A Facebook Debate on the Right to Abortion

The following exchange is taken from the comments on a post on the Objectivism for Intellectuals Facebook page. Rather than using the name of my interlocutor here, I will refer to her as “Her.” Irrelevant portions of the debate have been omitted.

Her:  So, being against abortion is irrational? I had no idea murder was a faith-only immorality.

Me:  It’s not murder if an embryo or fetus doesn’t have rights as an actual, independent human being. The religious “basis” for considering embryos to have rights is that they have already received a “soul.” This “soul” is a mystical construct with no basis in reality. There is no rational basis for a soul that can be separated from a developed and functioning brain. The mother is an actual, independent human with rights. The embryo is not. 

Her:  A living human has no rights as a human being? Have you viewed what occurs during an abortion? They tear apart the body of a baby who has a heartbeat, has limbs, even has fingernails. Rip it from limb to limb and then they have to reassemble the body to assure that no part has been left inside the mother. Does it make you feel better to say embryo or fetus? I am not even approaching the soul aspect. I am approaching it as one who loves and values life. Is that not a value of Objectivism? Look at the science of a baby in-utero and tell me that is not a human. You’re “logic” and epistomology borderlines barbarism for the sake of nothing more than trying to rationalize an act for the sake of the individual mother. As one who was been a mother, I could have avoided the act that created my children. That was my right. When my child was created, I was responsible. Do I have a right to murder my child after she has been born because she still has no rights as an actual, independent human being? At what point do you call it murder?

Me:  The first thing to realize is that children don’t have all the rights that adults do, precisely because they are not fully mature and independent human beings. They have a right to life, but not a full right to liberty from their parents, or a right to property. Their parents hold these rights for them.

Second, an image (mental or physical) is not an argument, and neither is an appeal to emotion (horror.)
Third, if human rights were a property of human flesh, then an appendix or a tumor would have the right not to be removed and discarded.

Rights are a function of what an entity currently is, not what it could become. They are a product of having to survive by reason. Plants don’t have rights, animals don’t have rights and fetuses don’t have rights. Here’s what rights are: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTN8jjxah0c&list=PLC4FFB9664D0850A0&index=14

If you find abortion too horrific and would never have one, that is your prerogative. But you don’t have a right to use the government to stop those who do want to have them. An appropriate legal standard for the inception of rights would be when the woman’s water breaks naturally after 7 months or at the 9-month due date, whichever comes first. (I consider post-viability evictionism a potentially arguable/reasonable position, so long as the viability is without mechanical assistance. But I won’t argue about it here.) Here’s an article from the Objective Standard on the abortion issue: http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2011-winter/abortion-rights.asp

Her:  I appreciate your posting an article, however, I am discussing this topic with you and your mind. I don’t need another’s input.
Babies born as young as 6 months gestation have the capability to survive outside the womb, that is why they must kill the baby before it emerges. Would you kill it after it emerged? No. It would be blatant murder. The only difference is location.
If you knew an adult human was torn limb from limb for no reason other than he/she was not “wanted”, would it be an appeal to emotion to understand the immorality of said force? Or would be an appeal to reason?
You recognize that children are unable to have the same rights as adults, yet you lack the acknowledgement of the responsibility of the adults who created the children have to behave as proxies for their children’s rights.
Whether I find something horrific or not is not an application of morality. If someone is rationalizing infanticide to rationalize why a woman has a right to her own body and is unable to comprehend why that is immoral, the fact is they have lost touch with reality and absolutes.
Life is an absolute.

Me:  “Babies born as young as 6 months gestation have the capability to survive outside the womb, that is why they must kill the baby before it emerges. Would you kill it after it emerged? No. It would be blatant murder. The only difference is location.”

That you mention the time of viability makes it sound as though you’re an advocate of evictionism. You believe that an embryo or fetus can be removed from the womb at any time, but can’t be killed by a human hand, right?

“Life is an absolute.”
The life of a plant or a pig is an absolute, too. Does this mean that they have rights not to be slaughtered and eaten?

Her:  Interesting word: evictionism. Is that a PC term for abortion? Truly never heard it before. Please define.
As far as your second paragraph. Life is an absolute. Recognition of the value of the life- Human vs. Plant vs. Pig is morality. Where do you stand?

Me:  I did effectively define evictionism in the sentence after I mentioned it.

You show that you have a degraded view of human life when you equate the vegetative life of a fetus to the characteristically human life of independent, conscious, volitional value pursuit in a healthy adult. To you, it seems, there is no difference between living as a healthy human being and living as a vegetable in a coma. Having human DNA and a heartbeat is all there is to being human for you. At least pigs and actual human infants are conscious on the perceptual level. Embryos are not.

Her:  Interesting. Most of what you said in your second paragraph, I could have said to you. Except you don’t recognize a human life as valuable as a pig’s or even a plant’s. A human has the potential to change the world. A pig or a plant may a feed a few humans, that is the extent of their potential impact. A human may create food for thousands, even millions. That is their potential impact. I recognize the value of the difference. Do you?

Me:  I don’t dispute that a fetus has potential value to the mother, *if* the mother is ready to have a child. (Note that a fetus also has the potential to become like Adolf Hitler or Charles Manson.) But a potential is not an actual. Every adult human is a potential corpse, but this doesn’t make it right to bury them. We judge rights based on the *actual,* not the potential.

Furthermore, I would say that if you’re having a child so that the child will change the world, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Having a child should be based on the likely contribution to *your* happiness, not a duty done for the world as a whole. No one should force a woman or girl to sacrifice at least the next year of her life to an unconscious clump of cells inside her.

Her:  You really have no understanding of the science or you are using willfull ignorance to rationalize your stance. A baby in utero is not a clump of cells.

At this point, you have refused to acknowledge scientific fact. You have posted others words to try to prove your point. You have edited a comment after I responded without acknowledging your edit.
You do not aptly represent the title of the page. I will no longer bother you. Good luck to you.

Me:  And you refuse to differentiate between early-term and late-term pregnancy. Most abortions occur within the first 9 weeks since the last period. Within the first trimester, an embryo/fetus has no lungs and no chance of surviving outside the womb. At this stage, the embryo does not function as a complete organism and is no better than a clump of cells: http://php.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php?title=Timeline_human_development

But I can see that your position isn’t based on reason, since you have a constant need to accuse me of rationalizing, rather than offering arguments for why an embryo has rights.

Her:  [Image link]

Me:  An image is not an argument.

Her:  Does that look like a clump of cells? There is differentiation. Meanwhile, a live infant is incapable of meeting its needs. Again, the only difference is location.

I say “rationalize” because you are not looking at reason. You are not looking at fact or science. Your ignorance on the subject you use so you may take your stance “rationally”. However, it is not rational. There is a reality. The reality an infant in utero is a life. How we treat that life is our morality. You choose to say a life only has value in as much another person wants it at the moment. I say that morality is murder.

Me:  It is not outward looks that matter for rights, but internal function.

I’ve already been through the whole “plants and pigs are biological life” argument with you and it didn’t seem to take the first time, so I’m not going to repeat it. And last I checked, they hadn’t found the gene for rights in the human genome. So I’m finished with this discussion.



Related Posts:

The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

The Wages of Altruism: Domestic Abuse

A Refutation of the Argument from Design

God: The Immovable Mover

4 thoughts on “A Facebook Debate on the Right to Abortion

  1. The fact all depends on when you determine life to start. It’s hard not to sympathize with the view that abortion is murder except when it is put forth as aggressively as this woman did. The fact is, allowing abortion helps many people who in no way could provide for a child, and while you may think it’s murder it’s hard not to see the benefits. Also in my opinion it is not murder because the life has not been born.

  2. From my, limited knowledge, Objectivism essentially adopts a stance that it is firstly wrong for the state to ever pass a law that may effect the autonomy of ones body. Furthermore, Objectivism argues that as the child is dependent on the mother, It should not be afforded less rights. I however fundamentally disagree with this, as I find it to be logically flawed. Though I admit that there is no reason that abortion before a certain number of weeks should be illegal, arguably, at a certain point, the embryo does cease to be a clump of cells and does become a human. If we are respective of human rights, surely this does mean that this child should be afforded the same human rights as any other human. Additionally, I find the dependency argument to be flawed also, firstly, the logical extrapolation of stance that argues dependency makes a foetus somehow less human, would also mean that the same could be said for any human that is not able to be properly self dependent- on life support, diabetic, etc. This is where I feel objectivism can show its ugly side, unless one would actually argue this case, which is frankly reprehensible, the argument can’t be sustained when dealing with an unborn foetus- the woman is, partially right, there is a great deal of differentiation based on location, which is not right- in my opinion at least.

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