Assessing Theories of Pro-Life Motivations

A saying typically attributed to former President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower goes “Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives.”

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for defenders of abortion to ignore this concept. With the growing toxicity influencing our political discourse every day, bad ideas are given fertile ground to take root in.

One of these bad ideas relates to the motives of pro-life advocates. A number of pro-choice activists have begun calling into question the “real” motives behind pro-life advocacy; namely, claiming that the real desire behind pro-life advocacy is to control women. A variety of accusations based on this concept are routinely made on social media: pro-lifers want to control women’s bodies, control fertility, punish women for having sex, etc.

Accusations are not arguments, and shouldn’t be treated with the same weight as arguments. Unfortunately, they are still represented broadly in mainstream discourse, whether by hashtags such as “reproductive rights” or by The Handmaid’s Tale cosplay clubs. Even more widespread is the assumption made by many pro-choice advocates that any inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers is proof of ulterior motives. For example, the alleged unwillingness of pro-life advocates to care for life after birth is touted as evidence that the real reason people oppose abortion is an underlying desire to control women, in any of the ways stated above. According to this view, defenders of abortion have “discovered” the true goals of the pro-life movement. It’s not about saving babies, it’s about controlling women. Hence the red cloaks and white bonnets.

Setting aside for the moment that this ignores nearly all pro-life discourse on the topic of abortion, the theory that all pro-life activists have wicked intent towards women is just plain silly.

And it’s also something we can test empirically.

To borrow a concept from an earlier Secular Pro-Life piece, let’s pursue a little thought experiment:

Suppose there were a bill on the table that would make it easy for women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who fear such a diagnosis in the future (due to family history, the BRCA gene, or any other reason), to obtain elective mastectomies on demand. Government budget authorities have confirmed that the proposal is financially sound. This is a law that would not cause a single human death, but that would undoubtedly increase a woman’s control of her own body.

Can you imagine the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and so on lobbying against such a bill? I, for one, cannot. There would be no reason for them to do that. Likewise, I have a hard time picturing pro-life stalwarts in the House of Representatives voting it down multiple times and celebrating its defeat. A woman’s exercise of bodily autonomy by itself doesn’t fuel outrage; it is only when that exercise ends in the death of a human child that the pro-life movement rallies its troops. 

There’s a very good explanation for why you will never see pro-life groups protesting tattoo parlors or breast enlargement clinics. You will never see someone sidewalk counseling outside of plastic surgery facilities. The number of pro-lifers devoting any time to these establishments is zero. The reason is very simple, actually: Pro-lifers really do believe abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, and thus should be stopped, unlike any other elective surgery.

Let’s look at it another way. Who has been leading the push against embryo destruction for bio-medical research? With few exceptions, it has been the pro-life movement. This casts further doubt on a conspiracy to control women’s sex lives or fertility; destructive embryo research takes place in a laboratory, not in the womb. A woman’s body is irrelevant here. It seems those darn pro-lifers actually do care about the prenatal being, even at that very early age.

One more example, to again borrow from my colleague’s earlier post, why exactly are those silly pro-lifers pushing for a born-alive infant protection law in the first place? (Setting aside the complaints the law isn’t necessary; for a good breakdown of the law, see this report from the Heritage foundation, as well as Hadley Arkes’ Natural Rights and the Right to Choose.)

If the “real motivation” of the pro-life movement is to punish women for having sex or to control their ovaries or uteruses, then why would pro-lifers concern themselves with the lives of children after they have left the womb? Pro-lifers fought to ensure the infanticidal tendencies of Kermit Gosnell have never faded from the public eye. The Born-Alive Bill is one way of ensuring it never happens again. Maybe we actually do care about the lives of babies after all.

To also address the similar claim that pro-lifers only care for fetuses, then stop caring at birth, ask yourself this question: If a bill legalizing infanticide up to, say, six months after birth was proposed, who would be the first to show up to oppose it? The pro-life movement. This isn’t such a stretch, given that a growing number of philosophers have argued that infanticide may not be such a bad thing as we have been led to believe: Peter Singer, Francesca Minerva, Alberto Giubilini, Michael Tooley, and others have all either defended or acknowledged infanticide as amoral or morally acceptable.

These realities highlight just a few of the hurdles one must jump over in order to “prove” that the pro-life movement is one massive conspiracy to control women. It’s an impossible task to begin with.

The notion that the pro-life movement is hiding its desires to control women is juvenile. Critics of the pro-life view need to do better than that. Pro-lifers argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Elective abortion does that. Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.

In other words, our critics must take the time to answer our essential argument, instead of contriving silly conspiracy theories about why people oppose abortion.


[Today’s guest post by Nathan Apodaca is part of our paid blogging program.]

Assessing Theories of Pro-Life Motivations

A saying typically attributed to former President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower goes “Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives.”

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for defenders of abortion to ignore this concept. With the growing toxicity influencing our political discourse every day, bad ideas are given fertile ground to take root in.

One of these bad ideas relates to the motives of pro-life advocates. A number of pro-choice activists have begun calling into question the “real” motives behind pro-life advocacy; namely, claiming that the real desire behind pro-life advocacy is to control women. A variety of accusations based on this concept are routinely made on social media: pro-lifers want to control women’s bodies, control fertility, punish women for having sex, etc.

Accusations are not arguments, and shouldn’t be treated with the same weight as arguments. Unfortunately, they are still represented broadly in mainstream discourse, whether by hashtags such as “reproductive rights” or by The Handmaid’s Tale cosplay clubs. Even more widespread is the assumption made by many pro-choice advocates that any inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers is proof of ulterior motives. For example, the alleged unwillingness of pro-life advocates to care for life after birth is touted as evidence that the real reason people oppose abortion is an underlying desire to control women, in any of the ways stated above. According to this view, defenders of abortion have “discovered” the true goals of the pro-life movement. It’s not about saving babies, it’s about controlling women. Hence the red cloaks and white bonnets.

Setting aside for the moment that this ignores nearly all pro-life discourse on the topic of abortion, the theory that all pro-life activists have wicked intent towards women is just plain silly.

And it’s also something we can test empirically.

To borrow a concept from an earlier Secular Pro-Life piece, let’s pursue a little thought experiment:

Suppose there were a bill on the table that would make it easy for women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who fear such a diagnosis in the future (due to family history, the BRCA gene, or any other reason), to obtain elective mastectomies on demand. Government budget authorities have confirmed that the proposal is financially sound. This is a law that would not cause a single human death, but that would undoubtedly increase a woman’s control of her own body.

Can you imagine the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and so on lobbying against such a bill? I, for one, cannot. There would be no reason for them to do that. Likewise, I have a hard time picturing pro-life stalwarts in the House of Representatives voting it down multiple times and celebrating its defeat. A woman’s exercise of bodily autonomy by itself doesn’t fuel outrage; it is only when that exercise ends in the death of a human child that the pro-life movement rallies its troops. 

There’s a very good explanation for why you will never see pro-life groups protesting tattoo parlors or breast enlargement clinics. You will never see someone sidewalk counseling outside of plastic surgery facilities. The number of pro-lifers devoting any time to these establishments is zero. The reason is very simple, actually: Pro-lifers really do believe abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, and thus should be stopped, unlike any other elective surgery.

Let’s look at it another way. Who has been leading the push against embryo destruction for bio-medical research? With few exceptions, it has been the pro-life movement. This casts further doubt on a conspiracy to control women’s sex lives or fertility; destructive embryo research takes place in a laboratory, not in the womb. A woman’s body is irrelevant here. It seems those darn pro-lifers actually do care about the prenatal being, even at that very early age.

One more example, to again borrow from my colleague’s earlier post, why exactly are those silly pro-lifers pushing for a born-alive infant protection law in the first place? (Setting aside the complaints the law isn’t necessary; for a good breakdown of the law, see this report from the Heritage foundation, as well as Hadley Arkes’ Natural Rights and the Right to Choose.)

If the “real motivation” of the pro-life movement is to punish women for having sex or to control their ovaries or uteruses, then why would pro-lifers concern themselves with the lives of children after they have left the womb? Pro-lifers fought to ensure the infanticidal tendencies of Kermit Gosnell have never faded from the public eye. The Born-Alive Bill is one way of ensuring it never happens again. Maybe we actually do care about the lives of babies after all.

To also address the similar claim that pro-lifers only care for fetuses, then stop caring at birth, ask yourself this question: If a bill legalizing infanticide up to, say, six months after birth was proposed, who would be the first to show up to oppose it? The pro-life movement. This isn’t such a stretch, given that a growing number of philosophers have argued that infanticide may not be such a bad thing as we have been led to believe: Peter Singer, Francesca Minerva, Alberto Giubilini, Michael Tooley, and others have all either defended or acknowledged infanticide as amoral or morally acceptable.

These realities highlight just a few of the hurdles one must jump over in order to “prove” that the pro-life movement is one massive conspiracy to control women. It’s an impossible task to begin with.

The notion that the pro-life movement is hiding its desires to control women is juvenile. Critics of the pro-life view need to do better than that. Pro-lifers argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Elective abortion does that. Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.

In other words, our critics must take the time to answer our essential argument, instead of contriving silly conspiracy theories about why people oppose abortion.


[Today’s guest post by Nathan Apodaca is part of our paid blogging program.]

The Plot Thickens: Rasanen on Ectogenesis

I recently wrote an article responding to Joona Rasanen’s arguments regarding ectogenesis. Ectogenesis refers to an organism growing in an artificial environment outside the body in which it would normally be found. In this context, it refers to the human embryo or fetus gestating in an artificial womb rather than the woman’s womb who conceived the child. That article was, itself, inspired by comments that I left on an earlier article on BioEdge. Rasanen, who is apparently a reader of BioEdge, responded to my comments in general. He wrote,

Thanks for your comments. However, I suggest you, and others, to [sic] read my article… I have not argued that a genetic mother has a right to the death of the fetus. I claimed that the right to the death of the fetus is couple’s [sic] collective right which they can use together.

A right to genetic privacy should be understood not as an individual but as a collective right. That is because reproduction is not an individual but a collective action. Even though a fetus shares 50% of its genetic material with each genetic parent respectively, 100% of the fetus’ genetic material comes from its genetic parents.

Also, I do not believe that we have full moral status from the moment of conception. Elsewhere, I have argued against such views (but if I am wrong it probably [sic] change the outcome of this debate).

I e-mailed Rasanen and he was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his article.[1] To recap, the four arguments I presented against his view on ectogenesis are:

  • Considering the embryo/fetus the property of the mother is dehumanizing.
  • The genetic material is not identical to the mother’s genetic material but is a combination of the mother’s and father’s genetic material.
  • This argument proves too much (it would justify coerced abortions in some cases)
  • A violation of this nature would justify killing a person at any age if it justifies killing the embryo/fetus

Rasanen’s thesis is that despite the views of abortion-choice thinkers, and despite the possibility that ectogenesis for the human embryo/fetus may become a reality one day, a pregnant woman doesn’t just have a right to be unpregnant, she also has a right to the death of the fetus. I have perused Rasanen’s article and now I intend to show that the arguments he provides don’t justify the woman having any sort of right to the death of the fetus, even if we grant her the right to removal of the unborn child from her uterus (and I would only grant this for the sake of this particular discussion — I obviously do not hold this position).

Argument #1: The right not to become a biological parent


Rasanen spells out his argument as follows:

1. Becoming a biological parent causes harm to the couple because of parental obligations to the child.
2. The couple has the interest to avoid the harm of parental obligations.
3. Therefore, the couple has a right to the death of the fetus to avoid the harm of parental obligations.

This argument is a non sequitur just on the face of it. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. If we assume that both premises are true, then one can avoid the harm of parental obligations simply by abstaining from having sex. Like bodily rights more generally, if the argument succeeds, then it only justifies abortion in rape cases, not in non-rape cases, which make up the vast majority of abortions.

However, let’s examine his reasons for believing the premises to be true. He only offers reasons to accept the first premise, and they are: 1) even if the child is adopted out, if the fetus is allowed to survive the biological parents will always feel morally responsible for the child, which then could cause them significant psychological harm, and 2) he believes that biological parents actually do remain obliged, life-long, to their birth children, even when adopted out. Adoption doesn’t resolve this issue, he says, because parental obligations cannot be fully transferred or delineated to adoptive parents. They are, by nature, non-transferable according to his view. However, Rasanen doesn’t justify these two supporting arguments; his justification is simply that as there is no alternative ways to avoid the harm of parental obligations, then the parents have a right to the death of the fetus.

Even if we accept Rasanen’s view as correct, that the responsibilities of parenthood cannot, by nature, be transferred (and I would argue he is wrong about his view of the non-transferability of parental obligations via adoption), his argument would not succeed. My counterargument is simply that Rasanen’s argument is invalid because its conclusion doesn’t follow from its premises. There is, in fact, an alternative way to avoid the “harm of parental obligations” — to abstain from having sex. If you don’t have sex, you don’t get pregnant. Now I know that many readers of this blog might not find this an altogether appealing response (you should hear some of the things I’ve been called due to holding this view). But it doesn’t matter whether or not this response is ultimately appealing. All that matters is that it is an alternative way to avoid this harm. Rasanen’s argument is dependent on there being no alternative to avoid it, so by presenting a valid alternative, Rasanen’s argument is also shown to be unsound.

Argument #2: The right to genetic privacy


Rasanen’s second argument is formulated as follows:

1. People have a right to genetic privacy.
2. Ectogenesis abortion violates the genetic privacy of the genetic parents of the fetus.
3. Therefore, genetic parents have a right to the death of the fetus.

I agree with Rasanen’s first point. I think that people do have a right to genetic privacy. After all, if someone steals your DNA and clones you, it seems that two wrongs have been committed: first, in stealing your DNA, and then in cloning you. So I’ll accept Rasanen’s first premise.

However, even if I, again, grant Rasanen’s second premise for the sake of argument (which I do not grant otherwise), his argument is, again, a non sequitur. It doesn’t follow from the first two premises that the genetic parents have a right to the death of the fetus. Here are a few reasons why:

1) This argument proves too much. The fetus is already in existence. The parents’ DNA has already been used to conceive a new human being. If we accept that this violation of the right to genetic privacy grants the parents a right to the death of the fetus, there is no principled reason why this would not grant them the same right when the child is older. Some women are not aware they are pregnant until they give birth (as incredible as this is to believe). Why wouldn’t the mother have the right to kill her infant if she gives birth to a child she didn’t even know she had? Or what if she gives birth to the child, but a couple of years down the road decides that it’s just too difficult and wants to claim her right to genetic privacy? What principled reason is there to deny this? If your response is that the child is a person at that stage, then it’s not a right to genetic privacy that is doing the work of justifying the death of the fetus but the argument that the fetus is not yet a person. So in that case, this argument doesn’t justify the conclusion.

2) This argument again proves too much in the fact that it would justify coercive abortions. Now, Rasanen justifies his right to genetic privacy by saying because procreation is an act that requires two people, the right to the death of the fetus is not an individual right but a collective right. So the decision must be unanimous in order for the fetus to be killed. However, I’m not sure there are such things as collective rights, and the concept is a controversial one. It seems to me that all rights are reducible to individual rights, and any supposed right a group might possess must never infringe on the individual right of a human being, certainly not if the infringement is a greater harm than the prevention of being able to act in some way. So even if we conceive of the “right to genetic privacy” as a collective right, that collective right must never infringe on the individual right of a human being, so it still would not justify a “right to the death of the fetus.”

Now, if both parents have a right to genetic privacy, then the child would be violating the father’s right to genetic privacy just as much as the mother’s. So he would have the right to force her to have an abortion. Or if they do give birth to a child, any grandchild that their child eventually conceives will also have come from their genetic code, so this would also justify the grandparents forcing their daughter to have an abortion for whatever reason. Rasanen apparently believes that when the child is still in the uterus, the choice to terminate the pregnancy is the mother’s and the mother’s alone to make. But this doesn’t make sense considering his argument that reproduction is a collective act. If reproduction is a collective act, and the death of the fetus a collective decision, then the right to terminate the pregnancy must also be a collective act, requiring the permission of both parents because removing the child from the natural environment of the uterus would present a harm to the developing embryo/fetus. So while the embryo/fetus would not die, this would be allowing the mother to harm the child against the father’s wishes.

3) The child is not violating the right; the perpetrator of the act has violated your rights and must be punished for it. The child is doing nothing wrong by merely existing. The harm of violating the right to genetic privacy has already been done. The DNA has already been used to produce an embryo from the parents’ DNA, and even after you kill the child, that won’t undo the conception. There will still be a dead human being with the combined DNA of the parents. Only now a child has been punished for these circumstances beyond his control.

So again, his conclusion doesn’t follow. The fact that their right to genetic privacy has been violated does not justify a “right to the death of the fetus” because the harm has already been done, and because this would allow killing a person at any age, not just while in the womb. Also, there is simply no causal link between the violation of the parents’ genetic privacy and the right to the death of the fetus as killing the fetus will not remove her genetic code or undo the conception.

Argument #3: The right to property


Rasanen’s third argument is formulated as follows:

1. The fetus is property of the genetic parents.
2. People can destroy their property.
3. Therefore, genetic parents can destroy their fetus.

Now this is the most barbaric of the three arguments. I can cite numerous examples where human beings were considered property in world history, with disastrous results. This is simply dehumanizing and not an argument that a person concerned with ethics ought to be making. An embryo/fetus is a human being at an early stage of development. Even if the fetus is not a person, there is no justification for considering it of such low status as to be simply a piece of property. So this argument is unsound because premise one is simply not true (and oddly enough, this is the only one of his three arguments that is actually logically valid).

However, aside from the previous paragraph, this is also an instance in which Rasanen just didn’t seem to be paying close attention to what he was arguing. The only justification he gives for the two premises is that common intuition supports them (for example, many people have an intuition that a couple who uses IVF to get pregnant can destroy the excess embryos if they wish, and no one can use them against the couple’s consent). This is despite the fact that many people have strong intuition in the opposite direction, such as myself and most pro-life people, that a couple who conceives through IVF does not have the moral right to destroy the excess embryos (to say nothing of whether or not it is even ethical to conceive them artificially in the first place, but that’s irrelevant to the present discussion). This is, frankly, shocking since in his discussion of the “right not to become a biological parent” he chides two abortion-choice philosophers, Eric Mathison and Jeremy Davis, for arguing that intuitions against the claim that gamete donors and surrogate mothers have rights toward the child means that there are no such rights, and thus there are no ethical problems with those practices. He scolds them because of the numerous philosophers who argue that they do, indeed, have rights toward the child, so intuition, alone, cannot justify their argument. So Rasanen is making the same kind of argument, that common intuition, alone, justifies that the fetus is the property of the genetic parents despite the fact that numerous philosophers have argued that human personhood is established during fertilization.

In fact, to make matters even worse, he concedes that older children are not property because they are persons, and persons cannot be property. But he doesn’t justify his position that early fetuses are not persons. Despite conceding that if the early fetus is a person, it might change the outcome of the debate, he makes no attempt to justify his position, instead stating that it is outside the scope of his article. Under ordinary circumstances, I would agree. But since his third point literally rises or falls on whether or not the early fetus is a person, it is well within the scope of his article to address it. In fact, it is mandatory, if he expects his arguments to convince anyone.

Post Script


Rasanen finishes up with a discussion about what happens, in his view, when biological parents disagree over the fate of the fetus. I have already argued that all rights are reducible to individual rights, so there may not be any such things as collective rights, but even if there are, they certainly could not infringe on the individual rights of a human being, especially if that infringement is a greater harm than being prevented from acting. So I need not comment on this section, as I believe the discussion in this section of his paper to be without merit or meaning.

But something needs to be said. Apart from the lack of awareness of what he’s writing in his own article, one of Rasanen’s supporting points is that “when a man and woman are having sex, they implicitly accept the possible consequences of their activity.” This is quoted verbatim from his article. He is meaning this to show that we should accept the status quo — the fetus is alive, and killing it would change the status quo. So we should protect the life of the fetus if the genetic parents are in disagreement. But the problem is that Rasanen’s statement basically negates the whole abortion debate. I agree wholeheartedly that when a man and woman are having sex, they implicitly accept the possible consequences of their activity. But this includes conceiving a child! When a man and woman have sex, which results in the conception of an embryo, they now bear a responsibility to care for this embryo because they engaged in an act which leads to the creation of a naturally needy child. So they implicitly accept the possible consequences of their activity.

It gets worse for Rasanen, and this one I’m going to quote at length:

…in cases where genetic parents disagree, I believe we should follow what can be called the status quo approach. According to this approach, change needs a stronger justification than keeping things as they are. 

As long as there is no intervention to the pregnancy, the fetus will naturally develop inside the woman’s womb. This means that there is no change to the status quo and the fetus’ naturally probable potential to develop into an infant would be actualized. Following the status quo approach would mean that when one parent wants the death of the fetus and the other does not, the fetus should not be killed or left to die. Therefore, when, for example, a pregnant woman wants the fetus to die, but the father wants it to live, the fetus should be detached and implanted into an artificial womb where the fetus would continue its development into an infant. Thus the status quo should be understood from the point of view of the fetus: an already developing fetus would continue its development in a womb — albeit an artificial one.

Did you catch that? There are several things wrong with his statements here. First, there’s a fairly obvious one. Rasanen is essentially arguing that a woman should be forced to have an operation (i.e. “detach the fetus”) against her desires. This is unethical medical practice. Second, if the fetus is not a person and is merely property of the genetic parents, then on what grounds should we understand the status quo from the point of view of the fetus? I have never asked my car whether it prefers 10W-30 or 5W-30 motor oil. I’ve never asked it whether it would be willing to give me a lift to the store or if it would prefer to stay at home, or even acted in such a way, from its perspective. It’s my property; it has no say in the matter. In fact, it has a specific purpose that I own it for. When it can no longer fulfill that function, I sell it off for parts. Third, if the fetus is merely property and is not a person, then on what grounds should we accept the status quo argument? Why not allow the mother to kill the fetus against the father’s wishes? He could, after all, find someone else to have children with. If the fetus is merely property, it isn’t being harmed by being killed. I’m not harming my wall when I take a sledgehammer to it. The status quo argument implicitly assumes personhood of the fetus. But fourth, if changing the status quo requires a stronger argument than keeping it the same, it’s not obvious why the woman should be allowed to terminate the pregnancy at all, especially if the pregnancy is a normal, healthy pregnancy. If the status quo should be understood from the point of view of the fetus, and it takes a stronger argument to change it than keep it the same, there is no reason why a woman in an average pregnancy should be allowed to terminate the pregnancy (and note: I’m not saying that pregnancies are easy, I’m simply saying that barring cases in which the pregnancy presents a danger to the life or serious health of the woman, the status quo argument would not justify terminating the pregnancy).

Conclusion

I have examined four arguments by Rasanen (the right not to become a parent, the right to genetic privacy, the fetus as property, and the status quo argument) and shown them all to be flawed for various reasons, either because they are logically invalid and unsound, simply logically unsound, or they actually argue against his position rather than for it. For these reasons, Rasanen’s arguments cannot be seen as weighing in favor of a right to the death of the fetus, even if we grant a right terminate the pregnancy but keep the fetus alive.

[1] All quotations and paraphrases from Joona Rasanen, unless otherwise noted, are from his article “Ectogenesis, abortion, and a right to the death of the fetus,” Bioethics, 2017, 31:697-702, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12404.

The Plot Thickens: Rasanen on Ectogenesis

I recently wrote an article responding to Joona Rasanen’s arguments regarding ectogenesis. Ectogenesis refers to an organism growing in an artificial environment outside the body in which it would normally be found. In this context, it refers to the human embryo or fetus gestating in an artificial womb rather than the woman’s womb who conceived the child. That article was, itself, inspired by comments that I left on an earlier article on BioEdge. Rasanen, who is apparently a reader of BioEdge, responded to my comments in general. He wrote,

Thanks for your comments. However, I suggest you, and others, to [sic] read my article… I have not argued that a genetic mother has a right to the death of the fetus. I claimed that the right to the death of the fetus is couple’s [sic] collective right which they can use together.

A right to genetic privacy should be understood not as an individual but as a collective right. That is because reproduction is not an individual but a collective action. Even though a fetus shares 50% of its genetic material with each genetic parent respectively, 100% of the fetus’ genetic material comes from its genetic parents.

Also, I do not believe that we have full moral status from the moment of conception. Elsewhere, I have argued against such views (but if I am wrong it probably [sic] change the outcome of this debate).

I e-mailed Rasanen and he was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his article.[1] To recap, the four arguments I presented against his view on ectogenesis are:

  • Considering the embryo/fetus the property of the mother is dehumanizing.
  • The genetic material is not identical to the mother’s genetic material but is a combination of the mother’s and father’s genetic material.
  • This argument proves too much (it would justify coerced abortions in some cases)
  • A violation of this nature would justify killing a person at any age if it justifies killing the embryo/fetus

Rasanen’s thesis is that despite the views of abortion-choice thinkers, and despite the possibility that ectogenesis for the human embryo/fetus may become a reality one day, a pregnant woman doesn’t just have a right to be unpregnant, she also has a right to the death of the fetus. I have perused Rasanen’s article and now I intend to show that the arguments he provides don’t justify the woman having any sort of right to the death of the fetus, even if we grant her the right to removal of the unborn child from her uterus (and I would only grant this for the sake of this particular discussion — I obviously do not hold this position).

Argument #1: The right not to become a biological parent


Rasanen spells out his argument as follows:

1. Becoming a biological parent causes harm to the couple because of parental obligations to the child.
2. The couple has the interest to avoid the harm of parental obligations.
3. Therefore, the couple has a right to the death of the fetus to avoid the harm of parental obligations.

This argument is a non sequitur just on the face of it. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. If we assume that both premises are true, then one can avoid the harm of parental obligations simply by abstaining from having sex. Like bodily rights more generally, if the argument succeeds, then it only justifies abortion in rape cases, not in non-rape cases, which make up the vast majority of abortions.

However, let’s examine his reasons for believing the premises to be true. He only offers reasons to accept the first premise, and they are: 1) even if the child is adopted out, if the fetus is allowed to survive the biological parents will always feel morally responsible for the child, which then could cause them significant psychological harm, and 2) he believes that biological parents actually do remain obliged, life-long, to their birth children, even when adopted out. Adoption doesn’t resolve this issue, he says, because parental obligations cannot be fully transferred or delineated to adoptive parents. They are, by nature, non-transferable according to his view. However, Rasanen doesn’t justify these two supporting arguments; his justification is simply that as there is no alternative ways to avoid the harm of parental obligations, then the parents have a right to the death of the fetus.

Even if we accept Rasanen’s view as correct, that the responsibilities of parenthood cannot, by nature, be transferred (and I would argue he is wrong about his view of the non-transferability of parental obligations via adoption), his argument would not succeed. My counterargument is simply that Rasanen’s argument is invalid because its conclusion doesn’t follow from its premises. There is, in fact, an alternative way to avoid the “harm of parental obligations” — to abstain from having sex. If you don’t have sex, you don’t get pregnant. Now I know that many readers of this blog might not find this an altogether appealing response (you should hear some of the things I’ve been called due to holding this view). But it doesn’t matter whether or not this response is ultimately appealing. All that matters is that it is an alternative way to avoid this harm. Rasanen’s argument is dependent on there being no alternative to avoid it, so by presenting a valid alternative, Rasanen’s argument is also shown to be unsound.

Argument #2: The right to genetic privacy


Rasanen’s second argument is formulated as follows:

1. People have a right to genetic privacy.
2. Ectogenesis abortion violates the genetic privacy of the genetic parents of the fetus.
3. Therefore, genetic parents have a right to the death of the fetus.

I agree with Rasanen’s first point. I think that people do have a right to genetic privacy. After all, if someone steals your DNA and clones you, it seems that two wrongs have been committed: first, in stealing your DNA, and then in cloning you. So I’ll accept Rasanen’s first premise.

However, even if I, again, grant Rasanen’s second premise for the sake of argument (which I do not grant otherwise), his argument is, again, a non sequitur. It doesn’t follow from the first two premises that the genetic parents have a right to the death of the fetus. Here are a few reasons why:

1) This argument proves too much. The fetus is already in existence. The parents’ DNA has already been used to conceive a new human being. If we accept that this violation of the right to genetic privacy grants the parents a right to the death of the fetus, there is no principled reason why this would not grant them the same right when the child is older. Some women are not aware they are pregnant until they give birth (as incredible as this is to believe). Why wouldn’t the mother have the right to kill her infant if she gives birth to a child she didn’t even know she had? Or what if she gives birth to the child, but a couple of years down the road decides that it’s just too difficult and wants to claim her right to genetic privacy? What principled reason is there to deny this? If your response is that the child is a person at that stage, then it’s not a right to genetic privacy that is doing the work of justifying the death of the fetus but the argument that the fetus is not yet a person. So in that case, this argument doesn’t justify the conclusion.

2) This argument again proves too much in the fact that it would justify coercive abortions. Now, Rasanen justifies his right to genetic privacy by saying because procreation is an act that requires two people, the right to the death of the fetus is not an individual right but a collective right. So the decision must be unanimous in order for the fetus to be killed. However, I’m not sure there are such things as collective rights, and the concept is a controversial one. It seems to me that all rights are reducible to individual rights, and any supposed right a group might possess must never infringe on the individual right of a human being, certainly not if the infringement is a greater harm than the prevention of being able to act in some way. So even if we conceive of the “right to genetic privacy” as a collective right, that collective right must never infringe on the individual right of a human being, so it still would not justify a “right to the death of the fetus.”

Now, if both parents have a right to genetic privacy, then the child would be violating the father’s right to genetic privacy just as much as the mother’s. So he would have the right to force her to have an abortion. Or if they do give birth to a child, any grandchild that their child eventually conceives will also have come from their genetic code, so this would also justify the grandparents forcing their daughter to have an abortion for whatever reason. Rasanen apparently believes that when the child is still in the uterus, the choice to terminate the pregnancy is the mother’s and the mother’s alone to make. But this doesn’t make sense considering his argument that reproduction is a collective act. If reproduction is a collective act, and the death of the fetus a collective decision, then the right to terminate the pregnancy must also be a collective act, requiring the permission of both parents because removing the child from the natural environment of the uterus would present a harm to the developing embryo/fetus. So while the embryo/fetus would not die, this would be allowing the mother to harm the child against the father’s wishes.

3) The child is not violating the right; the perpetrator of the act has violated your rights and must be punished for it. The child is doing nothing wrong by merely existing. The harm of violating the right to genetic privacy has already been done. The DNA has already been used to produce an embryo from the parents’ DNA, and even after you kill the child, that won’t undo the conception. There will still be a dead human being with the combined DNA of the parents. Only now a child has been punished for these circumstances beyond his control.

So again, his conclusion doesn’t follow. The fact that their right to genetic privacy has been violated does not justify a “right to the death of the fetus” because the harm has already been done, and because this would allow killing a person at any age, not just while in the womb. Also, there is simply no causal link between the violation of the parents’ genetic privacy and the right to the death of the fetus as killing the fetus will not remove her genetic code or undo the conception.

Argument #3: The right to property


Rasanen’s third argument is formulated as follows:

1. The fetus is property of the genetic parents.
2. People can destroy their property.
3. Therefore, genetic parents can destroy their fetus.

Now this is the most barbaric of the three arguments. I can cite numerous examples where human beings were considered property in world history, with disastrous results. This is simply dehumanizing and not an argument that a person concerned with ethics ought to be making. An embryo/fetus is a human being at an early stage of development. Even if the fetus is not a person, there is no justification for considering it of such low status as to be simply a piece of property. So this argument is unsound because premise one is simply not true (and oddly enough, this is the only one of his three arguments that is actually logically valid).

However, aside from the previous paragraph, this is also an instance in which Rasanen just didn’t seem to be paying close attention to what he was arguing. The only justification he gives for the two premises is that common intuition supports them (for example, many people have an intuition that a couple who uses IVF to get pregnant can destroy the excess embryos if they wish, and no one can use them against the couple’s consent). This is despite the fact that many people have strong intuition in the opposite direction, such as myself and most pro-life people, that a couple who conceives through IVF does not have the moral right to destroy the excess embryos (to say nothing of whether or not it is even ethical to conceive them artificially in the first place, but that’s irrelevant to the present discussion). This is, frankly, shocking since in his discussion of the “right not to become a biological parent” he chides two abortion-choice philosophers, Eric Mathison and Jeremy Davis, for arguing that intuitions against the claim that gamete donors and surrogate mothers have rights toward the child means that there are no such rights, and thus there are no ethical problems with those practices. He scolds them because of the numerous philosophers who argue that they do, indeed, have rights toward the child, so intuition, alone, cannot justify their argument. So Rasanen is making the same kind of argument, that common intuition, alone, justifies that the fetus is the property of the genetic parents despite the fact that numerous philosophers have argued that human personhood is established during fertilization.

In fact, to make matters even worse, he concedes that older children are not property because they are persons, and persons cannot be property. But he doesn’t justify his position that early fetuses are not persons. Despite conceding that if the early fetus is a person, it might change the outcome of the debate, he makes no attempt to justify his position, instead stating that it is outside the scope of his article. Under ordinary circumstances, I would agree. But since his third point literally rises or falls on whether or not the early fetus is a person, it is well within the scope of his article to address it. In fact, it is mandatory, if he expects his arguments to convince anyone.

Post Script


Rasanen finishes up with a discussion about what happens, in his view, when biological parents disagree over the fate of the fetus. I have already argued that all rights are reducible to individual rights, so there may not be any such things as collective rights, but even if there are, they certainly could not infringe on the individual rights of a human being, especially if that infringement is a greater harm than being prevented from acting. So I need not comment on this section, as I believe the discussion in this section of his paper to be without merit or meaning.

But something needs to be said. Apart from the lack of awareness of what he’s writing in his own article, one of Rasanen’s supporting points is that “when a man and woman are having sex, they implicitly accept the possible consequences of their activity.” This is quoted verbatim from his article. He is meaning this to show that we should accept the status quo — the fetus is alive, and killing it would change the status quo. So we should protect the life of the fetus if the genetic parents are in disagreement. But the problem is that Rasanen’s statement basically negates the whole abortion debate. I agree wholeheartedly that when a man and woman are having sex, they implicitly accept the possible consequences of their activity. But this includes conceiving a child! When a man and woman have sex, which results in the conception of an embryo, they now bear a responsibility to care for this embryo because they engaged in an act which leads to the creation of a naturally needy child. So they implicitly accept the possible consequences of their activity.

It gets worse for Rasanen, and this one I’m going to quote at length:

…in cases where genetic parents disagree, I believe we should follow what can be called the status quo approach. According to this approach, change needs a stronger justification than keeping things as they are. 

As long as there is no intervention to the pregnancy, the fetus will naturally develop inside the woman’s womb. This means that there is no change to the status quo and the fetus’ naturally probable potential to develop into an infant would be actualized. Following the status quo approach would mean that when one parent wants the death of the fetus and the other does not, the fetus should not be killed or left to die. Therefore, when, for example, a pregnant woman wants the fetus to die, but the father wants it to live, the fetus should be detached and implanted into an artificial womb where the fetus would continue its development into an infant. Thus the status quo should be understood from the point of view of the fetus: an already developing fetus would continue its development in a womb — albeit an artificial one.

Did you catch that? There are several things wrong with his statements here. First, there’s a fairly obvious one. Rasanen is essentially arguing that a woman should be forced to have an operation (i.e. “detach the fetus”) against her desires. This is unethical medical practice. Second, if the fetus is not a person and is merely property of the genetic parents, then on what grounds should we understand the status quo from the point of view of the fetus? I have never asked my car whether it prefers 10W-30 or 5W-30 motor oil. I’ve never asked it whether it would be willing to give me a lift to the store or if it would prefer to stay at home, or even acted in such a way, from its perspective. It’s my property; it has no say in the matter. In fact, it has a specific purpose that I own it for. When it can no longer fulfill that function, I sell it off for parts. Third, if the fetus is merely property and is not a person, then on what grounds should we accept the status quo argument? Why not allow the mother to kill the fetus against the father’s wishes? He could, after all, find someone else to have children with. If the fetus is merely property, it isn’t being harmed by being killed. I’m not harming my wall when I take a sledgehammer to it. The status quo argument implicitly assumes personhood of the fetus. But fourth, if changing the status quo requires a stronger argument than keeping it the same, it’s not obvious why the woman should be allowed to terminate the pregnancy at all, especially if the pregnancy is a normal, healthy pregnancy. If the status quo should be understood from the point of view of the fetus, and it takes a stronger argument to change it than keep it the same, there is no reason why a woman in an average pregnancy should be allowed to terminate the pregnancy (and note: I’m not saying that pregnancies are easy, I’m simply saying that barring cases in which the pregnancy presents a danger to the life or serious health of the woman, the status quo argument would not justify terminating the pregnancy).

Conclusion

I have examined four arguments by Rasanen (the right not to become a parent, the right to genetic privacy, the fetus as property, and the status quo argument) and shown them all to be flawed for various reasons, either because they are logically invalid and unsound, simply logically unsound, or they actually argue against his position rather than for it. For these reasons, Rasanen’s arguments cannot be seen as weighing in favor of a right to the death of the fetus, even if we grant a right terminate the pregnancy but keep the fetus alive.

[1] All quotations and paraphrases from Joona Rasanen, unless otherwise noted, are from his article “Ectogenesis, abortion, and a right to the death of the fetus,” Bioethics, 2017, 31:697-702, DOI: 10.1111/bioe.12404.

Will Artificial Wombs End the Abortion Debate?

Illustration of artificial womb technology sustaining a young lamb

Xavier Symons, writing for BioEdge, a news website that focuses on bioethics, wrote an article about ectogenesis. Ectogenesis refers to a human embryo or fetus developing in an artificial environment outside of the woman’s uterus. Scientists recently kept premature lamb fetuses alive in an artificial environment, so hopes are high that they can eventually develop artificial womb technology to keep human embryos and fetuses alive if the woman absolutely does not want to be pregnant. Many are touting this as exciting technology that could essentially end the abortion debate.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, in her famous essay about abortion, argued that simply having a right to an abortion does not grant a woman a right to a dead baby. The reason abortion is justified, as a proponent of bodily rights would argue, is because the child is violating the right to the woman’s bodily autonomy and the state should not legally compel a woman to remain plugged in as life support to the developing embryo/fetus. She compared pregnancy to a famous, unconscious violinist. But, she conceded, the right to unplug from this violinist does not grant you the right to slit the violinist’s throat. So if the woman could be unplugged from the unborn child without killing him, that would be ethically preferred. According to the aforementioned article, some bioethicists, such as Eric Mathison and Jeremy Davis, both from the University of Toronto, agree with Thomson’s position that a right to abortion does not include a right to a dead fetus.
The possibility of artificial wombs does raise some ethical concerns. For example, considering how important pregnancy is, does a woman have a right to separate herself from her developing child in order to avoid the burdens of pregnancy, even if she intends to keep the child? At the very least, pro-life people can agree that if a woman intends to abort her child, allowing the child to survive in an artificial womb and allowing the child to be given for adoption would be preferable. I think many abortion-choice people, such as Thomson, Mathison, and Davis, could agree that if a woman intends to abort, it would be preferable to place the child in an artificial womb since a right to abortion does not ipso facto guarantee a right to a dead fetus.
However, not all abortion-choice advocates would jump on the bandwagon. As much as I would love artificial womb technology to end the abortion debate, the reality is that many who are involved with abortions are not simply seeking to make the woman un-pregnant; they are actively seeking the death of the child. Look no further than doctors who will kill a child born alive after an “unsuccessful abortion,” and abortion-choice advocates and organizations that oppose “infant born alive” bills which prohibit such killings.
According to the article, Joona Rasanen offers the following argument that a right to abortion also grounds a right to a dead fetus (see the BioEdge article for the original source):

…if ectogenesis abortions become reality, some women (and men) will have genetic children out there who carry their genetic material without their consent. In this scenario, their right to genetic privacy has been violated, and the only way to avoid this is if they have a right to the death of the fetus…[and] there is yet another way to claim that the genetic parents have a right to the death of the fetus: the genetic parents own the fetus, and because of that, their property rights are violated if the fetus is gestated in an artificial womb without their consent.

There are a number of things wrong with Rasanen’s arguments.
First, it’s simply barbaric to consider the fetus to be property of the mother. We used to consider black people property and that was a gross denial of their human dignity. Fetuses are human beings at a very early stage of development. Calling them property is dehumanizing.
Second, Rasanen doesn’t seem to understand that the fetus’ genetic material is not the woman’s; it comes from the woman (and the man), but it is not identical to her genetic material. This kind of argument would work against cloning her against her will, but not against a child existing against her will just because he or she came from her genetic material.
Third, this argument proves too much. What if a woman has a daughter, and her daughter then, at the appropriate age, has a child, but the mother doesn’t want the grandchild for whatever reason? This argument would justify the mother forcing her daughter to have an abortion, or killing the child once the child is outside the womb, because this child is allegedly violating the grandmother’s “right to genetic privacy.” In fact, it would justify the woman’s boyfriend or husband forcing the woman, herself, to have an abortion because the child would be violating his “right to genetic privacy,” and she would be violating it by not having the abortion.
Fourth, why would a violation of her “right to genetic privacy” bring a death sentence? Someone who steals my car is violating my right to property ownership, but that certainly doesn’t justify my killing the thief. Perhaps the argument is that it would bring a death sentence because that is the only way to preserve the woman’s (and man’s) “right to genetic privacy.” But of course, then the argument that abortion is impermissible at any time during pregnancy due to the fetus gaining personhood rights would be negated. This would grant the parents the right to kill the child at any age, even as an adult, because there is someone walking around violating this alleged right. If your argument, though, is that it’s permissible at some points because the fetus is not a person, then impermissible at some other point because he gains personhood rights, then it’s your personhood argument that is doing the work of justifying your abortion-choice stance and not any right to genetic privacy.
These arguments simply don’t justify killing the embryo or fetus, especially if artificial womb technology becomes a reality. But what do you think? Will artificial wombs put an end to the debate? Are they a good thing? If you consider yourself pro-choice, what do you think about artificial wombs, and will the death of the embryo/fetus still be justified if they become a reality?

[Today’s guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]

Will Artificial Wombs End the Abortion Debate?

Illustration of artificial womb technology sustaining a young lamb

Xavier Symons, writing for BioEdge, a news website that focuses on bioethics, wrote an article about ectogenesis. Ectogenesis refers to a human embryo or fetus developing in an artificial environment outside of the woman’s uterus. Scientists recently kept premature lamb fetuses alive in an artificial environment, so hopes are high that they can eventually develop artificial womb technology to keep human embryos and fetuses alive if the woman absolutely does not want to be pregnant. Many are touting this as exciting technology that could essentially end the abortion debate.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, in her famous essay about abortion, argued that simply having a right to an abortion does not grant a woman a right to a dead baby. The reason abortion is justified, as a proponent of bodily rights would argue, is because the child is violating the right to the woman’s bodily autonomy and the state should not legally compel a woman to remain plugged in as life support to the developing embryo/fetus. She compared pregnancy to a famous, unconscious violinist. But, she conceded, the right to unplug from this violinist does not grant you the right to slit the violinist’s throat. So if the woman could be unplugged from the unborn child without killing him, that would be ethically preferred. According to the aforementioned article, some bioethicists, such as Eric Mathison and Jeremy Davis, both from the University of Toronto, agree with Thomson’s position that a right to abortion does not include a right to a dead fetus.
The possibility of artificial wombs does raise some ethical concerns. For example, considering how important pregnancy is, does a woman have a right to separate herself from her developing child in order to avoid the burdens of pregnancy, even if she intends to keep the child? At the very least, pro-life people can agree that if a woman intends to abort her child, allowing the child to survive in an artificial womb and allowing the child to be given for adoption would be preferable. I think many abortion-choice people, such as Thomson, Mathison, and Davis, could agree that if a woman intends to abort, it would be preferable to place the child in an artificial womb since a right to abortion does not ipso facto guarantee a right to a dead fetus.
However, not all abortion-choice advocates would jump on the bandwagon. As much as I would love artificial womb technology to end the abortion debate, the reality is that many who are involved with abortions are not simply seeking to make the woman un-pregnant; they are actively seeking the death of the child. Look no further than doctors who will kill a child born alive after an “unsuccessful abortion,” and abortion-choice advocates and organizations that oppose “infant born alive” bills which prohibit such killings.
According to the article, Joona Rasanen offers the following argument that a right to abortion also grounds a right to a dead fetus (see the BioEdge article for the original source):

…if ectogenesis abortions become reality, some women (and men) will have genetic children out there who carry their genetic material without their consent. In this scenario, their right to genetic privacy has been violated, and the only way to avoid this is if they have a right to the death of the fetus…[and] there is yet another way to claim that the genetic parents have a right to the death of the fetus: the genetic parents own the fetus, and because of that, their property rights are violated if the fetus is gestated in an artificial womb without their consent.

There are a number of things wrong with Rasanen’s arguments.
First, it’s simply barbaric to consider the fetus to be property of the mother. We used to consider black people property and that was a gross denial of their human dignity. Fetuses are human beings at a very early stage of development. Calling them property is dehumanizing.
Second, Rasanen doesn’t seem to understand that the fetus’ genetic material is not the woman’s; it comes from the woman (and the man), but it is not identical to her genetic material. This kind of argument would work against cloning her against her will, but not against a child existing against her will just because he or she came from her genetic material.
Third, this argument proves too much. What if a woman has a daughter, and her daughter then, at the appropriate age, has a child, but the mother doesn’t want the grandchild for whatever reason? This argument would justify the mother forcing her daughter to have an abortion, or killing the child once the child is outside the womb, because this child is allegedly violating the grandmother’s “right to genetic privacy.” In fact, it would justify the woman’s boyfriend or husband forcing the woman, herself, to have an abortion because the child would be violating his “right to genetic privacy,” and she would be violating it by not having the abortion.
Fourth, why would a violation of her “right to genetic privacy” bring a death sentence? Someone who steals my car is violating my right to property ownership, but that certainly doesn’t justify my killing the thief. Perhaps the argument is that it would bring a death sentence because that is the only way to preserve the woman’s (and man’s) “right to genetic privacy.” But of course, then the argument that abortion is impermissible at any time during pregnancy due to the fetus gaining personhood rights would be negated. This would grant the parents the right to kill the child at any age, even as an adult, because there is someone walking around violating this alleged right. If your argument, though, is that it’s permissible at some points because the fetus is not a person, then impermissible at some other point because he gains personhood rights, then it’s your personhood argument that is doing the work of justifying your abortion-choice stance and not any right to genetic privacy.
These arguments simply don’t justify killing the embryo or fetus, especially if artificial womb technology becomes a reality. But what do you think? Will artificial wombs put an end to the debate? Are they a good thing? If you consider yourself pro-choice, what do you think about artificial wombs, and will the death of the embryo/fetus still be justified if they become a reality?

[Today’s guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]

Apparently protecting embryos is more extreme than severing babies’ spines.

Pro-choice
activists mock the most socially unpalatable aspects of the pro-life position.
Broadly speaking, pro-lifers believe human life is morally relevant when the
human organism begins: as a zygote. This means we oppose killing not only fetuses,
but also embryos and zygotes. And so, while we primarily object to surgical
abortion, many of us also object to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, contraception
that prevents implantation, and aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—all processes
the public tends to be a lot more okay with than abortion.
Pro-choicers
like to emphasize these objections, implying or outright saying we’re out-of-touch
zealots with whacked priorities. They paint a dystopian picture where women
can’t access the most common forms of contraception, people keep suffering from
ailments ESC could have cured, and infertile couples have nowhere to turn. They
usually go further and suggest we want
people to suffer in various ways, or at least we are indifferent to suffering
as we elevate the welfare of microscopic one-celled “seeds” over everyone else.
I have
plenty of problems with these assertions. It’s obnoxious when people ignore
your stated motivation in favor of the secret more sinister motivation they’re
sure you have. It’s equivocating to try to claim motivation is more about
effect than intent. And the dystopian predictions require a whole host of
assumptions beyond “zygotes are morally relevant” to actually come true.
But what
annoys me most is the hypocrisy.
If zygotes
are morally relevant, pro-lifers have to argue for socially unpopular opinions,
like that certain forms of contraception may be immoral. That’s true. But if
fetal life is morally irrelevant,
pro-choicers have to defend (or, more typically, wholly ignore) socially
unpopular realities, like that healthy
women abort healthy fetuses
4 months into pregnancy and beyond thousands of
times a year
. They abort fetuses developed enough that Planned Parenthood
can harvest
intact organs
. They abort fetuses developed enough to sometimes survive
the abortion by accident
.
Most Americans
consider contraception morally
acceptable
; they’d likely be averse to a worldview that takes a moral stand
against certain forms of it. But at the same time, most Americans recoil at the
idea of late-term abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women. I think
many simply don’t realize how extreme the American version of abortion rights
is. (Other first world countries have abortion laws more restrictive
than our own.)
Moreover,
when darkly predicting what pro-lifers want to do about contraception, ESC, and
IVF, pro-choicers are theorizing about what could
happen someday if XYZ factors come to
pass. But the dismemberment of late term fetuses is happening now. It’s
already a reality, and it’s not even a secret.

Remember last year when Carly Fiorina said
this
regarding the CMP videos?
Fiorina got
a lot of flack for allegedly making things up, but pay attention to the
nature of the objections
. People were quick to point out that the CMP
videos never had a scene exactly as Fiorina described. So the objection was
“There isn’t specific video footage of what she said!” The objection was not “Planned Parenthood never harvested
the brains of fetuses who were developed enough to have a heartbeat or kick
their legs.” You know why? Because Planned Parenthood has done that. They don’t
even deny it.
The entire
CMP controversy is a great example of pro-choicers ignoring the most perverse
aspects of the American pro-choice stance. The rampant accusations of edited
footage and public deception all focus on whether PP profited in their exchange of fetal organs for money, not on whether they
harvest fetal organs from late-term fetuses. They do. But sure, let’s talk more
about what
might happen with the copper IUD
and ignore that we’re ripping babies
apart.
(Yes, I said
“babies.” I get objecting to calling a zygote or blastocyst a “baby” because of
the completely different imagery the word brings to people’s minds. But when
I’m talking about fetuses at
this level
?
Objecting to calling ^that a baby is, to me, just another way of trying really hard to
pretend this isn’t happening.)
The typical
pro-choice defense here is that late-term abortions are due to fatal fetal
abnormalities or threats to the mother’s life. It’s no doubt true that,
proportionally, late-term abortions are more likely to be for those reasons
than earlier term abortions are. But what research we can find indicates most late-term abortions aren’t done for those reasons. Pro-choice activists try to use heartbreaking
stories of planned pregnancies gone horribly wrong to sidestep the more common
scenario of healthy late term fetuses aborted in far less dire situations.
For the most
part Americans seem to take the “abortion is a necessary evil” perspective. On
average, Americans think early term abortion ought to be legal but remain divided
on its morality
and resistant to late-term abortion. And yet we already
have the regular destruction of fetuses who were so developed all but the most
insistent pro-choicers would recognize them as babies.
(Source)
How much
darker would things get if more of America moved from a pro-choice perspective to a pro-abortion one? We’re not even getting
into what could happen if our society switched from “abortion: the necessary
evil” to “abortion: the responsible, empowering, moral choice.” We’ve already
had glimpses of that world, with issues like renaming
“infanticide” as “after-birth abortion,”
claiming that “killing a newborn baby is
never equivalent to killing a person
,” and resisting requirements to try to save the lives of babies who accidentally survive
abortion.
And this is
what I mean by hypocrisy – pro-choicers bash us for being concerned about
aspects of IVF, but what does the average American have a bigger problem with?
IVF clinics possibly shutting down someday, or people tearing
babies’ legs off
now? Which
worldview really has the extreme repercussions here?
Note I’m not
saying pro-choice people are all okay with late-term elective abortion. I
think–and polls
back me up–that most of them are pretty uncomfortable with it. But I am saying it’s a fact of the American pro-choice
political platform. And late-term elective abortion isn’t the only extreme
aspect of this platform.
This is the platform
that forgives Planned Parenthood for failing
to report
or, worse, covering
up
rape and sex
trafficking
. It’s the platform that has inspired Sanders
to vote multiple times against criminal penalties for harming a fetus during
the commission of a crime. It’s the platform that had Obama voting against
legislation to protect preterm infants who accidentally survive abortion—because
such protections would “undermine Roe v.
Wade
.”
Do you
follow that? What does it say about American abortion rights if they’re threatened
by specifying legal protection to born
babies whose parents had wanted to abort? Obama isn’t the only one who sees the
problem. When Gosnell was found guilty of severing
the spinal cords
of born babies, some abortion rights supporters objected
to him being charged with murder
—because what he’d done was so similar to
late-term abortion. You’d think this similarity would suggest a problem with
late-term abortion, but apparently instead it’s a problem with how society
reacts to killing born babies. We are through the looking glass here, guys, and it’s not the pro-life side that pushed us there.
And while
most pro-choicers wouldn’t go so far as to outright defend Gosnell’s
infanticide, plenty did follow the same strategy they typically follow when we
get to the edges of the pro-choice position: “If
we just don’t talk about this
, maybe it will go away. Let’s keep pretending
our defense of abortion has no relation to literal murder.
Maybe we should write a snarky blog about how pro-lifers are suspicious of the
Pill.”

I think the
most relevant abortion debates take an unblinking look at early term abortion
and discuss its many moral, legal, and social factors. But I don’t think every
single abortion debate has to focus on only the most common forms of it. I think it’s fair to look at the trickier, less socially acceptable implications
of a perspective (be it defense of zygotes or lack of defense of newborns). But if pro-choicers are going to scrutinize the edges of our
side, they should have the courage to look as critically at their own. 

Apparently protecting embryos is more extreme than severing babies’ spines.

Pro-choice
activists mock the most socially unpalatable aspects of the pro-life position.
Broadly speaking, pro-lifers believe human life is morally relevant when the
human organism begins: as a zygote. This means we oppose killing not only fetuses,
but also embryos and zygotes. And so, while we primarily object to surgical
abortion, many of us also object to embryonic stem cell (ESC) research, contraception
that prevents implantation, and aspects of in vitro fertilization (IVF)—all processes
the public tends to be a lot more okay with than abortion.
Pro-choicers
like to emphasize these objections, implying or outright saying we’re out-of-touch
zealots with whacked priorities. They paint a dystopian picture where women
can’t access the most common forms of contraception, people keep suffering from
ailments ESC could have cured, and infertile couples have nowhere to turn. They
usually go further and suggest we want
people to suffer in various ways, or at least we are indifferent to suffering
as we elevate the welfare of microscopic one-celled “seeds” over everyone else.
I have
plenty of problems with these assertions. It’s obnoxious when people ignore
your stated motivation in favor of the secret more sinister motivation they’re
sure you have. It’s equivocating to try to claim motivation is more about
effect than intent. And the dystopian predictions require a whole host of
assumptions beyond “zygotes are morally relevant” to actually come true.
But what
annoys me most is the hypocrisy.
If zygotes
are morally relevant, pro-lifers have to argue for socially unpopular opinions,
like that certain forms of contraception may be immoral. That’s true. But if
fetal life is morally irrelevant,
pro-choicers have to defend (or, more typically, wholly ignore) socially
unpopular realities, like that healthy
women abort healthy fetuses
4 months into pregnancy and beyond thousands of
times a year
. They abort fetuses developed enough that Planned Parenthood
can harvest
intact organs
. They abort fetuses developed enough to sometimes survive
the abortion by accident
.
Most Americans
consider contraception morally
acceptable
; they’d likely be averse to a worldview that takes a moral stand
against certain forms of it. But at the same time, most Americans recoil at the
idea of late-term abortion of healthy fetuses carried by healthy women. I think
many simply don’t realize how extreme the American version of abortion rights
is. (Other first world countries have abortion laws more restrictive
than our own.)
Moreover,
when darkly predicting what pro-lifers want to do about contraception, ESC, and
IVF, pro-choicers are theorizing about what could
happen someday if XYZ factors come to
pass. But the dismemberment of late term fetuses is happening now. It’s
already a reality, and it’s not even a secret.

Remember last year when Carly Fiorina said
this
regarding the CMP videos?
Fiorina got
a lot of flack for allegedly making things up, but pay attention to the
nature of the objections
. People were quick to point out that the CMP
videos never had a scene exactly as Fiorina described. So the objection was
“There isn’t specific video footage of what she said!” The objection was not “Planned Parenthood never harvested
the brains of fetuses who were developed enough to have a heartbeat or kick
their legs.” You know why? Because Planned Parenthood has done that. They don’t
even deny it.
The entire
CMP controversy is a great example of pro-choicers ignoring the most perverse
aspects of the American pro-choice stance. The rampant accusations of edited
footage and public deception all focus on whether PP profited in their exchange of fetal organs for money, not on whether they
harvest fetal organs from late-term fetuses. They do. But sure, let’s talk more
about what
might happen with the copper IUD
and ignore that we’re ripping babies
apart.
(Yes, I said
“babies.” I get objecting to calling a zygote or blastocyst a “baby” because of
the completely different imagery the word brings to people’s minds. But when
I’m talking about fetuses at
this level
?
Objecting to calling ^that a baby is, to me, just another way of trying really hard to
pretend this isn’t happening.)
The typical
pro-choice defense here is that late-term abortions are due to fatal fetal
abnormalities or threats to the mother’s life. It’s no doubt true that,
proportionally, late-term abortions are more likely to be for those reasons
than earlier term abortions are. But what research we can find indicates most late-term abortions aren’t done for those reasons. Pro-choice activists try to use heartbreaking
stories of planned pregnancies gone horribly wrong to sidestep the more common
scenario of healthy late term fetuses aborted in far less dire situations.
For the most
part Americans seem to take the “abortion is a necessary evil” perspective. On
average, Americans think early term abortion ought to be legal but remain divided
on its morality
and resistant to late-term abortion. And yet we already
have the regular destruction of fetuses who were so developed all but the most
insistent pro-choicers would recognize them as babies.
(Source)
How much
darker would things get if more of America moved from a pro-choice perspective to a pro-abortion one? We’re not even getting
into what could happen if our society switched from “abortion: the necessary
evil” to “abortion: the responsible, empowering, moral choice.” We’ve already
had glimpses of that world, with issues like renaming
“infanticide” as “after-birth abortion,”
claiming that “killing a newborn baby is
never equivalent to killing a person
,” and resisting requirements to try to save the lives of babies who accidentally survive
abortion.
And this is
what I mean by hypocrisy – pro-choicers bash us for being concerned about
aspects of IVF, but what does the average American have a bigger problem with?
IVF clinics possibly shutting down someday, or people tearing
babies’ legs off
now? Which
worldview really has the extreme repercussions here?
Note I’m not
saying pro-choice people are all okay with late-term elective abortion. I
think–and polls
back me up–that most of them are pretty uncomfortable with it. But I am saying it’s a fact of the American pro-choice
political platform. And late-term elective abortion isn’t the only extreme
aspect of this platform.
This is the platform
that forgives Planned Parenthood for failing
to report
or, worse, covering
up
rape and sex
trafficking
. It’s the platform that has inspired Sanders
to vote multiple times against criminal penalties for harming a fetus during
the commission of a crime. It’s the platform that had Obama voting against
legislation to protect preterm infants who accidentally survive abortion—because
such protections would “undermine Roe v.
Wade
.”
Do you
follow that? What does it say about American abortion rights if they’re threatened
by specifying legal protection to born
babies whose parents had wanted to abort? Obama isn’t the only one who sees the
problem. When Gosnell was found guilty of severing
the spinal cords
of born babies, some abortion rights supporters objected
to him being charged with murder
—because what he’d done was so similar to
late-term abortion. You’d think this similarity would suggest a problem with
late-term abortion, but apparently instead it’s a problem with how society
reacts to killing born babies. We are through the looking glass here, guys, and it’s not the pro-life side that pushed us there.
And while
most pro-choicers wouldn’t go so far as to outright defend Gosnell’s
infanticide, plenty did follow the same strategy they typically follow when we
get to the edges of the pro-choice position: “If
we just don’t talk about this
, maybe it will go away. Let’s keep pretending
our defense of abortion has no relation to literal murder.
Maybe we should write a snarky blog about how pro-lifers are suspicious of the
Pill.”

I think the
most relevant abortion debates take an unblinking look at early term abortion
and discuss its many moral, legal, and social factors. But I don’t think every
single abortion debate has to focus on only the most common forms of it. I think it’s fair to look at the trickier, less socially acceptable implications
of a perspective (be it defense of zygotes or lack of defense of newborns). But if pro-choicers are going to scrutinize the edges of our
side, they should have the courage to look as critically at their own. 

Three-Parent Babies: A Pro-Life Ethical Analysis

[Today’s guest post by Victoria Godwin is part of our paid blogging program.]

The UK Parliament voted early last month to allow for the creation of children using the biological DNA from three people, effectively becoming the first country to officially approve this technique. The aim of this technology is to allow parents with a high likelihood of passing down genetic diseases, particularly mothers who carry genes coding for mitochondrial disease, to have healthy biological children. Mitochondria, which are essentially the energy “power houses” of our cells, are passed down to children by only the mother. A child with an inherited mitochondrial disorder will likely not survive long after birth, or will be severely disabled if he or she does. Proponents of the three-parent measure point to Sharon Bernardi, a UK mother who lost seven of her children to mitochondrial disease, as the type of person who would benefit from the technique, along with an estimated 150 eligible parents in the UK each year. The three-parent method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would not only allow parents to have children free of certain incurable genetic diseases, but would essentially eradicate mitochondrial disease from a genetic line. Sounds pretty great, right? But like with all technology involving the creation of new human beings, it’s not that simple.

For pro-lifers, the primary issue is that the three-parent IVF process can involve the destruction of human life. There are actually two methods: “egg repair” and “embryo repair.” Both are modifications of IVF (which is controversial in its own right). Briefly, in “egg repair,” two eggs are involved: one from the mother, and a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed and discarded, and the nucleus of the mother’s egg is inserted into the donor egg. The new egg, which contains the mother’s nucleus but the donor’s healthy mitochondria, is now ready to be fertilized by the father’s sperm before being inserted into the uterus.

The “egg repair” three-parent IVF method

The second approach, “embryo repair,” is more complicated as it involves two embryos: one created from the egg and sperm of the intended parents, and a donor embryo created using the father’s sperm but a healthy donor egg. The nuclei of both embryos are removed, but the intended parent’s nucleus is inserted into the donor embryo while the donor nucleus is destroyed. This results in an embryo with the parents’ nucleus and the donor’s mitochondria that is then ready to be inserted into the uterus.

The “embryo repair” reproach is undeniably immoral from a pro-life perspective because it involves the destruction of an embryo, a new human life. Furthermore, the destroyed embryo was created solely for the purpose of creating a healthy embryo; do the ends justify the means? While the “egg repair” method is certainly controversial too, it does not require the destruction of embryos and could be considered an acceptable moral option if appropriate protocol is implemented. Caution must be taken, however; if typical IVF protocol is followed in order to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, then several embryos could be created while only some are implanted, leaving the rest to be discarded, frozen indefinitely (with few being adopted), or donated to science.

Moreover, while the destruction of human embryos is the main area of concern from a pro-life standpoint, other ethical concerns are worth mentioning, including the potential slippery slope towards “designer babies” and eugenics. To be clear, only about 0.1% of the child’s DNA would be from the donor woman’s mitochondria, and it would not affect traits such as personality or physical appearance, which originate from nuclear DNA. But despite this small percentage, it is still a permanent change in DNA which would then be passed down to subsequent generations through the female line, a fact that has some bioethicists concerned due to the lack of research on the outcomes. 

A precedent has undoubtedly been set with the UK’s approval of this technology. Mitochondrial donation methods were banned in the US at the turn of the millennium during controversy over trials that used a similar cytoplasmic transfer technique (read the scientific publication here), but this issue will surely resurface as the process in the UK continues. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Institute of Medicine have recently been holding meetings to discuss the ethical issues brought up by mitochondrial donation techniques.

While I understand and appreciate that this IVF procedure has many potential benefits, extreme caution must be taken to avoid the destruction of human life in the quest to create human life free of debilitating diseases. I would encourage my fellow pro-lifers to also question the ethics of current mitochondrial donation methods (particularly the “embryo repair” method), and to make our voices heard: methods involving the destruction of human embryos are immoral, even if they do result in a healthy embryo. We must ask ourselves just how far we will go to achieve our ends.

Three-Parent Babies: A Pro-Life Ethical Analysis

[Today’s guest post by Victoria Godwin is part of our paid blogging program.]

The UK Parliament voted early last month to allow for the creation of children using the biological DNA from three people, effectively becoming the first country to officially approve this technique. The aim of this technology is to allow parents with a high likelihood of passing down genetic diseases, particularly mothers who carry genes coding for mitochondrial disease, to have healthy biological children. Mitochondria, which are essentially the energy “power houses” of our cells, are passed down to children by only the mother. A child with an inherited mitochondrial disorder will likely not survive long after birth, or will be severely disabled if he or she does. Proponents of the three-parent measure point to Sharon Bernardi, a UK mother who lost seven of her children to mitochondrial disease, as the type of person who would benefit from the technique, along with an estimated 150 eligible parents in the UK each year. The three-parent method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would not only allow parents to have children free of certain incurable genetic diseases, but would essentially eradicate mitochondrial disease from a genetic line. Sounds pretty great, right? But like with all technology involving the creation of new human beings, it’s not that simple.

For pro-lifers, the primary issue is that the three-parent IVF process can involve the destruction of human life. There are actually two methods: “egg repair” and “embryo repair.” Both are modifications of IVF (which is controversial in its own right). Briefly, in “egg repair,” two eggs are involved: one from the mother, and a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed and discarded, and the nucleus of the mother’s egg is inserted into the donor egg. The new egg, which contains the mother’s nucleus but the donor’s healthy mitochondria, is now ready to be fertilized by the father’s sperm before being inserted into the uterus.

The “egg repair” three-parent IVF method

The second approach, “embryo repair,” is more complicated as it involves two embryos: one created from the egg and sperm of the intended parents, and a donor embryo created using the father’s sperm but a healthy donor egg. The nuclei of both embryos are removed, but the intended parent’s nucleus is inserted into the donor embryo while the donor nucleus is destroyed. This results in an embryo with the parents’ nucleus and the donor’s mitochondria that is then ready to be inserted into the uterus.

The “embryo repair” reproach is undeniably immoral from a pro-life perspective because it involves the destruction of an embryo, a new human life. Furthermore, the destroyed embryo was created solely for the purpose of creating a healthy embryo; do the ends justify the means? While the “egg repair” method is certainly controversial too, it does not require the destruction of embryos and could be considered an acceptable moral option if appropriate protocol is implemented. Caution must be taken, however; if typical IVF protocol is followed in order to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, then several embryos could be created while only some are implanted, leaving the rest to be discarded, frozen indefinitely (with few being adopted), or donated to science.

Moreover, while the destruction of human embryos is the main area of concern from a pro-life standpoint, other ethical concerns are worth mentioning, including the potential slippery slope towards “designer babies” and eugenics. To be clear, only about 0.1% of the child’s DNA would be from the donor woman’s mitochondria, and it would not affect traits such as personality or physical appearance, which originate from nuclear DNA. But despite this small percentage, it is still a permanent change in DNA which would then be passed down to subsequent generations through the female line, a fact that has some bioethicists concerned due to the lack of research on the outcomes. 

A precedent has undoubtedly been set with the UK’s approval of this technology. Mitochondrial donation methods were banned in the US at the turn of the millennium during controversy over trials that used a similar cytoplasmic transfer technique (read the scientific publication here), but this issue will surely resurface as the process in the UK continues. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Institute of Medicine have recently been holding meetings to discuss the ethical issues brought up by mitochondrial donation techniques.

While I understand and appreciate that this IVF procedure has many potential benefits, extreme caution must be taken to avoid the destruction of human life in the quest to create human life free of debilitating diseases. I would encourage my fellow pro-lifers to also question the ethics of current mitochondrial donation methods (particularly the “embryo repair” method), and to make our voices heard: methods involving the destruction of human embryos are immoral, even if they do result in a healthy embryo. We must ask ourselves just how far we will go to achieve our ends.