Do Pro-Lifers Really Believe that Abortion Is Murder?

Kevin Drum thinks not:

I’ve never really believed that much of anyone really, truly thinks that abortion is murder. If you look at actions, rather than words, it just doesn’t add up. Lots of people oppose abortion, but with very few exceptions, they very plainly don’t react to it the same way they react to a genuine murder. Their emotional response gives the game away, even if they’ve convinced themselves otherwise intellectually.

Drum sees evidence for this assessment in the continued support by conservative Christians for “pro-life” Rep. Steve DesJarlais (R-TN), a medical professional alleged to have encouraged women, including his wife, to have an abortion. If voters in his district really believed that abortion is murder, they wouldn’t support DesJarlais:

DesJarlais is a good example. If he had encouraged the murder of two children—real murder, of kids who were a year or two old—he wouldn’t merely be having a tough primary. Regardless of whether he had managed to avoid conviction for his acts, he wouldn’t even be able to run for office, let alone be even odds to win. He’d be a pariah.

Yes, he would. Drum is right about that. So does that mean that supporters of DesJarlais don’t really believe that abortion is murder, even if they think they do? No. That conclusion doesn’t follow.

The pro-life perspective is more sophisticated than Drum presents it, and one I happen to share. I can’t speak for every pro-lifer, but in my view, the intentional killing of human beings, born or unborn, is never morally justified. Consequently, I oppose abortion, the death penalty, and war. I consider these forms of killing, when done knowingly and deliberately, to be morally evil. This, I take it, is what Drum means by murder; obviously abortion isn’t classified as murder under the law.

I also recognize that not everyone shares my perspective or extends it as far as I do. I know that people disagree with me, not because they have no respect for human life, but because they don’t share my assumptions and conclusions about what constitutes human life or when human life can justly be taken.

In some cases, I can respect our differences. In others, I cannot. I wouldn’t want anything to do with someone who murdered two children maliciously or indifferently and who hasn’t repented. I’d fear for my life and the lives of those I love. I wouldn’t support such a person for public office. I wouldn’t trust their moral judgment in anything. However, I might consider voting for a political candidate whose policies would involve deliberate killing if I thought the candidate’s moral reasoning for it made some rational sense and if the candidate otherwise seemed to be of sound judgment.

I see no sense in cold-blooded murder or soundness of mind in anyone who would try to justify it, but I understand and can appreciate the reasoning behind war, the death penalty, and abortion. Cold-blooded murder is evil, plain and simple. Abortion, war, and the death penalty are more complex and involve moral questions besides what constitutes human life. To determine sound abortion policy, for example, it’s not enough to ascertain the moral status of the unborn: you also have to address the proper role of the state vis-a-vis bodily autonomy and individual freedom. Arguably, you should also consider the historical place of women in society as any abortion policy will affect women much more than men.

Good, rational people have thought through these issues and arrived at different conclusions. For this reason, I should react differently to abortion than I do to what Drum calls “genuine murder.” And, admittedly, I do. This isn’t an implied judgment of mine on the morality of abortion; it’s the result of my recognizing the complexity of the issue and the reasonableness of people on both sides of it.

For the record, I wouldn’t vote for Rep. Steve DesJarlais. 

Kyle Cupp is an author and freelance writer. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, and his website.

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82 thoughts on “Do Pro-Lifers Really Believe that Abortion Is Murder?

  1. The pro-life position may be more sophisticated than that. But I don’t think your argument actually substantiates that claim.

    Murder has a specific meaning, even outside of the legal meaning. It is killing with malice and forethought. That’s not the same as killing that is immoral. Very few people claim that hunting is murder, even though lots of people think it’s wrong to kill animals. Nor do people claim that most wartime killing is murder – even when we believe that war is immoral.

    Yet lots of people claim that abortion is not just killing, but murder*. If they don’t react to abortion as if it were murder, that’s a sign they don’t really believe what they say they do.

    * – To be fair, plenty of pro-lifers don’t claim this.

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  2. I’ve seen this argument used in service to a trick in the past.

    The trick involves getting the opposition to agree that is that if you don’t think that women who try to get abortions should be charged with attempted murder, then you don’t think that abortion is “really” murder.

    This allows you to say that the only people who “really” think that abortion is “really” murder are the Dietrich Bonhoeffer wannabes who are willing to bomb clinics or kill doctors.

    The people who only oppose abortion enough to make it illegal, say, are therefore hypocrites because they’re using the law instead of C4.

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    • How is it a trick. People say something is murder but then don’t think it should be treated like murder. Abortion may just not be “murder” like pro-life people like to say, they can hate it and argue against it. Maybe they just shouldn’t call people murderers or call it murder if that isn’t really what they mean.

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      • OK, so it’s murder, but less serious than using medical marijuana. (Even less serious than forgery: they don’t have to pay a fine with other people’s money.)

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      • less serious

        I’ve seen cases of euthanasia where I think that, probably, a murder happened but I think that it’d be downright inappropriate for law enforcement to get involved (or for the doctor involved to be raped).

        Less serious? I don’t know about that.

        Less appropriate for society to respond with all of the force it is capable of responding with.

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      • Nice jay…i thought there would be strawman silliness…well played.

        Murder is a word with a pretty specific meaning. If people use the rest of us will assume they are using the pretty specific meaning we all share. When pressed, from what i’ve heard, pro-life people who believe it is murder seem to really believe in that pretty specific meaning. But somewhere they don’t’ believe in the consequences that come from that term without explanation.

        Why not just avoid using a word like murder if people don’t want it treated like murder? People can still be against abortion without calling it murder. Then again lots of people rail against socialism, dictatorship and concentration camps that don’t seem to meet common definitions.

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      • To be perfectly honest, I think that there is a lot of morally atrocious stuff that goes on that would not have a government response be appropriate.

        I think that there are different kinds of moral content when it comes to abortion and I’m capable of making all kinds of distinctions between the termination of a pregnancy in the first trimester and in the third and for reasons related to the child having genetic diseases versus reasons related to the child being inconvenient versus the child arriving as the result of rape/incest.

        In none of these cases, however, do I think that it’s proper for the cops to kick down a door, shoot some dogs, and cart folks off to jail to have god knows what happen to them.

        Heck, I am prone to think that there are a lot of things out there that are downright morally repulsive but the response of the state is so very much more repulsive, by an order of magnitude, that it’s better for the state to not respond at all.

        And abortion is one of those things that I tend to think that has a lot of room for it to be likely to be morally wrong while, at the same time, I don’t think that the government should be involved at all.

        Heck, there are even a handful of circumstances for an abortion that I’d consider it to be murder.

        But, even so, I still don’t think it should be illegal. I don’t think that it should be any of the government’s freaking business.

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    • But this is usually proposed when people think that the doctors that perform them should go to jail. It’s completely illogical that the doctor should go to jail, but the, presumably, willing mother should not.

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      • They both share culpability but it seems silly to say that the person who called the hit has any less blood on his hands than the hitman himself.

        I mean, assuming such a thing as moral culpability.

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      • I agree. Which is why if the abortion doctor should go to jail, the mother should too. If the mother shouldn’t go to jail, than neither should the doctor.

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  3. I think that plenty of pro-lifers can sincerely think that abortion is murder. I think they are wrong but they can sincerely believe this.

    The same people could also realize the legal, ethical, and moral problems of treating abortion like murder but not all of them because we do seemingly exist in an environment where doctors are being required to report miscarriages to the prosecutors and going after women who take certain substances while pregnant for child endangerment.

    That being said hyperbolic rhetoric is always problematic even if sincere. If you are going to use certain words to describe certain actions like comparing abortion to murder, opponents are going to challenge you by taking said comparison to the logical conclusion and seeing who sticks with their guns and who does not.

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  4. says Or putting people who pay others to perform it in jail.

    I wrote of abrogating women’s moral choices; we see evidence of this underpinning thought process here, too. When pressed on the appropriate consequences, most people who support outlawing abortion that I’ve interacted with say they do not want to charge the mother with murder, they would charge the doctor who performs the abortion with murder.

    She doesn’t bear the responsibility for the murder they see happening, the doctor who performs the abortion is the murderer. I’m not sure how this chain of responsibility works out for Plan B.

    I believe her shoulders are broad enough to make the decision of bearing humanity’s future responsibly. She deserves that respect.

    [Mike S: updated per Zic’s request]

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  5. I think Drum is actually abusing the word “belief” in that post, making it mean more than it means. It is quite clear that abortion doesn’t carry the same emotional valence as say, the malicious killing of a 6-year-old.

    But that, in my mind, doesn’t justify “You don’t believe that!” We’re talking more about congruence – getting your beliefs and behavior in line with your emotions, and that’s hard work for everyone.

    For the record, I’m pro-choice. And I definitely feel that sometimes, the sloganeering of “Abortion is Murder” is hyperbolic drama. It doesn’t follow that the people espousing it don’t believe it.

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  6. Shorter:

    [Some] Pro-life folks say abortion = murder.

    Drum says they aren’t being honest about their beliefs, in that many of them will support a politician who encouraged women, including his wife, to have an abortion.

    Apparently we are supposed to believe Drum is wrong because, if you define “murder” as “doing something not morally justified” then there is no contradiction. The basis for making that definition, of course, goes unstated.

    And, in the end, there is an admission that the poster DOES NOT think abortion is the same as murder. Which supports the thesis that Drum is wrong. Somehow.

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    • OP says he can’t envision a time where murder would be the moral option (I Can!).
      OP says he can understand that abortion is divisive, and therefore shouldn’t be treated like murder.

      How many people do I need to get to go along with me about moral murder before he’s willing to compromise on that too? [Betcha I can get quite a few if I use the term “faithless sluts”…]

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  7. However, I might consider voting for a political candidate whose policies would involve deliberate killing if I thought the candidate’s moral reasoning for it made some rational sense and if the candidate otherwise seemed to be of sound judgment.

    Uh, what? Really? Please state *some other* policies that involve deliberate killing of human that you would dislike, but would consider voting for politicians who are in favor of.

    And, no, I won’t really accept ‘the death penalty’ as the sole answer there, considering how sparsely it happens, and how it happens after judicial conviction and a hell of a lot of review. Please pick something else.

    For example, if a political candidate had stated he sees no problem with laws legalizing the act of consensually hunting people for sport, would you ever consider voting for him?

    Cold-blooded murder is evil, plain and simple.

    Erm, if you think abortion is killing a person, the only thing that makes abortion *not* be ‘cold-blooded murder’ is that it is not illegal.

    The moral line you have positioned yourself on here appears to be ‘killing people is morally fine, but only if it’s not illegal’.

    Abortion, war, and the death penalty are more complex and involve moral questions besides what constitutes human life.

    Or maybe ‘killing people is fine, but only if it’s due to someone exercising other rights’. (Aka, you can murder people during a riot, but only if it’s a *politically*-based riot?)

    Wait, what?

    Good, rational people have thought through these issues and arrived at different conclusions. For this reason, I should react differently to abortion than I do to what Drum calls “genuine murder.” And, admittedly, I do. This isn’t an implied judgment of mine on the morality of abortion; it’s the result of my recognizing the complexity of the issue and the reasonableness of people on both sides of it.

    Just *saying* it’s ‘not an implied judgment of mine on the morality of abortion’ doesn’t make it not literally be that exact thing.

    You sat there and dissected how you felt, and decided you *do* feel differently about ‘people killing real people’ vs. abortion, but, uh, you didn’t like that conclusion, so decided you must feel differently due to something else.

    What, you’re not quite sure. But it’s some reason beside your subconscious saying ‘Fetuses aren’t actually people yet’. You’re sure of this!

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    • It’s pretty clear that Kyle is taking “murder” (or “cold blooded murder”, at least) to mean the ending of another person’s life when no possible extenuating circumstances exist (eg, it’s not during war, the person being killed is not threatening anyone, etc), and that he further claims that the ending of another person’s life is not justified even if extenuating circumstances exist. However, he understands that there are rational people who disagree with him on this point, and also that, while (for him) killing is always wrong, there are many circumstances where it is not “murder”.

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    • Oh, and I guess I better address this before it ends up being the answer. You listed three examples of deliberate (legal) killing under US law:

      Wars have, for the political life of every person alive, been sold as self-defense of the country, or the defense of others. Now, sometimes this was a *lie*, but that is the rationale required to defense war.

      Likewise, the death penalty, *supposedly*, exists to deter crime, specifically, murder. It’s not very good at it, but that’s the rational behind it.

      And self-defense laws, which you didn’t mention, would be yet another example of the law allowing deliberate killing of people, and no one has a problem with sane versions of those. (Recently, we’ve gotten some rather insane versions, but that’s neither here nor there.)

      Every single one of those ‘allowed killing of humans’ shares something in common: Society allows its members to do that, or society itself does that, in a (claimed) attempt to stop other killings.

      So there’s a perfectly reasonable continuum there to get to abortion to save the woman’s life. And, indeed, most pro-life people see no problem with that ‘deliberate killing’…if it comes down the fetus or the woman, no one has an issue there, especially since usually trying to save the often premature child is a coin-toss anyway, whereas saving the woman usually works.

      But the abortion we’re talking about in general, and the abortion in the example given…is not that. Even if you want to claim the life of the fetus is being weighed against other rights and considerations, that’s not the same as the other forms of killing we allow, where it’s one person’s life stacked against *some other person’s life*.

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    • It’s pretty clear that Kyle is taking “murder” (or “cold blooded murder”, at least) to mean the ending of another person’s life

      IF that’s he means, then I don’t see how his argument is coherent (assuming that was his argument and all). Murder is conventionally understood to be the killing of a person. A zygote isn’t a person. Nor is a blastocyst. Nor am embryo. IT’s an open question when a person emerges from conception, no? I mean, no one really knows. So the proposition that killing a human zygote constitutes murder is not only defeatable, but it’s unlikely that most (thinking :) ) people seriously believe that.

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  8. There’s certainly an inconsistancy in the majority (last I heard) of pro-lifers who think abortion is murder, but that it’s acceptable murder as long as the woman didn’t choose to have sex. As an outside viewer, it would seem the me the goal is to punish (via reduction of options) of women who choose to have sex.

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    • Yeah, that whole “abortion is murder … except in the case of rape or incest (which is rape)” kinda gives away the game, doesn’t it. If it is, in fact, murder, then it doesn’t matter how the “person” was conceived.

      Murder is murder.

      This is about punishing women — or “sluts” as the right-wing Christians like to call them — for not keeping their knees together.

      Arguably*, the only moral reason to kill another human is in self-defense. Therefore, the rape/incest exception doesn’t apply. Only to save the life of the pregnant woman is abortion acceptable.

      Not being Christian / religious, I’ve not been taught to believe that a fetus is a human life, so I have no problem with early-stage abortion.

      *I personally would argue that mercy killings are moral as well. You know, when you shoot your friend in the head after she has been bitten by the Zombie but before she turns into a Zombie herself. But then the question at that point is if she is really still human?

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      • Not necessarily. If you invite someone over to your house, can you shoot them if you find them in the foyer? No.

        If you wake up in the middle of the night and you find that someone uninvited is in your foyer, can you shoot them?

        For some reasons, the law gets all wobbly here.

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      • Jaybird, I’m not sure what point you are trying to make here?

        Is about the only moral justification for killing being self-defense? Because your examples don’t address that. Just finding someone in your foyer (only the foyer?) doesn’t give you the right — legal or moral — to kill them.

        The law isn’t “wobbly” on that at all. It requires that you feel that your life — or the lives of others — are in jeopardy before you can kill them. Regardless, I was talking about moral justification, not legal justification for killing another. The two aren’t the same.

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      • Oh, yeah, pardon me.

        “Officer, I was totally in fear for my life.”

        Better?

        Is about the only moral justification for killing being self-defense?

        There are plenty of moral justifications for killing. Self-defense is a good one but there’s also revenge, punishment, and attempting to forestall recidivism. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m pretty sure that I’d be able to find a few more historical examples with twenty minutes on the google.

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      • Sorry, Jaybird, but ” revenge, punishment, and attempting to forestall recidivism” aren’t moral justifications.

        They are just attempts at justification.

        “Attempting to forestall recidivism?” Really? So on the off chance that you might commit another crime I am going to kill you is some sort of moral claim? Don’t think so.

        Revenge murder is a moral claim? No, it might be a religious claim, but religion does not equal morality. Not in any sort of modern understanding of the term.

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      • Jaybird, all your examples beg the question. A bunch of questions actually. For one thing, castle laws actually do allow the killing of someone in your foyer. Second, you’ve assumed that terminating the life of a zygote (or whatever), which isn’t a person, constitutes murder, which is the killing of a person, and the only reason it’s permitted is because the law “gets all wobbly”. For thirders, there is a legitimate argument that the developing fetus and the mother have competing rights, and there is no a priori (or decisive aposteriori) reason to view the fetus’s rights as trumping the mother’s.

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      • Well, if castle laws distinguish between someone who was invited into your house and someone who just happened to show up, why is it silly to make distinctions between the pregnancies that happen as the result of rape/incest and the pregnancies that happen as the result of unprotected sex?

        (This is intended to be a moral question rather than a procedural one.)

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      • “Well, if castle laws distinguish between someone who was invited into your house and someone who just happened to show up, why is it silly to make distinctions between the pregnancies that happen as the result of rape/incest and the pregnancies that happen as the result of unprotected sex?”

        I don’t think the distinction is silly, just inappropriate. In both of YOUR examples the person being killed is the person who has (or has not) committed violence, in the form of breaking and entering your home. That is, the rightness or wrongness (legally and morally) of killing that person depends on their acts and their intent.

        In the case of abortion, the person being killed is a complete innocent. The fetus has done nothing but be conceived. It is, to a certain extent, a third party to all of the acts, nefarious or no, that led to its conception. If the killing of an innocent third party is murder in the absence of rape or incest, it seems to like it should be murder even in the case of rape or incest. The dead person has done nothing.

        To make your example more analogous to abortion, say the person in your foyer has someone in chains. If that person was invited (I don’t know, an S&M party maybe?) it would be murder to kill either of those people. But if they have broken into your house it might not be murder to kill the person unchained and free, but it would still be murder to kill the bound person who was brought into your house against their will.

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      • Pinky, if you don’t know any right-wing Christians who call pregnant women sluts, then you aren’t paying attention. All the recent brouhaha over contraception has fundies slinging the “slut” word about. As in “if those sluts would just keep their knees together then we wouldn’t have to pay for their contraception.” (see: Limbaugh, Hanity, Beck, et al)

        And all the gnashing of teeth over those welfare sluts who just keep having baby after baby to get bigger welfare checks.

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      • I know plenty of right-wing Christians. None would call a pregnant woman a slut. I can’t vouch for people online – people act differently online – but no one I know would call a pregnant woman a slut. People act differently in private too – a lot of people I know would quietly donate money or baby items to her.

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      • Pinky,
        Yeah. You have them meet a 12 year old nymphomaniac (self described) pregnant to a 19 year old (voluntarily, to be clear) — and not going to get married anytime soon. Still thinking they wouldn’t count her a slut?

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  9. Drum’s argument falls into the category of what the philosopher Ludwig Wittegenstein called a language-game. That is, Drum is trying to make his argument primarily through a specific grammatical use of words in a way that is divorced from how they are normally used in the separate language game that pro-lifers use when they call abortion murder. A pro-lifer is still a pro-lifer no matter whether he believes that abortion is murder or abortion is this really bad thing that we are obliged to stop from happening.

    Drum’s argument is not dissimilar to the somewhat common language-game in which pro-lifers argue that since a fetus is most definitely of the human species and since it is most definitely alive, then a fetus must be a human life. Arguments like these don’t do much to clarify the main points of contention and they don’t convince anyone to change their mind, mostly they are just used by people on one side of an argument to signal to others who already agree with them how obviously right they are.

    I don’t spend much time thinking about whether abortion is murder. I admit that I have no real idea whether aborting a fetus is right or wrong in any objective sense and that nobody else does either. In the absence of that certainty, I can justify no reason to assert myself into a decision that has nothing to do with me. All the clever arguments in the world aren’t going to move away from my pro-choice position and if something led me to a more certain belief that abortion were objectively wring, no clever argument would move me from that position either.

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    • Drum’s argument falls into the category of what the philosopher Ludwig Wittegenstein called a language-game. That is, Drum is trying to make his argument primarily through a specific grammatical use of words in a way that is divorced from how they are normally used in the separate language game that pro-lifers use when they call abortion murder.

      Drum’s argument is against the language game that pro-lifers are using when they call abortion murder. They are using words with specific emotional meanings and do not believe them.

      And note his objection isn’t that ‘murder’ is ‘illegal killing of a person’, which abortion isn’t…that’s already been pointed out, repeatedly. It’s that pro-lifers don’t even seem to even consider it the same as ‘killing a person’, period. You don’t vote people into office who have recommended that a woman kill her children! Or specifically recommended his wife kill *his own* children!

      That’s just…wow. Holy crap. No one in any universe would vote for someone who tried to have his young children killed. It doesn’t matter if there are circumstances where it would be legal.

      Everyone always knew it wasn’t ‘murder’, legally. But now it’s pretty clear that no one, not even the people running around saying abortion is murder, thinks it’s actually killing a person at all. To paraphrase Douglas Adams: Their fundamental language misuse was completely hidden by their superficial language misuse.

      It may, of course, still be completely pointless for Drum to point this out. But he’s not the one playing the language game. He’s just the one pointing it out.

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    • I admit that I have no real idea whether aborting a fetus is right or wrong in any objective sense and that nobody else does either. In the absence of that certainty, I can justify no reason to assert myself into a decision that has nothing to do with me.

      Given that (which I largely agree with), would you oppose people who did feel a certainty about the issue and wanted to restrict other people’s choices?

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      • I oppose pretty much all instances of people who feel certain about issues and want to restrict other people’s choices, where people’s choices cause no direct harm to others. It is for that reason that I self-identify as approximately libertarian.

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  10. See Noah Millman on this — especially:

    The shorthand way you say, “that kind of killing is just wrong” is to call it murder. As in “meat is murder” or “hey, hey, LBJ; how many kids did you kill today?” Or, for that matter, “abortion is murder.” Saying that doesn’t mean that you intend to treat everyone associated with the act as if they were literal murderers. It means you want to awaken people’s consciences to the fact that, if they really thought about the situation, they’d see that murder is not an inapt description. It means you want to change the world so that, one day, slaughtering a pig, or carpet-bombing a city, or having an abortion would be seen, socially, as an abominable act.

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    • kenB, you are missing Drum’s point. He understands that calling something murder is a way of showing disapproval. His point instead is that people who call abortion murder to show disapproval don’t actually believe what they are saying.

      In your examples, it would be akin to someone saying “meat is murder while owning a slaughterhouse and dining on steak every night.

      Or someone taunting LBJ with accusations of murder at a protest while at the same time actively campaigning for him.

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      • I don’t see that at all — DesJarlais says he’s anti-abortion, and re the allegations, he’s variously either denying them or saying that he’s subsequently seen the light. How is a pro-lifer supporting a candidate like that in anywhere near the same ballpark as an ethical vegetarian owning a slaughterhouse?

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  11. One of the things that kept coming up when I argued this at Redstate was someone discussing whether it’d be appropriate for a neighbor to call the police if s/he suspected that someone might be getting an abortion. “I mean, is it appropriate to call the cops if you suspect someone might be abusing their children? Why is it inappropriate to call the cops if you think they might be getting an abortion?”

    So I tended to ask whether the young woman in question not being pregnant was evidence of a crime having been committed.

    And they’d all hrumph hrumph as if I just didn’t *CARE* about the millions of abortions happening.

    They were really big on passing laws that would be the types of laws that didn’t need to be enforced. They would be passed and then followed. Like magic.

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  12. Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be. The vast majority of people who say “abortion is murder” aren’t actually thinking. They’re repeating slogans / signalling their membership in a group / trying to control the language of a debate.

    The microscopic number who have thought about and claim to still believe it are — mostly — lying to themselves. Because if they were being actually honest, they would admit that there cannot be any exception except to save the life of the mother. And every IVF doctor would have to radically change his practice. And we would have to take a hard look at prosecuting extra-territorial crimes. (After all, if a woman took her three-year old to Canada and legally had him ripped to pieces, how could we possibly tolerate such an outrage simply because it was legal under Canadian law?) And the number of spontaneous abortions that occur would be a public health crisis. etc.

    But for all that Texas is making life really difficult for abortionists, has that State taken a single step to regulate IVF procedures?

    Abortion may be bad. It may be wrong. It may even need to be criminalized. (Obviously I disagree.) But it’s not murder. Words, especially legal words, have meaning.

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    • And the number of spontaneous abortions that occur would be a public health crisis. etc.

      If all fertilized embryos count as ‘people’, that means that something between 50%-75% of all people that have ever lived have died of a single, specific…disease? It would have killed more people than all other causes of death combined.

      If you only count them after they implant, it might drop down to 40%. And some percentage of them simply were not viable in the first place…we can’t help if someone loses the genetic lottery.

      But still. You’d think we’d be doing something about that.

      Abortion may be bad. It may be wrong. It may even need to be criminalized. (Obviously I disagree.) But it’s not murder.

      Well, we know it’s not murder. Legally, murder is unlawfully killing someone.

      I think the point Drum is trying to make is that no one actually considers it ‘killing someone’.

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      • I was writing this much lengthier version of your same question when yours showed up (well, I was also pulled to work); maybe with a slightly different emphasis than yours, and phrased in a more questioning way. Since I went to the trouble of writing it, I’m gonna post it anyway :)

        Kyle, this question isn’t meant as a gotcha, though I confess to having deployed it as one in other circumstances; rather, it’s an invitation to you (or others) to explain what looks to me like an inconsistency (not that I’m always consistent either, but I do find that big glaring inconsistencies in my own positions are a good heuristic for looking at those positions harder).

        If I read the OP correctly, I infer that you think the ontological status of [separate] “human life” begins very early in the embryological cycle (e.g. first mitosis). Correct inference? If not, what developmental stage (let’s stick to the standard pathway to avoid going off into weeds of anencephaly, etc.) or properties is/are sufficient for “human life” status in your personal view? I think first mitosis is reasonably close to the standard RCC position; I have looked (though not recently) and haven’t found any detailed statement from technically knowledgeable canon lawyers to drill any deeper (e.g. would a hypothetical drug which blocked the cortical reaction [which happens after the first sperm penetrates the ovum but before fusion of the two pronuclei] in such a way as to prevent mitosis be considered a contraceptive or an abortifacient?).

        So if we are together so far, those zygotes/morulas/blastulas/gastrulas/etc. which fail to proceed to term and successful birth are accidental human deaths, miscarriages (though in the probable majority of cases miscarriages that nobody knows happened), yes? If grouped together, invisible miscarriages (e.g. before formation of the syncytiotrophoblast [~placenta]) would be the greatest cause of childhood death in First World countries.

        Then why is there no fairly serious medical research effort to understand the failure mechanisms (and thus eventually develop treatments to reduce their frequency), and no visible pressure groups pushing for said research? Not even a single Congressbeing using it as a hobbyhorse.

        There is a fair amount of research ongoing, though again I notice neither pressure groups nor any high profile people associated therewith, about recurrent implantation failure (RIF), but it appears that the focus is on the limited fertility and secondarily on maternal morbidity; nothing about the poor dead blastulas. The studies on mice seem to indicate that RIF is [mostly] a specific set of syndromes; the majority of the total implantation failures are apparently not causally related to RIF.

        I am, hypothetically at least, a consequentialist utilitarian with side constraints rather than a deontologist, so I have a very different take on abortion – and a whole bunch of my own inconsistencies and hypocrisies to wrassel with. I emphasized my own failings there not in a show of false humility, but to emphasize the fact that I want to understand why what looks like a significant gap to me isn’t one from your perspective (or, if you think it is a significant gap according to your fundamentals, why do you think it gets so little play?).

        adThanksvance

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      • Hey, I have no problem with people saying the same thing as me, and you clearly no more about the medical science bit.

        If not, what developmental stage (let’s stick to the standard pathway to avoid going off into weeds of anencephaly, etc.) or properties is/are sufficient for “human life” status in your personal view? I think first mitosis is reasonably close to the standard RCC position;

        Mitosis seems slightly too late a point. People keep saying ‘life begins at conception’. (1) That is almost certainly as far as they have thought it out.

        Granted, I don’t know what *Kyle* thinks. All he said is that he thinks abortion is killing a person. (Which, oddly, he seems to think might be understandable, sometimes. Like if you really want a person dead?!)

        1) Which, as I have pointed out, is silly. Sperm and ovum are both alive. Human life does not ‘begin’…all the cells in our body have been alive the entire history of life on this planet, they’ve just split and recombined a lot.

        If grouped together, invisible miscarriages (e.g. before formation of the syncytiotrophoblast [~placenta]) would be the greatest cause of childhood death in First World countries.

        You’re actually not being inclusive enough. The Hobby Lobby case, for example, was about fertilized zygotes not implanting. (That is, them supposedly not implanting)

        If you include lack of implantation, ‘not making it to the first month of pregnancy’ is indisputably the biggest cause of death of anyone, ever, under any circumstances. Somewhere between two to three times as many ‘people’ die from that than are born each year…and that’s at minimum.

        People tend not to realize this, but if a woman has unprotected sex, and then ovulates shortly enough thereafter, the ovum basically *will* be fertilized almost every time. Or at least half the time. It’s not really a hypothetical. The fact this doesn’t result in a lot more pregnancies than we get is due to genetic oddities(1) and uterine lining issues and all sorts of things.

        I.e., if a woman has unprotected sex every night, and it takes 10 monthly cycles before she’s pregnant, than there were about 7 ‘people’ that didn’t make it. Some doctors think it might be as low as 4, others say it’s actually really close to 9 all the time….no one’s exactly 100% sure, but it’s big damn number when compared to the amount of people actually born.

        You and me both agree: This fact would seem rather important to people who think zygotes and blastulas and whatever were ‘people’. But, instead, silence.

        1) Sometimes the ovum is fertilized in such a way that it isn’t viable at all, it can’t even divide once, and I don’t think doctors actually count it as ‘fertilized’ if that happens. But I’m not sure the ‘life begins at conception’ people understand that.

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      • I specifically used first mitosis (~90 minutes in humans from cortical reaction to full mitotic spindle formation) in an [evidently failing] effort to be more specific about the “moment” of conception: e.g. based mostly on what we observe in IVF plus extrapolating in utero results from mice to humans, in polyspermy events that lead to full development, the first sperm through the zona pellucida isn’t necessarily the sperm which will form the pronucleus and thus contribute half the genome.

        Similarly, according to my easily-could-be-wrong understanding, developmental failures prior to formation of the syncytiotrophoblast (which is post-implantation) are normally asymptomatic (whereas those after tend to be correlated with vaginal bleeding), hence my admittedly-imprecise coining of “invisible miscarriages”.

        I’m not sure what to make of your reference to Hobby Lobby and the business about “zygotes implanting”. Blastocycsts implant, not zygotes. At any rate, my understanding is that the question of whether drugs or procedures which prevent implantation should be legally or even ethically considered abortifacients is a live controversy on the abortion criminalization side. My source there is dated – a conversation with a very hardcore abortion criminalizer who thought such drugs and procedures should not be criminalized (she was a traddie Catholic who thought contraception immoral for Catholics but did not think that secular law should follow Church teaching on that front).

        But thanks to the RFRA, actual facts [e.g of embryology] are irrelevant except insofar as they might be used to impeach the sincerity of belief of someone claiming exemption under the RFRA.

        I welcome correction from somebody who follows this stuff in detail – especially on the science side.

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      • I specifically used first mitosis (~90 minutes in humans from cortical reaction to full mitotic spindle formation) in an [evidently failing] effort to be more specific about the “moment” of conception:

        Oh, I have no objection to the line you’re trying to draw. I just don’t think it’s the line that hardcore pro-lifers are drawing, which is probably that a person is ‘alive’ the second a sperm touches the ovum…

        in polyspermy events that lead to full development, the first sperm through the zona pellucida isn’t necessarily the sperm which will form the pronucleus and thus contribute half the genome.

        …and there you go poking holes in their story.

        You’re trying to use science to pinpoint in a position in a sequence of events.

        The other side is, basically, claiming some sort of magic happens, and tada, an ensouled human.

        Trying to pinpoint where exactly the other side thinks this magic happens is like trying to pinpoint how magical invisibility can make your clothes invisible but not an object you’re holding, so you’re trying to clearly define what ‘holding’ vs. ‘wearing’ is…you’re trying to use science to describe something that is a *fictional* distinction. There’s not a lot of point to it.

        ‘life begins at conception’. That is, literally, all that is known. They have been told it, it is true.

        And in their universe, conception is a magical point, not a process.

        They don’t even have a good explanation how *identical twins* end up with two souls under their logic. Or how chimeras should be counted.

        Blastocycsts implant, not zygotes.

        You are correct. Like I said, you certainly know more about the actual science than I do.

        But, anyway, my point was that in addition to the ‘invisible pregnancies’ that happen without the woman knowing about them, since they think the magical point is at conception, there’s at least two whole class of failures that happen after that, but *before* pregnancy: Defective genetic combinations that cannot even start mitosis, or who form defective blastocycsts, and functional blastocycsts that do not implant.

        Although to be fair to the pro-life people not pushing for medical research to stop this, there is literally nothing possible that can be done about the first situation (Barring some sort of super-advanced gene-therapy we can’t do yet.), and since they often claim their distinction is based on ‘potential people’, maybe there’s an argument that those entities can’t actually *become* people, so aren’t covered under their logic.

        However, non-implantation is, under their rules, ‘a person dying’. Combine that with invisible pregnancies, and it the leading cause of death, period, and it sure is odd we never seem to do any research there.

        At any rate, my understanding is that the question of whether drugs or procedures which prevent implantation should be legally or even ethically considered abortifacients is a live controversy on the abortion criminalization side.

        In actuality, the people actually *pushing* the abortion criminalization side basically have contraceptives as their next step. All contraceptives. The people they’ve suckered into their chrusade might think otherwise, but that really is the intended end result.

        Because, as various people have pointed out, this entire debate has very little to do with anything except controlling women.

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  13. This seems to me one of the sillier discussions, about a rather silly common commentary.

    Do right to lifers technically mean “first degree murder, so all conspirators should be sentenced to life in prison if not to execution”? Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean they don’t think it’s not a really really morally bad thing.

    Basically, Drum’s complaining about people being somewhat hyperbolic in an emotionally charged political debate.

    And that’s sufficient to classified as a public intellectual in America today.

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    • I don’t think a woman walking into an abortion clinic amid cries of “murder!” will have sufficient knowledge or clarity of mind to distinguish between hyperbole for the sake of pointing out an immoral action and something that the heckler actually believes in. I mean, if OK, pro-lifers keep the emotionally charged terms to just a debate, with people who won’t be triggered – fine. But they don’t.

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      • I’m a woman and sometimes I can’t think rationally when I’m under pressure. There have been times when I’m weighted down by shit and even a relatively non-terrible insult will set me off. That stuff happens, and implying that it’s sexist to suggest that women can get stressed isn’t cool.

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      • Matt,
        The way you wrote it was inclusive of all women, who, of course, aren’t all the same. I wasn’t responding to the idea that some women can’t get stressed, but the implication that no woman can handle it.

        And, you know, you use a male-sounding name (which is fine, of course), and I have no idea who you are, and distinctively sexist dudes do drop in from time to time.

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      • I’m not sure any woman, or any man, would be completely unaffected by being called a murderer in an emotionally fraught situation where they might already be thinking they *are* murderers, or at least morally compromised, in the back of their heads.

        Additionally, my first comment brought up both clarity of mind *and* knowledge; people aren’t mind-readers and can’t always parse subtle nuances in meaning of harsh words being hurled at them, especially when one is walking into a clinic surrounded by hostiles. Heck, every day I take whatever someone is saying to me at face value because what else can I do? When my mother calls me ‘lazy’ and ‘disobedient’ maybe she’s just saying that to motivate me to get off my ass and make something of myself. Maybe. But that doesn’t matter in the moment. Doesn’t matter that I (usually) shrug it off. It still hurts.

        So this isn’t about who can handle the heat. This is me saying there shouldn’t be heat in the first place.

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      • I have this crazy thought that a woman might have thought through these issues before going to get the procedure, and that she might be already be aware there are people who strongly disapprove.

        I’m a guy, so what do I know? Maybe women aren’t as intelligent and rational as I assume they are. Maybe the people advocating waiting periods are right after all.

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      • Reread my last statement; you are missing my point. Verbal abuse is not OK even if the person it is directed at doesn’t suffer lingering ill-effects. Said verbal abuse is even worse, IMO, if the abuser doesn’t actually believe what they’re saying, and is just doing it to score rhetorical points in a debate or to serve their agenda.

        And I don’t care whether you are a man or a woman. I disagreed with your first comment the moment I read it and that doesn’t change even if you’re actually a Jane, so there’s no need to bring that up.

        (Similarly, does not matter if my real name is actually Matt; I’m still puzzled how my comment could be construed as sexist or dog whistling a sexist stereotype. I didn’t say all women were in danger of fainting dead away or suffering permanent PTSD or anything, just that she has no reason to think that the protesters out there aren’t True Believers.)

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  14. I’m just getting to this, so it’s possible that someone has already made this point. That being said…

    Does Kevin Drum of Mother-Fishing-Jones realize he’s just basically made the argument that date rape, spousal rape, and statutory rape aren’t *really* rape?

    I like Drum, but that column is a pretty bad leap from points A to B.

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  15. The pro-life perspective is more sophisticated than Drum presents it, and one I happen to share. I can’t speak for every pro-lifer, but in my view, the intentional killing of human beings, born or unborn, is never morally justified. Consequently, I oppose abortion, the death penalty, and war. I consider these forms of killing, when done knowingly and deliberately, to be morally evil. This, I take it, is what Drum means by murder; obviously abortion isn’t classified as murder under the law.

    This matches my views exactly.

    And if I never voted for anyone who had supported abortion or war, I would have to never vote. My pro-life views don’t prevent me from regarding one candidate’s positions as morally and ethically more desirable than another’s, even if none of the candidates’ views match my own.

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