Quote of the Day: A Catholic notes the benefits of Roe v. Wade while still opposing the decision

May 10, 2022 • 10:00 am

In today’s NYT you can find the op-ed below (click on screenshot to read), a defense of overturning Roe v. Wade written by Matthew Walther. As you can see by the subtitle, Walther is editor of the bimonthly Catholic literary journal Lamp

I suppose you could say that it’s to Walther’s credit that he admits that there could be bad socioeconomic consequences of overturning this bit of “settled law,” but in the end it’s clear that he thinks those consequences, good or bad, are irrelevant. As he says in his last sentence, “What is right is very rarely what is convenient.” For he sees the shelving of Roe v. Wade as equivalent to “the joyful fact of hundreds of thousands of additional babies being born.”

In fact, although he mentions that there may be some economic downsides of Roe v. Wade, in the main he seems to agree with this:

It is not possible to conceive of our present way of life — the decline of heavy and textile manufacturing and the rise of the service economy, financialization, the collapse of traditional familial and other social structures, the subsuming of virtually every facet of our existence into digital technologies — in the absence of the estimated 63 million abortions that have been performed in America since 1973.

and this:

[In the last twenty years], countless economists and social scientists have argued the opposite: that legal abortion is not only compatible with but also necessary for sustained economic growth. Among other things, reduced access to abortion is correlated with lower rates of labor force participation, reduced wages and increased job turnover.

If the actions of major corporations in states such as Texas, which recently banned abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, are any indication, America’s business establishment agrees. The boards of corporations like Citigroup, with a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, have announced that they will subsidize travel for employees who seek out-of-state abortions.

Opponents of abortion should consider the possibility that these corporations are correct in their apparent assumption that abortion contributes to the maximization of shareholder value. Are we prepared to accept the converse proposition, to invite a reduction in shareholder value by banning abortion?

So here we have a Catholic saying that the economic consequences of banning abortion could well have been good, but he doesn’t care because abortion is a fundamental wrong—it’s murder.

I don’t care that much about socioeconomic consequences, either, but for the opposite reason: I see abortion in the main as a societal and personal good, preventing the state from interfering from a woman’s ability to control her own body. The difference between Walther and me is that I don’t see a fetus as equivalent to a sentient human being, and would probably extend Roe v. Wade further than even the its present limits (first and perhaps second trimester).

And this difference comes from Walther’s Catholicism. Where, I ask, is the evidence (beyond that asserted by religious authorities) that abortion is identical to murder, even in its very early stages? There is clearly a developmental continuum in a fetus, with an abrupt break when the baby is born, and so drawing a line for when a fetus becomes equivalent to a person with rights, including freedom from “murder”, is purely arbitrary. Many Catholics, though, draw the line at a rationally insupportable stage: fertilization.  A “person” is not created at fertilization: we have a zygote that now will go on to continue development. That zygote is an undifferentiated ball of cells without mentation or the ability to feel pain. And there’s no evidence it has a soul or anything differentiating it from the embryos of any number of vertebrate species.

But I digress: read the article:

Here Walther asserts the equivalence of abortion with murder, which outweighs any possible negative societal consequences (my bolding).

The scope of the problem is far broader than economics. Research over the years has suggested that an America without abortion would mean more single mothers and more births to teenage mothers, increased strain on Medicaid and other welfare programs, higher crime rates, a less dynamic and flexible work force, an uptick in carbon emissions, lower student test scores and goodness knows what else. If you sincerely believe, as I do, that every abortion means the deliberate killing of an innocent human being, is there some hypothetical threshold for negative growth, carbon dioxide levels or work force participation rates beyond which the protection of that life would be too burdensome?

For me, the answer is no.

. . . .I believe that those who oppose abortion should not discount the possibility that its proscription will have consequences that some of us would otherwise regret. To insist, as opponents of abortion often have, that the economists John Donohue and Steven Levitt cannot be right about the correlation between Roe and the reduced incidence of crime two decades later strikes me as a tacit concession that if they were right, our position on abortion might have to be altered.

So far, so good. At least he admits there’s a downside to prohibiting abortion, though he sees abortion as an act whose downside can never be large enough to warrant allowing it. But then he puts on his Tish Harrison Warren suit and says, “Well, let’s justify banning abortion by being ever so much nicer to the unwanted children who are born, and by creating an atmosphere in which they could thrive.” If only it were that easy! And even if it were, I would still say that abortion is a choice best left to the pregnant woman.

Walther continues:

For the same reason, opponents of abortion should commit ourselves to the most generous and humane provisions for mothers and children (paid family leave, generous child benefits, direct income subsidies for stay-at-home mothers, single-payer health care) without being Pollyannaish. No matter what we do, in a post-Roe world many children who would not otherwise have been born will live lives of utter misery, and many of our fellow Americans will be indifferent to their plight. If we wish to dispel the noxious argument that only happy lives are worth saving, we will have to be honest about the limits of social policy and private charity in regulating the turbid ebb and flow of human suffering.

The last sentence puzzles me.  A life that can be either “happy” or “unhappy” does not begin until a child is born. Yes, you can say that a fetus has a “life”, but it is not a noxious argument to say that one of the major benefits of abortion is that it prevents unhappy lives from coming into being. 

Here’s what I can live with: 60% of Americans are satisfied with keeping the Roe v. Wade prescriptions in place. I would go further, but this “settled” law seems to me a good compromise, though largely a compromise with religious people who wish to force their beliefs on the rest of us. The compromise is necessary, in religious America, to hold our Republic together, and it’s done a pretty good job in the last fifty years.

Could there be a downside of allowing abortion that’s so harmful that I would favor abolishing the practice? I can’t imagine one. There’s no chance it will drive the population to zero, and any economic consequences seem to me not harmful but helpful.  But in the end I see it as the right of a woman to determine what to do with her own body, and, like the First Amendment, that’s not something to be monkeyed with.

36 thoughts on “Quote of the Day: A Catholic notes the benefits of Roe v. Wade while still opposing the decision

  1. For he sees the shelving of Roe v. Wade as equivalent to “the joyful fact of hundreds of thousands of additional babies being born.”

    … and a fair number of suicides of pregnant women in desperate circumstances.

    If these forced-birthers really wanted to reduce abortion, they would clamor for free, on-demand, state-of-the-art contraception to be made for every woman, as well as vasectomies for men.

    1. AND good sexual education.
      Indeed, the combination of good sexual education and easy access to contraceptives is the only proven way to actually reduce the number of abortions.

    2. Do really need that many more additional babies? Seems we’ve got ample numbers of people that are already surplus to requirements as is…

  2. It’s a very well reasoned straw man: set out an economic argument for allowing abortion that practically no pro-choicer thinks is the main reason to be pro-choice, then say why you disagree with it.

    If you sincerely believe, as I do, that every abortion means the deliberate killing of an innocent human being…

    To make the accusation of “deliberate” stick, it would have to be true that the person believes they are killing a human being. They do not.

    And this seems to be a major failure point of the pro-life argument. They generally refuse to acknowledge that there is a disagreement over status. Which means their arguments often suffer from circularity: they start by assuming a key pro-life assertion as a premise, and then conclude pro-life is the moral choice.

  3. “I can live with that.”

    Well, goodie for you. Lots of women can’t. I haven’t read the full article, but it seems like he’s mildly concerned about the happiness or unhappiness of the resultant child – not at all about the woman forced to carry it for nine months and then give birth, a process that can cause her a great deal of financial and/or bodily harm and potentially kill her.

    He can live with that. How nice for him.

    1. Lots of people find it very easy to live with consequences that won’t affect them. It’s a morally repugnant position. In this case it’s layered on a belief that women are just baby making machines and that “it increases shareholder value” is a good argument to resolve a moral question.

      This man is an A1 arsehole.

  4. Forcing a woman to bear a child is a form of involuntary servitude, a state forbidden by the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution except as a punishment for a convicted crime. Except sometimes in war or as a community sanctioned execution, the cold blooded killing of a human being is deemed morally and ethically wrong unless it is with the consent of the killed human. And at some point in a pregnancy, the fetus becomes a human. I’m not sure when, but I know that at some point during a pregnancy, if the mother is killed and the fetus/developing human dies, most people believe two people have died. So how can we balance these competing rights? The justices will be making a mistake if they ignore the involuntary servitude part of their conundrum and turn the issue back to the states. At the very least, they should reaffirm a woman’s right to control her own body early in a pregnancy. That wouldn’t satisfy many folk on either side of the issue but would provide some 13th amendment protection to the mother and would put the country on the same path as most European countries were about a decade ago anyway.

    1. So how can we balance these competing rights?

      Roe, in it’s original Pre-Casey interpretation, is probably the compromise you are looking for. It gave full control to women during the first trimester, much reasonable (but not ‘against the medical needs of the mother’) control to the state during the third trimester, and a limited set of controls to the state during the second.

      It falls far short of the mainstream liberal position today, I think, but as a political compromise developed in the 1970s, it was pretty good. It would probably keep legal 90% of abortion cases even today.

      1. It seems rather hard to argue convincingly that the Constitution guarantees full control during the first trimester, partial control during the second, and grants state control during the third. Where’s that in the Constitution? This is really a job for Congress, who should have done their job long ago but kept kicking the can down the road, relying on Roe despite the widespread opinion that it was a fragile ruling (as exemplified by the fear expressed during every Republican Supreme Court appointment). But here we are.

        On the other hand, I think we can be pretty optimistic. I’d guess that 90% of abortions will remain legal even with Roe overturned. According to the CDC, 93% of abortions happen in the first 12 weeks, and even the Mississippi law – at issue in the court case – only banned them after 15 weeks and so would continue to allow almost 100% of abortions. Also, abortions have been trending earlier, due to the development of pharmaceutical abortion (which is now available anywhere from a teledoc over the Internet – and a pill can be mailed discretely), meaning that the fraction that can be performed during the legal limits will continue to increase.

        Perhaps a few states will go for the full ban, but even fewer (none?) seem to have any real appetite at this point to punish the mother, who can still order a pill or travel out of state (likely with free funding from activist groups, employers, and states – California is offering to pay for any woman to have an abortion there, for example). I’m guessing that the back-alley abortion will never return, and the actual impact of overturning Roe on the number of abortions will be minor.

        1. It seems rather hard to argue convincingly that the Constitution guarantees full control during the first trimester, partial control during the second, and grants state control during the third. Where’s that in the Constitution?

          Well you can read the decision yourself, but from what I can remember, the logic went something like this:

          1. The woman always has a privacy right to control her own body.
          2. The state always has an interest in protecting its citizens, as well as their future growth and development.
          3. Early in development, #1 greatly overrides #2, because there just isn’t much of a ‘citizen’ there and state doesn’t have much investment in it.
          4. Using the same logic, the state’s interest grows throughout pregnancy, leading to the state having more say in the matter in the 2nd and then 3rd trimester.

          Now, the trimester idea was just a well-accepted pre-existing framework for creating bright-line cutoffs on what is, in reality, a continuous developmental process. Very much like the state says “no drinking until you’re 21st birthday.” They recognize things are a continuum but still have to make cuts for legal purposes, so they pick birthdays, trimesters, stuff like that.

          Casey, AIUI, tried to replace those cutoffs with a more rational approach – i.e. you should consider factors like viability, etc. and not decide just based on trimester. So if you still don’t like the idea of bright line cutoffs for what is in reality a continuous developmental process, well, Casey was your fix.

          1. > consider factors like viability

            I used to like the idea of viability. The trouble is that the definition of viable is becoming earlier and earlier, given modern scientific advances. We’re hitting the point where, days after conception, the blastocyst might viably develop into an embryo, and then a fetus in an artificial environment, with sufficient help. At that point, the term ‘unassisted viability‘ becomes more tempting – until we remember that even premature and normally born infants do not have unassisted viability; they still require assistance.

            It brings me back to the point that there is no clear line I like, so I’m sticking with ‘sometime in the third trimester’ until I have a better answer.

        2. Regarding your last paragraph, you do realize that Louisiana is trying to pass a law that makes abortion a homicide, right? And if they succeed, how many other states will follow suit? I’m sure many will. So yes, there is plenty of appetite out there to punish the mother. And in Texas, the mother has only 6 weeks. Also, many states are passing laws where you can’t get a “morning after” pill and you can’t leave the state for an abortion. I don’t know how they’ll enforce it, but I’m sure they’ll find a way. You seem pretty blasé about this issue; if you were a woman, I’m sure you’d be singing a different tune.

    2. It’s not clear that it’s actually involuntary servitude. No specific service or action would be required. (It would be sufficient to simply continue living.) It seems equivalent to the ‘involuntary servitude’ implied by the bans on attempting suicide.

      Also, isn’t being forced to labor to pay child support for 18 years also involuntary servitude? Child support payments aren’t based on what a man actually makes, but on what the court believes a man could make, and if he doesn’t earn and pay enough he can be imprisoned. If bearing a child for 9 months is too much like slavery, isn’t laboring for 18 years even moreso?

      Conscription into the military also seems more like involuntary servitude. It seems to me that the Constitutional protection against involuntary servitude is rather more limited than we might like it to be.

      But women still have many options available: 1) live in one of the states (which is most of them) where abortion will remain legal, 2) use the Plan B pill, often available over the counter, 3) order an abortion pill over the Internet, 4) travel out-of-state to get the procedure – likely free thanks to employers and activist groups, 5) give the baby up for adoption, 6) abandon it in one of the places legally set aside for that, or, failing all of that, 7) do whatever men have to do when they don’t want a child.

      1. My reply to Suzi would have been that the Supreme Court could have determined that laws restricting abortion violated 13A. But it didn’t. So they don’t. Case closed. Fight it out in the states.

      2. What’s your point about child support, Adam? That men should be able to compel women to have abortions? That men shouldn’t have to pay it? (You do realize, don’t you, that where a father is granted primary custody of a child, the mother can be ordered to pay child support, too?) This part of your comment sounds a bit like an MRA diatribe.

        And what’s your basis for believing that, if Roe is overruled, abortion will remain legal in “most” states? At least 26 states are expected to outlaw abortion outright if Roe is overruled (26 being most of 50 according to my count), and half of those states have “trigger” laws by which abortion would automatically be made illegal the moment Roe is overruled. Plus, senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has announced that, if Republicans regain control of congress,they may introduce a bill imposing a nationwide ban on abortion.

      3. No specific service or action would be required. (It would be sufficient to simply continue living.)

        That is just plain crazy, Adam. Carrying around a bowling ball worth of extra tissue you don’t want and could get rid of if the state didn’t prevent you, is certainly a “service”. Pregnancy creates all sorts of biological changes, changes hormone levels, etc. and if a woman doesn’t want their body to go through those changes, then the state is coercing her into a service she doesn’t want to do.

        Even ignoring the “service” that is pregnancy itself, conservative states are notorious for going after women who do other normal things. The National Advocates of Pregnant Women (NAPW) has recorded about 1,200 cases of women being jailed for miscarriages in the past 16 years. Most of these involve illegal drug use (which would include pot, up until a few years ago, and might still include that in some places), but some of them are cases where the women did legal things – drinking, or just fell down, or chose to have their baby at home and when it died, they were arrested. So, you’re factually wrong about “no specific action.”

        Moreover many women take BC 25 out of every 30 days as a regular matter of course. Depending on what specific one they take, this BC can be just a lower level dose of one of the same drugs (levonorgestrel) as the morning after pill. If you think a state that outlaws “abortion drugs” is going to allow pregnant women to “simply continue living” their regular routine of taking levonorgestrel, and not call that an attempted abortion, I would say you are naive.

  5. The closest parallel I can think of to this situation is 1980 in Iran, when the Islamists completed their hijack of the revolution and women were forced to put veils on for the first time in fifty years. What had seemed like a secure advance was brutally reversed. No doubt there were people like Matthew Walther on hand to justify that too. They deserve nothing but contempt.

  6. I haven’t read the article because religiously based reasoning just doesn’t move me in any way. I also know that my atheist reasoning won’t move them in any way.

    With respect, Jerry, you and pro-choice advocates are confusing an “ought” with an “is”. If the leaked ruling is correct, there is (or soon will be) no constitutional right to abortion and the states will be free to legislate as they wish. Because they can, they will if they want to. You might think the state has no business in a woman’s uterus, whether it contains a fibroid or a fetus, but many state legislatures (and some Canadian parliamentarians fwiw, i.e., nothing) say it does. And they are going to prove it.

    Louisiana is in the early stages of a bill to ban all abortions. Yet across the river in Mississippi a woman has 15 weeks to get an abortion for any reason she wants. It would seem to me that the goal in Louisiana would be to water down that Louisiana bill as it moves through the legislature to make it look more like what already exists next door. So how do arrogant demands from scary-looking protestors brought in from San Francisco that abortion be available into the first stage of labour, or after 20 weeks even, help the cause of compromise in Louisiana?

    I can’t fault Rachel for being unable to live with whatever Walther seems to be happy with. (Every time I think of these guys I hear John Denver’s voice in God.) But Rachel, if you were pregnant in Louisiana could you live with 15 weeks of time to organize an abortion? If you couldn’t, what would be your Plan B?

  7. The compromise is necessary, in religious America, to hold our Republic together, and it’s done a pretty good job in the last fifty years.

    I think it worth noting that Roe v. Wade was a 7-2 opinion, with five, yes, count ’em, five, Republican appointees in the seven-justice majority — two appointed by Dwight Eisenhower (Potter Stewart and William Brennan) and three appointed by Ike’s former VP Richard Milhous Nixon (CJ Warren Burger, Lewis Powell, and Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion). In dissent were one Democratic appointee (“Whizzer” White) and one Republican appointee (Whizzer, er, William Rehnquist). My, but how things have changed, haven’t they?

    I’m not saying Roe wasn’t a controversial decision; it was. But it wasn’t nearly as contentious at the time it was handed down as it would later become.

    I was a college sophomore when Roe was decided. During my freshman and the first half of my sophomore years women would occasionally disappear from the girls’ dorm for three or four days to make the trek to New York, where abortion had been legalized in 1970. (My college girlfriend’s roommate was one of them, and it was my college girlfriend who clued me in that her roommate was hardly the only one.)

    The national mood at the time — at least to the extent the national mood was discernable to a 20-year-old — was that legal abortion was an idea whose time had arrived. This mood was by no means universal, but the memory of botched illegal abortions resulting in the death or infertility of women and girls was still fresh in minds of grownups. Fairly rapidly, the idea settled in of legalized abortion being settled law.

    That didn’t really change until the rise of political evangelicalism (Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” and its ilk) early in the Reagan administration. The Right made a conscious decision to use abortion as a “wedge” issue to divide voters (the primary earlier political divide — race — having pretty much run out of steam after the Civil-Rights era).

    And, now, here we are, 40 years on.

  8. A very major omission in this essay is the question of contraception. As a Catholic, I presume that the author shares his Church’s opposition to contraception, a dogma that essentially implies that life begins not at conception, not even with unprotected intercourse, but with the mere intention of intercourse. As many people have argued, the sincerity of opposition to abortion among non-Catholics might be a little more persuasive if its opponents were prepared to invest significant effort in practices that are, I believe, authorized by most Christian “faith groups”, and have been proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies (sex education, free access to contraception…), and that would at least entail a recognition that women have the right to sexual fulfilment (with a male partner) without running the risk of life-changing consequences. Catholic doctrine, on the other hand, denies access to this option (though I understand that it is a prohibition that tends to be honored in the breach by many Catholics). Be that as it may, the whole tone of this essay conveys the typical Catholic male perception of women as vessels of reproduction rather than as free agents.

  9. A detail that apparently (wilful or not) that escapes Walther is that it is not about abortion, it is about back alley abortion , with all it’s associated mortality and morbidity, versus safe abortion.
    How many of those 63 million abortions would have been carried out anyway if abortion were illegal? Half? More than half? Or even more than 63 million?
    We know that in Romania abortion was a way of birth control, in 1968 (IIRC) Ceausescu decided tge birth rates were too low, and suddenly made abortion illegal. After an initial peak in births, the birth rate was back where it was within a few years and plummeted even further. And it was not as if contraception became available: abortion just went underground.
    If a totalitarian regime like Ceausescu’s Romania could not suppres the practice, what chance the US has?
    Again, if you really want to reduce the number of abortions, only the ‘Dutch mode’l (ie goid sexual education and easy access to contraceptives) has shown to work.

    1. If a totalitarian regime like Ceausescu’s Romania could not suppres the practice, what chance the US has?

      Well, America does have a much better-developed digital surveillance network than Ceausescu did. And I’m sure that the FBI (“FaceBook Investigators”, isn’t it?) will exert every technological sinew it can to track down these heinous criminals as soon as the laws hit the books.
      Have (male) American politicians suggested mandating period-tracking app for women, yet? Don’t worry, they will.
      The only significant question is, will the charged abortion-attempters be jailed just until the baby is born, or for the next several years of it’s life too. Because that is so going to make everyone suffer (as well as increasing the profits of the prison industry).

  10. Let’s be consistent about our moral standards. Our laws and society approve of killing living human beings in several circumstances: self-defense, war, euthanasia, death sentence.There is no inherent reason to approve these acceptable forms of killing but consider abortion a crime. It empowers a pregnant woman to take action just as it empowers the rest of us to defend ourselves from violence or in war, or to end physical suffering. I defy anyone to tele why abortion is different. Only religious people think so….most of them men….and it is none of their business anyway.

    1. I will add one further example, and would like to remove two of yours. We should have the same standard for abortion as we do for suicide and euthanasia. It is a personal choice, and the entity about to die has not expressed sentiment to remain alive. I would love to see more people express pro-choice sentiment with regard to suicide; they are similar issues. With military and judicial killings, on the other hand, the person being killed has volition, expresses it, and frequently attempts to remain alive; that is clearly a separate issue.

  11. If SCOTUS passes this ban on abortions, that leave laws up to the states, a very bad consequence will be the rise of even more hatred, violence, and division in the U.S. Liberal states appear ready to pass laws to aid women from backward states in obtaining out-of-state abortions. Lawyers seem likely to be the beneficiaries.

  12. Another ill-reasoned article by a smug, male Catholic. As if Catholics or any religious person somehow automatically has the moral high ground on this issue. I’m getting pretty sick of these religious nuttos telling everyone that overturning this 50 year-old law is just fine, nothing to see here, move along.

    1. > Another ill-reasoned article by a smug, male Catholic.

      Writing off the opinion of someone who is male is another form of sexist discrimination. In several other threads, readers here are widely opposed to discounting someone’s opinion on the basis of genitalia or gender identity. We’re currently writing it off as something that the overly PC New Left is doing. Yet somehow I keep seeing it in abortion discussions. I think this deserves its own thread.

      The question should be discussed on its own merits, and not on the dangly bits of the opinion-holder.

      1. Sure, it deserves it’s own thread. But the male opinion-holders’ dangly bits aren’t in question. The woman’s internal bits are. And speaking of the bits, why is there no discussion about making a vasectomy illegal? Every sperm is sacred, right? And, if it ever comes to pass, it will be the men who decide when women with miscarriages need to be punished.

        And no, writing off a male who doesn’t regard a female as equal isn’t a form of sexist discrimination.

    2. You sound like a man who is trying to ingratiate himself with a woman who he thinks might sleep with him if he says something sufficiently feminist-ally-like.. Why else would you voluntarily exclude yourself from discussion of an important public issue just because of your sex? It’s precisely because legislatures won’t just leave abortion up to women that they wade in to legislate. Men opposed are involved whether you like it or not.

      Religious nuttos or not, they now have a voice in determining what the abortion laws will be in the several states, just like you do in your state. Naturally they want to advocate for their position and articles like his are part of their strategy. They aren’t meant to engage you. They are to engage state legislators, to screw their courage to the sticking place against the onslaught of lib media mouthpieces and outside agitators.

      You have to organize against them. And you will need male votes in legislatures to do that. Don’t get saying that men ought to have no voice, because that means you. The pro-choice side can’t win without male support. If they alienate men who tune them out, they will lose. If you live in a Red state, do get involved. Your state legislator might be impressed hearing from a pro-choice man about this.

      1. You’re stating the obvious. And I don’t appreciate being patronized. And if a woman wants to sleep with me because I side with her for wanting autonomy, then more power to me…or her?! Woo-hoo, I’m getting laid. What a weird intro.

  13. As I have said here before, in my lifetime human population has quadrupled. It took tens of thousands of years for our population to reach 2 billion in 1940 CE. We are now 8 billion and the damage we are doing to the planet cannot be underestimated.
    And this guy is joyful at the thought of “hundreds of thousands ” of humans added to an already unsustainable infestation.
    From a completely selfish standpoint the quality of life is dramatically diminished for all of us. Have you been on a freeway lately? Or to a park?
    That women do not have complete control of their persons is a shameful stain on humanity.

  14. I know someone who is religious but who tries to make his argument in secular terms: the “moment of conception” is when the DNA of a unique human being is formed, therefore at the moment of conception a human life with rights comes into being, therefore abortion is murder. At least this tries to posit an objective basis for judging what counts as human life, but just why strands of DNA have moral standing is beyond me! (Not to mention: the “moment of conception” is much more complicated, more of a continuum, than pro-lifers allow. I suppose he could define the “moment” as the moment the unique DNA combination comes into being, but that’s still arbitrary.) According to him, a vast majority of pro-choicers admit that a conceptus or fetus is a human life; they just prize women’s bodily autonomy above that human life.

    1. “a vast majority of pro-choicers admit that a conceptus or fetus is a human life” What is your source for that? I’ve never heard a pro-choice person say that.

    2. *That is the “violinist argument”*, where you wake up to find that you have been kidnapped by the Society of Music Lovers who have hooked you up with tubes to a famous violinist who will die of kidney failure if you don’t let his blood be cleansed by your healthy kidneys. (They picked you just because your blood types match.) In nine months, but not before, he will be cured of his kidney failure and then the Society will unhook you and allow you to proceed on your way. Both of you are human lives. The question is, Do you have a right to disconnect him from your circulation even though he will surely die? Or must you remain confined to your bed sharing your kidneys with him.

      The argument applies chiefly to fetuses in later stages of development (although not as late as some would like to imagine.) The argument’s author asks us to accept a priori that a fetus in some early stage is not a human life in the same way that a 28-weeker is.
      * A Defense of Abortion, Judith Jarvis Johnson, 1971. I have it only as a Word doc. It will come up with Google.

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