Impossible Arguments on Abortion

The following is a letter I sent to my friend regarding a co-worker of his who is an “extreme conservative” that is in favor of putting through Colorado's Amendment 48, which would give a fertilized egg the same constitutional rights as you, or me.


Thank you for bringing this to my attention.  I believe I can help you find another piece of perspective.

I'd like to address your co-workers questions first.  While I understand that the question of moral relativity is important, it is however philosophical and based on perspective.  Debate on that issue would simply be a form of mental masturbation.  That said, I will still try to address the topic later.  Firstly, I'd like to discuss the proposed amendment in Colorado “to basically redefine personhood to give the exact same constitutional rights to a fertilized egg (regardless whether or not the egg has implanted itself) as is given to anyone living American citizen.”

In fact, I'll actually give you a conservative argument.  Or, at least, what conservative used to mean 15 years ago.  In fact, the topic of the word “conservative” is itself a debatable and educational topic on linguistic evolution and the ability for people to change definitions over time.  However, that is irrelevant to your inquiry, and we may discuss etymology some other time.  Regardless, on with the argument of fertilized egg citizens.

I'll let Andrew Sullivan illustrate the broader problems with this:
So let's follow the logic of the argument.  If zygotes are full-fledged human beings, then there must surely come a moment – the most miraculous moment in human existence – when life actually comes into existence.  Science however, suggests that even this line is somewhat fuzzy. [MK: Here Sullivan uses Steven Pinker's biological expertise to explain the fuzziness regarding how long it takes for the  genes to separate from the egg]


The statistics vary because of the miniscule phenomenon involved, and the immense difficulty of measuring it with any precision, but the scientific literature estimates that from 30 to as much as 50 percent of zygotes perish of their own accord, failing to develop beyond the most primitive of stages to anything remotely recognizable as a developing baby.  Spontaneous abortion of zygotes, blastocysts, and embryos is routine in the human reproductive cycle.  It is far more common than successful pregnancy.

Now there is, obviously, a big distinction between the deliberate decision to end the development of a zygotic human being and the fact that nature allows them to perish in huge numbers,  But the context should surely make us pause.  In his book It Takes a Family the pro-life senator Rick Santorum argues that “as a result of abortion for more than thirty years, over a quarter of all children conceived in America never took their first breath.”  Strictly speaking, he is mistaken.  As a result of all abortions – spontaneous and procured – well over three quarters of all children conceived in America never take their first breath.  If God is so careless with his creation at this stage of development, one might ask why humans should have much higher standards. [MK: bolding mine]


On this basis, we all have countless siblings whose lives lasted only a few minutes hours, days, or weeks, only to perish inside our own mothers' bodies...If you believe that each one of these doomed zygotes is as valuable and sacred a human person as you or I, the tragedy is so vast it almost defies comprehension.


But if “natural law” appeals to our human sense of reason, then we can at the very least say that our intuition strongly resists equating the life of a zygote with that of, say, a two month old fetus, or even a premature baby born at the earliest boundaries of viability.  We can say that reasonable people, all of whom take life and human life very seriously, can disagree on the line between human life and human personhood.  The basic context for this disagreement is the inexorable fact that in the extremely hazardous journey from conception to birth, death is as much natural rule as it is the exception.  And the more insistently we look for the magic moment when personhood begins, the more elusive it becomes.

Andrew goes on for quite a while.  And so could I, but I believe the point is made.

This won't convince your co-worker though.  For her, choice is the issue.  Intent, as it were.  That is essentially the essence of the fundamentalist psyche.  It's strength lies not in argument, or reason, but in absolutes.  I discussed this with my peer, and psychological expert, Will, and what we found on top of the resolute nature was the utter need for people to feel that they are doing all they can to stop what they see is an injustice, or enact what they see as protection.

Naturally, this begs the broader philosophical question that you ask me.  “Who or what defines what is morally right or morally wrong?”  As I stated, the efforts in answering this are irrelevant, but altogether not worthless.  That is to say, it's at the least, a decent thought experiment. 

I have my genes and my cultural upbringing to thank for my distinctions of what is right and wrong.  One need look no further then developing and third world nations to see how people can make very immoral, or unethical decisions.  

While many people would expose the thought I just expressed as moral relativism, I simply see it as an off shoot of what is obviously cognitive dissonance.  Our minds have generated fantastic ways to make us be able to live with the decisions that we make, even when we receive information that shows the possibility of a bad choice on our part.

All that said, a real conservative argument, like the one Andrew Sullivan shows us above, allows us to at least reason, and hope that we can come to an agreement on some sort of fact.  Unfortunately, as I stated, there are a few problems that you will have with your co-worker.  She believes it to be fact that a zygote may as well be a two month old fetus.  Since there is no argument with a concrete “2+2=4” solution, there will be no dissuasion for her.

Also, to simply take note of your final remark, I agree that I too despise moral statism.  But that said, I am not a fan for much of what the government does.


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