NYT columnist and Anglican pastor Tish Harrison Warren on why abortion should be banned

June 27, 2022 • 9:15 am

I’m still not sure why Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren was hired to write a weekly column on religion for the New York Times. Not only does she push mythology on the paper’s educated readers (I think of it as an “astrology for the elite” column), but her sentiments are nearly always trite and anodyne.

From her previous columns, though, we know she believes in much of the Christian mythology, including the existence and divinity of Jesus, and of the salvific properties of his Resurrection. I’ve also seen hints that she thinks abortion is immoral.

This week she defends that last position, though manages, as she so often does, to say that without telling us explicitly that that’s her view. Instead, she dances around the topic, giving three arguments for why the “bodily autonomy” argument of pro-choice people is wrong. But in the process she also buys into another myth: that humans are qualitatively different from other animals, for we are made in the image of God. (She says nothing about a “soul,” but there must be some distinguishing feature that makes it immoral for humans but not other animals to undergo abortion.)

I’ve never known anybody to switch sides in the “pro choice” vs. “anti choice” debate, though there are some, like Christopher Hitchens, who personally aren’t comfortable with abortion but wouldn’t ban it. I’ve also known women who wouldn’t have an abortion, and yet still are pro-choice for everyone else. That’s fine with me: whatever they believe personally, they just can’t force it down the rest of our throats.

Warren would indeed sign onto that force-feeding just mandated by the Supreme Court, but she’s very cagey about it. I’ll briefly present—and criticize her three arguments for why the claim that “women have bodily autonomy” is not a good argument for the right to abortion. But in the end they all hinge on one assumption: a fetus has the same rights as a human who’s been born, adult or child, and that’s because of God.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Warren’s quotes are indented.

Here are three ways that I find abortion rights arguments that appeal to bodily autonomy unpersuasive and ultimately harmful to our understanding of freedom and what it means to be human:

1. Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others. We already recognize in law that there are limits to physical autonomy. One can’t walk down the street naked, even if one really wants to, or go 75 miles an hour in a school zone, even if slowing down poses a burden on the driver.

These limits came up in the Dobbs oral arguments. Twice, Justice Clarence Thomas brought up a case where a woman was convicted of child neglect for ingesting harmful illegal drugs while pregnant. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Dobbs addresses this as well, saying that an appeal to autonomy, “at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.” Our desires to do as we wish with our bodies must be respected but they also must be limited by the needs and rights of others, including those who live inside our own bodies.

First, I don’t agree with laws banning women from taking legal drugs while they are pregnant, even if they could damage the fetus. Imagine the courts making it illegal for women to smoke or drink or even take illicit drugs on the grounds that this is child neglect.  (If you take illicit drugs, pregnant or not, you can be prosecuted for that alone.) This already presumes what you want to prove: that the fetus has the same rights as an already-born child.

And to say that bodily autonomy does not permit you to go naked (that depends on the country!) or speed in a car, is not the same as the bodily autonomy of deciding whether you have a child or not.  The “naked” stuff is presumably to enforce public order, though I don’t care about that (naked people walk around Berkeley without arrest; who cares?), while bans on speeding protects other adult humans from being hurt by your negligence. The argument about abortion hinges on whether you consider a fetus, particularly one in the first trimesters of pregnancy, to have the same “rights” as an adult on the road need your car. If you say “no,” as I do, because you see fetuses as non-sentient embryos (actually, balls of cells early in pregnancy), and which are, in effect, parasitic on the mother, then the arguments from drug-taking, speeding, and nudity disappear. Remember, you are 14 times more likely to die from pregnancy than from abortion. To me, that by itself suggests that the default option is choice.

I’m sure readers will have other things to say about this “argument.” On to argument #2:

2. The term “autonomy” denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body. One definition of autonomy is “independence.” But no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death. The natural state of human beings is to be deeply and irrevocably interdependent on one another. The only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers. Almost all of us, through age or disability or both, will eventually depend on other human beings — other human bodies — to bathe, dress, feed and otherwise care for us.

A child in the womb is dependent on a mother for life in a way that does place a unique burden on a mother. But this burden does not end at birth. Parenthood — at any stage — is an arduous good. A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old. Abortion seems to punish a fetus for its lack of bodily autonomy and deny the profound reliance that all of us who have bodies hold.

To me this argument has little force because a fetus is not identical to a child or another adult in the ways described above. A child without parental care, or who is abused, suffers in ways that an aborted non-sentient fetus doesn’t, and society also suffers in in different ways. (I don’t see society suffering at all if a woman has an abortion.)

And being “dependent” on others (why not just add farmers and truckers?) when you’re an adult, young or, old isn’t the same as forcing people to take care of you, because there are no laws that mandate such care.  There is no law that your relatives must empty your bedpan, but Warren wants a law that will force a women to go through nine months of sometimes-dicey pregnancy because the fetus is dependent on the mother for nourishment and development. Warren has made no convincing argument that “interdependence” leads directly to banning abortion. Like the other reasons, this is a post facto argument she’s concocted to defend her position, which I believe comes from her religion.

This is the wonkiest of the arguments:

3. The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing “bodily autonomy” requires us to override or undo biological realities. In the Dobbs oral arguments, Julie Rikelman described what women experience if they lack access to abortion: “Allowing a state to take control of a woman’s body and force her to undergo the physical demands, risks and life-altering consequences of pregnancy is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty.”

But is restricting abortion the same thing as forced gestation? Is it correct to compare abortion restrictions to a state “taking control” of a woman’s body and a deprivation of liberty?

To me, yes, the comparison is valid. But what are the “biological realities” that are undone when a woman has an abortion? Simply that sex, even with birth control, sometimes lead to pregnancy. In other words, when you have sex, you have to pay the price if you get pregnant, even if you don’t want the child:

Whatever one thinks sex is and what it is for — whether a sacred act or a mere recreational pleasure — all of us can agree that sex is the only human activity that has the power to create life and that every potentially procreative sexual act therefore carries some level of risk that pregnancy could occur. (Birth control significantly lessens this risk but does not entirely take it away since birth control methods can fail.) Yet, the state does not impose this risk of producing human life; biology does. Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.

. . . . A sperm and an egg unite to grow into a human inside the body of a woman. The state doesn’t force this to happen any more than it forces aging or forces weight loss from exercise or forces lungs to take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

To use language of forced gestation or of a state “controlling” women’s bodies is to portray biology itself as oppressive and halting the natural course of the body as the liberative role of the state.

This is what she’s really saying:

“Sex can lead to pregnancy. If you don’t want a child, don’t have sex.”

Whence the “requirement” that we cannot undo the reality that when you have sex, an egg could be fertilized? It is simply Warren’s view that a fertilized egg is somehow very special—more special than the fertilized eggs of other animals. And when that sperm penetrates the egg, biology says that we have to let development continue.

But this is again a post facto way for Warren to justify her religious view that humans are special (see below) because we’re made in the image of God. To answer her, I can just say “what is the biological imperative that requires allowing a fertilized egg, produced by failed contraception, to continue development?” This comes perilously close to turning an “is” into an “ought”. But the real reason she comes up with this hokey imperative is her religion. That becomes clear in this sentence (my emphasis):

Speaking as a woman, with a woman’s body, I want safety and freedom for all women. I want women to be full participants and empowered leaders in public life. I believe we, as human beings and image bearers of God, have a right to bodily integrity, protection and liberty.

Except when it comes to abortion. . . .

That’s the real reason behind all this: embryos are sacred and cannot be destroyed because God made them in his own image. The rest is commentary and justification. Those two sentences are the only place where Warren even comes close to telling us that abortion should be illegal (except for rape and incest), and why.  Yes, she throws in all the liberal ways you can live with prohibited abortion: more child-support laws, free health care, and “affordable child care.” Tell that to a woman who has no resources to bring up an unwanted child, or is in a situation where pregnancy can ruin her life!

In the end, Warren’s arguments are the same as those of Catholics: fetuses are sacred because they are made in the image of God (presumably having a soul) and it is murder (or, as Harrison euphemistically says, “undoing biological reality”) to abort them. She began with that belief and then confects three arguments why abortion doesn’t abrogate women’s “bodily autonomy”. She is a Catholic in an Anglican dog collar.

My advice to Pastor Warren: “It’s fine if you try to persuade people to oppose abortion, but don’t go forcing people to adhere to your religiously-based views.” What’s moral in your Anglican religion doesn’t have to be the law of the land.

82 thoughts on “NYT columnist and Anglican pastor Tish Harrison Warren on why abortion should be banned

  1. “… image bearers of God”

    “Bearers”… sounds weird IMO, but even so – Warren has reached a level the Woke were already at – inventing identity terms such as “womb bearers”… what was that one? I can’t remember.

    Identitolatry, is what I call it. A way to conceal conceit.

  2. I don’t see any other way to put it than that, if you prevent a woman from having an abortion, you are forcing her to have a baby.

  3. I have no plans to read this article. Everybody is entitled to a view on abortion, but supporting banning it is just going to be unacceptable, no matter what Warren claims will justify it.

    1. Thank you for letting us know that you’re not going to read the article. I don’t think that’s a good idea, though, as we all benefit from reading views opposite to ours, particularly when they’re expressed by an articulate woman in the NYT.

      1. Should we then keep reading arguments for the existence of God? I haven’t heard anything new in 30 years, same with abortion.
        Maybe if there were a hint of novelty in the introduction or title it may be worth a scan but it seems to always be the same tired old notions based on the same tired old superstition.

        1. “I haven’t heard anything new in 30 years, same with abortion.”

          I’m inclined to agree, but then I came across this in Vox: “Alito’s opinion is written in his characteristically snide tone, repeatedly referring to abortion providers by the pejorative term ‘abortionists.'” “Abortionists” is a pejorative term? Really? I would have thought it was merely descriptive. What would be considered non-pejorative–“terminators”?

          1. “Abortionists” is a pejorative term? Really?”

            I took it as pejorative the first time I read Alito’s views. Simply calling them medical doctors, obstetricians, or, minimally, abortion-providers, would not have the ring of repulsion.

            1. Doctors don’t generally like to be called anything-providers. Sounds too much like a low-level civil-service classification. A doctor who drives endoscopes is an endoscopist. A doctor who does abortions is an abortionist, no matter what else she does. Only if you are bending over backwards to be solicitous of her feelings would you say, “abortion-care provider”. That doesn’t sound like Judge Alito.

              I can see why someone would put “pre-natal care provider” on their business card, though.

              1. “A doctor who drives endoscopes is an endoscopist”

                I’m pretty sure that a medical doctor with that scope of practice would be more properly referred to as a gastroenterologist.

              2. Martin, the formal discipline could be one of several. But if at that particular moment, the doctor is performing an endoscopy, not necessarily of the gastroenterology kind, s/he is referred to as an endoscopist. You might see this in a policy/procedures manual for an endoscopy suite: “The nurse shall inform the endoscopist immediately if vital signs become unstable.” Endoscopist is a thing. Honest.

          2. The term implies that that is all a doctor who performs abortions does, which is not true. Abortion is only one of the functions offered by prenatal care doctors.

  4. But in the end they all hinge on one assumption: a fetus has the same rights as a human who’s been born, …

    The whole way that abortion gets discussed in the US is weird to me, since everything is argued in absoluteist terms.

    The idea that a foetus, one week after conception, has full human rights that need to be legally protected, is quite an extreme position, held by few. But, equally, the idea that a foetus one week before term has no rights and no status, is equally an extreme one. (Surely?) If you want to argue that a baby one week after birth has full human rights, human dignity and legal protection, then it really is hard to find a consistent position that denies any status at all to a late-stage foetus.

    In Europe, where abortion is not nearly as controversial, the vast majority are happy to go along with a consensus that early on abortion should be available on demand, but late on it should be medical-necessity only. And that is also the majority position in the US. And yet the discussion in the US seems always to revolve around the two extreme positions.

    1. Most Americans are not capable of grasping complexity or ambiguity, so it has to be either/or extremes. Thinking hurts their heads too much.


      1. I think many Americans take an “give an inch and they’ll take a mile” attitude, so they’re unwilling to concede anything at all on the issue.

        I fully support abortion-on-demand up to some limit, but I don’t fully agree with PCCs counter-arguments above. A woman who drinks or takes drugs that will harm her foetus is (as I see it) morally culpable, since even if one discounts any suffering of the foetus, the future child will suffer as a result. And, if one accepts child-neglect laws that place a duty on adults to care for babies in the weeks after birth, then surely they have at least some rights to consideration in the weeks preceding birth.

        1. Yes, if you are planning to carry the pregnancy to the end (birth), it is close to criminal to booze. Fetal alcohol syndrome is no joke. In South Africa it is the most common birth defect (up to 10% in some areas). More, and substantially more, than all other birth defects combined.
          However, I think that coercion is not the best way to handle that problem. I think that convincing the would be mothers might work better. Like, ‘you have to suffer just a few months( by not drinking), your baby will suffer for life’. I feel no compunction in some ‘scare mongering’ there, because the risk are so very real. Or social pressure, no we won’t give you booze because you are pregnant.

          I don’t know if a FAS victim has ever sued his or her mother, they rarely would be able to. Lawyers would not be interested, since these mothers are generally poor (no dough to be gotten there), or even suffering FAS themselves. FAS children generally like to please, and often in puberty they become highly promiscuous.

      2. Outrage bathes our brains and bodies with mood altering hormones and we are addicted to the feeling we get from that bath. Beats objective analysis every time.

        1. Primate dominance displays and inter-troop challenges are rarely IN FACT based on any legitimately reasoned arguments. In such circumstances, words are just weapons or soldiers, not tools of communication and understanding.

            1. I’m a huge fan of Eliezer Yudkowsky. I’m currently reading “Rationality: From AI to Zombies” for the third time, and that post is reproduced there. I rarely find myself disagreeing with him, and if I ever do, he’ll probably be right. ^_^ Probably I unconsciously imported words from him.

      3. Most Americans are not capable of grasping complexity or ambiguity,

        Regardless of their capability, it certainly does seem that an awful lot of Americans are unwilling to grapple with complex situations. Which is a very different thing.
        Personally I suspect that Americans have the same capability of handling complex and ambiguous situations as, say, a San hunter-gatherer in the Kalahari. Whether they get as much practice is a question about the American’s educational and political systems, compared to the San’s. After all, they’re all one species (which will rankle some noses in one group).

    1. This why abortion at least in the first trimester should be liberalized by all societies as a socially prudent and appropriately incentivized policy. It should certainly be cost-free to the mum and I would go further and pay a bounty if I were really trying to protect my royal treasury as an all-powerful king. I would certainly not let my bishops box me in by endowing a fetus with a soul. “Stay in your lane,” I’d warn them. “In my kingdom we don’t have a First Amendment. I can tax you to death if I want to.”

      I would also look the other way in most cases of infanticide if committed by the mother. No prosecution is supposed to proceed if it is not in the public interest. I would challenge my Crown attorneys to show how putting them in jail would make the kingdom safer.

  5. “A 1-year-old baby is dependent on adults for nourishment, protection and care in ways that can be profoundly burdensome, yet we cannot claim “bodily autonomy” as a reason to neglect the needs of a 1-year-old.”

    Adults? No, MOTHERS. Not fathers. And those eleven-and twelve-year-olds are not ADULTS, either.

    This is just so much BS. The anti-abortionist/forced birthers are unwilling to admit how much they hate females.

    And they actually hate those kids, too, once they take their first breaths. In the xtian paradigm, they are so holy and pure while they are in the oven, but then, when they take their first breath, WHAMMO!! They are BORN IN SIN! At which point, they become deadbeat parasites who need to go out and get a job.

    I find it telling that the states that have the most restrictions are the very same ones that have the lowest support for child services. All the supposed “caring” goes right out the window once the fetus is breathing.


    1. Yes indeed. I have had many arguments with the anti-abortions type and it often, nearly always, comes back at some point to women should not be having sex if they don’t want to bear the burden of pregnancy. A very simplistic anti women tone and attitude.

  6. I don’t know how to put this so I blurt it out awkwardly :

    Isn’t consensual copulation and especially its attendant pleasures the reason the religious posit as the reason a woman is or is not pregnant?

    Thus, pregnancy is the result of indulgence and sin. Etc. Etc. Etc.

    1. Why do you think that no small number of religious zealots of varying stripes are strongly into priestly celibacy, if not eunuch-hood.

  7. It has been pointed out that one of the biggest killers of fetuses is their God.
    That flood alone must have knocked of quite a few. And all the smiting and all the spontaneous abortions.
    The evidence seems to show that their God doesn’t really care at all.

    1. Or that he openly hated women from the very beginning— lesser creations that he blamed for everything bad.

  8. Notice that in all this dialog that not one word is said about human population, which continues to explode to the detriment of everything.
    I grump about this obsessively and the subject remains off the table.

    1. Rightly so. That introduces a lot of scary tangents into the discussion. If we use overpopulation as a reason to justify abortion rights, then we are not saying that abortion is an intrinsic natural individual right, but is a good for society in certain circumstances. We are opening the door to use national and social pressure to convince people to have abortions. Consider the pressures surrounding the One-Child policy.

    2. The human population is still growing, sure, but the rate of growth reached it’s peak in 1984. And it has been steadily falling since.
      The’Demographic Transition’ it is called, and nobody knows exactly what causes it.
      Better education of women, lower child mortality rates, movement from rural areas to cities, easier availability of contraception, etc. etc. Probably a combination of many factors, but we actually haven’t gotten a solid clue.

      1. The estimated “peak human” population is reckoned to be due in the 2050s or 2060s, at between 10 and 15 billion.
        Strangely, that’s also fairly close to the expected decline in reserves of mineral phosphate. You know, that essential nutrient, one of the three main components of fertilizer ; the one that is involved in forming nucleic acids, and the energy chemistry of every cell of every species.
        The 2070s aren’t going to be a fun decade.
        Aren’t there concerns about the Ukraine war badly affecting supplies of nitrogen fertilizer? But hey, that’s got an easy, if expensive, solution : build more Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis plants, until the atmosphere goes below 70% v/v nitrogen (you don’t want 29% O2 in your forests; really, you don’t). You can’t do that with phosphate – you need to dig it out of the ground. (Or mine it from piss, which will require major infrastructure changes which nobody is seriously contemplating.)

        1. The most recent estimates predict the human population will peak at around 9 billion.
          “…which nobody is seriously contemplating”: not yet.

    3. It’s the obvious answer to the Fermi Paradox.
      The “Great Silence” strongly suggests that the process is common to life, regardless of biochemistry.

  9. I notice the NYT never allows reader comments on Tish Harrison Warren’s stuff.

    More indication, to me, that her columns are more of a readership grab (“let’s put something out to appeal to whatever religious folk we can”) than to the general readership.

    1. I’ve rarely seen a reader debate on any op-ed in any major newspaper that added to the quality of the discourse. I’m not a big fan of the modern comment section, to put it mildly. It’s mostly just trolls, activists & assholes trying to out-ass each other. Back in the day it was a little different. From 2000-2002 I wrote a car column for IGN. It was common practice then (thought not required) for columnists to link an email so that readers could contact us directly. It was actually a pretty darn positive experience for me. Maybe it was because it mine was kind of nice subject but there wasn’t much trolling & random assholery. I got a lot of quality feedback, had some great conversations & I ended up adding a mailbag column to my itinerary. From time to time I’d solicit guest pieces from readers who knew their shit, could write & had cool ideas. I don’t like modern comment sections but there’s a good argument to be made for curated content.

  10. Item #1 is an especially tangled issue, and that should be acknowledged. It does seem odd at first that a pregnant woman who endangers an embryo thru drug consumption can be handed a serious charge. Or if a woman is assaulted, resulting in death or harm to the embryo, the perpetrator can be charged for the injury or murder. And yet that same embryo can be legally aborted. Yes, that does seem to paint a rather contradictory picture!
    But it should be acknowledged that the drug consumption or assault would be acts that foreseeably lead to harm of a newborn — harm to what will soon be a human being who is supposed to be afforded all rights by general consensus. Anyway, #1 is difficult, and I don’t have a clear answer to it. But to me there are salient reasons for why harming an embryo who is on course to be born can be considered a crime.

    1. Canada has no abortion law. Since a fetus is not a human being, then damaging it cannot be a crime in any way except insofar as the injury damages the mother. Domestic (or other) assault and battery that caused a pregnant woman to abort (“miscarry”) might be treated more grievously, all facts considered, but not because the fetus has independent standing as a victim, even if the assailant stabbed the woman in the uterus in a deliberate attempt to kill the fetus.*

      If we prosecuted women for reckless behaviour while pregnant, many Native women would spend their pregnancies in jail for to prevent prolonged sustained heavy alcohol consumption. But would you jail them 1) immediately while pregnant, 2) prophylactically because they already have two FAS kids, or 3) just prosecute them after the fact and jail them eventually with the damage already long done?

      What if a pregnant woman runs into fetal distress during labour and, in sound mind, declines the recommended Caesarean section without which the fetus will die or be brain-damaged? Do you tie her to the table and do the section anyway?

      People who argue for reproductive rights except for when the fetus might be damaged by the mother or a third party have to confront where that view leads to. These situations do come up in real life.
      * In a recent case, a man did stab his late-pregnant girlfriend in just this way. She went into labour and the infant was born alive, but died shortly after due to its injuries. The assailant was convicted of manslaughter. And one of the gradations of assault against the woman.

      1. > Since a fetus is not a human being, then damaging it cannot be a crime in any way except insofar as the injury damages the mother.

        Serious questions: Does Canada ever prohibit voluntary body mutilation? Do doctors ever refuse to perform one? There are people who, for example, want unnecessary amputations (“I feel like I should only have one leg”) (Any parallel to transgender issues is unintended.) If so, that could be a precedent.

        I am glad that the CMA has pushed to legalize and perform physician-assisted death procedures. I hope they provide that service for anyone who requests it.

        1. Good questions and thanks for your interest. If this appears it is with Jerry’s indulgence as it could be off-topic.

          Refusing to perform any requested treatment is a complex topic not easy to précis. In general you can refuse non-emergency treatment as long as you don’t abandon the patient and don’t violate any human-rights legislation. If the reason for refusal is your moral objection, as it is for many doctors and abortion, you have to make a meaningful referral to someone who will do it.

          Body mutilation performed by a physician/surgeon would be scrutinized under standards of practice by the self-governing provincial regulator, called Colleges in Canada although they are not academic institutions. In the event a report or complaint reached it, the College would call expert witnesses to help it determine if the standard of care had been breached in the specific case, and the doctor would offer a defence. Standard of proof of misconduct is preponderance of evidence, not guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

          A surgeon who amputated a normal leg, or even a normal toe for no medical reason other than patient request would certainly be censured with license suspension or revocation. Yet surgery intended primarily to alter the appearance is legitimate. It is even covered by insurance if the government insurer deems it to be medically necessary, which is a circular definition.

          Physician-accelerated death is a matter for Parliament. Very few doctors would be willing to kill people on request, not even the few who are willing to do it now for the terminally ill.

          1. Thanks, great answer! There are so many different angles someone could use to claim a precedent. Someone could try to view this as a voluntary mutilation. I’m actually wondering if politicians will start making the claim that people wanting an abortion are mentally ill, allowing them to be stripped of basic civil liberties. Imagine something like Red Flag Laws. We’re already hearing the line that only mentally ill people want to kill other people, and the politicians making that argument consider fetuses to be people.

            1. Yes, that sounds good, such a red flag law: anybody wanting to purchase a firearm (other than in a well regulated militia, and we may also make exceptions for a hunting rifle for hunters) is mentally ill, hence not allowed to buy a firearm. Your desire to own a fire arm without strict necessity proves you should not have one, it automatically disqualifies you. Only those that do not want to purchase a firearm are sane, and may procure a fire arm, but they don’t want to (because they’re sane). Comes close to a good Catch 22.

              1. Imagine Red Flag Laws for abortion. The point being that politicians who believe that fetuses are people can say that anyone who declares intent (to family, a medical provider, etc.) to get an abortion should be red-flagged to prevent that from happening. Many states already have mandatory reporting laws requiring medical professionals to report suspicions of intent to violate a specific law.

      2. Alcohol abuse while pregnant certainly leads to tragic harm and lifelong challenges, and people living with FAS must live with a disability that could have been prevented. I expect the existence of laws against alcohol abuse in this circumstance is intended to also be a deterrent for both the woman and her friends and family and bartender. I know, of course, that where we are dealing with alcoholism then that makes compliance all the more difficult.
        I think your arguments, however, are good and well put. For me that outlines the difficulty of this matter.

  11. I’ve also known women who wouldn’t have an abortion, and yet still are pro-choice for everyone else.

    Although we were lucky never to have been faced with making such a decision, my ex-wife told me she didn’t think she could go through with having an abortion personally. And, when she worked as a nurse at a hospital that let staff opt out of participating in elective abortions, she did so (not that many elective abortions are performed in hospitals).

    On the other hand, she would regularly donate money out of our joint checking account to NARAL Pro-Choice America, was a vocal supporter of abortion rights, and, if a woman in a crisis pregnancy would have shown up at the ER where she worked in need of an emergency abortion, she would have been the first to grab a crash cart and assist in the procedure (as a matter of maintaining solidarity with the sisterhood).

    She also called me the day Dobbs was decided to bitch about “that goddam reactionary Supreme Court” and to throw in a few digs regarding asshole lawyers more generally. 🙂

  12. “Whatever one thinks sex is and what it is for — whether a sacred act or a mere recreational pleasure — all of us can agree that sex is the only human activity that has the power to create life…”

    This, from a person who believes Mary managed to get pregnant without having sex.
    And there are several non-mythological ways to get pregnant without having sex, including:

    Intrauterine insemination (IUI) With IUI—where sperm is matched with your egg inside your uterus
    The “Turkey Baster” Method. …
    In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) …

    1. It’s also a very chauvinistic way to use the term “life”, isn’t it? One can “create” life just as truly as a couple f***ing “creates” life, by leaving bread out to get moldy, or catching malaria, or allowing meat to spoil. Since when do only human whelps and fetuses and embryos and blastocysts and morulae and zygotes count as “life”?

  13. My views on abortion changed, and you can probably guess why: I grew up in the church, and as a young Evangelical Christian, I fell into line with my tribe on political issues. But when I let go of supernatural beliefs about ten years ago, I no longer had reason to think of a zygote as something sacred or equal in value to a fully grown human. I now see prenatal development as a continuum; and as a fetus becomes more developed, I feel less comfortable with the idea of terminating it. But the important thing is that it’s not my place (or anyone’s) to make that decision for someone else. I can’t imagine how difficult and painful the decisions surrounding abortion are for women.

    1. > I now see prenatal development as a continuum; and as a fetus becomes more developed, I feel less comfortable with the idea of terminating it.

      This is actually just common sense. Most people think this way.

      > But the important thing is that it’s not my place (or anyone’s) to make that decision for someone else.

      This is actually not true. If you do believe fetus at some point becomes human life, it is the state’s interest to protect it, like any other human life. It’s always the state to sue in the murder cases, not the victim’s relatives. In fact, even for someone nobody will stand up for them, like homeless people, you can’t just kill them….

      Also, in 30+ states, killing pregnant woman is considered double homicide. So, protecting unborn life is common sense to many people.

  14. When I read the NYT column, I said to myself, “Jerry Coyne is going to have fun with this!” And indeed, he did.

    There’s so much to comment on here, but one thing that struck me was Pastor Warren’s insistence that abortion is wrong, because it “overrides a biological reality.”

    For crying out loud, so much of *modern civilization* is about overriding biological realities!

    Biological reality: Humans are much weaker and slower than many animals of comparable size. We override this reality with internal combustion vehicles, trucks, cranes, etc.

    Biological reality: Humans cannot fly. We override this reality with airplanes and helicopters.

    Biological reality: Childbirth is very painful for humans. We override this reality with epidurals.

    Biological reality: Humans are vulnerable to death by infectious disease. We override (or at least mitigate) this reality with vaccines, antibiotics, and public sanitation.

    But we cannot override the reality that sex can result in pregnancy, oh no! That would be wrong and bad and would make Baby Jesus cry! /eyeroll

    1. To add one more biological reality: humans have an evolved and profound need and desire for sexual pleasure, which (no surprise) typically leads to actual sex and sometimes pregnancy. Admitting this would require Warren to also admit that a woman who becomes pregnant after fulfilling this need & desire also owns the right to decide for herself what happens next. But folks in Warren’s church don’t like to think too much about sexual desire & pleasure, so she ignores this particular reality in order to emphasize a later consequent one (the dependence of the fetus on the mother’s body).

      And as noted by Vaal@10 comments turned off again on this one. Shame.

  15. “her sentiments are nearly always trite and anodyne.”

    From where I sit, such conventional thinking makes Tish Harrison Warren fit right in to the NYT opinion zeitgeist.

  16. But is restricting abortion the same thing as forced gestation? Is it correct to compare abortion restrictions to a state “taking control” of a woman’s body and a deprivation of liberty?

    This is a version of the Naturalistic Fallacy, in which nature’s course isn’t just seen as the normal default, but assumed superior to Man’s Interference. Using this argument the State could prevent the treatment of an infected toe. We have to make a good case for ourselves, why we ought to be allowed to see a doctor, since just losing the toe if we don’t isn’t enough. That’s a natural occurrence. The State didn’t infect our toe.

    The objection to the analogy comes back to “the fetus is a human being with rights.”

    My own counter to that argument involves comparing the beginning of life to the end. Imagine someone who’s had an accident and has now been left with the mental, physical, and emotional capacity of a first trimester fetus. The only thing keeping them alive is a breathing machine. Do we pull the plug?

    Obviously. There’s nobody there. The person is gone.

    A fetus does not “recover.” They develop into what they’re currently not. There’s no person.

    1. Sastra, I agree with you 100%, but many people would say there’s no “obviously” about your “do we unplug the machine?” scenario. They would say that the comatose person is a child of God with an immortal soul, and that unplugging them is murder and a sin. Remember the Terri Schiavo case.

      1. Religious fanatics are unlikely to be swayed, true. But many of the Anti-Abortion advocates are like Warren — they feel they have a reasonable case on common ground. They also share many of our intuitions.

    2. Sastra, I think I get your point that what something will become does not confer any rights on it now. In our law a fetus instantly becomes a human being the moment it is fully born alive but not a moment before. The first trimester fetus has no rights as a human.

      I’m not sure the comparison with the accident victim holds up and it muddies the waters. (Edit: even without any religious references at all.) It’s not obvious that the plug can be pulled in your scenario. For brain death to be diagnosed there needs to be irreversible loss of all brain function down to the level of the brain stem. Pulling the plug then is obviously not murder because the ex-person is now legally dead. (Even then we can’t pull the plug without consent of the family but that is another issue not related to homicide and personhood.).

      But the brain activity detectable in a first-trimester fetus is incompatible with brain death in a born person. A patient with loss of brain function down to that fetal activity would still be a living person. You and I might easily come to terms with that and agree to pull the plug, and want it pulled were it us in the bed. In general, though, decisions about life support in this setting are often fraught and contentious. Families’ suspicions of racism figure more strongly than religious beliefs. (Many of these patients are young minority victims of gunshots and drug overdoses.). The plug then can be pulled only if the family eventually consents on the patient’s behalf to stopping treatment. Without that consent it would be murder.

      But aborting a first trimester fetus is clearly not murder even if it has more brain activity than the accident victim does. At least I think that’s the point we want to make.

      1. There are probably multiple points we want to make, since those against abortion aren’t all coming from the same place. A lot of the opposition is intuitive rather than specifically religious, legal — or medical. It rests on the idea of “personhood.” When is a body a “person;” when is it not?

        A loved one in a state similar to that of a zygote is, for most people, for all intents and purposes, gone. This is a different imaginative framework than that of conceiving a very small baby.

        1. Someone with a mental state of a zygote would for sure meet the criteria for brain death, yes.

    3. Sastra,

      The only thing keeping them alive is a breathing machine. Do we pull the plug?

      Obviously. There’s nobody there. The person is gone.

      A fetus does not “recover.” They develop into what they’re currently not. There’s no person.

      I’m not sure that works.

      Our usual reasoning involves potential and likely outcomes.

      If someone suffered a catastrophic injury that rendered them “not there” during the acute part of the injury, yet could be expected to, in all likelihood, make a full recovery and live a normal life, we wouldn’t pull the plug. Their likely future makes all the difference in the world; it is THE basis on whether we’d pull a plug. If the case for their recovering the normal features of person-hood was essentially hopeless, pull the plug. If they will likely recover, we don’t pull the plug.

      The analogy to a fetus is obvious – the fetus will in all likelihood, in normal courses of events, survive, thrive into person-hood.

      So it doesn’t seem to work, strictly speaking, to compare the state of the elderly damaged person to the fetus and say “see, the same,” when our moral and practical reasoning typically takes future outcomes as often decisive in such decisions.

      (Not that this objective I raised also doesn’t have problems when applied to abortion; I’m just looking at what follows strictly from your example).

      1. In both cases, we also ask ourselves “is this a person now?”

        If the answer is “Not now, but it will be in the future,” the anti-abortionist has lost their argument.

        1. I apologize if this absurd argument is too weird, and for sort of tossing it midway in this thread – but I think it shows something we all know – fetuses are not people and do not exhibit anything like “personhood” a different way :

          Pets – people buy puppies as pets. Puppies are baby dogs.

          Would certain SC justices agree that a fetal dog makes a poor pet?

          Or are humans not animals, so that does not apply?

        2. Ah, ok Sastra, I see you are directly addressing the person-hood argument.

          Though I often see this conjoined with the “future potential” argument.

          Still, I think they’d likely answer “both are people, but we’d be doing what we think best for that person, based on the situation. One has no possibility to thrive; the other has a future in which he/she can thrive.”

          (And of course people inclined to be anti-abortion are often those inclined to be against euthanasia, so in that sense they are consistent at both the beginning and end with their “sanctity of human life” stance.)

        3. First of all, Sastra, a body is a person when the legislature says it is, not when we think it is. In Canada, a fetus is never a person until the moment it’s born. In Louisiana—I just checked—a conceptus is a person from the moment of fertilization. No matter what one’s opinion about the question, one must still obey the law. The legislature’s definition is binding regardless of how ill-thought-out or even—gasp!—religiously motivated it is. They don’t care what a batty old lady liberal like Bette Midler says about compulsory vasectomy.

          In all jurisdictions I’m aware of, everybody who has attained personhood continues to be a person without interruption until the moment a doctor declares him/her dead. There is no such thing as a living, born Homo sapiens who is not a person. We’ve gone down that road of non-personhood in the past and it’s always ugly.

          So I can’t accept your premise that we could ask, of the accident victim, “Is this a person now?” If he hasn’t been declared dead, he’s a person still.
          And really it has nothing to do with whether a fetus at any stage of gestation has achieved personhood.

          I suggest you not argue in this manner. The professional ethicists who taught me would never talk of temporary loss of personhood. Trying to draw parallels between the critically but reversibly ill and a fetus undergoing normal maturation of brain function that eventually leads to consciousness just doesn’t work. Consciousness, which has not developed in a fetus and which may never return in an accident victim, is not necessary for personhood. In Canada only the latter is a person. In Louisiana both are.

  17. As for women’s “bodily autonomy”, here’s a short text by philosopher Colin McGinn. He is not an anti-abortionist, but he thinks “the rhetoric of “my body, my choice” is conceptually flawed, and only leads opponents of abortion to think that nothing better can be said to address their concerns.”

    “We hear it argued that a woman has the right to abort her unborn baby because she has a right to choose what happens to her own body. This is a bad argument. First, it begs the question: an opponent will insist that the fetus is not part of the mother’s body—it is someone else’s body that happens to be inside hers. The case is not like the organs of the mother’s body, which really are parts of her body. It is easy to imagine an intelligent conscious being living inside the body of a human: this would not be simply a part of the host’s body over which he or she has complete dominion.…”

    Source: https://www.colinmcginn.net/abortion-and-the-body/

    1. Over-generalising somewhat, but true to a good approximation:

      All arguments used in the US abortion debate aim to appeal to their own side, not to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with them.

      1. What argument might one employee to persuade someone who is convinced for religious reasons of ensoulment at the moment of conception?

        1. I think what Coel means, Ken, is that neither the ensoulers nor the “it’s my body and I’ll flush if I want to. / You would flush too if it happened to you.” folks are ever going to change their minds or anyone else’s. But both are minorities. If the goal is to get a European-style abortion regime, such as any reason at all up to 15 weeks, the extreme pro-choice view will never accomplish that, not in Red states anyway. You ain’t got the votes. (Not enough atheists, of whom only 92% support abortion, says The Economist. You have to get to people who believe in God but believe a benevolent God would let a woman have an abortion.)

    2. Does she have a right to choose what happens inside her body? Does the foetus have a right to take/steal nutrients and alter the mother’s body chemistry without her consent? Does this future child have the right to financially drain the mother?

      If the mother has the right to give away the child, perhaps she has the right to terminate the pregnancy?

      Rights are funny things, as Yuval Noah Harari might argue they are illusory. Sure the concept exists, like fluffy pink unicorns, and we pretend rights exist, and in that sense they do. They are not God given, just suggested patterns of behaviour by a given community.

      1. Those arguments also apply after birth. Yes, some “pro-choice” advocates say that, by the same arguments, infanticide is OK. A minority, yes, but extremists on the other side are also a minority.

      2. Rights are also contingent and can never be inalienable. Wars, famines, and pandemics see to that.

        My philosopher friend Paul Viminitz asks us to imagine that a plague has swept the earth killing no one but rendering all but six women permanently and totally infertile. Assuming we have some way to determine who those six women are, how long do you think they would enjoy the inalienable unfettered autonomous right of control over their own fertility?

        1. Exactly … rights are illusory.

          So if we can’t argue for a position from a “rights” perspective then from what worldview?

          From a no free will point of view, we can play the game, so to speak.

    3. I’ve been making that argument for years. Also, there is the hypocrisy that many suddenly say that “my body my choice” doesn’t apply to pornography or prostitution, where the case there is clearer. Sure, some claim that EVERYONE in porn or prostitution is not there voluntarily (which is not true), but the “pro-life” side can and does make the same claim about abortions. It cuts both ways.

  18. Ethically the whole humans are worth more, their suffering is somehow worth more, than animals has always pissed me off.
    And you hear it most from the “faith community” (of course). Their sprinkling of the magical golden fairy dust of “a soul” over the human race is an example of magical thinking of the worst order. Not that we shouldn’t eat animals, per se, but our MIStreatment of them is A-OK for the god believers.

    Lots of brain chemistry and anatomy – and goodness – just observation – put paid to that idiocy. Animals suffer as much, and beyond the magical fairy dust I can’t see how our suffering as humans is any worse than that of animals.

  19. I have never understood, “We are made in the image of God.” What is that supposed to mean? If God were walking down the street, would he look like a regular person? It seems most who believe in God, think God is male. If “he” is a male that would seem to mean he has a penis. A penis has two functions. Does God have to take a pee, is there a Mrs. God? Also, if God has a physical body, does God have the same body parts with the same bodily functions? And when we go to heaven are we male and female? Is there sex in heaven? If sex, then children? I also don’t get heaven. I suspect no one else does either. Looks like a carnie shell game to me.

  20. “whether championing “bodily autonomy” requires us to override or
    undo biological realities.”

    Better close down all hospitals and stop doctors practicing

  21. In my view, you should be able to abort a pregnancy for any reason. However, I see a few situations where it gets ethically dicy that don’t hinge on recognising a fetus as a person.

    {1} Take the situation you cite where the pregnant takes harmful drugs that interfere with development, and which are going to impair the child eventually, even if it is a clump of cells at that moment only. When cause and effect are clear, it’s unimportant whether its a separate person yet, as lasting harm will eventually (and predictably) arrive at the person. I feel this scenario, like with known genetic disorders, draw the situation in the opposite direction and perhaps shade into antinatalism: is it acceptable to force an existence on someone that is going to cause suffering? When the eventual child’s wellbeing is irreparably damaged, maybe it should be aborted? I find it difficult to demand an abortion, and yet it is evil (in my eyes) to inflict permament harm on them, and then condemn them to a life of suffering.

    {2} At some moment, the unborn can exist on its own. If the pregnant wants to end pregnancy, she could give premature birth. This is another dicey situation, because that can also have adverse effects on the soon-to-be new person. Even though the pregnant should have broad bodily autonomy and should be able to abort for any reason earlier, at some point it is reasonable to expect a commitment to go through with the pregnancy until the birth is safe, unless there is a strong reasons otherwise. The reasoning is similar to the one above: eventually pregnant and unborn part ways and the former actions have lasting consequences on the latter. Given the gravity of the situation, I think it is reasonable and ethically responsible to ask for commitment at some point.

    {3} There is an interesting wrinkle: why not allow abortion at any time? What difference would it make? I think the difference is small on the unborn. It indeed hasn’t lived, has no memory and wouldn’t know it never came to be. There are psychological costs on the medical staff however. But these are theorizing about extreme edge cases nobody wants anyway, and a good reminder that fighting for a choice is not at all the same as enthusiasm for abortions. They are a necessity, and they will always have to be looked at on a case-to-case basis.

    {4} Last, even though I think nobody else but the pregnant should have a say in whether to carry to term, I do think the other legal parent should be able to reject their parentage just as well. Liberal laws entail that a pregnancy becomes a “free choice”, and therefore, the other parent must have the choice, too (thereby of course loses all legal rights, and obligations, except, maybe to surrender some medical, genetic, and genealogical informations).

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