A quick peek into Wikipedia on who’s Judith Jarvis Thomson led me to realize that she’s in fact a big-league lady in the whole (overly-politicized, de-ethicized) debate on Abortion. I came across her A Defense of Abortion when a friend pasted a link in what started as a heated argument but later on heads got colder and minds started working. Eventually we got going with a spirit of respectful debate which leads us all to the text at hand.
I started this as a direct response to A Defense of Abortion, but as it turned out a bit too long of a text suitable for a Facebook comment, I decided to just put it here for people to see. You can read the full text of Thomson’s A Defense of Abortion on this link. It would be beneficial to actually read it as it’s not long and is in fact a fun read.
My response/comments/arguments are somewhat casual and unstructured. More or less… in-sync with the commented text.
Acorn vs. Tree: Is it identical to Fetus vs Person?
Thomson starts with an illustration-question-statement that as much as an acorn is a tree, aluding that a seed is a seed. Not a tree. So a fetus is a fetus. Not a person.
The analogy is flawed. An unfertilized egg is an acorn. A baby with developed organs that function would be analogous of a sprout with a developed root system, stem, branches and leaves that started the photosynthesis process. The analogy doesn’t stand. It is a “slipery-slope” analogy, a term she uses to discredit radical pro-lifers.
In the second paragraph she states:
we shall probably have to agree that the fetus has already become a human person well before birth.
It’s interesting how she uses the probably and may-be words. While forensically she does state that we have to agree that a fetus is a human being before birth, the maybe and probably soften the statement quite a bit, so an uncautious read of the text will be quite misleading that the author isn’t really sure of the statement. This is the first of a series of subversive language games used at-large by marketing professionals in selling everything from nails to locomotives.
While this can go unnoticed in a sales letter, it should not be allowed in an article that is written and poses as a reliable contribution to the Abortion debate.
The Violinist Comparison: When Murder Is Not One.
The violinist comparison is an interesting one… and quite misleading. While the person strapped wouldn’t care about the violinist, he/she would act completely different if the person strapped was their brother, sister, mother, whatever.
The baby is not a stranger. The woman carrying it is its mother. That completely changes the dynamics of the situation where “what makes me happy” is severely trumped by “what can I do to save the life of a family member”. People have GIVEN UP their kidney in order to save a life, let alone sit through a few months in order to save a loved one’s life. It is a small price to pay.
Rape Pregnancies: Hiding an elephant in plain site
Rape pregnancies are a minority case where the woman did not have control over the situation. In consensual sex however where two sane persons have intercourse without any protection, an unwanted pregnancy is not a fluke. It’s a direct result of them two not being responsible.
The 9-year pregnancy illustration of course is not a reality, and the author knows it, but putting the paragraph there is working in favor on a subconscious level by adding to the idea that fighting against abortion is ludicrous. This is a manipulative paragraph that should not be in in a scientific article. Or… it’s never been a scientific article.
Mother’s life in danger illustration: this case is also marked as almost non-existant, yet the author mentions it, further playing on the subconscious/manipulative card. This could not survive in a peer-reviewed article.
Mother’s life in danger (again): as the author already discarded this as a statistically viable option, starting to make the points (8 of them in total, just about all revolving about hypothetical, statistically insignificant cases at best) with this particular one is more manipulative writing than scientific. This is taking the extremes (which are statistically insignificant) to make a case that would stretch across the spectrum, covering up for abortions done out of inconvenience.
An Inconvenient Pregnancy: Who’s to pay the bill?
It’s interesting that in just about any fierce debate over the ethics of abortion, the pro-abortion people grab the minority cases such as rape and babies that are beyound doubt going to die due to various deformations. The vast majority of abortion cases get ignored… and these are the ones done because the couple just doesn’t feel like having the baby.
Convenience Abortions are the issue here. Not the life or death situations that are infinitesimal. The whole section that follows in Thomson’s famous work (Can’t stop wondering why) builds a logical argument over a hypothetical situation that earlier the author discarded as practically impossible or insignificant. This entire section is building an argument over a case that the author discards. Careful and critical reading of the text shows that after admitting that the fetus is a human being, the author goes into hypothetical, unfounded thinking, making the conclusions unfounded and merely hypothetical conclusions.While this is the way she’s constructed her arguments and is famous for them… the reality of the situation is that we are not talking about a hypothetical, merely philosophical question. We are talking about a person’s life.
Furthermore, the argument of killing for the sake of life-preserving can be flipped into euthanasia and force an argument that killing a dying old man will help in preserving the life of his son by not emptying his bank account. So if a baby can be killed without its consent just for convenience’s sake, then why cant an old man from the geriatric ward demand euthanasia? He/She is after all, demanding it in full grasp of what euthanasia really means.
These pointless speculations over hypothetical cases goes into storytelling with the baby that rapidly grows and crushes the mother and the house they are in. This is not a way a scientist constructs an argument. Building anti-anything ideas from made up stories is methodologically flawed.
The case of forced torture or death, goes even further away from the actual subject matter. Building conclusions based on made up stories that are statistically improbable, realistically impossible, and relationally pointless is just having an agenda, and looking for ways to make a case where there is none.
It would be far more logically (and expected) to approach the subject matter scientifically by analyzing the majority of the cases, set up some premises and hypotheses, and then test these ideas by going into extreme cases. But to go into extreme and even impossible cases to draw up conclusions to be then used on the vast majority of cases is a statistical error, a logical fallacy, and scientific heresy.
Riddle me this: What do I actually think?
Thomson, after a lengthy exegesis of non-existent situations ends up at a point where she says:
While I do argue that abortion is not impermissible, I do not argue that it is always permissible. There may well be cases in which carrying the child to term requires only Minimally Decent Samaritanism of the mother, and this is a standard we must not fall below.
This clearly states that Abortions of Convenience should not be allowed. And THIS is where majority of cases reside. Those 300.000 abortions done by Planned Parenthood alone are mostly Convenience Abortions. Here is a statistic on the issue (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8765248):
“The national rape-related pregnancy rate is 5.0% per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45); among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year. Among 34 cases of rape-related pregnancy, the majority occurred among adolescents and resulted from assault by a known, often related perpetrator. Only 11.7% of these victims received immediate medical attention after the assault, and 47.1% received no medical attention related to the rape. A total 32.4% of these victims did not discover they were pregnant until they had already entered the second trimester; 32.2% opted to keep the infant whereas 50% underwent abortion and 5.9% placed the infant for adoption; an additional 11.8% had spontaneous abortion.”
So the math is as follows: 32000 rape pregnancies. 50% abort. That’s 16.000. That’s 5% of the abortions PP does. So about 95% of abortions are non-rape-related, i.e Convenience Abortions. 95% is a huge number, and this is where a scientifically-backed article should focus on. Most of these would probably be done out of convenience. But as PP is not the only institution that does abortion, statistically the Convenience Abortion is far greater than 95%.
Humanity: Minimum Requirements
“It would be indecent in the woman to request an abortion, and indecent in a doctor to perform it, if she is in her seventh month, and wants the abortion just to avoid the nuisance of postponing a trip abroad.”
Again the author supports the notion that the right to abortion does not equal the right to a Margarita or a big juicy stake. It is not a basic right. It is available though, as a last way out of an impossible situation.
The key slam against PP and the general practice of harvesting body parts from killed babies during “detachment” as the author puts it, is that if a baby can be separated from the mother and it somehow does survive (which has happened more than once with 7-month babies), the mother has no right to require the death of that baby. She is off the hook, her life can continue as before, but the baby is given to adoption. It survives, and the mother only suffers inconvenience for no more than 5-6 months. A small price to pay in order to preserve a life.
Somewhat a conclusion
For a seminal work that it poses to be, this article falls short on so many levels. Mostly, it fails because the majority of its conclusions are drawn upon imagined cases that focus on a very tiny minority of the spectrum of abortion.
Less than 5% of the abortions fall off to rape victims. Let’s arbitrarily say that another 5% go off to medical complications of various kinds. It is a statistical heresy to focus on the marginal 10% and using rhetoric to derive ethical conclusions that then are used to formulate laws.
While the author herself clearly states that humanity cannot and should not be pardoned from actions that go below the minimal requirement for humane behavior. Abortions out of convenience are not the same as abortions out of a painful necessity. These cases are not the same, they should not be lumped together, and the majority of cases should not be dealt with based on rhetorical speculations about non-existant situations.
When we are talking about the stopping or allowing life, we need to treat the issue with more seriousness. A lot more seriousness.