Right or wrong, it's always interesting to consider fresh perspectives on complex issues... I just wish people didn't have to get so angry and self-righteous about things. This debate seems to breed that. Anyways, I expect that if anyone actually reads this, it will do anything BUT end debate. Oh well...
Here are a few things to think about.
The basic positions are these. Pro-lifers human life begins at conception, and therefore fetuses are persons, and abortion is murder. However, not all killings of humans are murders, so the one doesn't follow from the other. More on that later. Pro-choicers believe that the fetus is not a person, but again, even if they're right, it doesn't follow that we can be cavalier about killing a fetus, as we cannot in many cases justify killing living non-persons. Conversely, even if a fetus is a person, abortion is still admissable in some cases, and even if it is not a person, it is inadmissable in some cases. The concept of whether the fetus is a person need not be the final determinant in this argument.
Many people have proposed criterion for that which constitutes a person. Mary Warren alleges that capacities for self-reasoning, awareness, complex communication, and other qualities make the person, and that a fetus falls outside of these requirements. Brody introduces the idea of brain waves. Michael tooley suggests that having a concept of self is the integral part, which entails that killing babies and old people is more justifiable than killing an adult dog, which is ridiculous. Paul Ramsey proposes gene structure. Throughout the arguments, pro-lifers offer conditions for personhood which fetuses satisfy, and pro-choicers offer others which they don't. So what can we say is typical of persons? We could include that the individual is descended from humans, has a head, eyes, is capable of movement, thought, doubt, jealousy, the ability to think and pervceive. The ability to draw conclusions and rationalize, to work in groups, to recognize other people as valuable, and so forth. The point isn't that counterexamples to these criteria exist. People who are irrational are no less people. there is no set of features that 'make' a person, only ones that are commonly found in people. It seems impossible, then, to determine conclusively whether a fetus is a person. It is notable, however, that a fetus has very few of these typical characteristics. The traditional pro-life argument is to emphasize things which make the fetus similar to us (it has 10 fingers), while ignoring glaring differences (it has gills and a tail).
Muslims date personhood as 14 days after conception. Aristotle said that 'ensoulment' occurred 40 days after conception (for males, it was 80 days for females). The opinions vary greatly. The bottom line is that a human develops gradually, and noone can definitively say when a 'person' appears. Therefore, this concept of personhood is not reliable enough to bear the weight of a solution.
For the sake of argument, let us assume that a fetus is a person. Judith Thompson points out that we cannot from this immediately decide that all abortion is wrong; we need the additional premise that killing a person is wrong. But killing a person is not always wrong, for example, in cases of self defense. Here comes a strange analogy. Imagine that a mad scientist had kidnapped innocent people and hypnotized them to jump out of bushes and knife people at random. If you were one of the people attacked, most would say that you have the right to kill that person in order to protect yourself from death or serious injury. This raises the question of how much damage can be done in self defense. You can't kill the hypnotized person if he has no weapons, and is likey to do nothing more than to tear your shirt. In an offense as serious as rape, or the loss of a limb, or death, however, one can justifiably kill. Of course, the injury inflicted in self defense should be the minimum necessary; even if the attacker intends to kill you, it is not right to shoot him when you have the option of running away. The whole idea is to avoid harm. Some cases of pregnancy offer a similar situation. The fetus may be innocent, but it may also pose a physical or mental threat to the woman's well-being. If the pregnancy presents only a slight threat to her interests, it does not seem moral to justify killing it. However, if the threat is on par with a severe beating or the loss of a limb, killing would be justified. This self-defense model suggests that the woman has a right to be freed from the fetus, not to demand its death, though there is not so great a difference in practice.
Many take the third-person view of abortion; does the doctor have a right to choose between the life of the woman and that of the fetus? Some would say that if you saw an attack by one of the innocent hypnotized people on an innocent person, you would have no reason to kill either in defense of the other. Another question one might pose is, if one of the parties was a homeless bum, and the other a famous actor, would you intervene to save the one of more value to society? However, to put another spin on the third-person situation, suppose that you were an old person, and hired a bodyguard. We would probably not question the bodyguard for killing the attacker on behalf of his employer, as he is the agent by which the employer protects him or herself.
Now we come to the point where the pro-lifers are saying, 'given modern technology, cases where womens' lives are at stake from their pregnancy are rare'. How does this self defense policy work when we consider longer-range harms? The analogy is going to get a bit wierder here. Imagine that you were the greatest surgeon on the planet, and were attacked by one of these hypnotized people, who was not going to kill you, but to take you back to the hypnotist, who would then hypnotize you, causing you to forget everything you once knew about the medical trade. THis would destroy your career, which would result in an adverse effect on your family life, and, ulitmately, your happiness. I, at least, would say that you are justified in shooting the attacker if it is the only way to prevent this from occurring. You are, here, defending yourself from an injury to your life prospects. This can be paralleled with the effect of unwanted pregnancy on the woman.
Another argument is that to abstain from sex, or to use protection, are means to prevent pregnancy. Suppose that these hypnotized attackers only attacked at night, and you could avoid them entirely by submitting to the great inconvenience of staying home every night. Or, you could bring mace with you, to hold off the attacks. The first seems unreasonably limiting, and to say that the victim of the attack should submit to the consequences should her defense (the mace) fail, seems rather weak.
Many say that it is not possible to justify abortion without justifying infanticide unless a difference between an unborn child and a born child can be found. However, the self-defense model does not accord with this argument; after birth, a woman can defend herself by less drastic means than killing the infant, ie: running away (figuratively). Before birth, such options are not available, since the fetus depends on the woman.
Clearly, we abortion can be justified in some cases even if the fetus is a person. Let us now examine the situation if we deny this claim, and allege that it is not a person at all. Non-persons should get some consideration, even though they do not have the same rights as persons, and though their interests may be overridden by persons. Treatment of animals is a good example. We say that it is wrong to go about killing dogs and wild birds for no real reason. However, we can kill cows for food, or birds to keep them from destroying crops. Few people object to research on animals that might be positively torturous, if the result is beneficial to humankind.
How do we decide what we can do to non-persons? I cannot formulate a decent answer to this question. One cannot say that torturing animals is all right whenever the sum of its effects on people is good (when the torturer doesn't start harming people as a result of being more and more warped). But then, it would be all right to torture dogs in private, or if you died shortly thereafter. This isn't sensible. Whatever moral code we establish for the treatment of non-persons must be indefeasible. It must be a general rule, not a set of criteria to be considered on a case by case basis. Utilitarianism in this case does not hold water, because it is open to such criticisms as, if a person tortures animals on a desert island, he is not morally reprehensible.
Much of our moral code depends on our psychological disposition to treat personlike non-persons with greater sympathy. If we allowed for personlike non-persons to be treated in a way we would not want persons to be treated, it would undermine our system of ethics. Because of this, a mistreatment of certain animals is considered wrong in general; we see protesters arguing against the unintentional killing of Dolphins by tuna fishers, but not against the intentional killing of the tuna (which are less intelligent). This is a crucial point in the study of human moral systems, and so it should be crucial in the abortion debate. A fetus in the late trimesters and a newborn baby are so much alike that no one could be asked to draw a distinction between them and treat them so greatly differently. Because of this coherence of attitudes, the similarity of a fetus to a newborn human is significant, and we cannot be so cavalier in its treatment. I have to conclude that even if a fetus is not a person, abortion is not always permissible, because of the resemblance of a fetus to a person. This keeping in mind, however, that in the early weeks after conception, a fetus is quite unlike a person. It is hard to develop these feelings of empathy for a group of genes, and thus human moral systems do not accomodate them. To question this would be to question every convention of morality humanity posesses, because it is ingrained in us. Early in pregnancy, abortion cannot be psychologically or morall compared to murder, but in the late stages it is certainly akin to that crime.
All in all, according to this logic, abortion is permissable in the early months (when a fetus has little in common with a person) whenever it is in the best interests of the woman concerned and her family. The reasons would only need to outweigh the pain and inconvenience of the abortion itself. Later, when the fetus resembles a person, abortion would only be justifiable when the continuation of the pregnancy would cause harms, be they physical, psychological, social, or economic. In the late months, even on the assumption that a fetus is not a person, abortion seems wrong except to save a woman from significant injury, or death.
-From a thread in the Dragon's Lair.
When the truth is, I miss you.
Yeah the truth is, that I miss you so.
And I�'m tired...
I should not have let you go.