Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Arguments and Intuitions About Abortion

That the question of abortion is important does not make the debate over it any less exhausting, so it's refreshing when someone can break out of the usual frames. Steven Waldman characterizes the tedious predominance of claims and counter-claims about 'when human life begins':

The debate has evolved that way in part because of the fundamentally religious nature of the pro-life activist position. The essential point about the position of pro-life activists-- including the Catholic Church and conservative evangelicals--is not that they believe "life" begins at conception. It's that they believe a life that God creates on Day One is morally equivalent to a life at month one or month nine or 18 years. "The whole point of pro-life reasoning," says Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life, "is to encourage people toward intellectual, ethical and scientific consistency: A life is a life, no matter how small."
For those of us on the pro-choice side, this claim is jarringly off-base, which while not precisely the same as wrong, still locates it well in the category of unhelpful. Waldman captures it:
Actually, what the [polling] data proclaim is something that politicians and activists can't: Most Americans believe there are gradations of life. Some living things are more alive than others, and so the later in the pregnancy it gets, the more uncomfortable people become with the idea of ending it. But in reality they believe both that a life stirs very early on and that a one-week-old embryo is more "killable" than a nine-month-old fetus. For them, determining whether "life" begins at conception really doesn't determine anything.
That there are gradations of life that merit gradations of moral concern, even when it comes to human life, fits the intuition. This does not mean it resolves the questions or implies quick resolutions, and it makes for a terrible bumper sticker, but it is a more promising start than any supernatural fancy about soul-creation.

As we say on the internets, read the rest.

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