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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Challenge to Roderick Long, Rad Geek, et al.

So, as I understand them, the libertarian defenders of abortion as a right in this thread basically take the position that the fetus is an unwanted interloper using the body of the woman desiring an abortion for its sustenance, and therefore she is entitled to "evict" it from her body, just as anyone of us would someone who jumped into our car and demanded to live there for nine months and be fed in the meantime.

Now, surely, given this view, we are not allowed to do any worse to the unwanted passenger than is necessary to evict them. So, for instance, if we can simply lift their passive body, which is giving us no resistance, out of the car and place it on the side of the road, we would not be allowed, instead, to take a chain saw to them and chop them to bits inside of our car, right? (Let us posit we have a healthy back, they are a light person, etc.)

Then let us imagine a surely conceivable scenario from the "not-too-distant future." In this future, bioengineering has advanced to the point where viable artificial wombs can be created, and fetuses can easily be extracted from a pregnant woman without harming her--the process is, say, clearly safer than an abortion. Given this reality, some anti-abortion multi-billionaire sets up a fund that creates a worldwide network of clinics. For the same price as an abortion, and for free if the woman is destitute, any of these clinics will extract the fetus from the woman, place it in an artificial womb, and then put it up for adoption when it comes to term.

Do you agree that if this became a reality, abortion would be completely impermissible, and would be the equivalent of hacking to pieces your inert automobile passenger when you could easily have just lifted him out of your car?

17 comments:

  1. Gene, you might want to check out Victor Koman's novel Solomon's Knife? Based on the premise that there is a "transoption" procedure not unlike what you propose here, that affects the abortion debate. http://www.amazon.com/Solomons-Knife-Victor-Koman/dp/0977764915/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1308054439&sr=8-1

    You might also find this article of relevance: CONSENT, SEX, AND
    THE PRENATAL RAPIST
    A BRIEF REPLY TO MCDONAGHÕS
    SUGGESTED REVISION OF ROE V. WADE
    Francis J. Beckwith* and Steven D. Thomas**
    http://mises.org/journals/jls/17_3/17_3_1.pdf

    I also argue for positive parental obligations (which could have applications for the abortion issue) in How We Come To Own Ourselves

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  2. Thanks, Stephan. I will look.

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  3. Similarly, I think Rothbard erred when he used the analogy of a trespasser. He completely ignored who acts. A more appropriate analogy would be a kidnapped victim. The kidnappers create the conditions under which a helpless being exists on their property and the argument is that somehow the kidnappers have the right to kill their victim?

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  4. August, I agree with you, but I want to set out the problem on their own terms and see what they think of my thought experiment.

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  5. Rad Geek already addressed a similar thought experiment in 2008:

    As far as real-world cases go, in the tiny minority of abortions which are performed late enough that the fetus might in principle be "viable," procedures that result in the killing of the fetus, such as intact D&X, are almost always chosen over, say, simply inducing labor, specifically in order to make the abortion safer for the pregnant woman. (D&E/D&X are preferred over labor induction, hysterotomy and hysterectomy procedures, where they are possible, specifically because they have documented lower morbidity and mortality rates. Reason why is that, as it happens, trying to shove an intact human head out through your cervix and vagina is an extremely painful and medically risky thing to do. I do not think that proportionality demands taking on significant additional pain and risk of illness or death in order to evict an unwanted user of your internal organs, any more than it demands not evicting them.)

    Moving from real world cases to imaginary cases, sure, if you invent a magical means of teleporting viable fetuses out of the uterus without having to pass them through the cervix and vagina, and without having to cut them out, and the magical teleport procedure has no complications that would make it in any other way riskier than D&E/D&X, then I’d be willing to accept that if a fetus is a rights-bearing person (a premise I’m not convinced of, but also have not ruled out of court as of yet), then you might have a moral obligation to use that particular procedure to abort the pregnancy rather than to use D&E or D&X. But, again, that would not be an exception to the call for abortion on demand and without apology; it would only be an argument for choosing one method of abortion on demand as opposed to a different, less practically rational method.


    I would have thought the answer was obvious to anyone generous enough to think Rad Geek et al actually believe their theory instead of just that they are looking for excuses to cut up babies.

    So, a lot hinges on just how much "safer than an abortion" your hypothetical is or is likely to be in any realistic scientific future short of teleportation. The track record of considering the real impact on women of various medical options isn't exactly giving me a lot of warm fuzzies that the (mostly patriarchal) medical profession will be anywhere near competent in this determination. In any case, I'd rather be helping women now and working to make sure they have the best possible "abortion on demand and without apology."

    abortion would be completely impermissible

    It would still be abortion. You are aborting the pregnancy.

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  6. A more appropriate analogy would be a kidnapped victim. The kidnappers create the conditions under which a helpless being exists on their property and the argument is that somehow the kidnappers have the right to kill their victim?

    I think this overlooks the issue of original conditions and the existence of prior rights. As Roderick points out:

    It is true, of course, that a woman who deliberately hypnotized a man into attempting rape, and then killed him in self-defense, would be blameworthy for his death; but that is presumably because she violated his rights in the first place by voluntarily placing him in a situation where she would be justified in killing him. There is no analogous rights-violation in the pregnancy case; we surely do not violate a person’s rights merely by bringing him or her into existence.

    And Rad Geek:

    Whatever duties you may have to rescue those in distress, they derive first, from the condition that they were in before the emergency, and second, from the condition of distress that the emergency puts them in relative to that original condition. But there is no original condition in the case of a pregnancy — there was nothing at all before the conception

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  7. "But, again, that would not be an exception to the call for abortion on demand and without apology; it would only be an argument for choosing one method of abortion on demand as opposed to a different, less practically rational method."

    No, Neverfox, RadGeek has now made it completely obvious: it is the idea that fetuses can be killed at will that he IS in love with. I put forward this example precisely to test the case of whether the commitment was really to women's freedom or merely to being able to do away with those they deem "non-humans" at will. RadGeek has given a very clear answer. Thanks for sharing that with us.

    "It would still be abortion. You are aborting the pregnancy."

    Idiot. That definition makes C-sections an induced deliveries forms of abortion! Wikipedia: "Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion of a fetus or embryo from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death."

    You knew that I meant "death-causing abortions," and you were just playing a childish game trying to catch me in a stupid word trap, but you trapped yourself instead.

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  8. 'In any case, I'd rather be helping women now and working to make sure they have the best possible "abortion on demand and without apology."'

    Neverfox: helping women to become murderers since 1973!

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  9. I still await word from Long, but we have now determined that RadGeek and neverfox, in their quest to pursue untrammeled individualism and through a lot of sophistic "philosophical" thinking, have succeeded into turning themselves into moral sub-humans.

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  10. Neverfox, there are people with whom it is worth discussing moral issues, because at least they have a basic moral sense, which include something like, "If at all possible, avoid killing babies."

    There are other people who are so far lost that they cannot even see that. There is no point discussing any moral issue with such people as it is like discussing morals with a shark or wolverine. In their case, we can only hope for a miracle of grace.

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  11. Neverfox said:

    I would have thought the answer was obvious to anyone generous enough to think Rad Geek et al actually believe their theory instead of just that they are looking for excuses to cut up babies.

    Neverfox, I don't endorse Gene's sarcasm and tone, but I had the same reaction he did to your comment here. You are writing as if you quoted RadGeek as saying, "Of course if there were any way to safely allow the fetus and mother to live, I would favor that. Who wouldn't?"

    But that's not at all what he said. Rather he offered a heavily caveated, oh-I-guess-in-that-case-the-fetus-could-live answer.

    Incidentally, I think abortion is immoral (at least in most cases) but I am also a pacifist. So I am probably simultaneously pro-choice and pro-life, i.e. I don't think it's productive to try to punish women for seeking abortions. I don't even think it's productive for Gene to be casually throwing around the term "murder," though I understand why he does it.

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  12. Bob, I am very often sarcastic, true, but there is no point in this thread I have been sarcastic. I have been mostly shocked. I really thought that any decent person would have to concede, "Well, of course if the baby could be left alive with no more cost or risk to the mother, OF COURSE you can't kill it!" I could not believe RadGeek STILL saying, "But of course, she could still kill it if she wanted."

    Maybe I've practiced sarcasm for so long that my shock comes out sounding sarcastic!

    And, by the way, I'm ambivalent on the wisdom of punishing abortions. I think perhaps the best solution for now would be something like a viability cut-off.

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  13. Gene, did the comment system eat my last comment or did I hit my allowed limit of, in your view, murderous propaganda?

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  14. Neverfox, I despair of finding any basis upon which we could continue this discussion, since we are coming from such different perspectives on the issue at hand. Therefore, it is best, I think, to not maintain the pretense we are having a discussion.

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  15. Given your hypothetical conditions, I believe Long would agree with you.

    In section 'VIII. Summary' of his piece on abortion rights, he says: "A pregnant woman...has a negative right not to have her body invaded, and from this negative right derives a positive right to abort her fetus, so long as doing so is not disproportionate to the seriousness of the threat[.]"

    In another piece, Long dismisses the idea of "shooting a toddler if that were the only way to prevent the toddler from treading on my toe." This response "would surely be disproportionate to the seriousness of the aggression."

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  16. Jeff I hope so -- I have a lot of respect for Roderick.

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  17. I have found this interesting. Are women's rights or lives more important?

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