Excerpts from a RNAnet conversation – May, 2022
The moral dilemma is real.
But so are the issues related to
who decides what the law will be . . .
In early May, 2022, after a leaked draft decision showed that the US Supreme Court was preparing to reverse the Roe v. Wade decision, a conversation started at RNAnet, discussing abortion rights and a range of things that relate to this. The conversion included descriptions of personal experiences, and it touched on many themes, including views on when life begins, roles that religion may play in establishing laws, ways that biology, morality, and politics may interact, and how naturalist and religious naturalist perspectives can be used to explore aspects this issue.
Excerpts from this conversation are shown below.
Some links to related articles and video interviews are shown at the end of the conversation.
* * *
Now that it’s been leaked that the US Supreme Court majority is ready to overturn Roe, I’m reviving this thread about abortion. Here, more or less, are my views:
Life is a continuum, from meiosis to fertilization to embryo to fetus to child to adult to meiosis and so on.
Personhood is a cultural concept more than a biological one.
Generally, personhood begins at birth and ends at death.
In general, adult persons have autonomy over their own bodies.
* * *
I think the personhood question is ripe for RN analysis.
Clearly “birth” is, as Jane Goodall likes to say “a very wuzzy line.” When the baby comes out prematurely, they are a “person,” but a kid of same gestational age still in utero is “not a person”? It doesn’t make any sense. The act of surviving the birth canal is hardly a bright clear line, especially now with surgical birth. The beginning of human life is as wuzzy as the end of it.
I also think a definition of “human life” is fair game for us to chew on.
* * *
Quoting Margaret Atwood:
“It’s not about the organs; it’s about the babies. Which raises some questions. Is an acorn an oak tree? Is a hen’s egg a chicken? When does a fertilized human egg become a full human being or person?
“Our” traditions—let’s say those of the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the early Christians—have vacillated on this subject. At “conception”? At “heartbeat”? At “quickening?”
The hard line of today’s anti-abortion activists is at “conception,” which is now supposed to be the moment at which a cluster of cells becomes “ensouled.” But any such judgment depends on a religious belief—namely, the belief in souls.
Not everyone shares such a belief. But all, it appears, now risk being subjected to laws formulated by those who do.
That which is a sin within a certain set of religious beliefs is to be made a crime for all.”
* * *
I imagine that health in general would also be a perspective of a naturalist: health in ecosystems, human health, etc. – aligning ourselves to a more compassionate experience that’s more in line with a bigger picture of alignment and wellness.
It would be a different cultural experience to focus on this.
* * *
I’d say a naturalist view would side with reason, and a religious naturalist view would side with compassion for the suffering of sentient life, and a willingness to accept responsibility for difficult decisions in unavoidably conflicted circumstances.
* * *
I find it pleasing to talk about life from a more scientific stance, and how there isn’t a beginning, nor an end to when “life” specifically begins.
* * *
It ought to be simple:
If you believe in “ensoulment” at conception, you should not get an abortion, because to do so is a sin within your religion.
If you do not so believe, you should not—under the Constitution—be bound by the religious beliefs of others.
* * *
A nuanced conversation about abortion eventually needs to touch on responsibility.
This week we’re arguing over “women,” uteri, ovaries, and arbitrary distinctions (theoretical and pragmatic) in our dependent co-arising.
The conversation about abortion would change radically if sperm providers were systematically held responsible for their actions.
Arguments about “responsible sex” should include a database of DNA for sperm tracking, free and incentivized vasectomies, the enforcement of basic child support protocols.
* * *
If we focused more on prevention, health, and the well-being of women (and men) and children after they are born (good social services), this would be a different conversation all together.
* * *
Defense of life includes protection of those who are life carriers
We can do better by balancing the interests of both and by eliminating magical thinking from a resolution that must be rooted in science and by the balancing inherent in the concept of natural rights and OBLIGATIONS.
* * *
It is not possible to eliminate all abortion. It is also not possible to eliminate all unintended pregnancy. It just makes sense to start earlier in the chain of causality if we would like to reduce either or both.
* * *
The anti-abortion group believe that abortion is murder. The logic is follows:
Murder is the unjustifiable taking of a human life.
Taking an innocent life is unjustifiable and therefore murder.
Life begins at conception.
A fetus is an innocent life.
Therefore abortion is murder.
I personally think this is a well-constructed argument – in terms of the logic.
But logic is only part of human reasoning.
The important point is:
Logic doesn’t say anything at all about . . . whether the premises are true or not.
Worse: some of those premises are not about facts, but about values.
And while facts may be true or false, that category doesn’t apply to values.
I want a religion grounded in a naturalistic view of the world, which allows for a rational and realistic difference of belief.
* * *
Regarding Amy Coney Barrett, I had the thought that, in being devoutly Catholic, it likely couldn’t be otherwise than for her to believe the church teaching regarding “ensoulment”, where the first presence of the individual soul of a human being is believed to occur at conception.
As you said, with this as a premise, it follows logically, and perhaps “undeniably” (through eyes that have this premise) that abortion is morally wrong and should not be accepted. And, as much as she, and those with similar views, might try, with their rational minds, to be objective (and, after thoughtful analysis, feel that they are being objective), the attempt at being objective remains forever skewed by the beliefs that unavoidably serve as premises for the logic.
* * *
As a person who was adopted at birth, . . . it often upsets people that I’m fully a pro-choice, which is rooted in “dignity”, “fairness”, “care”, and really, justice. I have dealt with the psychology of adoption, including feelings of abandonment.
It’s one potential solution for women who want this option, but we also need to tend to the issues then felt by adoptees, and that would need understanding and care in ways that are likely difficult because it is definitely a life of pain rooted in primary loneliness and abandonment, and this is dealt onto so many adoptees that’s unfortunately unavoidable. Many of us cannot fill a hole we all feel so deeply and this is the common experience of adoptees even when we appear really happy and successful.
There are ethics here to consider.
* * *
To whatever extent we intend our government to be democratic, we must, more or less, arrive at our laws by consensus, but to whatever extent we claim to be naturalists, we would aim for that consensus to be informed by evidence rather than just popular opinion, religious or otherwise.
* * *
I’ve seen some articles that suggests that, at this stage of resistance to the potential upcoming reversal of Roe, instead of arguing based on the claim/question of whether or not a fetus is a human person, or pointing to liberty as a core American value that, in this decision, may not be served, a case can be made regarding separation of church and state, with part of the argument being that, since there is no secular reason why pre-viability abortion would be seen as killing a person, arguments against abortion are all based on beliefs, not facts, and women who do not so-believe should not be forced to comply with moral positions that are based on beliefs of religions (and, also, some philosophies, but which also remain beliefs or opinions, but not facts).
I’m not optimistic that this will occur, or be successful, but since beliefs clearly play a role in this and other decisions, the church/state/freedom of (and from) religion angle seems like something that can be worthwhile to have this on the table, and be acknowledged and reckoned with as legal rules on moral issues are debated.
* * *
Laws are derived via the political interactions of each social establishment. That social establishment can be a nation, a state, a municipality, or a voluntary institution such as a club or a homeowners’ association.
The law is based on establishing a practical order for directing conduct and for attempting, more or less, to coerce that order.
The creation of laws, and the amendment of laws, includes the concept of compromise.
The law may be used to embody some group’s notion of morality, . . . but, nonetheless the law itself is not about solving religious or moral issues themselves; it is about creating a social order.
Law is really about who has the power to decide; and the power to enforce.
* * *
If it can be taken as a given that in almost every jurisdiction in the world, if free and safe elections were used to determine who the political leaders are, candidates would nonetheless always arise that had CONFLICTING VIEWS as to WHAT THE LAWS SHOULD BE governing ALL the people in the jurisdiction.
What limitations should be in place as to what laws are enacted?
It’s almost impossible to get more than 55 to 60% to agree on just about anything. In a certain sense 75+% agreements are true outliers. But even in those cases, should the views of minority position-takers be ignored?
Does the majority (whether left or right) have some kind of moral right to force their will on the minority position-takers?
* * *
But I am just ignorant enough, I think, to hope, in the words of the Stones, that “we can’t always get what we want; but if we try sometimes, we might just find, we get what we need.”
But even that involves the use of some kind of force or coercion. So natural behavior creates situations of conflict . . . that have to be resolved . . . through some process.
This means, regardless of moral positioning, burdens and benefits are distributed, and re-distributed, via will.
* * *
History shows amply enough that no political structure can actually control the rise and spread of religious beliefs, nor the rise and spread of moral beliefs, although many controlling segments in a society have attempted to do that. That is because people in a social order remain individual thinkers. I suspect that is the source of the human desire for various levels of freedom.
Humans are not all hawks; nor doves. We aren’t a herd species. We aren’t hives. No amount of coercion will eliminate the diversity in our desires. This is the strongest reason I can think of as to why no one group within a society should be able to control all the freedoms other segments of society wish to possess.
This is why the framers of the U.S. Constitution included the 9th Amendment … that at least records for posterity the concept, under a limited government, that citizens retain a variety of additional personal rights even if those rights aren’t specifically enumerated in the first 8 Amendments. But all of those rights are legal rights … not moral … not religious … but legal ones designed to be part of the social order, regardless of any one group’s beliefs about religion or about what is or isn’t moral.
* * *
As a lawyer, I need to state one caveat.
The legal issue here is 1) whether the Supreme Court in Griswold (not Roe) had the jurisdiction and authority to “find” a specific individual right to bodily privacy with respect to contraceptives and then 2) whether the Supreme Court had the jurisdiction and authority in Row and in Planned Parenthood to apply that right to the issue of abortion prior to viability or where the mother’s health is at stake.
Those aren’t moral or religious questions. They are legal ones.
And both questions then get involved (deeply) with the jurisprudential question of stare decisis; a subject ALSO not specifically referenced in the Constitution. Regardless, if this Court overturns Roe, the holding becomes the new law establishing a change in the social order and the wording in the majority opinion becomes important in interpreting the holding.
Those all then become political questions that should affect future voting at all levels of government in the USA.
A woman’s right to control the use of her body, and a man’s rights/obligations all come back into play – at the ballot box.
And all of that then implicates the issues related to the protection of voting rights, and the . . . tallying and certifying of votes.
There is a lot of stress coming, without even touching on the invasion of Ukraine or the issue of climate.
RN has a lot to consider coming down the pike.
Related resources (mentioned in RNAnet postings)
I invented Gilead. The Supreme Court is Making it Real
By Margaret Atwood, in The Atlantic
Why this former anti-abortion activist regrets the movement he helped build
CNN video interview with Frank Schaeffer
This activist has worked for years to undo Roe v. Wade. Here’s what she says should happen next
CNN video interview with Carrie Severino
The Future of Abortion In a Post-Roe America: Inside the covert network preparing to circumvent restrictions
By Jessica Bruder, in The Atlantic