Philosophy,  Politics

Not a Person – A Secular Argument for Abortion Restrictions

Before having a child I tried to stay out of this topic. And then I had a child. From the moment I saw his 12 week ultrasound, I knew I was looking at a person. A person with limbs, a brain, a heart, sensation, activity, mood. I saw him waving his arms during the ultrasound, a new nervous system adapting to new motor skills. From that moment I had a radical shift in how I felt about the topic of abortion.

Since that happened overlapping with immense upheavals in law and culture all at the same time, the topic has been front of mind. Essentially, it caused me to explore the dark corners of the topic I had previously been too uncomfortable to.

My first issue is that real discussion of the topic rarely happens. Near as I can tell, this is because the left presents a barrage of false arguments to bear. The idea that the abortion issue has men on one side and women on the other is ridiculous. Most of the most fervent pro-life advocates are women. Men predominantly legislating the issues is a function of men’s presence in government, not a unique male will imposed without regard for women. It’s women’s votes that put them there, women being the majority in this country. The idea that men don’t know what not having reproductive rights is like is also completely absurd. As a male, my say in the reproductive process ends at ejaculation. From there on it’s women’s say, in every state in the union, in all cases, regardless of circumstances of rape, theft or deception. That’s just the way it is. I also have yet to hear a woman say that they’d take 18 years of wage garnishment over 9 months of pregnancy.

The last and most potent derailer of abortion discussion is bringing up rape, incest and medical necessity. This is a derailment of the topic, not a clarifier, because it throws the questions posed by the topic out of order and makes them impossible to solve concurrently. Whether abortion should be permitted with no extenuating circumstances is the first order of business. If the answer is yes, then the rest of the questions need not be asked much less answered. So every discussion of abortion that tries to speak to elective at will abortion and potentially medically or ethically necessary abortion at the same time has been sabotaged by demanding two very disparate topics with different vocabularies and different considerations be blended into one discussion that cannot possibly make sense. Any complex math, theory or philosophy requires that the complexity be approached in an order, and disrupting that order disrupts progress toward furthering the discussion. I suspect that some people rely on this confusion to ensure that clarity cannot be achieved, and only political and cultural bullying can be brought to bear on the topic.

I understand that I am supposed to now speak on the false arguments the right brings, and I will not. The idea that both sides must be wrong in the same ways is logically silly and applied unevenly, so I grant it no merit. That said, I understand that the right saying that some people delight in and glorify abortion is supposedly a false argument, but it is not. And this should not be difficult to believe, as it comports with reality, that reality being: the abortion topic to many people demands to be treated as all or nothing. Abortion must not be bad in any way, because if it is bad at all, then it is bad a lot, as I will explain shortly. Therefore, if a massive number of people believe there to be nothing wrong with it in any way, which they must, because the alternative is horror, then why wouldn’t they celebrate it? Why wouldn’t they use it as birth control? Why wouldn’t they “Shout Your Abortion”? If there’s nothing wrong with it, what possible reason is there to restrain it or be somber or avoidant of it in any way? If anything, the more vehemently one is in favor of it, the more one is able to drown out a still, small voice telling them something is wrong. This paragraph points to an arbitrary mental construction these people partake in: that the person inside a pregnant woman lacks personhood until the person is outside the pregnant woman. This is so ridiculous it should end the argument, which is one of the reasons I believe argument is avoided so stringently. Even viability standards on personhood are absurd. This makes our current technological capability in caring for a specific type of human into the thing that determines the personhood of that human.

But I’ve been beating around the bush up to now. One of my main frustrations with the topic is yet another distortion brought by the left: that it is a religious vs secular issue: that the only possible exception to abortion comes from a position of faith, Christian faith particularly. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not religious. Here are my secular objections. They are based in moral judgements elemental to humans the world over, independent of faith.

A – The more innocent someone is, the more evil an act it is to kill them.

B – The more someone trusts you, the more evil an act it is to betray them.

Each of these statements are immediately and obviously true, especially when tested against their inversions. The more guilty someone is, the less evil it is to kill them. The less someone trusts you, the less evil it is to betray them. These are things every culture, every religion, every society understands and always has.

A note on betrayal. When considering what the most evil act is, most people would land on murder. But betrayal is considered in Dante’s The Inferno to be worse. The lowest level of hell is a frozen pit for the betrayers, with Satan in the center with three mouths, in each mouth one of the worst betrayers: Judas, Brutus and Gaius, the first the betrayer of Jesus and the latter two the betrayers of Caesar. Betrayal can encompass murder or any other evil act and make it worse. A victim’s suffering is amplified by the presence of good, even sacred things they hold to: trust, faith, love. Thus betrayal could be called the satanic inversion of trust, faith and love. (Satanic inversion being a term for perverting a thing to its opposite used by the religious and apt here, more on this later.) It isn’t difficult then to see how it could be considered the worst act.

These two moral axioms place abortion at the extreme evil end of both. There is no-one more innocent than a baby. There is no greater trust than a baby for his mother. In this light, abortion is the combination of the two most evil acts a human can commit. Just as motherhood is seen as special, the most honorable human act, holy in most any society, a sacrificing of a mother for a child, abortion becomes its satanic inversion, a sacrificing of a child for a mother, in a stroke taking the most holy thing and inverting it into the darkest evil. The inversion of the most wonderful thing must necessarily be the most horrible thing. The total disastrous evil of this explains the need to arbitrarily believe that there is nothing wrong with abortion whatsoever for so many people. The moral axioms I laid out here are known to all, and lie beneath the surface for many, not connecting in realization, but festering in the subconscious.

Regardless of whether I want it to be that way, but I don’t see any escape from this conclusion. I don’t have a way to unsee this. And while my view here could be taken to mean I view women who get abortions as murderers of the worst stripe, I don’t believe that either, as that would be yet more oversimplification. Unrelated topics have recently led me to study the holocaust. I read Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning, an analysis of historical record of police officers who went from normal people to mass executioners of the obviously innocent. I read The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi, a collection of memoirs from an Italian holocaust survivor. These books confirmed something I’ve suspected for some time: no matter the atrocity, most people will go along with it given a combination of social excuses and pressure. Probably around 80% or more. This is the normal state of humanity. These are normal people. This is how we operate. Through some combination of their own and other’s efforts, they have insulated their consciences from the sting of something horrific through the belief that it is normal. The outside influences of society saying your actions are fine grant you partial, though not full, moral excuse, depending on the degree to which they were capable of convincing you that the act is not wrong. If you’re wondering how we got through centuries of slavery before deciding it was wicked, here you go. And frankly, in every one of these great inhumanities throughout history, there always were people shouting that it was wrong, framed as irrational by their counterparts. But even they were probably accepting of some other evil we had not yet developed the moral technology to fully condemn. There is none righteous, no, not one. To use an analogy, I see people I love getting abortions today the way I see George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, two people I admire, owning slaves. Products of their time. Living in the world they’re in. But certainly, in that aspect, not doing the right thing.

I don’t make the slavery comparison lightly. I think that slavery, the holocaust, abortion all rest atop the same words: it’s not a person. While slavery and the holocaust involved a protracted sadism inflicted on the victims that abortion lacks, I believe the furthest possible extreme aspects of betrayal and innocence more than make up the difference.

To summarize, I believe that abortion as it has stood for a few decades may one day be looked on as equivalent to slavery and the holocaust: a human horror built on the anti-evidential claim that the victims simply are not people.

So what is and isn’t a person? I think the only secular response is when a person gains the ability we have that would make us want to not be harmed: consciousness. This is where my and religious opinion tend to diverge. There’s a philosophical argument to be made about potentiality of personhood, but I believe it to be less weighty than consciousness. Harm is wrong because it causes suffering. If a person experiences no suffering, no harm was done, leaving aside statements about what you “should” do and the potential for harm if someone is reckless, for example.

So I would say that prior to a fetus forming consciousness, abortion may be morally permissible. But considering just how grave an evil has been committed should abortion be performed on a conscious human, that line should be placed well before we understand consciousness to form to ensure unusually early development doesn’t lead to accidental murder. Not being an expert, I would put that line at 8 weeks. Others would put it at 12. This is where science could inform the debate.

Women could easily deal with these restrictions too. Contraception has never had more options or been cheaper. A periodic $20 pregnancy test is probably a very good idea if you’re a sexually active woman. There are thousands of centers that assist with these kinds of things across every urban area to help with the costs. I’d be willing to bet you could find one that would mail it to you if you’re rural, and if not, we could choose to fund that. What’s more, when an abortion is sought because of rape or incest, which is vanishingly rare (less than 2% of cases according to a pro-choice research body), one would be well aware that pregnancy was possible. If that time is allowed to lapse, I don’t see how killing the most innocent party involved is just restitution for a violent act. The only time I’d say it’s permissible after the cutoff is if it is threatening the life of the mother or is non-viable itself.

There’s a pattern here. Rape or incest would not lead to an innocent relative of a guilty party being punished. We might pull the plug on a person on life support with no hope of recovery. When two people’s lives are in danger and you can only save one, that decision is also not murder. The pattern is that we treat these little conscious beings as people because they are.

Should a mother just not want a child, adoption is the next option after the line of consciousness has been crossed. In this case, yes, consequence will follow choice for that woman just as it should with any adult, and she will need to carry that child to term. There seems to be a large contingent of people who believe that when it comes to reproduction, inescapable consequence should never follow choice for a woman. This is plainly and obviously misogynistic. Men are expected to deal with it when they are involved in a pregnancy. Whether that involves raising a child, paying child support, or even watching the mother kill the child he was looking forward to raising before it is born, he has no say. He must simply deal with it. A 2 or 3 month “take backsies” window for women is infinitely more generous in comparison with men’s window of “none”. And yet the 3 ½ month limit in Florida is described as some great evil that will devastate women. Which it will, if you believe women to be oversized children. Very few other countries, especially in Europe, as leftist as many are, have such a laissez-faire attitude toward abortion. Most of Europe limits at 12 weeks, some earlier, a handful later at 24. Abortion is the uniquely American sin the left wants everyone to believe slavery was.

On contraception, pregnancy support centers and adoption: literally anything else, any program we can fund, any technology we need to develop, any change we need to make to any system is preferable to “mercy” killing children. People defend abortion by talking about how bad orphanages or foster care are. If they are that terrible, then we need to improve orphanages and foster care, not kill the people who might go into them. (And contrary to pop politicking, conservatives have moved mountains to care for children. They largely just believe in doing it through charity and the church rather than the state.) This logic is common, despite it being the same reasoning as helping end Africa’s suffering with a liberal application of nuclear weapons. It’s idiotic. And it’s another example of why we must approach these arguments in order. If an unborn baby is a person, all the rest of the answers follow.

Killing them is not an appropriate solution to just about anything.