Friday, October 07, 2005

Abortion: a Primer on Argument Theory (and Why Most People's Idea of "Debate" Isn't Helping)

People don’t have a clue how to argue.

This has been bothering me for some time. The most obvious example of it is the abortion debate, especially in Internet circles. The pro-lifers like to nock their arrows and let them fly, but they forget to put fletching on the arrows, so they always miss the mark. The pro-choicers are setting up straw men and knocking them down, but they don’t even knock them down well.
Both sides tend to look like the Star Wars kid.

So, in response, I’m going to break down the big problems in the arguments on both sides and hopefully this will help someone, anyone, to understand what they’re doing wrong and to discover what the debate is really about. I will do my best to be unbiased, and if I am being biased I want somebody to call me on it. Also, if I neglect to address an argument on either side, or to criticize an argument effectively, I want to know so that I can refine the discussion.

Basic Argument Theory

Arguments generally start with two or more premises, and reason leads us to the logical conclusion from those prepositions. Example:
P1: Cars have wheels.
P2: A 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue is a car.
C: A 1998 Oldsmobile Intrigue has wheels.
Note that you can only draw the conclusion (abortion is good/bad) if people accept all of your premises.
Arguments that are unconvincing generally have one of the following problems:
1. They assume that people accept their premises.
2. They don’t state all of their premises.
3. They skip premises altogether and move on to the conclusion.
The last problem is the worst of them all, because it only serves to make people angry.

The Pro-Life Side

The pro-lifers generally have two arguments, although the two are inter-related. However, if you accept either argument, it is profoundly convincing.

Argument 1: The Bible says abortion is wrong.
Quoting the Bible is a fine and dandy persuasive tool, if you are arguing with someone who believes in the infallibility of the Bible, or at least in some moral authority exemplified in the Bible. Here is how the argument should look, and why it doesn’t work:

P1: The Bible says that unjustifiable killing is wrong (murder).
P2: The Bible says that life begins at conception.
P3: There is no justification for killing an unborn life (they haven’t done anything wrong).
P4: Abortion kills unborn life.
Sub-conclusion: The Bible condemns abortion.
P5: The Bible is authoritative.
Final conclusion: Abortion is wrong.

The problem with this argument is that most pro-choicers don’t accept P5. If they don’t accept P5, what you’re left with is “The Bible condemns abortion.” To pro-choicers, this sounds like this argument:

P1: The Koran says that you should not eat pork.
P2: The Koran is authoritative.
C: You should not eat pork.

This is unconvincing to Christians because they don’t accept P2. Non-Christians likewise don’t accept the Bible as authoritative, and therefore the argument has no effect on them.

Argument 2: Abortion is murder.
This is basically the secularized version of the above argument. This is how it goes:

P1: Murder (the unjustifiable killing of a human) is wrong.
P2: A fetus/embryo/zygote is a human.
P3: Abortion ends the life of (kills) a fetus/embryo/zygote.
C: Abortion is wrong.

The problem with this argument is that pro-choicers do not accept P2. I’ll get back to that later.

The Pro-Choice Side

The pro-choice side has many more arguments. They are generally more complex than the pro-life arguments. The problem is that as long as pro-lifers accept the above arguments, none of these arguments will be good enough. Pro-lifers believe that abortion is murder, and murder is the ultimate moral wrong. The moral wrongs that pro-choicers seek to rectify are not as compelling as murder. Of course, to a pro-choicer, abortion is not murder.

Argument 1: A woman has the right to do what she wants with her body.

P1: A woman’s body is her own business and no one else’s.
P2: A fetus/embryo/zygote is part of a woman’s body.
P3: Abortion removes tissue (fetus/embryo/zygote) from a woman’s body.
C: Abortion is acting on a woman’s body, and is nobody else’s business.

The problem with this argument is that pro-lifers do not accept P2. People get emotional about P1, and they think that pro-lifers don’t accept P1, but this is not the case. I think that nearly everyone would agree about P1. So, therein lies the matter: what is a fetus/embryo/zygote? I’ll get back to that later.

Argument 2: Imposing moral standards on other people is wrong.

P1: (assumes that Argument 1 is accepted)
P2: Morality is relative.
P3: Imposing moral standards on other people is wrong (immoral).
C: Making others lose their right to choose abortion is wrong.

This is a highly problematic argument. First, it assumes that Argument 1 is accepted, and we have already established that pro-lifers do not accept it. Second, Christians do not accept P2 because they believe that the Bible is authoritative and absolute. Finally, it is (arguably) self-contradictory because P2 and P3 seem to be in conflict. If morality is relative, then there is no standard on which to judge what is wrong—and therefore there is no basis for stating that imposition of morality is wrong.
It also fails because government polices morality all the time (gambling, prostitution, stealing, and even murder). Yes, most morality laws also have an economic or public health justification, but for many of these laws this element is a stretch.

There are things that can be done to refine the argument, but these too are problematic. You can replace P2 and P3 with the premise that “the only immoral thing is to impose morals on other people,” but this premise in itself is arguably self-contradictory, and in any case is unconvincing. Plato and Aristotle would throw a fit about that.

You could also replace P3 with another sub-conclusion that since morality is relative, there is no rational basis for deciding what is moral. This is a much more acceptable argument, but it also reduces its persuasive force. It is much more powerful to say that something is wrong than it is to say that there is no way to decide whether something is right. Also, I reiterate that the government polices morality all the time.

Argument 3: Pro-lifers are hypocritical.

P1: Pro-lifers are against the killing of fetuses.
P2: Pick one of the following:
a. Pro-lifers approve of the death penalty
b. Pro-lifers bomb abortion clinics
c. The Bible has pro-death messages
d. Etc.
P3: If a person has two viewpoints that are apparently in conflict, then all of their views are meaningless.
C: Pro-lifers’ views are meaningless.

This is also a highly problematic argument. P3 is a stretch, and I think most people would agree that it is not a valid premise (people who don’t like Justice Scalia often agree with some of his opinions, regardless of whether they are apparently contradictory). Also, most of the premises under P2 are faulty, for example P2a and P2c, but that’s an issue for another day. P2b, in addition, is faulty because this focuses on an extremely small subset of pro-lifers, and would be analogous to looking at pro-choice men who beat their wives.

Argument 4: People will get abortions anyway.

P1: If abortion is outlawed, people will get abortions from disreputable practitioners.
P2: Abortions from disreputable practitioners are unhealthy and dangerous.
SC: Outlawing abortion will lead to an increase in unhealthy and dangerous abortions.
P3: Unhealthy and dangerous activities are to be avoided.
C: Abortion should not be outlawed.

This is actually a solid argument from a purely theoretical standpoint. However, it is a weak argument persuasively. There are many laws that can be subjected to similar arguments: loan sharking, drug trafficking, et cetera. Does this mean that they should be legalized? Sure, if we legalized meth then it would be produced by professional chemists, and so it would be (perhaps) less dangerous and fewer labs would explode. But this is undercut by noting that meth in itself is harmful and it is better to discourage and attempt to eradicate it than to give up and allow it to happen.

Argument 5: We have no business regulating abortion because we still haven’t solved problem X.

I won’t go to the trouble of laying out the premises here because this argument is overall just silly. Problem X can be anything: world hunger, the environment, poverty, cancer, or anything else. But who decides which problem is more important?

Regardless, I can’t recall the name of the theory that refutes this, but it essentially uses the following equation: A * B = C. A is the seriousness of the problem and B is how easy it is to solve the problem. C is your return on investment of time. If a problem is serious, it makes more sense to put more work into it to solve the problem. Conversely, if a problem is easy to take care of, but the problem is not serious, it still makes sense to fix the problem. Usually, however, Problem X may be serious, but it is also extremely difficult to fix, and therefore the return on investment is less and it makes sense to defer fixing the problem until other problems (with a higher return on investment) are fixed.

Argument 6: You can’t impose different laws on men than you do on women.

Again, I won’t go into the premises and conclusion on this one, but it suffices to say that if you assume that a fetus is human, then you are not regulating the mother, but are regulating instead the fetus. This argument focuses on the pregnant mother, not on the fetus itself and whether it is human.

The Crux of the Matter: What is Human?

So, it is clear that only two arguments remain effective, and so these should be the focus of discussion: Argument 2 from the pro-life side and Argument 1 from the pro-choice side. Let’s sum them up in ways that everyone can agree on, in one argument:

P1: Murder (the unjustifiable destruction of a human) is wrong.
P2: A woman’s body is her own business and no one else’s.
P3: Abortion destroys a fetus/embryo/zygote.
Sub-conclusion 1: If a fetus/embryo/zygote is human, then abortion is murder and is wrong.
Sub-conclusion 2: If a fetus/embryo/zygote is not human, then abortion is acting on a woman’s body and the state does not have a right to prohibit it.

So we can see, as the courts have correctly concluded, that the whole debate should focus on whether or not a fetus/embryo/zygote is human. If they are not human, then the pro-life arguments have no force and may be viewed as sexist or oppressive. However, if they are human, the pro-choice arguments are overridden by the pro-life arguments and may be viewed as barbaric and inhumane. But how are we to determine what constitutes a human being?

(Side note: I realize that linguistically P3 may bother some people. Some prefer to say that abortion terminates a pregnancy. This, however true it may be, is really a euphemism because pregnancy is defined as the state in which a woman has a fetus/embryo/zygote in her womb. Therefore it makes more sense to focus on the fetus/embryo/zygote itself.)

As far as I can tell, there are only four views as to when a fetus/embryo/zygote becomes human: birth, conception, intermediate point, and viability.

View 1: Birth
I will address this view first, as I think there are fewer adherents to this view than any of the others. The view is attractive because it provides a bright-line rule and is very easy to apply. It’s also attractive to a few pro-choice advocates because it gives women the most latitude to decide whether they want to have a baby. Most people, however, view it as somewhat barbaric. Also, there is no rational basis for this view. Would it then be permissible to abort the fetus during labor? If not, then a week beforehand?
For an example illustrating why this is problematic, take the example of two women. They become pregnant on the same day and the tissue inside develops at the same rate. The first woman delivers a week premature, but the second delivers a week late. Essentially, both fetuses are the same at the expected due date, but this definition would allow the second woman to abort on the expected due date.
The real problem with this is that it defines X by looking at Y. Magma is molten rock inside the earth, but lava is molten rock outside the earth. The two things are really the same, so it doesn’t make sense to treat them differently.

View 2: Conception
This view is attractive because it also provides a bright-line rule. It also makes sense because conception is the point at which a new strand of unique DNA is formed. It’s problematic to some, however, because they can’t see it and it doesn’t look like a human being to them. In addition, it often does not grow into what people see as a full-fledged human being because of miscarriages. So to some it seems that at conception something merely has the potential to become life. Pro-choice advocates, who look at it as potential rather than fact, would argue that this could be extended to apply to simple sperm and eggs. This argument has no force because sperm and eggs each have only half a strand of DNA.

View 3: Intermediate Point
This view can be attractive because it provides a bright-line rule. Where, however, do you draw the line? There seems to be no rational basis for drawing the line at any given point in between conception and birth. What is the difference between a fetus at 6 months and a fetus at 7 months? The only rational basis given can be viability, which I will cover next. Essentially, this view can only be sustained on the basis that it is a bright-line version of the viability standard, so we must take a point at which viability is most likely and draw the line there.

View 4: Viability
This is the standard that the courts and most pro-choice advocates have adopted. It is attractive to many people because it provides the point at which the fetus is most likely to survive, and because it gives wide latitude to women that want to get an abortion. I believe Roe v. Wade and its progeny give a good reason to choose this point: it is at the point of viability that the state gets a bigger interest in protecting the fetus. Before viability, the fetus is likely not to survive anyway without the help of the mother. After viability, the fetus would likely survive without the mother’s help, and so the mother should have no right to kill it just because it inhabits her womb.
There are essentially three problems with this view:
First, viability is a very malleable concept, and the percentage chance of survival does not mean that any given fetus would or would not survive outside the mother. This view, like view 3, sacrifices the actual outcome for the sake of probability.
Second, if you take the position that viability makes a fetus human, there are highly offensive logical extensions of the view. For one thing, should we try to make life good for a child who has a genetic defect that will kill him by the time he turns 18? Does someone that needs life support remain human?
Third, and most importantly, this is not really a principled distinction, and so it is really balancing the interests and does not actually determine at what point a fetus becomes human. It assumes that you can balance the right of a human to live based on their chances of survival. Example: assume a jumbo jet with 400 passengers is going to crash. If we do nothing, they have a 10% chance of survival. Are they still human? Everyone would answer yes, but some would point out that there is no other interest that we must balance against theirs. This shows, however, that it is not a principled distinction. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there is another interest. We can act to raise their chance of survival to 25%, but we put 100 more people at a 70% risk of death. So the returns are as follows:
No action: 360 people likely die (all on the jet) on average.
Action: 300 people on the jet likely die, but 70 other people likely die. This actually risks 10 more deaths on average, but if we assume that it is an all-or-nothing endeavor to save them, then most people would believe that we should take the risk.
Yes, this may be an overly dramatic example, but is the right to privacy more compelling than the right to live?

This view also raises the question: how can it be murder when someone shoots a pregnant woman in the belly, but not murder when it is her choice? It seems that if you adopt viability as your view, you can’t call it murder but must instead call it something else, like simple assault and battery, or battery resulting in the termination of pregnancy without the mother’s consent.

Conclusion: Am I Really Being Biased Here? What Is the Scope of Government Power?

Conception appears to be the only principled place to draw the line. Viability does not actually give us a basis for deciding the humanness of a fetus.

However, morals do not dictate what the government should do. The inevitable conclusion from the above discussion is that abortion ends the life of a human being. But it is the states that have the power to define murder as a crime.

The inevitable conclusion is that it is not the courts who should decide, but rather the legislatures. I won’t try to make any arguments about whether the Commerce Clause and the 10th Amendment put this within the scope of federal regulation or whether it should be reserved to the individual states, but it is apparent that legislatures of one sort or the other should be free to decide whether they want to call this murder, or some other crime, or whether they want to allow abortion.

It seems to me apparent that the government, in the form of legislatures, should be able to decide which interest is more important: the life of an unborn human or a woman’s right to privacy. Most people would agree that one person can’t kill another simply to maintain their right to privacy, and most American law in fact supports the view that human life is more important than individual privacy. Here is how the argument goes:

P1: Human life begins at conception.
P2: The right to live is more important than the right to privacy.
P3: The right to privacy is the only interest that legalized abortion serves, at least in the eyes of the courts.
Sub-conclusion: Abortion can’t be justified simply on the basis of the right to privacy (the Constitution).
P4: If the Constitution does not invalidate a law, then legislatures are free to make that law.
Conclusion: Legislatures should be free to decide the legality of abortion.


  1. Addressing "Pro-Choice" Argument 3:

    What upsets me, is the fact that many (and I really wanna say, "most.") of those claiming to embrace the "culture of life," don't even follow through when it comes to the babies' lives they are working to save. The pro-lifers I read are adamantly opposed to providing life-sustaining food and medicine to these very babies once they've left mommy's uterus.

    In my mind, that narrows their hypocrisy, and I'm not so sure your argument reflects that. (i'm not a lawyer, duh.)

    In addition, I think that this "subset" would be a much larger one than that of the overtly violent few that condone actual bombings and murder...


  2. My shameless propaganda is infinitely better than any of that pro-life stuff. I try very hard to achieve internal consistency and avoid the sort of obvious hypocracies so common in political debates.

  3. You're into philosophy aren't you? Interesting post though. You made some good points.

  4. Very interesting, and an excellent argument. It sets up the question of "Should the government always be moral?"

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I'd just like to say something about the plane crash scenario. I'm going to change this scenario to one that I've heard before, but it's essentially the same:

    You see a passenger train with lots of people on board speeding toward a group of 10 children on its track, on a bridge (so they can't escape). There is a lever right next to you that would divert the train's path so that it would head toward another bridge and kill only one child. You have no hope of saving everyone. What do you do?

    If you're looking for a "correct" answer, from a philosophical point of view, you should do nothing. Altering the train's path would be murder because you are the cause of that child's death. If the switch is left in its original position, no murder will be committed even though deaths occur as a result of inaction. Those who believe in a higher power have a further philosophical reason for leaving the switch untouched; by changing the course of the train, they are usurping God's prerogative in deciding who is to live and who is to die (though it is dangerous to bring God into an argument, but I suppose it is OK in this point so long as we note that the point remains as strong even without the religious point...)

    I'll let you draw your own conclusions on what this means for abortion. I just thought I'd throw it out there...

    Finally, I'd like to comment on cat's comment.

    I'm not sure specifically what you are talking about in this case, as I don't know anyone, pro-life or pro-choice, that is against keeping babies alive. I understand you are most likely talking about petty partisan bullshit ("All pro-lifers are in X party so they all believe X thing, too" which assumes that all pro-lifers are in a certain political party, and that all people in that party have the exact same views on everything) which is simply put, stupid to bring into ANY argument because neither of the elements of the argument in parentheses are valid. Maybe there is something more to this argument, but I'm not exactly up on my American current events, since I live in Australia...

    But regardless of what you meant by that, like it or not, you are still basing your own argument on a logical fallacy. The mistake you're making is assuming that the validity of an argument like "pro life people are baby killers" is increased as the number of pro life people who are baby killers increases.

    I think Kelly may have worded his attack on this argument wrong, saying "these are invalid, and so is this one because X" where X only applied to the one argument.

    What he should have said is that arguing that pro-lifers are bad people because (Take your pick: they hold some other belief, bomb abortion clinics, smell funny, are hypocrites, are murderers drunks nut jobs or psychos, starve babies, or any other attack on their character,) and therefore their opinion is wrong is a logical fallacy, because your argument is not focusing on the argument, but the person or people presenting it.

    So, you see, the reason that saying "pro-lifers are wrong because they are in favor of letting babies starve and are therefore hypocrites" has nothing to do with the size of the subset of people that do so that are supposedly pro life. It has to do with the fact that this argument is totally invalid whether .000000001% of people did it, or 100%.

    It is EXACTLY the same as saying "pro-choicers' opinions are invalid because they are whores who have sex with just about everyone, and if they stopped having so much sex with everyone they wouldn't need abortions." Even if they WERE all whores, this doesn't address the argument at all, and is therefore a terrible logical fallacy.

    As for me, I am in favor of abortion, but only as a by-product of my love of killing babies.

  7. Hi Full Metal Attorney,

    I greatly appreciated your analysis of the key issues in the abortion debate.

    I just added a post on my own site -- Copernicus Now to inform people about your analysis. Naturally, I also added a link.

    I very much like your approach to such an emotional issue.

  8. Thanks for the comments everyone. In the next couple of days I'll be sure to make another post that addresses the issues you've raised. I realize that my argument got a little cloudy at the end (in a discussion of right vs. wrong I ended up addressing the legal issue for courts).

    For now, I'll address Khorbin. You cleared up a point that I made but probably wasn't very clear about. You also brought up what first-year torts students know as "The Trolley Problem." Usually it's only three people in front and one person on the other track, and the brakes have failed. After discussing the hypothetical you brought up, the professor usually raises the following hypothetical: a doctor has one patient that will survive given normal medical attention and three patients that each need one organ to survive. The one patient is a donor match for the other three. Should the doctor give that normal medical attention to the one patient or allow him to die so he can use the organs? The answer seems obvious, but it's still an interesting analogy.

  9. Khorbin, I would have to disagree with your "solution" to the moral dilemma. That only works if you accept that non-action means you are not morally culpable- if one acts, one has the ability to save lifes. I think in such a case, where your options are incredibly simple, then you ARE culpable if you do nothing- you could have saved some lives, and you did not.

    Also, the God argument is flawed even if one is deeply religious- otherwise there would never be a point to struggling to help others- if God has given one the means to help, that might well imply that he wants you to help. Or, at least, to see how you would choose.

    As to the arguments themselves, I think you dismiss argument 4 far too quickly. The pragmatic is a powerful one, and I do think it has moral force, although is often too cold for many people to accept. Also it makes a lot of sense from a legal perspective.

    Otherwise, excellent post, I love the logical way the arguments are presented, it has certainly made me think. I am still pro-choice, but it has always been mostly because of argument 4 rather than 2. While I dismiss the moral equivalence of a fetus to a living human, it is still life, and as a vegetarian I would prefer life to be respected if possible.

  10. Mr. K:

    I can't really claim the "solution" to the scenario I discussed in my last post. The answer that I gave is the one that I've heard presented as the "correct" one if you were to for some reason find the question on an exam in a philosophy class.

    It is also not really a "solution." The real question of the scenario is whether it is right to sacrifice one life to save more than one. The fact is, that either way, you are condemning one or more people to die by action or by inaction. I think, though, that what this solution is trying to say is that by switching the track you would be committing murder, as you would be directly responsible for causing one person to die over the rest. The reason inaction would be preferable is that you are not directly causing the deaths of the people who are about to die, but simply not doing anything to stop it, which is not murder. Your inaction would mean that someone else would be responsible for the deaths, like the conductor, the maintenence people, the brake designers, etc.

    Keep in mind that in the scenario Kelly laid out with the doctors it would be considered cruel to sacrifice the one person's life to save the three others for basically the same reasons. A doctor cannot choose to let one patient die because that person could donate their organs: to do so would essentially be murder.

    Finally, I also have to agree with you on the God argument. I really don't see the validity of it, but like I said, that's what I've heard as the supposed "correct" answer. However, I do not think that it is invalid for the reasons you gave. Your reasoning said that this argument is invalid because God wants us to do right by helping others. However, if what is right is unclear, then who are we next to a supreme being to choose?

    The reason I think the God argument is invalid is that if God is omnicient and omnipotent as most religions believe, then we can conclude that He knows exactly what will happen before hand anyway, and because He is omnipotent, we as mortals cannot override His plan, even with free will. Because He is omnipotent, everything by definition goes according to His ineffable plan.

    Man, I'm going to have to start this argument at the pub tomorrow over a nice jug of Toohey's...

  11. Mr K said:
    "Otherwise, excellent post, I love the logical way the arguments are presented, it has certainly made me think. I am still pro-choice, but it has always been mostly because of argument 4 rather than 2."

    That's perfectly fine in this forum. The first sentence you wrote was my goal, to make people think. Like I've noted, the arguments above don't necessarily lead you to the conclusion that abortion should be illegal, although they have strong force for the view that abortion is immoral.
    As for Argument 4 making sense from a legal perspective, I suspect you mean from a legislative perspective and not from a judicial perspective. At least I hope that's what you mean. Those are the kinds of judgment calls that should be reserved for elected legislators.

    I think the moral thing to do is to switch the track. By doing so, you are saving three lives at the cost of one. As for the doctor scenario, the moral thing to do is to save the one person. But what is the distinction? Even for lawyers, who are paid to come up with subtle distinctions between different situations, that part is difficult.

  12. Oddly enough, my objection to the pro life arguments has not been raised here, so I thought I would mention it.

    P1: Murder (the unjustifiable destruction of a human) is wrong.

    It is the "unjustifiable" that I am not fond of. The act of taking another human life is the same act regardless of situation, in a purely physical sense. The law, and certain moralistic systems make a distinction, but the specifict act, I believe, is the same, and does not become right or wrong depending on how it is done, or who by.

    I have no strong agenda here, I just do not think it is accurate to describe the act of destroying another human life as "wrong"

  13. Complex:

    I'm not sure I follow your argument. If, as you suggest, the word "unjustifiable" should be excised, you would be left with this:

    Murder (the destruction of a human) is wrong.

    So if you take out only that one word, abortion would still be wrong, but you would be left with the conclusion that not only are war and capital punishment wrong, but so is killing in self-defense. I simply can't buy that argument.

    It seems that in your last paragraph you ascribe to a relativistic morality. In that case, the entire moral argument is moot, and you are left with this:

    The killing of a human is murder.

    This only reduces the argument to stating that abortion is murder. So then you are left with deciding whether murder should be illegal, which, I think, most people would agree that it should.

    If I misinterpreted your statement, please correct me.

  14. First of all: Great post!

    Second, I disagree with the end conclusion. I think the end argument above is based on a nominalization not being a nominalization, and thus is invalid. "Human" is a nominalization - it's a group biological processes (verb) for which we happen to use a noun.

    The attempts to draw sharp moral lines here is a fallacy.

    The set of possible dividing lines are also lacking one, which is the law in at least my country: An arbitrary dividing line placed well before viability (at least at the time it was placed.) We're using, as far as I remember, 9 weeks - enough that the pregnancy is easily noticable, short enough that it's far, far from viability (and when that's viable, pure cloning will probably also be.)


  15. Eek:

    First of all, thank you.

    Second: that may be so, but we generally use that same noun to define murder in other contexts, so isn't it logical to use that same term to try to figure out what abortion is doing?

    And I don't like your use of the word fallacy. I think it would be better to say that you don't agree with the premise that sharp moral lines can be drawn. This is something I would accept (although all of th egreat philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to today would disagree with it) as your position. Calling it a fallacy suggests that there is something wrong with the arguments drawn from the conclusion, which I don't believe is the case.

    And finally, I addressed the intermediate point argument. It's not principled, and that's why I have a problem with it. There is no rational basis for deciding where to draw the line, and so it is necessarily arbitrary.

  16. You don’t appear to address the question of whether a population should rely upon it's institutions to decide morality. Your argument is fine but pointless, because determining whether this or that institution is best placed to decide what should become law isn’t relevant.

    Are there ever circumstances under which it is “right” to disobey the law? Now that’s a more interesting question.

    Otherwise it was well written, nothing new, but still well written.


  17. Hi FMA,

    Great analysis!

    Legal question: The foetus is a combination of DNA by Dad and by Mom. In other words, should it mature and be born, both Dad and Mom have equal right to and responsibility over the baby. Now, Mom wants to abort. As Dad has an equal interest and the foetus being defenceless in this case, would Dad be able to represent the foetus in its right to life and obtain an order to restrain Mom from carrying out an abortion? And please do not use current legislation to justify your answer. I want to hear YOUR viewpoint (and others, of course).

  18. I'm not sure how long your comment has been here, doc, but I was discussing a similar question the other day. The position of SCOTUS is not that a fetus is not a person, but rather that the person-hood of a fetus is a question best left to individual conscience. If a state wants to say that it is a person, that's fine and dandy to an extent--but the woman's "right to privacy" is an overriding interest and the state must respect it (through all kinds of spurious legal reasoning).

    So, only the woman's right can overcome the fetus's right, and only the woman can make this decision.

    If you accept the view of Roe v. Wade, it doesn't make sense to give the father any rights over an unborn child. The question has come up that although it is the mother's choice whether to abort, if she does not abort then in all cases the father can be liable for child support. The father can't, under the reasoning of that famous case, assert that the woman should have an abortion because it's not about the woman's financial position and resources, but about her body and her privacy.

    That said, I think perhaps the father should have a right to represent the infant, but even that would be a violation of Roe v. Wade.