Bioethics, recent, Recommended, Women

Rethinking Abortion Advocacy

Last Tuesday, the Governor of Alabama signed the most restrictive anti-abortion bill in America into law. The new law bans abortions even in the case of rape and makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Despite the low probability of this law going into effect, it has provoked a slew of commentary from both sides of the aisle. To call it “commentary,” however, suggests that people are engaging in thoughtful attempts to persuade one another. In reality, the abortion debate has had all the intellectual rigor and emotional maturity of a pissing contest.

In an effort to be part of the solution, I’d like to explain why I’m pro-choice. Without doubt, my position will put me at odds with pro-lifers. But it will also put me at odds with many pro-choicers. Indeed, part of the reason I feel motivated to defend my position is because of how unpersuasive I find the central argument of the pro-choice movement. It’s painful to watch a movement use bad reasons to defend a position when good ones are available.

The bad argument I’m referring to—often sloganized as “my body, my choice,” or its corollary, “they want to control women’s bodies”—can be summarized as follows:

  1. It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body.
  2. A fetus is part of a woman’s body.
  3. Therefore, it’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her fetus.

The first premise makes sense. A person should be free to do as they wish with their own body. If someone wants to pierce their ears or donate a kidney, it’s their right to do so, because those are their body parts. No one else’s moral concerns need to be traded off against theirs. The second premise, however, is false because a fetus is not merely a body part. Given enough time, a fetus will become something with distinct moral worth: a baby. The same cannot be said about a kidney.

When someone gets an ear pierced, they don’t stop to consider the event from their ear’s perspective. After all, their ear is a part of them—which is to say its ethical concerns align with its owner’s by definition. If a fetus were really akin to a body part, there would be no reason not to abort it the moment before delivery, on a whim—like an impulsive ear piercing. Given the widespread repugnance of that conclusion, and given that there are far better pro-choice arguments available, the “my body, my choice” argument should be retired permanently.

On the other side of the debate lies an equally bad argument, namely that life or personhood begins at conception because science says so. To the contrary, there exists no consensus among biologists about what, specifically, divides life from non-life. Moreover, science doesn’t even try to tell us when personhood begins because none of the ethically important dimensions of being a person—for example, conscious experience, the ability to feel pain, the capacity for self-sustaining growth, and so on—flips on like a light switch at any moment along the path, including the moment of conception. Most, if not all, of the capacities relevant to personhood emerge gradually on a spectrum of development, just as one color bleeds into the next on a color gradient.

Put differently, “When does life/personhood begin?” is not a scientific question, but a conceptual one. To use an analogy, consider the age of sexual consent (which in some U.S. states is 18 years old.) Science can discover many important facts, such as the age at which humans reach sexual maturity (earlier than 18), or the age at which the prefrontal cortex fully develops (later than 18). But science alone cannot tell us when a “child” becomes an “adult.” Biological facts may be relevant to that question, but it can’t be answered by biology alone. In the end, most Western democracies draw the line somewhere between 16 and 18 years-old—not because science says so, and not because some moment of instantaneous transformation happens during this period of adolescence, but because it seems reasonable based on all of the ethically relevant factors.

The line dividing a “cluster of cells” from a “person” is similar in this respect. Science can discover many important facts, such as the point at which a fetus can feel pain, or the point at which it can survive outside the womb. But science cannot tell us when a “cluster of cells” becomes what we understand to be a “person.” It’s up to us to answer that question.

A critic might reject this analogy. Perhaps we can draw an arbitrary line between childhood and adulthood because the stakes aren’t high, they might say. But how can we create an arbitrary line dividing human life from something less? This critique fails for two reasons. First, it’s not as if the stakes for “adulthood” are low. Somewhere in America, somebody is rotting in jail—and will be on a sex offender registry for the rest of their life—because they had sex with someone a day too soon. Those stakes aren’t quite life-and-death, but they are extremely serious. And despite the gravity of those stakes, we still rely on a somewhat arbitrary judgment because we lack a decisive alternative.

Second, there are no objective lines on offer to begin with. Although drawing bright lines at conception and birth may offer the appearance of clarity (to pro-lifers and pro-choicers respectively), ethically speaking, both moments are arbitrary. The moment the egg is fertilized, forming a zygote with unique DNA, may be significant from a biologist’s perspective, but in terms of its capacity to suffer and flourish, a zygote differs only trivially from the pair of cells that formed it.

The same is true for birth: it is clearly a landmark moment in one sense, which is why we celebrate it every year. But in terms of its capacity to suffer and flourish, a fetus the day before delivery is no different from a newborn baby. “Personhood” emerges gradually, second-by-second and cell-by-cell over the course of weeks and months. Nature has failed to satisfy our demand for crisp boundaries and conceptual certainty. Our challenge with abortion, much like our challenge with the age of consent, is to create a boundary line that represents a reasonable compromise between competing values and interests.

Among the ethical considerations that favor the pro-choice side is the fact that many women considering an abortion are not choosing between having a child and not having a child, but between having a child now and having a child later when they anticipate being in a better position to provide for a child. The difference matters. The first scenario pits a world with N people against a world with N+1 people. But the second scenario pits a world with N+1 people against a slightly better world, also with N+1 people—a world in which a mother is better able to provide for her child. (How many abortions fall into the second category? I don’t know exactly, but probably less than half. Still, viewing the ethics of abortion exclusively through the lens of the first scenario makes the pro-life case seem stronger than it actually is.)

Even in the first scenario, however, there are considerations that favor the pro-choice side. Most women who get abortions already have kids and many are considering an abortion because they’re struggling to provide for the children they already have. 49 percent of people who got abortions in 2014 were below the poverty line. In a low socioeconomic context, carrying a fetus to term could mean reducing the resources devoted—and the quality of life given—to each child. While the welfare state can mitigate this somewhat by providing benefits that scale with the number of children a family has, there is no replacing the parental time and attention that existing children lose upon the arrival of a new child.

And then there’s the specter of illegal abortions, which have been ubiquitous throughout history and throughout the world. Before Roe vs. Wade legalized abortions nationwide, there was a substantial black market for illegal abortions, which were generally performed in suboptimal conditions. Today, the World Health Organization estimates that unsafe abortions result in about 7 million hospital admissions per year throughout the developing world. Given that the demand for abortions seems to remain high whether abortions are administered legally in clinics or illegally in hotel rooms, many women would likely suffer health complications from illegal abortions as a consequence of signing pro-life principles into law.

All told, there are substantial ethical costs associated with the pro-life position. Of course, there are substantial ethical costs associated with the pro-choice position as well, chief among which is the prevention of flourishing that would otherwise have occurred had an aborted fetus been brought to term. Regardless of whether one believes a fetus to be a person with the full suite of associated rights, if left unmolested, a fetus is very likely to develop conscious experiences every bit as rich, compelling, and important as your own. Ending the prospect of that consciousness before it begins comes at a huge ethical cost.

The fallacy many pro-lifers commit, however, is to ascribe infinite value to that cost, such that it cannot be weighed against any number of concerns on the other side. Most actions have both ethical costs and ethical benefits. When both sides of the scale are substantial enough, it makes sense to weigh them before reaching a decision that reflects a reasonable compromise.

We do this all the time, even when the stakes are sky high. For example, we could lower the speed limit on every road in America to 10 miles per hour and save the 40,000 or so lives we lose each year to car accidents. But we don’t, because doing so would impose costs that probably outweigh 40,000 lost human lives. Suppose that somebody who favored lowering the speed limit made the following argument: a driver’s safety (or a driver’s “right to life/bodily autonomy”) is sacred and therefore cannot be traded off against any competing ethical concern. Not only will such a person fail to be persuaded by a list of ethical costs associated with slowing all traffic to a crawl, but they will also refuse to engage with opponents’ arguments. After all, their ethical imperative is so compelling that it’s impervious to consequentialist objections.

That is how both sides of the abortion debate are behaving at the moment. It’s a cop-out to dub some principle sacred—whether it’s a fetus’s right to life or a woman’s bodily autonomy—and then use the sanctification of that principle to ignore all of the ethical costs that position entails.

As for the inevitable question: where would I draw the line? Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Russia draw it at 12 weeks. That seems sensible because it gives women seeking abortions a reasonable amount of time to obtain them without encroaching on the period during which the fetus begins to develop consciousness (around week 20.) Although I’m partial to a line at 12 weeks, I’m persuadable in either direction, so long as those who seek to persuade me are willing and able to acknowledge the ethical complexity of the debate. Any line we draw will seem arbitrary because it is—and that’s okay. Arbitrary doesn’t mean random and it doesn’t mean cruel. It means that we are doing what civil societies have had to do since time immemorial: accept a difficult trade-off where natural constraints preclude the possibility of an easy solution.


Coleman Hughes is a Quillette columnist and an undergraduate philosophy major at Columbia University. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Spectator, City Journal, and the Heterodox Academy blog. You can follow him on Twitter @coldxman


  1. the gardner says

    I see the Alabama decision as a reaction to the hideous New York decision.
    While I prefer an ideal world where no abortions would ever be necessary, my arbitrary line is the heartbeat one. Prior to this, the “just a clump of cells” argument might hold, but once the cells have differentiated such that a beating heart exists, suctioning and ripping apart that body is just too disgusting to me. I couldn’t do that to a dog.

      • JWatts says

        That’s a silly comparison. If you said cleaning a sewer was disgusting and you couldn’t, does that imply you don’t use indoor plumbing?

    • TheMonster says

      same. The heartbeat bill makes the most sense to me. (How do you check to see if someone is dead? you check and see if they have a heartbeat – therefore in the inverse having a heartbeat must mean they are……)

      But I found this piece pretty compelling in regard to the need for a middle ground and the admission that both sides have ethical and moral problems. It’s pretty clear that fertilization is just a clump of cells, but it’s equally clear that murdering a child as he’s being born is pretty fucking monstrous (NYS). So where is the middle? I’ve always thought the heartbeat is a good distinguishing point but I could see the logic in a 12 week date as there is still no consciousness, and the child still isn’t viable outside the womb. It’s not perfect, but it has things both sides could live with, and it’s not as gut-wrenching-ly monstrous as the horror happening in NYS.

      • cj says


        What if the at 9 weeks gestation the fetus could feel pain would you still be comfortable with the 12 week line?

    • David of Kirkland says

      Fetal heartbeat would be agreeable to many if you meant an actual human heart beating (4 chambers pumping blood), and not some reflexing cells like a spider’s leg after being pulled off.
      First, you have a fertilized egg, then a clump of cells, eventually an embryo, then a fetus, then a baby at birth.

    • William Grobman says

      Look more into the heartbeat biology. It’s not even a proper chambered heart. It’s just pulsating cells. Lots of things have beating hearts too. Presumably a brain and capacity to suffer is what’s really relevant.

      • Jim Gorman says

        David, William –> Ok, then. When does the heart have 4 chambers and pump blood? Your “fact” doesn’t help solve the problem!

    • Just Me says

      A heartbeat is meaningless. One can have a heartbeat yet be braindead. In this case, yes there is an organism with a heartbeat, but that does not make it a human being, i.e. a person, yet.

      • BA says

        A heartbeat does not make it human. The DNA makes it a human

      • Dave Beltakis says

        My understanding is the Roe v Wade was about fetal ‘viability’, our gyno told us that if he sees a heartbeat at 8 weeks there is a 98% chance of a healthy delivery— that was 20 years ago.

    • AB says

      My relative gave birth to a baby that had no brain; only a brain stem. The heart was beating during the pregnancy, but the baby was born dead, obviously. Awful story … but the point is, a beating heart doesn’t mean a living, let along conscious, being

    • The author pulls a rhetorical sleight-of-hand. He conflates the concepts of the beginning of life and the idea of personhood. They are not the same thing. There is no doubt that a distinct new life begins at the moment of conception. This is a biological fact. The notion of personhood is divorced from science and is rooted in subjective feeling. Consider for a moment the manner in which the question of personhood was handled in the ante-bellum South and you will begin to see the limitations of such thinking.

      Those of us among the pro-life side of the argument speak of the beginning of life, we do not get distracted by subjective interpretations of personhood.

      • Frank Knarf says

        What you are not “distracted by” are ethical complexity, the rights of autonomous individuals vs the rights of groups of cells or the ugly reality of illegal abortions.

      • David Turnbull says

        ‘a distinct new life’? No. No more than the beginning of a tumour is a distinct new life.

    • heymanitshayden says

      A woman may not even know she’s pregnant before a heartbeat is present.

      • Dave Beltakis says

        That’s the problem, so she may only have a week or two to make a decision and have the procedure. I think it is the industry that needs to be cleaned up, here in Australia, it is really not an issue.

  2. KD says

    Where are the advocates for infanticide? Before a child receives a name, it is not a member of the social community–not a person, technically. If its not a member of the community, it is not entitled to the protection of the community, ergo, a member of the community can dispose of it, just like you would dispose of an outlaw.

    Its not like people believe in souls anymore, so the liberal “human rights” claptrap lacks its theological justification (its a just meatbag in obedience to the laws of physics to you, sir), and no one is justifying abortion restrictions on natalist grounds.

    • Greg Lorriman says

      People do believe in souls. It’s the main, underlying reason for being pro-life. And there are a lot of us. The author has misrepresented the argument.

      • Inigo Montoya says

        He’s doing you a huge favour by “misrepresenting” it. If belief in souls is the main reason for being pro-life, then why should anyone who doesn’t believe in them care what you have to say? The author assumes the argument can’t be that stupid.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          Haha! That’s right, because religious belief is so childish and barbaric, isn’t that right, Inigo.

          • Inigo Montoya says

            No, because policy should be based on facts, not belief. It’s an idea almost everyone at least pays lip service to. That’s why even most pro-life organizations will refrain from stating too openly that their opposition to abortion is rooted in their religious beliefs. If it is, the counter is blindingly obvious: just don’t have one!

          • Jairo Melchor says

            Barbaric? Comparing ancient times religion with modern time religion, it would. Except for Islam and it’s so called slogan of “religion of peace”.

            Childish? Most definitely, it is pure subjectivism.

            If you really wanna win, using arguments based on belief are gonna lose you the battle.

          • Dennis Schneider says

            Religious beliefs vary. I have heard in some traditions the first breath is considered the start of life.

      • Klaus C. says

        I assume that those who believe in souls (whatever they are) hold them to be “immortal”, since this seems to be the orthodoxy.

        If they believe a soul is immortal (i.e., not dependent on a body), why should they object to abortion? It doesn’t seem to make sense, but then expecting the anti-abortion lobby to make sense is possibly expecting too much.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          “No, because policy should be based on facts, not belief.”

          Most policies are not fact based – nor could be – but ideas based if not based off statistics, with a great deal of fumbling in the dark in the attempt to solve world problems. (And much of it backed up by emotional blackmail and not reasoning.)

          The idea of a fact is a slippery customer in any case. It’s impossible to prove to yourself your own sanity, or that everything around you is not a hallucination.

          Meanwhile, faith is not “Belief without evidence” which is a redefinition by the presumptuous Bertrand Russell, but the total opposite: of a supreme being giving absolute proof of itself to those who bother to make the effort. And such a being would self-evidently have a solution to the sanity problem. It could be said to the only possible hypothetical fact other than one’s own self-awareness.

          So we know God exists as a matter of proven fact, that proof given to the individual. That we can’t prove it to a 3rd party is irrelevant as the proof is available to everyone for the asking “God, if you exist, please reveal yourself”, and a little perseverance. Faith was commonplace until the advent of protestant Christianity and its various absurdities “Salvation by Faith alone” at which the great turning away began. Atheism is merely a form of ignorance. In some culpably so.

          This is a life or death question and the benefit of the doubt should always be given to life in these matters.

          “If it is, the counter is blindingly obvious: just don’t have one!”

          That’s just unthinking parroting. The position of the pro-lifers is obviously that the unborn is as valued as the born for also being a personal being. Therefore murder laws apply, and the unborn should be protected as with any other human life.

          However, for sure a religious person is definitely guilty of murder, a non-religious person can come under the classification of “invincible ignorance”, ignorant of the truth but not culpably, and so shouldn’t be prosecuted for murder. But they should be prosecuted.

          • Inigo Montoya says

            “The idea of a fact is a slippery customer in any case.” Ha, postmodern conservatism indeed…

            Listen, all this screed about the existence of God was completely useless. It doesn’t matter what I think. Most people don’t consider belief, including religious belief, to be an acceptable foundation for state policy. I happen to think they’re right but that’s irrelevant. Coleman, in his heroic effort to try and present a somewhat defensible pro-life position, avoids religious arguments that most readers will find laughably weak. Your comments suggest he was too charitable.

          • S.Cheung says

            “That we can’t prove it to a 3rd party is irrelevant ”

            Ummm….that’s actually no different than a schizophrenic patient locked up in a psych ward.

            You can’t prove or test for a “soul”, so it is useless and meaningless for the purposes of codifying in law. Your POV is precisely what’s described by the author as being patently unhelpful (on your extreme of the spectrum at least).

            Meanwhile, I go with medical viability, prior to which it is just a clump of cells. Some go with heartbeat, but I think that is prone to case-by-case variability.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          “but then expecting the anti-abortion lobby to make sense is possibly expecting too much.”

          Sure, have a good sneer.

          By a religious standard, your logic also applies to adults. Why should we object to murder? The status of life of both is the same. Indeed, the adult has had their chance, so could be argued to be less deserving.

          Religious persons of most religion have the same doctrine: we have no right to take innocent life and it would be gross presumption on the will of God.

          • Klaus C. says

            So you admit that the idea of an immortal soul, if it’s to be believed, actually weakens the case against murder.

            Fortunately we don’t have to worry about the soul, because it’s a nonsensical notion.

            Kill a human being, and that person is simply dead, gone. It’s this knowledge that makes these questions of such ethical importance.

            “Souls” and other supernatural notions do nothing for your cause.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            @Inigo, “Most people don’t consider belief, including religious belief, to be an acceptable foundation for state policy.”

            Who is this ‘most people’ you are talking about? If most voters were believers (really better said to be ‘knowers’, since there is no mere claim to belief here), then they will vote for State policies that reflect those beliefs. That they are not the majority at the moment could change tomorrow. Especially as many believers are now expecting a major intervention and mass death, to a large extent due to abortion.

            Meanwhile, a lack of religious belief or in belief-based policies makes no difference to giving the benefit of the doubt to life in a life or death question.

            Unless atheists can come up with that long sort-after proof of their’s that there is no god, then the humane thing to do is to protect the unborn. Anything else is unreasonable assumption.

            Especially in the face of so many believers claiming to personally know a god. Which is evidence of a god, by the way, since we are not claiming mere belief. Sure, it’s ambivalent since it could be either mass delusion or a god, to an agnostic, but evidence it is.

            And evidence based policies are just fine.

          • Klaus C. says

            @Greg Lorriman:

            You’re the one with the unsupported assertions. In fact not just unsupported, but scientifically meaningless.

            Consciousness, cognitive awareness etc consists of memories, thoughts, feelings – all information, i.e., ordered states in the form of webs of neurons and their chemical and electrical interactions.

            In order to provide consciousness, the “soul” would also have to consist of information, in order to distinguish it from “nothing” which obviously has no properties at all, least of all something as complex as consciousness.

            So what form does this information take, how is it ordered and maintained? If it’s “not physical” how is it distinguishable from “nothing”, which carries no information?

            You can’t even begin to answer any of these questions, because by talking about “things that are not physical”, you’re clearly talking about “imaginary notions that don’t relate to anything that could really exist.”

          • jimhaz says

            i hope Greg has not named any of his kids Isaac – just in case the proof in his head gets the wrong message.

   do you determine innocence. Would not ONLY your god be able to do so as only that god would be able to determine what evil was a result of justifiable causes versus the evil generated from the soul’s free will? If generated from free will would that not make badness inherent – the poor sucker with the bad soul cannot be other than bad. One hell of a cruel god to do that to someone.

            Is a very low IQ boy who was bashed, raped and generally abused for most of his childhood truly guilty if they harm someone else later in life?

          • augustine says

            This is a life or death question and the benefit of the doubt should always be given to life in these matters.

            Thanks for this note of grace in this subthread.

          • Klaus C. says

            @Lorriman “abstractions, presumably also 1+1=2 etc etc”

            These are examples of cognitive modelling, ideas consisting of information generated by the brain in the form of ordered states of neurons etc.

            Once again, we’re talking about actual physical information. But your “soul” apparently consists of “information that is not there”.

            To the empirical thinker, “physical” really just means “real”.

            You claim there are things that are “real” but “not physical”, but you’re not able to explain what that’s supposed to mean, how such things “work”, or provide any meaningful description of them at all, let alone any skerrick of evidence.

            It’s simple-minded nonsense, literally of zero substance.

          • Klaus C. says

            @Lorriman: “If your reasoning and abstractions to prove there is ‘only matter’ have no more substance than “ordered states of neurons” then they cannot be used to prove there is ‘only matter’, right?”

            What gibberish are you mouthing now?

            “Matter” really just means “ordered states” in this or that form. I’m asking you: what form of ordered states are you talking about when you talk about “souls”, “gods” etc?

            You are unable to provide an answer and yet don’t acknowledge that this means you’ve lost the debate.

            You’re not even offering a basically intelligible hypothesis, let alone any detail or any evidence.

            You’re just saying: “The soul is a complex cognitive being, which doesn’t have any structure or information content, but isn’t just nothing because I’m saying it’s a complex cognitive being, that does have some kind of structure and information content, even though I said it didn’t, but in a way I can’t describe or explain.”

            It’s just laughable baloney, an insult to our intelligence.

          • Tin Man says

            I’d imagine the objection from a utilitarian viewpoint to murder would center around the amount of pain caused to the person being murdered as well as the secondary psychological trauma to family/friends. A completely painless death that causes no panic or anxiety would probably be optimal, especially if the person being killed can no longer contribute to society.

        • Inigo Montoya says

          @ Klaus C.
          It’s not that simple. One consequence of the doctrine of the original sin is that children who die unbaptised (this includes, of course, the “unborn children” heinously murdered in an abortion) bear the guilt of Adam, which they received through their father’s semen, and hence die in a state of sin. The logically consistent conclusion would be that they must all go to Hell. Unsurprisingly, this answer isn’t too popular with parents who have lost a baby, so Catholic theologians have spent the last millennium and a half wringing their hands and coming up with harebrained schemes that will “allow” unbaptised infants to know the joys of Heaven and God’s presence the way any Nazi who properly confessed his sins already can.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            “so Catholic theologians have spent the last millennium and a half wringing their hands and coming up with harebrained schemes that will “allow” unbaptised infants to know the joys of Heaven and God’s presence the way any Nazi who properly confessed his sins already can.”

            That’s not right. And your spin is a misrepresentation also.

            Original sin isn’t actual sin, so the sin of Adam can mean only that the unbaptised aren’t sanctified, worthy of heaven. It doesn’t follow that they are therefore worthy of hell. There was no doctrine on what happened to the unbaptised, only St Augustine’s view that they would go to hell. But that was never a Church teaching.

            Apart from Thomas Aquinas’s idea of Limbo (a natural paradise – but not heaven itself – since they were not guilty of any sin) there were no theologians ‘wringing their hands’ over this subject, since Aquinas’s teaching of God creating human souls in a state of goodness albeit not sanctified put St Augustine’s view to bed. It’s only very recently (ie, the last 20 years) that the Church has turned its attention to it, only to proclaim that the Church doesn’t know but is hopeful of the action of God in their lives. Words to that effect.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            @Klaus “Fortunately we don’t have to worry about the soul, because it’s a nonsensical notion.

            Kill a human being, and that person is simply dead, gone. It’s this knowledge that makes these questions of such ethical importance.”

            You really need to be proving your assertions.

            Unsupported assertions are not an argument.

        • Canny. Presumably the soul is created at inception, is immortal and immutable? A foetus’s ‘body’ is merely a vessel for the soul so why not just cut out the whole, frankly painful and troublesome, ‘three score and ten’ deal and go straight to the ‘everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven’ bit? A powerful and persuasive argument.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            @Klaus “You can’t even begin to answer any of these questions, because by talking about “things that are not physical”, you’re clearly talking about “imaginary notions that don’t relate to anything that could really exist.”

            Lol! The hopelessly materialistic atheist. You must be so wed to your body and what you can see and touch that the possibility of a non-matter reality is ‘imaginary notions’ [by which you mean a fiction, presumably] and yet you acknowledge imaginary notions already, abstractions, presumably also 1+1=2 etc etc. They already point to non-matter truths/realities. Self-awareness is the most bizarre of them all. It exists but its nature is not matter at all whether or not it can be found in matter.

            “The weakness of materialistic atheists is that they insist that all is mere matter when it could just as well be nothing but mind”. G K Chesterton.

            Let’s take the idea of existence. It’s not just an idea, is it. There is something that has the property of existence, and everything else partakes of that property. One day scientists hope to describe it in an equation (likely impossible, as likely the only thing that could describe would be to reproduce the thing itself). But existence and matter are not one and the same thing. It’s incoherent nonsense from Dawkins to dismiss the idea of a god and then talk of the “brute fact of existence”. Why isn’t there simply absolutely nothing? Why does anything exist at all?

            His response is “Who made God?”. But that was answered centuries ago by Thomas Aquinas. Existence self-evidently exists, is self-evidently of itself, existing of itself, and self-evidently could not not exist. As a self-referencing thing, then the question isn’t so much “Is there a god” but “Is the existence-thing self-aware?”

            Existence (or ‘being’, in philosophy) is the join between science and metaphysics.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            @Klaus “You claim there are things that are “real” but “not physical”, but you’re not able to explain what that’s supposed to mean, how such things “work”, or provide any meaningful description of them at all, let alone any skerrick of evidence.

            [1+1=2 etc] These are examples of cognitive modelling, ideas consisting of information generated by the brain in the form of ordered states of neurons etc.

            It’s simple-minded nonsense, literally of zero substance.”

            Lol. If your reasoning and abstractions to prove there is ‘only matter’ have no more substance than “ordered states of neurons” then they cannot be used to prove there is ‘only matter’, right?

            Rather it’s a materialist’s explanation for ‘ideas/abstractions’, but contingent on proving that there isn’t any thing more than matter first. You haven’t done that. It’s rather like the argument that all religions were invented by man. Ok, but that’s an explanation for religion once you have proven there isn’t a god.


            “You claim there are things that are “real” but “not physical”, …..nor provide any meaningful description of them at all, let alone any skerrick of evidence.”

            BS. I provided the fact that you can see yourself and are self-aware. That is compelling evidence. More than enough to completely scupper assertions of “it’s only matter and nothing more”, even if it were true.

            Not only do you believe something that isn’t proven which is irrational – that there is no god – but then assert that there is nothing but matter also without proof, yet in the face of your own self-awareness, while denying the foundations of thought itself.

            Not just irrational.

          • Greg Lorriman says

            @jimhaz “Is a very low IQ boy who was bashed, raped and generally abused for most of his childhood truly guilty if they harm someone else later in life?”

            Assuming no help of ‘grace’ from a god, and no free-will, then probably not.

            But there are plenty of examples of kids from such backgrounds that do the opposite, resolving to raise their own kids in happiness and security and to give them what they didn’t have themselves.

            I would call this evidence of free will (which is also evidence of a god), that people from the same bad backgrounds can end up either self-serving or self-giving. That happens to be true of people from good backgrounds also, but it’s put in to relief by those from bad backgrounds.

        • Nikki says

          There is a Hindu scripture…”Beware you wake up in some demon womb.” Might be appropriate to this day when some creatures rip a child from their womb in the most grisly barbaric fashion. The mass slaughter of today was unthinkable a few decades ago. The discussion of it by the oh so learned, like the feeble arguments of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I have no part in this. Karma will rule. A likely causal reaction will be the closing of the human womb, which has been so hostile. Birthrates will fall, “the voices of the children heard in dreams alone…”Old women will weep for the children they threw in a bloody bucket. No one cares about old women except their children.

      • Dave Beltakis says

        Then the question is when does the soul enter the body? Some cultures call this the ‘quickening’ and believe it occurs at birth.

        • Nikki says

          Some Hindu rishis state that at the moment of conception there is an energy spark which attracts the soul that can inhabit the new being. This spark has now been seen by western science. So yes, the soul inhabits at conception and then is in each cell like the hand in the glove as per Paramhansa Yogananda.

        • Nikki says

          Hindu rishis state that at conception there is a spark of energy that attracts a soul that can inhabit that being, the soul enters then and is in every cell. Now western science has seen this spark.

  3. prince says

    A major milestone in the “progressive” Left’s descent into the Abyss of Insanity is adopting the extreme and barbaric view that a baby is nothing but a “clump of cells” until they are born.

    Therefore, but the progressive doctrine, one can kill a fully formed baby with full moral and legal impunity as long as the baby is covered by the tissue of the uterus. This position thankfully is rejected by the majority of the American public but this never stopped the extremists.

    The world as a whole has adopted a fairly measured and balanced approach to abortion.

    Of the 45 countries in the world that permit legal abortion, 45 limit (76% of those counties) the act to 12 weeks or earlier. Another 6 countries (10%) puts the limit between 12 and 20 weeks.

    Only 7 countries in the world allow going beyond 7 week, including a single European country.

    With the passage of the NY law legalizing 3rd term abortion, it is for the Supreme courts to step in and declare that an unborn child is a person. The court will have to define where the legal line passes between a fetus and a child and a measured approach will likely have it at 12 weeks and certainly not later than 20 weeks.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Strawman: Fertilized egg -> clump of cells -> embryo -> fetus -> baby.

      • JWatts says

        Are you saying you are making a strawman argument? Because you seem to be. Furthermore, an unfertilized egg and sperm are both clumps of cells. So you are scientifically wrong.

        • Bob Morris says

          If you want the more accurate scientific terms, it works more like this:

          Fertilized egg, which becomes a zygote after 24 hours. After another 24 hours, it enters the first embryonic stages, the morula, then the blastocyst, both which happen before implantation.
          Here’s the key point: Without implantation, no development beyond the blastocyst will take place.
          If implantation happens, it’s at the fourth week of pregnancy. Then the embryonic development happen more rapidly.
          At eight weeks, it’s considered to enter the fetal stage.
          By the 11th week, it’s a fetus by any definition (because some will quibble about features and development in weeks eight to 10), and is considered as such until delivery.

          And, technically speaking, the first two weeks of “pregnancy” occur before fertilization takes place. The best definition would be that “sperm is present in the woman’s body but it will be a few days before conception happens.”

          For a better explainer of the first trimester:

          For more on the differences between zygote, embryo and fetus:

        • D-Rex says

          Sorry Wattsy, an ‘unfertilized egg and sperm’ are both single cells, not a clump. So YOU are scientifically wrong.

    • Jay Salhi says

      “With the passage of the NY law legalizing 3rd term abortion, it is for the Supreme courts to step in and declare that an unborn child is a person.”

      Roe v Wade recognized a state’s interest in protecting the fetus at the point of viability. Back then, that meant third trimester. Medical science has brought the viability date back considerably.

      The Supreme Court could draw the line at 20 weeks without overturning Roe v Wade.

    • KD says

      But this is malarkey–sperm and egg cells are fully alive, and the event of fertilization doesn’t create life, it merely creates a differentiation between living things. If the sperm and the egg aren’t both alive and healthy, you don’t get a fetus. Plus, human sperm and egg cells are not only alive, they are fully human unless your dealing with a purported cross breed. If human life is your criterion, then every sperm is sacred, and every act of ejaculation leads to a holocaust of millions, even if one lucky sperm survives to impregnate an egg.

      • the gardner says

        KD—- fertilization most certainly creates a new life.

        • KD says

          Uh, no, in fiction, Dr. Frankenstein creates a new life from dead tissue.

          Fertilization differentiates–yes, new identity–but life is continuous. The Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean are differentiated, but both water.

      • Davis Love says

        Don’t fall into the pseudo-intellectual meme that if conception means a unique human life (which is does, see above), an individual sperm or egg is human life. It’s not, by definition.

        Democrats, for all their pro-science grandstanding, are very anti-science here.

        • KD says

          Mr. Love, are you saying that egg cells can’t be dead or alive?

          Are you saying an egg cell that comes from a human female is not human?

          If you can have a living, human egg, then an egg is a living human. Its differentiated from mom, its alive, its human. Further, you can purchase such an egg, probably on the internet, so please no gaslighting. In fact, you can probably find some pro-life Jesuit arguing such sales are human trafficking and violate medical ethics.

          Or are you inventing a special language for ideological purposes in which you deny the ordinary attribution of “life” and “human” in the context of human sex cells?

          If so, why would anyone who doesn’t share your ideology want to adopt your Orwellian speech patterns?

          • Klaus C. says

            KD says: “If you can have a living, human egg, then an egg is a living human”

            Bit of a jump from adjective to noun there. By your reasoning, “if you can have a human nose, then a nose is a human.”

            It’s just silly.

      • Sean says

        KD: A sperm cell is not fully human any more than a blood cell or a neuron. In one sense, it is less than human since it only contains half of the genetic information of an actual human organism, unlike neurons and other cells which contain all of them. I think you must be taking the masturbation scene from Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to know About Sex” movie a bit too literally.

        • KD says

          Please, “fully human” is of course loading the conclusion you supposed to be arguing in favor of into your assumptions, and I reject your haploid-phobia. I would say sperm from a human donor is “fully human” in contrast to sperm mixed with other sperm collected from a bull or a chimp. Certainly, I think you could sue the sperm bank if they gave your bull semen or chimp semen on a fraud theory, not sure you would have the same if they provided human sperm (in the absence of more specific representations).

          But of course, a sperm cell is not like a blood cell or a neuron because the later share the same genetic code AND operate together as part of a unified organism. Most males would be concerned about a significant die off of blood cells or neurons, but would not think twice about jettisoning all their spare sperm cells in one encounter if conditions were appropriate.

        • KD says

          A sperm cell is not sensate, but neither is a new embryo.
          A sperm cell is not capable of cognition, but neither is a new embryo.
          A sperm cell is self moving, a new embryo is not even self-moving.
          A sperm cell has no name, a new embryo has no name.
          A sperm cell has no face, a new embryo has no face.
          We have not observed evidence of sperm experiencing pain, nor is their any evidence that an embryo, if immature enough, can experience pain.

          If we unpack “fully human”, I suspect it will turn out to be whatever we want it to be to protect embryos/children at whatever stage we want to protect them at. I don’t see that diploid does it, unless you have some other agenda. The smart pro-life philosophers usually talk about “potential persons” for this reason (e.g. the Pro-Life Democrats Davis Love rails against). We protect embryos out of respect for what they will become, just as we protect human remains out of respect for what they were.

      • Chris says

        Do you know the difference between asexual and sexual reproduction? No human being had ever been produced by just a sperm or just an egg. This kind of argument is such bad faith that it makes it impossible to have a useful discussion.

      • Jim Gorman says

        KD –> Actually a sperm and an egg are each only half-alive/human. They only contain 23 chromosomes and are therefore not capable of reproducing themselves and therefore growing and surviving. Sperm cells don’t even have mitochondria so they are doomed to a short, short life.

        • KD says

          Half alive? Is that like sort-of pregnant?

          If you are only alive because you can reproduce yourself, people born sterile, men after vasectomies, and women post-menopause are all half-alive. Can we kill them too?

          The author is right, its a line drawing game. Drawing the line to include sperm and eggs creates consequences that no one will accept. Drawing the line at conception creates consequences that most people won’t accept. Probably something like 12 weeks as advocated by the author is the reasonable compromise (the embryo is much too human after that for anyone who is not a Nazi or a Communist to dispose of), but America has rule by the Judiciary, not rule by the People, and scree, anything less than ten minutes after birth is Christian Fundamentalists imposing their irrational beliefs on my womb.

          • augustine says

            Sorry, KD, but your writing here is about the worst defense of irrational thinking I’ve seen on this website.

        • D-Rex says

          ‘Sperm cells don’t even have mitochondria’ My God there is so much ignorance of high school level biology here it is astounding! Firstly, sperm have mitochondria just behind the head, on the outside where they can absorb sugar directly from the seminal fluid, secondly, neither the egg or sperm are ‘human’ as they do not contain the genetic information to become a human in their own right. That can only happen after fertilization. Finally, sperm are ‘doomed to a short, short life’ because the female’s body KILLS every sperm it can get its hands on!

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Davis Love

      Thanks, you save me the trouble. I salute Hughes’ effort to be reasonable (he is always reasonable), but the sentence you quote is simply wrong. There is no doubt that a bacterium is life. There is no doubt whatsoever that a fertilized egg is life. Whether it is a person is another question entirely.

  4. Benjamin Perez says

    Great article, Coleman Hughes. My only quibble (if that’s the right word) is your using the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” (for both, at least to me, reek of euphemism). Indeed, I’d prefer if we all used the more straightforward, to-the-point terms pro-legal abortion and anti-legal abortion. (Although, after writing that sentence, I now see that “abortion” might also be a euphemism.) Anyway, again, great article, Coleman Hughes.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Well said.
      Personally, I an anti abortion, but pro-legal abortion, with limits.

    • Bob Morris says

      I agree with Benjamin, though I would add that there are certain points at which I would draw the line on legal abortion.

      Case in point: In the third trimester, I can’t approve of abortion. While I understand that, in the first couple of years after Roe v. Wade, they made exceptions if the woman’s life was in danger, I also understand that it’s now easier to detect, earlier in the pregnancy, if the woman’s life is in danger that I can’t really think of a good reason to make it legal in the third trimester.

      However, that doesn’t mean I accept the “heartbeat detected” argument for when it shouldn’t be legal, because you can detect it in Week 6 when you don’t have a fetus — it’s still an embryo.

      I am fine with drawing the line at 12 weeks, but I can see the argument Mr. Hughes advances about 20 weeks — I just have some reservations based on how the fetus develops in the second trimester (for example, eye movement happens the 16th week and I would argue that eye movement is a sign of consciousness).

  5. Hubert Leigh Smith says

    Must disagree. By far the majority of unwanted pregnancies occur as the result of VOLUNTARY activities. Some are due to errors, some are due to simple carelessness. The innocent life in that woman’s womb rests there entirely blameless. Is it too much to ask that the mother acknowledge the voluntary role she played and carry the child to term to be placed for adoption? If not, the counter-argument comes down to one of convenience – which seems to me to be worth debate.
    Finally, the “rape and incest” argument needs to be seen from two sides. 1. These occurrences are extremely rare. 2. The “life” in the woman’s womb is entirely an innocent one and should, perhaps, be accorded 9 months of duress followed by adoption as an act of charity by the unfortunate woman. True, it would be a monumental demonstration of dedication and courage – but there are women who have (and would) undertake it.

    • the gardner says

      The fear of becoming pregnant was a huge deterrent to having sex before the pill became available. So abstinence at one time was practiced. When AIDS exploded onto the scene and there were no treatments, fear of dying from it ushered in another era of abstinence. It was in fact urged on the gay community. Now, even with lots of readily available contraceptives, unwanted pregnancies still occur, which suggests to me that fear of becoming pregnant is not a big deal because abortions are just so available. Wish this were not so.

      • I recall during the heyday of the AIDS epidemic that the bath houses remained very busy – the men apparently willing to risk death for a few minutes of sex. This pretty much undercut any claim they had to moral “authority” (or a claim on free treatment).

  6. Must disagree. By far the majority of unwanted pregnancies occur as the result of VOLUNTARY activities. Some are due to errors, some are due to simple carelessness. The innocent life in that woman’s womb rests there entirely blameless. Is it too much to ask that the mother acknowledge the voluntary role she played and carry the child to term to be placed for adoption? If not, the counter-argument comes down to one of convenience – which seems to me to be worth debate.
    Finally, the “rape and incest” argument needs to be seen from two sides. 1. These occurrences are extremely rare. 2. The “life” in the woman’s womb is entirely an innocent one and should, perhaps, be accorded 9 months of duress followed by adoption as an act of charity by the unfortunate woman. True, it would be a monumental demonstration of dedication and courage – but there are women who have (and would) undertake it.

    • Just Me says

      Hubert Smith –

      What this omits is any consideration of the ethical considerations on the other side, i.e. the woman’s.

      For whatever reason, she finds herself in the situation where her body has been, in some sense, hijacked by an entity which will use it for its own purposes, which are not hers, unlike in a wanted pregnancy.

      It will transform her body drastically, for nine months and permanently, in a way that is often risky and dangerous. It will be extremely painful for her to give birth and maybe months afterwards.

      Women choose to take these risks and make these sacrifices when they choose to have a baby, but when they do not, these happen against her will, and must be experienced like a cancer taking over your body in a horrific way.

      Then there is the consequences of giving birth, i.e. either giving up the baby for adoption after all this, with those emotional costs, knowing it is out there, or having your life go in a completely different direction from what you had planned.

      It can then be seen as legitimate self-defence for the woman to refuse to let her body and life be taken over in this way, whoever it is doing the taking over, for whatever reason, innocent or not.

      • Contrarian says

        Just as a thought exercise – suppose that 100 years from now we have the technical capacity to “transfer” a fetus/embryo from an unwilling mother to a willing one, as in a gestational carrier. Lets further suppose that medical technology has progressed to the point where this procedure has minimal risks/discomfort for the mothers and embryo/fetus.

        Comments/thoughts on this hypothetical scenario? Would the remaining emotional distress of having an undesired biological offspring out there in the world still be sufficient reason for abortion?
        I guess my question really is whether the biological mother to be has absolute and sole authority over the fetus, potential person-to-be, because it is totally dependent on her for survival. As the author detailed, there are no easy answers.

        • Michael says

          Forgive my ignorance, but is this not already medically possible? I believe the transfer of an embryo into a third-party’s womb happens in cases where a woman is able to conceive but not gestate – for instance, because her womb suffers an abnormality. However, this is in vitro to uterus. I’m not sure if it’s been carried out uterus to uterus.

          Of course, the distinction is that this procedure is voluntary. I expect that forcing a person to submit to embryo extraction would contravene bodily autonomy laws. However, it’s not inconceivable that charitable organisations would exist, perhaps Faith-based, who would offer surrogates for unwanted embryos. And, in future, offer artificial womb technology might be used to gestate embryos in the case that a woman doesn’t want to have the baby, but holds pro-life views.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Just me

        I can see your point. But I find it very interesting that the very sort of people who are very keen on always putting others before self become strident individualists where pregancy is concerned.
        I understand that to a woman pregnacy is a frightening thing. I understand that many will not like the idea of expereincing nine months of pain and discomfort for no reward at the end after facing the tortures of childbirtth. However, I still find it sad that with easy abortion, few women will consider making the sacrifice to bring new life into the world, and pass on their genes. We are thus seeing a cheapening of the value of human life. That’s why the birthrate is sinking, and we have to import people from poorer cultures to keep our population high enough to feed the welfare maw.
        A recent study in the US has found that conservative religious women are far happier emotionally and sexually than the so-called liberated feminists. I suspect that is because the feminists invest so much of themselves in being disgruntled with men. This makes them miserable. I also suspect that the conservative womenare happier because they don’t have to make the choice about abortion.

      • “It will transform her body drastically, for nine months and permanently, in a way that is often risky and dangerous. It will be extremely painful for her to give birth and maybe months afterwards.” Yes, this is the traditional “it’s just too much trouble” argument. I think my reasoning suggests it can be trumped – morally and ethically.

      • “It will transform her body drastically, for nine months and permanently, in a way that is often risky and dangerous. It will be extremely painful for her to give birth and maybe months afterwards.” This is the traditional, “It’s just too much trouble” argument. I would hope that brave women with deep character could see the pressing moral and ethical need to allow the life to enter this earth and grow.

      • That is a pretty risible argument! “Giving her baby up for adoptions is emotionally painful.”
        Tick … tick … tick … does that mean allowing a “clump of cells with a heartbeat” IS NOT emotionally painful? However, we know it is. Extremely,

    • Tom USA says

      Many abortions are the result of careless slutty behavior. Is this a good filter for the next generation? I am 100% for abortion if the child has some genetic defect like fragile-x, down, etc. Suck it up and abort, making the next generation best possible, that is what matters the most. Reset, maximize health/epagenetics as much as possible and reload.

  7. Alan Gore says

    The abortion policy dumpster fire is what we get when we politicize an issue that is supposed to be about secular moral judgement informed by scientific knowledge. Because politics deals in absolutes, the “life” position is that full human rights begin at conception, and if you trawl through fundamentalist discussion boards you will see an increasing amount of sentiment for banning birth control too. Meanwhile, the “choice” position holds that the fetus does not gain any human rights until the moment of birth. This, from the same people who are so concerned about the rights of the lowliest beetle on a construction site.

    Majority polled public opinion is that the morality of a given abortion depends on how far along the pregnancy is, weighed against the reason for aborting. This viewpoint is not represented by Life or Choice because it doesn’t represent the kind of convenient absolute faith that both these political tribes stick to.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Alan Gore

      “This, from the same people who are so concerned about the rights of the lowliest beetle on a construction site.”

      Ain’t it the truth? A logger mustn’t fell a tree in the spring when there might be a bird’s nest in it, that would be murder. And an actual mass murderer must be kept alive because executing him would be murder too, and we don’t sanction murder, do we? But terminating an old lady when the local doctor decides she no longer has any quality of life, that’s probably fine, and of course terminating a baby that is in the act of being delivered is also fine — it’s just a cluster of cells after all. But notice that after it’s born, that kid may not be spanked, that would be abuse.

    • asdf says

      “Majority polled public opinion is that the morality of a given abortion depends on how far along the pregnancy is, weighed against the reason for aborting.”

      Correct. We can phrase it another way.

      “What does getting this particular abortion say about you?”

      “What does approving/disapproving, allowing/not allowing a particular abortion say about society?”

      When a non-teenager who more or less (with whatever difficulties) can raise a child aborts the child for personal selfish reasons…we see them as being a bad person. We think a society that doesn’t bat an eye at such a thing to be a bad society.

      If the mothers health is at risk we understand that it doesn’t reflect badly on her or society to have an abortion.

      There is also the issue of how this person became pregnant in the first place (had unprotected sex when they shouldn’t have). Naturally, we disapprove of such recklessness.

      If a woman is raped we know there was no sexual immorality that caused the issue, so we don’t care.

      With resources, one is torn. Nearly every single human being in all of history was way poorer then even people living under the poverty line today…but they all tried to have like eight kids. And when some died to disease or starvation they had more kids. So I think it is an issue but I don’t think its a slam dunk excuse.

    • asdf says

      “The first scenario pits a world with N people against a world with N+1 people. But the second scenario pits a world with N+1 people against a slightly better world, also with N+1 people—a world in which a mother is better able to provide for her child.”

      If someone intending to have a child aborts because they have Down Syndrome, but then goes on to have three healthy kids they raise well, we probably think of them (or should think of them) as pro-life. In fact if having the Down Syndrome kid would have meant they would not have had the resources for the three healthy kids, then the Down Syndrome scenario is one with less life.

      By contrast, imagine a woman who aborts a normal healthy fetus that resulted from casual sex. She was capable of providing for it, but decides not to since she intends to live out her life as a childless UMC consumer career woman. That person isn’t “pro-life”, and they seem to have murdered another human being for shallow reasons.

      How much of this “abortion” issue could be solved by a return to a conception of the good life where certain decisions are seen as worthy of social shame. Isn’t that what we are talking about here. Of letting everyone know that casual ending of a life for bad reasons is wrong. That the avoidable reckless creation of life only to snuff it out for selfish reasons is wrong.

      • asdf: I am disappointed in you suggesting a Downs child is not worthy of life. People can scare up resources to have lots of kids if they choose, and the notion that economics justify killing an innocent fetus seems pretty hard hearted.

  8. Shai Landesman says

    Where would your stated position of drawing the line at 12 weeks put you on the spectrum of opinion in the US today?

    • JWatts says

      To the Right of the stated position of the Democratic Party, and to the Left of the stated position of the Republican party. So Centrist, but effectively a little to the Right.

  9. Kevin says

    Thanks for the article, and I hope people can discuss it rationally. There are a few things said here that are not true concerning the pro-life argument. The first is this:

    “On the other side of the debate (the pro-life side) lies an equally bad argument, namely that life or personhood begins at conception because science says so. ”

    This statement equivocates life and personhood. That a new life begins at conception is a biological fact. That is a different concept from personhood. I understand the purpose of the argument here, but that equivocation clouds the discussion, and terms are important. A new, live, entity is created at the moment of conception. Personhood is another issue.

    “Second, there are no objective lines on offer to begin with. Although drawing bright lines at conception and birth may offer the appearance of clarity (to pro-lifers and pro-choicers respectively), ethically speaking, both moments are arbitrary.”

    On the contrary, neither are arbitrary. They are defined events within an entities existence. “12 weeks”, following the example, is far more arbitrary than either birth or conception.

    “The fallacy many pro-lifers commit, however, is to ascribe infinite value”

    Some do, and they should be called on their fallacy (I personally have called out others). But a pro-life argument does not depend on an infinite value, nor should it. No finite thing can give infinite value to another finite thing. It doesn’t matter how valuable it is, it is not infinite. Sometimes, though, I think that pro-lifers conflate “infinite” with “immeasurable”.

    The pro-life position is based on something far more fundamental than these assertions. I argue that there is only one arbitrary assertion in the pro-life argument and that is the existence of a right to life, itself. It’s not truly arbitrary, but generally it’s assumed.

    The argument is thus (or some variation on this theme):

    A right to life exists
    The right to life is inherent in the individual (i.e. it is not “bestowed” by another (though, perhaps, it could be passed))
    At what point is there an event that satisfies both premise 1 and 2?

    Conception is clearly an option if #2 is true. Birth is also an option. But the problem with birth is that if the right to life is inherent in the individual, what change has occurred via the birthing process that satisfactorily instantiates this right to life? Does passing through the birth canal bestow this right? Does connectedness to the birth mother through the umbelical cord do it? What part of the birth condition that causes the child’s right to life to finally supercede the mother’s right to her body? There are a number of thought experiments that I won’t get into here that show that using birth to sufficiently account for the instantiation or superceding of the right to life yields a number of problems.

    But what about consciousness and a 12 week limit? That is a very difficult argument to make. What is the level of consciousness that instantiates a right to life? I have read that crows have a reasoning ability rivaling a 7 year old. Thank goodness my youngest just turned 8. So if it is not consciousness, itself, we need to then fall back onto either human or potential consciousness. Neither of those yield positive consequences for the pro-choice argument.

    If we believe that a right to life exists, and that right to life has a sufficient explanation for it, then we should be able to account for it. Conception is the only event where we currently have a clear and definite answer. That is because it is a change in the ontological nature of the entity in question. Neural activity, itself, does not. The same goes for consciousness.

    IMHO, that is the strongest argument in favor of a pro-life perspective. That if a right to life is inherent in an individual then there must be a defined change in the nature, itself, of the child. And we know of only one event where this occurs.

    Could it be something else? Sure. But unless that “something” can provide a sufficient accounting of the spontaneous generation of an inherent right to life in a given individual we are left defaulting to the one thing that we already know can.

    • Frank Knarf says

      Perhaps all legal policy issues should be settled by high functioning autistics.

  10. Chris says

    There is an obvious and easy answer here but many people just don’t like it so they make up something to justify what they want. When does life/personhood begin is not a conceptual question, it is a made up one that has no basis in science, ethics or morality. It is question we have made up to justify certain kinds of killing. Perhaps it has some relevance when a (former) person is being kept alive artificially but that is because the person is only being kept alive by artificial means. But even then the real issue is the life or death of the brain and the probability of restoring the human being to staying alive by natural means, it is not really about “personhood”. Outside of that – abortion, death penalty, war, etc – the notion has no meaning or application because the human beings in the other side are naturally alive and therefore by definition human life. The ethics of killing in those circumstances should have very different justifications rather than a hypothetical made up question that we can’t really answer.

    Frankly, we are getting in very scary ground ethical when we believe a human life is a cost we should weigh against other costs that are not also human lives – this is part of the calculation in the death penalty for murder and war or abortion when the life (the actual breathing life not some philosophical conception of life and happiness) of the mother is legitimately threaten What is more valuable than human life. Coleman does nothing to really discuss this or weigh it but simply asserts it should not be “infinite” but this opens the door to terrible abuses and justification of all kinds of atrocities. If you enter into this analysis the presumption has to be very high if not infinite.

    • KD says

      In warfare, men happily sacrifice human lives in order to gain glory, territory, and booty, and sometimes merely for the sake of honor. Further, you either have strong states capable of pacifying territory, imposing laws, and resisting would-be invaders (accomplished through warfare) or you have a situation like Somalia. So saying war is immoral-which might be true-doesn’t really accomplish very much on the practical level. You can’t have ethics without a peaceful civil order maintained by a strong state (else the ethicists become the prey population for the non-ethicists), and you can’t have a strong state without it becoming strong through warfare. I suppose this opens the door to terrible abuses and justification of all kinds of atrocities, but its also why history is history and utopian moral schemes are utopian moral schemes.

      • “In warfare, men happily sacrifice human lives in order to gain glory, territory, and booty, and sometimes merely for the sake of honor.”

        “happily”? What a ridiculous thing to say. Soldiers neither take not sacrifice their own lives “happily”. You’re thinking of serial killers.

    • Just Me says

      Coleman made a very cogent argument using speed limits. We already do not have infinite limits on the value of human life. What is our answer to that? Should we make cars going over 10 miles per hour illegal to save human lives?

      There are always other considerations besides saving human lives.

  11. Lawrence Steele says

    I’m perplexed by people who try to define life as being the relevant metric. Cells are either alive or dead, so sperm and eggs are ‘alive’ before they’ve ever come in contact and have the potential to develop into a human being. So what? Potential is abundant in the universe, life is abundant on earth. In my estimation, you need to have an opinion on what makes human life special to be able to have a reasoned position on abortion. My view is that human consciousness/sentience is the key thing that distinguishes us – certainly not our hearts. If we could communicate with another entity in a way that allowed us to ascertain it possessed sentience then I would immediately advocate granting ‘human rights’ (really sentient rights) to that entity and reasoning out where the dividing line is when potential to develop sentience earns those rights for its species. I expect at some point (possibly not for centuries) we will be at this point with artificial intelligence. Thus humans are not special, we are simply the only sentient species we have encountered. Consciousness is my red line (20 weeks) and I’m fairly resistant to going beyond 12 weeks in practice because of human variability (20 weeks is unlikely to be the exact point for every fetus), measurement error (when exactly did conception occur), and implementation issues (maybe the doctor is all booked up and your appointment slips a couple days). Exceptions for the safety of the mother are in (a realized sentience trumps a not independent proto-sentience), but exceptions for rape or incest that go beyond the 12 week mark are out.

    If I were to be more strict on the sentience question (e.g. sentience must be demonstrated – problematic given the existence of living human states where this isn’t satisfied) I would fall back on when the life can survive independently (i.e. when the fetus has a 50% chance of surviving independent of the mother). Since this is mediated by technology, at some point this will be stricter than the consciousness date.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Lawrence Steele

      “Since this is mediated by technology, at some point this will be stricter than the consciousness date.”

      An anecdote: My niece Lil’T delivered Miss P. by cesarean when she was just at the very limit of what can be kept alive. She fit in the palm of your hand. Now, imagine if, coming out of anesthesia and being shown her baby, Lil’T had said: “Oh, sorry, didn’t I make it clear that I wanted her aborted? Please terminate her.” In that case Miss P’s existence would have been a mistake, an error. Should it be corrected? She was not viable except by heroic means. Since a hysterotomy abortion normally involves killing the baby after it is parted from the female, why quibble about the fact that Miss P. had since been placed in a critical care incubator? Miss P. was not wanted.

      BTW, she’s a perfectly healthy teenager now. But she is handicapped insofar as she looks a bit like her dad ; – ) (Sorry Kurt).

    • Dzoldzaya says

      I don’t really understand your viewpoint. Do you think that meaningful sentience that differentiates us from non-human animals could start at 12 weeks?

      Both you and Coleman seem to be using the term consciousness a bit loosely. I read the link in the article, and the conclusion was that 25 weeks after conception (not 20 weeks, not sure where he got that figure from), the foetus acquires what the authors call ‘the capacity for consciousness’, meaning neural capacity for complex operations, not consciousness itself. However, even if consciousness could be measured in this way, this claim seems unpersuasive, because it uses ideas like ‘pain perception’ to determine this capacity for consciousness, which even insect embryos demonstrate. I suspect that primate embryos are functionally indistinguishable from human embryos before 25 weeks.

      If I were to draw the line at a time when an infant evidently has a level of consciousness distinguishing it from most non-human animals, I would guess at about 2 years after birth.

  12. Ray Andrews says

    And then there’s my greasy and detestable view that no law should be passed that cannot be practically enforced, nor should any law be passed that does not have the assent of the majority. As I was arguing with DB, Prohibition seemed at the time like a moral law, but it could not be enforced and it did not have the assent of the majority. It was therefore flouted, and it is dangerous to flout the law because it sets a precedent — if I can flout a bad law, then maybe I can also flout a good one. The result was rampant crime. The law should not be an ass. Better if unenforceable laws are removed from the books. Better if the authorities do not try to enforce laws that the populace does not agree with. Thus it seems that a strong majority of Americans — and probably in most of the civilized world — understand that abortion at term is plain murder, but that, OTOH, trying to stop a woman from taking a morning after pill is unreasonable and impractical. When we have conflicting moral certainties, the only way out is practical compromise. I myself like the ‘heartbeat’ test. It gives us a clean line, and the law likes clean lines.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I like your point about flouting the law. But I think that argument also applies to flouting moral principles. If we make abortion normal we are in effect flouting the principle that human life is sacred. Maybe eventually we will come to the conclusion that babies can be killed, after all they have no abiility to survive without the help of others.
      I often wonder whether nature, knowing that humans have the capability of making the planet an unihabitable mess has developed left wing idiocy to prevent the more advanced society’s from getting too well developed. That’s why nature has thrown up more and more ”deviants” (i.e. those who flout naturae, such as feminists, homos, trannies and lefties) whose social success is contributing to the decline of the western birthrates and western culture.

      • Ray Andrews says

        @Peter from Oz

        ” But I think that argument also applies to flouting moral principles.”

        Probably. My stance above does not even presume to be the best of all possible worlds, merely the least worst of all worlds that might be actually attained. Is it not the case that utopias always end up as hells? It seems to me that the absolute morality of the choicers does lead to infanticide (we’ve seen this in Virginia and New York) and the absolute morality of the life-at-conception people would force a 12 year old incest/rape victim to give birth to a baby known to be defective. Both absolute moralities loose touch with simple humanity and the prohibitionist side is unworkable as well. So dropping the pretense of absolute morality might make it possible to come up with something that works. Or not. I admit that it’s a tricky idea.

        “has developed left wing idiocy to prevent the more advanced society’s from getting too well developed”

        “whose social success is contributing to the decline of the western birthrates and western culture”

        It would seem so. Have you ever seen this quote of Malcolm Muggeridge:

        “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over–a weary, battered old brontosaurus–and became extinct.”

  13. Greg Lorriman says

    At least the author acknowledges the nonsense of “it’s my body” which is an instant argument loss. But the author is wrong about pro-life reasoning.

    “On the other side of the debate lies an equally bad argument, namely that life or personhood begins at conception because science says so.”

    Er, no. Most pro-lifers believe in a soul and that’s what informs their belief about conception. This is primarily an argument between religious believers and non-believers.

    Any reference to science is purely for the sake of respectability, and I believe a mistake. But also the author has created a conflation: life OR personhood. Human life unequivocally starts at conception, and no one needs science to tell us that. Whether it has personhood is the critical question. (Or at least, what God thinks about it all.)

    For a religious person, the answer is, ‘yes probably’ it has personhood at conception. And for many religious persons, especially Christians, it is ‘certainly’. While there has historically been debate on the timing of the ‘infusion of the soul’ (ie, thought to have been about the time of the quickening), there isn’t much today. Conception is a concrete moment in any case, and since this is a doubt on a life or death matter, conception it is.

    “The fallacy many pro-lifers commit, however, is to ascribe infinite value to that cost, such that it cannot be weighed against any number of concerns on the other side.”

    This is also wrong. Pro-lifers generally believe that the unborn is a person just as much as an adult. Even with the capability to know God, which is mandatory for Christians due to the nature of baptism (union with God).

    The value of the unborn is the same as the born, in other words. No need for an appeal to infinity to do your dubious abortion calculus. And if a religious person is not willing to involuntarily euthanise adults then neither would they be willing to abort the unborn.

    What this argument really comes down to is atheist presumption. Most people are not atheists, most of the world believes in a supreme being, and most monotheisms define their respective supreme beings the same way. Personal, uncompromisingly loving, rigorously just, but also merciful (to the merciful).

    As with any other laws, this situation strongly mandates that the benefit of the doubt should be given to life, as it is in any other life or death question.

    Meanwhile, we await the long time coming proof from our atheist brethren that there is no god. And no, Stephen Hawking provided no such thing, even to abusing Occam’s Razor in his absurd argument against a god.

    • Greg Lorriman says

      Dawkins “There is an infinitesimal likelihood of a god”. Sure, but where’s the math? There is none. It’s just his personal opinion.

      Dawkins “Who made God?” His best argument.

      This was answered by Thomas Aquinas centuries ago. Is Dawkins ignorant or deceiving us? There is a thing whose nature is existence itself, hoped by physicists to be captured in a grand theory of everything equation, and it logically exists of itself. It is self-referencing. So the real question is not “Is there a God” but since self-referencing is the nature of the self-aware, “is this ‘existence’ thing self-aware?”.

      Several hundreds of millions if not billions of people can tell you that it is. And many from direct contact, person to person.

      Faith as “belief without evidence” is an atheist redefinition and is BS; thanks for that Bertrand Russell. All Berty had to do was ask “God, do you exist? And please explain the suffering of the innocent [which I believe to be the main motive of disbelief, not science]”. What an idiot. Even a simpleton would think to do that.

      So this is a reasonable basis for a god, along with a cloud of witnesses, even if they can’t prove it. But then only the God itself is actual proof, no? And it’s willing to reveal itself if people would make the effort. And I can tell you it’s a short hop from existence being self-aware to a trinity, a god of love and a heaven and a hell (for those that willingly reject the goodness of God).

      And no, most religions are not exclusivist and do acknowledge each other. Even the stuffy old Catholic Church teaches explicitly that God has manifested in most other monotheisms.

      Meanwhile, the inventor of the Big Bang theory was a Catholic physicist who then became a priest, along with a papl award by a very pleased Pope, and the father of modern genetics was a monk. So the Catholic Church, which is not biblical literalist, has no issue with the science.

      • S.Cheung says

        “There is a thing whose nature is existence itself”
        —you don’t need god to exist; and “existence” doesn’t need a god, nor does any particulate matter in the universe.

        “So this is a reasonable basis for a god, along with a cloud of witnesses, even if they can’t prove it”
        —but it is NOT a reasonable basis, since you haven’t established that existence requires a god of any type. And as you even directly state, that’s not proof. If it only “reveals itself if people …make the effort”, that’s not proof…that’s the product of delusion. People see things they WANT to see, and think it’s real. And no doubt that delusion is encouraged and perpetuated on an industrial scale by organized religion. It’s certainly sad, but also certainly not proof.

        • Ray Andrews says


          “you haven’t established that existence requires a god of any type”

          No, he hasn’t, but what Aquinas showed is that the ‘where did God come from’ problem isn’t really a problem any different from the ‘where did the universe come from’ problem — they are almost identical. Something just IS. Yet the two hypotheses are not exactly the same and we can find reasons to prefer one or the other. For example Quantum Mechanics strongly favors God, since QM demonstrates the primacy of the observer. and it is obvious that the Observer who collapsed the first quantum wave, thus sparking the Big Bang, is the Observer that we call God. Other reasons to like the God hypothesis are quite numerous, and of course there are also reasons to dislike it. Most prominent being that he keeps himself so hidden, and seems oblivious to suffering. It can be discussed rationally, however insults achieve nothing.

          • S.Cheung says

            “where did god come from” absolutely differs from “where did universe come from”. The universe exists; the presumption of god’s existence is unsubstantiated.

            I reject the notion that existence requires a god. The notion is nonsensical, but based on Greg’s own reasoning, since i haven’t looked very hard and haven’t found any sign of a god, how is it that I exist?

            It’s fine to have a God hypothesis. But unless and until that hypothesis is substantiated, in a testable and 3rd-party-confirmable fashion, I’m going to keep accepting the null on that one.

            Of course, this is all tangential to the topic of the OP. But to base any opinion on abortion upon everything that stems from an unproven hypothesis is of zero persuasive value. I don’t suggest you are doing this; in fact you expressly don’t. But Greg sure does, and it doesn’t get him very far.

          • Ray Andrews says


            Good Morning S:

            “The universe exists; the presumption of god’s existence is unsubstantiated.”

            Many things that we now consider to exist were at one time unsubstantiated. Does space-time exist? It is invisible and said to be everywhere. Dark Energy? Yes, the universe exists, but what is it’s ultimate nature? Can you be so sure that unsubstantiated things might not yet be substantiated one day? If God exists, then he is a property of reality and we have zero a priori reason to tell the universe what it’s ultimate nature is. The God hypothesis should be viewed with the same sort of detachment that we view Dark Matter — both unproven, but both possibly valid explanations for deep puzzles.

            “I reject the notion that existence requires a god.”

            How do you know what the universe requires? I sure don’t.

            “But unless and until that hypothesis is substantiated, in a testable and 3rd-party-confirmable fashion, I’m going to keep accepting the null on that one.”

            That’s reasonable, but I’m not sure that ‘testable’ in the test tube sense is realistic. Still there are various experiments that demonstrate the need for consciousness and as I said, before life evolved (or was created as you prefer), who/where/what was that consciousness?

            “But to base any opinion on abortion upon everything that stems from an unproven hypothesis is of zero persuasive value.”

            Ok, but all thinking people have some sort of moral foundation which they take to be axiomatic — unprovable but true. Religious people take it as axiomatic that life is sacred. Hitler took it as axiomatic that the Master Race was sacred and that anything in its way was to be destroyed. PolPot took it as axiomatic that individuals are nothing and that only the achievement of the worker’s paradise meant anything. The modern progressive takes it as axiomatic that wiminz choice is sacred and that she can always do just whatever she wants, and if this means killing a crying baby after a botched abortion, then that’s her choice. Dr. Gosnell was and is a champion of choice. All of these views stem from unproven and unprovable hypotheses.

          • Frank Knarf says

            Copenhagen is not the only interpretive metaphysics for quantum theory.

          • S.Cheung says

            “Can you be so sure that unsubstantiated things might not yet be substantiated one day?”

            I am not at all sure of what may be substantiated tomorrow. But I do know what was substantiated yesterday, and what has been substantiated up until today. And “god” isn’t on that list. That in no way excludes that possibility at some future point…which is why I always say that Jordan Petersen’s position on this issue is still scientifically valid. But whereas he comes across as fairly neutral on that possibility, and perhaps even hopeful, I am decidedly pessimistic, and would not bet on it.

            IF “god” exists, and he/she is as all-knowing as perceived in people’s imaginations, then the “nature” of the “universe” will be exactly as he/she deems it to be. But until he/she can sustain his/her own hypothesis, that consideration is nothing more than navel-gazing to pass the time.

            “How do you know what the universe requires? I sure don’t.”
            I don’t know what the universe “requires” either, though my suspicion is “nothing”…cuz it simply is. But I was talking about the notion of “existence”…which does not require a god. For instance, I would be exhibit A for the absence of such need.

            I don’t mean “testable” in the literal lab-bench sense. But I do mean testable in the scientific sense, such that it is rooted a little more in reality, as opposed to, for example, this: “So we know God exists as a matter of proven fact, that proof given to the individual” (which Greg said earlier if you scroll up on this thread). If “god” only exists between your ears, that’s about the same as a schizophrenic with his hallucinations.

            “Religious people take it as axiomatic that life is sacred.”
            Some atheists also feel that life is sacred…and some of them have commented to that effect on this thread and others. WHich means that the personal moral judgement that “life is sacred” requires no religious input, as it can be arrived at in the complete absence of religion. I view people, who via reason come to that moral judgement, favorably, because they’ve exercised their own personal reasoning. I am less enamored by those who come to that position via indoctrination alone.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          @s.Cheung “—but it is NOT a reasonable basis, since you haven’t established that existence requires a god of any type.”

          You’ve got this the wrong way around.

          I am saying that the properties of ‘existence’ suggest a god. Existence is logically self-referencing, and that is the fundamental property of self-awareness.

          The only way I can think of to undermine this argument, to help you out here, is to insist that existence is merely an abstraction that is being elevated beyond its station. But that is a serious stretch.

          Let’s also think about self-awareness for a moment. Self-awareness is not a matter of matter. Even if it were found in matter, self-awareness is not matter. But yet it exists. Even more so than 1+1=2. So even here we have an abstraction that yet concretely exists, and you are your own proof it.

          • S.Cheung says

            “I am saying that the properties of ‘existence’ suggest a god.”

            What properties might those be? And a “suggestion” is not proof; it might be sufficient for you to formulate a hypothesis. But you’re still back at square zero.

            You reference “existence” as though it’s 1999 and you just saw The Matrix. Self-awareness only requires neuronal synapses and higher cortical function.

          • Ray Andrews says


            “Self-awareness only requires neuronal synapses and higher cortical function.”

            That’s a faith statement. You like proven hypotheses? Fine then, prove that consciousness comes from matter. If you are a communicant of the church of materialism, then it is dogma that consciousness comes from matter. But it is difficult to help any true believer understand that the dogma cannot prove itself:

            “Where does consciousness come from?”
            “From matter an energy and synapses.”
            “Are you sure? There are so many lines of evidence that it might be more than that.”
            “No, it’s just matter and energy because matter and energy is all that there is.”
            “How do you know?”
            “We know because anything else is not science.”
            “Well, you define it that way, but how do you know that’s the best definition?”
            “Because we reject superstition.”
            “But if there was more to the universe than matter and energy then that would be a fact and not a superstition.”
            “We see no evidence of such things.”
            “Ah, but you reject all such evidence because you’ve already decided that it can’t exist.”
            “Yes, because there is nothing besides matter and energy.”
            …. and so on.

          • Frank Knarf says

            Whatever it is, it is located in your brain and not in your left arm. Which seems sort of materialish.

          • S.Cheung says

            “That’s a faith statement. You like proven hypotheses? Fine then, prove that consciousness comes from matter.”

            Fair enough. But to do so, we need definitions. For instance, Greg has yet to define “existence” and its properties. But he’s the antithesis of science, so that’s par for course.

            I submit that being “self””aware” is to be able to respond to the environment, to be able to interact with that environment, to be able to perceive stimuli, to be able to respond appropriately to that stimuli, and to be able convey that sequence of events to a third party observer.

            Now hook me up to an EEG, slide me into a fMRI brain scanner, ask me questions in a language I understand, and allow me to answer in a language you understand. And have Greg in the room beside you.

            You will have, on record, me demonstrating self awareness. You will have contemporaneous EEG data demonstrating my brain electrical activity. You will have fMRI imaging data demonstrating where my cortex was activity to generate that activity to answer your question.

            Next, find someone who is braindead. Do the same test. You will find no responses, to go with no brain waves, and no visible brain activity.

            So far, you have the correlation of higher cortical function to self-awareness/consciousness. Granted, that’s not causation…which is harder. And in this realm, much harder to do since you need randomization to prove causation.

            So my next suggestion is to sample a large group of comatose patients, who will serve as their own controls. Test while comatose. Hopefully, many of them will wake up and regain consciousness/awareness. Test again at that point. You will be able to demonstrate, and quantify, the change in level of awareness/consciousness will the level of brain electrical activity and the extent of cortical functional activity.

            You now have proof that cortical function causes, allows for, and/or is a material prerequisite of consciousness/self awareness. Obviously this is beyond crude from a science methodology standpoint, but this isn’t a grant application. And this has limitations, in that it does not exclude other possible avenues at arriving at that same consciousness/awareness. So I can’t say matter is the only way; but I can prove that matter gets you there. If you want to postulate some other means for arriving at awareness/consciousness, you are welcome to do so…then go and prove it.

            You may also say I rigged the definition into something I knew I could prove…and you’d be right. But that’s also my point. Folks like Greg trot out words that have no meaning. It’s just the warmed fuzziness one gets from prolonged and intensive navel-gazing.

    • S.Cheung says

      “Meanwhile, we await the long time coming proof from our atheist brethren that there is no god.”

      You try this every time, so at least I have to give you credit for predictably banging your head on the same door over and over again.

      But if you say there IS a god, the burden is on you to prove it. And please, something other than the circular citation of scriptures this time please.

      • Ray Andrews says


        ” the burden is on you to prove it”

        That’s probably what most fair minded people would conclude. God seems absent, if I yet maintain that he exists, then I should adduce evidence. Still, the fair minded do note the spectacular absence of really satisfying answers to the Big Questions that do not involve God, and the absolute lack of any evidence that he does NOT exist — such evidence is in theory possible. It is a fallacy that negative proofs do not exist. As for me, I extrapolate my logic and my belief in the utility of science to try to see what those might reveal. For example the tried and trusty Occam’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is to be preferred. Thus, if I play 20 royal flushes in a row, yes, it could be chance, but few would believe that, and most folks would say that it is very likely that I’m cheating and they’d almost certainly be correct.

        • Ray Andrews says

          Sorry, mistake above: I should not say ‘absolute lack of evidence’ I should say ‘absolute lack of hard proof’. There is very much soft evidence that God does not exist, eg. the Problem of Evil.

          • S.Cheung says

            no doubt, there are many things that science today still cannot answer. That number was larger yesterday; it will likely be smaller tomorrow. But it will not be zero, most likely ever. The solution is to acknowledge “I don’t know” when the situation requires. To me, “god” is just the convenient construct (of human source, btw) that is marketed as the-answer-to-all-things-that-cannot-be-answered. Such an “answer” is useless to me…and I’d instead just wait to see what we might learn tomorrow.

            I’m a big fan of Occam…but “god” is hardly a “simple” explanation to me, when it purports to be the answer to all people, for all things, at all times. In this case, I’d rather prefer Hitchen’s Razor too.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @ S.Cheung

            “The solution is to acknowledge “I don’t know” when the situation requires.”

            You’re an honest guy. Others presume they know how the universe works. They are too full of themselves.

            “god” is just the convenient construct (of human source, btw) that is marketed as the-answer-to-all-things-that-cannot-be-answered”

            He can be used that way. This is the ‘God of the gaps’ trope. But consider the Diesel engine. We do not laugh at people who believe that Rudolph Diesel invented the engine named after him do we? We do not snicker at the ‘Doktor Diesel of the gaps’ do we? Nor do we look for a way to explain the Diesel engine as evolving naturally. The Diesel engine was intelligently designed, wasn’t it? So yes, God can be the lazy explanation, or, nuts, maybe the correct explanation for some things after all.

            “I’m a big fan of Occam…but “god” is hardly a “simple” explanation”

            That’s a huge problem. Is God simpler or more difficult than believing that the universe popped into existence from nothing, nowhere, never, and just by chance had exactly the properties needed to make life possible? It seems that it is not an exaggeration to say that life won the lottery 20 times in a row. Chance? I don’t think Occam would agree.

            ” I’d rather prefer Hitchen’s Razor too.”

            Agreed. The burden is on the theists.

      • Greg Lorriman says

        @s. Cheung “And please, something other than the circular citation of scriptures this time please.”

        ? I have never provided circular citation of scriptures.

        A god could hypothetically prove its own existence to you, right? And only the god itself would be actual proof of itself, right?

        Atheists also make an assertion, that there is no god. And they call religious persons deluded, proving they really believe that. Not just a lack of belief, as some of them claim to avoid being called irrational (since they don’t have proof, after all, so their belief is not rational).

        If an atheist is going to demand proof of me then in their turn they must provide proof also to substantiate their assertion.

        So while a religious person might posses proof of a god, that doesn’t mean they can give it to another, but so what when that other can get the proof for themselves “God, if you exist please reveal yourself to me”. Kinda obvious, huh? Atheism is often a case of negligence to do the obvious, and persevere a bit.

        • Greg Lorriman says

          @s. Cheung “But if you say there IS a god, the burden is on you to prove it. ”

          I don’t say there IS a god, rather that I personally know God.

          Rather the burden of proof is for atheists to prove their assertion that there is no god, and that what we claim to know as fact is delusion, and let’s remind ourselves that a god could hypothetically prove its own existence to those individuals it chooses (ie, those who make the effort).

          It would perhaps be more obvious if EVERYONE else in the world were religious. Then the atheist would be compelled to revisit their belief that there is no god. Only if the rest were plainly contradicting themselves would be it be reasonable to think that you might be the only sane person and that they were all hallucinating.

          But the only arguments from contradiction that come near to working derive from ‘free-will’ and they are always too simplistic in asserting the requirements of free will vs an omnipotent god. Ie, asserting that a god not being able to do X or Y due to free will is therefore not omnipotent, but yet a god going against freewill would be a type of nonsense not a thing at all. It’s absurd to say of a god that it isn’t omnipotent because it can’t floblip a bipblob (those are made up words to create a nonsense).

          There are too many believers in the world claiming to personally know a god and not merely claiming to ‘believe’. And almost all the monotheisms define their supreme beings the same way, ie, it’s the same god. While this isn’t proof, it is evidence of either a phenomenon of mass delusion……or a god.

          Agnosticism is reasonable (in its “I withhold judgement” form), but atheism is not reasonable since you lack proof.

          The wonderful irony is that from the agnostic perspective:

          A)religious people are rational is there is a god, since it could hypothetically prove itself to an individual
          B)atheists are irrational whether or not there is a god.

          The fact that atheist belief is irrational should logically compel an atheist to revisit their position and at least acknowledge that they are half-way mad whether or not they are right.

          Meanwhile, at least one religion, Christianity, fully addresses the problem of the suffering of the innocent. I reckon the idea of an unjust god is one of the primary causes of atheism.

          • S.Cheung says

            “I don’t say there IS a god, rather that I personally know God.”

            Thanks to Quillette’s unusual reply button system, I’m not sure where this comment will end up on the scroll, but I’m hoping it’s close to my other response just now, which was to your comment just prior to this one.

            And I can’t object to the god you personally know, since I can’t speak for you, and your choices, and your experiences. I do find it curious though, that if your god is as prescient and omnipotent as people say, how he can have such negligible effects on me and so many others…some of whom actually cast their lot with other gods.

            I have no opinion on “free will” in the context you use it, since it is in opposition to the concept of omnipotence, which is only an issue if some being possesses that, which is only worth discussing if there is a god, which itself is unsubstantiated.

            Agnosticism doesn’t quite work for me either. That requires essentially no opinion. On the question of “is there a god”, they abstain. That’s not me. My answer is “no, unless and until proven otherwise”.

        • Klaus C. says

          Greg Lorriman: “Atheists also make an assertion, that there is no god.”

          I’m an atheist and I say: gods are clearly products of the human imagination. There are all kinds of them, products of this culture, that culture, all clearly projections of human social and familial concerns into imaginative, anthropomorphic cosmologies, consisting of obvious myths.

          Physicists, chemists, biologists etc have never found anything resembling a god or evidence for any god anywhere in the natural worlds they study.

          In the human sciences, anthropologists, archaeologists, psychologists all see gods as products of the imagination, whose existence is limited to human beliefs, the stories and texts they appear in, the statues and images etc, all products of the human mind.

          There is simply no reason to believe they have any other reality, and you, like all the others of your kind, have not provided us with any such reason.

        • S.Cheung says

          “A god could hypothetically prove its own existence to you, right? ”
          Hypothetically, yes.

          “And only the god itself would be actual proof of itself, right?”
          —I suppose. I’d accept a selfie with you and him, where he wears the nametag.

          “Atheists also make an assertion, that there is no god.”
          I agree, that’s problematic. But that’s not what I am doing. I’m saying you can have the god hypothesis, but as long as that god hypothesis is not sustained, you have to accept the null, that there is no god. So technically, the difference is I say “I accept there is no god”, which is on perfectly solid ground; whereas they say “I assert there is no god”, which gets them into difficulty, which is why I don’t go there.

          In other words, to assert that “there is” or “there isn’t” both involve statements you can’t prove.

          “So while a religious person might posses proof of a god, that doesn’t mean they can give it to another”
          —and that’s fine. If a religious person wants to be with himself in his beliefs, that is perfect with me. That’s what freedom of religion is about. I am a firm believer (pun intended) that you should be completely free to have your beliefs…but that freedom should end at the tip of your nose. Anyone can allow their religion to guide their actions…but no one should believe this would allow their religion to guide other people’s actions. And this is one of the issues with the abortion discussion.

          • Klaus C. says

            S.Cheung: “So technically, the difference is I say “I accept there is no god”, which is on perfectly solid ground; whereas they say “I assert there is no god”, which gets them into difficulty, which is why I don’t go there.”

            Who’s “they”? You yourself are clearly an atheist, so I don’t know to whom you are referring.

            You’ll find the great majority atheists take the position that I do: there is simply no reason to be believe that god/gods are anything more than products of the human imagination.

          • S.Cheung says

            “they” refers to atheists.

            If I had to choose between being a theist or an atheist, I would definitely choose the latter on every day of the week, and twice on Sundays. But both those positions incorporate assertions that cannot be proven, IMO. I agree with your position, but I can’t defend it scientifically, so I choose a position that I can defend, which is that which is required based on the scientific method.

            In that realm, “accepting” and “asserting” are different things.

            “Physicists, chemists, biologists etc have never found anything resembling a god or evidence for any god anywhere in the natural worlds they study.”

            I entirely agree. The problem is the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. So to say that “god” has not been found is absolutely true. But the leap to “therefore there is no god” is not scientifically justified.

            “there is simply no reason to be believe that god/gods are anything more than products of the human imagination.”

            I absolutely agree. And if that is the atheist position, then sign me up. But that statement stops short of asserting that there is no god. This is where Greg likes to insert himself…and he has done so repeatedly…and I agree it’s a legitimate counterpoint. But on the issue of hypothesis and null, there is no counterpoint.

    • Peter from Oz says

      ”Any reference to science is purely for the sake of respectability, and I believe a mistake.”
      Exactly right. Science is a method of finding out facts that can be used to establish a larger fact. it is not universally applicable, especially in questions of moral judgment.

  14. Eigen Eagle says

    I strongly suspect that these new abortion laws are being passed at least partially because it will whip the left into a frenzy and to get them blathering about “the war on wimmin™” when left-wing economic ideas are becoming more popular. The pro-abortion side could win the argument sticking to talking about pregnant 11-year-olds and the problems of defining the beginning of life at conception. Instead, they want to talk nonsense that will play right into Trump’s hands.

  15. Solomon Stavrov says

    A very popular among pro-choice persons statement “A fetus is part of a woman’s body” is totally wrong. Fetus is a different organism living in the woman’s body. It has different genetics and even can have different sex. It urinates into woman’s body. Not anything located in human body is its part – think about a worm.
    Discussion of term “person” has nothing to do with the problem. The problem is difference not between “fetus” and “person”, but between “fetus” and “human being”. Human being is not necessarily a person, for example people in coma.
    Poverty by itself has nothing to do with abortion: the newborn can be adopted by other people, and there is a huge line of them. The problem is reaction of the society. Unfortunately, modern society accepts abortion much easier than transfer for adoption.
    In Europe abortion is allowed up to 20-24 weeks of pregnancy exactly because by this age fetus transforms into human being – feels pain, reacts to sounds and light, has a formed body and sex.

    It follows from the presented facts that late abortion is a murder of a human being. They are absolutely unacceptable. It is difficult to understand how a country, where this kind of murder is legitimate, can be considered as a civilized one.

    • David of Kirkland says

      The vast amount of a human body is made of non-human cells, from water molecules to various bacteria.

  16. G.R. Mead says

    The abortion debate does not involve anything like the dire-unknowables that the advocates urge. It comes down to a question of bias — a bias to life of another over one’s own liberty — or a bias to one’s own liberty over the life of another.

    It really is that simple.

    Tradition put rights in a moral hierarchy of preference biases. There was a bias for life over liberty, and a bias for liberty over property. Slavery was the gross exception to this moral scale.

    The traditional form of the sexual ethics question was resolved mostly by placing the locus of female choice strongly at the point of choosing whether to engage in sexual relations. It was contraception and the sexual revolution that changed that.

    It changed it not by actually reducing the number of unintended pregnancies (as it was promoted). It vastly increased the frequency of sexual relations outside the social boundaries of marriage, such that — despite the 90% plus efficacy of contraception — the margin of added pregnancies in the 10% or less of failed conception at the vastly greater frequency of unmarried sex, outstripped any marginal reduction in unintended pregnancies that might otherwise have occurred.

    Thus, abortion and contraception are linked, because the latter increases the frequency of events leading to its failure and those “failures” result in a child conceived. The demand is then created to make good on the false promises of contraception, such that we end up — in order to preserve the revised moral bias of the sexual revolution — favoring sexual liberty above even the life of another.

    The only real question is whether we choose to bias our decisions on supposed imponderables (“human” “person” etc. etc.) toward saving life at the cost of some liberty, or whether we bias them toward our sexual liberty at the cost of the life of another.

    • Frank Knarf says

      This unfortunate situation could be entirely avoided if we simply removed from women the desire or ability to enjoy sex. I don’t know why reasonable people can’t agree on this approach.

  17. David of Kirkland says

    “Biologically, an adult is a human or other organism that has reached sexual maturity.”

    When we define adult this way, we can talk about a fertilized egg, embryo or fetus as a baby. But since we PUSH adulthood to be OLDER than biology dictates, it makes more sense to also consider a fetus a baby only when it’s older than biology dictates. Live birth seems like a good time to declare a new person has joined society.

    • Erica from The West Village says

      The question isn’t about when one becomes a person, but rather when a human being becomes viable outside the womb, which is months prior to a normal gestation period.

      Even Ben Carson has explained that in his pre-natal operations, they often have to remove the baby (’s a baby) outside the womb to operate…replacing the baby back into the womb for final development. The baby they take out is very obviously a baby.

      Ask any of your friends who are pregnant and intending to carry what’s in that bump in their belly?

      They’ll tell’ s a baby.

  18. Fran says

    Nearly 50 years ago, I had an abortion. I was in a rather nasty marriage with a rather nasty man. y first thought when the doc said ‘The froggy says yes’, was I could not cope with a baby and the man. The abortion was arranged before I went home and told him. At the end of a productive career and 3 wanted children with a wonderful man, I thank my stars that I was not tied to my previous husband by having a child in common. I also thank my stars that I had the connections necessary to get a legal abortion in those far-off days.

  19. Brent Gregory says

    The balance and thoughtfulness of your article is refreshing. The analogies were enlightening. Well done.

  20. JWatts says

    Overall I found this an excellent article. The only, slight flaw, for me was the speed limit analogy. It isn’t a very good parallel to the abortion debate.

  21. Erica from The West Village says

    I attended a family outing this weekend and this issue came up after a few rounds of cocktails.

    It was driven by my progressive siblings who were hell-bent mad at Alabama, Missouri and other states putting in place restrictions. I asked them what they thought about the Virginia and New York laws and they immediately jumped to ‘what about it..all it does is protect what’s already being done.”

    I asked why the laws were necessary to be changed then. They were speechless. They didn’t know..only the talking points MSNBC and NARAL had pumped out.

    I explained that neither the NY or VA laws were right, nor were the laws of Alabama, but when one side over-reacts, it’s a natural thing for the other side to over-react.

    We then got into the pre-natal science that existed when Roe v Wade was decided and the fact that Blackmun himself stressed the decision did not address ‘personhood.’

    I then explained that the chess match going on between the states is an act of democracy and that this will be decided by the Supreme Court…resulting in laws that impose restrictions on 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions while preserving those in the 1st trimester.

    I then pointed out that the debate is healthy as long as it’s productive and well-intentioned, and the Founding Fathers would be glad that a nation as diverse as ours with 325,000,000 souls could reach a compromise on such a serious issue of life and death.

    Maybe there is hope for this nation, though you wouldn’t get that from reading the far left or far right media.


  22. Elton H says

    Anyone remember the movie “Mamma Mia”? It is not exactly a comedic movie once you understand the premise. What, the mom can’t remember which dude fathered the daughter?

    The sexual revolution made lots of women realized there were lots of dudes who were willing to participate in the fun part of baby making but disappeared once these women missed their periods. This is the real reason for abortion on-demand being necessary. Abortion is the ultimate expression of irresponsibility.

    Then there’s the “six-by-six” culture prevalent in certain populations that no one is willing to acknowledge. Why would it be necessary for the OH state senator to request a black women exemption in the OH version of the law?

    Yes, we need the “heartbeat” restrictions, but we need a lot of work on the dudes at the same time. Don’t put it where it doesn’t belong!

  23. E. Olson says

    Another thoughtful essay by Mr. Hughes, but like many others on the pro-choice side, he seems to assume that there were no earlier choices that should influence the abortion debate. For all non-rape or incest cases, the first choice is whether to have sex or not. No sex = 100% chance of no fertilized egg and no abortion need. The second choice is whether to have protected sex or not. Protected sex = 98+% chance of no fertilized egg and no abortion needed. In other words, an unwanted healthy fetus is not some random event that afflicts some women but not others through no fault of their own, but is instead the result of bad decision making among one or both contributors. The decision to abort is therefore a decision to kill an innocent life that in all likelihood would otherwise develop into a normal member of society, and perhaps even a great contributor to society, which cannot be said of a “clump” of skin cells or even a “clump” of sperm or “clump” of unfertilized eggs.

    It is these earlier choices that should be the focus of the abortion debate, but seldom are due to political, historical, or religious reasons. Many religions/sects discourage pre-marital sex as one means of solving the abortion issue, which is difficult to achieve in a secular world that emphasizes sex to sell anything, and “just say NO” campaigns are therefore often rejected by Left and non-religious. Furthermore, even marital sex can result in unwanted pregnancy, which means reliable and easily available birth control is needed to stop unwanted pregnancies when sex is desired or expected, and fortunately there has never been a better time for birth control.

    Unfortunately, some religions/sects also discourage the use of effective birth control: Joke: what do you call a Catholic couple who practices the rhythm method of birth control? Answer: Parents. Yet secular parties also fight the distribution and use of effective birth control. Small government Righties often dislike the idea of giving “free” birth control as part of government welfare or health delivery systems for fiscal or “free-market” reasons. Feminists sometimes dislike the emphasis on “forcing” females to be responsible for using effective birth control while men avoid any responsibility – i.e. why aren’t there any male birth control pills? The eugenics movement’s historic emphasis on decreasing the fertility of “inferior” races and ethnic groups through forced sterilization and abortion, together with the current high abortion rate among blacks, Hispanics, and the poor also leads many welfare/race advocates to reject the use of long-term reversible birth control as taking away the reproductive freedom of “victim” classes. Thus the use of the most effective forms of birth control are often not encouraged, particularly among populations that are most likely to engage in unsafe sex and create unwanted pregnancies.

    Thus the abortion debate should be focused on making the need for abortion extremely rare by helping/forcing/educating people to make better decisions regarding when to have sex and how to protect themselves against pregnancy during sex. Therefore, the most effective means to solve the abortion “problem” is for society to collectively decide to put resources into the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, rather than come up with some rationale to justify the killing of innocent lives. An emphasis on preventing unwanted and/or poorly justified pregnancies might also provide a further benefit to society by effectively preventing citizens without the tools or resources to properly raise a child from becoming parents and having children that are abused and/or become wards of the state.

    • S. Cheung says

      E. Olson,
      well said. I’m particularly with you on the last 2 paragraphs. I’m in the “available, safe, and rare” camp…but in that order. Yet much can be done in making the need or demand more rare, and as you acknowledge, some of the barriers are on your side of the aisle.

      I would also add that more needs to be done to address the void after the birth of an “unwanted” child. And in a much more systematic approach than the typical righty “church and community” vagaries.

      • E. Olson says

        SC – I think Republicans would get on board a plan to link long-term reversible birth control with welfare eligibility, thus if you are unable to support yourself or your children, you must get on a medically prescribed long-term birth reversible control (or sterilization) in order to received government benefits (I would also include sexually mature children of welfare recipients). Fiscally this could easily be sold because “free” birth control is a lot cheaper than supporting single moms and a boatload of children who will in all likelihood be future welfare recipients and single moms themselves. It would also do a lot to reduce the number of “unwanted” children who get abused, but of course adoption is another option that is almost certainly better for children than abortion or living with many unprepared or overwhelmed single moms. So I think I could sell Republicans on this plan, but I am absolutely sure that the Democrats would call such a plan racist, sexist, and insensitive to the reproductive freedom of the poor, and would reject it out of hand.

    • OleK says

      While thoughtful and a decent article, I would rank it as Hughes’ lowest quality so far (way better than any I could write though). I see this as him wading into unfamiliar territory and this article is a decent philosophical thought experiment.

      The discussion so far though has been nice and civil.

  24. TCK says

    The distance between the pro-life and pro-choice crowds have always been smaller, logically, than either are comfortable admitting, because ultimately all we are really doing is talking about where to draw lines in the sand. Pro-lifers draw theirs at conception, which I don’t think is illogical (although I don’t agree with it from a public policy standpoint). Whereas all too frequently, the pro-choice crowd reject, part and parcel, drawing the line anywhere, despite overwhelmingly opposing elective late-term abortions.

    If your belief is that rich, white bureaucrats in Washington have no business making decisions on a woman’s body, but then oppose elective late term abortions, you’re simply condoning the very same intrusion you crusade against – just later in the calendar than the pro-life crowd.

    To the pink hatters, I understand that it isn’t sexy, or exciting, to write on a sign “Hands off of my uterus before 180 days”, but until you’re willing to put that stick-to-sand, you’re the more illogical of the two sides.

  25. Daniel V says

    Great article and I move see nuanced views but it’s going to fall on deaf ears. It requires way too much thoughtfulness.

    That’s the real problem. There is no real compromise in a violent authoritarian culture like America. One side has to win and the only time there is compromise is when the winner decides to be kind to the loser.

    Not to mention how autistic people seem to be with basically everything. Arguments like saying science proves life begins at conception highlight this. Science says they’re alive because they’re replicating, which isn’t the same as personhood. Again there is way too much nuance in an idea like personhood for people to grasp this.

    So no wonder political groups are becoming more authoritarian. Not much choice when you have a bunch of autistics/schizophrenics that can’t think with nuance or depth.

  26. Jim Gorman says

    Here are a couple of things that I need answers on.

    Women say that being pregnant is generally not a big deal. They can work up until they give birth without a problem. If that is true in general, then what is the reason for not carrying until birth? Note, this doesn’t include pregnancies with medical problems.

    There is an obvious shortage of babies for adoption. Otherwise why are people going to China, Russia, all over God’s green earth to adopt?

    Why then are we killing babies and not adopting them?

    There are laws that can be passed that totally removes any legal liability from a birth mother. Birth fathers can petition a court for custody. None of this requires an abortion. No woman can claim that they had to have an abortion because they just couldn’t afford economically or mentally to give birth.

    Something I never see talked about by politicians is the genocide being committed upon blacks. Every day they are becoming a smaller and smaller minority in the U.S., yet no one in government appears willing to address the issue. Why? Where is the concern among the progressives that love to virtue signal?

    • Anj says

      Some people risk their lives in the armed forces/fire department etc to save lives why doesn’t everyone?
      Something wrong with adopting babies from else where?
      Are you financially supporting children’s lives in the balance who are malnourished or lack immunisation?
      Black poverty has been largely attributed to single mothers, so you want more of that?

      • S.Cheung says

        Just me,
        I think it’s a bit chicken and egg. Adoption is not currently a popular choice because adoption is not currently all that popular. As mentioned in the article, it’s not currently counselled routinely by pro-choice or pro-life groups.

        But if women are going to be forcibly obligated to provide incubation services on behalf of the state, then the state has an obligation to provide more robust back end support for all these unwanted babies. Many may decide to parent in the end; but many may decide to not. Currently, conservatives walk away once fetus hits birth canal.

        • Elton H says

          I think adoption is widely advocated in the pro-life counseling. A few things

          1) Perhaps its time to bring back orphanages
          2) Make the biological father contribute to child rearing via wage garnishment or something along that line. It would reduce the number of men putting it where it doesn’t belong.

    • “Women say that being pregnant is generally not a big deal.”

      No, they don’t. How many pregnant woman did you ask to draw this conclusion? That premise looks faulty. How about the cost of childbirth? The worst pain of your life for hours to days. Pretty decent chance of death or even just permanent body damage in giving birth as far as I’m aware. Point being that your consequentialist argument is clearly ignoring many consequences.

      • Just Me says

        ““Women say that being pregnant is generally not a big deal.”

        No they don’t. It is a HUGE deal, particularly for the first one or two.

        For some women it may turn out to be an easy experience, but those are rare, and women still die in childbirth, get all kinds of complications, need caesareans, episiotomies, etc., not to mention the less drastic but unpleasant side effects of morning sickness, swollen ankles, painful breasts, etc., not to mention hormonal changes and post-partum depression, etc.

        Why do you think the Bible makes childbirth the punishment God gives women because of Eve’s transgression?

        King James Bible:

        “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; ”

  27. Anj says

    Well put Coleman regarding person hood & a reasonable arbitrary line.
    But arguing a ‘potential’ theory to justify the value of a zygote is hardly compelling. Having an abortion when one is unprepared may free one to have many children later who will go on to have many children. Look at all that ‘life’ lost otherwise.
    Also, by focusing resources particularly pro life lobby funds & additional welfare costs on the ‘potential’ of the unborn other living children world wide are lost due to malnutrition & lack of immunisation.
    It seems all ‘life’ is not equal?

  28. Leo Strauss says

    Good stuff! It is always helpful when someone soberly helps clarify the complexity of a difficult issue.

    Another, perhaps ugly way to conceptualize the debate is to say: even pro-lifers do not actually believe that abortion is murder in the strictest sense. If people thought that there was a building where hundreds of murders occurred every year, they would do anything they could to stop it. They would NOT merely protest at it. That is to say, in their hearts, or rather, conceptually, pro-lifers see abortion as WRONG but not quite as wrong as murder in the strictest sense. And this moral intuition that they refuse to admit to themselves because they have dubbed life “sacred,” is more or less in line with Hughes’ reasonable account in this article. Which is to say, we should take the abortion question seriously, but, we have to resist absolutizing either position.

    • asdf says

      People knew the Jews were being killed, they did nothing.

      People knew about the Gulags, they did nothing.

      People knew what live was like for the slaves (including their murder), for much of the history of the country, they did nothing.

      People do nothing all the time, even when considering things that are monstrous. They do nothing whenever they think the personal cost large, the change of success small, or both.

      I think your average pro-life person knows that anything they could do via physically attacking an abortion clinic would end with them in jail or dead while abortions would keep going on.

  29. After much consideration, I think I’ve arrived at a synthesis that I (and possibly others) am personally comfortable with: Life does begin at conception. However, it should be completely legal and justifiable for a mother to murder their children, at any point in their lives, up to and including adulthood. If they can make you, they should be able to un-make you.

    There, I solved the abortion conundrum and heightened women’s empowerment in one fell swoop.

    • E. Olson says

      Your plan sounds like the old Bill Cosby routine about what his father said to him when he got into trouble as a kid: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it.”

  30. Caleb Zimmerman says

    Hi Coleman,

    I’m a graduate student in philosophy and I love your stuff; keep writing. I think that on certain metaphysical schema (naturalism et al), you’ve addressed this issue about as well as anyone could. That said, I wonder whether the framework you use for addressing this issue (explicitly an ethical and consequentialist one) is appropriate for this issue or whether it leads to problems. I think it follows from your argument that we could decide to kill an adult person if we determine that the loss to him or her is outweighed by the benefit to us, which is a classic sign that any ethical theory is going to a place where we don’t want it to go. But we don’t need to put the implications of your argument in such extreme terms to see how debilitating they might be. This will make me sound religious (which I am), but when we stop ascribing infinite value to human life, the human life that persists pays a price that might itself be infinite. A world filled with finitely valuable ethical value-maximizers is, imo, a lame, even shitty world that I wouldn’t want to live in (not to say that it isn’t the world we actually live in; I think many, yourself I think included, would attest that this does indeed correctly describe our world). But here’s where it becomes apparent why the abortion debate so often feels like a fundamentally religious debate. It’s because it is a fundamentally religious debate: it’s about the infinite value of the individual person (on a religious view) being rationally questioned and discarded (on a consequentialist naturalist view). So I agree with you when you say that this is not a debate whose proper domain is scientific/biological. But I disagree with you when you say that its proper domain is consequentialist and ethical. I think its proper domain is metaphysical: the abortion question is a question about what human life IS. And on a naturalist conception of metaphysics, I think you nail it, although you need to bite a variety of unsavory bullets. On most traditional theist metaphysical conceptions, however, you don’t nail it, although the traditional theist has to bite a bunch of bullets herself. That said, I would argue that those bullets need not be so unsavory (i.e., she needs to foster communities where baby, mother, and father can flourish).


  31. Ryan says

    Sounds as if the author is not actually pro-choice. More of an abortion centrist. Many pro-lifers have essentially the same view.

  32. This is all very well, but ignores Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous arguments about abortion–the author is a philosophy major and should be familiar with these. To wit, people don’t have a right to use others’ bodies even if those others are responsible for their predicament. For example, if I get drunk and cause a car accident that then ruins another person’s kidneys, I can be sent to prison, but no legal jurisdiction I can think of requires me to provide them with one of my own kidneys or spend time hooked up to them as a dialysis machine.

    Similarly, it’s daft to care about induced abortions given the much higher rate of spontaneous abortions (many people don’t realise how common this is–many women who would have abortions never realise they are pregnant as they have already spontaneously miscarried).

    If God hates abortion so much, then why does he have such a higher frequency of abortion than Planned Parenthood? Induced abortion, especially early on, replicates a very common natural process.

    • Wes says

      If God hates murder, why do people die? We do not pardon murderers because death is a natural process.

      • You’re missing the point of the argument (murder typically does not replicate death by natural causes and it is also very uncommon).

        If people really cared about unborn children, there would be vast resources devoted to reducing the astonishing rates of spontaneous abortion (over 50% according to a recent study–most pregnant women who would want an abortion don’t need one, because nature does it for them). This would be akin to the vast resources devoted to reducing infant mortality or crime, or those devoted to cancer prevention, but more effective because it would save vastly more ‘lives’.

        • Wes says

          Frankly, the answer to your question is simply that people don’t care about unborn children.

          I think everyone agrees that it’s awful that malnourished children die in third world countries. Yet few people seem concerned with actually doing anything about it. I’ve personally seen the horrors of third world living but I’ll admit when I get back home to America it’s hard to keep it on my mind. Humans aren’t inclined to care about something that’s not impacting their lives (as you state, many miscarriages occur to women who do not even realize they are pregnant.) But whether or not people care doesn’t affect how valuable the life is.

    • Greg Lorriman says

      “If God hates abortion so much, then why does he have such a higher frequency of abortion than Planned Parenthood? Induced abortion, especially early on, replicates a very common natural process.”

      There is no teaching on this and it comes under ‘speculative theology’. There are a number of possible reasons. None of which give us the right to power of life or death over someone who has not themselves committed murder.

      For example, that a soul created at conception is then given a choice as to whether to continue, with an intimation of the risks involved, such as a hard life and the possibility, even if small, that they end up rejecting God and going to hell. If the soul decides against that then God would conduct the ending of its life and the entry in to some kind of limbo (a paradise but not a heaven) for the soul. All things considered, it’s arguable that many might say no. And despite reports to the contrary, a recent Catholic pronouncement on the death of the unbaptised did not rule out a Limbo (an idea of St Thomas Aquinas, but never a Catholic doctrine).

      But a soul that chose for life, and the possibility of doing good for humanity, is the one that is not spontaneously aborted. It wanted to live.

      • “But whether or not people care doesn’t affect how valuable the life is.”

        Well, call us when you want to do something about the holocaust of miscarriage. Otherwise, the focus on induced abortions seems like special pleading. It’s certainly far less of a problem than spontaneous abortion, purely by the numbers.

        Or, we could just admit that the human reproductive system is a hit and miss affair where miscarriage is just as natural and normal as pregnancies reaching term. A zygote isn’t a special snowflake, destined to become a person, but an attempt to do so. Women who have abortions do nothing wrong, since they aren’t radically altering the odds of fetal survival.

  33. Wes says

    While I appreciate the thought given to the issue, there must be a distinction made between abortion and, say, speed limits. Speed limits, gun control laws, etc. are all social safeguards that reduce liberty with the expectation that loss of life will be minimized as a result. Those indirectly affect the number of lives lost, as a high speed limit does not expressly permit vehicular homicide. Think of the traditional trade-off between liberty and safety. However, allowing abortion expressly allows for the (call it want you want) termination of human life. With the reasoning that the value of life can be weighed against the welfare of others, where is the line to be drawn? Could we kill an infant if the mother quickly decides she is not able to care for it? Even if scientists were able to calculate where the termination of a fetus is justified by the circumstances of the mother, what do we do when the scientists also conclude that the only way to prevent environmental collapse is by extermination of the human race? Thankfully such as ideology has yet to make it beyond action movie villains, but we must be cautious of how our implications scale.

    • Peter Kriens says

      @wes I do not think you got the comparison. We know next year 30.000 people die if we keep driving cars. The society made a decision that those 30k people are less worth than the economic benefits and comfort driving provides. Coleman uses this as an example that as a society we’re willing to make the cold trade of lives for benefits and therefore life in itself is no final argument. Therefore the life of the foetus can be weighted against the discomfort of the woman. Where you then put the line is another story but if you accept the trade-off off traffic then I do not see why a women could not make a similar trade-off?

      • asdf says

        There is a difference between people that die indirectly as a consequence of the government not imposing a lower speed limit and legalized murder.

        Imagine a scenario where the 30k traffic deaths weren’t indirect, but had to be directly traded off. That there was a lottery and 30k people were chosen and random and had to be stoned to death by the broader society. In either case 30k people die. But in one it’s just a thing that happens, impersonal forces kill those people. Someone dying in a traffic accident doesn’t short circuit human beings or human society. In the second you are actively destroying the humanity of the people who have to participate in the murders.

        How and why people die matters even if the number of corpses remains the same.

        • Wes says

          asdf you beat me too it. I might also add that when someone kills a pedestrian while driving, they end up in jail. Unlike those who provide abortions. Assuming you put any value on the life in a womb, you see how they are viewed differently.

  34. Asenath Waite says

    Technically (biologically) a zygote is a human being, but practically speaking it isn’t really. A zygote clearly has no sentience, any more than a yeast cell has sentience. Of course there isn’t a magic line dividing sentience from non-sentience, but it would be completely impractical to confer the legal rights of an adult human being onto a zygote for many reasons. On the other hand, a baby a week away from being born clearly does have sentience and deserves the legal rights conferred to any human being. Therefore it is unfortunately necessary from a practical perspective to draw an arbitrary line between these two extremes when considering the legality of abortion. As there is no correct answer for where this line should be drawn, the debate will go on forever.

  35. S.Cheung says

    Well written, well argued, and succinct piece. The call for consideration beyond dogmatic lines-in-the-sand is on-point.

    Unfortunately. for there to be a discussion about an appropriate balance, there has to be acknowledgment that there is more than one consideration to be weighed. As currently constructed, many fail that test, including many on this board. And that is the collective failing of both extremes of this debate, as the author rightly suggests.

    As for where that balance should be demarcated, once again it becomes arbitrary, and will require compromise. But the speed limit analogy perfectly highlights the compromises that people rooted in dogma are unable to make.

    I’m hoping that, as seems generally to be the case, the extremes get ignored, allowing everyone else to eventually come to such a compromise.

  36. Lightning Rose says

    All your rational/scientific, reasonable/respectful opinions are entirely missing the point of why this has blown up just now. We’re in the opening days of the next election cycle. The party of Trump will be difficult to defeat because both the economy and the international situation are in relatively good shape. The “resistance” has figured out that running on minority grievances won’t get them the numbers, and running on changing the weather is just plain unpopular.

    Therefore; what is needed is an Uber-Issue which is personal, visceral, passionate, and basically irresolvable. Abortion fits that bill perfectly, which is why it’s a permanent political football. Because of all the paradoxes cited in your comments above, all of which are good arguments, we’re never going to agree–but finding a sensible, reasonable common ground as in Europe is not the intent–the intent is to have the extremes screech at each other with maximum theatricality, sucking all the oxygen out of the room and effectively burying issues like economic development, infrastructure, foreign policy and immigration. Get everyone focusing on “in your pants” issues everyone can relate to, it’s like yelling “Squirrel!!!!”

    So the Left went full infanticide in VA, the Right has now countered with a full ban, it will probably be well beyond 2020 that the ball winds up in the Supremes’ court if they’ll even hear the case.
    But for the next 20 months its a GREAT distraction; I’ve been watching this play out for 40 years!

    For me personally, the question no one ever answers is this:

    What is the GOVERNMENT’S interest in forcing one to bear an unwanted child to term, even if the taxpayers will ultimately be on the hook for $300,000.00 vs. $300.00 for an abortion?

    (1) Is it a too-little, too-late attempt to legislate morality in a secular culture?
    (2) Is it a heavy-handed attempt to control female sexuality?
    (3) Is it a hedge against a falling birth rate, particularly among Western whites?

    If not 1-3 above, then what IS the point? Why should the Government intervene at all in a matter that IS personal, visceral, passionate and a matter of one’s religious or secular belief?

    • Jim Gorman says

      The same point as the government intervening in murder. It IS personal (one on one), visceral (premeditated), passionate (hate), religious (apostasy), secular (better him/her than me).

      • Bill says

        I believe you missed @Lightning Rose’s point which I agree with. The Dems had nothing with which to counter Trump in 2020. As a result, VA and NY made a calculated decision to legislate abortion straight up to birth expressly knowing that 1 or more states would pass counter-legislation to the other extreme. Their (VA/NYCs) actions would cause little more than a ripple in the media but the counter (such as AL and GA) would garner immense left-wing media and social media influencer outrage and reporting. This would then drown out the loss-of-face from the Mueller report, the great economy, or even the IG report. It would (hopefully) make 2020 purely about SCOTUS nominations in the hope that they can dog whistle up enough lemming voters who know only the MSM talking points to show up and vote (or at least hide the votes appearing in “found” ballot boxes or submitted by the absentee harvestors).

  37. Itzik Basman says

    It’s always a pleasure and a treat to read Hughes in these pages and I rarely disagree with him, though what disagreements I have do not qualify that pleasure. I was with him, enjoying his analytical probing and clear thinking till he got to the n and n+1 stuff—whatever they are, would’ve been nice to know—as a lead in to his review of the “ethical considerations.” They are not the primary issue, and they’re a distraction from it that do a disservice to it. The primary issue is when we consider person hood to begin sufficient to protect it. When that determination is made, arbitrary as that might be, and Hughes wisely and rightly says, arbitrariness in these respects is ok, line drawing is our civilized way of balancing clashing values and interests. Science informs profoundly where arbitrariness lays down the best line but as Hughes wisely and rightly says, that decision is a good faith, albeit arbitrary judgment. But here the bottom falls out of his analysis: when that determination is made, it is that there is life/person hood, separable from the mother, unlike a kidney, worthy of the state’s protection. Once, we start that determination, then the putative ethical considerations fall to the side. Unlike raising or lowering speed limits, which will have generally understood predictable consequences, we don’t allow secondary considerations like what can be afforded, the timing of parenthood, and so on to trench on person hood, life itself. That’s telling individuals, for example, it’s acceptable to squelch that life in the interest of their better fiscal convenience. So, finally, when considering where to draw the line, science has a lot to say, economic convenience and like considerations have none.

    My comments don’t deal with outlier cases such as rape, incest, a severely deformed fetus, danger to mother”s health, child pregnancies, which all need sensitive and nuanced treatment.

  38. Mary says

    Exactly. We believe life is up to God not us. To me aborting a child because of rape is like giving the death penalty to an innocent person.

  39. Lawrence D'Anna says

    I think this is one of the most sane things I’ve seen in print about abortion. Something like your position also carries majority or almost-majority support from the public as well. It’s extremely frustrating to see the public conversation dominated by people who think personhood happens instantly — be it at birth or at conception — when common sense, science, and popular opinion all agree that it happens gradually.

    I would like to quibble with your choice of labels. I don’t understand why you call yourself “pro-choice”. You’re pro choice for the first 12 weeks and then pro life for the last 24. If anything you’re closer to pro life. But I think it would be confusing and inaccurate to use either label. Pro-choice organizations like NARAL believe personhood begins at birth, and not a moment before. New York’s pro-life state legislature has written that understanding into law. Why do you lump yourself in with them?

  40. Cynical Old Biologist says

    Coleman calls for rational debate. But how can debate be rational when we cannot even agree on the terms used in the argument. “Life”, “personhood”, the value of human life etc.. Coleman is also far too polite. “…many women would likely suffer health complications from illegal abortions” ? I suppose he is correct if you see death as a “health complication”. And for those biologists who look at biological reality (rather than imposing religious beliefs upon it) we see that life actually never begins since sperm cells and egg cells are not actually dead and cell fusion events are nothing very remarkable (they also occur during muscle and bone formation etc.). Biologically speaking, life began ~3.5 billion years ago and has not yet ended, although death is occurring continuously.

  41. Just Me says

    Coleman Hughes –

    Excellent! I made much of the same arguments under the previous article on abortion, except that I came to a more pro-choice conclusion, setting the dividing line between not problematic and problematic at 3-4 months, but then arguing that the countervailing ethical considerations, which include the risks and impact of an unwanted pregnancy and childbirth on a woman’s body and emotions, make any policing of abortion unwarranted.

  42. Peter Rowe says

    I accept the premise of the argument in this article. However, I am pro-life because any opening up of abortion rights always ends in extremism. The changes in Alabama are an extreme response to the extreme agenda of the pro-choice lobby as exemplified by the horrific and indefensible position reached in New York.

    Future generations will look back on us as barbarians for aborting healthy babies conceived by healthy mothers. But until that wisdom is properly received, perhaps we pro-lifers should moderate our own absolutist position to save those that we can.

  43. Outraged says

    Sorry, this essay is quite awful. Some elementary distinctions are being completely elided, which shows (to no one’s great surprise) that critical thinking is no longer being taught these days even in philosophy departments. As usual, the author covers up the lack of real argument with emotion-laden rhetoric.

    It is a straw man to sum up the pro-life argument as the statement that life or personhood begins at conception because science says so. Of course it’s an easy straw man to beat down: it conflates life (for which science can have something to say) with personhood (for which it can not). And it makes it easy to simply categorize pro-lifers as unthinking, unreasoning dogmatists and not have to actually reckon with the substance of the position. (This is, of course, exactly how the Left operates: with dishonest 20-second soundbites and demonization of opponents as “racist”, “misogynist”, etc.)

    Granted, the author is correct that we do not know exactly when personhood begins (or ends). But in this framework (e.g. drawing a line somewhere, anywhere is rigid “dogmatism”) there’s no real, substantive argument that can be made as to why exactly infanticide shouldn’t be permitted say, until 1 years of age. (Infanticide is historically the “other” way mothers dealt with unwanted pregnancies, when abortion wasn’t practicable.) Sure, the author may have disgust for the practice, but that doesn’t constitute a real, valid reason as to why it should be outlawed, any more than pro-lifers’ disgust with abortion. It could be argued that those wanting to outlaw infanticide are simply those wanting to curtail womens’ freedom and control their lives. Regardless of where you draw the line, the threshold is completely arbitrary. Again, science can tell us when a fetus has a heart or a nervous system, or when a brain is fully developed, but not exactly what constitutes personhood.

    The author simply has to wave his hands and say that society has to draw the line somewhere, that personhood lies on a spectrum, and it’s a cost-benefit analysis. All of these are easily answered, and the author gives no impression whatsoever he has reflected on any of or even heard of, for that matter, the following arguments.

    Yes, society has to draw the line somewhere, and the line should be drawn where there is a reasonable possibility that a life is in reality a person (e.g. a reasonable case may be made for such, irrespective of whether it in fact is right or wrong); that is the only reasonable position to take. To act in such a manner that there is a reasonable possibility a person will lose his/her life (absent extenuating circumstances) is, in this case, criminal recklessness since the act is entirely deliberate (it is negligence if it is only a failure to exercise proper care). Yes, society must draw the line between reckless endangerment and homicide, but that is the only line that need be drawn. The pro-choice side can’t simply bracket the question of personhood. It must assume, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the fetus is not a person. Therefore it, and not the pro-life position, is the unreasoning, dogmatic one.

    Nor can the author get around this by putting personhood on a spectrum instead of making it a binary variable. (And has a very ugly history, I might add, as that was always the justification for oppression of women and blacks and other non-white races: they weren’t “fully human” unlike rich white men.) It only pushes the question back one step: how do you know when a life is or isn’t fully a person? You don’t, and thus all the arguments from the previous paragraph apply. A fetus at 100 days might not be fully human, but then again it might, and science won’t tell us the answer.

    As for the consequentialist morality and cost-benefit analysis, the author very clumsily conflates material and physical costs to a pro-life position (which are admitted by all) with ethical costs in a silly attempt to equate the pro-choice and pro-life positions. The pro-life side would simply deny that the possible lowering of quality of life for children and sufferings of women who attempt illegal abortions are ethical concerns properly speaking. Because an ethical concern implies not just a negative, but a negative we “ought” to be concerned about. And in this case we shouldn’t, they would say. Because we don’t have the right to kill people to improve quality of life or avoid suffering, or expect that society should make it painless for us to kill people. Period. Would pro-life possibly lower the standard of living in the US if adopted? Possibly. But it’s an irrelevant consideration, just as it would be for the decision to invade a foreign country which posed no threat to the US. (It’s true that unfortunately pro-lifers sometimes aren’t as concerned about the welfare of children and infants as they should be, hewing a far-right economic line. Sometimes. But that is not an argument against the pro-life position considered in itself, which doesn’t entail any particular position on economics or many other things.)

    But first and foremost, the author ignores the fact that the number one consideration is that society must protect all those, except those who by proven voluntary act, have forfeited such protection. If society deliberately fails to do that, no possible “benefit” could possibly compensate. We could make (and some have) consequentialist arguments for slavery and denying women the vote and keeping them in the kitchen. These things aren’t nice, but society will fall apart if civil rights are granted to them. Today, some make consequentialist arguments for denying those accused of rape the right to innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Not nice, but this is necessary to dismantle “rape culture”. But we don’t accept those arguments from way back then and we shouldn’t accept similar arguments now.

    And the debate over speed limits goes nowhere. The author pretends that there are no costs of society to lower speed limits except people not having the pleasure of driving faster. Which may be true, at the margins, but a speed limit of 15 MPH would have serious, real costs on human life and health which would surpass the fatalities and injuries sustained on the roadway. In other words, in this case there is a genuine cost-benefit to be considered.

    • asdf says


      In truth, we seem to trade off deontological and consequentialist norms all the time, but we need some kind of plausible deniability (not least of which for ourselves).

      If we followed our deontological claims to their natural endpoint, society would probably collapse under the weight of reality. If we pretend everything can be solved with consequentialism, we soon find that consequentialism tends to eat itself because each individual has a different incentive structure and we can’t really trust each other and cooperate (necessary to achieve good consequentialist outcomes) if we have no deontological core (which can’t be fake believed, has to be actually believed on some level).

  44. YYM says

    Very clear thinking.
    Two comments though:
    1. World health statistics about hospital admissions from unsafe abortions are not relevant to US law as much as US statistics on the same. Which I imagine are significantly lower.
    2. It seems to me much easier to make decisions that take into account moral cost against moral necessity when the actual moral necessity presents itself. Such as in Jewish law where abortion is permitted in case of great moral necessity but otherwise completely forbidden. The author instead said that since there is a balance on the spectrum between black and white he will choose the number 6.

  45. Carly Peterson says

    While I think you get to the right answer in this article, one thing that has been missed is that by definition, a fetus cannot be 6 weeks old (the age at which a “heartbeat” can be detected – in quotes because at 6 weeks, the “heart” consists of one ventricle and the “heartbeat” detected is arguably just vibrations from the woman’s body.) The term fetus is only used after the 9th week of a pregnancy has begun. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A 6 WEEK OLD FETUS. Call it a zygote, an embryo, or a blastocyst, but stop calling it a fetus.

    Secondly, a pregnancy that is in its 6th week only holds a structure of cells that is less than half that age. No fertilization has even occurred in the first two weeks of a pregnancy. That timeline is only used because date of last menstrual period is easier to track than date of conception. The two weeks following ovulation are when fertilization occurs and a zygote can form. Every menstruating woman walks around two weeks pregnant constantly. A pregnancy isn’t even detectable via a pregnancy test until a person is at least 4 weeks in. A 6 week old embryo has actually only been developing for 2-3 weeks. And all that is assuming that every human who menstruates does so exactly every 28 days and ovulates exactly on day 14. The number of weeks pregnant a person is is just an estimate – it is not an exact science because there is such great variability across people. Criminalizing a behavior that is based on a estimate is asinine.

    I’d bet every dollar to my name that the politicians making these bans, anti-abortion protestors, and many men commenting on this article know nothing about ovulation, fertilization, or prenatal development.

    As someone who has watched a loved one struggle with the choice of whether to get a late term abortion, I can say the theoretical arguments above are hurtful and unnecessary. Abnormalities were found at a 20 week ultrasound, which is the first time that many genetic issues pop up as concerns and is usually around the legal limit for abortion in many states. More testing was required, and more, and more as she watched the deadline in the most lenient states approach and had to decide what to do, hoping that these preliminary tests were wrong but knowing they likely weren’t. They got a final diagnosis of Trisomy 18 (the words used by the doctor were “incompatible with life”) at 27 weeks. My friend went on to carry that baby for 12 additional weeks. She lived for three excruciating months weighing under 5 pounds. There were frequent trips to the ER resulting in incomprehensible medical bills. The torture that this family went through is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and something that no lawmaker should be imposing on anyone. It is a woman’s body, a woman’s choice, a woman’s family, a woman’s sleepless nights wondering if this is the end, a woman’s medical bills, a woman’s job to explain to her 3 year old what happened to his little sister. Abortion is not taken lightly, and the best person to decide what the appropriate line to draw is, is the person having the abortion.

  46. Just Me says

    Lots of abstract arguments, ignoring the fact that this isn’t just about a binary “choosing to have it or killing it”, but about what happens to a woman’s body for 9 months and afterwards as a result of carrying it, of the pain and risk of childbirth, still a dangerous undertaking, bad enough when chosen but horrible torture when not.

    No man ever has to experience having his body taken over by another entity that transforms it for its own purposes, and has to prepare for the ordeal of a childbirth they do not want.

    And then to choose to either give it up after the hormonal havoc that it has reaped upon the woman’s emotions, or raise it despite not feeling up to it.

    To claim that this is a negligible consideration vs the “right to life” of what will still not be a human being for several months, is pretty insensitive to say the least.

    • Peter Kriens says

      You seem to blithely ignore all the careful arguments Coleman made. You want the right to kill your baby after it is born because of the hormonal havoc? Abortion is such a complex discussion because some people feel a fetus is a human being and therefore has a right to be protected by society. I think Coleman addressed the incredible difficult weighing of the woman’s interest with the fetus interest but you seem to walk through the argument as the proverbial elephant as if the woman is the victim. She is also the mother and the creator of the fetus. I am pro choice btw but don’t be so arrogant to make it look like it is a simple decision.

      • Just Me says

        Peter Kriens,

        Sigh. I guess this is the problem with having comments scattered about instead of all together.

        No, I do not “blithely ignore Coleman’s arguments”.

        I have made several other comments here, starting with the one where I said:

        “Excellent! I made much of the same arguments under the previous article on abortion, except that I came to a more pro-choice conclusion…”

        This one addresses the one aspect I believe is getting ignored the most in this discussion, others address other specific arguments made by other commenters, but agreeing with the anti-abortion argument.

        I’ll repost there he comment I made on the previous article about this not being about “the patriarchy” and control of women’s bodies:

        So sick of this silly debate.

        IMV, neither extreme is defensible.

        It isn’t about controlling women’s bodies for its own sake, or “the Patriarchy”, it is about when human life begins, and should be protected, a serious issue humans have grappled with for centuries, and at what cost to the existing human being, i.e. the woman.

        Sometime between conception and birth, a clump of cells becomes a human baby. Only some religions view this as beginning at conception, and that isn’t rationally defensible. Like other stages in development, there is no abrupt, clear change from one stage to another, it is gradual. The religious authorities that have declared that life begins at conception are simply wrong.

        At the other extreme, some societies have considered that a baby doesn’t become human until it has officially been accepted into society, and allowed infanticide

        But somewhere around 4 months seems reasonable, and whether abortion after that is killing a human being is a reasonable question. Before that, it is just a potential human being.

        And on the other side, is the fact that childbirth is extremely painful and can be dangerous, and pregnancy itself does drastic things to a woman’s body. When gladly chosen, these may be worth it, but when forced to endure them against one’s will, that is a form of imprisonment and torture. So abortion can be considered self-defence against an assault from inside the body that takes your body captive against your will for its own purposes, one of the most horrible experiences one can imagine, similar to a cancer or other devastating disease.

        And then there is the emotional cost of giving birth to a child after all that and either giving it up or having to reconfigure one,s life to accommodate raising it, as the recent article in The Atlantic explains very well.

        Then there is the difficulty of actually enforcing these laws in any humane manner.

        But while I end up coming down on the pro-choice side, I find the flippancy and bad faith with which many proponents treat the issue repellent.

        The value of human life is a serious and complex issue that deserves to be treated with respect, and cannot be reduced to a “woman-controlling Patriarchy”. Or to some biologically illiterate comparison like, “why not make masturbation illegal then, all that wasted sperm…”

        • X. Citoyen says

          Just Me,

          The self-defence analogy only works if you’ve done nothing to bring about the situation that requires you to defend yourself. You could not claim self-defence against an intruder, for example, if you had put a sign in front of your house that read “All welcome! Please come in and make yourself at home!” Knowingly engaging in acts likely to create another human being means accepting the obligation when it does.

          • Just Me says

            X. Citoyen –

            What about if you forgot to lock the door, would that then not allow you to claim self-defence?

          • X. Citoyen says

            Just Me,

            Are unlocked doors invitations where you come from?

          • Just Me says

            X. Citoyen –

            “Are unlocked doors invitations where you come from?”

            Exactly my point.

            An invitation indicates intent to welcome and accommodate, forgetting to lock the door does not.

            Neither does having a cheap lock that doesn’t work well and that is easy to circumvent by the intruder determined to make himself at home.

  47. Rando Hornswaggle says

    Abortion and crack should be legal for the same exact reason. No amount of loss is going to stop either of these things from happening . All you can do is try to maximize the least harm to both the crackhead and the woman who chooses to have the abortion . You do this through legalization and regulation.

    Also there are currently 107,000 children waiting for adoption. When there are no children waiting for adoption and would be parents wanting to adopt then perhaps we can discuss making abortion illegal .

    I am anti-crack for rando and pro-life for rando . I am pro crack and pro-choice for everyone else who wants to be involved with those things. If you don’t want to smoke crack or get abortions don’t do them . It really is just that easy.

    Maximal freedom means not intervening in the choices of others so that they cannot intervene in your choices .

  48. Tim H says

    The argument hinges on your cost argument and it’s a social cost argument at that – thanks JS Mill. You can pretty easily take a social cost thought experiment in the other direction. What if we just have a lottery only in this case the losers have to give all their money to government to redistribute? Surely we could find some “reasonable” middle ground where the social benefits outweigh the social costs. (The thought experiments just get more gruesome from there.) If your argument is only about loss and gain, you will always end in awfulness. I won’t even get into the discussion that costs and benefits are not social.

    You say biology can’t help. But you don’t talk much more about it. A different organism from either parent is created at conception. The organism has every indication of humanity. Its DNA is human. Its DNA is unique. It is a unified, recognizable whole. It grows and moves. If it isn’t human, what is it? If you let it take it’s typical course of growth it will go on to walk, age, learn, speak and pretty much live as a human being. How is it religious to argue for the fundamental human decency to recognize this is a human being at conception even if not recognizable by some people?

    Just one more word on the cost argument. Since one party to the cost benefit analysis isn’t able to provide feedback yet, I don’t see how the cost argument is helpful in any way. In fact, the whole tenor of the argument leaves out one of the parties to the discussion. Your arguments all work through the people capable of giving voice to the preferences – society, the woman involved, etc. But there is very little from the perspective of the child involved. I just don’t see how that is healthy for the world.

  49. MMS says

    I am generally and practically pro-choice (though it is unfortunate that we humans must deal with such imperfect realities). However, as the commentary only scratches the surface on many of the asinine and illogical arguments that are made in support of pro-choice let me add:

    Men want to control women bodies: No, this is generally not true (some nut cases aside). To whatever extent that a woman’s body would be “controlled” to protect the unborn is an unfortunate side effect in the mind of most pro-lifer’s.
    Women need the abortion option to deal with the financial reality of child rearing. While true, this is belied by the fact that most pro-lifers do not accept a man’s right to a financial abortion if you will.
    Not allowing abortion and expecting abstinence or careful birth control in tantamount to punishing women for sex. Again belied by the fact that men are not allowed financial abortions.
    Abortion is not “murder”. Beyond viability this is purely opinion. To many abortion of a viable fetus is murder. I myself believe it is a form of murder but one that must be accepted.given all considerations.
    Women should not feel bad about abortion. Women, who are adults, should take the decision very seriously (and I am sure the vast majority due) and their feelings should be based on their own moral lights. To not have some even small regret would not be human (this goes for the man to the extent that he is involved in the situation)…

    Legitimate Pro-Choice Arguments

    A person (in this case a biological female as they are the only people who can get pregnant) can not be forced to provide their body for use by another… Body Autonomy.
    Abortions will happen legally or illegal and if illegal they will result in dead and injured people and likely more brutal procedures with respect to the unborn.
    In most cases, any child born to a person who is forced (at the point of a gun, which is the force of the state) will likely result in poor to brutal outcomes for the people involved.

    Again I am pro-choice but many of the arguments are illogical, even embarrassing under scrutiny, but they are also unnecessary…

    • MMS I love your consciousness reduction —“To not have even small regret would not be human”, your banality is telling, and unfortunately,common.

  50. Raj says

    It’s cute how bodily autonomy is no big deal when it only applies to women.
    State sanctioned kidney donations or vasectomies at puberty anyone?

    • Raj says

      Don’t be so unreasonable Raj.
      These poor petals can’t even cope with their sexist behaviours being criticised without fretting godzilla like mobs are chasing them let alone take orders.

    • Bill says

      Can’t force someone to accept birthing a child, but can force them to accept vaccination.

  51. “To the contrary, there exists no consensus among biologists about what, specifically, divides life from non-life. ”

    Ok, so name a situation in which organic cells divide but are not alive. In short, conception looks a lot like the beginning of life.

    And if conception is life, what form of life is it if not human? What other sexual animal or plant produces offspring that are other than its own kind. Ergo, conception creates human life.

    If I’m wrong, please correct me.

  52. David Olm says

    I find young Mr Hughes (an incredible resume as an undergraduate!) cost/ benefit analysis concerning human life disturbing. One of the lessons of the ancient parable of King Solomon and the baby is that some things are not equivocal; you cannot split a baby. In the real world a baby cannot be both alive and dead, like Schrödinger’s cat.
    Likewise with all human life. And Mr. Hughes reasoned solution of letting some babies be aborted to keep the peace is tantamount to human sacrifice, 21st Century style.
    Have you had occasion to read Soren Kierkegaard, Mr Hughes? I believe he would say abortion is in the realm of the moral, which does not allow of mediation. A personal choice one way or another must be made, else someone will be calculating your price.

  53. Chad says

    Refreshing to have a nuanced article on the topic. On an issue where there are such a wide range of competing opinions and beliefs, the approach that seems the most rational is to leave it to the individual. Thoughtful, well meaning people exist on all sides of the debate. Supporting the freedom of individual choice best addresses the huge variance of beliefs and is also nicely in line with fundamental conservatism.

    • Peter from Oz says

      I agree. But I would caveat that society has an interest too, because after all the woman can make the choice, but someone else has to carry out the operation.
      The pro-choice people of course focus on the first part of the argument and ignore the second. I get the impression they think that there is some right that abortion must also be available as well as legal. The only time you really hear them talk about the issue is when they complain about how the facilities for abortion are being weithdrawn in a certain state or area in the US. My response is, but you only argued for choice, not for the means of letting someone else give effect to the choice if it is to have a termination.

      • S.Cheung says

        I agree with you insofar as society is party to the discussion. I say this as someone who is pro-choice but feel it should be “available, safe, and rare”, and I feel society’s role is related to what it can do to encourage abortion to be more rare.. I don’t think the medical aspect suffices in that discussion. Because in your construct, if the woman makes the choice, then rounds up a surgical team and finds a willing facility, then “society’s interest” will have been served.

        On the other hand, a “legal” medical procedure that has no accessible provider hardly makes the process “available”. Choice only exists when it can actually be exercised. Your version of “choice” is meaningless.

      • Chad says

        In those cases the state is restricting access. It’s never the case that there aren’t facilities/staff willing to provide services.

  54. Jackson Howard says

    Such a great piece, and the nuanced ethical view is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise extremely polarized debate. As the author points out, compromise is made impossible by priceless types arguments (i.e. fetal life is priceless, women right to chose is priceless) and people seem to forget about the fact that ethics is not a matter of black and white thinking but of difficult and nuanced compromises.

  55. Severus Snape says

    Cygote/embryo transplant is not so far fetched, it is my understanding that it has already been done with lab rats.

    I am actually looking forward to this technology being developed, it would allow us to get around most of the thornier issues. And as the Atlantic article linked by Just Me shows, adoption is an unpopular choice by pregnant women while there is no shortage of would-be parents willing to adopt.

    As a secular pro-lifer, I must congratulate mr Hughes for a well thought and compelling article, even if I find his 12 week line unconvincing in the end. The comparison to sex offenders is not adequate, while I agree on the uselessnes and cruelty of registries, the stakes are not comparable. In the case of abortion, we are talking about millions of lives annually.

  56. Peter from Oz says

    Yes, she can make the choice to have an abortion. But she cannot compel the state to enforce that choice without making other people do things. Therefore her choice is quite irrelevant. The state has an interest in the matter, because the state has to regulate the provision of the abortion ansd society has to pay for it.
    As I said in an earlier thread:
    It takes a village to make an abortion happen.
    The village thus has a say in whether it happend or not.

  57. Severus Snape says

    Crime still happens despite being illegal, why dont we legalize it? The key is to consider is someone elses life or liberty is being infringed on. The main disagreement is at what point what is growing inside an uterus is someTHING, and at what point is is someONE.

    Contrary to popular belief, making abortion illegal is unlikely to raise medical complication numbers significantly. The numbers were much inflated back in the 1970s already, and since then pills have only made it much safer.

  58. Severus Snape says

    My last comment was a reply to MMS, the Quillette comment system got the best of me once again

    • MMS says

      @Snape Yes the comments section reply function seems a bit arbitrary…

  59. Severus Snape says

    Giving your baby out for adoption is unpopoular for several reasons, one of them the emotional trauma.
    But in addition, for middle to upper class women, there is also the stigma of being a bad mother, which usually goes unrecognized. IF you have the means to support a child, you will be judged more harshly when you give it away. After all, only selfish bitches cannot love a baby, right?

    Instead, you can discreetly abort your unwanted pregnancy without anyone noticing.

    still does not make it right.

  60. Severus Snape says

    OK, I give up trying to reply to specific comments, for some reason all stack up down here. Quillette hates me, apparently.

  61. Pretretio Useb says

    This article links from “or illegally in hotel rooms” to this page where a 74-year old Joan Baez-lookalike writes in the third paragraph:

    “When I was 23, I had an illegal abortion arranged by the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. I was young, in no position to raise a child, and had gotten pregnant by a man I barely knew.”

    Okay. “I was 23” justiposed to “I was young.”

    You were not young. You were 23.

    “I was 23” justiposed to “in no position to raise a child.”

    You were 23. You could certainly raise a child.

    “I had gotten pregnant by a man I barely knew.”

    How on earth did that happen? The mysteries of life! The first thing that comes to my mind is “Don’t get pregnant.” The second is “Don’t sleep with men you barely know.” Then I get around to thinking “Maybe learning about the pregnancy was a good opportunity to get to know the guy better.”

    “My parents helped pay for the procedure and my friends knew about it.” So you were not estranged from your family and you had friends who you trusted not to shame you.

    And it continues on.

    “These people”® seem to me to always be so self centered and completely un-self-aware.

    Continuing on in her story we learn, “This experience, however, was not the only time I suffered …. One morning, six months prior to my experience in Pittsburgh … I went to use the bathroom, I experienced a sharp pain followed by a plop as something fell into the toilet.” This is very involved, but basically she had previously been pregnant, but had a miscarriage.

    Pregnant by whom? Did she change her behavior after that?

    “Though we may come from a more private era, women of my generation should take a cue from our social media-loving children and grandchildren and overshare a little.”

    I think this is a good idea. The more stories like this I read, the less I’m inclined to be sympathetic to women like her who support abortion.

  62. ga gamba says

    It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body.

    I reckon many people haven’t considered the many laws other than those governing abortion that contravene this argument. Ironically, some of these laws have come at the behest of my-body-my-choice feminists. So, is it about choice? Or is it about flexing one’s muscles for social control? Probably a mishmash.

    Though you may donate an organ, you may not sell one. If you haven’t chosen to donate organs, your surviving family may make this choice upon your death. For those who self-harm (their bodies), the law allows them to be involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation. There are campaigns to ban non-therapeutic “designer vagina” labiaplasty. Campaigners also demand the banning of its advertisement. Pregnant women who smoke or drink in public are berated by others – I suppose “I’m going to abort it” might flummox their scolds. In the US, forty-three states have regulations governing alcohol consumption by the pregnant, which range from prohibiting criminal prosecution of pregnant women who drink alcohol to mandating rehab for pregnant women who drink alcohol. Twenty-one US states have policies requiring pregnant women who consume alcohol be reported to child protection services, 20 consider the women liable for child abuse, and five recommend civil commitment. There are even states the prohibit people from smoking in cars with children but allow women to smoke with a foetus in her womb. Women who used illegal drugs whilst pregnant and birthed damaged babies have been prosecuted for child endangerment. And I have to wonder, if it’s just a bunch of cells, why such strident demands for pre-natal care at taxpayer expense? Sex work, surely an act of the body, in most jurisdictions is illegal. In Spain, France, and Italy, fashion models are required to provide a doctor’s certificate attesting their body mass index (BMI) sits within a “healthy range” in order to work. Yet, obese models don’t face the same barriers though their BMIs exceed the “healthy range” and this may “promote” the unhealthy lifestyle of gluttony and sloth. And speaking of food, there are many prohibitions on what some may eat, for example raw-milk cheese. In the near future we’ll see many proposed legal responses to the genetic editing and engineering of humans, both in utero and ex. I think there are laws banning conversion therapy (of gays), yet if a gay person wants to convert, who are we to stand in is/her way? Is conscription a violation of one’s body right? Let’s not forget those who see power imbalances swirling everywhere, and in the face of these disparities can the person (most often an adult woman) really make a choice? Or is all just an illusion?

    To their supporters there are compelling reasons to ban, and to the opponents there are equally compelling reasons to decriminalise. I see a lot of contradictions. which suggests to me the incoherence is due to power politics.

    Though I’m a conservative, I’m of the libertarian stripe, which means I think the liberty to do with your body as you like is yours to decide. I just don’t want to pay for it. I think full disclosure of the merits and demerits of each is warranted, then the person picks his/her poison. The consequences that befall you, if any, are yours to embrace and celebrate. It may be as minor as a stomach upset after eating unpasteurised buffalo mozzarella or as catastrophic as your soul burning in hell for eternity for murdering an unborn baby. Use your freedom wisely.

    • X. Citoyen says


      Selling ourselves into slavery is another item on your list of the illiberal laws of liberal regimes. Such laws are inconsistent with the liberal ideal, no doubt, but they’re the inevitable practical concessions to human nature that even liberal constitutions must make. As Plato pointed out, every regime presupposes a kind of man without which the regime cannot be. Despotisms need despots, minions, and slaves; liberal democracies need liberal democrats—or, as you put it, people who use their freedom wisely.

      Human nature being what it is, we’ll always be engaged in some regulation of social behaviour; the question is how much before maintenance of the regime slides into social engineering—when keeping people free becomes forcing them to be free. A purist would say no such laws, of course, and a utopian would say as many laws as needed. Being a realist, I say only as many as necessity demands and prudence allows. Which brings me around to the main point:

      I’m of the libertarian stripe, which means I think the liberty to do with your body as you like is yours to decide.

      I suggest libertarianism points in the opposite direction. If we don’t have a right to live, any other meaningless, and (so far) we all come to be in one way. Does the self-determination of the “host” overrule our right to live once we’re made? I would say yes if her actions had no part in our making. But we do not impose on our hosts unless they first engage in behaviour likely to create us of their own free will. Some would object that this is “unfair” because we’re unintended consequence of her actions. But does fixing the unfairness of reality outweigh the right to life? I say your choices are (1) reject libertarianism, which is the utopian’s choice, or (2) answer with an unequivocal no, which is the purist’s choice.

      Being a realist, I go with a realistic 2—and I’ll state it in realistic terms: We need to allow some murder with an early but contrived line to prevent more murder with no line at all. To the purist I say that too many people accept it, and an absolute ban will backfire, creating sympathy for the prosecuted. To the utopian I say you do not believe in rights or self-determination but in the will to power, and any talk of rights or self-determination from you is wrong reasoning, self-delusion, dissimulation, or some of each.

    • S.Cheung says

      Ga Gamba,
      “available, safe, and privately funded” is an interesting starting point for discussion, certainly compared to the New York-Alabama axis.

  63. Leah The Cow Who Jumped Over The Moon says

    The entity is conscious from the moment of conception. In one way or another it is affected by everything that the mother does and is associated with from then on – the sound of her voice, her emotions, the chemicals in her blood stream as a result of the foods and various medications and drugs (both legal and illegal) that she consumes, the kind of music she listens to etc etc.

    Even so this vexed topic needs to be considered in the context of everyones responsibility for every aspect of their emotional-sexual behavior. All mature human being should take personal, but not legally enforced responsibility to take genuine care and direct physical precaution to avoid unwanted pregnancies, medically non-necessary abortions, the bodily exchange of sexually transmittable diseases, all participation in socially harmful addictions, and all participation in negative, self-deluding, self-evidently false, or profoundly unsupportable and potentially destructive political, social, cultural, religious, and, otherwise, philosophically based institutions traditions, and idealisms.
    Re the last point, any and every one who engages in or even believes in sex and bodily negative actions is thus harmed by such associations

    • Asenath Waite says


      That is such a broad definition of consciousness as to be pretty much meaningless. By that definition, protozoa are conscious in that they are affected by and respond to their environments.

  64. Daniel says

    Mr. Hughes,
    Your gift for articulation notwithstanding, I think your characterization of the two sides as “a fetus’ right to life, and a woman’s right to bodily autonomy” is missing an important point. I, at least, am deeply distrustful of people who redefine “human” to exclude a certain large category of people. It inevitably leads to justifying ever-increasingly unjustifiable acts. Exhibit A of this is good old Northam’s comments, of what to do in a failed partial-birth abortion, where you have a live baby who was unwanted. He recommended “discussing” with the mother to determine whether to keep the baby, or just let it die.
    If this debate were actually about a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, the pro-choice crowd would draw the line at birth. They don’t. They’re defending Northam. (Those that aren’t, I salute you.) The pro-choice leaders at least are focused on convenience, pure and simple.

    To your credit, you criticize the bleak inadequacy of each side’s talking points. Thank you for that. The pro-life side, in particular, has been unable to boil their position down to a sound bite effectively; mostly because the pro life crowd (and not just the leaders — it’s almost ubiquitous) is advocating for many things that need to be healthier in societies: less casual sex, more paternal involvement, expanded adoption opportunities, more community support, more focus on families etc. etc. I have seen each and every one of these sneered at as being “conservative”. Patently ridiculous, of course; each and every one of these is objectively better than the alternative, just as a balanced diet is superior to fast food.

    • Tin Man says

      Just so everyone is clear, these are Northam’s words:

      “And it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be a fetus that’s non-viable. So in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

      He is specifically talking about a delivered child who was dead upon delivery, going to be dead very soon, or likely suffering.

  65. Andrew says

    “Most actions have both ethical costs and ethical benefits.”

    Coleman does not apply this logic to the act of procreation: sex. We have know for hundreds of thousands of years what the act is that can result in making a baby. If you want a baby, you have sex, not not have an abortion.

    I prefer to grant, individuals, both men and women, agency in this discussion. We are able to understand the consequences of our animal urges and restrain them. There are consequences to actions and they must be considered before acting. This is called personal responsibility. Yes, everyone has the right to sex and procreations, but, like any other right, it must be engaged in responsibly. Coleman’s arguments do not grant or take into account individual agency.

  66. I have mixed feelings on abortion. It bothers me that it is taking a life, but I acknowledge that an unborn baby is not the same as one that has been born, particularly in its early stages. If California wants to allow abortion up until birth, I would find it disturbing but I wouldn’t try to get it overturned by the federal government. What really annoys me is how abortion advocates insist that the whole country has to follow this model because they have somehow framed abortion as a fundamental human right. Like any other issues the left supports, they believe their position is so obvious and unarguable that it must be enforced everywhere.

    • Asenath Waite says


      How is a baby an hour before birth significantly different from the same baby an hour after birth? I would find it more than just disturbing if California legalized the killing of the former. Surely the line needs to be drawn way before that point.

      • I agree that it approaches to infanticide at that point, but I am committed to federalist principles. Prior to Roe vs. Wade, states set abortion laws. Nationalizing it has divided our country sharply. The whole point of having “sovereign” states is that one state can pass a law that another state finds reprehensible. There are limits, but I would not draw it here.

  67. Asenath Waite says

    I fall more on the pro-choice side but do pro-choicers really not understand the principal motivation and argument of the pro-lifers or do they just pretend not to so they don’t have to address it? When arguing about bodily autonomy they seem to generally ignore the fact that the pro-lifers consider the gestating baby to be a separate human being with its own rights that have to be considered. Analogies to forced kidney donation etc. suggest complete misunderstanding or willful ignoring of this position.

    Also the idea that the primary motivation of pro-lifers is the oppression of women is unfounded, as approximately equal numbers of men and women are pro-life. I do not believe for a moment that “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be legal everywhere.” This idea also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the pro-life position, which seems to me like an extremely simple concept to grasp.

    As criticism of the pro-life side, I think they tend to be far too quick to characterize abortion as a decision that is generally made frivolously by the mother, and also to trivialize the difficulty of her situation.

    • Anj says

      Or perhaps pro choicers do understand but don’t agree a zygote is equal to a fully formed human being or possess personhood. An acorn is not an oak tree…
      Oh, and women can be just as sexist as men towards other women.

      • Asenath Waite says


        That is not generally the argument they make. They seem to pretend to think that pro-lifers just want to keep women down for some reason. Even if your own comment, you suggest that female pro-lifers are just motivated by internalized sexism, rather than concern for the lives of unborn children.

  68. domzerchi says

    What do you mean by “cluster of cells”? You hide the term in quotation marks but neglect to say whom you are quoting. Since you don’t even attempt to define it but try to crudely manipulate your reader into thinking he already know what you mean, It seems obvious to me that it’s a phrase that you are using to avoid rational thought, and doesn’t even deserve what little dignity you’ve given it by relegating it to the quote.

    If by “cluster of cells” you mean “a living multicellular organism” all of us, all people and lots of non-human, non-persons are clusters of cells and have been clusters of cells ever since we were conceived and will be until we die. If by “cluster of cells” you mean part of a (pre-?) pregnant woman’s body you are contradicting yourself.

    If you think “cluster of cells” is a biological or embryological technical term you are mistaken. It’s a meaningless phrase used in Planned Parenthood rhetoric to make the ideology seem vaguely scientific and to encourage potential customers not to think too hard about what is happening to their bodies. If that’s what you are doing you are breaking your promise at the top of the article to give us a better quality of Pro-Choice argumentation.

    Whatever you mean, you seem to be talking about magic or a miracle, since you say your “cluster of cells,” (I know I’m also disrespecting those poor quotation marks but at least I am actually quoting a real person—you) “turns into” a person. It’s ok to talk about theology or magic but you need to define your terms and be up-front about what you are saying.

    • Anj says

      “Cluster of cells” is a commonly used descriptor of a zygote. Unlike living human beings, zygote’s don’t posses personhood.

        • Anj says


          Exactly. & personhood is subjective…

      • Asenath Waite says


        A zygote is a single cell, not a cluster.

        • Anj says

          @ Asenath Waite
          A zygote begins as a single cell. The zygote develops by mitosis, and when it has developed into 16 cells becomes known as the morula.

          • Asenath Waite says


            Seems you are correct. I had thought that the daughter blastomere cells resulting from zygote division were considered a separate developmental stage.

  69. Barney Doran says

    I have not read all the comments on this article so do not know if this observation has been made, perhaps repeatedly. A very unfortunate aspect of abortion is when it is used simply as a means of pregnancy control. Obviously pregnancy prevention is the first line of defense against abortion. For that reason I would contend that all means of birth control should be made free, readily, and easily available to all whenever, wherever they reasonably request it . And people should be made clearly aware of that fact, starting in schools. The author mentions that 49% of abortions take place with people below the poverty line. Pretty clear what’s happening here. The cost of such a program would be tiny fraction of the cost of ‘mistake’ abortions plus the societal and individual cost of unwanted child rearing. Once these poverty and very avoidable abortions have been partially or completely eliminated with a free birth control regime in place and working, we can study the remaining cases and start drawing lines etc. If the pro-life side is not willing to consider this approach, then I think we will be able to discern the souls-for-Jesus people emerging from their midst and deal with them accordingly.

  70. LS says

    It’s not just those 4 countries, but most of Europe draws the line at 12 weeks, unless there’s a medical need. Why can’t we just adopt this and stop this endless debate?

  71. Most of the politicians of one major political party now oxymonorically claim full-term abortion as “human right”. in fact, By the standards of the Democratic Party today, you (the author) are not pro-choice — they would brand you as a pro-life, woman-hater. Don’t take my word for it, just look at what they’re doing to their few remaining pro-life elected officials.

    I appreciate this article greatly, but it highlights some of the reasons I favor a “conception or just after” rule.

    The problem with arbitrary rules is that they aren’t grounded in anything concrete. You say 12 weeks, someone else says 20 weeks, someone else says full-term. How do you evaluate the ethics of those options?

    There are bioethicists today arguing for infanticide (post-birth abortion) on exactly the basis you raise in this article: “in terms of its capacity to suffer and flourish, a fetus the day before delivery is no different from a newborn baby. ‘Personhood’ emerges gradually over the course of weeks and months.” Based on your own criteria, birth is not a bright line at all. If personhood occurs gradually, there’s no objective reason a 2 day old infant ought to be defined as a person. I can’t go anywhere near that concept.

    The only bright line in this debate is conception (or implantation.) I would fine with a morning-after pill, but surgical abortion is over the line. I wish there was another bright line, but if pro-choice ethics can’t even agree that birth confers personhood, I’m not optimistic.

    Like you though, I’m open to being convinced if someone can come up with another bright line beyond which there is no ethical question. However, as long as the line is fuzzy and political and open to interpretation, I’ll stick with pre-conception.

    Good article though, and one of the few rational voices in a debate that all too often simply involves screaming at each other. Thank you.

    • Everything in the material world is subject to edge cases where rules break down. Setting a number of weeks seems problematic to me simply because we have no way of knowing for sure when the baby was conceived. The main thing is to pick a rule that can be applied consistently and fairly, and allow some flexibility to deal with situations not covered by the law.

      • Anj, I love it when other people make my own point for me.

        Based on a sentience standard, a 1 week only infant does not possess personhood. He or she is not self-aware in in any meaningful way. A severly disabled person does not posess personhood either.

        Forget abortion. That’s an ethical recipe for infanticide.

        I respect that you are pro-choice — I’ve been there, so I get it. But surely you realize the danger of such a subjective standard to decide who it’s ethical and legal to kill. When dealing with life and death, I believe in bright, objective lines.

        • Anj says

          Ok bd ‘ll spell it out just for you.
          ‘Sentience’ regarding pre birth discussion is considered the ability to feel pain which is approx after 20/22 weeks according to scientific consensus.
          Personally, i’m not advocating wait till then just caveats as there are circumstances especially health ones that should be considered up until that time & beyond.
          Obviously after birth there are situations where one may not feel pain ie coma this may be temporary & if so they may regain consciousness so obviously it’s unethical to end their lives.
          A severely disabled person usually still feels pain.

          • Anj, I must admit I’ve never heard that definition of sentience. It seems odd, but I’ll let that go.

            I take it from your comment that you are fine with a ban on abortions after about week 22?

            I really do appreciate your attempt to find another bright line standard, but the “responds to pain” is still rather arbitrary. In the end, the author favors 12 weeks, you favor 22 weeks, elected Democrats seem to favor week 39+.

            I’m sticking with conception or a few days later.

          • Anj says

            bd, if you bothered to read my comment you would know that I don’t personally think 20 or for that matter 12 is ok. But my personal opinion is not grounded in rationale rather ‘squeamishness’ maybe even instinct. To force my own personal ‘feelings’ onto others is unreasonable as putting theirs is on to me.
            But fortunately I & the majority of humans can walk in another’s shoes maybe someone with a profoundly disabled fetus or an 11 year old incest victim or maybe a reckless 13 year old.
            Point being, one size does not fit all particularly a size fashioned from irrationality & ethics don’t mean shit if they are not practical.

    • Anj says

      Hello bd
      Philosophers such as Peter Singer suggest sentience is a marker.

      • Asenath Waite says


        How does one measure sentience?

        • Anj says

          Cute how you want to force women to have children & can’t even be bothered to hit a few clicks to look up the ethics.
          There’s this thing called ‘Google’…

          • Asenath Waite says


            You want me to Google the nature of sentience, the ultimate philosophical question? Google must be even more powerful than I thought. It’s like the computer from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy designed to calculate the meaning of life.

  72. Just Me says

    bdvillanueva and Mararatones –

    Picking 12 weeks is a very safe, conservative position, which is why so many countries have adopted it. The foetus clearly is not yet a human being.

    After that is when it becomes more problematic.

    • How do physicians know how old a fetus is? My understanding is that they base it largely on size, i.e., they approximate.

    • “After that is when it becomes more problematic.”


      I have lived long enough to experience the political transition from “you conservatives are so reactionary — no one would ever do [THAT] (whatever it happens to be)” to “you conservatives are such bigots — how dare you deny someone [THAT] right”. As a result, I am very wary of legal standards without objective moral bases.

      So, my question to you is: why? Why 12 weeks and not 16, or 20, or 38? Why is it “problematic” after that point?

  73. Just Me says

    Abortion is legal at all stages in Canada btw, and the procedure is covered by our universal health care system, and there is no talk of changing this by any party.

    • Asenath Waite says

      @Just Me

      Like a woman could legally have her baby aborted on the delivery date in Canada? That seems… horrible.

      • Just Me says

        In Canada, In 1988, ” the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down the existing abortion law on the grounds that it violated women’s Section 7 Charter rights to “life, liberty and security of person.” The ruling states the existing law “clearly interferes with a woman’s physical and bodily integrity.”

        • Asenath Waite says

          @Just Me

          If if can be done prior to birth on the due date in Canada, why not extend that to after birth as well. The baby develop significantly in fewer than 24 hours. You guys should extend it to a month after birth. A year maybe?

  74. Denys says

    Though I disagree with the conclusions in this article, I appreciate the idea of approaching the issue more honestly. Should citizens be able to resolve this issue legislatively after an honest discussion in the public square? Supreme Court cases, which constitutionalize the issue, restrict that ability. Not having access to ballot-box and legislative solutions contributes greatly to the escalation of rhetoric, like steam building up with no release valve.

    • This is a very important point.

      In 1857, SCOTUS issued the Dred Scott decision, which overturned all the political compromises over slaver of the preceding 60 years. In short, before Dred Scott, we had an uneasy political truce over slavery. Within 3 years of Dred Scott, we were literally shooting each other over the issue.

      My point is not to defend Dred Scott or slavery. It is only to illustrate the danger of taking a divisive political issue and turning it into a legal one.

      Converting abortion from a political argument to a legal one (in Roe) didn’t make it any less divisive, it just eliminated the pressure release valve that politics normally provides. One side is thrilled and publicly celebrating (witness the floor of the NY legislature); the other side is steaming mad with no way to strike back.

      Over the last 40 years, pro-lifers have convinced 70% of their fellow citizens that abortion after the first trimester is wrong and should be illegal (Gallup 2018). Much like abolitionists in 1857 though, since SCOTUS made abortion a legal instead of a political issue, that 70% has no realistic way to affect policy.

  75. Paul says

    “The bad argument I’m referring to—often sloganized as “my body, my choice,” or its corollary, “they want to control women’s bodies”—can be summarized as follows:

    1) It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body.
    2) A fetus is part of a woman’s body.
    3) Therefore, it’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her fetus.”

    Knocking down a critically flawed “summary” of a position you are purporting to seriously critique is the act of:

    a) an incompetent,
    b) a mental weakling, or
    c) a moral coward.

    A better attempt to summarize, without artificially inserting the flawed premise #2, is:

    1) It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body.
    2) #1 includes the decision over what, or who, is or is not allowed to say within the confines of her body, for how long, under what conditions.
    3) Therefore, it’s a woman’s right to choose whether or not to end her pregnancy.

    Failing so badly to accurately encapsulate “the central argument of the pro-choice movement”, while simultaneously crowing about the need to avoid using “bad reasons to defend a position when good ones are available”…

    Well. “Painful” is one way to describe it.

    I can’t help my mirror neurons from feeling profound, nay existential, embarrassment on your behalf.

    • Asenath Waite says


      I’m not sure most pro-choicers recognize the fetus as a separate entity from the mother. If they do, they are implicitly acknowledging it as a human being, because what else would it then be? Maybe I am wrong about this and they do recognize its human status but are still OK with killing it, as you say, but that has not been my impression.

      • X. Citoyen says

        Asenath Waite,

        Paul offers a good example of the Dunning-Kruger effect. He belittles the author for logical incompetence in formulating the argument only to produce a worse version himself. The author’s second premise does contain a suppressed argument for the fetus being part of a woman’s body and not a human being. But this is consistent with most pro-abortion arguments I’ve read.

        As you point out, however, Paul makes this worse by reintroducing the “who” in the second premise, which begs the question of why the host-who has the right to kill the womb-who—after all, they’re both whos and being uninvited is not a justification for killing another who under any other circumstances.

    • Paul, this is basically a libertarian-property-rights argument in favor of abortion: “I own my body, therefore I have a right to decide everything about it.”

      I also own my house. However, if I take a tenant in on a 9 month lease, I don’t have the right to then throw her stuff out on the street 3 months later because I’ve decided she’s too inconvenient. And I certainly don’t have a right to shoot her.

      Same argument. Just a different setting.

      (I don’t think the property rights argument is a good analogue to abortion for eithier side, at all. I’m merely using it becuase it was the one you used.)

      • Terran says

        You might have the law on your side if, despite your best efforts of locking the door and having a contract security guard, the tenant found their way into your house anyway. Length of tenure would be no consideration, despite the harm you’d be doing to this person by evicting them after they set up shop in your basement quietly without your noticing a month or two ago.
        Over half of all abortions are obtained by women using contraceptives, but they don’t work 100%. Anyone suggesting that couples who don’t want children yet but have a healthy sexual relationship are being irresponsible despite taking precautions simply is ignorant of how healthy relationships work. And most women who get such abortions go on to have healthy families when they and their partner are ready, something that likely wouldn’t have been possible had their lives been deranged by the first unexpected pregnancy.

  76. Circumcision says

    Daily reminder to research circumcision. This entire debate is moot without recognizing the fact that Americans routinely mutilate infant male genitals for no reason. Who the fuck cares about a woman’s “bodily autonomy” if she can birth the baby and then permanently blight his sex life within 2 days of birth? That’s the lesson that circumcision teaches: you can do whatever you want to someone weaker than you.

  77. Robin says

    “It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body.

    The first premise makes sense. A person should be free to do as they wish with their own body.”


    The first premise makes no sense… “a person” should be free to do as they wish with their own body is complete nonsense. Try that sentence again in its nonsensical format… “a man should free to do as they wish with their own body”.

    So men being liable to being drafted and used in countless wars spreading their lives and body parts all over the world since time began is an expression of male freedom in choosing what they want to do with their bodies?? When men are drafted to fight forest fires or bucket brigades how much control over our bodies do we have then? Men being discriminated out of their jobs and forced to do the dirty and dangerous work is another expression of how much control we have over our bodies. The statement on its face is a tautology which can be disproved by even a cursory glance at history.

    Women on the other hand get a pass. Where men have no right to choose only women have the right to choose because their bodies are female. The concept of a “right” embeds a concept of the universal to men and women and clearly that is not the case here. We’re not discussing rights at all… not a bit. We’re talking about female privilege here. Not rights or biology.

    Female privilege in this is the claim that they have the right to kill their children. (Including the ones who have been born, in Canada they give women a pass by creating a body of law that uses the term ‘infanticide’ where men are given the term ‘murder’… but I digress).

    So lets discuss the female privilege of being legally allowed to kill their unborn for any reason whatsoever. (Which they currently have). The assertion comes with the added claim that not only do women have this privilege but that a man has absolutely no say in the matter even if he was the father of the unborn. Should she choose to carry the child to term, the women can choose to give up the child against the wishes of the child’s father and he has no claim to the baby or any say in how it is disposed. Should she alternatively choose to keep the child then the father is on the hook for child support, alimony, etc., for decades. He has no say in it and if any male raises an objection or wants to discuss it they are immediately told to shut up. “My body, my choice”.

    That ^^^^ is the discussion. Not rights. Once you have internalized this then the question is what is the appropriate male response to the string of tautologies being thrown around…. Well that depends…at the extremes there is the Christian Fundamentalist view and the feminist view. In the middle are more liberal views like the author’s ‘heartbeat’ rule. Various different flavors of this abound… one view that never comes up though is the view that men have any rights over the unborn. No men just get responsibilities after the child is conceived. Lots of them and all financial.

    So this then creates an interesting ethical circle. Women demand something to be viewed as a right that simultaneously declaring that men have no rights but just responsibilities based on a decision they have no say in. In short, their position is ethically and morally bankrupt. (Let me preempt you here… men “choose” when they have sex… is rhetorical. Women are the gatekeepers of sex, not men. It’s women who ultimately decide, not men. That and the fact they have a multitude of contraception options vs. very limited ones for men)

    So looking at it this way the question is then how do you treat the ethical and immoral? Pretty easy actually… coming from a secular man… you throw them to the wolves! Let the Fundamentalist Christians have their way with them. Lock em up! Nothing like a 25 year jail sentence to learn morality and virtue.

    • Just Me says

      You have a point about the lack of concern for men’s rights in all this, men getting stuck with the consequences of sex but not the women, but the difficulty here is that the alternative is giving the man the right to override the woman, and how is that fair?

      Either he wants the baby and she does not, and she is forced to have it.

      Or he does not want it and she does, and she is forced to have an abortion? Or he gets off the hook of child support if he claims he does not, only to come back later and claim paternity once the financial responsibility is no longer a threat?

      Ultimately it IS the woman’s decision because she is the only one who has to go through the months of pregnancy and the risks of childbirth, he does not.

      And unless you believe in “souls”, it isn’t a moral issue at all in the 1st semester and rarely happens after that except under extreme circumstances, so taking an extreme position is moral absolutism.

      But thanks for demonstrating it isn’t Christian fundamentalists who are not the most dangerous, patriarchal “women haters”, but secular men angry at women for getting away with having sex “scott free” when they don’t.

    • S.Cheung says

      you made some decent points, inadvertently, and for the wrong reasons.

      I agree that the draft (of up to 40-some odd years ago) contravenes male autonomy of their body. Is the redress to then do the same to women, and hope 2 wrongs make a right? Or maybe just say let’s not violate women’s bodily autonomy now, and not violate male bodily autonomy ever again in the future?

      I think there is unfairness towards the biologic father. He doesn’t get a say in whether the woman seeks an abortion or not, but is on the hook for support if she doesn’t. It seems that financial responsibility aspect really gets your goat. To which I would first ask where they were with their condom before hand…there is lots of innuendo about floozy women who get abortions, but not much talk about guys who can’t keep it in their pants. And if we’re gonna talk about responsibility, it takes two to conceive. Sure, women are gatekeepers, but you can put your condom on yourself. And just because the gate is open doesn’t mean you are forced to walk in. So let’s not delude yourself with this “man as the innocent sperm-donating bystander” bit.

      To solve half the problem (she wants to keep / he doesn’t), maybe we do away with paternity liability out of wedlock. But recognizing this may lead to more abortion. And admittedly, it does not solve the “she wants to abort/he doesn’t side of equation. But there is no unwanted financial burden on the man in that case.

      All that being said, I do hope folks like you become more vocal on the subject, because I think your type would be quite persuasive for people not on the extremes of the spectrum, and not in the way you would hope.

      • Robin says

        I absolutely agree with the assertion that “fairness” is not historically evolved to be “fair” to males of any sexually dimorphic species. Briffault’s law is not “fair” to males, it just ‘is’.


        Briffault’s Law
        The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family.

        Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.

        Past benefit provided by the male does not provide for continued or future association.

        Any agreement where the male provides a current benefit in return for a promise of future association is null and void as soon as the male has provided the benefit.

        A promise of future benefit has limited influence on current/future association, with the influence inversely proportionate to the length of time until the benefit will be given and directly proportionate to the degree to which the female trusts the male.


        Biology and evolution don’t care about notions of ‘fairness’, arguably only humans do and then only within a political context. “Fairness” is a principle parents invoke on their squabbling children in the playground. Outside of the playground humans are rarely fair to each other except to virtue signal for political purposes. Life isn’t fair, I get that.

        But to address your specific points, do 2 wrongs make a right? Absolutely they do! You punch me in the face, I punch you in the face! You just learned that it is not nice to punch someone in the face. You evolve into a better person by learning the two pillars of morality in a very simple lesson. ‘Reciprocity’ and ‘Empathy’. Before you punched me in the face you had neither… afterwards you learned both and got a hospital visit to repair your broken jaw.

        To your second point about responsibility… the same one made by other posters, is that the male is uniquely responsible and the female has no agency in the sexual dance. “Its just a cluster of cells” or women take all the risk while men walk away… is rhetorical and historical nonsense. Paternal lines have always been rigidly enforced throughout societies because society didn’t want to be saddled with the cost of dealing with single mothers and their children. (Now it encourages this but I digress…). Reread Briffault’s law, women are the gatekeepers, not men! Also they have the myriad of birth control options, not men.

        Financial responsibility per se doesn’t “get my goat” at all. It’s just part of the big moral lie. Because a man consents to sex it doesn’t mean he consents to fatherhood. The wealth extraction from men can occur even where they haven’t consented to sex or even when they haven’t engaged in sex at all via ‘sperm jacking’ or false paternity. The system is utterly rigged and completely biased against men. OK I get that politicians want to throw men under the bus because it is politically expeditious and gets them support from organized feminist groups. But don’t you dare claim you have any moral virtue for doing that!

        So to your final point about ‘solving the problem’ there are solutions. It’s easy but it would mean running counter to the interests of the female biological and evolutionary imperatives. They would never accept it and in a democracy it would never happen. (Because females in Western society get huge resource transfers and extra services they live longer and outnumber men by a significant margin). The solution is legal paternal surrender wherein if a women wants to carry a child to term against the wishes of the male then he can ‘surrender’ it to her releasing all his financial obligations. That is a fair solution.

        Another “fair” solution is well if a women has a right to an abortion men should have that right too. If he should not want a child that came from his DNA then he should be able to have his contribution removed from a women’s body and flushed down the toilet. That would be fair.

        Now we know that will never happen so.. plan B. You punch me in the face I punch you in the face. Time to treat women like the child-murderers that they are. No more being nice and no more excuses. Time to show women the exact same level of empathy men get from society.

        Oh and your wrong about your final point. I am actually quite vocal and the traditional right wing, “tradcons”, the Christian right, (that is big on males being uniquely responsible), and the liberal left, feminist, pro-abortion types, both hate my views. I am vocal only because all faux-moralism disgusts me to the core of my being.

        • S.Cheung says

          “Life isn’t fair, I get that.”

          Do you? Do you really? Cuz in that case, the draft, fire brigades, dirty jobs, “women’s privilege”, and the various versions of your paternity belly-aching…all disappear as legit grievances….since they may be unfair but that’s life.

          So if you truly accept that life isn’t fair, then your entire OP is pointless. So let’s not BS ourselves, shall we? Life isn’t fair, and it bugs the crap out of you.

          If I was inclined to punch you to start with, your punching back isn’t gonna have the result you envisioned. Instead, you would subsequently have the nasal effluent extracted out of you. After I was done, the only lesson for you would be to become a better puncher. And it still doesn’t make any of those punches, or the final summation, “right”. You’re preaching morals without knowing the concept…which is hilarious, but also typical of your lot.

          “Paternal lines have always been rigidly enforced throughout societies because society didn’t want to be saddled with the cost of dealing with single mothers and their children.”
          —So what do you think happens if you remove access to abortion? Are you ready to step up with your wallet? Cuz that seems like a touchy subject for you.

          “is that the male is uniquely responsible and the female has no agency in the sexual dance.”
          —that’s not my position at all. Like I said, it takes 2 to conceive. But your characterization of “gatekeeper” is idiotic, because it ascribes sole responsibility onto the woman. Excepting rape, she is the gatekeeper in that she only allows intercourse with the horny bastard of her choice…but it takes that horny bastard to accept the invitation. So like I said, where’s your glove, buddy? Neither is solely responsible, but neither can claim innocence to an unwanted pregnancy.

          But being that neither party are completely innocent, you know what else is unfair? The woman gets saddled with it for 9 months, and beyond, whereas the dad can be a deadbeat, or (even more hilariously) be considered upstanding by footing the bill but doing nothing more. Meanwhile, the woman has hormonal and bodily changes; faces the rare but finite medical risks of pregnancy, which don’t end after delivery; makes educational/vocational/professional sacrifices during pregnancy; and continues to make those sacrifices long after pregnancy ends, if she is doing her job seriously…for something she didn’t want. And few of those consequences befall the man. So yeah, the woman has a bit more skin in the game than the man does. And for that, she deserves more of the decision-making prerogative.

          And dude, stop being so pathetic with the “men as victim” nonsense. If you think “men get shafted, so let’s see how we can shaft women more, and let’s start with taking away their access to abortion” is going to play well beyond the confines of your head, you are far more deluded than i give you credit for.

          • Robin says


            I understand the pillars of morality well. It’s evolved biological origins and it’s learned aspect. I think you are struggling with it though. Here’s a primer from Frans de Waal:


            The two pillars are empathy and reciprocity. Men get little empathy from women… or other men. The tone of your post illustrates this perfectly. In your first post you acknowledged that male bodily autonomy is violated by the draft, “I think there is unfairness towards the biologic father”, and in your second you turn it into “belly aching”. You belittle and trivialize. Quite a flip flop on your part.

            So I’m wondering how you conflate my assertion to acknowledging that life isn’t fair to meaning I have no grounds for complaint. (Or perhaps more accurately given the scale of unfairness towards men, female claims to ‘unfairness’ are trivial). That’s quite a leap. Things may be unfair but from that assertion it doesn’t follow that I can’t make moral judgments about human behavior. It certainly doesn’t stop you.

            To answer your question, if you remove abortion women will be faced with the consequences of their actions. Unlike you I don’t give free passes to child murderers. As for costs we already spend billions on child support and various other resource extraction mechanisms. In case you didn’t know it, populations are shrinking worldwide and governments are working overtime to reverse the trend. It might actually be a good thing for a number of reasons.

            Your other point that there is equal responsibility or choice in becoming a parent is pure BS. The women is primarily responsible for sex selection. (Her body her choice, remember?) She is also primarily responsible for birth control. The vast number of options go to women. Here’s a list for you, note how many on it are for men:


            Because of the lack of options for men, and the consequences fall heaviest on women, it usually means men rely on the female birth control techniques. That trust puts men in a particularly vulnerable spot, not women. They get to choose, not the man.

            Reread your own sentence: “she only allows intercourse with the horny bastard of her choice…but it takes that horny bastard to accept the invitation.” The person in charge is the one doing the allowing. You can pretty safely assume that there is usually someone willing to accept the invitation. The female decides, not the male.

            Yes the cost of being pregnant is high isn’t it? When men get a women pregnant and she wants to carry it they tell him it is his fault because “he should have kept it in his pants”. He is responsible… Now the shoe is on the other foot. We’re simply saying that we are removing your privilege to kill your child and now you have deal with the consequences of your own actions. Sucks, doesn’t it? Yeah but it’s fair. We all like fairness don’t we?

            I think your funny Mr Cheung! You think your cheap virtue signalling is actually morality. Nope. Morality is an evolved and learned behavior. Your White Knighting rant is full of contradictions and I particularly like your previous post where you suggest I “become more vocal on the subject” and in this post you are reduced to childish name calling… “pathetic”. You know you are like most feminists… you always demand from others values which you don’t hold yourselves. Your vacuous, unsupported utterances usually amount to ‘shut up’ and suck it up. Well no, I won’t. If you can’t handle the truth, maybe you should take your own advice.

          • S.Cheung says

            “if you remove abortion women will be faced with the consequences of their actions.”
            —Abortion itself is a consequence…and it’s not exactly a spa day. Your inability to recognize that reveals your “belittling” to be so ingrained that it’s just you, it seems. There is some degree of unfairness towards the biologic father…which elimination of abortion does nothing to address.

            “Unlike you I don’t give free passes to child murderers.”
            —They’re not “children”. Go learn about viability. I have no issue with whatever a woman wants to do with a clump of cells, when she is the only being in the universe that can sustain it.

            “populations are shrinking ”
            …so women should be forced to reproduce?

            “It might actually be a good thing ”
            …and there’s the patriarchy. Some folks like you just can’t help themselves.

            “The women is primarily responsible for sex selection.”
            —you keep returning to this, which reveals the depths of your insanity. Yes, they get to decide who they want to “invite” for sex…but you still get to choose to accept the invitation or not. You have choice over your body too, pal.

            “She is also primarily responsible for birth control.”
            —I get it. You are one of those child-men who are incapable of bearing responsibility. Hence the repeated need to foist the responsibility for the sexual encounter onto women, without accepting any yourself. Then the need to make the woman be in charge of birth control, rather than balling up yourself. Like I said before, you can put your glove on yourself….ain’t nothing stopping you…so why didn’t you do it? Oh, “not your responsibility”? Right, not ready for adulting yet.

            ” it usually means men rely on the female birth control techniques. That trust puts men in a particularly vulnerable spot, not women. They get to choose, not the man.”
            — are you flippin on crack, pal? You rely on the woman for putting on a condom? You don’t get to choose to put on a condom? You have to count on the woman to take care of business cuz you can’t/won’t put on a condom? Yeah ok, clearly you have the maturity to engage in a discussion about abortion. Are you old enough to vote yet?

            “You can pretty safely assume that there is usually someone willing to accept the invitation. The female decides, not the male.”
            —listen, come back when you’re past adolescence. Males, it would appear in your world, are simply bystanders when it comes to sex. I must say, I don’t quite know how to characterize your “thinking”. The patriarchy bent is old-fashioned. BUt your views on sex are simply bizarre. So I sincerely hope you keep lending your voice to the anti-abortion side, cuz your views will be quite persuasive to anyone not on your extreme of the spectrum. I’m beginning to think you’re not even pro-life…or at least not as much as you are anti-woman.

            “When men get a women pregnant and she wants to carry it they tell him it is his fault because “he should have kept it in his pants”
            —irrespective of whether she keeps it or not, he should have done that. As should have she.

            “He is responsible… Now the shoe is on the other foot.”
            —huh, in what way? For being scolded a bit? For paying up? Versus what the woman has to do? Besides lack of maturity, you have no grasp of the concept of scale. And any fairness you speak of can’t begin to address the physical costs of pregnancy, labor, and delivery I specified. So yes, we all do like fairness. And that’s what we should seek. So when men can bear 50% of all the unwanted pregnancies, that’s when we should revisit the abortion discussion. That way, both men and women can bear the responsibility (I know, scary word) of their actions in a fair and equitable way.

            The type of “morality” you’ve learned should be circular-filed ASAP. And as a guy, you seem fairly un-evolved when it comes to sex. But like I said, you are exhibit A of the cautionary tale for “sweet bijeezus don’t be like him”. It seems all you’ve got is “fairness” and “consequences”, which are fine concepts, but unfortunately utilized in your case by someone who has no understanding of either. So please continue to broadcast it far and wide. I’ll bring the popcorn.

  78. Sydney says

    Women have always ended pregnancies. They are ending pregnancies as we speak. They will always and forever continue to end pregnancies.

    Women’s bodies (and hence lives) are complex, unpredictable, and messy; this is a fact that misogynists and moral grandstanders choose to ignore.

    Humane nations remove pregnancy termination from criminal codes altogether and leave the issue to women (and the guidance they choose).

    Totalitarian/authoritarian nations seek to own women’s bodies (while leaving men free).

    Think you know better for a woman than she does? Consider this:

    • This is rich, coming from the left which hardly does anything other than moral grandstanding. Opposed to illegal immigration? You’re a racist. Opposed to liberal welfare benefits? You have no empathy. Opposed to abortion? You hate women — er, you’re waging a war on women. If we could once get past this grandstanding, maybe we could have an actual debate about these issues.

      • Bill says

        Plus it’s hard to argue “leaving men free” when a woman can birth a child (man has no say) then demand support which could find said man incarcerated for failure to pay. Hardly free. Pro-life actually results in de facto 18 years of indentured servitude where the best “choice” for many men is the abortion. But, should said man slip a morning after pill into her drink…omg, assault! No, it was CHOICE! /sarcasm off.

        • Just Me says


          Until very recently, the woman was the one taking the risk, the man could get off pretty much scott free. He had nothing to lose by “sowing his seed” indiscriminately, while the woman took all the risk .

          Now the risks are a bit more balanced, the man takes a financial risk in jurisdictions that make men financially responsible for their children, married or not, while the woman takes a physical risk with her immediate body integrity and with the long-term consequences, financial, emotional, social, etc.

          And that makes some men like Bill and Robin very angry.

    • Free Thinker says

      The idea that a behavior has always happened and therefore must continue is not a sound argument. Murder has been occurring since time began as well. That doesn’t mean we have to approve it or allow it to continue unimpeded. No one is advocating criminal charges against a woman who aborts. That doesn’t change the fact that a life is taken in that process. Either you believe that there are standards of morality or you don’t. Those who do don’t approve killing the unborn if they understand what’s being done. This is a separate human being (often a female) with rights. This kind of disrespect for life doesn’t end with pregnancy. We see it progressing with the increasing approval for assisted suicide and euthanasia, which is more and more being done without the consent of the person whose life is ended. That could be you someday. We have to be consistent. Either we respect life or we don’t.

      • Robin says

        @Free Thinker
        If you are looking for consistency from a women, you clearly have never met one. There is always a set of rules for you and another for them. Abortion is a perfect example as it exposes female hypocrisy on matters pertaining to bodies. Basically if it is a female body you have no say in it. The male body and the soul within it is disposable garbage. The sad irony is that so many men agree with it.

        And I beg to differ. I am advocating incarceration for child murder. Absolutely! I have no problem with that at all. I don’t grant a free pass for the taking of human life just because that life starts out within the human perpetrator. And I am actually being generous. The male fate for disobeying orders in combat is a bullet through the skull so don’t expect me to wax sentimentally about how hard it would be to incarcerate a child murderer. If it makes you feel better think of it as tough love.

        “Either we respect life or we don’t.” You need to unpack this statement. It’s formulated incorrectly. “Men have to respect life, women don’t”. Now your reformulated assertion reflects reality. Take out the Imperial “we” and it will make sense.

  79. Great article, articulates my exact point of view on this issue

  80. Bob Morris says

    Elsewhere in the comments, there was an argument about how Mr. Hughes made a bad faith argument when talking about speed limits, that led to the remark that a person who hits a pedestrian with a car has committed murder. (I’m paraphrasing here, because I can’t find the specific thread at the moment).

    Long story short, they are missing Hughes’ point. First, he specified the idea of lowering all speed limits to 10 miles per hour — in other words, to include everything from residential streets to dirt roads in rural areas to all forms of interstate highways.

    But while that sounds all well and good for the first two, nobody would ever accept that for the third, even if it meant 40,000 lives were saved.

    Furthermore, the lives he referred to weren’t pedestrians, but people in the vehicles themselves, be it drivers or passengers. But even so, if we include pedestrians, a person dying in a crash caused by another person isn’t simply murder, from legal or practical standpoints (and even from moral standpoints in some cases).

    Here’s how it works, from a legal standpoint:

    If you use a car to intentionally hit a pedestrian or another car and somebody in that car dies, that’s murder by any definition.

    If you are in a car and engaging in reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and you hit either a pedestrian or another car and somebody in that car dies, you can call it murder from a moral standpoint, but from a legal standpoint, it’s vehicular homicide.

    If you are in a car and obeying the traffic laws on an interstate highway, and for whatever the reason. you notice a pedestrian, but you are at the legal speed limit (say, 65 mph) are unable to stop in time and hit the pedestrian, that’s not murder by either legal or practical definition, and to call it murder from a moral standpoint is a hard case to make.

    There’s a reason why we don’t use an arbitrary speed limit everywhere in the name of saving lives — because, in some cases, it’s not practical. The same thing applies to how we would treat a pedestrian in a given situation.

    That’s the argument Hughes is making — that in some cases, a practical argument might be made that an abortion may be necessary if certain circumstances apply.

    That doesn’t mean you concede all points on abortion to the pro-abortion or pro-choice side. You still have plenty of areas to argue about if/when it should be illegal — you just won’t get far with an absolutist position.

  81. Frank Knarf says

    Lorriman deserves some sort of prize for wordiest tautology.

  82. Free Thinker says

    The concept of personhood is a philosophical device which is frankly irrelevant when it comes to the abortion debate. A separate life with its own DNA is created when conception occurs. To interfere with the process that will result in the birth of a baby is to take a life no matter when that occurs or at what stage of development. It’s very simple really, unless you want an excuse to be rid of it. Then all sorts of arguments ensue about viability, etc. People are uncomfortable with aborting at 8 months but think it’s okay at 2 or 3. The heart is beating by 6 weeks. To stop that heart is to take a life. We want to justify this by saying it’s not really a baby. Yes, it is. Any woman who’s been pregnant knows that unless she’s bought into the narrative pushed by the left & the abortion industry. Until recently there were 2 counts of murder when a pregnant woman was killed. Planned Parenthood doesn’t want women looking at sonograms because their assertions that it’s not a baby are undermined by the reality. We once recognized this for what it is. You’re either okay with killing the unborn or you’re not. Pretending that there’s some middle ground is disingenuous or, to be generous, ill-informed.

    • Anj says

      Hello ‘Free Thinker’
      “Life” is of subjective value. One may value an acorn to that of an oak tree if one wants or not.
      Who made you the boss of ‘value’?
      Abortions were around a lot longer than the left. Are you suggesting women can’t make an informed independent decision?
      When in reality prolifers value of life extends only to birth that’s hardly ‘genuine’.
      ‘Get the log out’….

    • Just Me says

      Free Thinker –

      No, a “life” is not “a person”, that is why someone who is brain dead but is still breathing and his heart beating is not really considered alive anymore.

      A seed will become a plant, even a huge tree, but it is not yet the plant or the tree.

    • Frank Knarf says

      Pretty tightly wound dogma for a free thinker.

    • S. Cheung says

      I think your moniker should be Dogma instead.

      Viability absolutely is an important demarcation. Because prior to fetal viability, but for the mother, it’d be dead. Not even the hairy mitts of your god can do jack all about it. When absolutely no one else in the universe can sustain that clump of cells but the mother, who/what gives anyone else the right to interfere?

      After viability is a totally different story, because as long as the fetus can then survive outside the womb, then any number of people and any extent of medical science can take over. When the mother is no longer the sole respite of the existence of that clump of cells, then the mother is no longer the only interested party, and that is when society can step in.

      But that also means actually stepping in, and stepping up, rather than the typical conservative position of giving a damn only until the birth canal, then not giving even a half of one thereafter.

      • Robin says

        “But that also means actually stepping in, and stepping up, rather than the typical conservative position of giving a damn only until the birth canal, then not giving even a half of one thereafter.”

        I love that old canard… society doesn’t give a damn after a child is born! Really? The enormous state aparatus enforcing child support isn’t “help”?? The forcing of men to make payments they can’t afford based on ‘imputed’ income isn’t support? The billions spent on welfare for single mothers isn’t support?

        Absolute rubbish.

        I too long for the day that the mother is no longer the sole respite of existence as that will be the way to a new evolutionary step….

        • S.Cheung says

          you CONS are hilarious. “stepping up” is “child support” and “welfare payments”? LOL. It is both laughable, and sad, that a conservative like you distills parenthood and child-rearing down to money. But typical, I suppose.

          Let’s revisit what you apparently want: no abortions. That means many thousands upon thousands of women (if not more) now and in the future will be forced to serve as state-conscripted incubators for clumps of cells they do not want. So you’ll write a check? You truly are a typical male conservative.

          I’m talking about a nation-wide system of adoption/care such that the woman can walk away after the baby clears the birth canal, should she so choose. The babies become instant wards of the state from breath one. That will cost you, no doubt. But besides footing the financial bill, there’s also the “stepping up” in caring/feeding/teaching/raising all these beings for 18 years…which means you need to find the people who will take your money to do those things. And look at how well child services does today, under a tiny fraction of what would become the new level of demand in a “no abortion” realm. So I suggest you extract your head from sand and proceed to give it a shake, so you can begin to grasp what “stepping up” might look like in your new preferred reality.

          I suspect you will say no thanks. But feel free to demonstrate that you are not one of those with “the typical conservative position of giving a damn only until the birth canal, then not giving even a half of one thereafter.” I could be wrong about you…but I doubt it.

          • Robin says


            Quite a rant! Your hyper-partisanship comes through rather clearly.

            Literally billions of dollars changes hands but that is nothing! Wow.. OK. You’d prefer it wasn’t there?? That would fly directly in the face of a lot of feminist lobbying but then you are full of contradictions but go on…

            “I’m talking about a nation-wide system of adoption/care such that the woman can walk away after the baby clears the birth canal, should she so choose.”

            OK. There already is a nation-wide system for adoption and care of orphaned children. There the ‘baby Jesus’ laws to collect unwanted children at drop off sites and a vast wealth-transfer/legal system to support children. Not to mention schools, hospitals, etc. Oh and it already does cost me… Your point?

            Ah it will cost me more. No I don’t think so. A women goes from child killer to mother is not such a bad thing. If motherhood is not what she wants then perhaps women in general will take appropriate precautions to make sure that doesn’t happen. The current year is 2019, motherhood is optional.

            I think the only here with his head in the sand is you. You seem incapable of arguing without resorting to childish name-calling. I don’t see why I need to demonstrate anything to you at all as the only thing you have done all over this thread is spew rudeness. Frankly, you come across with the maturity of a teenager and you need to grow up.

          • S.Cheung says


            “You’d prefer it wasn’t there?? ”
            — like I said, do “literally billions of dollars” balance out the responsibility of parenthood and child-rearing? Your “morality” is definitely of the bargain-bin variety that society will be better off to exile to its farthest reaches and hopefully not need to look upon too often.

            “There already is a nation-wide system for adoption and care of orphaned children.”
            —indeed. And it would be on you to scale that up to meet the needs of any unwilling mother forced to incubate on behalf of the state. So the point is it is going to cost you a heckuva lot more…and the money thing really burns you, so you need to demonstrate a capacity to shoulder that responsibility. Cuz based on the other comment thread, responsibility ain’t exactly in your wheelhouse (well, you are great at making others take responsibility; just kinda lame at balling up yourself. How admirable).

            Then hopefully you also improve the quality of child services, cuz it is already not fantastic now, and will be weighed down further as things scale up (assuming you can grasp the concept, which, again based on the other thread, may not be a safe assumption).

            “The current year is 2019, motherhood is optional.”
            —so is fatherhood. It’s called a condom. Look it up. It seems to be a foreign concept to you.

            And again, you keep referring to child-killer….where? You really must learn more about viability. In fact, it would appear there are many concepts with which you are unfamiliar. Nonetheless, I am a strong advocate for you to broadcast your ignorance far and wide. That you are so blatantly anti-woman will simply add spice and texture to the cautionary tale you embody so fully, and I suspect you will be fairly effective in that capacity.

  83. Brother says

    So ‘why’ do we have abortion? Here’s a scenario to give one of the obvious answers:

    She is a young woman living in this modern, liberal age. We are all enlightened. We are all empowered. We are all our own god. We do what we like. And no one tells us otherwise.
    This includes the right to have sex with whoever she chooses. Which she does.
    She uses one of the multitude of contraceptives available.
    But all contraceptives are at best 90% effective. So, she gets pregnant.
    Maybe she barely knows the bloke who got her pregnant. Maybe she’s been with him for a while. Maybe she doesn’t even know which one. A long-term commitment with this guy to raise this child? Are you serious!?
    She needs a fail-safe, a contraceptive that is 100% effective. She has one: abortion.
    She goes to PP and has the abortion. She is now ‘unpregnant’. The problem is gone.
    Afterwards, she invokes the usual mantras to help clear the conscience – ‘my body, my choice’, it was just a ‘cluster of cells’, it didn’t have ‘personhood’, etc.
    She goes back to Step 1.

    • Raj says

      Nah. It’s more like “phewww, dodged a bullet there, let’s crack open the Tim Tams & celebrate the demise of that loser’s threat to evolution…”

  84. Alfons Kuchlbacher says

    3 Remarks to that:
    1. I agree there is no actual point, when the “clump of cells” becomes a human, so why (ethicaly argumenting) not be on the safe side, and make the politically defined turning point very early?
    2. The difference between abortion and a 10 m/h speedlimit is obviously, that the speed-limit of say 80 m/h does not intentionally cause dead, it is a mere sad side effect, while abortion has the clear intention to end the further development of the fetus.
    3. I find the argument of the fetus is only a part of the mother not stringent, because at the beginning there is also a male sperm-cell, which creates the fetus, so you can say, half the fetus is from the father. But as I see the discussion, the biological father has no right to be involved in the decission. Sure, the woman has to carry out the pregnancy, but declining the father any right to be at least a small part in the decission is also not a stringent argument.
    And again (as in many other media-stories), the article mentioned the maybe 99 years of imprisonement, but forget, that it is first of all directed against the person who carried out the abortion, so in most cases the doctor, not the woman.

  85. Sylvain Bitton says

    I would simply like to point out a possible misrepresentation of the “my body my choice” argument. The author believes the second principle of the argument is : “2. A fetus is part of a woman’s body.”

    Yet he doesn’t consider the possibility for this argument to refer to the fact that a fetus “affects” a woman’s body rather than is a part of it. In that sense, it is possible for a woman to consider that a fetus is not part of her body but that it does affect her body and only her body, hence she should be free to decide what to do with the fetus.

    In that line of reasoning, one could argue that, even though fetuses are not part of a woman’s body, the ethical benefits of killing a fetus outweigh the ethical costs of doing so.

    In other words: even if killing an unborn baby was considered murder, one could still find this murder legitimate given the ethical cost for the mother. I for one do not find this argument absurd. As any argument, it is worth discussing.


    This article is a big mistake. The problem is not when is something or someone considered a “person”, because justifying abortions on the conceptual clarity of “person” brings problems because many times after life has begun for a person, he may stop being a “person” by definition. So the relevant question is when does life begin, and this is not answered at all, but mentioned only in a little paragraph.

    When life begins, life is life.

  87. Mike says

    I really liked this article, as I do many of Mr. Hughes’. It has spawned an impressive debate, as seen in this comment thread. Much of the debate takes, head-on, the ethical questions of abortion, and there seems to be well-reasoned points made on both sides.

    I would propose a different lens through which to consider the subject, that of moral psychology. As Jonathan Haidt points out, humans have evolved an instinct for worshipping that which is deemed sacred. He has also argued that reason and rationality are no match for this instinct; it overwhelms our efforts to think critically. Hence much of our reasoning and analytical powers are devoted to supporting moral decisions our irrational dogmatic processes have already made.

    I would suggest that abortion falls into the realm of the sacred for people with a certain psychological disposition. I have noticed that pro-lifers are rarely impassioned about environmental issues, and vice-versa. It’s as though humans have a “purity and sanctity” switch in them that either privileges nature or the body.

    Those people for whom the sacred is ultimately located in the body will favor some logical argument suggesting that abortion is murder, while those people for whom the sacred is ultimately located in nature will be inclined to view such arguments skeptically, perhaps as Mr. Hughes has done here. I fall into Hughes’ camp. I am appalled by pollution but not by abortion. I suspect that pro-life individuals would similarly find my disgusted and dismayed reaction to seeing a bunch of garbage floating in an otherwise pristine lake as irrational.

    • S.Cheung says

      that’s an interesting but disquieting proposition. The head merely justifies the actions that the instinct commands? Is this instinct a priori, or a posteriori? Are people born to be pro-choice or pro-life?

      • Mike says

        S.Cheung, yes, the research done by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman (and elaborated upon in a political psychology context) by Jonathan Haidt does suggest that we have two separate psychological systems running concurrently, metaphorically called the Elephant and the Rider, in which our more subliminal and instinctual processes (the Elephant) more or less determine how we will feel about moral issues, while the rational processes (the Rider) comes up with some sort of story to justify it. The Rider is like a PR person, explaining conclusions that have already been made. This is why it’s so difficult (essentially impossible) to “argue” anyone out of a moral position. Whether it be religion or politics (which Haidt suggests are essential the same thing, psychologically), the Elephant is intransigent, and will stick with his moral tribe.

        And yes, there is significant evidence that we are born with moral orientations (Haidt calls them moral foundations), that predispose us one way or another on a variety of moral issues. Conservatives, for example, possess moderate moral instincts across all six foundations, while liberals are very high in “care” and “liberty” and don’t care much about “loyalty” or “authority”. They have done studies where four year olds are observed playing, and based on their behavior, their future political orientation can be reasonably well-predicted.

        One of Haidt’s foundations is called “sanctity” and it’s my belief that this moral foundation expresses itself differently for conservative-minded people and liberal-minded people. I will publish an article arguing this thesis and become famous in the scientific community (not!).

        • S.Cheung says

          that’s very interesting. I’m reading “Coddling of the American Mind” where he references the rider and elephant model, but it was clearly in a separate work that he expanded on it. I’ve also done his “your morals” survey, which was informative.

          If it is “innate”, it would likely be of the polygenic variety, but nonetheless should respond to selection pressures. And if so, the fact that you have “conservatives” and “liberals” may suggest that neither is preferable on an evolutionary scale, at least at a species level.

          It does suggest that any such debate on “morals” is groups of riders doing their “spin”, which does ring true. It also means it will be pointless in the end…which seems rather nihilistic.

  88. Nathan Maxwell says

    Just wanted to push back on the thinking of the following passage from the article:

    “The fallacy many pro-lifers commit, however, is to ascribe infinite value to that cost, such that it cannot be weighed against any number of concerns on the other side. Most actions have both ethical costs and ethical benefits. When both sides of the scale are substantial enough, it makes sense to weigh them before reaching a decision that reflects a reasonable compromise.

    We do this all the time, even when the stakes are sky high. For example, we could lower the speed limit on every road in America to 10 miles per hour and save the 40,000 or so lives we lose each year to car accidents. But we don’t, because doing so would impose costs that probably outweigh 40,000 lost human lives. Suppose that somebody who favored lowering the speed limit made the following argument: a driver’s safety (or a driver’s “right to life/bodily autonomy”) is sacred and therefore cannot be traded off against any competing ethical concern. Not only will such a person fail to be persuaded by a list of ethical costs associated with slowing all traffic to a crawl, but they will also refuse to engage with opponents’ arguments. After all, their ethical imperative is so compelling that it’s impervious to consequentialist objections.

    That is how both sides of the abortion debate are behaving at the moment. It’s a cop-out to dub some principle sacred—whether it’s a fetus’s right to life or a woman’s bodily autonomy—and then use the sanctification of that principle to ignore all of the ethical costs that position entails.”

    First, I appreciate Mr. Coleman’s writing and his commitment to not painting people with a broad brush such as in the first passage “the fallacy MANY pro-lifers commit” as opposed to just saying “the fallacy pro-lifers commit.”

    I would say that this part doesn’t make logical sense. In the highway speed example nobody in America would argue that if, say, the speed limit laws were changed to 100 that if you actually drove 100MPH then you were acting immorally. Everyone is in agreement that the government has the right to set speed limit laws and that the morality is not intrinsic to the speed you are driving but the law passed by the state. I know this is obvious but pro-lifers would argue that abortion is immoral regardless of whether or not there is a law saying so.

    For the final part of Mr. Coleman’s piece – “It’s a cop-out to dub some principle sacred—whether it’s a fetus’s right to life or a woman’s bodily autonomy—and then use the sanctification of that principle to ignore all of the ethical costs that position entails.” – I believe pro-lifers would argue that we do this all the time with other moral laws so why is this instance a “cop-out?” If one were to say that the right to not being murdered is sacred therefore we will ignore all of the ethical costs of murder being illegal in order to keep it that way it makes perfect sense to all of us. Pro-lifers would just argue that same principal should extend to fetuses. As far as what ethical costs murder being illegal ascribes to us? I would think one part of the argument would be the same ethical costs argued by the pro-choice side – if murder was legal then a mother could kill her 6 month old that she is struggling to care for.

    Thank you Quillette for your quality work and writing


  89. Alexander Galvin says

    I notice the word “father” curiously missing from these essays and from the commentary as well. Instead, we wander off into deep discussions about arcane philosophical issues and ethics. I certainly appreciate how dicey it is to mention fathers as being a party to these discussions, but I also note that post-partum roles and obligations are well established. We jail men who reject the cost and treat those who abandon the role with contempt. Granted that pregnancy is a physiological process that takes place in a woman’s body and admittedly one that demands a kind of primary concern, yet this treatment of fathers as some mere dumbkopf who gave a spurt is baffling to me.

  90. Blahblah says

    Would ANYONE tell me what legal policies are NOT enacted by someone’s belief system? Because I read “Most people don’t consider belief, including religious belief, to be an acceptable foundation for state policy” and that it total bulux. It is literally (yes, I said literally) impossible to have made a law without using a belief system, specifically a religion one. The foundation of every law ever made has its total being in someone’s beliefs. There is no other possible way to get the idea for a law. Do not kill/rape/steal? Why? Survival of the fittest, limited resources…etc. There is no reason not to kill/rape/steal without a belief system that makes it so.

  91. Davo says

    I really can’t stand the “don’t tell me what to do with my body” argument of the pro-choice mob. It’s a lie that has been repeated so often that it is accepted as truth. Well the truth is that a woman cannot make a baby by herself. She needs a man’s input so the baby is NOT her body but her body is acting as a host during gestation. The fact that the mother’s blood does not mix with the baby’s (the placenta acts as a barrier) simply underscores that this is a separe life. You can judge a society on how it treats its most vulnerable.

    • S.Cheung says

      “her body is acting as a host during gestation. ”
      —and it’s up to the host to decide if she will allow a guest to stay or not.

      • Davo says

        Your response acknowledges that there are two separate entities. Good, now we are getting somewhere. So then my question is “why should a woman have the right to murder her unborn child?”. No matter how you look at this it is abhorrent. I point you back to my previous statement about judging a society.

        • S.Cheung says

          there is no unborn “child” until that clump of cells is viable. And until that clump of cells is viable, the mother is the only host in the universe that can sustain it. When nothing else in the universe can host the guest like she can, she gets to decide what to do with the guest. There’s nothing abhorrent about it. Simple biologic reality.

          • Davo says

            Biologically speaking, you are simply a clump of cells.

          • S.Cheung says

            …a viable one. That’s pretty flaccid stuff you’re bringing. Is that the best you got?

            I think you need to learn some concepts before you return to the discussion.

          • Davo says

            Haaaaaaaa! Most babies past 12 weeks gestation are viable bar some major sickness, oh and of course an abortion doctor. The fact that you have descended into ad hominem shows that you have lost. It’s been fun. See ya!

  92. maxmagnus says

    “Most actions have both ethical costs and ethical benefits”.
    Please …. there are no ethical benefits in abortion, only personal convenience. In particular, women convenience, since no one would say that men should have th right to impose abortion or aband the baby, because it’s their sperm and no one should decide what tthey have to do with their sperm.
    There are several ways to avoid unwanted births and if you fail to use any of them and get pregnant/got someone pregnant you assume the consequence.

    • S.Cheung says

      “get pregnant/got someone pregnant you assume the consequence.”
      — and that consequence is not merely gestation, but if left unchecked, parenthood. And the responsible person examines their capacity to fulfill the mandate of that consequence, and decides to either assume that mandate, or change it. It’s how we approach every choice/consequence decision point, and this needs to be no different.

      Then consider the difference in the gravity of the consequence for the 2 parties. It’s night and day…or single mom and deadbeat dad. When the severity of the consequence is so disparate, the person with the heavier burden has the greater interest in the decision, and should get to make it. It’s the majority interest, the concept by which we operate in any democratic environment.

      • maxmagnus says

        I don’t agree on the premise. Once you decide to skip birth control and get pregnant, you have already made your choice and facing the consequences shouldn’t be optional. If you drive drunk and kill someone, you don’t get to say “I don’t feel capable of fulfilling the consequence and go to jail, so let’s forget about all this stuff” (this is valid for both partners)

        Having said that and I don’t expect to convince you on this point, I’m more interested in undersating better your reasoning.
        Your point is that parenthood responsibilities are different, depending on your sex?
        On what basis mothers carry the heaviest burden, exactly, because it seems to me that the father has exactly the same obligations (from a legal, societal and financial standpoint), if not more, without having the same rights. How does that reasoning apply to homosexuals parents? And if the woman is the bread winner and the man is the stay at home dad, is this still valid?

        Also, if you say that the mother has the right to decide alone if the man will get to be a parent or not, do men have reproductive rights at all? If yes, which ones? If not, why should they have responsibilities of parenthood then?

        • S.Cheung says

          “Once you decide to skip birth control and get pregnant”
          —several things on your first point. Your drunk driver example works because you’ve killed “somebody”. The clump of cells before viability is not “somebody”…and even its potential to possibly become a somebody rests upon the woman and her alone (in entirety of the universe). Second, birth control isn’t foolproof…although I appreciate you at least acknowledge that to be a bipartite responsibility, unlike folks on the thread like Robin.

          “(from a legal, societal and financial standpoint)”
          —you have got to be kidding. Perhaps in the narrow confines of your definition of “obligations”, maybe. From a practical standpoint, the mother has to do far more. Granted, there are exceptions of stay-at-home dads as you say…which is a minority concern. But in 2 income families, they both work, but generally the home duties including child-minding still fall upon the woman to a far greater extent. And that’s assuming a stable couple. Outside of a stable couple, a biologic father who writes his child-support check (ie. one of the good ones) has fulfilled his “obligations” as you state, but is he practically an equal partner in “parenting”?

          And all this ignores the physical (and potentially psychological) toll of pregnancy and childbirth. That is cold hard biologic reality that folks on your side simply cannot account for.

          “How does that reasoning apply to homosexuals parents? ”
          —so, clearly not an issue with gay male couples, since we’re talking surrogacy (ie. a woman who is actively and willingly providing womb services). Even with lesbian couples, science has lent a helping hand for conception to begin with, after an active decision on their part. How often do lesbian couples go to the trouble to get artificially inseminated to become pregnant, then go and get an abortion? So I think this is a theoretical concern, but not a practical or realistic one. Even still, in that lesbian couple, one of them bears the greater burden of being pregnant. But I certainly can’t comment upon how the division of labor might look like for a lesbian couple as parents.

          “If yes, which ones? If not, why should they have responsibilities of parenthood then?”
          — men get to decide when and with whom they will serve as sperm donors. But since they have the lesser burden, they do have lesser input into the instances where parenthood results. And yet they do have some input (ie the act of sperm donation), so they should have some responsibility. And I would submit that writing a check is a minority burden in the scheme of parenthood, commensurate with their responsibility, and commensurate with their input.

  93. It is one thing to say that autonomy is not an absolute consideration, another to claim it makes no sense or has no force at all.

    So we have “The moment the egg is fertilized, forming a zygote with unique DNA, may be significant from a biologist’s perspective, but in terms of its capacity to suffer and flourish, a zygote differs only trivially from the pair of cells that formed it.” Also stipulated “Given enough time, a fetus will become something with distinct moral worth: a baby. The same cannot be said about a kidney.”

    So is a sperm more like a kidney or a fetus? I think the position becomes more like a fetus, in which case laws against masturbation have as much (or as little) purchase as laws against the morning after pill.

    I think part of the reason laws against masturbation make no sense to most of us, is the level of autonomy we would be denying each other. Even if we became convinced preformationism were true and each male ejaculation contained an innumerable number of tiny human beings, I don’t think we would go around passing anti-masturbation laws, in part because of issues of human autonomy.

    So autonomy may not be an absolute, but it seems like it is a big consideration in the debate, I think some of the issues you bring up only make sense if we are considering autonomy as a factor. A fetus is not a kidney, but they are not absolutely distinct and so on…

    Also I think this article misses political advocacy is often carried out in absolutes even when the position advocated is clearly an arbitrary compromise of the moment (“The tax on self-sealing stem bolts must be 7.9% it is as ordained by God herself!”), the actual advocacy for policy is late in the game and the winning side is often the one that is decisive, the thoughtful debate happened to the participants (if at all) much earlier in the process, you need to intervene there (the argument also seems as if it has been sharpened by considering more nuanced debates and such debates are going on all the time contrary to what this article suggest, just not at the level of policy advocacy).

  94. Tom USA says

    The core of the leftist religion is single women. Currently abortion is far more important to the left. The key psychological hack is to hijack the maternal mother child relationship redirecting it to protecting political causes which exploit blind rage triggered by a violation to the cause. Single women are vulnerable to this hack. The left needs single women to stay single.

    It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body – verses – It’s a woman’s responsibility on how to care for and use her body
    A fetus is part of a woman’s body – verses – A fetus is the next generation
    Therefore, it’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her fetus – verses – Therefore, it’s a woman’s core purpose to bring forth the next generation

    Directly editing the next generation. This can be done today via genetic testing for a good-sized list of genetic disease. Epigenetics are more in the realm of maximizing every variable of a healthy environment for a growing fetus, the next generation. Is this a responsibility to abort a genetically damaged fetus? Is this an r/K dilemma?

    In China and India women have used a tool to directly change the next generation called ultrasound, it is used to determine sex. Women have used this to selected boys because boys produce more wealth as opposed to girls who take more wealth. The motivation is women are very prone to group consensus thinking and another is women will do whatever it takes to make the next generation produce more wealth for her. Choices have consequences.

  95. Tom USA says

    The core of the leftist religion is single women. Currently abortion is far more important to the left. The key psychological hack is to hijack the maternal mother child relationship redirecting it to protecting political causes which exploit blind rage triggered by a violation to the cause. Single women are vulnerable to this hack. The left needs single women to stay single.

    This sums up the left position: As a woman primal unconscious urges justify my actions and it’s unlawful to question any assumed privilege or feeling I have. The goal of this is the abdication of responsibility, the tool is guilt and shame manipulation, the method is destroying the reputation of conscientious men or women who take responsibility and tell the truth.

    It’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body – verses – It’s a woman’s responsibility on how to care for and use her body
    A fetus is part of a woman’s body – verses – A fetus is the next generation
    Therefore, it’s a woman’s right to choose what to do with her fetus – verses – Therefore, it’s a woman’s core purpose to bring forth the next generation

    Directly editing the next generation. This can be done today via genetic testing for a good-sized list of genetic disease. Epigenetics are more in the realm of maximizing every variable of a healthy environment for a growing fetus, the next generation. Is this a responsibility to abort a genetically damaged fetus? Is this an r/K dilemma?

    In China and India women have used a tool to directly change the next generation called ultrasound, it is used to determine sex. Women have used this to selected boys because boys produce more wealth as opposed to girls who take more wealth. The motivation is women are very prone to group consensus thinking and another is women will do whatever it takes to make the next generation produce more wealth for her. Choices have consequences.

  96. maxmagnus says

    I feel like we are not understanding each other, it’s on me, I opened too many doors in my previous post.
    I try to sum up what I want to say on one of those point more clearly.

    regardless of the underlying ethical question of whether or not there should be a right to abortion, from a logical standpoint, I see only two situations

    1- both parents are considered as, well …. parents, so both are responsible for deciding to either perform the abortion or raise the child, with all the related consequences. Which means that if there is a disagreement, there is no abortion and they are both resposibles for the baby.
    2- only the mother is considered a parent, the father doesn’t have a say about this. Which means that abortion is against the interest of man to reproduce himself (so why the hell should he support it?) and since it erases his rights of being a parent, it should also erase his responibilities (in case he doesn’t want to be a parent afterwards). After all, a sperm donor doesn’t have (or at least shouldn’t have) neither parenthood rights, nor responsibilities.

    What I find disconcerting, is that not only the discussion about father’s rights doesn’t seem relevant at all by anyone ever, but also, that people that choose the second option don’t accept the consequences that go along with it.
    It’s perfectly fine for a woman to abort “a lump of cells” , even if the man doesn’t agree with her decision, but it’s not fine (nor legal) for a man to “run away” from that same lump of cells. There is no “waiver” for him, suddenly and magically, that lump of cells changes of status and becomes a future baby to protect and nobody cares about how the man feels about the subject. All the moral, logic and linguistic contorsions to justify abortion fade and the factual reality is simple: it’s a baby if the woman wants it be and he’s a father, if she wants him to be.

    All moral considerations aside, what kind of consequences this huge imbalance will bear in the long run? for one, the wise choice for a man would be to avoid “occidental” women altogether and look for a partner with a different culture.

    • S.Cheung says

      I think your 2 scenarios represent the extremes, if you will, on the spectrum of relationship status of the sperm and egg donor.

      See link for characteristics of women who seek abortions.

      Only 14% are married, which i think would fall in your category 1. I would agree that in the most stable relationships, there is relatively little impetus for abortion, hence it’s low prevalence. Although data aren’t available, I would agree with the inference or supposition that abortion would be a “shared” decision in those scenarios.

      For any other donor relationship, disagreement is inherently more likely, i would think. As a 2×2 matrix, there is a 50% possibility of disagreement: she want to keep/he doesn’t; he wants to keep/she doesn’t. There is also a 50% possibility of agreement: they both want to keep; neither want to keep. That being said, the likelihood of one of the first 2 scenarios is much higher.

      I recognize your concern that the sperm donor’s rights are severely curtailed basically immediately after donation. One remedy would be to do away with paternity legal and financial responsibilities outside of wedlock, which will never fly. Note though, that such a remedy would probably actually increase the incidence of abortion in unwed women.

      But in recognizing the loss of the sperm donor’s rights, and suppose the goal is to redress that inequity, how does abolition of abortion serve that purpose? In the current 2X2 matrix, there is a 50% chance the man’s wishes are ignored (and no chance for the woman). In a new 2×2 matrix where abortion is not available, there is still a 50% of the man’s wishes being ignored, PLUS a 50% chance of the woman’s wish being ignored also. So the man does no better, while the woman fares worse. If “fairness” is the motivation, then abolition of abortion seems like an abject failure as a proposed solution.

      You are correct, though, that men would do a lot better to give at least a teensy bit of thought into who they want to partner-for-a-night with, just as women should. And maybe buy a condom while they’re thinking.

      • maxmagnus says

        we are talking about two different things.
        I’m talking about RIGHTS, you are talking about the theoretical probability of men agreeing with somebody’s else decision. That’s not a right at all.

        When we are talking about rights, there is no spectrum, the woman gets to decide, the man doesn’t, it’s as simple as that.
        Even if in some cases the decision is discussed by the couple and somehow “shared”, men don’t have any legal entitlement in the decision.

        I don’t see how we can disagree on this, it’s just a factual observation.

        for the record, I’m not necessarly advocating for the abolition of abortion – it’s a complicated issue – but there is no doubt that without it, men would be better off. If they want to be a parent, they get to be one, regardless of what anyone else wants. If they don’t, well, they should have used a condom and now, as old school as it sounds, they have to assume their responsibility.

        • S.Cheung says

          in speaking about “rights”, the starting point is that such “rights” are not well defined in the US, for men. THere is an overriding constitutional principle that men and women should be treated equally “in similar situations”…but that’s kinda the point, in that the “situations” for men and women with regards to pregnancy, labor/delivery, and subsequent parenthood, are distinctly dissimilar. So it seems the conditions that would justify demands for “equal” are not met, and can never be met.

          “If they want to be a parent, they get to be one, regardless of what anyone else wants.”
          — but why should the “man’s” right trump the woman’s, when he isn’t the one being pregnant etc? Currently, the woman’s right trumps the man’s, cuz’s she’s the only one stepping up and bearing the brunt of the pregnancy. That seems fair to me. What seems distinctly unfair, and downright tyrannical, is to have a situation where a man has a right to demand what a woman must do physically.

          • maxmagnus says

            I don’t agree on your view on the legal definition of men’s rights, but that’s not the point.
            Do you realize that you are saying that since men and women are biologically different, those differences imply and justify unequal rights?
            I’d like you to take some time to think about the general consequences of this position.

            “What seems distinctly unfair, and downright tyrannical, is to have a situation where a man has a right to demand what a woman must do physically.”

            There is no such situation, this is only the way you are rationalizing it.
            The man is not imposing anything, the foetus is already there and it’s there because BOTH man and woman had sex. So, with the exception of rape, abortion is not about the man imposing his will on the woman, it’s about the possibility of the woman to avoid the consequences of her actions, at the expense of everybody else.
            I know that it sounds like I lack empathy, I really don’t, but this is how I see it.

            I’d like to add a final observation. We’ve been running in circles for days, you seem fair, you are cleary intelligent and yet I never had the impression you’ve been considering this from any other perspective than the “woman versus man” position.
            So now I’lm curious, have you ever tried to see this from the opposite perspective?

          • S.Cheung says

            “I don’t agree on your view on the legal definition of men’s rights”
            —that’s not my view…it’s a summary of what I read on a law website.

            “men and women are biologically different, those differences imply and justify unequal rights?”
            —that’s not what I am saying, or you have generalized needlessly. Again, the legal standard from what I read is “equal treatment in similar situations”…but pregnancy presents a situation where reality is entirely dissimilar, so it seems that should be no expectation of “equal treatment”. That’s very different from saying “men and women are biologically different”, so, for example, maybe women shouldn’t get to vote after all….because voting while male and voting while female represent “similar situations” for which equal treatment should be the expectation. So that position has no “general consequences”….since men and women generally have no other entirely different situations.

            “The man is not imposing anything,”
            —preventing a woman from seeking a medical procedure absolutely is an imposition. Where the fetus is hanging out, or how it got there, does not in any way change the fact or the nature of that imposition.

            “it’s about the possibility of the woman to avoid the consequences of her actions, at the expense of everybody else.”
            —well, she is seeking a different consequence…since only a guy would suggest that an abortion is inconsequential. Nonetheless, prior to viability, i have no problem with a woman making that decision for herself. And who is “everybody else”?

            My perspective is simple, and requires no consideration of the sperm donor, hence I don’t. Before medical viability, when no other being in the universe can sustain that clump of cells but the woman, I support the concept of her alone being able to decide. After the point of viability, when society and medical science can intervene and sustain the fetus, is when i personally would allow society’s intervention. The man factors into that equation not one bit. I’m not sure what the “opposite perspective” to my position would look like, but I’ve seen nothing that compels me to change my perspective to date.

  97. David Altschul says

    Mr Hawkins ignored a fundamental moral principle, and made a claim both false and unsound
    To address the second error first; his claim that most women who kill.their babies because “they just don’t want one now” is belied by Guttmacher Institute research showing that 85% of aborters cite “convenience” as their reason. Mr
    .Hawkins doesn’t persuade me that termination of a unique fetal life is the same as waiting.a year to buy a TV. Most crucially, he failed to morally justify his repudiating of the unalienable right to life. If that right is unalienable, it births at fertilization

  98. Tom USA says

    It is much more than just cells, It is the primary theme of a woman’s life to bring forth the next generation. It’s to hate all life for a woman to fail at this. The left has a successful hack that hijacks this theme. The hack replaces the mother child relationship with lunatic causes. This hack works best on single women, it’s why abortion is a bigger issue with the left. Not an issue of murder, it’s more important. Not about taking a life, it’s failure to make a new one.

  99. I had independently come to the same conclusion outlined in the first half of this article: there are no crisp lines, and there are consequences no matter where the line is drawn. I had come to the conclusion that a gestational limit of 9-10 weeks was appropriate because that is when the survival rate for zygotes stabilizes, and when the first evidence of stimulus response behavior occurs (I do not have a citation, I read it some time ago, but if I am wrong about either of these I am open to changing my mind). The lack of clear, bright lines is one reason why abortion laws should be made by legislators, who can update them to accord with better understandings of embryology, than by Supreme Courts which can only be overruled by themselves. I think stimulus response is the closest “bright line” that we have for consciousness that does not rely on esoteric neurological arguments in which the consensus may shift.

    A few points, however: your current position is more “pro life” than the present legal and social consensus in many countries with legalized abortion. I am surprised, then, that you have identified your position as pro-choice. Also, there are many legal limits on what people may do with their own body even where it does not clearly infringe on another party’s rights: while you may donate a kidney, in many “pro-choice” jurisdictions, you may not sell one.

    And finally, your point about replacing (my words, not yours) unwanted pregnancies with wanted ones at a later point is one which I intuitively reject. The pro-life argument is not that wanted or unwanted children have better or worse lives, but that a fetus is a being with an interest in remaining alive. If that interest is real and can’t be overidden by some other interest, than it makes little sense: the question remains then, who is replaceable, and who can be killed if a being with a higher utility score can be brought into the world. On the other hand, if a fetus has no interests or those interests can be clearly overidden by other interests, there is no need to replace him or her with a being with a higher utility score.

    I haven’t proofread the above comment. I hope it makes sense.

  100. paulcharlesgregory says

    An excellent and unusually comprehensive article, with long overdue remarks on personhood. I’d add that personhood is transmitted slowly (over several months, e.g. nine) to a newborn by being attended to by one or a very few persons. Babies attended to by constantly changing carers die, mysteriously (famous orphanage observation in the USA about 70 years ago). Bonding is essential to personhood and cannot occur instantaneously. Firm bonding requires attentiveness (a more precise word than love) and continuity. Hence a newborn let alone a foetus cannot be a person. The newborn is a potential person, granted, but on the similar reasoning also a potential murderer.

  101. Sue Armstrong says

    So much elaborate pontificating by blokes. Butt out. It’s nothing to do with you. If a woman wants/needs an abortion she should be able to legally acquire one. End of story.

    • James Hamilton says

      That’s not going to persuade anyone.

  102. James Hamilton says

    Something that never seems to be brought up in this debate is that the parents of the unborn child usually willingly consented to having sex before the woman became pregnant. The high stakes argument above seems persuasive, but when one considers that it is predicated on the idea that driving is necessary for the welfare and betterment of society in general you can see that there is an equivocation going on. Sex which can lead to pregnancy is not necessary for the betterment of society, indeed many people would argue that sex should only occur between married couples (i.e. people who are committed to each other and can offer the stable environment a child needs), since such arrangements are supposed to be better for society.

    Given that we have many options for sexual satisfaction that do not have to lead directly to pregnancy I am not sure that N+1 argument above really holds if one also considers the parents responsible for the pregnancy in the first place.

    Personally, I think the pro-choice argument is better grounded in the fact that there is a certain point in the development of the fetus where the fetus cannot suffer, whereas the mother can. But even then my instinct is that we should be doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the mother and child can flourish together after the birth rather than arbitrarily terminating the pregnancy.

    Ultimately, though, there comes a line where the pro-life argument becomes as arbitrary as the pro-choice one, and I think it is there that society ought to hand control over to the mother. Not that I can really tell you where that is….

  103. maxmagnus says

    for some reasons, the site doesn’t let me reply directly this time.
    I thought we were having a fair conversation, but the fact that you refuse even the idea that there could exist somebody else other than a woman impacted by the abortion, or any any other perspectives than hers, proves me that we have both wasted our time.

    Good luck with your wall against wall approach

    • Stuart Cochran says

      I am also pro choice. I have my fair amount of grievances with the way the pro choice movement displays their ideas. I think that the pro choice movement should take a note from the pro life’s playbook and change their approach. The pro life side does not use gross pictures of abortions as part of their argument anymore, the same way the pro choice side should not talk about the fetus likes it is just a body part. They should acknowledge the fact that it is different from an arm or a leg that they want to tattoo and make better arguments then “My body my choice.” If it truly is my body my choice then I should be allowed to have sex selective abortions, or abort a fetus that is going to have a birth defect. When someone’s mentions that it opens up a new can of worms, because people don’t truly believe that it’s their body and their choice alone. Sex selective and ability based abortions are a new form of eugenics. And if we just let it be their body their choice then we are opening the floodgate for this to happen. I agree that abortions are helpful for many people who: aren’t in a good financial/socal situation, were a victim of rape or inscet, or caring the baby to term would put the mother’s health at risk. I do not agree with abortions after the first trimester. Any deadline legislated between 12 weeks and 16 weeks I feel is just and safe.

    • S.Cheung says

      there is a difference between recognizing the concept of other people impacted, or perspectives besides the woman’s, and somehow accepting that those are of greater consequence. Consider them to have been acknowledged and evaluated, and summarily dismissed as a result.

      I think you have conflated consideration of other people’s grievances with giving them primacy.

      • maxmagnus says

        for the 1000th time, I’m not giving primacy to one side, you are.
        Do you realize how grotesque our discussion has been?

        me: in case of pregancy, BOTH partners are responsble
        you: nope. the WOMAN can abort, it’s just a lump of cells.
        me: ok. so if it’s a lump of cells, can the man decline his resposibility?
        you: no, he cannot. the WOMAN can kill the lump of cells, but the man cannot abandon it
        me: well … if he can’t abandon it, can he protect it?
        you: no, the WOMAN can kill it because she is the one who gets pregant and that right is tied to this undeniable biological truth
        me: so, differences in fisilogy entail differences in rights?
        you: inly when it’s convenient for WOMEN, otherwise it would be unfair
        me: ok, so you tell me how other parties interests can be taken into account, then
        you: how many times do I have to tell you I don’t give a damn about other parties interests? However, I still expect men to support WOMEN in this, or at least not to push back (you actually didn’t say it, I’m taking a guess).
        me: well, you’re on your own then

        Full disclosure: I was pro choice when it was supposed to be rare and limited. Thanks to the “it’s not your business” attitude, like the one you displayed here, it’s gone to extremes that I cannot accept anymore.

        • S.Cheung says

          you know when someone conjures up a pseudo-conversation, strawmen are near. And here we are.

          Indeed, I give the woman’s concerns primacy, as I have been saying for days. Because hers is a unique situation. You want to give the man’s concerns primacy merely for being a poor sop.

          Both partners are responsible…but that does NOT mean their requisite duties are commensurate. There is a difference in scale, which you fail (repeatedly) to perceive.

          Now, ideally, I would agree that the man be given the option of “abandoning” the clump of cells, and thereby not be liable to paternity claims. Note that this likely will increase the demand for abortion. But in our current society, that is unlikely to fly. There is unfairness there, but it is dwarfed by the potential of state-mandated provision of incubation services by the woman against her will. I would choose the less unfair strategy. It seems you would go the other way. To each their own.

          The differences in reproductive physiology entail differences in reproductive rights…because the basic biologic reality is that the situation for the man and woman in this realm are wildly disparate. Relevant differences in physiology resulting in relevant differences in rights. Such relevance is another issue you fail to grasp. The conditions for applying the principle of ‘same rights in similar situations’ is simply not met in this arena.

          I actually don’t expect men to support women “in this”. I’ve never said otherwise, so now you’re just making stuff up. Personally, I don’t support the notion of paternity claims out of wedlock, precisely because the man is disadvantaged. But like I said, that won’t fly in current society. So it is unfair, but much less so than in the alternative model.

          And again, grasp of subtlety has escaped you. I’m for “available, safe, and rare”, with the biological basis of viability applied. I have previously stated that I support abortion up to the point of viability, but don’t thereafter (unless life-saving for the woman). If that is somehow perceived as “extreme”, that has more to do with your current position than mine. Notice also that society has majority support for 1st trimester abortion….so what you can and cannot accept doesn’t mean a whole heckuva lot.

  104. AM says

    This ongoing debate has been in the hot seat for years but has been put on blast in recent months. And no matter how you approach it, it becomes harder to say the right thing, at this point there is no right answer. No matter which way you sway in this touchy subject someone will be there to protest against your viewpoint. I think that there is no one way to classify the grounds on abortion. But to find a general grounds that we can all stand on is a possibility, it would take a lot of work and conversation but there is potential to reach a common standpoint.
    That also rises the issue of what time frame should an abortion take place, since everyone has a different perception of what constitutes a human. Setting a strict time frame on when an abortion can take place is rather unreasonable. Since, in most cases women are unaware of their pregnancies in the first place. By the time a fetus develops a heartbeat the woman still could be unaware of what is happening. A large enough time frame must be placed in action in order to allow the woman to realize what is going on. With that I agree with the countries mentioned in this article, the 12 week rule gives a fair block of time for the woman.
    Looking at both sides of the argument I do favour pro-choice but not necessarily everything they say, I would never condone a third trimester abortion.Until there is a way to determine fully when a fetus is a human both pro-choice and pro-life sides need to step back and stand down, all this arguing is getting us nowhere. As a society we need to find a new definition to the grounds of abortion.

  105. What this subject needs is more contextualization beyond the moral issues that have characterized the debates over this subject. The following article, ‘The Case of Abortion-on-demand’, looks at the legalization process as part of the roll out of Indulgence Capitalism in the 1960s….and the commodification of sex and women that came with it.

  106. JS says

    Somewhere between 12-16 weeks – aka the already existent first trimester rule – should be sufficient, and already most women act within that time frame.
    The part about the activism on both sides that annoys me are the outlier arguments. By this I mean the ones that talk about cases that are rarely happening as if they are the norm, for example, pro-lifers talk as though every woman who has an abortion is a trampy teenager who has sex without protection and just doesn’t care about her baby, and is on her way to the clinic for abortion number five midway through a healthy pregnancy because she hates babies and couldn’t be bothered to come in earlier.
    Meanwhile pro-choicers cry about millions of raped teenagers on welfare who can’t talk to their parents about their rape incest fetuses they can only manage to beg up the money to abort by month 8 to avoid having to give birth to a Down’s syndrome baby who will ruin their lives so they will be forced to commit suicide, or something.
    In reality most women have an abortion about 8-10 weeks along because their birth control failed and they have no money to raise the kid. This could be because the father-to-be doesn’t want anything to do with it and will fight them on child support or because his job isn’t very good. Usually they are in their 20s. No one wants to talk about this, the usual scenario. It’s boring.

    • Kenneth D. Mosher Sr. says

      Thank you for the balanced take and the information about who actually is getting abortions and when.

  107. Kenneth D. Mosher Sr. says

    Very good, well reasoned article on the ethics of the abortion debate from a “pro-choice” academic’s point of view. My complaint is that it does not answer the question of why the less ethically costly choice of not to have sex or not to use birth control is not addressed. I understand and appreciate the exceptions (rape and incest) because then the first two choices are removed by force and the third choice becomes even more imperative but I am not convinced that the majority of abortions are the result of exceptions.

  108. maxmagnus says

    “society has majority support for 1st trimester abortion…what you can and cannot accept doesn’t mean a whole heckuva lot.”

    True, however, it looks like the legislators of new york, virginia, alabama, georgia etc.. don’t care much about what you and the majority of society think either.
    Only what judges think matter now, which shouldn’t be good news to anyone.

    To cite the author of the article, either you are willing and able to acknowledge the ethical complexity of the debate, or you are not.

    by extreme, I mean the direction abortion is going, in other words neither rare, nor limited to viability

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