A Future for the Pro-Life Movement

October 24th, 2011 at 4:18 pm David Frum | 202 Comments |

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Matthew Schmitz of First Things registers a complaint by Twitter about my CNN column hoping that the abortion controversy may someday be de-escalated:

“It is chilling that @davidfrum doesn’t have a spare second to consider the morality of abortion. Politics trumps all.”

For the record, I have often considered the morality of abortion. Like most people, I find that morality complicated.

But the political debate over abortion is not a debate over morality. It is a debate over legality.

Today’s pro-life movement goes beyond arguing that abortion is immoral to argue that abortion should be punishable.

Morality and punishability are two very different categories. Lots of actions that are immoral are not subject to punishment. (Otherwise the senior executives of more than one US ratings agency would now be languishing in prison.) Many actions are punishable that are not immoral. (For example, exceeding the density limits proscribed by urban zoning codes.)

It is the demand that abortion be punished that divides America so passionately. My column for CNN argued that we have lived this kind of divide before, during the heyday of prohibition agitation from the Civil War to the Great Depression.

Then a strange thing happened. Federal prohibition was repealed. Alcohol ceased to function as a cultural signifier separating rural from urban, Protestant from Catholic, agrarian from industrial. Once alcohol lost its culture war status, we discovered that the evils of alcohol could be addressed in ways that did not rip apart the country.

Government continues to regulate alcohol in all kinds of ways, especially at the local level. Those regulations are often contested: where should alcohol be sold? How late? In what kind of store? To people of what age? But the contests are limited in scope, non-existential in character, and resolved with compromises that most people in most places find reasonably satisfactory.

The end of the culture war over alcohol was both the cause and effect of a great national sobering up. Americans drink less now than ever before in history. Public drunkenness is less acceptable than ever before. Operating cars or machinery while intoxicated is not only illegal, but universally condemned. Alcoholics are not seen as people exercising a “lifestyle choice” but as people destroying themselves and their relationships – and a wide social network has come into being to counsel and assist.

I hypothesized that we might see a similar future for abortion. Yet here’s the point for Mr. Schmitz: the only way to get to a broader national consensus about the morality of abortion is to put an end to the culture war over abortion as symbolized by the demand for the punishment of abortion.

Imagine if we had a pro-life movement that said the following: “We’re not trying to change any laws. But we want you to take a look at these pictures of the child in the womb and decide for yourself that abortion is wrong. We will study why particular women have particular abortions and see if there are things we can collectively do to reduce the pressures that cause women to end their pregnancies in this way. We will measure our success not by what we are able to criminalize, but by reductions in abortion’s frequency. We’re already 1/3 of the way to our goal, as compared to 1980, and with continued effort we hope to achieve continuing reductions in the future.”

Such a statement would involve some considerable changes in the thinking of the pro-life movement. It would mean the end of abortion’s signifier as a symbol of everything that is wrong with the modern world. It would sever abortion from the larger debate over sexuality and spirituality–just as alcohol has been separated from debates over ethnicity and spirituality. And it would define success in terms of abortion reduction rather than abortion prohibition.

I wonder if Mr. Schmitz would find such an outcome acceptable. Possibly he would not – even if it brought us to a world in which the abortion rate was reduced from the former 30 per 1000 women of child-bearing age beyond the present 20 to a future of 10 or 8 or 5. He might say: no compromise is possible on this vital moral concern!

That’s exactly what the old anti-saloon-league people said too. But eventually the political system answers: issues on which no compromise is possible are issues that do not belong in politics at all. They must either be resolved by war (as slavery was) or by removal from politics altogether. America won’t fight a war over abortion, and so the most likely future for the abortion issue is that it will be resolved in the same way we resolved the problem, “Which religion shall be chosen as the official religion of the state?” We resolved the problem by ceasing to ask the question.

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202 Comments so far ↓

  • nikhil_gupta

    I have a complaint, John Sherman was from Ohio, not Indiana.

  • kuri3460

    I was raised as a fundamentalist, born-again Christian, and in hindsight, it amazes me how much time people spent demonizing abortion and getting caught up in the politics…..and how little time they spent actually helping women in need!

    I think a great first step would be moving all of the time, energy, and money spent on political endeavors away from that dirty game and towards women in need. The next step would be to recognize that if you wish to persuade women away from abortion, they’re problem going to need your help, not just during pregnancy but potentially many years after.

    Unfortunately, it seems that “sanctity of life” isn’t synonomous with “quality of life” in today’s Pro-Life movement, and that needs to change. It’s ironic, those who wish to cite the Bible for certain political causes are often the same ones condemning those in need as lazy freeloaders.

    • medinnus


      • Bebe99

        If the pro-life movement were about reducing the need for abortion, we would have reduced the demand to a very negligible number 20 years ago. What it could have been: a comprehensive educational program taught every year to middle and high schoolers (no abstinence only programs), Free and Plentiful birth control, after-birth assistance to mothers and children. That’s if it was really about ‘saving babies’. For some, I know it is about that, but they are few in number. For most it is about making abortion illegal again so that irresponsible people pay for their sexual fun by having babies. It is really about punishment and control.

        • overshoot

          Where do you think this is, Scandinavia? They may have hardly any abortions and nearly all of their children grow up with both parents, but only at the cost of their souls. Well, that and a nightmarishly oppressive political system that deceives them into thinking that they are happy and that their economy is growing faster than the US.

        • LocalGroup

          This is a very serious debate with an uberly righteous movement who, in the 21st century of the new era, want to create a new capital crime. We ask everyone to please check their sarcasm at the door.

        • nuser

          When Oprah Winfrey was in Copenhagen interviewing to happy women she spat out:”But
          you are Socialists , are you not”? Oh my, my.

        • Primrose

          Don’t forget celebrating the choice of women who give their children to others via adoption. The pro-life movement always speaks in negatives about these women. They are avoiding the sin of abortion not that they are generous beings, willing to donate the use of their body to maintain another’s life.

          In these debates here, I have more than once given useful slogans those opposed to abortion could use to promote the adoption choice. To utter silence. It is still seen as some kind of shame. Never mind that plenty of women (and men) have unprotected, or poorly protected sex, if you hit the roulette wheel wrong, it is disgraceful. It used to be that a unmarried, pregnant daughter meant you lost your status in the middle class so people regarded it with horror. Clearly, they still do.

          If you want more women to choose adoption that must end. But as Rockerbabe and others have pointed out this isn’t about abortion. It’s about sex, and women having it without punishment or control. As Valkayec said in another post, we are not children who need some great father figure to make decisions for us.

          Despite what the twitter feed guy said, this fight is not about morality. It is as Mr. Frum did about legality.

          I would happily fight alongside an anti-abortion activist for access to cheap, safe effective birth control. I would happily fight for more societal and governmental support for single mothers, so finances never were a deciding issue. It is abhorrent to me that this must be so. And as I said, I would happily work alongside them to change the image of women who “give up” their children into those who “give to others”.

          But they’d rather tell women what to do than listen to what they need.

    • overshoot

      I think a great first step would be moving all of the time, energy, and money spent on political endeavors away from that dirty game and towards women in need.

      Those women in need are necessary sacrifices to serve a greater political goal.

    • Demosthenes


  • think4yourself

    David, one of your best posts (perhaps I think that because I agree and made a similar point in your last article about the subject).

    BTW, I would look to do the same thing with gun deaths in the US. Continuing to fall – but how can we work to cut them in half over the next 10 years? When Smith & Wesson in 2000 announced an agreement for trigger locks with the Clinton admnistration, the gun lobby essentially drove the company out of business until they repudiated the agreement. I want to see the NRA and other elements of the gun lobby really work to lower gun deaths, without having new gun legislation. Instead they mouth tired words while tens of thousands die every year from gun deaths (suicide, homocide and accident).

    Work together to reduce abortions, work together to reduce gun deaths, work together to reduce car fatalities. But then what would we have to fight about? Because it’s the fighting that raises money for the power brokers.

    • Oldskool

      Call it the fear industry. Gun owners have less to complain about today than ever before but you wouldn’t know it from listening to Wayne LaPierre. Or the majority of gun owners for that matter.

      Ditto abortion, it sells tickets.

    • Steve D

      Is judicial reform an option, where people convicted of gun crimes can only appeal on factual grounds instead of procedural grounds?

  • jimbob54

    Why do I have to log in like 20 times before I’m allowed to comment? Weird …

    I have long thought that the real issue with abortion is neither moral nor legal, but it’s all about safety. If the gov’t attempts to legislate morality by outlawing abortions, many women will still get abortions. They’ll just get unsafe abortions from unsavoury characters in dirty surroundings. Nobody wants abortions, but unsafe abortions are even worse.

    • He Loved Big Brother

      try logging in then opening up FF in another tab – I find that works pretty well

  • Watusie

    In the Republicanverse, the state cannot compel a man to go through the quick, nearly painless, and totally safe procedure of blood donation to save the life of his biological child.

    However, the state should force women to go through a full-term pregnancy, with all its attendant stresses, strains, dangers and costs.

    What can be concluded?

    In the Republicanverse, either fetuses enjoy a superior set of rights than children, or men enjoy a superior right to bodily integrity than women, or both.

    In America, neither of these two propositions can stand.

  • Carney

    Frum’s vision of the American people and local communities coming to a rough, uncertain consensus, often locally based based on local mores, requires the overturning of Roe v. Wade and especially its lesser known companion case Doe v. Bolton. They are the equivalent of the Prohibition Amendment, carving into stone the most drastic viewpoint of one side of the debate and placing it outside the ability of legislators to work out a temperature-lowering compromise, thus guaranteeing an endless bitter argument.

    Only worse – because at least the 18th amendment was accepted even by the most dedicated “wets” as having been legitimately enacted, while the two abortion cases were a sweeping, radical constitutional change with no corresponding change in the actual text of the Constitution as written and amended, and as understood by the authors and ratifiers of that text. Thus along with the polarization underlying the issue, we also have the amplifying effects of removing any possibility of a compromise, and especially of one side feeling the extreme bitterness of having been cheated rather than having lost fair and square.

    No matter what side of the abortion debate you are on — if you are an honest reader of history and the law, and/or a supporter like Frum of finding a way forward on this issue — Roe and Doe must go. Only then can the people and our elected representatives at all level of government hash this out.

    • kuri3460


      Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land, based on the same right to privacy that allows your wife to use birth control pills, allows your children to Catholic school, and allows you and I to enter hospice rather than treating terminal cancer.

      There is no comparison between abortion and prohibition. The 18th Amendment criminalized a certain activity – the sale, possession, and consumption of alcohol. By comparison, Roe doesn’t force anybody to do anything….just tolerate a difference of opinion. Which appears to be the problem, actually.

      The bigger question is this, though: do you care about actual living, breathing minority children living in squalid poverty in America as much as you do about all these zygotes and embryos?

      • Chris Balsz

        “Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land”

        So was Jim Crow, until the Court reversed itself.

        • Dex

          There is no point to your point. Roe vs. Wade stands until it is overturned – something which no one is attempting to do, despite a complete turnover of Supreme Court personnel since it was decided. It is the definition of constitutionality in this issue and will remain so for the foreseeable future, given that its opponents are interested only in grandstanding and not the necessary work of bringing a test case to challenge it.

        • Chris Balsz

          The basic logic of “Roe” was overturned in 1989, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. As to “not seriously trying”, then, what are you complaining about?

      • Steve D

        So you’re cool with Citizens United and Bush v. Gore, right? Those are the settled law of the land, too. And let’s not forget anti-drug laws, which are also settled law.

    • Watusie

      The only reason why Roe would “have to go” was if it was unconstitutional.

      If Roe is unconstitutional, given that the Republican Party is dead set against abortion, and given that the Republican Party is very powerful, and given that a majority of SC justices are Republican appointees, meaning that the court is now in safe hands, then why hasn’t a case been brought forward for the purpose of overturning this decision?

      It is quite spectacular to see the same people who criticize Roe and who are responsible for “turning up the heat” on the abortion debate turn around and blame Roe for the temperature while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing to overturn the decision because it is one of their very best get-out-the-vote issues.

      • torourke

        Because Anthony Kennedy provided the crucial swing vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, meaning there are five pro-Roe justices on the bench. How do you not know this?

        • Primrose

          But almost none of those justices are the same ones who decided Roe. So if it is so obviously unconstitutional then test it. If repeated courts uphold it, then stop telling me it was overreach. Nothing, to be sure is settled law as such, in that Chris is correct. However, that is not the same as saying it was an aberrant, outlier of a decision.

          But as I’ve said before, I don’t think it is is at all obviously unconstitutional. It think the right of bodily integrity is very much an established. Though Mr. Scalia seems to revel in the idea that women have no legal standing in the constitution as currently constituted, I disagree. Since women of reproductive age are not specifically excluded from our rights, then the same rights apply.

          As the court leaving it to local decisions, well, what is more local than the person whose body is involved?

  • Ray_Harwick

    Two keepers from David in one day. I *love* this argument and I really appreciate how David teaches me to look at things from a different angle, especially this issue.

  • Discman

    Hi, David. Interesting post, but what stopped me is the basic distinction over why some people want criminal sanctions for abortion: They believe abortion is murder. I’m not sure there was ever a comparable argument against alcoholism.

    So, when you write, “Lots of actions that are immoral are not subject to punishment,” how is that supposed to sound to someone who believes abortion is the taking of a life? What further questions beyond “Is abortion murder?” needs to be answered once you conclude that the answer is “yes.” In other words, which forms of murder, other than self-defense and state-run executions of convicted criminalso or warfare, do we permit in this society?

    Perhaps you don’t agree that abortion is murder — you write that you mind the ” morality complicated” surrounding this issue. I’m not here to convince you one way or the other, but to raise the possibility that your argument won’t get much traction with pro-lifers who see murder as a distinct sin from alcoholism and drunkenness.

    I suppose I could be overlooking something obvious in your argument that accounts for the “abortion is murder” view. Please elaborate, if you have a moment. I’ve enjoyed reading your site the past year, having thrown in the towel on talk radio.

    Thank you.

    • balconesfault

      I agree with you. Those who are firmly convinced that “abortion is murder” are never going to be placated by anything but a complete ban on abortion. Those with the greatest degree of intellectual honesty in that movement will even ban IUDs and oral contraceptives, because those methods of birth control result in abortion in some cases … not to mention IVF and stem cell research because human zygotes will inevitably be destroyed in either process.

      The particular problem here is that a sizable portion of the population does not agree that “abortion is murder”. As much as some on both sides try to muddy the issue by claiming science on their side … the distinction is essentially one of theology. As with any theological dispute, you will never satisfy everyone, and if the state doesn’t keep a lid on things bloodshed will ensue.

      • Demosthenes

        There are non-abortifacent methods of IVF and in general for something to be a moral act it has to be intended. So if a zygote is accidentally terminated through the use of oral contraceptives it is not in the same class as deliberately terminating that same zygote through the use of oral contraceptives.

        NB I am not saying the “day after pill” should be illegal, just identifying intentionality as a critical element of moral action.

        • balconesfault

          . So if a zygote is accidentally terminated through the use of oral contraceptives it is not in the same class as deliberately terminating that same zygote through the use of oral contraceptives.

          At the very best, it would seem for someone who is anti-abortion that use of oral contraceptives is akin to driving drunk. No – the goal of driving drunk is not to kill others on the roadways, but when it happens we consider the act to be immoral. I would assume that an anti-abortionist would think of the “accidental” termination of a zygote due to the pill preventing implantation to also be immoral.

    • Dex

      How do you respond to people who say “abortion is murder”? The same way you respond to people who hold other mistaken views, such as “property is theft”, “unions are undemocratic”, and “there is no such thing as a just war”. You point out to them that they are espousing an extreme position which is not supported by law and is unworkable for society.

      • Chris Balsz

        So American society didn’t work until 1973?

      • torourke


        How clueless are you? Abortion was illegal in every state in the country until 1967. If abortion=murder is really as extreme as you think it is, then this would have been impossible.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Imagine if we had a pro-life movement that said the following …

    I’m reminded of your friend’s comment that the GOP is the “party of affect.” For Republicans, politics is the continuation of psychology by other means. Policy is not relevant.

    So yeah, it’d be grand for the pro-life cause if there were a pro-life movement that cared about reducing abortion in this country. But that’s not what right-wing politics are about.

    ADDED: Incidentally, there would be a whole lot of room for success for a pro-life movement that focused on accurate information and availability of birth control and health care, as we’ve seen in much of the rest of the world, particularly Eastern Europe. See: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_IAW.html (“The decline in abortion incidence was greater in developed countries, where nearly all abortions are safe and legal (from 39 to 26 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44), than in developing countries, where more than half are unsafe and illegal (from 34 to 29).”) But sifting through policies to determine what works and what doesn’t is anathema to a political movement that’s entirely about blowing off steam.

    • Dex

      “For Republicans, politics is the continuation of psychology by other means. ”

      I wish I had said that.

      And in the future, I may.

  • nvrbl

    It seems to me that if someone were truely against abortion, they would be pro comprehensive sex education and pro birth control. The anti choice people, however, fight sex ed and birth control with almost the same fervor that they fight abortion. They completely demonize planned parenthood who prevent more abortions than the “right to life” movement’s murders of 10 doctors and various clinic workers has accomplished.

  • anniemargret

    There is a sane approach but one that is seldom discussed-most importantly by the pro life movement.

    It’s called birth control.

    Lost in this endless discussion and debate is that we should be discussing pregnancies, not abortion. Without a pregnancy, there is no need for an abortion!

    The problem lies within the GOP’s fervent and zealous anti-abortion rights movement. Because implied within it, is that sex should be restricted to marriage and/or birth control never used or advised to anyone, any time, even when we know that thousands of people will have illicit sex, leading often to unnecessary and unwanted pregnancies.

    I have often wondered why we do not ask presidential candidates their opinion on government subsidy for easy access to birth control, and yes, even to teenagers. Is getting preventive care to stop a pregnancy before it begins worse than a 16 y/o getting pregnant and either getting an abortion, or bringing that child into the world, unwanted- leading to neglect, abuse, even death?

    Birth control is at the forefront of this issue, and abortion should remain legal. The Religious Right would have you believe that men and women who are marrying now at later ages than ever before, are going to be chaste until marriage! Sure, they are. ANother example of mindless idiocy dressed up to look righteous and pure.

    Again, the GOP and its zealots never live in the real world. While they support our bombs accidentally killing innocents across the world, while they protest that their taxes should not go to social safety nets to protect little children in this country, they only have voices for the abortion issue.

    I find them hypocrites. No one is *pro* abortion. We have the law to protect those women whose decisions must lead them to that last course, and no one has the right to remove that choice from them.

    Let’s hear it from the anti-abortion rights crowd. What do they think of widespread and easy access, free birth control? Or are they going to sit on their duffs pretending that sex is not going to occur?

    If and when they address these aspects, then all their lamenting and wailing and righteous posturing is bogus.

    • Primrose

      I agree with you completely AnnieMargeret. There are any number of effective, easy to use contraceptives out there now, but they are not cheap, and many do not even know about them.

      But this as I’ve said before is not about the “child”, and certainly not about the welfare of the mother, it is about punishing women having sex.

      The only place I might disagree (but I project so perhaps we don’t) is the idea that grown-ups having sex is a moral wrong we must simply live with. So long as it is not exploitative, and is between two people who have affection for each other, I think it is a moral good. It is certainly much better than the world where women were frightened into frigidity, leaving wives unable to respond with sexual love to their husbands. A morality that puts a distance between a husband and wife is no morality at all. By undermining one of the fundamental acts of marriage, it undermines marriage and family itself.

      I simply don’t buy the premise that theirs is the purer morality. And this entire debate starts with that premise.

  • JohnMcC

    Seems to be the topic of the day. Thank goodness we left Sen Rubio’s embarrassing biography behind! Anyhow… Thought I’d just toss this in to the grinding mill. My fundamentalist and tea-party-member (and PhD) sister and I were emailing back and forth about abortion. We were of course not getting any farther toward real communication than usually happens so I suggested we search for a metaphor, a parallel that we could talk about productively. She suggested a lifeboat lost @ sea. Because many of the women who seek abortions are in what emotionally is similarly extreme. And it turns out that the records of ‘found’ lifeboats include an incredibly varied experience with cannibalism. Some lifeboats have been found with everyone dead and a log kept that does not indicate that the idea was ever contemplated. Some others were in situations from which they could have fairly easily saved themselves but somehow quickly felt they had to ‘sacrifice’ someone for the survival of the rest. But in no case that we could find was anyone ever actually prosecuted for murder. It seemed that the authorities said basically ‘how can we judge people who found themselves in that situation?’ We both agreed we’d prefer to be on the non-cannibal lifeboat. And at least I felt we’d talked about it somewhat productively.

    • LocalGroup

      Then there’s the unbelievable account of Lieutenant Bligh, set adrift from the Bounty after the mutiny, with 18 others in an open launch with some provisions, who managed to get all but one to Timor after 47 days and 3600 miles.

      I use this metaphor to describe what we have now with Ben Bernanke and how the Raft of the Medusa is what we would have with the Republicans who are complaining about him.

  • Chris Balsz

    “Today’s pro-life movement goes beyond arguing that abortion is immoral to argue that abortion should be punishable.”

    What country does this refer to? In the United States we have a movement demanding abortion is moral and necessary, and the opposition to it is punishable. It is immoral and punishable to refuse to provide abortifacients. It is immoral and punishable to protest abortion too close to the clinic. It is immoral and void to provide women with exactly the message you suggest before they undergo surgery.

    • balconesfault

      Frum: “Today’s pro-life movement goes beyond arguing that abortion is immoral to argue that abortion should be punishable.”

      Balz: What country does this refer to?

      A very strange comment. Are you claiming that the pro-life movement in America is not arguing that abortion should be punishable?

    • drdredel

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about… find me a credible source on the left that argues that abortion is moral. Even the staunchest defenders of abortion acknowledge that it’s immoral, and terribly unfortunate… it’s just not AS immoral as forcing a woman to have a child she doesn’t want, and subjecting same child to a life of whatever follows such a birth.
      Most anti-abortionists want to have it both ways. They want to decide what situation rises to a level of urgency that warrants an abortion. Once that level is reached, they’re ok with it… ignoring the obvious hypocrisy of the exception.
      Those on the Right who are opposed to all abortion, under any circumstances, are generally regarded as lunatics (and rightly so). But those in the middle that think it’s ok for rape victims, or some arbitrary gestative threshold, are actually have a much less convincing argument, since it can easily be argued that the line they draw in the sand is just as arbitrary and capricious as the one drawn by the Left, who simply don’t want the government to meddle in such personal matters.
      How it came to be that CONSERVATIVES are on the government interventionist side of this argument is confounding.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        “it’s just not AS immoral as forcing a woman to have a child she doesn’t want, and subjecting same child to a life of whatever follows such a birth.”
        I am sorry but wtf? So people who are born to parents who didn’t want them initially are doomed to a life of misery so would be better off dead? Believe it or not, their lives are just as precious to them as yours is to you.
        “Most anti-abortionists want to have it both ways. They want to decide what situation rises to a level of urgency that warrants an abortion.”
        I don’t know what this means, of course the argue in society is at what time women are allowed to have abortions. Are you in favor of abortion at 9 months? That a baby has to draw breath before it has rights? So of course pro abortion people draw arbitrary lines themselves and therefore want to have it “both ways”

        And the government interferes in our personal lives all the time. I can’t smoke pot, can’t legally try to kill myself, I can’t live on public grounds…even if I am poor, I can’t have sex with women if I have an std (the government tells me I have to inform them, how dare the government tell me what I have to say, if the woman wants to know she can demand a blood test before hand and if I say no, then she can say no, otherwise caveat emptor, right?)

        • Primrose

          The government does not routinely force us to maintain another life with our body. And my argument about bodily integrity makes lines much less arbitrary. The later term the abortion, the more the state has the right to interfere since it is asking less time. But all this argument about having elective abortions at 9 months is just silly, most abortions are not late term, and few mentally stable women and dare I say none with a functioning limbic system, will choose to wait through 9 months or even 7 months of pregnancy, and then decide on abortion.

          They may wait until 4 months because they didn’t discover it, or they may wait because they couldn’t scrabble together the money, or they wait to discover if it has a genetic defect, but all things being equal, nobody chooses to wait that long. Why? Because pregnancy is uncomfortable, exhausting and unless you are caught up in the romance of “feeling life inside you” unpleasant. Women who don’t wish to continue their pregnancy won’t be caught up in all that.

          I suppose it might take heroin addicts a while to pay attention but contrary to your supposition, I wish more homeless heroin addicts would consider abortion, because what happens now to a vast majority of the children, is that they are born to the addicted parent, social services tries for a few months to interest the mother in the child, it fails, the child is bounced around foster care, from homes that are OK to homes that are abusive, to rarely, good homes. In the process, their needs go unmet and they all too often picking up nasty little problems like attachment disorder, or other intractable emotional problems. Then the child graduates from foster care and is thrown on the street and the cycle starts all over again. In the meantime, the mother has produced 10,12 even 15 children on this exact trajectory.

          If the foster care system were better, I would feel differently, but it is not. We talk about how every life is precious and then precede to make it abundantly clear to a certain class of children how theirs is not.

      • balconesfault

        Actually, I’ll point you towards Catholic historian and former William Buckley acolyte turned liberal, Gary Wills. Wills makes a compelling case for why abortion is not an immoral act.


        Defenders of the fetus say that life begins only after the semen fertilizes the egg, producing an embryo. But, in fact, two-thirds of the embryos produced this way fail to live on because they do not embed in the womb wall. Nature is like fertilization clinics — it produces more embryos than are actually used. Are all the millions of embryos that fail to be embedded human persons?

        The universal mandate to preserve “human life” makes no sense. My hair is human life — it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.

        The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one. Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain? Aquinas said that the fetus did not become a person until God infused the intellectual soul. A functioning brain is not present in the fetus until the end of the sixth month at the earliest.

        • valkayec

          I knew there was a reason why I like dear St. Thomas. The more I read of his writings, the better I like him. So logical and reasonable.

        • Chris Balsz

          “But, in fact, two-thirds of the embryos produced this way fail to live on because they do not embed in the womb wall. Nature is like fertilization clinics — it produces more embryos than are actually used. Are all the millions of embryos that fail to be embedded human persons?”

          Sure, why not? Childbirth used to have a 1/3 fatality rate. Did that alter anything about the evil of infanticide?

          “The universal mandate to preserve “human life” makes no sense. My hair is human life — it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.”

          Actually a biologist would have the same objection, since conception creates a unique chromosone pattern.

          “The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one.”

          So all the blather about Life was irrelevant?

          “Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain? ”

          Historically the answer is no: the Reich is not responsible for the mentally retarded, the insane, the racially irresponsible.

    • Primrose

      Well, yes, just before surgery is not the best time to protest. You can understand why can’t you? That distressing a women just prior to surgery is to be avoided? You can understand how physically limiting access and intimidating patients might be blocked.

      Mr. Frum is talking about persuading the women, BEFORE they have made the decision, a general societal campaign, just as politicians do. And he is specifically talking about persuading by meeting her needs.

      Close protests do neither.

      From a strictly PR standpoint, protesting at clinics is an ineffective form of persuasion (provided the goal is persuasion not intimidation). A longer, subtler campaign would be far more persuasive. The close on protests only serve to put women’s backs up. We see you are trying to dictate to us and interfere with a decision and so your entire movement is tarred in our minds with men dictating to women. (Not to mention lie if it suits your needs) Thus your movement is discredited.

      Were you instead to treat women like adults capable of making decisions, and desirous of applying morality to those decisions, it might go very much better for the movement and its ability to persuade. If you were willing to put some money behind your values, so that we knew you understood the actual calculations involved, we might take you a bit more seriously.

      But instead you don’t listen you lecture, and so even women who might be temperamentally or spiritually willing to be persuaded, give you a gimlet eye. In our hearts, most women can’t help but suspect you are crying crocodile tears, that this is just another scheme to control our bodies and our lives.

      Really, your publicists should know better. Or don’t you even listen to them?

  • Graychin

    “Like most people, I find that morality (of abortion) complicated.”

    Then Republicans (except for Mr. Frum) aren’t “most people.” They find no complexity at all in the abortion issue. They say it’s always wrong and should be illegal. Everywhere. By Constitutional amendment. Forget states’ rights.

    The “pro-life movement” is a political movement, and as such has no future. There is an age gap that will only grow wider as the present Republican demographic ages and dies.

    The pro-choice factions actually DO believe in smaller, less intrusive government.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      Are you in favor of sex selection for abortion? In China there are villages where there are 27 boys and 3 girls, you see no potential hazard in this, that government intrusion in limiting the choice for women to have abortions based on nothing more than sex selection is, ipso facto, a bad thing to be avoided at all cost, that it is perfectly fine that there is such a large sex imbalance in the China? There are 50 million unmarriageable men in China, with that number growing all the time.

      Or are you in favor now of government being intrusive instructing the women in China not to have sex based abortion and educating them to WANT to have women, you know, be intrusive.

      • Graychin

        I favor the government butting completely out of people’s decisions about birth control, family size and abortion.

        I do not believe that abortion for sex selection would be a serious issue in the absence of a horrible “one child” restriction like China’s.

        I do not favor any abortions, but I want them “safe, legal and rare,” as they say. In any case, the decisions are not mine to make. Nor yours.

        This makes me more of a libertarian than Ron Paul.

      • baw1064

        The difference is that the Chinese government is truly “pro-abortion.” They want as many people to have abortions as possible, by are willing to make that happen by whatever means. I’ve never heard anyone in the U.S., even among the crackpot leftist fringe, advocate that.

        As for the villages that end up with only boys…well, it’s kind of a Darwin Award at a community level, isn’t it? Maybe that will teach the culture, in the future, to value girls equally.

      • Primrose

        In countries where girls would be burned alive because their parents couldn’t afford appropriate dowries, I don’t see that sex selection is the less moral option.

        What is morally problematic is the dismissal of one sex as less valuable than the other. If this goes away, so too goes away most sex selected abortion.

  • rbottoms

    “There is no future in England’s dreaming. No future, no future, no future for you!”

    - The Sex Pistols

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “But the political debate over abortion is not a debate over morality. It is a debate over legality.”

    So if Alaska decided to make the age of consent to be 13, (which is the age of Adulthood in traditional Judaism via the Bar and Bat Mitsvah) would David then say this is nothing of an issue of morality, but soley of legality?

    Of course abortion is also a debate over morality. It is a debate about what kind of people we want to be. Moral values inform our choices of what is a crime and what is its punishment, why deny this?

    And I say bullshit to people who say all pro-lifers are neanderthals, there are, in fact, many Liberal Democrats who are pro-life, who desperately fight for access for birth control and sex education, who demand that not just mothers and their unborn but all people are entitled to health care.

    And who states that they are unequivacobly pro-abortion? Every says they are pro-choice because they know that abortion violates the biological imperative, at the very least, which is to reproduce. There is absolutely no question that human life begins at conception, we can have arguments about when they are endowed with rights as we debate the circumstances where people can be stripped of their life via the death penalty. I am not arguing this, but I am a little tired of pro choicers acting as though they have morality on their side, and if they don’t claim they have morality, then their basis of when and where abortion should be legal becomes nothing more than their opinion. Judging by the sanctimony of people like nvrbl I doubt that they are leaving their own moral values out of the equation.

    People say if you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one. Well, then maybe those who are for abortion should open up abortion clinics and donate their own money and give abortions away for free.

    I am not claiming to have the answers on this, like the death penalty (which I oppose) I am perfectly willing to let society determine its own laws with regards to beginning and end of life discussions, and I welcome people doing this based on what they regard as moral values and don’t try to pretend this is the equivalent of setting speed limits on interstate highways (which as far as I know no one gets histrionic over that issue)

    Abortion is the termination of a human life, how anyone can honestly deny that I don’t know, whether that should be regarded as criminal or immoral or both is what this is all about..

    • Watusie

      “Abortion is the termination of a human life, how anyone can honestly deny that I don’t know”

      I deny it, because it simply isn’t true. And apparently the vast majority of Americans tacitly agree with me. Because if abortion = the termination of a human life, then the practices of your typical IVF clinic represent the most horrific abuses imaginable. But yet no one bats an eye, or lifts a finger to ban this practice which has no constitutional protection and therefore is extremely vulnerable.

      • Chris Balsz

        Which is like saying, about 1860, that blacks weren’t equal to whites, because if they were, discrimination wouldn’t be so popular.

        • Primrose

          The decision of when it becomes a life is a personal, spiritual belief that varies widely. I can for the sake of argument give you your definition. However, the right of bodily integrity supersedes, not just for the state, but for major religious institutions as well. Not one institution that I know of has said that it is a requirement for believers to donate organs, not one has said it is requirement to give blood. I do not even know of a major religious figure that has given believers a strong suggestion with appropriate guilt trip to do either.

          Because the right of bodily integrity is so strong, so fundamental, even religious leaders hesitate to constrain people, even when the inconvenience is mild, or in the case of the dead, non-existent. They hesitate even though they know lives are at stake.

          So the right of bodily integrity, the morality of the right is accepted by both church and state.

          Except when it comes to women of reproductive age. Uh. This is not about concern for the fetus. It is about controlling reproduction.

    • balconesfault

      And who states that they are unequivacobly pro-abortion? Every says they are pro-choice because they know that abortion violates the biological imperative, at the very least, which is to reproduce.

      No … people say they are pro-choice because they are not advocating for women to have abortions. They are advocating for the state to have no role in deciding whether a woman may or may not have an abortion.

      “Pro-abortion” as a label would sound like someone advocate for women to have abortions – the same way “anti-abortion” represents those who seek to make it impossible for women to have abortions.

      Consider marijuana, since it’s a little easier. There are those who are clearly pro-pot, advocating for people to try it if they never have. There are those who are anti-pot, who believe pot use should be criminal. And there are those of us who are pro-choice – who wouldn’t advocate someone using pot, but don’t believe that pot smoking should be made illegal.

    • kuri3460


      I think the problem with your arguments scattered throughout this post is that you adhere to a rigid definition of morality that ignores both the gray areas of life and some reasonable counterarguments.

      As others have said, if you believe a fertilized egg is a human life, then IVF, the IUD, and the birth control pill all have the potential to end a human life. More importantly, consider that 15-20% of women miscarry in the first trimester, and countless others do so before they realize they’re pregnant. Miscarriage is always sad, but if these are all truly little humans, then isn’t this a worldwide, tragic pandemic?

      Another problem with granting full personhood to a zygote is that outside the womb, even the accidental killing of a person typically has legal and ethical ramifications. So, for example, when an amniocentesis procedure results in the loss of the fetus – about 1 in every 200 does – does this now become involuntary manslaughter? Negligent endangerment? Is the doctor now subject to the same criminal and civil litigation typically seen when an otherwise healthy patient accidentally dies in the hospital? A 1 in 200 chance of death seems awfully high for a relatively routine procedure, at least if a human life is at stake.

      Perhaps most importantly, say some of these things out loud. Abortion ends a human life….murder ends a human life. Are the two fundamentally equivocal? In the hierarchy of the universe, are you and I indistinguishable from a fertilized egg moments after conception? Are our rights no greater? I don’t know what specifically grants personhood, but if it’s solely genetics…well, take a moment to mentally recall all the bad masturbation jokes you’ve heard. If you say abortion violates the biological imperative to reproduce, must that not as well?

      I’m certainly not FOR abortion. I think it’s a terrible thing, and my heart goes out to anybody who’s in the position where they have to consider it. And I also think using the age of viability as the sole determiner of personhood is a tad conservative – unborn children begin to “look” human much earlier than that. By the same token, however, my own personal experience allows me to concede that these are personal choices. My wife gave birth to a healthy baby girl 3 months ago, but for a time we were concerned because she had shown markers for certain birth defects in utero. I’m not sure that we would have ever seriously considered abortion as an option, but I am 100% certain that the choice was ours, not yours, not my Congressman’s, not my church’s, ours.

      And so my issue with the pro-life movement isn’t over what they stand for, because I think saying that abortion is a terrible thing is a perfectly reasonable statement, my issue is with the means they employ to get their message across, from the downright nasty “abortion is murder” sloganeering to the kinder but unrealistically simplistic notion that a zygote is on equal footing with me in terms of personhood, and their emphasis on political and rhetorical, not practical, solutions. Arguing over when life begins doesn’t meaningfully reduce the number of abortions, nor does passing parental notification laws or sonogram viewing laws. You know what would help? Relaxed adoption laws, more charity and aid for women in need, and more contraception to avoid unintended pregnancy altogether. I’d love to see the pro-life movement vocally embrace those things they way they’ve embraced the Republican Party.

      • anniemargret


        But you cannot reason with people who are unreasonable, can we? And that’s the tragedy of it all. Unless people are willing to sit and listen and compromise, we get extremism. And stalemate.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          oh my God, where the hell am I being unreasonable. Again it is you who is unreasonable since everyone is building strawmen to knock down, things I have never said or claimed. It is irrefutable that human life begins at conception. Are you against science now? That does not mean that society imbues that life with rights. Karen Ann Quinlan was a human life, do you deny that? Yet I accepted the decision of her parents to remove her from life support. But this was a decision that we as a society worked through to determine if it should be a legal act or not, and that was imfused with moral considerations.

          but I suppose I can’t reason with abortion loving fanatics, can I? Oh, you mean that is a cheap shot and unfair?

        • Watusie

          “It is irrefutable that human life begins at conception.”

          It is very refutable. The majority of Americans agree with me. When Colorado – home of Focus on the Family – put a measure on the ballot defining personhood as beginning at conception, it was trounced 75% against 25% for.

          If human life begins at conception, then the practices of your typical IVF clinic represent the most horrific abuses imaginable. But yet no one bats an eye, or lifts a finger to ban this practice which has no constitutional protection and therefore is extremely vulnerable.

          It is a powerful example of your fellow citizens implicitly rejecting what you claim to be irrefutable.

        • balconesfault

          It is very refutable. The majority of Americans agree with me. When Colorado – home of Focus on the Family – put a measure on the ballot defining personhood as beginning at conception, it was trounced 75% against 25% for.

          I would argue that there is a fundamental difference between “human life” and “personhood”.

          If human life begins at conception, then the practices of your typical IVF clinic represent the most horrific abuses imaginable. But yet no one bats an eye, or lifts a finger to ban this practice which has no constitutional protection and therefore is extremely vulnerable.

          I would say that there is a balancing act in play – people recognize that there is good that the IVF clinic is accomplishing, and are willing to accept that some forms of “human life” may be sacrificed for the greater good.

          FWIW, we make the same decisions as a society when we carpet bomb or shock and awe some foreign nation because we believe they represent some threat to us. Without a doubt America was directly responsible for a pretty significant loss of innocent life over the last decade or so in the middle east, and I don’t see most pro-lifers losing a lot of sleep over it.

          We have people who are nominally “pro-life” advocating military strikes against Iran … some even willing to use nukes if that’s what it would take to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program.

          It is a powerful example of your fellow citizens implicitly rejecting what you claim to be irrefutable.

          My fellow citizens are by and large very sloppy in their thinking on this topic.

          But I do think that drawing some line between “human life”, which Frumple can argue is a scientific construct, and “personhood” which perhaps is a legal construct, is the way to start.

          In my mind, the state has a right to define “personhood” at the point where the person is not wholly reliant on one other person, but can rather be reliant on the state – on society at large – to preserve its life. Which is why I have my induced delivery threshold. When the state is willing to induce delivery of a fetus and take over rearing of that fetus, it has a right to ban the woman from aborting the fetus.

        • Traveler


          Thanks for your kind comment on our metaphysical dialogue last night.

          I appreciate your effort to quantify something that is not quantifiable. In the abstract, the idea of transferring embryos instead of abortion seems to make eminent sense. But there will not be near as many recipients as donors. I just don’t see middle class moms lining up for crack babies, and China is another obvious example of too many to deal with. And as drdredel points out, the age of “independence” will inevitably get shorter and shorter. Should the state then be required to raise all these unwanted embryos?

          So we still have the problem.

          Edit: I erroneously attributed to you nhthinkers idea of transferring fetus’ (below). While an uncharacteristically elegant solution perhaps, the math still holds.

        • Primrose

          Your entire attitude Frumple is unfair. Annie Margaret has on numerous occasions expressed her discomfort with abortion itself. I have never even bothered to say that it is or isn’t a human life. You project your feelings on it to us and demonize us because you want control over the issue.

          But here’s the thing, you will never, ever, ever be pregnant. Not only that, you have not a single daughter. So you don’t get to take that tone. Nobody making it a principle that they have the right to control your body.

          You know what I am tired of? This flippent resentment on the part of those arguing against legal abortions. As if I am doing something to you personally, by insisting on my right to bodily integrity. Well I am not. What happens to you if my line of argument wins the day? Nothing.

          What happens to me?

          I lose the right to bodily integrity. The abridgment of this right is at the heart of the women’s rights movement. What is an objection to rape but the objection to losing bodily integrity? What is the objection to forced marriage but a similar right being abridged.

          Throughout history men, and some older women, have insisted that women of reproductive age do not have the same rights to bodily integrity as others. They have felt free to dispose of these women (and often truly girls) as they saw fit. No matter what the person in that body felt. Morality has always been used as an argument to support the practice. Always.

          So yes, I will deal directly with the issue of morality and say in point of fact, I have it on my side too. That the right to bodily integrity is a moral right. That’s not ignoring morality. That’s good argument. And I believe the truth.

          What do all of you who feel so, so resentful expect of me? That I intentionally lose my own argument? I’m supposed to let you win so you won’t feel bad?

          I think not. I believe that women have the right to bodily integrity. I also believe they know better what to do with their bodies than a stranger. I believe women have the ability and the strength to make hard decisions. This is a fundamental, unshakable belief of mine at the heart of my feminist philosophy. Indeed, it is the unshakable belief of generations of women in my family. To ignore it is to ignore the rest.

  • overshoot

    DF ignores the fact that the whole point of abortion is to act as a rallying banner in the culture war. It’s like evolution: forty years ago, even most fundamentalist Christian denominations didn’t seriously oppose the teaching of evolution in schools — it was a dead issue, buried along with William Jennings Bryan.

    And then came the coordinated Southern Strategy and the recruitment of cultural conservatives to support the Republican party (mainly because plutocracy has never had a great deal of mass appeal.) Issues like evolution became shibboleths (lovely Hebrew word, that) used to identify Us vs Them, and you couldn’t call yourself a true Christian Conservative (the two went together: a conservative had to be Christian, and a Christian had to be politically conservative) unless you were in favor of teaching creationism in schools, outlawing abortion, criminalizing homosexuality, etc.

    So DF, to serve his fantasies, imagines that the issue of abortion will reduce the polarization of America and let us reason together. He has it totally bass ackward: abortion will only cease to be a political minefield when it ceases to be politically useful to the Party of God.

    And by the way, DF: the same goes for any kind of economics that don’t produce the desired policy prescriptions.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      jeez, you don’t get it either. Why such sweeping pronouncements? Are you saying therefore that women should have abortions until a baby draws its first breath? (not able to, but only after delivery) You know it is entirely possible to be against abortion and not be in the Party of God. In china they have made sex based selection abortion illegal. Are the Chinese communists now the Party of God. Or are you saying that some kinds of abortion can be illegal but not others?

      If, in the future, man’s sperm rates continue to decline due to environmental pollution and we reach a point where generally the only way conception is possible is via artificial insemination, do you really think that people will be stating that anti-abortion thoughts are related to “the Party of God.”

      This is a complicated issue, don’t limit it to bad racist neanderthals versus enlightened progressives.

      • drdredel

        7 Billion people on Earth (come October 31st) and newly revamped projections for an additional billion every 12 years for the next few decades. Not to dismiss your points, but population shrinkage is *not anything we need to worry about anytime soon! :)

        I think the issue is “complicated” only when one injects morality into it.

        When viewed dispassionately and purely in pragmatic terms, it’s actually not a very complicated issue. Let’s change the subject for just a second to victims of brain injury. Assuming you don’t conflate a religious dogma into it, it’s a fairly straight forward question of “how can we make sure that this person suffers least?” The science is still out on the subject, but most neuroscientists seem to agree that this entity isn’t a “person” in any measurable way. There is no personality, or comprehension, or response. It’s just living organic tissue.

        A fetus has a lot more potential, but in terms of what it *is at the moment of termination, it’s not a whole lot different from a brain trauma patient, and the potential, while important, isn’t *as important as the real-time trauma that this entity’s continued existence causes to the mother.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          “The science is still out on the subject, but most neuroscientists seem to agree that this entity isn’t a “person” in any measurable way. There is no personality, or comprehension, or response. It’s just living organic tissue.”

          Yeah, but would you say the same thing if you were sure that in 9 months this entity could cry, laugh, learn to say mama, dada, then walk and go to school? It isn’t potentiality, it is a foregone conclusion that this will happen.

          As to this line of “in the moment” I know of dead drunks who are completely non responsive, can I kill them now?

          As to this real time trauma that babies cause mothers, yeesh, believe it or not my wife didn’t call it a trauma when she carried to term each of our 3 children.

          I get that the argument is at what point does the fetus’s right supercedes the mothers. Right now it is generally regarded at fetal viability, which is based on technological concerns and nothing more and neither you nor I know where technology will take us.

          As to 7 billion people, well if you think the world is to crowded you can certainly rid yourself of it. When I lived in China all of my students complained at how crowded Shanghai was, I always pointed to some tall building and said…feel free to make it less crowded. Funny how it is always everyone else who is too many, never yourself.

          And as a Doctor you know sperm counts have gone down, neither you nor I know what effects the continuing degradation of our environment will cause…and my point is you seem perfectly willing to allow the banishment of abortion under certain conditions (at least if you favor the survival of humanity) so is that not a moral decision in itself?

          And why would you want to deny morality? Moral values play a valuable role. I want there to be universal health care for moral reasons even if it proves to be an overall detriment to society. Does this make me wrong? After all, allowing the poor to die from easily preventable diseases would cull the population right quick. Why inject morality into that issue? Make it strictly a financial transaction, if you don’t have money then eff you and die. Is this what you advocate?

        • drdredel

          I don’t want to get into a Bachman-esque “I’ve got 22 kids, so I know what I’m talking about” diatribe, but I asure you that I’m well familiar with parenthood. As I said, the potential for all the things you list, that we inherently find wonderful about babies is neither here nor there because all life is potentially something else. Sperm and eggs are potentially children (and subsequently grand-children… also corpses and fertilizer). So, it only complicates things unnecessarily to view a fetus in this light, I think. You’re right that we don’t know exactly where our technology is going, but I can tell you that it’s not going in the direction of “the natural way to have children”. It’s going into cybernetics, and robotics, and bionics, and nano augmentations. The line between human and post-human is going to be crossed VERY soon, and then all these conversations will seem completely ludicrous.

          And as for morality, I’m not in any way discounting the role morality plays in our lives. I’m saying it’s not necessary to bring it into THIS issue. This issue can be settled on the basis of “can we legislate purely on the basis of human suffering”? And in this case, the answer is yes. Fetuses don’t suffer (and if they do, they certainly don’t have to). All things being equal, sure, they would get the same treatment under the law as any other human being, but that’s not possible because there is absolutely another human being involved… the mother, who can’t be removed from the equation, and as the host ends up having the ultimate say in what goes on in her body.

          When we learn to incubate and nurture fetuses wholly outside of the womb, we can discuss the morals of what it means to be “born” and at what point a developing fetus is endowed the rights that we collectively call “human”. Until that point you can’t dismiss out of hand, because you don’t relate to this point of view, the notion that for some, being forced to have a child is an unthinkable nightmare. Where is the morality in subjecting someone who DOES have a personality to such a fate?

        • Graychin

          An astonishing percentage of fertilized eggs do not survive the first trimester of pregnancy – perhaps 50% or more. To me, this disproves the belief that “life begins at conception” from both a scientific and religious point of view.

          Why would God “waste” so many souls? He is more callous and pro-abortion than anyone I know.

          Since so many fertilized eggs are not able to progress past the “lump of cells” stage, how can we define the lumps as full human beings? Until further development, I call them experiments. (No, I don’t know where to draw the line. How about letting the woman draw it?)

        • Demosthenes

          Why would God “waste” so many souls? He is more callous and pro-abortion than anyone I know.

          The ways of the Lord are not the ways of men. This is one of the main points behind the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The fact that miscarriages happen is in no way an argument in support of the point of view that the decision to terminate the continuum of a human life is not a moral decision.

        • Watusie

          And that is why we don’t use theology as the basis of laws.

        • LocalGroup

          “The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another. The first approach is called the “separation” or “no aid” interpretation, while the second approach is called the “non-preferential” or “accommodation” interpretation.”

          This refers to any religion or group of religions that come along and, ex cathedra, proclaim that everyone is born with a soul, ergo life begins at conception.

          It’d all about being born with a soul, not a heartbeat in the last trimester.

        • Demosthenes

          And that is why we don’t use theology as the basis of laws

          Believe it or not, I do agree with you here, both in general and for the specific reasons I mentioned above (viz. the justice of God is not the justice of men).

      • overshoot

        jeez, you don’t get it either. Why such sweeping pronouncements? Are you saying therefore that women should have abortions until a baby draws its first breath?

        No, I’m saying that the subject is so intensely polarized because there is political mileage to be made from making it a shibboleth. Therefore DF is indulging in fantasy in his dream of a near future where the issue becomes less politically charged because it’s less socially charged: the causality runs the other way.

  • Marquis

    As a Republican, I can agree with Mr. Frum that the abortion question should be as much an issue of practical politics as it is moral/philosophical politics. For my party at least, the sooner this issue is resolved, the better, as I’m confident that more people would register Republican if they weren’t so turned off by the “dead fetus” crowd. If you support limited government and personal responsibility, you have to be consistent in your logic. If the government couldn’t and shouldn’t intervene in the minutiae of private commerce and personal finance, how can you possibly expect it to regulate such a highly personal matter as abortion?

    • Frumplestiltskin

      how many times must this be repeated? Of course the government regulates abortions. See what will happen if you open a shingle saying you will give abortions. Abortion doctors have to adhere to standards of care set out by the government or they can not peform abortions.
      As I said above, China has outlawed sex selection abortions. Do you agree with that or not? Or are you fine with their being 50 million more men than women there? So if you acknowledge that government has a compelling interest in some regulation who are you to state where that line must be drawn? Why not allow society through the Democratic process to decide? Or are you going to claim your moral evaluation overrides the Democratic process? Or will you bring up strawmen, that the right to abortion is the same as ending slavery or the being in favor of the voting rights act because….well, you think it does?

      • overshoot

        Or are you fine with their being 50 million more men than women there?

        Totally. In fact, one of my interesting SF scenarios is a near future where it’s possible to take a one-time treatment to ensure that ALL of your offspring are of a chosen gender. Take the blue vaccine, and you’ll never have any female offspring. Period; selected against either at spermogenesis or by antibodies in the female genital tract. Take the pink vaccine and no male babies. If Momma and Pappa disagree, no babies period.

        If the people of China, India, and the Islamic world decide that they want nothing but sons, fine by me. Their choice, and the world can in the long run benefit from the reduced population. I have no idea how it’d work out in Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa is depopulating itself with HIV so the question may be moot there. I suspect that North America and most of Europe (especially those hellholes in Scandinavia) will mostly be happy with what Nature provides, but after all it’s just an interesting thought experiment.

      • Marquis

        No, my point was that the government does not have the authority to get involved in the little details of our personal and professional lives. Of course a certain level of regulation is necessary in order set standards in industry; for example, commercial auto fuel has to be composed of certain compounds at such and such percentages, which are different than the percentages mandated in commercial jet fuel. But the line has to be drawn, for example, when Senator Tom Coburn and others abuse the Commerce Clause to regulate Partial Birth Abortion, a procedure most people agree is immoral, but should not be illegalized by twisting the Constitution in such a way.

      • Primrose

        Rights are something that society doesn’t get to “decide” once the essential structure has been created. (That structure for us being the constitution.)

  • baw1064

    First of all, I completely agree with David. If you are really serious about reducing the number of abortions, there are much more productive approaches than fantasizing that it will be outlawed by constitutional amendment. (meth is illegal, too…how’s that working out?)

    But maybe abortion isn’t the point after all. Maybe the goal is to maintain a culture war, and abortion is merely one of the better issues anybody has come up with to facilitate one.

    • Frumplestiltskin

      Of course abortion is the point after all. I am a pro life Democrat who believes in contraception, sex education, universal health care, etc. I am not pro life because my goal is to maintain a culture war. Why the hell must you accuse everyone who doesn’t agree with you on this issue of operating in bad faith?

      • anniemargret

        I doubt any of it is a culture war, created just to politicize a very complex and troubling issue.

        I do agree with you that abortion is the termination of a potential life of a human being. As such, and like you being a moderately liberal Democrat, my problem is that there are extremists on both sides of this issue. And no one, no one, is getting to the root of the problem.

        Which is human sexuality and the prevention of a pregnancy. Now, we are not talking about the extremism of Santorum, or the CC’s stance on no birth control at all. Millions of Catholics use birth control, get divorced, and even have sex before marriage. So this very rigid stance is not indicative of the vast majority of Americans.

        I would even suspect that your average Republican in theory might say that they are against abortion, but when push comes to shove, probably would not vote to completely ban this constitutional right as it now stands.

        Because Life is messy. And Life is complex. And because there are no easy answers.

        That said, I tend to see this issue more closely to what Hillary Clinton once said about it…that abortion should remain legal, but rare. And to need as a society to get a little more mature about sexuality. We are not going back to the 50s and people will have sex.

        But are people being mature enough and moral enough to use birth control? If the answer is no, and we have men and women jumping out of each beds at random with no thought about preventing a potential pregnancy, or we have kids as young as 13 or 14 having sex without giving them the REAL education about sexuality and the outcomes of it, including the horror of abortion, and offering them pragmatic solutions – such as free access to birth control – then we are just pretending we are trying to solve a problem that needs solving.

        And this is where I part ways with the anti-abortion crowd. They have no nuance. They don’t care what the circumstances are, what the woman is facing, what her situation is (which is private between her and her doctor), nor do they bother to address the issue of widespread birth control, sex education and subsequent health care for the child and mother.

        It’s all religious and posturing and they haven’t any answers to this complex problem, except offering up simplistic mantras that won’t and can’t work in the real world.

        On the other hand, I do not want to see abortions being used as a form of birth control. There’s plenty of men and women who are into casual sex, with little thought of the ramifications of their actions. If they don’t bother to use birth control, are they equally to blame morally? I think so.

        And what about the role of men here? For eons men have had a libertine philosophy about sex… how many of them actually care about using birth control, or making sure their partner is using it? Don’t they have a moral responsibility here too?

        Why don’t the anti-abortion folks attack these issues? Because it is far, far easier to just say ‘no to abortion.’ Simple, easy, and sounds very righteous. And very inconsequential as a solution.

        • Primrose

          But AnnieMargaret, who uses abortion as birth control?

          Men who oppose condom use and women who either don’t have access or knowledge of birth control.

          I just don’t buy that a woman would prefer to have surgery or a painful miscarriage (the RU 40 drug) rather than let’s say a Nuvo ring or a Depo shot, of in the case of mothers, a hormonal IUD. I don’t buy this. If we want to insist that women who get abortions are given extensive counseling on birth control use, fine. I’m even fine with some sort of counseling on why they are taking such risks (provided the state pays). I think we’d quickly find that these “birth control” abortions were much more complicated than that.

          Though I’d also note that when I checked out Watusie’s facts on the amount of mothers who have abortions, that many of the women who had them were using some sort of birth control but inappropriately or inexpertly, which would indicate that they were not using it instead of birth control at all.

      • drdredel


        I’m curious. When you say that you’re “pro-life” what exactly does that mean? I’m asking earnestly. That phrase has many interpretations. I am going to assume (and by all means correct me if I’m wrong) that you are the kind of PL person that allows for abortion in extreme circumstances, and probably doesn’t have anything against IVF. Let’s tackle the last one first, as it’s a lot more clear cut.
        In IVF a ton of eggs get fertilized and then some may or may not actually “work out” as implanted fetuses, but the vast majority are destroyed. If you believe that life starts at conception then it’s hard to see why a few cells (on their way to humanity) being killed are any worse than an 8 week old fetus (long before there’s anything that can be described as a pre-frontal cortex available to have some sort of “experience”.

        Now then.. on to “special circumstances”. Most people think that a woman that’s been raped should have the option to terminate said pregnancy. What is the rationale behind such a decision? There’s certainly no argument to be made that the fetus is defective (the child of a criminal is not genetically predisposed towards criminality) so, the only reasonable explanation is that it is unfair to the mother to suffer the trauma of raising the product of her abuse. But it doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity to see that the manner of the suffering is entirely subjective. Why go out of your way to decide what manner of unfortunate existence or occurrence justifies an exception? If you approach it from the (correct) assumption that almost no woman wishes to have an abortion, and those that do, do it with much regret and consternation, then it becomes a totally self regulating phenomenon; society doesn’t need to dictate which circumstances qualify for an exception because the individual herself will decide that her situation is one that is bad enough that it warrants this decision.

        Now, in combination with a robust policy of contraception and sex education, it seems that we can have a really great compromise where women have fewer and fewer abortions, and the ones that do happen are performed in a way where the fetus is killed with whatever means necessary to make sure it doesn’t suffer.

        Of course I could be wrong and you might be the kind of PLer that insists that all life is sacred at any stage and in any circumstance, but then we have nothing to talk about, so, I hope that’s not the case :)

        • Primrose

          But all this DrDredel comes down to whether in one’s heart of hearts, you trust women to make good decisions.

          And despite many a persons self-image to the contrary, a great many people don’t trust female judgement. I would also sugest that for others it is impossible to feel it right about women making self-interested decisions. Morality depends on the idea of mother as martyr.

          Which is why the otherwise rational Demosthenes could answer your question about whether a father can be compelled to donate an organ with a resounding no, say a woman is obligated to and then claim that claims of sexism are absurd. Frumple is equally outraged to be lined to sexism.

          Because for both of them, as others, the idea of the self-sacrificing mother, the egoless mother is too fundamental. It is as if one is proposing that the moon is made of blue cheese.

      • baw1064


        No, I don’t accuse you of operating in bad faith, and I’m sorry if I gave that impression. But I do believe there are many in the political establishment who are using it as just another political tool. One example (which I heard just the other day while flipping past a talk radio station for all of 10 seconds) is to claim that “Obamacare” is immoral and must be repealed because it could conceivably help to subsidize somebody’s abortion. I don’t believe for a minute that these people’s real concern is in preventing abortions; they want to defeat Obama while screwing people with chronic medical conditions. To many people, it’s just another wedge issue to be used whenever it might help to win the election.

        • Frumplestiltskin

          I understand there are elements of inconsistences in morality we face all the time. It is illegal for 2 13 year olds to have sex (I think it should be but they should not be punished, just counseled with the records sealed, but it should still be prohibited) yet it is perfectly legal for that 13 year old to have an abortion. So pro choicers say no to sex but yes to abortion for the 13 year old because it is both her body to do with as she pleases yet it is not?

          And I am tired of people screaming how so many fertilized eggs naturally abort as some reason why life doesn’t begin at conception…somehow. That is a natural process. Look, many people die each year from lightning strikes, that doesn’t give me the right to go around and electrocute people.

          And while a sperm and an egg represent potential people, nowhere am I blathering on that those deserve rights. The fundamental question is and remains at what point to we imbue the fetus with legal rights and upon what basis do we do so. It is not scientific, if someone were to say you are not alive until 4 months and 2 days, that is a logical contradiction, what was it at 4 months and 1 day then? And the designation of that date is far more arbitrary than what we do know of as the beginning of human life, which is conception.

          It is the nonsense of the pro abortion crowd, life begins at the point where it is most convenient for me, logic and science be damned, that makes me crazy. And no nonsense about what medieval scholars believed, we have science which proves when life begins.

          Again, if you want to say that a human life acquires legal rights at viability, fine, go ahead.

          And drdredel, you are missing my point. The issue is not at what point I think legal rights for fetuses are acquired, I believe that this is an issue that government, via the Democratic process, should determine. As to issues of death penalty, end of life for terminal cases, etc. these are issues for society to decide and I am prepared to live with societies decision, while doing my best to advocate my own belief. I think Roe Vs. Wade was wrongly decided and would rather this be a state issue, I have little doubt that California or NY would have liberal abortion laws so if you want that right, live there.

        • balconesfault

          So pro choicers say no to sex but yes to abortion for the 13 year old because it is both her body to do with as she pleases yet it is not?

          Actually, there is a big push for “Romeo and Juliet” laws that would decriminalize sex between minors with little age difference as long as coercion is not involved.

          It is the nonsense of the pro abortion crowd, life begins at the point where it is most convenient for me, logic and science be damned, that makes me crazy. And no nonsense about what medieval scholars believed, we have science which proves when life begins.

          Again – not life. Personhood. A fetus gains personhood independent of the wishes of the mother at the point when the state is willing and able to take possession of the fetus and be responsible for sustaining its life independent of the body of the mother.

        • drdredel


          “I am tired of…” is a bad way to begin an argument. I’m sorry, but exhaustion is no reason to give up on a problem. Juries are forced to keep deliberation long after everyone would much prefer to just toss a coin and go home.

          I’m not missing your point, and I don’t say what I’m saying flippantly. What you are missing is that if you evaluate this purely scientifically then there never really is a person. We and solely we (as an intellectual entity) decide what a “person” is.
          Is it simply the collection of atoms that ‘look’ like a human being? Is it someone that can compose an opera? You decide.
          Handing this off to the States makes perfect sense if you feel that it is not a woman’s individual, and inherent, right to determine what goes on inside her body. If you think that a woman loses her rights as a result of being biologically tied to her maturing offspring, that is certainly a valid point of view. I simply don’t agree with it. And if nothing else, we should go back to the other abortion thread and talk about gender equivalence. If the responsibility is simply to the preservation of the life then at what point does the father get a similar responsibility? Do States start legally forcing fathers to donate their organs to their children if no other donor is available? If not, what is the moral difference?

          Unfortunately in this debate “what the legal rights for the fetus are” is the ONLY issue… there is no other issue. No one is arguing that we shouldn’t lament abortion, or have big abortion parties, or teach adolescents that they should skip the condom, and just go kill off whatever they manage to f*ck into temporary existence. And you didn’t answer my previous question about what sort of pro-lifer you see yourself as being, and how you manage to reconcile the paradoxes I noted above… I think that would be very helpful to this conversation.

  • hisgirlfriday

    As much as I do not want to see aborti.on criminalized and share your desire to see it addressed more on a moral, human level than a legal, courts level, unfortunately David there is still the matter of the 5th and 14th Amendments and its prohibition against the state depriving persons of life without due process.

    It all comes down to how you define a person and thus its much more like our moral crisis of slavery than the Prohibition craze.

    Let us not forget that one reason DC wound up letting Prohibition get through was to try to sap the energy from the Progressive movement as a whole when those rural agrarian pacifist moralists who were agitating to shut down the urban corporate war-mongering usurers as another part of their agenda.

  • nhthinker

    Abortion will end when technology evolves to a point that transplanting a fetus is not significantly more dangerous than killing one.

    Parents are morally and legally expected to drop breathing infants they no longer want to hospitals and shelters instead of killing them: there will be a time in the future when the same could be true for fetuses.

    It will be curious as to the number of people that will advocate for the right to kill a healthy fetus when that time comes- Hopefully, there will be few advocates of the choice of death for healthy fetuses at that point.

    The alternative, as in the movie Gattaca, thousands to millions of embryos are culled to have every perfect child. And children conceived naturally without culling are made illegal due to their health inferiority.

    So much for the sanctity of human life.

    • LocalGroup

      nh — Yours is the best idea I’ve read in a while. Safely transplanting human fetuses. A technology devoutly to be consummated.

      A healthy fetus could be safely transplanted from a mother who doesn’t want to bring the child to term to a pro-life mother whose uterus was unoccupied at the moment. The donating mother would be free of the responsibility of rearing a child and the receiving mother would demonstrate to all her regard for the sancity of life. It would be a win-win.

      Unless the pro-life position really is the punishment of women who have sex for pleasure and not for population.

      • nhthinker

        Thanks for the support.

        The pregnant woman today has no legal responsibility to “rear a child”. Women/parents have the legal right not to rear children.

        To me, the issue is taking a pregnancy to term: women have the legal right not to endure pregnancy.
        That right not to endure pregnancy, from a current technology POV, results in the right to kill healthy embryos and fetuses. The right to kill could be fleeting, unless we go the Gattaca route.

        It’s not clear what society will choose… my projection is the global society will eventually embrace the morally disappointing Gattaca route.

  • anniemargret

    The anti-aborton at all costs crowd never get past the word Abortion. They don’t give a fig about the unwanted child who is born. That child that perhaps will be unloved, neglected and worse, abused emotionally or physically or both. These are often the same people who are against their taxes going to help disadvantaged children!

    If that isn’t hypocrisy,what is? If you are a pro-life person, you must go all the way, past the pregnancy and into the birth and life of that new person, giving that new person the same potential to live with dignity that we all want for our children and grandchildren.

    Yes, it’s a moral issue. But one that goes way beyond the pregnancy.

    • overshoot

      These are often the same people who are against their taxes going to help disadvantaged children!

      Actually, a lot of them are in favor of unlimited parental rights (up to and including stoning disobedient children.) So it really is sanctity of life right up until the first breath, then you can just pitch the little parasite in the dumpster for all they care.

      • LocalGroup

        “until the first breath, then you can just pitch the little parasite in the dumpster for all they care.”

        Disagree. They want the little parasite to be a financial burden on you for a couple of years. So that you have to take a second or third job, but you still lose your house.

    • buddyglass

      “They don’t give a fig about the unwanted child who is born.”

      Only if you define “giving a fig” as “supporting X or Y social program”. I’m not sure that’s a very good definition.

      “That child that perhaps will be unloved, neglected and worse, abused emotionally or physically or both.”

      If the argument is that unloved and unwanted children would be better off not existing, then why not support infanticide? I mean, removing that option from frustrated and overwhelmed mothers only creates more cases where children will be abused and neglected, right?

      Of course the above only really makes sense if one considers abortion to end a human life whose validity is on par with an infant. And most pro-life folks consider that to be the case. All the arguments about abortion saving kids from lives of abuse and neglect don’t count for much when the alternative is perceived to be essentially “execution”.

      “If that isn’t hypocrisy,what is?”

      Good question. But I don’t really find it hypocritical. The one is only tangentially related to the other, in that both concern children. For instance, I don’t think these two views, taken together, are hypocritical:

      1. It’s wrong and should be illegal to kill children and,
      2. Government should take a less active role in alleviating the financial needs of poor families.

      Pro-life folks consider their views on abortion to be exactly #1 above. You may certainly disagree with them about whether it’s accurate to frame the issue that way, but if you’re going to say #1 and #2 above, taken together, are patently hypocritical then you just called every conservative (who opposes infanticide, which is the majority of them) a rank hypocrite.

      “If you are a pro-life person, you must go all the way, past the pregnancy and into the birth and life of that new person, giving that new person the same potential to live with dignity that we all want for our children and grandchildren.”

      I more or less agree with this. It’s all about definitions though. You use the word dignity. I’d argue that all of us are born with the same potential to live with dignity and that no circumstance can rob us of that. Jews in concentration camps had the potential to live (and die) with dignity. That’s because “living with dignity” isn’t predicated on one’s circumstances.

      For what it’s worth, I’m not on board with the majority of Republican efforts to shut down or gut programs that benefit the poor. And I do think it would behoove pro-life activists to support programs that defray the cost and trouble of carrying a child to term. I think this because I think it would advance their goal of reducing the frequency of abortion, not because I think they’re hypocrites if they don’t.

      • LocalGroup

        “Only if you define “giving a fig” as “supporting X or Y social program”.

        If we leave the “don’t” in annie’s quote and define “don’t give a fig” as “disinterested” and “indifferent”, does that change things?

        Is that a better definition? More to the point?

        Don’t you have to get past indifference before you can think about X or Y social programs?

  • TJ Parker

    What a reasonable man you can be, Frum. To think: you were a Republican. I still don’t forgive ya for the Dubya gay marriage thing.

  • LocalGroup

    Prayer of a Sexually Active Woman

    Now I lay me down to fuck
    I pray no sperm shall have good luck
    If I conceive before I wake
    The morning after pill I’ll take

  • Aaron

    This post and the CNN column it refers to are among the best things David Frum has written. He’s succeeded in actually saying something original about the politics of abortion, an issue which is usually “debated” by just repeating the same arguments over and over. I hope these two columns get the wide attention and discussion they deserve. They frame the whole issue in a different way.

    Speaking as someone who doesn’t share Frum’s centrist views (I’m more to the paleo right), I think he’s one of the most original and interesting pundits out there right now. I usually don’t post fan comments to this or any other forum (waste of bandwidth), but these two posts were just extraordinary.

  • Demosthenes

    This was a fantastic post, great job David!

    I just want to echo the sentiment that the best way to prevent abortion is to prevent unintended pregnancies. Ready access to contraceptives and sex education are necessary correlates of a comprehensive and sane pro-life policy.

    • sinz54

      We had far fewer abortions in the 19th century without sex education or the contraceptive Pill.

      Would you care to explain that before I do?

      • Watusie

        Where do you get your 19th century abortion statistics?

        • Chris Balsz

          If you challenge his assertion that we had “far fewer abortions in the 19th century” you would also be challenging the assertion that legalization is necessary for broader access, and all court cases hinging on the ‘chilling effect” of any measure were baseless.

        • Watusie

          The statement “We had far fewer abortions in the 19th century” indicates that the author knows how many abortions we have now and how many we had then, and has done the math to compare them. I know I can go to the Guttmacher Institute for up-to-date statistics. But where did sinz go for his 19th century statistics???

      • baw1064

        People got married at 16, and had an average of about 7 kids.

      • nitpicker

        Uh…probably because women didn’t want to die of the quite common Puerperal fever spread around by (unknowing) midwives and a quarter of infants weren’t going to make it anyway.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    I am ardently pro-choice and I do not consider terminating an early-stage pregnancy to be immoral, but I think Frum’s comparison of abortion to prohibition is insulting to pro-lifers. I don’t have any special insight, but I suspect that the vast majority of pro-lifers see abortion at any stage as the taking of an innocent life. Thus, to them, the consequences of permitting abortion are substantially greater than the consequences of permitting the sale and use of alcohol.

    • kirk

      As I read the prohibitionist position alcohol was taking lives. We are fighting over metaphors. Abortion is like taking a life. Alcoholism is like taking a life. Seems like DF nailed this one.

      • Aaron

        Exactly! It especially misses the point to compare pro-life advocates’ attitudes towards abortion to those same people’s attitudes towards drunkenness. What matters is that the temperance movement saw alcohol as destroying men’s souls and destroying the society as a whole. They were no less fervent than are present-day pro-life people. And think about it: the fact that we today have trouble even imagining how the fervor over drunkenness could be equivalent to that over abortion just illustrates Frum’s point about the trajectory of the temperance movement.

        Whether or not Frum’s historical hypothesis is valid for abortion (I don’t know enough history to have an opinion on that), his article was invaluable for, if nothing else, suggesting an extremely interesting analogy.

      • Rillion

        While I lean towards DF’s thinking on this issue, I agree with Sparticusisnotdead that many of the pro-lifer’s would likely object to the analogy. For them the only analogy to abortion is murder. Would someone argue that it would be better to have murder be legalized and then just try to use moral arguments to convince people that they shouldn’t murder others?

  • CautiousProgressive

    This is a very good article, and a example of why Frum is a conservative mind worth listening to.

  • CautiousProgressive

    And I should add: the focus on *reducing* abortion rather than *outlawing* abortion is a very important distinction.

    The data makes it clear: the best way to reduce the number of abortions is to spread easy access to contraceptives and family planning. In a saner world, this issue would unify the left and right wings.

    • sinz54

      In the 19th century, we had far fewer abortions, no sex education in school, and the Pill hadn’t been invented yet.

      Explain that.

    • JohnMcC

      Mr Sinz you repeat yourself, I suppose to feint and reply with some supposedly devastating factoid you’re holding close to your vest. So I’ll bite.

      Since abortions in the 19th century were essentially done by folk-medicine and herbals, it’s hard to know, of course. The entire biological process of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and such was not known through most of the 19th century. A ‘pregnancy’ in the sense we know it was commonly (and legally) thought to begin at ‘quickening’ — when the movement of the fetus is detectable to the mother. The first anti-abortion statute was apparently in Connecticut in the 1820s and they were not uniformly in place until the 1880s.

      So tell us, oh swami, how many abortions there were in the 19th century.

  • Steve D

    I am not pro-life.

    I eat meat without compunction, though I have no problem with requiring livestock to be treated humanely. I spent 21 years in the Army prepared to take human life if need be. I see no moral issues at all in killing Osama bin Ladin and Anwar al-Awlaki, and I really don’t get very worked up about Muammar Ghaddafi. Nor do I have a problem with capital punishment as long as strenuous efforts are made to exonerate the innocent. The real problem with capital punishment is that we waste resources on procedural trivia involving indisputably guilty persons that could better be used to pursue evidence of innocence. If you want to talk about how money perverts justice, talk about how it may take 20 years and millions of dollars to execute a criminal whose guilt is beyond question.

    I’m also not terribly anti-abortion, and I’ll give in on all the serious cases like rape, incest, or serious harm to the mother. (I do see a problem that it’s okay to execute a fetus conceived through rape, but not the actual rapist. That’s just morally absurd.)

    What I am is pro-innocent life. And that’s what most anti-abortionists are. There’s a fundamental difference between killing a terrorist or executing a murderer, and killing a fetus or murdering an innocent person in a street crime. And for those of you who cracked a Gideon Bible at some point, “Thou shalt not kill” doesn’t represent the total Judaeo-Christian view of the sanctity of human life any more than “let’s kill all the lawyers” represents Shakespeare’s view of the law.

    • Watusie

      “There’s a fundamental difference between killing a terrorist or executing a murderer, and killing a fetus or murdering an innocent person in a street crime.”

      There is also a fundamental difference between a fetus and a person on a street.

      • LocalGroup

        And the end of the ‘life’ of a fetus and the end of the life of a 19 yeard old Marine, who died on the sands of Iraq to make Halliburton more profitable next quarter and Dick Cheney’s options worth a little more when his accountant determines the tax environment is more favorable.

    • balconesfault

      any more than “let’s kill all the lawyers” represents Shakespeare’s view of the law.

      Actually, Shakespeare put the “let’s kill all the lawyers” phrase in the mouth of “Dick the Butcher”, a follower of anarchist Jack Cade, whom Shakespeare depicts as “the head of an army of rabble and a demagogue pandering to the ignorant”

      Nice try, though.

    • baw1064

      “Thou shalt not kill” is a bad translation. If you read a bit further, there are a number of capital crimes specified.

    • Rockerbabe

      Anti-abortion laws are not about babies; these laws are about limiting the choices women can make, even the choice to save her very life. Women’s lives mean little to nothing to these bigots. These laws are about controlling women, their choices, who they deal with, their futures, the risk they take with their lives, etc. Rape and incest be damned.

      But were there is a will there is a way. . .let the cellphones ring, the ipads, smartphones and computers compute and the internet do its thing. Most women have access to these devices, credit cards, debit cards, cash and a passport. We can get what we want, when we want it and do it legal. It will not be me in the back alley; only the women of little economic wherewithall to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. I for one would never put a women into prison for not reproducing.

      In fact, I would not put anyone into prison for failing to donate a pint of blood to save another’s life, to donate a kidney to get someone off of dialysis or failure to donate even one bone marrow cell to save a person from dying of a number of caners. NO ONE is entitled to the use of my body for any reason without my permission; the uterus is also off the table and not for rent or usary. While I have agreed to be an organ donner upon my death, I will respect anyone who chooses otherwise. Abortion is about controlling women. . .don’t mistake it for anything else.

    • armstp

      So you are against “guilty life”? Boy, that is a loaded term. How would you define “innocent”, “guilty”, “life” and what the actual punishment should be for “guilty life”?

      • Chris Balsz

        The same punishment you hand out for innocent life.

        • armstp

          By your statement your logic seems to be contradictory, as I find all anti-abortionists usually have.

          So you consider the fetis as life and being the same as a living breathing walking person. Ok. I have no problem with that. That is a matter of belief.

          The problem is I assume you are against executing or the death penalty for the fetis. If that is the case then why are you not also against the death penalty for all living humans?

        • Chris Balsz

          Most of us reserve the death penalty to people who earn it by deliberate acts. If I were a fascisti and approved of the random death penalty, the decimatio, then it would be illogical to oppose abortion as outrageous —and as a matter of fact they didn’t; they only opposed when it reduced the “worthwhile” human population.

    • nitpicker

      Actually, Steve, the Bible explicitly addresses this issue and says that, well, you read it:

      “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25)

      In this Old Testament context, where the Lex Talionis rules (Leviticus 24:17-21), the Bible here states that a man who causes the death of an unborn child must pay, but, it clearly says, doesn’t have to die. In other words, the Bible treats an unborn child differently than an adult and allows the husband to set the value of the unborn, much as he would for other property.

  • kccd

    Much is made of the fact that abortions have been reduced from 30 per 1000 women to 20, the implication being that this has been achieved by changing attitudes and convincing arguments against the procedure.

    Actually, much of this reduction has been achieved by greatly reducing access to abortion. There are no providers at all in much of the country, and Republicans have been busily introducing longer and longer waiting periods, outlawing abortion past 20 weeks, requiring medically unnecessary sonograms, defunding PP, requiring counseling by anti-abortion activists, etc. We have also seen “crisis pregnancy centers” popping up like mushrooms – centers that masquerade as medical clinics but really only aim to guilt women into having babies.

  • PracticalGirl

    The future of the “pro-life movement” ? Lies directly in the path of having respect for the sanctity of all life, including that which is already living and breathing. Lies with the concept that protecting cells at conception isn’t more important that providing a world in which those cells (fully realized) and their parents should be given a shot at a life that doesn’t result in poverty from the outset.

    As soon as the same people who want to make abortion illegal stop insisting that we abolish Obamacare, de-fund education, get rid of WIC etc., I’ll know that they’re serious about their “pro-life” position. But what kind of a “moral” person insists on forcing a life, only to make certain with government policies that the life created has little chance of transcending the very circumstances that causes an anguished woman to consider terminating it in the first place?

    • Bebe99

      +1 agreed! When the right to ‘ life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ becomes only the right to life, we are actually devaluing all human lives.

  • Cforchange

    Simply perfect David. This is the discussion that we must have.

  • Libdem

    Since you can’t outlaw abortion without leading to paradoxes, don’t try to outlaw abortion.

  • Rockerbabe

    The truth of the matter, is that most women in the USA will not be deterred from an abortion if that is what they really want. My body is my business; my future is for me to decide; the medical risks I take on that could cause great injury to me as a person, is decision to make. It is none of anyone’s business but my own. . .always has been.

    For the modern American woman, where there is a will, there is a way. Most adult women and teenage girls have access to cellphones, ipads, computers, the interenet, credit cards, debit cards, cash and passports. We can find out what we want to know, who is the expert or has great experience in abortion care and go where it is legal. It can be paid for with credit or cash. No one is going to stop most American women from doing what they want, it is only the economically less fortunate who will be caught up in the morass of women-hating bigots, who seek to control the lives of women, irrespective of what the woman herself really wants or needs. I am sick of the do-goers and the morality idiots. . .just leave me alone. My body is none of your business.

  • msoliverca

    Maybe the first next step for the Pro-Life movement would be not to cheer at the number of executions that have occurred under a Governor’s watch. The next step might be to caution Santorum not to give away the game and talk about how contraception is morally wrong as well…

  • sinz54

    Abortion is a religious issue, something that David Frum has downplayed in his writings on this topic.

    The notion that personhood begins at conception came from a particular reading of religion by the modern Roman Catholic Church. (David Frum should note the obvious dearth of pro-life atheists.) It’s a relatively new interpretation; St. Augustine didn’t agree with that notion.

    And religions do evolve their views, but it takes a long time.
    This issue isn’t going to go away any time soon.

    It’s one of the many issues involved in the religious view of sex.

    Over on National Review, the new editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez, is a devout Catholic who takes the strict Catholic view on sexual matters.

    Of course Ms. Lopez believes that abortion should be banned–no exceptions. But she goes further. She believes that contraception, such as the Pill, is also wrong. Her view, drawn from strict Catholicism, is that sex is for procreation, not recreation–even within a marriage. A husband and wife should not have sex unless they intend to procreate.

    Anyone who heard such views would instantly recognize them as coming from strict Catholicism.

    • torourke


      Life beginning at conception is relatively new because the science of embryology is relatively new when compared to the writings of Aquinas or Augustine. The reason why the Church teaches that life begins at conception is because that’s what embryologists tell them. In that sense, they are much more open to the facts of science than secular liberals are. The Church rejects any sort of metaphysical distinction between a living member of the human species and person because that distinction is rooted in a dualism which is bizarre and logically untenable.

      • Watusie

        “The reason why the Church teaches that life begins at conception is because that’s what embryologists tell them.”

        What nonsense. Cite, please, the authority upon which you rest your assertion that “embryologists” “tell” anyone, much less “the Church”, that “life begins at conception”.

        The concept of “life begins at ‘X’” is meaningless from a scientific point of view. The egg is “alive”. The sperm is “alive”. The fertilized egg is “alive”. So there is no one point where an embryologist says “that is where life begins”.

        Embryologists do say that the fertilization of the egg creates a new, genetically distinct organism…but that is not = life begins at conception.

        • torourke

          Embryology textbooks tell us, as you acknowledge, that human development begins at conception. That was when “you” first existed. Sperm cells and egg cells are genetically and functionally parts of your parents. They are not genetically-distinct members of the human species, as you seem to acknowledge in your closing paragraph. You began at conception, and went through the embryonic, fetal, infant, toddler, kid, and adult phases that every healthy person goes through. What abortion advocates do, at least those who accept the facts of embryology, is to say that merely being a living member of the human species is not enough to qualify as a person with rights. In doing so, they reject human equality because of an irrational metaphysical dualism. But hey, at least they accept the facts of embryology.

        • Watusie

          You are essentially repeating my own statement back to me (embryologists say that the fertilization of the egg creates a new, genetically distinct organism). And then you add a totally unsupported additional assertion: that this means life begins at conception, and there is no scientific debate over this.

          If that were true, you’d have no problem supplying authoritative statements to that effect.

          But you don’t. Because you can’t. Because they don’t exist, except in the form of religious people saying that science says something that it does not in fact say.

        • torourke

          I modified my comment to make it more clear.

        • Watusie

          Sneaky. And still wrong.

        • torourke

          It’s sneaky to update your own post, and then inform the person you are debating that you have done so? I don’t think that word means what you think it does. And would you like to make an actual argument as to how I am wrong?

      • LocalGroup

        The reason the Church teaches that life begins at conception is because Christianity is founded on the proposition that everyone has a ‘soul’.  If everyone has a ‘soul’ then that ‘soul’ is coexistent with the embryo at conception.

        The Church can not promote abortion and the destruction of the soul as murder because of the  establishment clause in the U.S. Constitution.  There the Christian ‘soul’ has no standing or protection in American Jurisprudence.

        So the Church switched it’s focus from the protection of man’s ‘soul’ to the viability of and the equivalency of a fetus not yet come to term and a breath drawing human being. 

        And so, thanks to the Church, we have another dispute to resolve.

        • torourke

          Virtually everything in this paragraph is wrong. And your assertion that the Church cannot promote anti-abortion policies because of the Establishment clause is a testament to an amazing amount of ignorance on your part.

        • LocalGroup

          My ignorance is well known and that is amply proved by the fact I’m wasting my time arguing about abortion with people who ate too much LSD 30 years ago.

          Please direct my attention to that part of the Constitution that offers any protection of and legal remedy for the SOUL, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc.

          If you would take the time to read what other people wrote before going berserk, you’d save everybody a lot of time. And maybe you could get your blood pressure under 160.

        • torourke

          That you think that the Church opposing abortion is tantamount to establishing a national religion is idiotic. You have no idea what the Establishment Clause means, and judging by the rest of your post, no idea about much else either.

        • LocalGroup

          Good grief,  torourke, I hope you are not so simpleminded that your meagre reading skills can not be improved by some remedial education.  Your ability at pokey ad hominem insults suggest that you have some aptitude.

          I asked you in the post you answered: “Please direct my attention to that part of the Constitution that offers any protection of and legal remedy for the SOUL, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim etc.” 

          Apparently that is too difficult for someone with your IQ. 

          My argument is that the Church could not pursue its case that abortion deprives one of God’s Souls with a life before God, because the Soul is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.  

          In order for a Christian Soul to have standing in this country, Congress and 3/4 of the States would have to establish Christianity as a religion whose Souls were entitled to the protection of the Government.

          After the Church figured that one out (obviously before you did), they switched their attack from protecting Souls, to protecting living fetuses and the rights of the unborn.

          If you don’t agree, put your questionable talent as a poster to work and tell me why I’m wrong.

          If not, take your simpleminded abilities over to NRO. But don’t count on getting a date with Katherine Lopez there, whether you are a man or a woman.

          I hear she doesn’t swing either way.

    • baw1064

      I hope Ms. Lopez never has an ectopic pregnancy.

      My understanding it that “life begins at conception” is not the accepted view in Judaism. My information is secondhand, so could someone who is more knowledgeable please correct or elaborate?

  • baw1064

    I’m a little surprised that nobody has yet raised the issue of anomalous things that can happen, which in my view makes the argument that a zygote equals a person problematic:

    -Identical twins (1 zygote -> 2 people)

    -Chimerism (2 zygotes -> 1 person)

    -Fetus in feto (one embryo ends up as parasitic to the other, often without internal organs or a nervous system)

    To my mind, defining a person in terms of having a functioning nervous system deals with such situations much better.

    • Watusie

      What’s wrong with birth as a nice, bright line? Afterall, for many centuries it has been considered a pretty BFD.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    so watusie, you are fine with a woman having abortions up to the point of active labor, that is a doctor can inject poison into the baby so it is born still born? so before than it is essentially nothing? therefore harming a woman in such a way that she has a miscarriage is nothing more than simple assault?

    and if a fertilized egg is not a human life, then what is it? Somehow it “evolves” into a human with rights only when it takes its first breath outside of the womb? It defies all logic and common sense. To state that you are alive after 9 months of being alive…I really don’t get this logic. Your life began at conception, your life did not begin in your fathers testicles, the sperm was simply a delivery system of your fathers DNA.

    This new, genetically distinct organism is human. It is nothing else but. I am fine with society determining that that human at that stage of development does not have rights with supercedes the mothers. But to say that your existence as a genetically distinct organism did not happen at the exact moment of fertilization is simply silly. You are torturing logic to arrive at a conclusion most convenient to what you want the law to be.

    It applies equally well to twins, each of their lives began at that moment of conception because embedded within that fertilization was the mechanism for their splitting.

    Again, we can differentiate rights with the clearly evident reality of when human life begins. Stating that, hey, you are not alive until you have x amount of brain cells or your nervous system reaches x stage again tortures logic. How the hell can anyone say you are alive after so many months of being alive?

    If you want to argue that fetuses with a functioning nervous system are entitled to rights which supercede that of the mother to have full autonomy over her body? Again, I have no problem with that.

    • Watusie

      In the real world, doctors making difficult deliveries are indeed sometimes forced to choose between a live birth and saving the life of the mother.

      I imagine, though, what you are dreaming up is a scenario where a woman one day from her due date decides, on a whim, to have an abortion instead and the doctor for some reason agrees to do it. Does this happen in the real world? I don’t know, but I suspect not. Firstly, because the woman in that scenario is clearly barking, and secondly, becasue the doctor would simply refuse to do it if there were no grounds for it.

      You question implies that we should make policy on the basis of the assumption that some statistically significant proportion of women seeking abortions are acting out of malice. I say rubbish to that.

      “and if a fertilized egg is not a human life, then what is it?”
      A fertilized egg.

      “Somehow it “evolves” into a human with rights only when it takes its first breath outside of the womb? It defies all logic and common sense.”
      In support of my position please see human history.

      “Your life began at conception, your life did not begin in your fathers testicles, the sperm was simply a delivery system of your fathers DNA.”
      My life began on my birth day. Which is why I have cake on that date every year, not the date 9 months before it.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        “I imagine, though, what you are dreaming up is a scenario where a woman one day from her due date decides, on a whim, to have an abortion instead and the doctor for some reason agrees to do it.

        Um…What’s wrong with birth as a nice, bright line?”

        Present a clearly defined line and the scenario is pretty damn obvious, you might call them barking mad but you are not advocating for the illegality of the action.

        All you are is a collection of cells that I can seperate, so I guess you are not human either. I noticed you danced away from the main point, which is when does human life begin. Are you really stating that it begins at physical birth? Then you are in very, very, very rare company. And as to history, who cares? Women were considered chattel and slavery was legal. Why don’t we try to live in the present and let science and reason inform us instead of invoking the animal passions of the past.

        And by the way, in China they celebrate your birthday basically around the time you are conceived. Chinese people will say they are a year older than what we do. China is much older of a society, so I guess that makes them righter than you? Right? Or how about we don’t go by such trivialities as that and pretend that it is dispositive of anything but western tradition (which I hope you know is not the only one that exists)

        • Watusie

          “I noticed you danced away from the main point, which is when does human life begin.”

          How many times you need me to say that birth is a BFD?

          Why is it that you can rather dubiously cite the customs of China but I cannot cite the customs of history?

          “Why don’t we try to live in the present and let science and reason inform us instead of invoking the animal passions of the past.”

          Seriously, Frumple, you aren’t the guy with science and reason on their side. Reason says that given that the state cannot make a biological father do something as safe and simple as donate blood to save the life of his own offspring, then the state cannot force a woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy. Science says we don’t deal in concepts like personhood, and there is no single point where life can said to begin, so that is matter for the law to decide. And our constitution says you are automatically a citizen if you are born here even if conceived somewhere else, but you are not automatically a citizen the other way around.

          Birth. Its a BFD.

        • baw1064

          Funny you should bring up China, as that society seems to be downright enthusiastic about abortions (and in some cases, infanticide) when the gender or resulting family size isn’t convenient.

        • Cforchange

          Interesting that pro lifers have do not have a problem buying goods from Chinese baby killers. Example, Mrs Palin shops at Walmart, even while on the campaign trail.

        • Primrose

          I have no problem defining personhood from the time a fetus comes to term, i.e. can live outside a womb, notice I said outside a womb, so artificial ones don’t count. Though presumably then it would be ok to induce birth at that time, if the woman didn’t mind taking the risk of a Caesarean. TThis is a specific time in pregnancy. Because of my time in a Kosher co-op and become familiar with the idea of doubt (so shabbis is at sunset but because it is uncertain, it I happens an hour earlier), I’m cool with earlier, except in cases of life or health.

          But Watusie’s point is important, you keep throwing the idea of 9-month abortions at us as if women who are not mentally unstable or sociopathic do this. And this comes down to a real divide, so many people, particularly male people think women think this way, think our bodies permit it. Embryos, fetuses what have you, happen in our bodies. They are not intellectual exercises. Sane people do not seek out surgery. Sane people do not go through the rigors of pregnancy only to abort at the end. There is no sane motivation to do it.

          And it is against all programming. Almost instantly from our birth, society starts training us, women, for our roles as mommy. It is unrelenting. While some women may reject that role, or be incapable of that role, nobody escapes the message.

          So taking into account that it is physically unlikely, and psychologically unlikely, to suggest that nevertheless this is even an issue means you don’t trust us. Not only don’t trust women to make sound decisions, you are sure we are out to do something immoral or underhanded.

          And there is no way to spin that, which is not deeply offensive to women.

    • baw1064

      “It applies equally well to twins, each of their lives began at that moment of conception because embedded within that fertilization was the mechanism for their splitting.”

      This sounds tortured to me. Any zygote has the potential to split and become identical twins, it’s just that it happens only occasionally.

      In any event the logic becomes much more tortured when considering the other cases I outlined above. Chimerism creates a single person (often anatomically normal, but with two genetically distinct sets of cells in their body) from two conception events. (The two embryos join together at a very early stage, before the body structure has established itself). If each conception created a new life, where did the second one go?

      Note that I’m not saying that a zygote isn’t alive–it has to be if it is to develop. For that matter, the sperm and egg both had to be alive for fertilization to ever happen. A live cell vs. a dead cell is pretty unambiguous at a biological level. I would say that a zygote is a potential person: it may become a person, or it may fail to become one, or it may become two, or it may jointly become a person with another zygote. It would be premature, IMO, to call it a person.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        what is it with this love affair of sperm and eggs? They are simply delivery systems for DNA, they have the potential through fertilization to become a human life, but the form of life in which they exist can not become human unless fertilization occurs.

        As to the rest, you are talking about ephemera of when souls inhabit bodies. If souls exist, how the eff would I know?

        As to Chimerism, are you trying to state if I kill such a person I have committed multiple homicide? Again, that persons life happened at conception, as to the joining of 2 seperate fertilized eggs into one person…then you get into mysteries of existence, for that person then his life begin twice. But so what? Their life did start

        And you are the one calling it a person. I keep repeating when we confer such concepts upon human life is best left up to the individual society via the Democratic process. Karen Ann Quinlan was alive, she had been a person, but she was no longer considered a person in the manner that we consider them and the question became what rights did she still have? Or could her parents decide for her as she never would be in a position to decide for herself.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    And I have no objection to balcones point that we are arguing at what point society should confer legal status upon people, what he calls personhood. What agitates me is people accusing everyone who is pro life of being a fascist out to chain women to radiators until they have babies. It is entirely possible there are some people like this, but I am sure there are people who think there should be zero restrictions on abortions, that ANYONE can do it, you can buy an abortion kit at walmarts and they can sell RU486 pills in pez dispensers at elementary schools. We already regulate abortion. We prescribe the manner in which it is performed and who can perform it, if a woman lives far from an abortion clinic government does not provide funding for her to have an abortion or transportation to go there, nor does it compell any doctor to perform one. It will, however, provide pre natal care and compels Doctors in a hospital setting to provide it, so we already have an element of society being in favor of life.
    Or will pro abortionists state now that government funded pre natal care should be abolished? I have never seen any do that just to even the scales.

    I know we can never have agreement, but we can have a rough consensus of what society will allow and that the majority can live with. We do that on a host of issues, from end of life care, assisted suicide, age of consent, drug use, the death penalty…but we have the absolutists here who say we can’t do it on this issue. While I might have personal feelings over the matter and will vote accordingly I am not trying to impose my views on anyone except to point out that the will of the majority enacted via the legislative process is the best option for the least disharmony in society.

    From there, all I can do is to live up to my own moral code. I don’t have sex with women without being fully prepared to face the consequences (though thankfully that issue is now moot as I am married and don’t cheat). I would not have married my wife if I was not confident that in our family planning that she would have the baby, which she did 3 times.

    • Watusie

      OK, so you aren’t in favor of chaining women to radiators. But you are very much in favor of substituting their judgement for your own. 61% of women in America who have abortions are already mothers. They know what they are doing. They are entitled to their bodily integrity and self-autonomy.

      • Primrose

        And are often making the decision for the benefit of the children they already have.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Watusie, you are ignoring that there already exist a host of restrictions on women’s ability to get abortions. And I am not in favor of substituting MY judgement but as with all such issues want it to be an issue that is decided by society via the Democratic process.
    You are the one who is now claiming that it is no longer an issue of asking a woman when her baby is due, instead it is “when is your non human genetically distinct organism going to evolve into a human.” And that no woman should say her baby kicked, it is now her “non human genetically distinct organism moved its appendage.” I mean, this is getting Orwellian.

    You are aware that listing birth as the date when people acquire rights is an extreme position, one not consistent remotely with our own society.

    And I brought up the issue of China only as a counterpoint to the ridiculous notion that your life began because of the day you celebrate your birthday. Your life did not begin then, your life began at conception. If abortion were something considered unthinkable by humanity there is no chance in hell you would argue otherwise. You are in favor of the right of women to have abortions, that is fine by me. But I draw the line at distorting language, logic, and reason to now state that they are aborting non human genetically distinct organisms and not baby humans.

    And for heavens sake, saying X amount of women having abortions means they know what they are doing is ridiculous, there are 1 billion Catholics in the world but according to you none of them know what they are doing. Only when people agree with you do they know what they are doing. As to whether women “know” what they are doing when they have an abortion, I don’t presume. I iamgine a lot of them really don’t know how they will feel afterwards and I have met many who have deep regrets about it. This is an absolute fact. I am not saying this is grounds for making abortions illegal and nowhere do I state that abortion should be illegal based on my say so.

    It is you who are stating that on this issue Democracy has no place. I fundamentally disagree. I think it is a question of balancing the rights of a fetus to life against the mothers right to inviolability. Right now we balance that with regards to fetal viability, which is why partial birth abortions are prescribed. You prefer it to be up to natural labor which I find extremist.

    • Watusie

      The right of a woman to her bodily integrity is not an issue for the Texas state legislature to decide. Women are citizens. Fetuses are not.

      • torourke

        Fetuses are not citizens, therefore they are not…persons? Is this the argument you are making? I hope not for your sake.

  • Primrose

    “who is pro life of being a fascist out to chain women to radiators until they have babies.”

    When did I ever say this Frumplestilkin? I did not.

    But to say that bodily integrity does not apply to women of reproductive age is to say they have less rights then everyone else. There is no other way around it.

    That you can not accept this is not because I am slighting you,

    You insist that a woman must bear a child should she conceive one. That means you will force her to give birth. That is what you are doing. Forcing someone to carry a child for 9 months and forcing them to give birth. Don’t like those words, good, neither do I.

    Still think it must be done. Whatever. But let us not pretend that somehow insisting she give birth will make her want to have the child or think it is a good decision one wit more. It will still be force, with all that entails.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “You insist that a woman must bear a child should she conceive one.” Um…where do I say this? Read what I wrote: I think it is a question of balancing the rights of a fetus to life against the mothers right to inviolability. Right now we balance that with regards to fetal viability, which is why partial birth abortions are prescribed.
    Or are you in favor, like watusie, of it being legal to terminate the baby up to natural child birth?

    And why the hell do you hate babies so much? Good lord, you act as though procreation is a horrendous evil that women are forced to endure.

    • Primrose

      “And why the hell do you hate babies so much? Good lord, you act as though procreation is a horrendous evil that women are forced to endure.”

      Oh, here we go. Of course. I hate babies. That’s why I have two of them. That’s why when I, feminist that I am, had a choice between marrying my husband and losing my career, I moved to Jersey (Jersey folks!) because at 30 I didn’t trust I could find someone as good in time to have children. I just hate babies. I do. That’s why despite having two graduate degrees, I’m a stay at home mom and why when I volunteer in school, I try to be sure I work with kids. Because I hate them. So much.

      As for procreation. I like the conception part. More than it is seemly perhaps to explain to strangers. Assuming I equipped with both material and internal, I like the end result. But as for thinking the carrying the child part is a horrendous evil that women have to endure… I don’t tend to use melodramatic phrases when sturdy truth will do. I would use less victorian language and phrase it that is a very difficult thing that women must endure for there to be people.

      So, now that we’ve rephrased it. Well. Yes. I’ve done it. It is.

      I’m not saying all pregnancies are quite as unpleasant as my two but then again in other ways, I got off very easy. I could walk. No bed rest (sort of). No stroke. No endless miscarriages. In many ways , 9 months of “morning” sickness was getting off easy. For women with slightly easier (and equally desired) pregnancies, I’m sure the romance of it is a wonderful comfort, but how many of those have not dealt with the sorrow of miscarriage or infertility?

      I am completely astounded and buffaloed that a man would feel so free to wax about the ease of pregnancy. I know intractable male chauvinists who would not be so presumptuous.

      As to when you’ve said you would force women to have babies, “when you have you said it.” You haven’t.

      However, you have certainly left everyone here with the impression that you wish abortion to be illegal and feel the state (albeit a democratic one) has the right to make it illegal.

      Until our embryo transfer stations are in widespread use, the result of making it illegal is forcing women to give birth. (Or “coathanger” abortions but I acquit you of desiring that end)

      I’m sure someone with access to the OED can give us a complete definition of the word force, but I am fairly sure that at least one definition includes the phrase lack of choice, against one’s will.

    • Primrose

      And by the way, Frumple. On this site you have bragged about not needing alcohol to bed women, said with some smugness you slipped into woman’s dorms often enough for one night stand and said you objectify your female students daily. But if these young woman get pregnant as result of these activities and the activities of young men like you, someone else gets to decide what to do because what? Your finer moral sensibilities?

      Come off you high horses gentlemen and start listening instead of dictating to women.

  • Demosthenes

    I have no problem defining personhood from the time a fetus comes to term, i.e. can live outside a womb, notice I said outside a womb, so artificial ones don’t count.

    That is a ridiculous non-standard for reasons that are, if nothing else, technological. Even without artificial wombs babies are able to survive outside the womb younger and younger, not only that but there is no theoretical reason why they could not survive being removed as a zygote. And why is that?


    I can understand the attempts to draw a legal line between “being alive” and “being a person,” Lord knows that was an operative distinction in the Terry Schiavo case so I do get it. On the other hand the craven attempt to subvert both science and reason in order to serve one’s point of view is reprehensible. There is no fundamental difference between a day-old zygote and a nine-month-old fetus and a nine-year-old child in terms of their being alive, and any distinction in terms of their “being a person” is going to be a matter of law or judgment as opposed to something with a basis in scientific reality. Because there is nothing, absolutely nothing, new or external that is added to the zygote as it develops over time, it does change in some obvious ways but there is nothing new added that was not there before the sperm and egg came together. That much is a matter of scientific fact and for the people who are so supposedly pro-science and pro-facts it is ridiculous to assert that life or personhood begins at “quickening” as though an utterly unscientific 19th century folk superstition (which we know to be false because babies have been recovered at three and four months of development and there is theoretically no reason they could not be removed much younger than that, up to and including the moment of conception/implantation), were more scientific of a standard than the standard that embryologists and biologists have given us. You might as well define personhood as the moment when the homunculus becomes larger than a watermelon, it makes about as much sense scientifically.

    And why the hell do you hate babies so much? Good lord, you act as though procreation is a horrendous evil that women are forced to endure.

    Frumple, maybe you missed it but on the other abortion thread I said something to the effect of “you are talking as though babies are parasites” and the response from some quarters was “but they ARE parasites!”. Also somebody said something about “‘flushing’ cow embryos” and it make me physically sick (as it was by way of reference to policy regarding human embryos). There is a hefty dose of nihilism and self-loathing in a lot of these comments, to say nothing of disrespect for life.

    So I’ll say it again, it would doubtless help the pro-choicers’ messaging if they refrained from calling human beings (or potential human beings) “parasites” and did not ever make any kind of reference to something called “flushing” embryos, and in particular did not compare cow embryos to human embryos as regards “flushing” or anything else. Human beings are neither “parasites” nor cows, and talking as if they were plays right into the hands of your fanatical opposition, of which I am not a member, even if I do share most of their point of view.

    • drdredel


      I hate to be the one to agree with this idea, but to a woman that has no interest in bearing a child, it is by definition a parasite. There is no other way to describe it. It’s a useless organism that feeds on its host, offering it nothing but pain and hardship. If this makes you uncomfortable then you’re simply too wound up in your projections as to what people, and specifically children are. I happen to be a very loving father, and it does require a bit of a stretch to see the above point of view, but it’s not THAT hard to imagine.
      But as I said before, I’m unclear as to why it’s necessary to place so much importance on living beings that have no personality or feelings or thoughts or awareness. There is no shortage of people, there is no reason to project the horrors and suffering of a cognizant death onto the experience of an embryo. Yes… “life” does begin at conception… so what? Why must we get stuck on this point? Why not fixate on the much more reasonable question of “how can we reduce actual suffering”? In that context, abortion is a pretty obvious choice for some people; the more reasonable, and moral one.

      • Demosthenes

        I don’t dispute that to a woman seeking abortion her unwanted child may appear to her to be “useless,” however I must take exception to the idea that any human being (even any potential human being) could be accurately described as “useless.” I think the 20th century has given us enough examples of what happens when a society starts calling certain of its members “useless” or “parasites” that we in the 21st century should know better than to follow suit.

        The bottom line is that what you call a “projection” about what people are, is what I would identify as “just what people are.” People are not parasites, so if anyone is projecting anything it would be those who would try to claim that there exists a class of human beings that can be meaningfully described as “parasites”. You yourself acknowledge that it is hard, as a loving father, for you to hear this kind of language. So I don’t think this is about my projections, or your projections, rather it is about the projections of those who see human beings as disposable (“flush” the waste, the “parasite”, and so on).

        As for the suffering of an embryo, the point is unrelated to whether or not embryos feel pain in the same way that fully-developed humans do, otherwise humans with faulty pain receptors could not be considered human (or it would be acceptable to execute them at will, or both). I would say, at a minimum, that there is no empirical evidence to suggest one way or the other whether or not an embryo feels physical pain. On the other hand, every living being wants to keep on living — remember, even in the case of a being that can’t feel physical pain for some reason, if that being desires to continue living and the continuity of its life is terminated, that is an extremely painful sensation regardless of the being in question. So the fact that life begins at conception does matter, insofar as any and every living being desires to continue living. Whether or not that being has physical pain receptors is immaterial to the proposition that no being desires to see the continuity of its life terminated. And when an abortion is performed, the continuum or continuity of a human life is terminated.

        • drdredel

          I do think that “life” is pretty amazing, and am a huge fan of it. But I think it’s counter productive to sanctify it, arbitrarily. No, we shouldn’t rush to toss people in gas chambers as soon as we’ve decided that they’re vermin, but neither should we bend over backwards to keep people from killing themselves. Or getting rid of their fertilized eggs.

          As far as I’m concerned it’s meaningless to confer “suffering” onto something that doesn’t have a central nervous system. We barely know what it means to suffer as sentient beings; the line between what makes us happy or sad is very difficult to find or understand. Pleasure and pain are very closely intertwined, and there wouldn’t be one without the other. So, while I appreciate that an embryo has more potential to one day be a creature with consciousness, than a carrot, my level of disturbance over their destruction is roughly equal. I’m not being heartless… I just don’t think it matters. You can’t worry about potential in this way. There is an infinite number of possibilities, and as we have absolutely no way to know which would be best, it doesn’t seem worth while to err on the side of “most natural”. We subvert nature every day, willfully and with ever increasing effectivity. Everything we do is by definition “natural” since we are a product of nature!

          So, it seems to me that if you eliminate suffering as the basis for the argument against abortion, then I’m afraid you’re left with no argument at all. There’s nothing incredible or special about a fertilized egg. There’s always more of them to be had. It isn’t my intention to be callous, and I’m sorry if that’s how I sound, but I refuse to give equivalence to arbitrary living tissue, simply because it has potential to be human.

        • Demosthenes

          Okay I am going to get a little more narrowly and technically philosophical so please bear with me.

          The key difference between a carrot and an embryo is a difference that the carrot shares with a fully-developed being of any other kind. Whether or not an embryo can be considered a “person” in the fullest sense of the term is irrelevant to the question of whether or not a carrot is sentient. Carrots are “alive”, but they are not “sentient” in the sense of being able to feel pleasure or pain.

          Your characterization of the mutual dependence of pleasure and pain feeling functions is spot on. Indeed, this is one of the keys to understanding what is meant by the psycho-physical “bundles” of the Buddhist tradition. The Buddha taught that there is no self, no ultimate or transcendently-existing “I”. Instead, what does exist are the five psycho-physical “bundles”: form, consciousness, feeling-tone, apperception, and structuring. “Feeling-tone” is painful, pleasant, and neutral. The point is precisely that pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. The relevance to this discussion is that, in a Buddhist context, there is no other thing — no “self” and no “I” — apart from those bundles. And where one is present, they are all present, as they comprise in aggregate the sum total of the continuum of an “individual” human being. So where that continuum exists, as for instance in an embryo, so necessarily do the psycho-physical bundles, since that continuum is nothing but the continuum of those psycho-physical bundles, of which the material form of the embryo is but one. The point is just that, where the form of a human continuum is located, so too are all the other bundles.

          Getting back to the carrot, the distinction being drawn here is between insentient (i.e. “unfeeling” or non-conscious) matter such as a carrot, which is “alive” in a way that a brick is not (even if neither has consciousness), on the one hand, and on the other hand matter which is both alive and conscious: “sentient beings”, “things which have mind” (sems can in Tibetan). Whether or not you agree that consciousness can ever be separated from feeling-tone, or that either can ever be separated from the aggregate continuum of a sentient being, it is self-evident that carrots and human beings differ in at least one crucial respect: human beings have consciousness or “mind”, and carrots do not.

          So the issue at stake is whether “being alive” as predicated of the continuum of a human being’s physical form is necessary and sufficient to determine that that physical form is in some sense conscious, irrespective of whether it has a physical basis for perception (e.g. a neural system) or not. The philosophical problem that I see with any view to the effect that an embryo’s physical form does not in some (as yet undefined) sense possess consciousness is a relatively straightforward infinite regress: at the point in time when a human being has enough of a neural system to register physical feeling-tone, that human being must have had enough of a neural system to “be sentient” (in your sense) already in the moment before. And in that prior moment, if the human being already had enough of a neural system to “be sentient” (in your sense), then the same must have been true in the moment before that… and so on. I get that you are trying to say there is some distinct point in time at which a formerly-insentient blob of cells “becomes conscious,” the problem is that a) there is no scientific evidence to support this hypothesis and b) it has intractable philosophical problems. Clearly a being does not have consciousness merely as a result of the formation of its first neural cell, nor of its second, nor of its third… at which point, then, does consciousness “emerge” or “arise” from neural activity? It cannot, at least not in any systematic or well-defined way, which pretty much throws in the towel on the kind of rigor that would be demanded for a legal standard separating “useless” embryos from human persons entitled to protection under law.

          There are also separate ethical problems with this view, such as that if not having a neural system makes you “less human” than someone with a neural system, what about someone with a lesser- or non-functioning neural system? What about human beings with Down’s Syndrome? What about Terry Schiavo (whose husband incidentally I did support in his struggles)? One of the points I am making is that when a society determines some of its human members to be “useless” or “vermin”, the gas chambers are not far away. The decision to label people vermin and the decision to marginalize or exterminate them are not made independently of each other.

        • drdredel


          This is a false paradox, and you can’t have it both ways. Either there truly is no point at which a human being “becomes” sentient (using your argument and understanding), which means that you can regress our atoms into the hearts of stars and still have to keep working backwards, or you can indeed decide that there IS a point at which a being develops awareness (however you choose to frame it). I would be so bold as to say that in the case of humans, there is no true awareness until well after birth, but there’s no need to argue that. I would extend sympathy to a being that can simply experience *something… without any comprehension. I would no sooner make a mouse “suffer” than a fetus. Subsequently it troubles me greatly that I don’t have enough control over how the animals I eat are put down, for I don’t want them to suffer… however, absent suffering, I’m not troubled at all by their ceasing to exist, so that I can eat them, or by embryos ceasing to exist so that their parents can avoid rearing them.

          I agree that it *can become a slippery slope, but it certainly doesn’t have to, and there’s nothing to suggest that it is at present doing so. Europeans, who are much less religiously minded, are quite comfortable with their positions on abortion, and neither have substantially higher abortion rates than we do, nor are chomping at the bit to start putting down their Down patients. Is it possible that things will head that way? Sure. Is it likely? I don’t think so.

          Scientists may certainly be in varying degrees of agreement as to the precise moment that a baby starts to experience something, but they’re pretty uniformly in agreement that all experience takes place in the brain, so I see no reason to dwell on what a baby may be experiencing prior to having the biological technology necessary to have an experience (in the non buddhist -I think therefore I am- sense). It seems a needless exercise in arbitrary speculation, and as I said, all things being equal, we could err on the side of “what if cells have ideas?! what if atoms have feelings?!… these are lovely and fascinating (if fanciful) notions. But in the mean time real, living, thinking, people are *actually suffering. I don’t think we have the luxury to play these “what if” games, at the expense of women who can be helped in the immediate present.

        • Demosthenes

          [There] is no point at which a human being “becomes” sentient (using your argument and understanding), which means that you can regress our atoms into the hearts of stars and still have to keep working backwards…

          With all due respect, I think you have slightly misunderstood what I was saying. The point is, precisely, that the individual atoms in our body are incapable of producing consciousness. It doesn’t matter whether those atoms were forged in the heart of a supernova or the bowels of a particle accelerator, the point is that the continuum of psycho-physical bundles is both “mental” and “material” (at least in the case of human beings). If you interrupt the material continuum, you also interrupt the mental continuum, because the “mental” and the “material” constituents of the continuum do not exist independently of each other. So it’s not that each individual atom is conscious — at least not in this context — what I am saying is that the atoms which compose an embryo are qualitatively different from other atoms (even other atoms of the same elements and compounds), because the atoms which compose an embryo comprise the sum total of the material constituents of the causal continuum of a human being: the human being who would walk and talk, and feel pleasure and pain, if given the chance.

          I would be so bold as to say that in the case of humans, there is no true awareness until well after birth

          Again, the question turns on what precisely is meant by “awareness.” Infants as young as six months old have been found to be able to distinguish phonological and morphological qualities of speech. Is that evidence of language processing? Perhaps not, but it is extremely difficult to square away with the idea that infants are not “truly aware”. And again, it brings us back to the infinite regress, which I would like to note you haven’t directly addressed on philosophical grounds. This brings us to another very interesting statement…

          Scientists may certainly be in varying degrees of agreement as to the precise moment that a baby starts to experience something, but they’re pretty uniformly in agreement that all experience takes place in the brain

          No, they’re not. Neuroscientific research has increasingly backed away from reductionistic interpretations of the available data. There are intractable philosophical problems with reductionistic hypotheses, and the evidence is increasingly weighing against those kinds of hypotheses. See, for example, Irreducible Mind (2007), written by six academics, several of them neuroscientists, the lead author of whom is Professor of Research in the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia.


          Current mainstream opinion in psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy of mind holds that all aspects of human mind and consciousness are generated by physical processes occurring in brains. Views of this sort have dominated recent scholarly publication. The present volume, however, demonstrates empirically that this reductive materialism is not only incomplete but false. The authors systematically marshal evidence for a variety of psychological phenomena that are extremely difficult, and in some cases clearly impossible, to account for in conventional physicalist terms. Topics addressed include phenomena of extreme psychophysical influence, memory, psychological automatisms and secondary personality, near-death experiences and allied phenomena, genius-level creativity, and ‘mystical’ states of consciousness both spontaneous and drug-induced. The authors further show that these rogue phenomena are more readily accommodated by an alternative ‘transmission’ or ‘filter’ theory of mind/brain relations advanced over a century ago by a largely forgotten genius, F. W. H. Myers, and developed further by his friend and colleague William James. This theory, moreover, ratifies the commonsense conception of human beings as causally effective conscious agents, and is fully compatible with leading-edge physics and neuroscience. The book should command the attention of all open-minded persons concerned with the still-unsolved mysteries of the mind.

      • Primrose

        Parasites are not useless to themselves, and given the strength to which they persist, one can presume they value their own lives. Thus, in saying that a child is akin to a parasite, one is only describing the physical relationship between the two, and specifically, when I say akin to, (not is, akin to but oh well, let’s get hysterical the demands upon the mother’s body.

        It does not make any stand on the emotional feelings, or value of said being. I love my two children dearly, and value their lives but that doesn’t mean change the fact that they interfered with my
        immune system, took first helping of my resources and gave me nothing physically useful in return, not extra energy (like mitochondria), or plaque removal (like cleaner fish) or even alas, X ray vision.

        This allergic reaction to such direct statement is akin (see there’s that word again it means I’m making a comparison, as if, a simile) to people who insist on saying passing away instead of died. As if accepting the physical truth, changes the sorrow you feel or makes any statement about your belief in the status of the soul and afterlife.

        It is important to understand that if you insist women be pregnant, you understand what you are physically demanding of them. Again, when the wicked aliens attack, (or given Drdredel’s vision of quickly we will meet a Kurzeweillian future, the cylons) and we draft all available wombs, we will be asking women to take on the physical demands of parasites. (Again, not using the word is here, oh sensitive ones). And I, President of this new world order (because the Poet laureate is 550th in line of succession) would say, Yes. I know of what I ask you, but we need you; the very existence of our species is at stake plus there’s extra water rations, and a really stylish medal coming to you.

        We ask our soldiers not simply to serve but to die for us. The anti-abortion people demand a risky, physically draining task as well. I don’t think in either case we have any right to do so if we can’t face the truth. Morality and honor demand it.

    • Primrose

      Demosthenes. Please read actual posts before being sickened by them. In discussing whether with our embryo transfer stations the state had the right to require a women to have the embryo transfered, I opined that such a mild inconvenience as opposed to life of the zygote said yes they did. Valkayec commented that upon implantation it would be a highly invasive surgery. Farm girl that I am I corrected her and gave a thumbnail description of the process, called “Flushing” because you use a liquid to flush out the embryos for implantation into donar cows. It takes 30 minutes with no harm to the cow, the Oklahoma extension service assures us. Since human beings have animal bodies, chances are this process would not be dissimilar.

      Are you horrified at the idea of women who don’t want to bear a child at this time having the embryo either transferred to a woman who does or frozen until such time when the woman feels she has the resources to be a parent? And you call me the extreme nihlist who hates babies. To me I welcome such technology because it preserves a woman’s rights, without denying the embryo life.

      You say comparing humans to cows at all is nihilistic. I think millions of Hindus, Buddists, Jains and even secular vegans would disagree with you. They would say that you are the nihilist drawing all these distinctions.

      This is why I knew better than get into the discussion at all about when life begins. My argument does not need it and religious chauvinists are incapable of understanding that differing religious views are felt as deeply, and are just as likely to be correct as their own. However, in point of clarification, you claim that some pre-term babies can live outside the womb, without significant intervention. And this is why I was comfortable with the idea of a “period of doubt”, drawing the line but saying lines themselves are fuzzy. I’m comfortable with lots of different ideas of when personhood exists.

      But even giving you and Frumple your defs, my argument doesn’t need it which is why you’ve gone down this rabbit hole of whether it is a life.

      You say theoretically there is no reason a zygote can not live in an artificial womb. I agree. Hence my idea of embryo transfer stations. But they can’t right now. And woman are making decisions, right now.

      As to my being a nihilistic baby hater, I think those that me would raise their eyebrows at that one. And since I am a regular on the FrumForum, so should you. I seem to offend both your and Frumples (and no doubt more) idea of what a woman should say and what a women should do. But you are both men.

      Have you noticed that the women on this forum don’t share your views, not only women, women who are mothers don’t share your view. I don’t say there are not anti-choice women, but the majority of women on this site don’t agree with you.

      Are we all nihlists then? We women. We mothers who have actually brought life to the world. You men are the ones who really get it?

      • Demosthenes

        The point I was making about the language used was for the benefit of your side. By all means, compare humans to cows and call babies “parasites”, nothing could help the pro-life movement more than to have their opponents presenting themselves in such a poor light.

        Your argument, such as it is, appears to have more to do with the fact that I am a man than with anything else. I understand the nature of your emotional appeals, but it really doesn’t advance the dialogue any further for you to say (paraphrasing) “this is how I feel, now deal with it.” It gives me nothing to go on, while at the same time it results in only allowing the voices of men who happen to agree with you to be heard. It’s not good form, it is not helpful, and it does not contribute in any way to the discourse for you to castigate my arguments not on their merits but because of their source, viz. a man. Two wrongs do not make a right and it is not my fault that men have been so oppressive towards women in the past. Regardless, if your goal is a society where we look first to the human being as an individual and only thereafter (or not at all) to gender, it doesn’t bode well to start by attacking a man’s argument simply because it is a man that is making the argument.

        So as I said there is really no reason for me to respond to this, and if the best you can do is to say “you’ll never understand” then I suppose in a way that you are right if for no other reason than your determination to never allow me, as a man, to understand. But there was one thing I wanted to address, and this was your statement that

        Religious chauvinists are incapable of understanding that differing religious views are felt as deeply, and are just as likely to be correct as their own.

        I have gone to great lengths and taken great pains to explain my positions in terms that are comprehensible and consistent within the frameworks of both Nicene Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism. There is absolutely no need to lecture me about how deeply it is that one can feel one’s religious convictions, nor how religious convictions may differ even on substantive and irreconcilable grounds. The idea that one religion is “just as likely to be correct” as another, however, in the sense that all beliefs are somehow created equal, is the kind of mushy, muddle-headed thinking that is the exact reason why higher education in this country has become such a joke, particularly in the humanities. I am all about pluralistic notions of truth, even religious truth, but that does not constitute an endorsement of relativism nor does it in any way imply that “all religions are equally likely to be correct”. That kind of bongwater-drenched drivel has no place in a serious discussion about anything, least of all something as deathly serious as the termination of human lives.

        • Primrose

          I see so saying I hold my position because I am nihilistic and self-loathing and Frumple calling me a baby hater, these are appeals to reason that advance the argument?

          I have not based my argument on the right of bodily integrity on my being a woman and you being a man. We all have this right—even women of reproductive age.

          I can not say you have been as gender neutral.

          You have stated unequivocally that because I am a women I have a legal obligation to maintain the life of child I do not want but a father has no legal obligation to maintain the life of his child, even if the procedure is non-invasive. This is because I am a woman. That’s the crux of the argument. I am a woman so I must feel this way. So it does have relevancy that you are not female.

          Also, let’s not pussyfoot around we are not talking about men being pregnant and we are not talking about a council of women making laws for women. So yes, it involves men putting themselves into the decisions whose consequence will only fall on women. Your willingness to do this despite not being a woman is relevant.

          I do also take issue with your glorification of pregnancy based on the fact that I have been pregnant and you haven’t. Not only haven’t, can’t. I think that is totally fair. Were a soldier to describe to me the difficulty of war, and their feelings toward it, I would be utterly presumptuous of me to say, no that’s not true because “Dulci et Decorum est Pro patria mori.” I would also not tell a soldier what war was as if I knew better. Unless there is a strict policy discussion going on, I would listen to their experience, and ask questions if it seemed to contradict my own understanding.

          As for your objecting to the words for my sake. Yeah. OK. I think if I had a bully pulpit and said there is no way to resolve this issue, until we can get the fetus out of the mother. We can do it with cows, why can’t we do it with humans? Most people would not be offended, because most people understand we have similar reproductive systems. As for parasite, it all depends on the tone doesn’t it? But among mothers, in a friendly discussion or pregnancy, calling it a parasite would not run amiss. More likely, a mother would tell the mother to be, you think it’s a parasite now, wait until it gets out. In fact I’ve had these discussions. I know a young woman who calls the embryo inside her a parasite, with great humor and love and desire to get to know it, to be sure. Still, she’s not afraid of that word.

          Yes, you have taken great pains to describe where your world view comes down on this issue. You have not taken great pains to understand that doesn’t make it fact. That people like Watusie and Drdredel have another philosophy. You act as if your determinations are fact. When I discussed it, I said, I don’t have a problem…not that it was the only way to look at it. I base my entire argument on an acceptance on your definition of life, though it is not precisely my own.

          And you do this not only despite having no experience to confirm it, but despite those who have experience it telling you not so. There are places you can go with this information, listen and adjust accordingly. And I have been asking you to listen not lecture, Valkayec has asked it, AnnieMargaret has asked, Rockerbabe and Laura have asked, (and plenty of men on our behalf.)

          Your refusal to do so on this issue makes one wonder why? And it is a valid point that the reason is that you think either men’s opinions are more important or women are not as capable of rational, moral thought.

        • Demosthenes

          You have stated unequivocally that because I am a women I have a legal obligation to maintain the life of child I do not want but a father has no legal obligation to maintain the life of his child, even if the procedure is non-invasive.

          Who isn’t listening?

          Earlier, on the other abortion thread, in response to one of drdredel’s questions, I noted:

          Given that modern medical technology has made childbearing quite safe except in the case of ectopic pregnancies, if there were a hypothetical case where the only way for a child to survive would be to require that child’s father to undergo medical treatment carrying the exact same risks as a contemporary non-ectopic pregnancy, then yes, I would say it is within the state’s authority to mandate this hypothetical medical treatment. I would also say that fathers should be honored to make the sacrifice, and the fact that we as a society are becoming increasingly fractured — even within an individual “nuclear” family — as groups of “rights holders” instead of citizens and kinsmen to each other, bodes extremely ill for our nation’s future. Again, it is not simply the practice of abortion that is in question, for myself it is even moreso the idea that parents and children are strangers to each other but for a few errant strands of DNA.

          The difference between a chickenhawk spouting Horace at a soldier with PTSD and me talking about abortion here is that I am in no way “glorifying” the source of the trauma (pregnancy). What I am doing, and what you have repeatedly failed to respond to on the merits of my case, is laying extensive and detailed philosophical groundwork explaining why it is utterly incoherent to assert that human life begins anywhere other than conception, or to attempt to define “personhood” as emerging at some undetermined point in the womb. There is no scientific basis for this view. Zero. Zip. Nada. And there are absolutely intractable philosophical aporias and ethical quagmires that result from, or are just coextensive with, such a view. Yes, being a woman is difficult. Yes, pregnancy can be scary. But there is no “experience” related by you, anniemargaret, or anyone else here that has addressed the issue of when life begins or how life relates to personhood in a human being in even the slightest way. The full extent of your “experience” relates to the actual experience of being pregnant, which is important, but not the same thing as an argument against the irrefutable scientific fact that life begins at conception.

          In an interview alongside DF a while back, Kenneth Silber once noted that just because evolution (for instance) is irrefutable scientific fact, that doesn’t mean that we can or should then necessarily extrapolate to atheism as a philosophical position based on that scientific fact. He also said that recognizing (for instance) that climate change is real and driven in large part by human activity, even if it does necessitate a policy response, does not entail giving in to a progressive wish list about the economy or the industrial sector. Scientific consensus, and policy decisions which take that consensus into consideration, are different things.

          I would go one step further: it is absolutely irrefutable that life begins at conception, and just as irrefutable that any attempt to define “personhood” independently of human life — even in a day-old zygote — is bound to be incoherent and indefensible as a scientific, philosophical, or ethical position. Whether or not that fact translates into a blanket prohibition on abortion, however, is a separate matter. Personally, I am not in favor of making abortions completely illegal. But I maintain strong reservations about the procedure, and nothing you have said has convinced me that “I don’t want this baby” is enough of a reason to justify the termination of a human life.

          Which gets me to another point. You know, I didn’t always feel this way. I used to be almost as pro-choice as Watusie and probably more pro-choice than drdredel. One day, when I was in high school, I said something about abortion policy near a friend of mine, a quite liberal friend who had no time for culture warriors or the so-called moral majority. It wasn’t even that much of a statement, maybe a sentence or two, something generic about old white men telling young women what to do. My friend, a woman, emitted a short sharp cry, then excused herself. I had no idea what had happened, and she never would have told me — she forgave me instantly for my ignorance — but up to that point in time I had never learned that my friend was adopted. (There really was no way to tell, and it had never come up). She was generally quite liberal in her political views, but she understood that if her birth mother (whom she had never met) had exercised her “right to choose” on the “parasite” who was my friend, that she never would have been born.

          Since that time, when I was in high school, I have made several more adopted friends, and while their political views run the gamut, to a person — including the more radical lefties — they are pro-life. It has nothing to do with their gender, nor with their political views as such, they simply see the issues differently.

          So if you couldn’t tell from my relatively elaborate elucidation of the precise reasons why it makes no sense to say that life begins anywhere other than conception, I have indeed spent a lot of time thinking about these issues, and in the future I would appreciate it if you could engage my position on its merits instead of discrediting it because it happens to be articulated by a man. Such is a sub-species of the ad hominem fallacy (ad virum?) and it does your side no good whatsoever, much like the use of the word “parasites” to describe unborn children. Yes, I am quite familiar with joking about the topic, but a joke between friends where the mother would never in a million years dream of terminating her pregnancy on purpose literally could not be more different from calling a baby a “parasite” in the context of a serious political discussion about abortion policy. Honestly, I am trying to help your side here, if you embrace the language of “parasites” you empower your opposition. You inflame their passions, give them rhetorical ammunition, and make it harder to bring anyone on the fence over to your side.

        • Primrose

          I am adopted so don’t even try that line of thought. It is not I grant you popular among the adopted these days to give much thought to the feelings of their birth mother, but I feel one must. And the experience of being pregnant matters in this issue, that I’ve done it certainly matters when you explain pregnancy to me. You care about your friends feelngs, but not the woman who had to give birth to her. You think her suffering is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Talk about convenience.

          I face existential angst. My biological mother faced actual angst. I think anyone who is not completely self-centered should be able to put the two in order of importance.

          I could tell all sorts of stories too. In twenty years when my husband’s PKD puts him in renal failure, my husband will have to have a kidney donation, or die. Kidneys do not grow on trees but millions of perfectly good kidneys are buried in the earth with people who no longer need them. Yet people are allowed to say no to organ donation, even though my husband (and many like him) will cease to exist. Just because the thought weirds them out, they are allowed to stop the existence of others.

          My basic argument about the right to abortion is based on the idea that personhood begins at conception, so I haven’t addressed it because it is unnecessary.

          But I am disturbed at this idea that I must accept that personhood begins at conception because you don’t find my, or Watusie’s, or DrDredel’s arguments compelling. And who made you and Frumple the arbiters?

          As I said, I don’t get your view either but I have made my argument taking them into account, not saying they are impossible.

          Tolerance actually does require you to understand that not everyone agrees with your assessment of what is more or less worthy. You don’t have to find value to accept that we are all serious.

          There are plenty of philosophies I find more persuasive than others. I may make personal judgments but I must understand that has no bearing on what the other person thinks, or the seriousness of their belief. And if you can’t start from enough mutual respect for the people you are talking to believe they believe, then why discuss anything?

          Civil discussion begins and ends with this level of respect. It is not a mushy idea.

          And please spare me “helping” with words. I really have had enough condescension on this thread to last me quite a long, long time.

        • Demosthenes

          You care about your friends feelngs, but not the woman who had to give birth to her. You think her suffering is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Talk about convenience.

          I care about my friend. I care about the fact that if she had been aborted, I would never have had her in my life. And while I also care about her birth mother’s feelings, I do not think that those “feelings” are enough of a reason to deprive my friend of her life or myself of my friend’s presence in my life. I fail to understand in what way anything you have said justifies the idea of never having allowed my friend — or you yourself — into this world.

          But I am disturbed at this idea that I must accept that personhood begins at conception because you don’t find my, or Watusie’s, or DrDredel’s arguments compelling. And who made you and Frumple the arbiters?

          Nobody made me the arbiter of anything but you (and everyone else you mentioned) have failed utterly to address the specific philosophical and scientific points I have raised. Again it is all emotional appeals and generic platitudes about the evils of men telling women what to do and nothing, absolutely nothing, by way of substantive critique of anything I have said. So it’s not about anyone making me the judge, it is about the internal coherence and justifiability of a particular point of view. I have challenged the idea that personhood begins anywhere other than conception on both secular and religious philosophical grounds as well as on the grounds of scientific evidence. I have yet to see even the barest hint of a response on those grounds.

          This goes hand-in-hand with the closest thing you managed to a substantive argument above, which is that tolerance and respect is a prerequisite for understanding an opposing point of view. Sure. I agree. On the other hand, respecting the fact that your opponent is intelligent and/or informed about the issue in question is not the same thing as thinking that, in the end, one point of view is just as good as another. It may be the case that some particular point of view is just as true or good or efficacious as another particular point of view, but in general the idea that all points of view can be considered equally valid is nonsense. Total and complete nonsense.

          So unless you can respond with something more substantial than “you are a man and can never understand what pregnant women have to go through” or “everyone has the right to their own opinion” or something similarly sophomoric I think we’re done here.

        • Demosthenes

          I re-read your posts, and wanted to say something else.

          My basic argument about the right to abortion is based on the idea that personhood begins at conception

          If you acknowledge that personhood begins at conception, then you acknowledge that aborting a fetus kills a person. Therefore abortion is murder insofar as “murder” is defined as “the deliberate killing of a human being” (as opposed to “manslaughter” which is not deliberate).

          Now you can say that it is murder for a greater good, or that it is justifiable in some other way, but if you acknowledge that personhood begins at conception then as far as most pro-choicers are concerned you have conceded the argument. What makes it okay to kill one person but not another? Convenience? Moral worth? Productivity? An imaginary Constitutional right to murder on demand?

          I am not saying that abortion should be made illegal under any and all circumstances. But it is important to keep in mind that when a fetus is aborted, a human person is killed. The decision to terminate a human life should never be made unless all other options have been exhausted (and even then I would argue one cannot sanction an immoral action on the basis of an intended good result). If you concede that a zygote is a human person, then you commit to protecting that human person as you would protect any human person. That does not necessarily entail protecting its right to life against the right to life of its mother, but it does set them on an equal footing as human beings with a right to life.

        • Primrose

          When one defends ones life one does not commit murder. Thus it is inflated language. My argument depends on the idea that the right to life does not include the right to take another’s body hostage to maintain it. It is why I made the distinction between the right the to abortion and the right to bodily integrity and brought up our hypothetical embryo transfer units, the technical details of which so sickened you.

          Talk about sophomoric responses.

          I don’t have to “acknowledge” that abortion kills a fully realized human because I don’t believe it. I simply don’t waste time trying to argue you out of your belief, because whether it is a life of not, it doesn’t have to the right to use her body without permission. Like organ donors.

          And you did too say that mothers have an obligation to their children period. You did not say the state had the right to compel the father. You said no. Did you change your mind. Fine. But I responded to your first no, the state can not compel. You did too tell me what mothers feel, as if it were fact, and you knew better.

          Your friend might not exist. Hmm, and who else doesn’t exist every time we use birth control. Unless you believe like the Hasid’s that women need to have as many children as they physically can, then this is nonsensical. For that matter what of all the people lost to miscarriage, stillbirth or SIDS.

          The question at hand is not whether we value who is here, but do we have the right to use another’s body against their will to get here. And if we do, why can’t we force the dead to give up their organs?

          So yes, I think a bit of ramble about how the woman who had to carry us adoptees matters a great deal. Is force really what you wish to premise your life on?

          Overall, a moral code that doesn’t make periodic reality checks is sterile and barren, and of no use. (To me it is not even moral. ) And how else does one check reality, if not discovering how people feel, what their experience was?

          And when you asking a burden of another, how much of a burden very much matters. If being pregnant had no negative effect, then the state demanding a woman go through it becomes much more reasonable. Would people think the state has the right to insist on vaccines if they all were as painful as the rabies cure?

          Women are the only ones that get pregnant. Thus, the fact that women have historically been denied the right to bodily integrity, not just on abortion but overall, the fact this still goes on, that matters.

          …because it determines what we think is acceptable to ask of women, verse what we think is acceptable to ask of men. That’s not sophomoric, or without reason and intelligence.

          And plenty, but plenty, of men agree with me, and are capable incorporating these facts without feeling attacked or marginalized. Some are even capable of being respectful, not dismissive.

  • Scritor

    This, indeed, is a fantastic post. It sums up my desire for the pro-life movement, too, which is very clearly more about its own moral superioririty than effectively solving its chief concern.

    Sometimes you have to wonder whether this scrum is all just cynical. They know that total abortions, legal and illegal, won’t go down very much, which guaranteees years of kindling for a righteous crusade.

    Never trust a lobby to satisfactorily accomplish your goals, as its paycheck depends on not accomplishing them.

  • Kay

    Another thoughtful, beautiful post by David Frum. If more Republicans were as thoughtful as he is, we’d be having far better policy debates in our country right now. Enviable policy debates.

    Since I watched Burns’s “Prohibition” on PBS recently, the parallels between outlawing abortion and prohibition have stricken me, too. The failure of Prohibition illustrates how some ardently-demanded policy “solutions” can in fact turn out to worsen the very things they sought to ameliorate. I believe the criminalizing of abortion would yield similar results. Abortions would not decrease. They would be under the radar and, thus, unsafe and result in more deaths. And the effect on society of jailing women for having abortions would very likely take mothers away from their children.

    Our common goal is this: reducing the number of abortions to as close to zero as possible. Criminalizing abortion will not get us there. Frum’s proposals herein would get us far on the right track.

  • Ogemaniac

    “Morality and punishability are two very different categories. Lots of actions that are immoral are not subject to punishment”

    But they should be. Indeed, the bankers you cite as an example prove this! They SHOULD be punished. Heck, if I had been King in America in 2008, the market for gallows would have skyrocketed. Unfortunately, all our laws allow for is to lock them in cages and fine them into oblivion. I am still waiting for this to happen.

    There is absolutely nothing in this world that I consider immoral that should not, in theory, be banned and punishable. Unless you are using some sort of watered-down, mealy-mouthed definition of “immoral”, the same should hold true for you. The only excuse for not punishing an immoral act is when the cost of executing that punishment is worse than the crime. This isn’t true for abortions.