, incur a responsibility that an innocent
baby should not have to die for their not wanting to accept. That is not
the issue. What is the issue is which pregnancies are women (and female
children) responsible for. That is what we disagree about. You say
every girl who has sex knows she runs the risk of pregnancy. I believe
that is simply not true. In our society where sex is emphasized so much,
very little of that emphasis involves the risk of pregnancy or disease,
or the responsibility of pregnancy. In class, when we discussed what made
sex right or wrong, you guys didn't even mention pregnancy until seven
or eight other criteria. And you wouldn't have mentioned it at all if I
had not prodded it out of you. You were more concerned about mutual consent,
no adultery, not underage, heterosexuality, etc. And yet you expect some
thirteen year old to understand that she had better resist peer pressure
and boyfriend pressure by thinking about pregnancy. I think that in this
culture, you are expecting too much of a teenager in that regard.
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1. It is not that I think emotions shouldn't be considered in determining what is right and wrong. I do think emotions are very important aspects of ethics and moral philosophy. But it is important to take emotions into account, not to let them be the arbiter.
Further, people's views and emotions are often different when they think
about situations before they occur, rather than having to deal with unexpected
consequences that could have been and should have been anticipated.
Of course a real situation may make one have different emotions than one
theoretically anticipated having. But even then, at least one will
have conflicting ideas to have to reconcile, not just one-sided personal
biases. (Return to text.)
2. This is particularly true of purely procedural legal obstacles (i.e., red tape) whose only purpose is either for unnecessary bureaucratic ease or to make it harder for people to obtain what they deserve in the hopes they will give up rather than pursue what they ought to have. Such obstacles impede or prevent claims from being heard, right from being determined, and justice from being done in a rightful, logical, and fair manner; they should not be permitted. (Return to text.)
3. The argument based on "privacy" is probably really
an argument meant to be based on, or better based on, personal liberty,
self-determination, or personal autonomy. It is usually said that "what
a woman does with her own body" is a personal matter or a private matter
or her own business; or that it is a private (privileged) matter between
her and her physician. Of course, liberty and self-determination and autonomy
in a free society are highly valued; but they are not unlimited rights
nor totally unrestricted. There are many moral and legal, as well as social
and economic, restrictions on what people are permitted to do. The issue
is whether the right to an abortion in general, or in particular kinds
of cases, is the kind of right that ought not to be restricted or regulated,
or whether it is the kind of right that can or ought to be legitimately
restricted or regulated in some way. (Return to text.)
4. I suspect the reason that most people generally
think the mother's life is the correct one to spare when pregnancy or childbirth
means either the baby or the mother will not survive if the other is to
be able to, is that though the baby has all its human potential ahead of
it, the mother has both enough potential ahead of her and also has (1)
put in the hard work that growing up requires and (2) has just begun to
reap the kinds of benefits people hope to grow up to achieve and experience.
The balance of potential and realization of that potential are important
notions in the quality of life and the timeliness of death, I believe.
I think it is less sad when a person dies who has "lived a full life",
has achieved good things in life and has experienced and enjoyed about
as much as he could. It is sad when a baby dies because so much potential
is lost -- the baby did not get a chance to "taste the apple". But I myself
think the saddest and worst times for a person to die are when he or she
has worked very long and hard to achieve something and then is denied the
"reward" or the fruits of that completed or nearly completed work by death.
For example, the death of a high school or college student near graduation
time, the death of someone near retirement time who really was looking
forward to retirement, the death of someone whose child is about to marry,
have children of their own, or begin a deserved career. I realize that
there are daily rewards and disappointments in life and that long-term
goals such as graduation, retirement, marriage, seeing one's children get
married, etc. are not the only things that cause happiness or give life
meaning. But it does seem to me that there are stages or whole periods
in life that take effort to get to and to be able to really enjoy -- being
independent of parents, or schoolwork, or of employment that you do not
like all that much are just some things. One may be looking forward to
a new job or new career or new city, new home, marriage, having children
one can rear and enjoy, success, recognition, or reward for one's years
of work, completion of a project of some sort or work of art that has taken
a long time or that is really promising, seeing one's deserving children
begin to reap the benefits of their own hard work, or a host of other things
that are not easy to attain and that do not come overnight. These are some
of the kinds of things many people work toward in life, and it seems saddest
and worst for them to die after they have done the work and before they
have achieved the goal or gone on to greater work. Death is sad enough
and bad enough when life is still mostly potential -- when both the hard
work and the fruits of that work have not yet begun; and death is sad enough
and bad enough when the efforts and the fruits have been realized and could
still certainly be enjoyed and appreciated or slightly expanded; but death
seems particularly terrible, sad, or tragic when much work has been done
and there is still so much fruit that could have come of it had the person
lived longer. I realize not everyone would agree with me about which stages
of life make for the saddest or easiest times to die, but I think people
do have notions about some death's being more "timely" or less sad than
others, and that these notions involve in part the relationship between
promise or potentiality, effort or time put in, and the amount of reward
(even simply personal satisfaction) or fruit derived from that effort or
time. (Return to text.)
5. "Responsible" has at least two meanings: (1) "is
the accountable cause of" -- as in "Jones is responsible for the bank robbery;
he planned it and forced the others to join him"; and (2) "is mature" --
as in "she behaves very responsibly for a six year-old. "Irresponsible"
is the opposite of (2), not of (1). In fact, "irresponsible" even implies
"responsible" in meaning (1) of the person it describes sometimes. To act
irresponsibly is to act immaturely when one should have done better and
is oneself responsible for not doing so. To behave irresponsibly is not
to be blameless or unaccountable for an act; it is to be immature -- out
of selfishness, laziness, or whatever -- when one ought to be mature, and
when one is to blame or accountable for one's immature behavior and the
act it engenders. (Return to text.)
6. The parent-child relationship is not exactly an
owner-property relationship (for example, parents cannot sell their children)
but it has certain kinds of similarities which often, I think, can lead
to incorrect attitudes like that mentioned earlier of the boy who thought
he could (mis)treat his cat in any way he wanted because he was its owner.
Similarly, other people may refrain from helping another's child because
they don't see it as their responsibility, since it is not their child.
Or they may feel they are intruding in a parent's affairs even though they
are doing a service to the child. (Return to text.)
|This work is available here free, so that those who cannot afford it can still have access to it, and so that no one has to pay before they read something that might not be what they really are seeking. But if you find it meaningful and helpful and would like to contribute whatever easily affordable amount you feel it is worth, please do do. I will appreciate it. The button to the right will take you to PayPal where you can make any size donation you wish, using either your PayPal account or a credit card without a PayPal account.|