Sunday, October 09, 2011
Steve Jobs and the abortion argument
Some of the conservatives on my Facebook feed are passing around this article, which notes that the biological mother of Steve Jobs chose to give him up for adoption, rather than to abort her pregnancy. The assertion, or at least implication, is that we cannot know what greatness we lose when we abort a fetus.
Of course, there is the usual back and forth about whether or not it is in good taste to make this point so soon after Jobs' death (the original article was written before he died, but the people who are posting it are certainly open to the criticism). For my part, if the last decade has taught us anything, it is that we are well beyond worrying about whether it is ever "too soon" to make a political point about somebody's death.
I do, however, think that it is extremely unwise for opponents of lawful abortion to make utilitarian arguments against the practice, and that, after all, is what this is. First, the utilitarian arguments in favor of lawful abortion might well prevail over those against. What if it is true (at least at the margin) that abortion has led to a lower crime rate? Perhaps that is worth the risk that we will occasionally lose the Steve Jobs. Second (and more troubling), the utilitarian argument against abortion essentially admits that the rightness or wrongness of abortion is merely a function of our preferences -- do we want more people who might do great things, or not? -- rather than objective right and wrong. When the pro-life movement goes utilitarian, it is playing on the pro-choice home field. That is not smart.
By Foxfier, at Sun Oct 09, 06:31:00 PM:
I'm not sure it's meant to be a utilitarian argument-- "Look at what we wouldn't have if abortion had been legal then"-- rather than a means of putting a face on the argument-- "look at who we wouldn't have if abortion had been legal then."
Similar is when I point out that I've got friends who are the products of rape, or when someone expresses admiration of Prof. Hawking after saying that abortion is preferable to a child having to live with a disability.
You are very right about the danger of utilitarian arguments, though.
By Neil Sinhababu, at Sun Oct 09, 06:52:00 PM:
I agree that it's a bad argument, and I've added an additional reason to think so.
One minor comment I have is that utilitarians can treat their theory as being about objective right and wrong. As long as psychology is an objective discipline, there will be objective facts about which outcomes lead to maximal desire-satisfaction (or the way I want to set up the utilitarian theory, maximal pleasure for all). If the facts about pleasure just are the moral facts by another name, as utilitarians like me think they are, they're objective moral facts.
But that's enough of me doing my day job :)
By buck smith, at Sun Oct 09, 07:04:00 PM:
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By buck smith, at Sun Oct 09, 07:05:00 PM:
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By buck smith, at Sun Oct 09, 07:06:00 PM:
The best thing opponents of abortion could do for the country is to take the position that abortion is wrong, but they do not want the government to stop it by force of law. This would reinforce the concept of limited government. There are many human actions that a majority (or minority) of us may agree are wrong. We should use government and police, prosecutors and force of law to stop only a small fraction of those actions. Abortion like [currently} illegal drug use should not be stopped by law.
By Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Oct 09, 08:14:00 PM:
Way to completely misunderstand what the pro-life argument is, buck!
I agree the weakness of the utilitarian argument, and Neil's addition at the link. Important to note that it weakens the force of the prolife argument but does not refute it.
By Foxfier, at Sun Oct 09, 10:13:00 PM:
The best thing opponents of abortion could do for the country is to take the position that abortion is wrong, but they do not want the government to stop it by force of law
After you get murder, rape and assault to no longer be stopped by force of law-- to reinforce the concept of limited gov't, of course.
"First, the utilitarian arguments in favor of lawful abortion might well prevail over those against. What if it is true (at least at the margin) that abortion has led to a lower crime rate? "
The issue I have with this is that presupposes that in the absence of abortion unready or unfit parent(s) are forced to keep the child and raise him/her in a poor environment rather doing what Steve Jobs' mother did - and let loving and capable adoptive parents handle the upbringing.
By W.LindsayWheeler, at Mon Oct 10, 08:37:00 AM:
Tigerhawk, Pro-life people have always had at their base the metaphysical point that when en-souled, the embreyo is a human being. The status of a Human Being comes from the soul.
The Pro-Life people can back up that argument with a religious teaching.
What is wrong with putting a Face on a supposed victim? It is not utilitarian at all! It is just more canon fodder. Three points, metaphysical, religious and personal historical fact is used to say that Abortion is wrong. The Pro-Life forces have always paraded down syndrome and physically handicapped children to prove the wrongness of Abortion. What is wrong with adding Steve Jobs to the List?
None. Abortion is a morally wrong.
By Dawnfire82, at Mon Oct 10, 10:05:00 AM:
Including a 'utilitarian' argument does not detract from other arguments. Rather, it complements them and does some battle from an angle that would otherwise be ignored.
"Not only is it wrong for X, Y, and Z, but it's also counterproductive because of A, B, and C."
And if the pro-life utilitarian argument loses, so what? You're back to only X, Y, and Z, but at least you didn't simply concede the utilitarian angle totally.
Somewhat aside, there is a utilitarian argument I don't think I've ever heard. The essence of it is this: there are too many old people and not enough young people. The demographic nightmare of Japan is creeping up on virtually the entire western world and I have no doubt whatever that easy access to abortion is part and parcel to this, especially for those older people who have no children and aren't monks. It's a tragedy of the commons on a generational level; it's easy and convenient for individuals to abort pregnancies so hurray, but when lots of people do it you end up with warped demographics.
Perpetual avoidance of parenthood also serves to extend people's adolescence, another severe but little-discussed problem in our society.
So, and just ti make certain I undestand, your argument is that the usefulness to society of Steve Jobs life is outweighed by the crime reduction associated with aborting the babies of poor unmarried women?
By TigerHawk, at Mon Oct 10, 10:21:00 AM:
No, my argument is that opening the door to that argument (and others like it) is a political and moral loser for the right to life side. As for the substantive point, there is no objective answer. It is a question of preference.
If forced to answer on the substance, I would say that it is quite possible that the total utiles from lawful abortion exceed the total utiles lost by abortion, but who the heck knows?
Where I have a problem with the Tigerhawk argument at 10:21 is the possibility of deriving greater utility by aborting the fetuses of certain classes and thereby reducing future crime rates.
Seems to me that it is incorrect to foreordain a life of crime for those babies who will never be. Each living human has a soul, and free will to choose a path of good or evil.
Abortion forecloses any possibility that the person could be influenced to rise above the difficult circumstances of upbringing and community, as many disadvantaged people have done. All souls can be redeemed.
By Foxfier, at Mon Oct 10, 12:28:00 PM:
Somewhat aside, there is a utilitarian argument I don't think I've ever heard. The essence of it is this: there are too many old people and not enough young people.
Lucky you- I've heard lots of promotion of killing off old people when they actually require more resources than they provide. There's a reason that euthanasia is getting so popular.
Oh, sorry, "choosing death with dignity"-- which, oddly, it's labeled even when the dead person explicitly did not choose it, and death is seldom dignified. (Wesley J. Smith over at Secondhand Smoke does a very good job of pointing out the countries where involuntary euthanasia is going on.)
Here’s an old joke with a political moral:
A priest, a minister and a rabbi get on the topic of “when does life begin.”
The priest says: Upon conception, as a unique individual is defined with a God-given soul.
The minister says: No you have it wrong. It’s at the Quickening. Forty days or so after conception the spark of life gets lit and the fetus shows independent movement.
The rabbi says: No, you’re both wrong. Life begins when the youngest kid goes off to college, and the dog dies.
Seriously, we don't have consensus on when life begins and we won't get one through politics. The Supreme Court drew a line at "fetus viabilty" with exceptions. If the legislature instead drew the line at Quickening -- allowing for morning-after pills, etc. -- you still wouldn't satisfy the religious beliefs of many.
You can say it's strictly a women's private affair, but it's not. Some man contributed half the DNA, and can be made liable for child support. Then there's issues over parenting when teenagers are involved. There's some maddening inconsistencies on this. I chalk it up it to feminine fuzzy logic, or more accurately -- better political organization. Camille Paglia says its a pagan thing -- women have always had the upper hand in this domain. Men had it elsewhere.
Basic statistics will tell you there's quite high correlation between abortion rates and declining crime. In states that legalized abortion before Roe, the correlation pre-dated Roe, etc, etc. It's hard not to draw the obvious inference. I'd refine it to say that babies who are born wanted are less likely to be criminal.
Steve Jobs has a miraculous back story. But then every baby is a miracle.
If Steve Jobs hadn't been "rejected at birth" he wouldn't have been Steve Jobs. We used to call such people "bastards". Many who actually knew him called Steve Jobs exactly that. Go figure.
By Foxfier, at Mon Oct 10, 01:44:00 PM:
Seriously, we don't have consensus on when life begins and we won't get one through politics.
To be more precise, we don't have a consensus on when human life should be legally defended.
"When life begins" is a scientific question that has a very narrow area where it's argued about-- somewhere between the fusion of sperm and egg, and the first cell division.
I know the phrase "when life begins" is the way it's actually spoken about in common use, but it's hard to have a useful discussion without exact phrasing.
"when human life should be legally defended" vs. "when life begins"
I get your point. I implicitly equated the two, and that's not always correct.
Once past six months, legitimate concerns with the health of the mother can come into play. Many late-term abortions actually involve a fetus that doctors expect won't survive, so my midwife sister has told me.
Ask yourself whether you'd keep a Downs syndrome baby, if you could avoid it? How about spina bifida?
My teenage daughter and her friends all watched *Juno* multiple times. I'm glad.
By Foxfier, at Mon Oct 10, 03:39:00 PM:
Many late-term abortions actually involve a fetus that doctors expect won't survive, so my midwife sister has told me.
"Many" is an interesting word... given the total number of abortions, it could mean a minuscule fraction of the whole while still very validly being "many."
Mr. Smith over at Secondhand Smoke covers that sort of justification a lot-- generally cases where the mother says "well... if the baby is going to die anyway, I'll let it happen naturally"-- and then the kid is born just fine, or they try to remove the fetus, fail, and the only problems after birth are from the attempt. Kind of like how folks are told they have "only weeks to live" and survive for years, or even recover. It's almost like "they're going to die anyways" is a poor basis for action, or something....
There's two different issues: (1) if and when abortion is morally OK, and (2) when does the state get to decide #1.
Justice Blackman defined #2 as "viability", which has been a workable -- if not totally satisfactory -- compromise for most of us ... for #2!
It doesn't answer #1.
I think you're mixing #1 and #2. We're not close to consensus on #1, except on infanticide, which is the unspoken foundation for where Blackman came out.
There's a lot of "immoral" things we used to outlaw; many we still do. "Prohibition" doesn't always work out well.
I wouldn't equate a woman taking a morning-after pill to be the same as murder. I presume you would.
I know a couple who did in vitro and wound up with three viable fetuses. Doctor recommended aborting one. Sophie's Choice?
My cynical side says there's a lot of hypocrisy here. Many who says they're pro-life would arrange an abortion if they had a *Juno*.
Finally, my midwife sister -- who did a lot of inner city work -- said something like "most" not "many". Her point was that late-term abortions in her experience were rarely "elective" -- there was almost always a difficult medical problem involved. She was mad that later-term abortions had been made a political issue, when she's seen many women who just use abortion as a means of birth control.
"Abortion" has ruined our politics. It's become a hypocritical shibboleth.
By Foxfier, at Mon Oct 10, 05:59:00 PM:
I try to keep "morality" out of the issue, since it doesn't change minds. Conception is the start of a new organism, thus of a life, thus this is simply yet another case of the law being selectively removed from a group of humans.
Eventually, we'll come to our senses and be amazed that anyone could possibly see nothing wrong with it being legal to dismember a living human 9 months post conception so long as they were located inside of the womb, but illegal to do so to an 8 months post conception human that had been born.
Her point was that late-term abortions in her experience were rarely "elective" -- there was almost always a difficult medical problem involved.
Besides the violent death of at least 50% of the patients involved, I presume you mean. Seeing as how many states require that there be a claimed "health of the mother" reason for abortion past a set point, I have no doubt that the paperwork reflected that.
By darovas, at Mon Oct 10, 08:32:00 PM:
By Dawnfire82, at Mon Oct 10, 08:44:00 PM:
As well reasoned an argument as ever, darovas.
"this is simply yet another case of the law being selectively removed from a group of humans. "
"Every sperm is sacred!" That's quite an over simplification, isn't it.
If I mix some eggs and sperm in a petri dish, then what? Happens every day, when you do in vitro.
You really haven't addressed any of the issues I raised:
A) On the continuum from "egg meets sperm" to "Spartan infanticide", where do you draw the line for your own personal morality?
B) Does the woman have any right to be selfish in this? Personal safety or lifestyle choice?
C) Does the man have any say? If no, then why any obligation?
D) When should the state have the right to step in to settle these questions? When should it?
Bonus: We're now likely to see the Republicans nominate a guy who says he's pro-life, when you know he's not. Are we OK with that?
I suppose you answered A with "egg meets sperm" but you want to ignore dealing with the implications.
If you say "all abortion is murder" ... that's a legitimate personal position ... held by many religions ... held by several in my family.
But it's a minority political position. Insist on it politically, and you get candidates like Romney. I don't care about Mitt's religion, or about his position on abortion especially ... but I do care that he's put in a position where he thinks he has to lie ... and then he does lie. And that he actually gets points with MSM and others because he's "sophisticated" enough to do so. (wink, wink). False in one, false in all.
By Foxfier, at Mon Oct 10, 08:51:00 PM:
Ah yes, the old red herring of a falsely choice comes 'round again....
Kind of odd, though, to toss it out when it ignores adoption... *glances up at the original post*
Does that mean, Darovas, that your form of compassionate liberalism is "give me government programs or the kid gets it"?
(The Sisters for Life illustrate yet another option.)
By darovas, at Mon Oct 10, 08:57:00 PM:
An empty, pathetic retort to a rather clever cartoon, dawnfire82.
Ignoramus, that was pretty good. Here's another one:
Q:: What is the Jewish position on abortion?
A: The mother has complete and absolute control over the fetus until it graduates from medical school.
By Foxfier, at Mon Oct 10, 09:00:00 PM:
You really haven't addressed any of the issues I raised
No, I haven't chased after any flags you wave around. If you can't tell the difference between a germ cell and an organism, I can't see any reason to try.
I haven't "ignored" the implications of humans being humans, it's simply not even vaguely related to the topic. Unless you're trying to illustrate utilitarian responses.
(How can you say that blacks are as human as whites and eventually the law will recognize this! You're avoiding the implications of slavery being removed when you make that statement!)
By Crusader, at Mon Oct 10, 09:59:00 PM:
If anyone is still confused or thinks this is an issue of preference or choice, just ask God what He thinks. It's pretty cut and dry.
Here's the answer. I have spoken:
The Steve Jobs Memorial Anti-Bastardy Act of 2011
with The Tom Brady Protection Amendment of 2011
WHEREAS, the USA is suffering from an alarming growth in illegitimacy;
WHEREAS, government has tried to stop people from having heterosexual sex outside wedlock, but has failed to do so for reasons the CBO hasn't been able to figure out;
WHEREAS, making homosexuality a more attractive lifestyle has only provided marginal improvement;
WHEREAS, Bridget Moynahan acquired Patriot QB Tom Brady's high test-DNA under false pretenses, thus bearing his child out of wedlock without his consent, thus alarming NFL-following American men that really hot Actress/Models might do the same to them; thus creating great consternation in the land;
BE IT ENACTED,
Any person carrying a fetus who is unmarried must 1) abort said fetus, or 2) deliver said fetus for adoption to an HHS-approved adoption agency, or 3) deliver said fetus to a Dickensian single-sex Boys Town-like environs, preferably in a place like Iowa, with a headmaster like Spencer Tracy, or a headmistress like Sandra Bullock.