Posted by: bridget | 1 August 2007

Debunking the Pro-Choice Argument, Part VII

In a shift from the usual series, in which all common pro-abortion arguments were self-contained, this one will link to the site that inspired it. Jill at Feministe has asked pro-lifers a series of questions, which she believes are those that sink the pro-life argument. This blogger answered her (despite a slew of profanity from Ms. Filopovic).

So, here it goes with the first of the new pro-choice questions:

How much time should a woman do? If abortion is murder, and fetuses are the same as babies, how much time should a woman do for seeking the abortion of her child?

This is all predicated on the assumption that we criminalise the mechanism of crime and the choice of victim, not the mens rea of the perpetrator.

It is foolish to suggest that a particular mechanism of murder results in a predetermined jail sentence. A person who uses a gun to kill the President will surely be executed for treason, while a person who uses a gun to defend himself and his family will often not even be prosecuted. Here, Jill makes the facially absurd assumption that punishments ought to be classed by victim and murder weapon.

The usual mechanisms of justice apply: a prosecutor will bring charges under one of various homicide statutes; the jury will determine if the State has met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and, more importantly, whether any mitigating circumstances are present. That determination is the basis for punishment, not the weapon used or the location: we are not playing Clue.

Next question from Ms. Filopovic:

Could it be that when we actually examine the case of a pre-meditated, deliberate murder of a born, living person against the case of a woman who terminates a pregnancy, we see that the two situations feel… different? Could it be that we see that there is a difference between a fetus and a born person?

The conclusion does not flow inextricably from the evidence. We understand that women are asserting a right not oft asserted in murder cases: the right to protect oneself against a non-lethal threat to bodily integrity. A different gut reaction does not mean that the person who created said threat is not fully human; rather, it means that such a situation is different than when the actor is under no threat to her bodily integrity. The murder of a helpless granny would not be treated in the same manner as a murder in response to a barfight; one cannot rationally conclude from such that grannies are more human than barflies.

Jill also raised the usual “fetuses are human but not persons” argument. That is the same argument used by genocidal maniacs: the dead in question are not really people. Hitler’s final solution was predicated upon that idea. Slavery would not have stood for so long without the dehumanisation of African-Americans. A certain bumper sticker reads, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people;” ironically, Ms. Filopovic has devoted part of her life to advancing the personhood of her gender but still believes this to be a valid pro-abortion argument. (The pachyderm has long believed that the rights of the unborn are the last great civil rights battle.)

To complicate things a little more: If life starts at conception, and from the moment of fertilization an egg is a full-fledged human being with the same rights as you or I, what do we do about calculating the death rate? The miscarriage rate?

The assumption is that, unless you can calculate the death rate with mathematical precision, the deaths in question are meaningless. We can only estimate, within hundreds of thousands, how many people died in concentration camps. That does not mean that we ought to comb Europe to find every possible skull, femur, or left pinky and painstakingly DNA match them to possible descendants before we determine that Jews and gays are really people and worthy of protection. One can hardly claim that a body which is easily hid or a manner of death so gruesome as to destroy the remains changes the human rights of the murdered individual in question.

Playing along, because it’s fun and the pachyderm can, let’s actually calculate the death rates of embryos. Find out how many women are sexually active; the age ranges of those women; frequency of activity; efficacy of birth control methods used; fertility for each group; and, finally, the birth rate. Total conceived minus birth rate divided by total conceived = death rate.

Scientists have excellent estimates of the chances of a fertilised egg implanting in the uterus; spontaneously aborting; and being stillborn. Working backwards from the birth rate, one may easily estimate how many children were conceived, and, from the first stat, how many implanted. The number who implanted minus the number born is your total number of miscarried children. Divide by total and multiply by 100 to get the relevant percentage. (These stats are also good for providing another estimate of the death rate: if, for example, 70% of conceived babies are born, then one only needs to divide births by 0.7 to obtain number of conceptions.)

Thank Heavens we are in the age of Gallup polls and Excel spreadsheets; otherwise, unborn children wouldn’t be people.

What do we do about all those embryos in fertility clinics? Do we force women to implant them and carry them to term? If not, how do we justify forcing women to carry naturally-implanted pregnancies to term? If the answer is that no, we don’t force women to be implanted with embryos, but we don’t kill the embryos either — we just let them be — then would it be ok for pregnant women to simply remove their embryos/fetuses without purposely killing them and just hope for the best?

This is predicated on the notion that the only way to deal with excess embryos is to forcibly implant them into women (presumably, those grabbed off the streets?); furthermore, unless pro-lifers agree to this, the pro-life position is nonsense.

There are a variety of ways to deal with the problem of excess embryos from IVF: adoption of the snowflake babies; creation of only so many embryos as the woman wants; obtaining her consent beforehand to adoption, surrogacy, or gestation of all embryos created; or creation of only so many embryos as a woman will use for a single round of IVF.  Any of these solutions deals with the “excess embryo” problem in a manner that gives dignity both to the embryos and to the potential mothers.

Negligent manslaughter – either by letting the embryos rot or by removing them from the womb and letting them die – is not the morally appropriate path.  The existence of the latter does not give moral sanction to the former, any more than the existence of sweatshops gives sanction to slavery.

Finally, the most fun of all:

What do doctors do if they’re faced with a life-threatening pregnancy? Do they force the woman to continue it, knowing it will kill her? I mean, it’s not the fetus’s fault, and it can’t really be construed as self-defense to terminate the pregnancy.

Self-defence is hardly predicated upon the mens rea of the perpetrator: all one needs is the immediate threat of harm and lack of a reasonable alternative. Jill is essentially claiming that there is absolutely no right to self-defence against a mentally challenged person, a gun-wielding sleepwalker, or a drunk driver who does not realise that he is on the wrong side of the road. Zing!

Tomorrow or Thursday: pro-life trump cards for pro-choice questions.

Related Posts

  1. Part I: If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child? And, It’s wrong to bring unwanted children into the world.
  2. Part II: Why should a blob of tissue have more rights than a woman?
  3. Part III: If you don’t support abortion, you don’t support women.
  4. Part IV: Pro-lifers want to legislate morality; you can’t be pro-life and libertarian.
  5. Part V: Since so many babies die of spontaneous abortion, how can you be pro-life unless you want to save them first?
  6. Part VI: What about this violinist? If we don’t force people to donate organs, why do you want to force people to remain pregnant?
  7. Part VII: If abortion is murder, pro-lifers should want to imprison women
  8. Part VIII: Sherry Colb on abortion.


  1. Great analysis, Bridget. I’m not surprised she wasn’t receptive to input. Her arguments appear to be emotionally driven, like most pro-unrestricted-abortion proponents. As usual, she ignores the key question: If the unborn is human, then we shouldn’t kill her. The appropriate punishments are a different set of questions, just as they are with any acts deemed criminal. Seems to me the “doctor” would end up with the bulk of the punishment.

  2. Excellent post, my favorite comment was:

    “The murder of a helpless granny would not be treated in the same manner as a murder in response to a barfight; one cannot rationally conclude from such that grannies are more human than barflies.”

    Stop by my blog sometime and check out the most recent posts. I actually took a chance and put up some political stuff.

  3. Her arguments appear to be emotionally driven, like most pro-unrestricted-abortion proponents.

    The emotion in question being, “I don’t want to be pregnant/it’s unfair for women to be pregnant when men get away scot-free.”

    Good points that I may borrow when I edit my post. Jill thinks that the difficulty in making something criminal means that it must be moral, which is plainly ridiculous.

    TT ~

    I commented, briefly. Didn’t have time to go through everything.

  4. Yes, it is plainly ridiculous. Good thing that’s not what she argued.

  5. Raging Red:

    You are more than welcome to comment here and debate me. I do have a few ground rules, though:

    1) No personal attacks;
    2) No unsubstantiated comments; and
    3) Nothing befitting a playground: constructive arguments only! :)

    When you say “Good thing that’s not what she argued,” you are not being constructive. If you don’t think that Ms. Filipovic is arguing what I’m saying she’s arguing, then it’s incumbent upon YOU to go to her website and explain a) what her argument really is, and b) how it differs from what I stated it to be.

    That is just basic debate.

  6. You said: “Jill thinks the difficulty in making something criminal means that it must be moral.” Admittedly, I am not her, but I feel safe in saying that no, that’s not what she was saying at all. The whole point of her post is that she thinks the difficulty that most pro-lifers have in answering questions about how women who have abortions should be punished means that they don’t honestly believe that abortion is equivalent to murdering a born human. If they did, answering the question would be quite simple. A lot of pro-life people have never even considered the question, which I think is quite telling.

  7. Raging Red:

    I cannot disagree more with your conclusion. Roe v. Wade has been around for longer than my lifetime. We cannot argue what we would do to pregnant women who abort until we can actually make it illegal. Your criticism is predicated upon the requirement that we be thinking decades ahead.

    Secondly, if you go back to most abortion statutes, the mother is not punished; the abortionist, however, is. Understandably, most pro-lifers who are aware of pre-Roe abortion law would revert to this line of thinking.

    Jill conflates the difficulty in making good criminal law with morality. Please notice how anyone who says that pregnant women should be punished is deemed to be some sort of soulless monster.

    I would very much welcome comments from the other pro-lifers who read H,aP.

  8. Good post. Another common question I’ve heard from pro-choice friends of mine is, “How can you bring a child into this world if you know their life will be miserable?” This question also makes flawed assumptions, that the fetus is not already a child and that the fetus is not already “in this world”.

  9. “How much time should a woman do? If abortion is murder, and fetuses are the same as babies, how much time should a woman do for seeking the abortion of her child?”

    Well this is an easy question sice we already have laws on the books for murder, so according to the Clinton type judges that would be anywhere from 3 to 5 years (with early release for rehabilitation)….steve

  10. great post. and great refuting of both the post and red.

  11. […] the pachyderm stated in a previous post on this subject, the pro-abortion logic on this point is flawed.  It turns criminal law on its […]

  12. […] Part VII: If abortion is murder, pro-lifers should want to imprison women […]

  13. […] Part VII: If abortion is murder, pro-lifers should want to imprison women […]

  14. […] Heaven’s sake.  As per previous bloggings, the question is beyond absurd.  First of all, no pro-lifer really wants to imprison […]

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