{ An Autopsy of Democracy }

Saturday, April 09, 2005

To Abort or not to Abort; or, Why Don't Churches Baptize Zygotes?

Since this health care debate has led us (perhaps inevitably) into the abortion issue, I thought I would post on this topic and start a new debate. (Should be interesting . . .)

Firstly, a quote:

"But at least one commentator has said that moral dilemmas needn't always involve a clash of principles.

University of Notre Dean professor Mark W. Roche argued recently in the New York Times that Catholics should understand 'politics is the art of the possible."'

He said that abortions went up during the Reagan era, while during the eight years of the Clinton presidency, the number dropped by 19 percent. (The rate has gone up again in the last four years.) Poverty is clearly a factor here.

Roche writes: 'The world's lowest abortion rates are in Belgium and the Netherlands, where abortion is legal, but where the welfare state is strong. Latin America, where almost all abortions are illegal, has one of the highest rates in the world.' "

I'm ambivalent about this issue and always have been. Many (if not most) of the arguments I've had about this issue, I have actually argued AGAINST abortion--simply because the person I was arguing with could not seem to see the other side.

However, unlike many people (I'm talking to you, Christians) who apparently think very little about the issue and just accept it as self-evident that abortion is not only ethically questionable but even MURDER; I have taken some ethics classes, read many articles about the issue, and struggled a great deal to reach some sort of conclusion. We ALL need to realize that this issue is extremely complex; that we might be wrong or partially wrong, and should listen to the other side[s] and reevaluate our stance whenever possible.

Here are some articles that may be useful in starting us off:

Abortion Shineups

Why Abortion is Moral

Abortion (from "Moral Philosophy: Theories and Issues" by Emmett Barcalow

Probably the best argument for legal abortion was made back in the '70's by Judith Jarvis Thompson, and is known as the "Famous Violinist" argument. A summary:

Assume, for the sake of argument, that the fetus IS a person. (This is the crucial point, and what is unique about Thompson's argument; because from the start it does away with all the extremely complicated and controversial issues about "personhood" and what it means to be a "person.")

In fact, assume (for the sake of argument) that the "fetus" is not merely a person but a famous violinist. (Point being, this person is smart and talented and an important contributing member of society, someone who is valued and who no one would want to see die and everyone would like to see live.)

Now, assume that because of some rare disease, this famous violinist will certainly die unless you (and ONLY you--again, for the sake of argument) allow him to use your blood and kidneys (I'm paraphrasing from memory right now, sorry). That is, you will have to be bed-ridden with this violinist hooked up to you by cables and tubes.

For, oh, about 9 months.

After that, the violinist's disease will be cured, and you can both go on your merry ways.

So. Are you morally required to allow this stranger to use your blood and kidneys for the 9 month period in order to save his life?

Should you be LEGALLY required to do so? What should the punishment be if you refuse?

There are, of course, more details to the argument; but that's a basic summation.

Personally, upon reflection I conclude from this argument that having an abortion is morally ambiguous--you should probably try to endure this in order to save another person's life; whether or not he is a "stranger" should not have any moral bearing. However, LEGALLY speaking, to require this of everyone would be to legally mandate "good samaritanism," and I find that highly dubious.

If nothing else, I would say that IF you are going to make abortions illegal (and thus to legally mandate "good samaritansim"), then you must also enforce many other things--including giving money/food/water/shelter/medical care to the poor, in order to help them and ensure that they do not die.

In other words, just as with the gay marriage issue, we still have a fundamental disconnect on the part of the "Christian" "Conservatives" who would ban abortion and gay marriage, yet do not want to pay taxes for welfare, food shelters, health care, etc. etc. etc., when in fact this is precisely what they should support.

So, as soon as these "Christian" "Conservatives" start volunteering to give away most of their money to the poor, I will consider their arguments against abortion; not before.


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