An exchange on abortion

Richard Dawkins

24 Oct 2017

 

I had tweeted an invitation to attend lectures in various parts of Britain by Saba Douglas-Hamilton, who grew up among wild African elephants while her father, Iain Douglas-Hamilton was conducting his pioneering studies of their ecology and behaviour, and he and his wife Oria were fighting the poachers. Saba’s series of lectures is in aid of Save the Elephants, the charity founded by Iain, devoted to saving these magnificent animals from extinction (https://sabadouglashamilton.com). Among the responses to my tweet, the following two caught my attention, partly because of their irrelevance

 

 

 

 

 

Replying to @RightWingRebel

 

 

 

This little exchange reminded me of how extremely strongly people can feel about abortion, on both sides of the argument. It is a subject whose importance has been inflated out of all sensible proportion. For many it is the dominant issue that sways their vote, eclipsing things that really matter such as defence policy, economics, social welfare, health care, poverty, global warming and, indeed, conservation.

I have redacted the name of the second tweeter because it seems to be her real name and I don’t wish to embarrass her. I have no such compunction with “RightWingRebel”, who hides behind a pseudonym. But both tweeters seem to me misguided.

I’ll briefly consider the second tweeter and her reply to RightWingRebel. Her argument is the commonest one offered by the pro-choice side. The embryo, she says, is “part of a woman’s body”? Well, it’s a point of view but not one likely to influence “pro-lifers.” They will simply disagree with her presumption, and the question cannot be settled by any objective test. It depends what we mean by “part of.” She’s right if we define an individual as that which is enclosed within one body. But if we define an individual in other ways, the embryo is most definitely a separate individual. Much better to oppose “RightWingRebel” and his type by deploying a different set of arguments which, it seems to me, nobody could thoughtfully disagree with.

So, let me turn to RightWingRebel’s reply to my tweet. It reeks of speciesism. An elephant is a mere “animal” while an unborn person is human. But the elephant has a highly developed nervous system and is beyond reasonable doubt capable of feeling pain. Indeed there is no reason to think an elephant feels pain any less acutely than adult humans do, let alone human embryos. There is even suggestive evidence that elephants feel grief, mourning the death of friends and relatives.

We don’t know whether human embryos can feel pain. But it’s safe to say an early embryo before the nervous system develops can no more feel pain than a pumpkin or a beetroot. If later embryos with nervous systems can suffer, the level of pain of which they are capable must be far less than that of a full-grown elephant with its massive brain. Presumably not even RightWingRebel thinks an embryo can mourn like an adult elephant; or like a human mother who had longed for a baby and is grief-stricken when she spontaneously miscarries, as happens distressingly often; or suffer like a woman forced to give birth to a baby that she never wanted.  

What other arguments might RightWingRebel, or someone of similar intellectual calibre, deploy? The embryo may not be capable of much yet, but it has potential. By killing it you are depriving a potential person of future life. Yes, and in exactly the same way a woman is depriving a potential person of future life every time she refuses unprotected sexual intercourse when fertile. So much for the “potential person” argument.

The “slippery slope” argument has a little more going for it. If we allow the killing of embryos, mightn’t some logic-chopper pop up and say the following: “The baby immediately after it is born is indistinguishable from immediately before it is born. So if you allow abortion, are we not on the slippery slope to infanticide?”

It isn’t hard to answer the slippery slope argument. Pro-choice advocates aren’t talking about late abortion. The question only arises if the life of a mother is imperilled and doctors have a straight choice between saving her and saving the baby. Only a more than usually dogmatic Roman Catholic would ask a doctor to kill a mother to save her baby. All decent people were shocked when, in 2012, Savita Halappanavar died in an Irish hospital because Catholic doctors refused her husband’s pleas to save her life by ending that of her baby (although they knew the baby was going to die anyway). Even the collective of Irish bishops had second thoughts in the wake of Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death.

By the way, Catholic insistence on “personhood” beginning at conception can be demolished by an amusing tease. Confront your Catholic bishop with a pair of identical twins (they split after conception, of course) and ask him which one got the soul: which twin is the “person”, which one the zombie.

The abortion issue bulks too large in many peoples’ minds. Voters have gone so far as to declare that the only reason they voted for an otherwise unconscionable candidate was his opposition to abortion. Otherwise decent people have gone so far as to murder a doctor because he performs abortions. Such murderers sincerely believe in their own righteousness. They go to their punishment rejoicing in the expectation of a great reward in heaven.

You can sort of see how these people could come to their warped conclusion. They honestly and sincerely believe that abortion is murder. The right way to answer them is not to say that a woman has a right to do what she likes to a part of her own body. They will simply deny the premise and accuse her of murder. The right response to people like “RightWingRebel” is show them they are being illogical, speciesist and – oh dear – really rather stupid.

41 COMMENTS

  1. @OP – This little exchange reminded me of how extremely strongly people can feel about abortion, on both sides of the argument.

    This is the comment which shows the false dichotomy of the two tweets.

    There are only “two sides to the argument”, when anti-abortionists polarise the issues into theological dogmatism verses medical services offering abortion!

    People like “RightWingRebel” are just parroting the indoctrinated ignorance, characteristic of “faith-thinking”, as a substitute for education and rational investigation.
    Ignorant priests posing as “authorities” have told them about ensoulment at conception, so now they “know-better” than the doctors and clinic medical staff!

    As long as undeserved respect is maintained for the “authoritative” ignorant assertions of priests, in the minds of such people, their minds will remain closed to reason, evidence and expert advice!

    Any rational approach to abortion, has numerous sides, facets and conflicting details, which need to be resolved in determining the rights and interests of the (potential) mother, father and prospective infant!

    These involve PREDICTIONS of outcomes, such evaluating the capability of the parent(s) to support the infant, the freedom or not, of the infant from severe disabilities, the general physical and mental health of all parties, and the potential to survive of the embryo/foetus – bearing in mind that numerous sperm and eggs fail to develop, and that the majority of human fertilised eggs naturally abort – especially if they carry defects or the mothers are starving.

    These predictions involve detailed studies of embryology, medical advice, social advice, and economic advice, along with empathy for the various human parties and their interests.
    Gods do not have any recognisable material interests in such matters, although god-delusions or their busy-body representatives, may falsely assert demands that they do!

  2. I’ve been seeing these exchanges for 40 years now. Every time, it reminds me why changing laws in individual states and slowly working up to a national consensus works better (if you disregard the human rights imperative of enacting a law to protect, in this case, the woman).

    For abortion, and more recently gay marriage, we started at the top (the Supreme Court) and worked down. I anticipate roughly the same kind of pushback against gay marriage as we’ve been witnessing for abortion for 40 years.

    I will say this: the single most refreshing moment of the last presidential campaign was Hillary Clinton loudly and proudly declaring her support of a woman’s right to choose.

    Ah well. What the hell do I know?

  3. I saw an interesting scenario posed on another site. So, I am going to steal it and relay it to everyone here.

    It went like this.

    You are running into a fertility clinic that is on fire. You are able to get into a room and you see a 5 year old child cowering in the corner, next to a freezer that contains 10,000 human embryos. You can save one and only one. The child or the embryos. Which do you save?

    The author of this scenario claims that he has never posed this to a person who’d save the embryos. He concluded that although embryos have value, they certainly do not have the same value as a living person.

    He also entertains comments and one thread of comments kept raising the number of embryos in the freezer in an attempt to “find the equivalency”… at no point does a number of embryos — ANY NUMBER of embryos cause me to leave the boy in the fire. Further, the boy could be in end stage cancer and have one day to live and I’d still (and so would everyone else) grab him and get him out.

  4. Vicki #2
    Nov 2, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Ah well. What the hell do I know?

    Quite right missie. Where do you get off pontificating about abortion FFS? That’s old white men territory who know what women need best for them. You just know your place and hush up and daddy will sort everything out.

  5. The issue is so steeped in dogmatic rhetoric, on both sides, it can be very easy to descend into that volatile combination of tautology and syllogistic reasoning to deal with a question of public policy that shouldn’t be public policy at all. But because it has become a public policy, there is no choice but to remind pro-life advocates that the math involved does not deal with universal constants but variables that are too complex for simplistic reasoning to solve. And this would also go for pro-choice advocacy as well. For example, what do we do when a mother-to-be is mentally ill and not capable of making a choice? The question is of course rhetorical and not meant to excite additional debate but to illustrate the issue is too complex for any blanket theory derived from dogma to resolve the matter in any meaningful way.

  6. I saw an interesting scenario posed on another site. So, I am going to
    steal it and relay it to everyone here.

    Crooked, that’s a variation of the famous trolley problem (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem). It recently “went viral” in the form you mentioned after a tweet by comedian Patrick Tomlinson. This was his scenario:

    Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly.
    The question is as follows: Would you save one 5-year-old child from a burning building, or save 1,000 embryos. The point: No one actually thinks that embryos are the same as living children. But an entire movement is based on lying about it, and using that lie to manipulate people, in order to control women like slaves.

    Here’s some more interesting rhetoric from an article I read about this:

    Naturally the obfuscation brigade came forward, with Ben Shapiro at the Daily Wire leading the way. But he didn’t actually dispute Tomlinson’s main point. “Tomlinson is correct that we all have a moral instinct: to save the five-year-old,” he admitted, then going on to argue that it didn’t matter.
    But it clearly does. If it were one 5-year-old vs. 1,000 actual babies, things would be different. “No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children,” Tomlinson wrote. “Those who claim to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women.”

  7. Eric Johnston #5
    Nov 2, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    remind pro-life advocates that the math involved does not deal with universal constants but variables that are too complex for simplistic reasoning to solve.

    While this is true for the simple minded dogmatists who have no understanding of biological, medical or social issues, – and usually make no attempt to educate themselves to address these issues, .. . . . . .

    And this would also go for pro-choice advocacy as well.

    Not really! That is very much a false equivalence!
    This does not apply to the codes of medical conduct which are based on detailed research into those complexities and giving clear guidance on the vast majority of cases.

    Pro-choice is NOT an “anything goes” alternative to doctrinaire dogmatic assertions of “ensoulment at conception”, from people who have no evidence of the existence of “souls”, or in early stage abortions – of the existence of brains!
    Pro-choice is about about a legally regulated system of medical advice and services.

    Pro-life is just a strawman claim from those who usually have no idea what life, cells, zygotes, or blastocysts, are!

  8. Re: Trump and his Agents of Destruction (Moral Monsters) / Dawkins’ fine piece

    See thread: Senate confirms controversial Trump nominee to appeals court

    …But Republicans don’t need Democrats’ votes, and now Barrett, a 45-year-old law professor at the University of Notre Dame, [has been confirmed ] to a LIFETIME post on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit — a court one level below the Supreme Court.

    Barrett is the model judicial candidate for this White House: young, conservative, and opposed to abortion and LGBTQ rights. For all the stories about President Donald Trump using his executive power to roll back civil rights protections — in the past day, his administration axed the ACA birth control benefit and ended workplace protections for transgender people — it is here, on the courts, where his team is working most aggressively to reshape the country.

    Richard Dawkins’ essay is very good. I have always felt frustrated with advocates of pro-choice (and I am, of course one of them) who feel it is enough to say: it’s my right to do what I want with my body. The whole point that these assholes are making is that it is (in their view) someone else’s body we are talking about. If we want to succeed we have to appreciate what they are saying. They think it’s someone else’s body they are defending. We have to address that, not just say it’s women’s bodies. That’s a weak argument, although not meaningless.

    Dawkins is also correct to point out (and I hope I haven’t misconstrued) that the degree of pain that an organism or entity feels generally corresponds to the the degree of wrongness associated with “killing” that organism or entity. Most people feel no compunction about steeping on a bug (although that varies too depending on the insect) but they (assuming they are not depraved) wouldn’t dream of hurting, say, a raccoon or a turtle. This is analogous to the difference between killing a human embryo as opposed to a fully formed person. Only a fanatic would mourn the death of a spider crushed underfoot. And only a psychopath would be indifferent to the suffering of animals or people. A spider is less developed, suffers less.

    The philosopher Schopenhauer said that same thing, made the same ethical point, elaborated on it, and presented the reasons why this is the case. Unfortunately – although I have read all of Schopenhauer – I cannot remember where he says this. I think it may be one of the bette arguments in support of the ethically sound nature abortion that I can think of. In other words, it is not: “is abortion killing?” it is this: it is killing; but when do you terminate the pregnancy? That’s really the crucial point: when?

    As for late term abortions, Dawkins addressed that: “Pro-choice advocates aren’t talking about late abortion. The question only arises if the life of a mother is imperilled [sic] and doctors have a straight choice between saving her and saving the baby. Only a more than usually dogmatic Roman Catholic would ask a doctor to kill a mother to save her baby.”

  9. Note: Wrote this (above) quickly, as I had to rush home and watch Maddow at 9:00 pm. Sloppy. Sorry.

    I think it may be one of the bette arguments in support of the ethically sound nature abortion that I can think of

    Correction:

    I think it is one of the betteR arguments in support of the ethically sound nature OF abortion..

  10. One more thing: Spiders are, of course, “animals”; just less developed than other animals (although highly complex too, I am sure. All relative; bottom line; they don’t suffer as much).

    The idea of killing an elephant as opposed to a spider is roughly analogous to the difference between terminating the life of a newborn baby as opposed to an embryo. The pro-lifers’ failure to recognize this is evidence of their fanaticism.

    (Hate the term “pro-life.” The hard and religious right are clever and notorious manipulators of language.)

  11. I understand where you’re coming from, Alan but I have to respectfully disagree.

    And please understand, I am very much pro-choice, but the issue really is very complex. I really think we need to refine the pro choice argument and exclude any theories of “pain” absence to bolster justification of the right to choose is logically defeated on that supposition because a condition, although it is rare, called congenital insensitivity to pain exists. These are people who don’t feel pain at all and some never have. Are they people? Can I harvest their organs without their consent for science? I mean, I’m not going to hurt them. (I’m being fatuous)

    I think my equivocation was warranted.

  12. Hello, Eric,

    Yes, very complex. But, finally, I am weary of this eternal and infernal debate; it is not infinitely complex.

    You directed your comment to Alan, but I’d like to say this: I was anticipating the “insensitivity to pain” argument. Human beings generally are susceptible to considerably more pain than, say, a worm or a frog. You have to consider the species (or being) in terms of its general level of development. It’s not about isolated cases of individuals within a species that have pain insensitivity; that’s not the point.

    That is precisely why I added and italicized the word “generally” – in anticipation of your argument:

    Dawkins is also correct to point out (and I hope I haven’t misconstrued) that the degree of pain that an organism or entity feels generally corresponds to the the degree of wrongness associated with “killing” that organism or entity.

    Surely you can’t dismiss the general validity of this proposition. Should one refrain from killing vegetables or mosquitos? Now I am not saying that a human embryo is like either, so don’t go there. But a human embryo, like a lower animal, is less developed, feels less pain as a result of that; therefore, as there is less suffering, and as there is nothing that an embryo even experiences – in any meaningful sense of the word experience – terminating that incipient being, is not, in my view, inhumane. What is inhumane is killing people. An embryo is not a person. It is life, but not a person. This is all about not being rigid and dogmatic, but having a sense of understanding and proportion. And motives are important. Women who choose to have abortions are not murderers. Pro-life people are, by in large, twisted terrorists and fanatics.

    If you remove the pain (level of development) theory you have very little left.

    Reagan once said in a debate: “Since we can’t prove that life doesn’t begin at conception, abortions should not be legal.” Something to that effect. I say: there is life at conception and certainly at fertilization: we know that; and abortion is a species of killing; but anyone who says it’s murder is either a religious fanatic or just has no sense of proportion! Quantity, Eric, changes quality.

  13. Eric Johnston #11
    Nov 3, 2017 at 1:11 am

    I understand where you’re coming from, Alan but I have to respectfully disagree.

    My point is that we start from the scientific evidence, not by trying to refute some asserted dogmatic fantasy!

    Dan@ #12 – Reagan once said in a debate: “Since we can’t prove that life doesn’t begin at conception, abortions should not be legal.” Something to that effect.

    The science and medical agenda should be set by evidence from science and medicine – not by asserted denial and ignorance of science and medicine! (Life began with abiogenesis and genomes have been replicating and evolving ever since)

    The fact is, that one cell with a copy of the human genome is very much like any other cell with a human genome, as stem cell research and cloning has shown. It has no more “right to life” than any other human cell!
    I have often made the point to the so called “pro-life” advocates, that I regularly “murder” thousands of human skin cells by brushing my teeth!

    And please understand, I am very much pro-choice, but the issue really is very complex.

    Indeed it is, so we should start from the evidence which is well known, rather than starting from the assertions of the ignorant, which they hide from themselves, and try to confuse others by trying to bury the known details in “unknowable” complexity!

    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002398.htm

    Fetal development – WEEK BY WEEK CHANGES

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7412118.stm
    ENGLAND AND WALES ABORTIONS

    Under 9 weeks: 54.9%
    9-12 weeks: 34.3%
    13-19 weeks: 9.2%
    20-24 weeks: 1.5%
    ONS figures from 2006

    Abortion: Medical evidence
    Abortions 1971-2006

    I really think we need to refine the pro choice argument and exclude any theories of “pain” absence to bolster justification of the right to choose is logically defeated on that supposition because a condition, although it is rare, called congenital insensitivity to pain exists.

    In the age of modern anaesthetics pre-birth pain is an irrelevant issue, and is only relevant at all to the minority of late stage abortions.

    Potential survivability – free of disabilities is an ethically key factor.

    Prospects for a child to have proper care and upbringing are also important!
    We see despicable cases of deliberate cruelty derived from dogma, in theocratically run refugee camps, where starving women are denied abortions, and either miscarry at a late stage, or produce a baby which dies of starvation or disease a few days or weeks later! (We see similar brutality in the doctrinaire denying of euthanasia to those suffering pain in terminal illness)

    Spontaneous abortion is a perfectly natural process for eliminating defective zygotes, or pregnancies in under-nourished mothers. It illustrates the ridiculousness of claims of “ensoulment at conception” – (with heaven presumable filled with dead zygotes, blastocysts and embryos).

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscarriage#First_trimester

    Most clinically apparent miscarriages (two-thirds to three-quarters in various studies) occur during the first trimester.[1][27][42][43] About 30% to 40% of all fertilized eggs miscarry, often before the pregnancy is known.[1] The embryo typically dies before the pregnancy is expelled; bleeding into the decidua basalis and tissue necrosis causes uterine contractions to expel the pregnancy.[43] Early miscarriages can be due to a developmental abnormality of the placenta or other embryonic tissues.

    Chromosomal abnormalities found in first trimester miscarriages

    Description – Percent of total first trimester miscarriage

    Normal 45-55%
    Autosomal trisomy 22-32%
    Monosomy X (45, X) 5-20%
    Triploidy 6-8%
    Structural abnormality of
    the chromosome 2%
    Double or triple trisomy 0.7-2%

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Spontaneous_abortion_in_humans

    Over several trials, this concludes that around 70% of all zygotes fail to be carried to term.

    Due to all those zygotes that get fertilized but fail to implant, women in Virginia will probably need to go to the sheriff’s office to get their tampons examined, as the zygote now has the rights of an adult there.

    In El Salvador if a woman miscarries it is frequently assumed she deliberately induced an abortion or could have saved the baby. Women who did not know they were pregnant or who could not have prevented a miscarriage face long prison terms.

  14. I have often made the point to the so called “pro-life” advocates, that I regularly “murder” thousands of human skin cells by brushing my teeth!

    This is the “pain” argument that I and Dawkins were talking about. Or let me speak for myself. It’s not the pain; it is what the level of pain represents; obviously a cell is alive; but we feel no compunction about killing thousands. Why? Because it is a rudimentary form of life. We don’t go around stepping on cats or dogs (as opposed to bugs). This is not irrelevant; this judgement is deeply rooted in the psyche, is perhaps an instinct. We intuitively understand (unless we are right-to-lifers) that the lower forms of life suffer less, and that is why most of us feel that it’s okay to chop down trees (within reasonable limits) or step on bugs or to go fishing. (It is no coincidence that most humane people wouldn’t think of killing a dolphin but a sunfish is okay to catch.) if we don’t feel the pang of conscience over the idea of aborting a fetus early on in a pregnancy it is, in my view, for the same sound reason why we can go fishing without suffering pangs of conscience. If my analogy sounds callous so be it; I am making a point.

    In the age of modern anaesthetics pre-birth pain is an irrelevant issue, and is only relevant at all to the minority of late stage abortions.

    Anesthesia has nothing to do with this.

  15. Dan #14
    Nov 3, 2017 at 7:03 am

    This is the “pain” argument that I and Dawkins were talking about.

    Pain is a sensation transmitted by nerve cells! Until cells differentiate into separate types and form neural networks, there is no “pain” – (except in the mother)!

    https://www.advancedfertility.com/blastocystimages.htm
    Picture of a high quality expanded human blastocyst embryo 5 days after fertilization
    The clump of cells in the 10 to 12 o’clock area is the inner cell mass (ICM) which become the fetus
    The trophectoderm cells (TE) that will form the placenta surround the fluid cavity
    The fluid-filled blastocoel cavity is in the center

    So in issues such as “morning after pills”, or early stage abortions, “pain” does not arise!

    From a moral viewpoint, both contraception and abortion are about babies being born into nurturing caring environments and avoiding adverse conditions, disabilities and overburdened families living in poverty, so preventing busy-bodies from creating unnecessary delays for those seeking abortions, is the real issue.

    The MAJORITY of fertilised eggs abort naturally, (just as the majority of sperm die), as a process for selecting healthy individuals for further development, so medically and socially optimising the life prospects of those who are born, is a reasonable objective.

  16. Dan #14
    Nov 3, 2017 at 7:03 am

    Anesthesia has nothing to do with this.

    ??????????

    https://academic.oup.com/humupd/article/13/1/37/751686

    Pain management

    By anaesthetizing the nerve plexuses that lie adjacent to the cervix, PCB reduces pain induced by cervical manipulation and dilatation. However, it has less effect on the cramping pain from the fundus of the uterus. Therefore, PCB alone is not effective for pain relief after cervical priming with misoprostol and use of intravenous sedation is needed regardless of whether the local anaesthetic was injected into the cervix or vaginal vault

  17. For sure, Dan. I agree, equating abortions and murder is ridiculous and is a position advanced by a disproportionate sense of morality aka, a pious mind.

    I understand that the debate is tiresome but I still think it needs to go on to avoid reasoning based upon suppositions; the breeding ground of tautological reasoning. The majority of pro-choice arguments are suppositions, which doesn’t mean the arguments is wrong, but vulnerable to attack from other reasoning based upon suppositions from a religious pretext.

    Modern reasoning is not immune to suppositions and there is a fairly good example to this effect. (See the story of Ignaz Semmelweis). He was correct is his assertion but he still reasoned from supposition and his story is a good reason why I think the pro-choice case needs to be more refined to shore up the argument. I think to do this we need a definition of human life beyond what we currently ascribe to it and why making the conjectures and criticisms are still very necessary and valuable on this issue.

  18. Eric Johnston #17
    Nov 3, 2017 at 8:28 am

    For sure, Dan. I agree, equating abortions and murder is ridiculous

    Murder is killing as outlawed by the laws of whatever jurisdiction those involved occupy. Therefore arguing that there should be a law against what is ASSERTED to be “murder” is irrational tautological circular thinking! (“This should be the law because we define it as being the law”)

    The majority of pro-choice arguments are suppositions,

    In order to support that view, it would be necessary to list the suppositions as distinct from evidence backed information. (#13)

    which doesn’t mean the arguments is wrong, but vulnerable to attack from other reasoning based upon suppositions from a religious pretext.

    “Reasoning based upon suppositions from a religious pretext” is “castles in the air fantasy”, when its foundation is only dogmatic assertions, based on the views of some ancient scribe which are written in a book of mythology!

    “Reasoning” without an evidence base is only as valid as the assumptions on which it is based! – In the case of religions – Mythology! – “Some ignorant bronze-age biology illiterate, wrote this down, and we have copied it”, is not a credible scientific or rational argument!

    The Pope – who has created saints by endorsing “supernatural miracles” and fully supported by the official Vatican exorcist, said so! – So it must be TRRRrroooo! 🙂

    Yeah!

    Some priest repeated it and his uneducated followers believed he was an “authority”! – No evidence or reasoning involved!

    Eric Johnston #11
    Nov 3, 2017 at 1:11 am

    And please understand, I am very much pro-choice,

    I hope this information is helping you form better arguments for pro-choice!
    “Pro-Life” is just a false label as a badge of “authority”, put on pro-dogma and pro-ignorance, by interfering busy-bodies who wish to dominate the medical and life choices of other people!

  19. @#18 -“Pro-Life” is just a false label as a badge of “authority”, put on pro-dogma and pro-ignorance, by interfering busy-bodies who wish to dominate the medical and life choices of other people!

    Eric Johnston #17

    We often mention this feature of psychology on this site, but if you are not already familiar with it, this quote and link will help you understand the assertive ignorant!

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Dunning-Kruger_effect

    The Dunning-Kruger effect (also Mount Stupid[1] or Smug Snake[2]), named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, occurs where people fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — at a task and thus consider themselves much more competent than everyone else. This lack of awareness is attributed to their lower level of competence robbing them of the ability to critically analyse their performance, leading to a significant overestimation of themselves.

    In simple words it’s “people who are too stupid to know how stupid they are”.

  20. It’s not that suppositions are wrong. Take the common pro-choice argument: “A woman should have the right to choose.” This argument is true but it’s still a supposition and vulnerable to attack.

    Using my previous illustration about Ignaz Semmelweis who was the guy that figured out its a good idea to disinfect your hands before a medical procedure did so on the supposition that playing with cadavers then delivering babies was harmful. Although he was correct, he supposed that bits of cadavers were causing the illnesses that resulted in death. But he also made another supposition: He chose to mix chlorine with water, not because he knew it would kill microbes, but because it would eliminate bad odors. So if we based future medical science on these two suppositions: Dead people and bad smells are harmful we would be in a bit of trouble today.

    So a more robust argument for pro-choice, me thinks, is a statement like this: “A woman should have the right to choose because it’s her body and nature has selected the woman to be the ultimate authority in regards to her reproduction.” I mean until nature naturally selects a government or church 😉

  21. Reagan once said in a debate: “Since we can’t prove that life doesn’t
    begin at conception, abortions should not be legal.”

    Sagan noted in his great essay ““Is it Possible to be both “Pro-life” and “Pro-Choice”?” –

    **”There is no right to life in any society on Earth today, nor has there been at any former time…: We raise farm animals for slaughter; destroy forests; pollute rivers and lakes until no fish can live there; kill deer and elk for sport, leopards for the pelts, and whales for fertilizer; entrap dolphins, gasping and writhing, in great tuna nets; club seal pups to death; and render a species extinct every day. All these beasts and vegetables are as alive as we. What is (allegedly) protected is not life, but human life.

    And even with that protection, casual murder is an urban commonplace, and we wage “conventional” wars with tolls so terrible that we are, most of us, afraid to consider them very deeply… That protection, that right to life, eludes the 40,000 children under five who die on our planet each day from preventable starvation, dehydration, disease, and neglect.
    Those who assert a “right to life” are for (at most) not just any kind of life, but for–particularly and uniquely—human life. So they too, like pro-choicers, must decide what distinguishes a human being from other animals and when, during gestation, the uniquely human qualities–whatever they are–emerge.

    Despite many claims to the contrary, life does not begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain that stretches back nearly to the origin of the Earth, 4.6 billion years ago. Nor does human life begin at conception: It is an unbroken chain dating back to the origin of our species, hundreds of thousands of years ago. Every human sperm and egg is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, alive. They are not human beings, of course. However, it could be argued that neither is a fertilized egg.

    In some animals, an egg develops into a healthy adult without benefit of a sperm cell. But not, so far as we know, among humans. A sperm and an unfertilized egg jointly comprise the full genetic blueprint for a human being. Under certain circumstances, after fertilization, they can develop into a baby. But most fertilized eggs are spontaneously miscarried. Development into a baby is by no means guaranteed. Neither a sperm and egg separately, nor a fertilized egg, is more than a potential baby or a potential adult. So if a sperm and egg are as human as the fertilized egg produced by their union, and if it is murder to destroy a fertilized egg–despite the fact that it’s only potentially a baby–why isn’t it murder to destroy a sperm or an egg?**

    He goes on of course, but I thought this part was pertinent to this conversation.

  22. Eric Johnston #20
    Nov 3, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Using my previous illustration about Ignaz Semmelweis
    who was the guy that figured out its a good idea
    to disinfect your hands before a medical procedure
    did so on the supposition that playing with cadavers
    then delivering babies was harmful.
    Although he was correct, he supposed that bits of cadavers were causing the illnesses that resulted in death.
    But he also made another supposition: He chose to mix chlorine with water, not because he knew it would kill microbes,
    but because it would eliminate bad odors.
    So if we based future medical science on these two suppositions:
    Dead people and bad smells are harmful
    we would be in a bit of trouble today.

    You illustrate a good point about scientific empiricism.

    The suppositions about “bits of dead bodies” and “bad odours” (although both ARE related to the real issues), being wrong in detail, does not matter, because the effect of the change was based on the empirical observation of the result, – not the hypothesised supposed explanation of the cause. Science is “what works in the real world”.

    So a more robust argument for pro-choice, me thinks, is a statement like this: “A woman should have the right to choose because it’s her body and nature has selected the woman to be the ultimate authority in regards to her reproduction.”

    I would put it more simply than that:-
    A woman – with advice from doctors and in consultation with her supporting partner, – has a right to choose, BECAUSE god-deluded ignorant busy-bodies, have no right to interfere in HER choice.
    THEY can make their choices about their own bodies!

  23. @#22 – A woman – with advice from doctors and in consultation with her supporting partner, – has a right to choose, BECAUSE god-deluded ignorant busy-bodies, have no right to interfere in HER choice.

    Religions seem to have an overpowering urge to interfere in everyone’s sex lives!
    I am reminded of this earlier discussion!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2016/11/i-had-to-take-my-dirty-panties-to-a-rabbi-and-so-has-every-orthodox-jewish-woman/

    The laws of family purity revolve around the color of a woman’s vaginal discharge.

    You see, beginning on the days when she anticipates her period, a husband and wife are forbidden from having any sexual relations until seven days following the end of her period. Considering orthodox law states that a period’s duration is a minimum of five days, this typically spans about two weeks or longer, depending on whether her post-menstrual discharge cooperates. In short, this means that for about half of every month, all aspects of an orthodox woman’s life, relationship, sexuality, and emotional health, are dictated by her vaginal discharge.

    Except for the far left minority, most orthodox sects go even further with their adherence to the ancient laws by completely prohibiting any physical contact. Couples may not sleep in the same bed, or even hand objects to each other directly (even a baby), all to prevent the increase of temptation to have sexual contact.

  24. I think religion is to our morality what cancer is to our anatomy.

    I am curious about religion. Not because I seek a sky fairy to hand out an endless stream of platitudes, but just as a geneticist studies cancer to learn about biologic mututations, I wonder if there was/is any evolutionary benefit to religion?

    For example, what social policies would early mankind institute if the population of a group of humans was 50 people? Sometimes I wonder if religion is a badly mutated set of memes that were once good policies to increase the genetic pool? …random thoughts really and off topic…sorry! Lol

  25. Eric Johnston #24
    Nov 3, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    I am curious about religion.
    Not because I seek a sky fairy to hand out an endless stream of platitudes,
    but just as a geneticist studies cancer to learn about biologic mututations,
    I wonder if there was/is any evolutionary benefit to religion?

    I think there can be little doubt that religions and dependence on leaders and elders, has a unifying effect on tribal cultures in small groups.

    Promoting the breeding of sheeples who mindlessly obey orders is a good source of cannon-fodder for use in attacking other tribes and expanding mini empires! Most armies “have god(s) on their side”!

    If we look at laws of property, marriage and inheritance in theocracies, it is easy to see the propagation of religious memes being linked to the religious control of marriage and breeding children with the “right” religious memes indoctrinated into them!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2016/05/muslim-mob-in-egypt-strips-70-year-old-christian-woman/#li-comment-204484

    Christian men cannot marry Muslim women in Egypt without converting to Islam first. Sexual relations between people who are not married to each other are taboo among both Muslims and Christians there.

  26. What a long thread.

    Alan, what’s this: ???? You’re talking about anesthesia and that is not relevant.

    My point about “pain” was not really about pain per se; and I wasn’t talking about the pain of the mother. I was saying that generally we hesitate to disturb the existence of an organism depending on the degree of suffering that that organism or entity is capable of experiencing. A tree is alive and is a beautiful thing but we don’t talk about murdering trees or even killing them. That is because we intuitively understand that it does not feel pain. Pain and development are intertwined and we assume that the less an entity experiences in general the less right it has. Trees have no rights. Animals do. They have natural rights. (I believe it is not lawful even to kill a cat or a dog.) You hit a deer and you feel bad but move on. You hit a person and forget it; you’re in trouble. And that is how it should be. Now when we abort a fetus it is not formed. it is not a person; it has no ideas, no experience really. It may feel something but not much. I don’t know the biology, but I believe that it is not wrong to terminate the existence of an advance embryo or a fetus within the first trimester (or beyond – where the life of the mother is at stake); this feeling that “it is okay” is, in my opinion, a feeling based on an intuitive judgment, not a rational one.

    Although reason does play an important role here – and you listed all of the important and valid arguments in your own comments. I hope my argument is clear. This is my third time posting it.

    It is up to the woman. It’s her body. Sorry if I suggested otherwise. Just trying to go deeper.

  27. Dan #26
    Nov 3, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Alan, what’s this: ????
    You’re talking about anesthesia and that is not relevant.

    My point about “pain” was not really about pain per se;
    and I wasn’t talking about the pain of the mother.

    I see your point about the relative sensitivity of various organisms.

    My point was two fold.
    First: that abortions do involve pain for the (potential) mother, (so should act as a deterrent to anyone using it as an alternative to contraception), but also as far as anyone is making claims about pain for the foetus, any sedation injected into the mother’s blood stream will be passed on to the foetus through the placenta.

    @#16 – use of intravenous sedation is needed regardless of whether the local anaesthetic was injected

    It is however interesting, that many of those making a big song and dance about abortions, have no hesitation in blasting wild-fowl with shotguns, or deer etc. with rifles!

  28. The majority of pro-choice arguments are suppositions, which doesn’t mean the arguments is wrong, but vulnerable to attack from other reasoning based upon suppositions from a religious pretext.

    That’s called a debate. There isn’t anything one has other than suppositions or propositions, along with facts. The arguments here are more than suppositions; they are propositions.

    And you can say the same thing about murder: “maybe murder is okay; why not? All of your arguments make sense and I appreciate them but they are based on ideas. Others have different ideas.”

    Not interested in that type of discussion.

    And you didn’t respond to what I said about why we feel no compunction about killing lower, less developed, forms of life like bacteria or animals that we slaughter. (As for the latter, that is something we should feel bad about; but you see my general point, I hope; not the same as killing a person. You see? Get it? That’s my supposition. Now you can argue that killing a chicken is as bad as wiping out a few hundred thousand people with a bomb; that would be a supposition too. But laws are made by wise and enlightened people, ideally. And wise and enlightened people don’t play games, can judge which supposition is deserving of respect and which is deserving of a lack of respect.)

    Alan 27

    Okay, I see.

  29. I think religion is to our morality what cancer is to our anatomy.

    I think the religious and hard Right is to American life and culture what cancer cells are to a healthy body: it is a revolt, an attack, and it poisons one’s life-blood.

  30. I think most people who are opposed to abortion oppose it on religious grounds. That is why the subject is frustrating, boring and depressing. No laws should be erected on religious grounds. It isn’t a ground.

    Proposition vs supposition

    Not sure I know the difference. I thought I did.

    I read this thread just now. I think I sometimes come across as a touch arrogant.

  31. Correction: I wrote this

    “Now when we abort a fetus it is not formed. it is not a person; it has no ideas, no experience really.”

    Not having ideas is irrelevant. An infant has no ideas and is still as deserving of life as any other human.

  32. I enjoy talking with all of you here!
    Dan, for me, the best way to really distinguish these two terms, at least in logic, is to start with the term; posit. Then to pro-posit is to make a logical proposition, which will be true or false.
    Then I think of the “supplemental” posit as the meaning of supposition.
    I don’t think you come across as arrogant at all!
    Good night all! It’s gin and tonic time here in Arizona!

  33. Thanks, Eric.

    I hope you will continue to post comments on this site. I for one appreciated what you had to say very much.

  34. Dan #30
    Nov 3, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    I think most people who are opposed to abortion oppose it on religious grounds.

    That would apply to those who oppose abortion per-se!
    Their argument is essentially:
    “My god-delusion empowers me to wear its badge of authority as a member of the religious police, and impose its dogmas on everyone else in the name of morality! Priests are my all-knowing commanding officers, and we are above civil law and expertly derived medical codes!”

    That is why the subject is frustrating, boring and depressing. No laws should be erected on religious grounds. It isn’t a ground.

    Quite! “I am selling this bronze age story – and it is all TRRrroo and absolutely correct, because it wears my religion badge”, is not a credible argument to anyone other than those brain-addled by indoctrination!

    The objective reasons why abortions are opposed in some circumstances, are regulatory.

    Those assisting should be competent reputable medics, who respect the interests of the women patients, the baby when it is survivable at near term, and the medical guidance on avoiding and dealing with any complications.
    Medical facilities should be hygienic and properly equipped, both for procedures and for follow-up services. These days the majority of abortions take place early in the pregnancy and are medical rather than surgical.

    Pro-choice people normally accept these limitations, and indeed usually insist that they should in place within their societies.

    As I said earlier their is a host of issues to be debated as to what services and arrangements should be available for particular cases, but it is only the dogmatic ignorant bigots, who polarise the argument into Pro-Choice v Pro-Dogma!
    (I avoid the strawman false badge of “pro-life” – as most of these dogmatic opponents of abortion per-se, are utterly ignorant of the biological workings of life, and have no idea what life is – beyond the nonsensical dogmas they have been taught directly or indirectly by ignorant priests!)

  35. Eric Johnston #32
    Nov 3, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Good night all! It’s gin and tonic time
    here in Arizona!

    In looking at the practicalities of these issues, there are considerable differences in attitudes world-wide. Abortion is a very different topic in many parts of Europe, than say – in the Bible-Belt of the Southern USA!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-41760959

    Women in Scotland are the first in the UK to be allowed to take the abortion pill at home.

    Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer has written to all health boards to say the drug misoprostol can be taken by women outside of a clinical setting.

    The change brings Scotland in line with other countries such as Sweden and France.

    The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has been lobbying to change the law in the UK for years.

    Two tablets

    There were 12,063 terminations of pregnancy in Scotland in 2016 and almost three-quarters (73.5%) were carried out at less than nine weeks gestation.

    The vast majority of these early terminations (89.4%) were medical rather than surgical procedures.

    The medical treatment involves taking two different medicines.

    The first tablet, called Mifepristone, blocks the action of the hormone progesterone, which is needed to maintain the pregnancy.

    The second tablet, called Misoprostol, can be given on the same day, or 24, 48 or 72 hours apart.

  36. The situation in Northern Ireland illustrates the dichotomy between bigoted mindless religious opposition to abortion, and having an ethical organised medical service!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-41719365

    Women and girls are subject to “inhuman and degrading” treatment due to Northern Ireland’s strict abortion law, the UK’s highest court has been told.

    It heard women experience “physical and mental torture” as they cannot have legal abortions in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality.

    The landmark appeal at the Supreme Court argues the law is incompatible with international human rights.

    Its barrister told the Supreme Court the ban on abortion discriminates against woman and girls on the grounds of gender and amounted to an “unjustified” breach of their personal right to autonomy.

    She also read evidence from three women who were refused abortions in Northern Ireland, despite being told by doctors that their unborn children had fatal foetal abnormalities and would die before, during or shortly after birth.

    The barrister described it as “trauma and humiliation” and claimed the women were forced to go through “physical and mental torture”.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-41724695

    A government offer to help Northern Ireland women access free abortions in England is being extended to cover travel costs in some “hardship” cases.

    Abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland, except in very limited cases, and hundreds of women travel across the Irish Sea for terminations each year.

    In June, the Westminster government said NI women would no longer have to pay to have NHS abortions in England.

    Since the change came into effect in June, England’s three main abortion providers have not been charging Northern Ireland residents who undergo terminations.

    Those clinics are set to be reimbursed for their expenses to date by the state.

    The government has now invited English clinics to apply for funding under the new grant scheme, which will extend their services to patients travelling from Northern Ireland.

    Ms Greening said: “The cost of this service will be met by the Government Equalities Office, with additional funding provided by HM Treasury.”

  37. There is also a hangover from Catholic theocracy in Southern Ireland!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-41452712

    Tens of thousands of people have marched through Dublin to demand change to the Republic of Ireland’s abortion laws.

    The March for Choice is the first major demonstration since the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar said he wanted to hold a referendum on abortion next year.

    The country’s abortion laws are some of the strictest in Europe.

    Terminations are only allowed when the mother’s life is in danger.

    The Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, introduced in 1983, gives an equal right to life to a pregnant woman and an unborn child.

    However, thousands of women a year go abroad to have an abortion. The maximum penalty for accessing an illegal abortion in Ireland is 14 years in prison.

  38. In secular areas there is a fight back against ignorant bigots asserting their “right” to harass and obstruct, those seeking abortions!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-41577129

    An “unprecedented” ban on protesters outside abortion clinics could be introduced in a London borough.

    Councillors in Ealing overwhelmingly backed a proposal to stop anti-abortion groups protesting outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the borough.

    Binda Rai, who brought the motion, said it would allow women to access “legal healthcare without intimidation”.

    The Good Counsel Network, which holds daily vigils outside the centre in Mattock Lane, denies harassing women.

    “Good Counsel” – of doctrinaire bigoted ignorance, wearing a Dunning-Kruger god-delusion badge of pseudo-competence”!

    The council motion said 3,593 residents signed a petition, delivered by campaign group Sister Supporter, backing the move.

    It said dozens also wrote letters describing “disruption and distress” caused by the protesters.

    Speaking after the vote, Ms Rai said there could be “national implications”, and that Ealing could be the first council to take action against protesters outside abortion clinics.

    “I’m absolutely thrilled that there was such huge support in the chamber for the motion, and right across the parties,” she said.

    “It was really good. And this is really a stand for women, and for women’s rights to access healthcare that is legally available to them.”

    She said the council may use a Public Space Protection Order (PSPOs), which give councils the power to crack down on perceived anti-social behaviour.

    Richard Bentley, managing director of Marie Stopes UK, hailed the decision as “ground-breaking”.

    “We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area,” he said.

    A spokesman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it welcomed the vote result and urged the government to introduce legislation banning protests at all clinics.

    “The situation in Ealing is sadly not unique, and women and clinic staff across the country report being followed, filmed, and harassed when trying to access or provide legal healthcare services

    The anti-social harassing people for attending doctors’ surgeries or clinics for other medical treatments would be seen in a true light by most people, but the red-mist-anger, of god-delusions having their damaging intrusive dogmas rejected, is presented as “good” by their doctrine-blinded bigoted ignorant followers!

  39. @#36 – A government offer to help Northern Ireland women
    access free abortions in England
    is being extended to cover travel costs in some “hardship” cases.

    There is also evidence, that as religious bigotry fades, contraception for family planning, is being used more effectively!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-41899715

    Women in Northern Ireland are waiting an average of four years longer before having their babies, new statistics suggest.

    The average age of first-time mothers has increased from 24 to 28 years since 1986, according to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

    A report published on Tuesday suggests that women are also having fewer children.

    In all, 24,076 births were registered in Northern Ireland in 2016.

    About a fifth of those were to mothers aged 35 and over.

    Nearly half of all the births registered – 43% – were outside marriage.

    In England and Wales, the percentage of babies born outside marriage or civil partnership in 2016 was slightly higher at 48%. Two-thirds of those had parents who lived together.

    In Northern Ireland, a total of 791 teenagers had babies.

  40. Alan4discussion #38
    Nov 4, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Further to this comment @#38:-

    An “unprecedented” ban on protesters outside abortion clinics could be introduced in a London borough.

    Councillors in Ealing overwhelmingly backed a proposal to stop anti-abortion groups protesting outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the borough.

    What is really needed, is to simply ignore the assertive bigoted ignorant noisy minorities, and have governments regulate on competent professional advice on medical codes of conduct, along with public order legislation to stop nuisance bigots from harassing patients or medical staff who are attending clinics!
    If they want to protest, they can express their noisy bigotry somewhere else!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-41894244

    More than half of MPs support a council’s decision to introduce “buffer zones” outside abortion clinics to prevent protests, a poll suggests.

    A survey of 101 parliamentarians found 57% supported Ealing Council’s decision to stop anti-abortion groups from protesting outside a local clinic.

    The authority is exploring options to prevent such demonstrations, including a Public Space Protection Order.

    Protestors display graphic images outside the clinic, the council said.

    When asked whether they supported taking action, 24% of MPs said they opposed the decision, according to the poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

    The remaining said they neither supported or opposed, or did not know.

    The poll was released ahead of a debate in Parliament on the issue.

    “A clear majority of MPs support action on anti-abortion clinic protests,” said Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS.

    “For years, a tiny handful of individuals have been permitted to cause women seeking legal healthcare services significant distress.

    “As a direct result of the government’s refusal to engage with this issue, these groups have become emboldened and protests have intensified. This cannot be allowed to continue.”

    Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, will lead a Westminster Hall debate on public order legislation relating to family planning clinics.

  41. Alan4discussion #14

    Over several trials, this concludes that around 70% of all zygotes
    fail to be carried to term.

    This has the interesting outcome that the vast majority of souls in Catholic Heaven are those of zygotes.

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