One Child Policy — the great pro-life/pro-choice unifier?

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A recent submission over at the Hao Hao Report has stirred up a bit of conversation about China’s One-Child Policy (OCP) and specifically an American organization that strongly opposes it.

For most of my life the OCP debate was completely absent in my daily dialog. I don’t know that I ever gave it a moment’s thought before coming to China. Living here though, and watching as China-centric headlines increasingly fill Western news cycles, it’s a topic that repeatedly finds its way into my thoughts — particularly now that I’ve filled my quota.

In the reverse, prior to leaving North American soil, the great Pro-Choice/Pro-Life battle regularly found its way into my readings, discussions and thoughts. Since coming to China, not so much.

The Pro-Life/Pro-Choice discourse, in my admittedly limited understanding, primarily boils down to a Religion vs. Liberty debate. The religious feel that it is murder to have an abortion, and the libertarians believe women should have the decision to do what they wish to their body. What I find interesting is that the All Girls Allowed organization mentioned above, and others like it, while being aligned with the ‘pro-life’ camp, are primarily forwarding an argument of liberty: The OCP is immoral because it forces women to murder their unborn babies. It removes choice, and not for a fetus (as I’m sure someone is just itching to poke a hole in my description with), but specifically for the women involved. They are pro-choice.

Ok, not exactly. Their “pro-choice” only extends to allowing a women to have as many babies as she wants, not to her having the option of terminating the pregnancy should she choose to do so. Ultimately there’s an agenda there that would one day see the organizations switch to a similar rhetoric that their beliefs push to a Western-facing world — namely the encouragement of a system for authoritarian control of what women can and can’t do with their bodies.

And this is where organizations like the above lose my support. Their message is soured, to me at least, by their affiliation to religion and the beliefs that come with it that restrict another person’s liberty. I have a hard time seeing action spurred by religion, no matter how well-intended, as anything but devious. I know many readers are religious, and I know that statement is going to be a volatile one.

I wear my aversion to religion rather overtly. However, I am not trying to say that all actions of the religious are devious, simply because of their beliefs. There are plenty in the Faithful masses, just as in the non-believer circles, that do good simply because good needs doing, and not because someone or something told them it was the key to a magical place.

But ultimately, I can’t take seriously any organization that puts, as a cornerstone of their operational philosophy, prayer (nestled right between “Get Involved” and “News & Resources”). Adding “god” to an NGO is like adding made up interviews to a New York Times investigative piece. It strengthens your point to anyone who emphatically believes you or what you do, but muddles its validity and challenges your motivations with anyone even remotely skeptical.

I believe it is wrong to force a woman to abort her baby due to our rather fuzzy understanding of population and population control. And when that baby is nearly full-term, I think that’s criminal. It brings me to tears thinking about it, and I am not strong enough to spend too long considering what it must actually be like for women, for families, to actually go through that. To borrow a phrase, late-term abortions are murder. An abstract idea of “possibly better for the common good in the long term” does absolutely zero to temper my feelings about this. I would think anyone with a child feels similarly.

But when the mandate of your organization has a dark shadow just out of sight that would eventually likewise force women to sacrifice their liberty for what someone else feels is right, how can I support you? How can your message hold validity when it is tainted with the same self-righteousness and suppression that on the surface it is trying to stop?

Talk on One Child Policy — the great pro-life/pro-choice unifier?


57 Comments
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  2. Population control is necessary but One Child Policy (1CP) is questionable. Currently Two Children Policy (2CP) is

    conditional, applicable to circumstances such as when parents are both single child… I support 2CP to be unconditional all over China and a harsh fine on overproduction(>=3) of children.

    Forced abortion is evil. I never heard that in urban Beijing where i am now living. Having excessive children here will result in couples both fired from state-owned companies/organizations (if they are hired by state-owned bodies), and a hefty fine for causing excessive social burden. Before the punishment is served the excessive child will not be registered on family book (Huko), will not be issued ID card, meaning that education is not possible for this “illegally born” child.

    I suggest who plan to overproduce have their baby born in Hong Kong/Canada and register the baby’s citizenship as any but mainland China. Do not cause excessive burden/compete for limited education/job positions on this already overpopulated soil.

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      Have a look at the videos (VPN needed) on this site. The site, or more accurately the parent organization behind it, suffers from the same issue I ranted about above, but their message is smart and worth at least thinking about. It could be that China’s massive population isn’t the problem that it’s generally presented to be. Opportunity in a greater population should be relative to the size of that population — more people = more need for products/services = more jobs (to over-simplify it). Less people doesn’t mean more opportunity. More people doesn’t necessarily mean more competition.

      • You’re ignoring the natural resources problem. Last summer I had reason to cross what should have been a branch of Beijing’s Guanting Reservoir on a regular basis, and I still cross that bridge semi-regularly. Looking upstream I saw a damn holding the Guishui River back so the county town could maintain the illusion of having a healthy river. Below me and downstream was grassland with several mature trees and a few tiny creeks. Only once, on a day with unusually clear air, did I see anything resembling a reservoir, and that was small and several kilometres downstream. And that is supposed to be Beijing’s second biggest reservoir. Apply that to the whole country, most of which is short of water. A large population does bring economies of scale, but it also scales up the amount of basic resources needed.

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          This is not at all in disagreement or a challenge to what you’re saying, as it totally makes sense, and I have exactly zero knowledge about to what scale natural resources are needed for a population the size of China’s. However, is there a proven causation that population is responsible for the lack of resources. I mean, it seems like it would be the obvious go to, but it could also be poorly chosen settlement location, poor management, corrupt management, archaic infrastructure, a man-made supply (ie. extra water for irrigation in places where natural irrigation should exist, or issues of desertification due to poor forestry management, etc.) and a host of other things, right?

      • Water shortages are primarily due to inefficiencies in water caputre/storage and poor infrastructure – many countires in the world have populations more dense than the densest Chinese provinces (e.g., Jiangsu, Fujian, Hebei, Guangdong) yet don’t have shortages.

        More to the point, the OCP has been fairly ineffective. Between 1970 and 1979 (when the OCP was introduced) the fertility rate (i.e., notional lifetime births per woman based on births that year) decreased from around 5.9 to 2.9. Between 1979 and 1990 the fertility rate only reduce by a further 0.6, to 2.3.

        India is often pointed to as an example of what would have happened without the OCP. It is therefore worth noting that India’s present birth rate (2.6) is the same as that in China in 1982 – some years after the introduction of the OCP. The cause of this decrease is increased access to contraception, increased economic opportunities following the gradual economic reform of the nineties. India’s “reform and opening” from it’s largely state-run economy towards a market economy only occurred slowly from 1991 onwards, and still is not complete.

        Another comparison worth making is that of Taiwan. In 1980 the fertility rate was 2.5 – only slightly lower than that on the mainland – but by 1990 it was 1.8, and by 2000 it was 1.6. This decline was achieved entirely by social changes coupled with greater access to contraception and sexual education. No OCP was necessary.

        None of this is to say that the OCP achieved nothing, but from the above it is clear that whatever it achieved, it was not worth the infringement of people’s basic human right to decide when and how many children they may have as recognised by numerous UN declarations. This is to say nothing of the physical and emotional suffering caused by over-enthusiastic application of the policy, or the money spent on the vast bureaucracy that administers the OCP.

        Put simply, the OCP is a disgrace and a failure, and should be addressed as such.

    • Not sure what to do with this one, you agree that population control is a good thing (as a wannabe economist I agree with that), but you want to go halfway on it? Why?

      The government could be even MORE strict if they wanted, declaring that only families above a certain pay grade, or in certain cities, could have children. They’re not doing that. But to suggest that just one kid is too strict, sort of suggests you don’t really get just how beneficial the one child policy has been in China. The program has been a massive success (despite some social problems, too many boys, etc).

      To say each family should be allowed at least one boy would basically push back Chinese economic decades. Maybe I’m a cold hearted bastard, but I just think this is one where the Government has nailed it.

      As for the abortion issue, wow, brutal. The only thing I could say is, the government has lots and lots of money, why not give free vascectomies for men / women (married couples) ? is that too 1984-ish?

      • “The program has been a massive success (despite some social problems, too many boys, etc).”

        I’m sorry, just how can you say that a policy that missed its target by a country mile (a target of 1.2 billion in 2000 was overshot by 70 million even according to official statistics), and which led to a lower reduction in birth rates than that seen in places with the same birth rate over the same period but without the OCP, is a success?

        The OCP only looks like a success if you ascribe the entire reduction in birth rate post 1979 to the OCP. However, there is no evidence supporting such a position.

        Rather than marking an inflection point in the decrease in birth rate, 1979 saw a continuation of roughly the same trend that had been seen over the preceding decade. Actually, the decrease in fertility rate from 1979-1990 was only 0.6 (i.e., from 2.9 to 2.3) whereas the decline between 1970 and 1979 was 3 (5.9 to 2.9). There is no noticeable immediate impact from introduction of the OCP in the fertility statistics. In fact, year-on-year birth rates have seen increases during the period when the OCP has been in effect (most notibly between 1981-1982 and 1985-1986).

        Moreover, India has roughly the same birth rates that China had when it was a similar stage of development during the mid-1980’s – after the OCP was introduced. That’s right, economic growth and voluntary birth-control measures appears to have resulted in roughly the same birth rates in India as in China without the introduction of a one-child policy. It therefore appears that had the OCP not been implemented, but efforts instead focused on voluntary measures, China would be in roughly the same situation it is now.

        Economic growth coupled with the promotion of sex education and birth-control appears to be the driver of decreased birth-rates, not human-rights infringing, disproportionate, wrong-headed, disasterous, sexist, unscientific, wasteful, ineffective, inefficient, dictatorial, fascist, and flat-out wrong and failing policies like the OCP.

  3. I think when you said that the OCP is amoral (which is a debate in itself) I think the description of the OCP is a classic definition of an immoral act.

    But on a bit of a different tack, I’ve been growing with my recent readings and findings about the whole abortion issue and I think that the issue underneath it all is the Supreme Court decision Roe V. Wade which made it the Federal government’s decision on whether abortion was legal or not. Look at history, before Roe v. Wade were there some states that had legal abortions? Of course there were. The religion and moral issue aside, I think the imposition of the supreme court decision on the country as a whole is the problem. If you get right down to it, I think many people who have fought this over the years agree whole heartedly that government should not be making decisions for a woman or her baby. And plus, 30 years after Roe V. Wade (last year’s Obamacare debates) there were issues on tax payer funding of abortion. There is a slippery slope there. Sure you might agree with Roe v. Wade but are you ok with your money going to pay for that?

    Plus, for libertarians (I’m not one but assuming this is a quandary) what is the issue with abortion? Of course you have the right to do whatever you want to your own body (Conservative Liberal and Libertarians believe that) but wouldn’t a libertarian think that the Roe V. Wade decision (not even a law) was taking liberty away or giving more liberty?

    Back to the whole China OCP thing…my family has a bit of a history with that since my wife has a younger sister. It’s amazing how efficient and powerful the local government, danwei etc are with urging those women who get pregnant again. If they can’t convince you to get rid of the baby… it’s THEIR job on the line!

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      You’re absolutely right, “amoral” was a typo. I meant immoral.

      How did Row V. Wade take away liberty? I need to preface this with a “I don’t know buck all” about Row V. Wade (over what the Wikipedia summary says), nor am I an American, so I don’t have quite the cultural reference point of State vs. Fed level laws and how the average American gauges those against the liberty they have. However, if it takes the government out of the equation (at least until late pregnancy) and gives an individual more freedom — I’m guessing most libertarians would be behind such thinking. At least this one is.

      As to how it relates to taxes, that’s tricky. As are all issues of taxation and things taxes pay for that not all people in a society use or want. I can completely sympathize with people who believe (whether religiously, or simply just morally) that abortion is wrong, and that do not want their taxes to pay for it. I don’t think churches should get tax subsidies, which essentially equates to tax payers paying for churches. It’s not a perfect system. Wish I had a better answer.

  4. In a shorter comment than the one that didn’t make it onto haohao…

    There are a _lot_ of problems with OCP, and a _lot_ of problems with the way OCP is enforced, but it seems like none of the western anti-OCP organizations take these real problems into account. Instead they talk about altogether unrelated issues.

    Outside of that particular issue, the misrepresentation/falsification of data about OCP really gets under my skin.

    For example, on the “Girls Allowed” website, they use a picture of a _very_ _official_ looking fapiao (for something completely unrelated to family planning) as the illustrative picture at the top of an article about the history of OCP. This is ignorant at best and deliberately deceptive at worst.

    -M

  5. was once in a discussion in a living room .. all women, around forty years of age … somehow it came that we started talking about abortion …

    what followed was deeply moving .. one woman, my friend, said, after awhile, that she had had three abortions .. the room went still .. then one of her friends said, “two”, another said, “one”, another “three”, another, “four” … another could not speak, began crying, and soon the entire room was sobbing …

    we don’t know how to measure the true costs of the one-child policy .. it certainly has psychological aspects that affect the entire culture.

    • Speaking of underlying social problems…

      Why is it of all the methods available to them (including cheaper methods, safer methods, and methods both cheaper and safer) that those women decided to use abortion as their preferred method of birth control?

      A few years back I had a coworker in her late 20s that was already three abortions past her firstborn son. There was no intention of having any further children.

      When asked about this (shortly post abortion) she told me the reason she and her husband didn’t use any birth control of any kind was because a gynecologist she knew at one of the large hospitals had told her that some people still get pregnant on birth control.

      Condoms might slip, the pill might fail, the rhythm method is far far from guaranteed, but shy of infertility or sterilization deliberately using nothing at all is guaranteed to result in pregnancies.

      While I’m willing to make allowances for a younger woman who has gotten little or no sex ed and who may be in denial about the possibility of pregnancy, I have no sympathy for a woman who bemoans the pain (both emotional and physical) of an abortion but who does nothing at all to guarantee that she won’t have an unwanted pregnancy.

      -M

      • Doctors mislead patients about the efficacy of birthcontrol because (1) they make more money off of abortions and (2) BCPs really are less effective than in the West because of 10-50% of them are fakes and/or suffer from quality control issues.

        IOW, the real issue here is China’s attitude toward money — at all levels.

  6. Suddenly no reply buttons?

    Ryan, every issue you raise seems to me to be pertinent. But one starts out with the resources one has, and I think the question does have to be asked: Just how many people can China’s environment support? And: Just how many people can this world support?

    Better management of those resources, including in the choice of settlement location and other areas not immediately linked to resource management, would help. But management doesn’t change the fact these resources are limited and nature tends to bite entire species in the posterior when they overextend their use of resources.

    • The mere existence of a problem does not justify any efforts that might result in some reduction of that problem regardless of how small that reduction might be. The simple fact is that other countries have seen reductions in population growth as great as that in China after the introduction of the OCP using only voluntary means such as granting greater access to contraception, sexual education, and increasing economic opportunities for women.

      • How did the word ‘justify’ creep in there? China faces a desperate shortage of resources, especially water. The OCP is one of the Chinese government’s responses to that shortage. And yes, sure, other and better measures could have been taken to reduce the population pressure. But the OCP is the measure that was put in place. I’m not talking right or wrong, I’m talking what is.

        And inefficiency and waste may be the cause of water shortages in the southeast, but most of China – certainly the northern and western regions – is rather dry, and China has large areas of desert and semi-desert. For most of China, the water shortage is a natural problem compounded by inefficiency and waste.

      • I’m sorry if I interpreted you comment as an attempt to justify the OCP.

        Obviously the answer is that all available evidence suggests that things would continue much as they are even were there no OCP but efforts instead concentrated on voluntary birth-control – that in fact this might even be more effective. Therefore, even from only a strictly utilitarian point of view, the OCP should not be continued.

  7. I find it fascinating that some people are against the OCP and those methods of population control yet in the next breath say that over population is a problem that needs to be addressed.

    How do you address overpopulation other than something like the OCP? Demographics is a fascinating area of study where one can almost see the inevitable future of a country according to how many children are produced now. Europe is dying. China’s messed up their population now where there will be millions getting old while millions won’t be able to support them.

    Government intervention always produces unintended consequences.

    Plus, one person cannot fathom how to feed billions in China. That’s why one person is not in charge of feeding millions or billions. If China unleashed their market economy, with free thinking and creativity and embraced what came out, the people could be fed. Heck, China could easily be a food exporter feeding the world and supporting 2.6 billion people if they doubled their population.

    • Actually, decreased fertility rates and have been achieved solely through voluntary means. Taiwan had a fertility rate roughly the same as that of mainland China in 1980, and has a lower rate now – no OCP was necessary to achieve this.

  8. “Doing nothing at all” scenario vs OCP scenario, is OCP worth it?

    No concensus as the former was not experimented/observed. Quantify the number of years for which OCP postpones the peak point on the population curve, and the reduction of the peak? Try to convert it into monetary benefit versus its cost? I am unable to answer that.

    FOARP has being constantly implying that “doing nothing at all” scenario does not change the trend that population curve will reach a peak sooner or later. He missed the point. The point is, to quantify the delay of such peak and the reduction of it.

    Comparing Taiwan with AVERAGE China is extremely flawed in terms of development stages. Taiwan might be compared with Shanghai, or even Beijing, representing the relatively “FIRST WORLD” part of China, but NOT average China.

    Comparing India with China is to reach an early conclusion well before the experiment finishes. It is predicted that India’s population will overtake China some day. Up till now, China has a larger middle class than India, and AVERAGE China is richer than AVERAGE India. OCP is a contributing factor.

    • No, I am not advocating “do nothing”, I am advocating birth control through greater access to abortion, contraception, sexual education, and economic opportunity. As with many things, the example of Taiwan (a partly agrarian society, self-sustaining in basic resources, and therefore not at all comparable to Shanghai/Beijing) shows that these are sufficient, and is a good example for mainland China.

      I am also pointing out that the example of India shows that lower birth rates follows economic growth, not the other way round. India’s birth rate still exceeds China’s (although not the Chinese birth-rates of the mid-80’s, years after the OCP was introduced in China) because India economic reform was both later and slower than China’s.

      The OCP was not a ‘magic bullet’ for Chinese birth rates in the 80’s because people still did not have the means, the knowledge, or the economic opportunities that would motivate them to control the number of children they had. Instead, the OCP just inflicted unnecessary misery on people unfortunate enough to get caught. Now that they do have access to these things (at least to a greater degree than in the past), the OCP is no longer actually necessary since the birth rate will decrease anyway through simple exercise of free choice.

      The most bizarre thing is the way in which OCP advocates blithely assume that the looming population ageing crisis can be solved by simply changing the policy. They seem to think that without the policy birth rates would simply return to the pre-1979 levels. In fact, the modernisation of Chinese society means that China will most likely never see those birth rates again.

  9. One of my biggest surprises coming here was to find out how many Chinese people actually support the OCP. Being fed western media my whole life I assumed that everyone here would feel oppressed, and betrayed by their gov’t, but many people have told me they support it. (Even though most admit they’d like a brother or sister, but I think that is more for a social thing than anything else.)

    And some of my students have even said they feel less pressure because it. Yes, they have pressure to produce the much coveted boy, but they only need to worry about raising one child, not a whole brood. (And not have to deal with the economic and time strain of raising several children.)

    This is one complex situation and the longer I live here the less certain my own feelings are about the whole thing.

    • If everyone supports it, then why is it even necessary?

      My experience was different – those who can afford to have more than one child and wish to, do so but pay the fines whilst still giving lip-service to the OCP. Those who can’t afford to pay the fines but still wish to have children still do so, but find themselves faced with intimidation and denial of basic services for their children.

      Why not see how many of your students (if they are of university age) have received even basic sex education, or understand how to use contraception? Since back in 2005 the answer was essentially zero (such lessons were supposed to take place but the teachers did not teach them) I would be surprised if the situation has changed radically.

      As with many things in China, relying on the opinions of university students alone (who still represent an elite in many parts of China, and who are at the tail-end of 12 years of relentlessly pro-government education) does not reflect the opinions of the majority of people.

      • I know that students opinions don’t represent everyone (that’s why I made sure to mention “my students” so everyone could have a reference point) but you can’t discredit their opinion either and say it doesn’t matter because they are just” students. They are the next generation of parents and this stuff is very much on their mind all the time. (Yes, uni students.)

        And no, sex ed is still not taught in schools. I was actually thinking of sneaking in a sex-ed class during my oral class next semester. You know, do the old, boys leave the room thing, and talk to the girls, then vice-versa. We’ll see if I’m brave enough!

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        “Teaching sex-ed in the oral class? giggle.”

        ….and THAT’S why I always insist on calling it “Spoken English Class”

        :)

        Had a seventeen year old female student mention in class the other day that she was worried about her friend who had a serious boyfriend. Took the opportunity to discuss with her what she knew about how to prevent pregnancy, and told her to pass it along to the friend. It’s a bit easier to talk about these things when it’s a 1/1 class, and you’ve built up trust and a relationship with the student over a few years of teaching her!

      • Sex-ed in English class? I say go for it.

        I tried to cover it at a very basic level in my classes simply by coming up with a bullshit “going to the doctor” class in which the whole class covered questions of pregnancy, HIV, and how to avoid them. A friend of mine whose teaching I respect also covered it by giving his students a simple-language article on HIV and sex-ed from China Daily (or 21st Century, can’t remember which) and then asking his class to discuss it, and reported good results (students coming up to thank him afterwards etc.). I’m not absolutely sure about dividing the class as this might create an awkward atmosphere (i.e., make it obvious that this wasn’t an English class any more), but to each their own.

  10. Hi Ryan, thanks for the thoughtful post.

    A couple of points that could use some clarification from my perspective. The first is that while it is true that AGA is US-based, it is worth noting that the founder, Chai Ling, is a native Chinese dissident who was a student leader at Tiananmen and had to flee the country.

    The second is that nowhere (that I could find) in AGA’s literature do they align themselves with the pro-life camp – it’s true that they are an openly Christian organization, and that certainly can be a turn off for many (including me), but there are Christians who are pro-choice, so the two should not be conflated or assumed.

    Could you point me towards any evidence that they support a policy that outlaws abortion entirely and takes away a woman’s choice? I definitely might have missed it.

    Their issue with abortion regards forcing it upon women, which I think we can all agree is heinous, but their issues go far beyond that – they are about bringing awareness to the plight of women and girls in China under the OCP. Their issues extend to infant abandonment ( http://reason.com/archives/2007/11/13/thank-deng-xiaoping-for-little ), child trafficking ( http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2009-10/29/content_8864289.htm ), family planning confiscations ( http://english.caixin.cn/2011-05-10/100257756.html ), and other human rights abuses against women and girls that are the direct result of OCP, like forced sterilizations.

    While I do find the religious bent of the org a bit off-putting, it very well may *help* them in their fundraising, and I think the work they are doing both to raise awareness and to actually help women and children on the ground in China is admirable.

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      Hi Kantmakm, good points. I have definitely oversimplified the relationship between religious groups and pro-life groups. And you’re absolutely right, no assumption should be made that “Christian = Pro-Choice”. I couldn’t find any direct mention that All Girls Allowed or the parent organization, Jenzabar, are directly affiliated with the “pro-life” camp — though they are (perhaps understandably, for the reason you mentioned) quite well-connected with pro-life groups.

      It seems a lot of Chai Ling’s appearances are on panels to do with pro-life, they help spread pro-life news (though, admittedly, related to their cause), and the use materials from other pro-life organizations, such as the Population Research Institute. I focused on AGA in the post, as it was that original link that lead me down the path, but it was after visiting the PRI’s site that I felt I wanted to talk about it. I link to them in the original post, and they are clearly a pro-life (both founder and president bios clearly state such).

      I have to imagine that if AGA’s core people are pro-choice, they would have a hard time getting in bed with organizations that are fundamentally different in their viewpoints. It could be that they are neither, and as an organization, they simply do what is best for their mandate. However, clarity on underlying motivations should not be too much to ask of any organization that is asking for money.

      But overall, I think your point is that good work is good work, and I agree with that. My rant isn’t about what they are looking to accomplish in China, just the underlying principles that are holding up the house.

      Edit: It should also at least be mentioned that Chai’s hands aren’t entirely “clean”. The woman has more lawsuits surrounding her than a week of Law & Order re-runs. See here and here. She also seems to be using the AGA site to be pushing her personal biography, which I assume is for-profit.

  11. Considering that it has been shown as many as 86% of all statistics were in fact made up on the spot, I’d like to ask Anonymouse where he/she got the idea that 10-50% of all contraceptives in China are counterfeit.

    Also, with birth control freely available over the counter what would a doctor pushing abortions because they are more profitable have to do with a woman’s choices (or lack thereof) that is not more accurately explained by ignorance.

    Admittedly a small sample size but -every- accidentally pregnant married woman I’ve known in this country has a husband who doesn’t use condoms, and has personally chosen not to use other methods because of ill conceived notions of efficacy and side effects.

  12. I’m glad people are willing to talk about abortion, so thanks, Ryan, for bringing it up.

    Re: All Girls Allowed — I found it interesting that she combines anti-gendercide and forced-abortion with being anti-OCP. I get that there’s a connection (especially with forced abortion), but it certainly complicates her platform. I thought the anti-OCP stance would be the most controversial part, but I guess I was wrong. I have a hard time blaming gendercide all on the OCP, given the pre-CCP legacy of sex-selective infanticide in China

    @Ryan:
    “The Pro-Life/Pro-Choice discourse, in my admittedly limited understanding, primarily boils down to a Religion vs. Liberty debate.”

    I think this is way off in more ways than one, though the impression is understandable since Christians tend to be anti-abortion (fyi, other religions have no problem at all with abortion, even sex-selective abortion). But the major, public anti-abortion arguments aren’t theological; they’re scientific (what *is* the unborn?) and philosophical (how and when should personhood be determined/granted?). Unlike Catholic pharmacists who won’t sell birth control, they aren’t seeking religious exceptions or liberties. Anti-abortionists make an argument for human rights and liberty against abortion. The only way to characterize those arguments as something “religious” would be to point out the historical and philosophical connections between Christian teachngs and the foundations of universal human rights.

    “pro-life/pro-choice unifier?”

    When you refer to All Girls Allowed as “pro-choice” because they argue for women’s liberty, I think you get lost in your own rhetoric. The term “pro-choice” simply isn’t specific enough, because it doesn’t merely mean “pro-rights” or “pro-personal autonomy”, which aren’t things anti-abortionists object to. “Pro-choice” here specifically means “pro-having-the-option-to-kill-the-unborn” (I’m using “unborn” as a neutral term here). Leaving it vague is a polemical move that allows a rhetorical association of anti-abortion with “anti-choice” and therefore anti-liberty/rights/women/etc.; good for propaganda but a total (and deliberate) mischaracterization of anti-abortion ideas. I don’t know about Chai Ling specifically, but anti-abortionists don’t consider themselves “anti-choice” or anti-liberty any more than being against the “choice” or “liberty” to own slaves made abolitionists anti-liberty. The primary anti-abortion argument is a human rights argument, not about what women can or can’t do with their bodies (that framing is polemical), but what can or can’t be done to *anyone’s* body, including unborn persons. The value used to uphold women’s rights to their own bodies is extended to the unborn. People are free to disagree of course, but at least notice what the disagreement is actually about: “What is the unborn?” and “How/when should personhood be determined/granted?”

    P.S. – Just fyi, the distinctly Christian anti-abortion stance — and why anti-abortion is so strongly associated with Christianity — stems from the same Christian teachings that fuel Christian charity, Good Samaritanism, hospitals, aid, and the historical development and grounding of universal human rights: *all* human beings, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done, “bear the image of God” and therefore must be valued, respected and treated with dignity. On top of that is the idea that God loves and values each person to an unfathomable degree (as demonstrated in the self-sacrifice of Jesus on each person’s behalf), therefore our treatment of one another ought to reflect that. Plus all the teachings as Jesus’ example about caring for “the least” (the poorest, most oppressed and helpless). Basically, in Christian theology, every person has inherent, non-negotiable value, and since the vast majority of Christians haven’t heard a good enough reason why the unborn shouldn’t be considered people, they’re staunchly anti-abortion. Obviously, many people who self-identify as Christians in practice apply this principle selectively (therefore violating the very convictions they claim): e.g. pro-death penalty Christians in the southern USA today and Christian slave owners historically.

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      Great comment Joel. You said it’s not theological, but scientific and philosophical — I don’t think this is completely accurate. I mean, all three terms can be manipulated to define and affect either side of the argument; I think all three need to be considered when discussing it. I certainly don’t take abortion lightly, and I also see where that line blurs into murder. But I also see that it blurs into not-at-all murder. I don’t know the pro-life argument well enough, but I assume there is no such line? Is the idea that intentional abortion of a pregnancy after conception is murder? Every sperm is sacred and all that? Somewhere there’s a line, right?

      My problem is that abolishing abortion doesn’t recognize that line, or that there could be a line. It would force a society to adhere to a no-line system. I don’t disagree with rules that do so to improve society in directly tangible ways — no murder, no rape, no stealing, etc. But when there is a complete lack of consensus from a society, we have to recognize there is a lack of consensus for a reason. It’s not a breakdown in moral fibre, a lack of education, or pissing on the concept of universal human rights. Thus, legislating a woman’s options in that situation, a situation that has no clear or easy answer, can only restrict liberty. We can debate if a 3-month fetus is a person, but we can’t debate whether the woman carrying the fetus is. This is why, to me, the abortion issue is a long-long way off from the abolition of slavery. I see how you’re drawing the connection, but it only works if you believe exactly what the anti-abortionists believe.

      I freely concede though that this issue is a deeply personal one, and that as much as I tend to galvanize some issues in my mind, this is not one I can easily do that for. I see a value in having both sides of this argument pull at each other and be heard. I lean a bit to one side, but not so far that I can’t see the point of view of the other. Perhaps the future and science will hold a better answer. Right now, if the pro-life movement had their way, it would grant liberty to the unborn to live its unborn life, but would restrict a woman’s ability to choose what she can do to her body and whether or not she must endure the pain and problems of pregnancy for something she does not want. Perhaps one day (and we’re scientifically nearly there), a woman can simply choose to give the unborn up for surrogacy and adoption. Win-win — no unwanted children, no murdering unborn fetuses.

      • whoa, my html tags were way out of control in that last one.

        @Ryan
        Re: Abortion

        Here’s the position that I’ve witnessed (I’m not a professional anti-abortion activist, and of course this is only one of the positions).

        (1) They argue that the unborn, at conception, are (a) human (b) individuals distinct from the mother — meaning that unlike sperm or tumours or fingernails, they are not merely a piece or extension of the mother’s body. To support this they appeal to genetics and biology. So (1): The unborn are human beings.

        (2) They argue that given #1, the best, most logical place to grant personhood (assuming universal human rights) is at conception, because the differences between the born human undividuals and unborn human individuals are not morally relevant. They’ll argue that size, location (in or out of the womb), age, degree of development (zygote, fetus, toddler) and degree of dependency are all inappropriate criteria for withholding personhood, and therefore it’s wrong to withhold personhood from the unborn and deny them right-to-life. This is a philosophical, ethical or even political argument, depending on how it goes, about if or when it is ever appropriate to deny a human being personhood (and, therefore, their rights, specifically, their right to life). So (2): There is no good/fair reason to deny these human beings their rights, specifically, their right to life.

        Of course, they lay it out much better than me; I’ve forgotten some details here (this woman does a succinct job in her opening bit of laying out what I described, starting at 9:25 — http://vimeo.com/32063597 — though I don’t recommend watching the entire exchange because the pro-abortion-rights side wasn’t well prepared and never actually addressed her main argument, so it’s not a good example of a pro-abortion-rights response).

        I’m not seeing any appeal to God or theology in that, though there are broad underlying assumptions that some argue are ultimately dependant on Judeo-Christian-type theism: that every individual life is inherently valuable and ought to be protected and respected, that murder is wrong, universal human rights in general, etc.

        Trying to read between the lines — Is your suggestion that the only people who would consider these anti-abortion arguments persuasive people who are already convinced abortion is wrong for theological reasons?

      • Profile photo of

        Trying to read between the lines — Is your suggestion that the only people who would consider these anti-abortion arguments persuasive people who are already convinced abortion is wrong for theological reasons?

        Not at all, though largely due to thoughts spurred by this thread. I think my assumption about the tie between religion and anti-abortion is one of poor marketing. I’ve never been exposed to much in the way of non-religious anti-abortion movements. The two have always seemed tightly tied together. That you’ve illustrated there need be no connection between the two seems like it should point to a lot of anti-abortionists that aren’t particularly religious. Am I wrong, or is this not so? Keep in mind, I come from a country where abortion is legal and to the best of my knowledge no one (post-womb) has been murdered because of that.

        … there are broad underlying assumptions that some argue are ultimately dependant on Judeo-Christian-type theism: that every individual life is inherently valuable and ought to be protected and respected, that murder is wrong, universal human rights in general, etc.

        Wow. The nameless “Some” argue a lot of things, but this is complete nonsense. Would some ‘Judeo-Christian types’ please stand up and confirm that you don’t believe you have a monopoly on all the good in the world and that the rest of us are just uncivilized savages.

    • It was my understanding that Christian opposition to abortion was because that it is a sin to take another human life. That seems to me to be a theological argument.

      The scientific and philosophical discussion seems to me to be around when life begins. I would say that is a separate issue.

      If one accepts that:

      a: Life begins at conception; and
      b: It is acceptable in some circumstances to kill another human; then
      c: Abortion is acceptable in some circumstances.

      On the other hand, if:

      a: Life begins at conception; and
      b: It is never acceptable to kill another human; then
      c: Abortion is wrong. (And so is the death penalty – I never could get my head around why some people can be pro-life and pro-death at the same time).

      I don’t accept the argument (not attributed to you, of course, Joel – just trying to find the holes in my arguments above) that the death penalty is ok but abortion is not because the circumstances in which it is acceptable to kill another human arise when that person has sinned badly enough to no longer be deserving of life. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23. Add on top of that injunctions against judging others (Matthew 7 and Romans 2 spring to mind).

      I find strict anti-abortionism (i.e. abortion is always wrong in every circumstance) to be highly immoral. There are many circumstances (and not just surrounding pregnancy) in which it is possible to save one life by ending another, but doing nothing equates to abandoning both lives. Is it really better to do nothing and allow two to die than to kill one and allow the other to live? I don’t think this needs to be limited to strictly life or death situations, either. Basically, whether abortion is right or wrong depends on the particular situation in each and every pregnancy. There are many medical, social, cultural and familial reasons why it may be more moral to abort than to continue a pregnancy.

      • @Chris Waugh,

        Maybe we cross-posted. See the P.S. in my post above, which ends with: Basically, in Christian theology, every person has inherent, non-negotiable value, and since the vast majority of Christians haven’t heard a good enough reason why the unborn shouldn’t be considered people, they’re staunchly anti-abortion. Obviously, many people who self-identify as Christians apply this principle selectively (therefore violating the very convictions they claim): e.g. pro-death penalty Christians in the southern USA today and Christian slave owners historically.

        “Because it’s a sin” (or “because God says so”) doesn’t come anywhere close to doing justice to the ideas.

        I think it’s inconsistent to be pro-death penalty and anti-abortion, though there are sophisticated arguments against me there, so (friendly warning) don’t dismiss all those who are anti-abortion-but-pro-death penalty as southern rednecks.

        If one accepts that:
        a: Life begins at conception; and
        b: It is acceptable in some circumstances to kill another human; then
        c: Abortion is acceptable in some circumstances.

        I think it’s better to state it “(b) If it is acceptable in certain circumstances to kill another human being, then (c) abortion would be potentially acceptable if it meets the criteria for those particular circumstances.”

        I don’t think this needs to be limited to strictly life or death situations, either. Basically, whether abortion is right or wrong depends on the particular situation in each and every pregnancy. There are many medical, social, cultural and familial reasons why it may be more moral to abort than to continue a pregnancy.

        Ok, then I have some questions:

        What are some of the many medical, social, cultural and familial reasons that justify the killing of a human being? What’s your criteria? I’d like to see examples in each category.

        If we accept your criteria for the sake of the argument, what does it mean for the born whose lives also meet the criteria? (You did posit: “It is acceptable in some circumstances to kill another human.”)

        And what does that mean for all the abortions (and doctors and mothers) that fall outside your criteria?

  13. @Ryan,

    I separated this out because it’s off the main topic.

    “I have a hard time seeing action spurred by religion, no matter how well-intended, as anything but devious. I know many readers are religious, and I know that statement is going to be a volatile one.”

    I sincerely hope that one day, somehow, you’ll get some fresh perspective on comments like the ones you’ve written above and the nature of the thinking behind them — particularly the way key terms are defined and how the ‘discussion’ is framed and why — because it honestly comes off as raging against a giant strawman, against boogeymen, against an artificially constructed scapegoat. Rather than being volatile, New/internet Atheist ideas are annoying in cyber-ubiquity but increasingly boring (though often ironic) in content. To my mind — and it wasn’t always this way — it’s just one more kind of angry fundamentalism. I’m not trying to retaliate here; this is honest (if unavoidably patronizing — sorry!) feedback.

    • Profile photo of

      Joel — I feel likewise about New/Internet Christian ideas. They tend to be as ignorant as ever, but are generated with an air of increased certainty (which probably makes that “ignorance” remark sting a bit) in the face of a world that is slowly awakening from a slumber of believing our own myths and fictions. You’re one of the better debaters of Christian thought (and indeed, religion in general) than the majority out there. I, sadly, am surely one of the worst debaters of Atheism. Your thoughts are forged through a much longer craftsmanship (and considering the stuff I’ve done to my brain, you’re more than likely working with much higher-quality materials). It doesn’t make it more right, but it does make it sharper. You have an entire support network to help maintain your faith, you have an insular cult of people that believe near identically as you do about religion and its place in the world and in the individual. As a group, you spend a lot of time considering how to maintain that faith in the face of strong opposing forces. You have a set schedule, and a general requirement to be constantly re-confirming that faith. I understand you see my anti-religious rhetoric as fundamentalism, but I think you’re simply trying to somewhat cleverly re-purpose religiously charged words to draw lines between things that cannot so easily be connected.

      Fundamentalism states I have an unshakable belief in a strict set of beliefs. I think you take this to mean, but I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, that I am blindly anti-theist, regardless of what facts are put in front of me. I think you frame atheists in the same context as another religion. But how can you? It’s not that I believe differently than you, it’s that I don’t believe at all. At least not in the context of theological arguments.

      Or is it simply my unintentionally antagonistic tone aping a tone which is usually attributed with religious fundamentalists? Is it my anti-religious bias? Both of these, while annoying, are not fundamentalist in thinking, and neither of these make atheism less true or mankind’s various religions, past and present, less fictional. That is an intentionally fundamental statement, as I think it is a fundamental argument. You can have varying degrees of belief in a religion. You can have fundamental and moderate practitioners and believers. Modernity allows for an unprecedented gradient in belief without consequence. I think that’s fantastic, and I’m certain that played a large role in allowing atheism to be a nonpunishable system of thought in a solid amount of the modern world, which in turn has me typing this now. But once you break from that history of belief, there is no degree of non-belief, and so it’s impossible as an atheist to speak about religion without that fundamentalism. But cross-purposing a word like that simply confuses its meaning and its connotation.

      So, rather than obscure your statement with how you feel about a group of people you disagree with (I think, as we’ve both illustrated, patronizing and hypocritical statements are all that really can come of it), why not tackle what I said and not how it makes you feel? If an organization has, at its core, religious values and intentions, is it not possible the purpose for those actions are not just to be “Good Samaritans”, but to further an agenda related to their church and beliefs? As most pro-life groups are religious, would not that religion’s specific values and beliefs be on the sidelines waiting for play with pretty much any action the organization undertakes? Let me phrase my original statement somewhat differently — “I have a hard time believing that any organization that operates under a specific set of religious values would be able to set aside those values to focus only on the task at hand.” Sometimes there’s no need to do that, but in the case we’re discussing above, there is. There is a fundamental difference between trying to end forced abortions and end abortions. It is unclear by the organization’s descriptions and affiliations which is their primary (or at least long-term) goal. To me, that is, intentionally or not, devious.

      • To quote some of my neopagan friends …

        “Dear Goddess, please lead me into the hands of those who seek the truth, and out of the hands of those who have found it.”

        I don’t think I need to explain the sentiment in that statement but, by and large, both of you have found your truth.

        Neither of you is going to convince the other one that their personal truth is fundamentally flawed.

        Neither of you is going to convince the other one that they should change because your personal truth is right and good.

        Do we really want a religion flamewar on Lost Laowai? Considering what a hot topic this discussion is, it’s amazing how level headed and reasonable the contributors have been up to this point. Can we keep it that way?

        -M

      • “If an organization has, at its core, religious values and intentions, is it not possible the purpose for those actions are not just to be “Good Samaritans”, but to further an agenda related to their church and beliefs?”

        Well yes, this is possible, but…

        “I have a hard time believing that any organization that operates under a specific set of religious values would be able to set aside those values to focus only on the task at hand.”

        Does not necessarily mean that the task at hand is a Trojan horse they’re using to spread their values.

        People derive their ethics from many different sources. Religion is one. Ethics can also be derived from atheistic or agnostic philosophies – Confucianism for example.

        I don’t see any reason why a religious believer or a religious organisation doing good because that’s what their religion says they should do is any different from an atheist or a secular organisation doing good because that’s what their particular ethical system says they should do. On the other hand, I do agree that doing good in order to spread a particular religious or philosophical or political point of view is devious. I would add “obnoxious”.

        I agree that “fundamentalism” is an odd choice of word to attach to atheism. But I find putting ads on buses promoting atheism to be just as obnoxiously preachy as Mormons knocking on my door to spread their view. I don’t understand why any atheist (or any person, for that matter) would want to join the ism-schism game (and no, I’m not a Rasta), but it seems that some do. Basically, I’ve got no problem with people who subscribe to Islam or Christianity or Buddhism or any other religious or philosophical view no matter how bizarre or irrational or rational and scientific so long as they extend the same courtesy to all others.

        You say atheism is true and religions are all fiction. I say prove it. I haven’t seen any hard, scientific, stand up in court, beyond reasonable doubt evidence either way. Although I do love the rapid progress science is making in expanding human knowledge and understanding, it is not even close to ruling on such questions. You decide you believe there is no God or gods, and that’s fine. I decide otherwise, and that shouldn’t bother you unless either I try to impose my view on others or I use my belief as an excuse to harm others.

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        @Chris Waugh:

        You say atheism is true and religions are all fiction. I say prove it. I haven’t seen any hard, scientific, stand up in court, beyond reasonable doubt evidence either way.

        Of course you’re right, to the extent that no one can prove that something greater/more intelligent than human existence can’t exist. I don’t know an atheist that thinks that. Proving religion is fiction though … I don’t now where to begin. It’s apparent in the same way that all fiction is obviously fictitious. I’m really not trying to dodge the question by not giving specific examples, but the “hard, scientific, stand up in court, beyond a reasonable doubt evidence” is easy to find — if nothing else, just make a list of all the things religion was wrong about. Or all the things it didn’t know because at the time humans couldn’t have known. I don’t want to get too far into a Flying Spaghetti Monster type discussion, but making stuff up and then saying “prove it isn’t true” is sort of an endless debate, no? To not see the evidence that religions are fiction is to be actively ignoring it.

        I don’t see any reason why a religious believer or a religious organisation doing good because that’s what their religion says they should do is any different from an atheist or a secular organisation doing good because that’s what their particular ethical system says they should do.

        I see it differently. I think if I come to an ethical structure of my own free will, and to some degree of my own making, it has more legitimacy and less risk of corruption than should I be born(-again) into an ethical framework constructed and renovated by others for an ulterior purpose or agenda (which was, and largely continues to be, one of control). To me, doing good without religion is more honest than doing good because of religion. Often the results are the same, but when they differ, the difference is most often due to the baggage religion brings with it, and not the other way around.

        You decide you believe there is no God or gods, and that’s fine. I decide otherwise, and that shouldn’t bother you unless either I try to impose my view on others or I use my belief as an excuse to harm others.

        Absolutely. And it doesn’t. I’m vocal about what I think, and sometimes that offends, but that’s not really my intention nor my problem. However, I absolutely respect everyone’s right to have different opinions than me — nor would I fight to change that. There should be no further proof needed than the fact that several sites I run contain a number of threads like this.

        What bothers me though, specifically in the context of this post (I should reign that back in), is that I find it hard to trust the motivations of an altruistic act when the agenda is driven by a much larger and more complex machine than just “because I believe it’s a good thing to do.”

  14. Ryan,

    “Of course you’re right”

    Oh, absolutely!

    But I think where we’re disagreeing may be on the nature of knowledge.

    Much of what was once believed to be true has since been disproven. That applies as much to scientific knowledge as it does to religious or philosophical belief or straight out superstition. It was once widely believed the world was flat, for example. Then once it was accepted the world was spherical, people went out searching for Terra Australis – the great southern land that would balance the land mass of the northern hemisphere. They found Australia, the poor sods, but also a few decent places like New Zealand, but mostly a vast expanse of ocean. Not much to balance the Eurasian landmass, the northerly parts of the Americas, and a collosal chunk (most, I believe) of Africa. At each step of the process our understanding of the world has had to advance in order to keep up with the new evidence that keeps presenting itself. And now, with things like the Large Hadron Collider, where will the new evidence take us? I don’t know, but I’m bloody curious.

    I think we’re also talking at cross-purposes when it comes to the nature of truth. To me, metaphorical truth is just as true as literal truth. It may be that God has no literal existence. But even if that is demonstrated to be true, the concept of God as a metaphor for the origin of life and as the definition of ultimate good still has value. And then if God exists as a metaphor, then God does exist, if only as a metaphor, right? Ok, pushing things a bit too far, I know…

    “To me, doing good without religion is more honest than doing good because of religion.”

    You could take “religion” out of that sentence and replace it with “philosophy”, “ethics”, or just about any other word and get the same result. Doing good just because it is good should really be the ideal. The question then is how do you define good? In the Western world “good” has traditionally been defined through religion. In China it has traditionally been defined through more, well, if not atheistic then at least agnostic systems like Confucianism and Daoism (and Legalism, and… ). There is a difference between how a definition of “good” is defined, but is there a difference in the outcome?

    I think we are agreed on the evils of organised religion.

    Sorry, but my train of thought has been interupted by work, but basically I’m not terribly exercised by what motivates people to do good so much as whether the definition of good is “for the benefit of humanity and with the minimum possible harm to either any individual or society as a whole or any constituent part of society”, and that “benefit of humanity” is focussed on the well-being our children and grandchildren.

  15. @Marian Rosenberg,

    “Dear Goddess, please lead me into the hands of those who seek the truth, and out of the hands of those who have found it.”

    Can someone really be searching for truth if they assume it can’t be found? Seems more like avoiding, or hiding, rather than seeking.

    • I read that differently. “…those who have found it” seems to imply to me not those who have actually found the truth, but those who have found something they have decided is the truth and never budge from it. “Those who seek the truth”, on the other hand, must be those aware that knowledge of the absolute, capital T Truth is not possible for us with our feeble minds, limited knowledge and limited access to further knowledge. Therefore, “those who have found it”, far from actually possessing truth, have limited themselves to some poorly distorted shadow of truth and will never progress beyond that. “Those who seek the truth”, while acknowledging the impossibility of complete and perfect knowledge of Truth, continue to seek it and therefore are continually improving their understanding of truth.

      If my interpretation is correct, then it is actually those who “find” truth who are hiding from Truth.

  16. I was using this thread to help me write an article in Chinese on the One Child Policy for my tutor, you guys are making that increasingly difficult for me- this has moved well beyond my language level. Good stuff, though.

  17. @Ryan,

    Ran out of reply buttons.

    …seems like it should point to a lot of anti-abortionists that aren’t particularly religious. Am I wrong, or is this not so?

    I think it means you don’t have to be a Christian to be against abortion. Is Feminists for Life a Christian org? I don’t actually know. I have no idea about the percentages of theists/nontheists in anti-abortion circles, though I assume/guess that a large proportion are Christians.

    Regarding the stuff you wrote about atheism/religion:

    In order to understand what you’re actually meaning, I think you’ll need to tell me exactly what you mean when you say “faith”, “belief” and “religion”/”religious”.

    A fundamental problem I see in what you’re writing — most of which doesn’t actually make much sense outside of the New Atheist internet echo chamber — is that you’re using extremely biased definitions of “belief” and “faith” and “religion” and related terms — definitions which are designed not to accurately describe or explore reality and human thought and behaviour, but to skew the discussion in favour of a particular worldview (atheism/materialism/scientism). It’s manipulating the language in order to manipulate people’s thinking, rather than taking a straight hard look at the ideas on the table. I’m not saying you’re being manipulative on purpose, rather that the language you’ve adopted from Dawkins, etc. was designed to function that way.

    For example, if we insist that all “faith” is “blind faith” (i.e. “being convinced of something for no good reason”), then right away we’ve got a problem, because almost no one outside of New Atheism uses the word that way, so when they say it, they don’t mean “blind faith”, even though that’s what New Atheists attribute to them. Here’s another example, with the word “believe”:

    It’s not that I believe differently than you, it’s that I don’t believe at all.”

    So there can be two different opinions regarding the God question, but only one is “religious” “belief” while the other one doesn’t exist? But you’re using a specific definition of “belief” here — one that only New Atheists, and perhaps Disney, use. Same problem as above.

    Of course you believe something. Lots of things, actually. Everyone
    thinks things and has opinions. You do have opinions about whether or not God exists, right? And there are reasons why you don’t believe the world was created by an intelligent mind. I assume you believe the world is rationally intelligible and that your mind is sufficient to perceive it accurately. And that morality not only exists, but that people ought to act morally. Etc.

    “If an organization has, at its core, religious values and intentions, is it not possible the purpose for those actions are not just to be “Good Samaritans”, but to further an agenda related to their church and beliefs?”

    Of course Christian orgs are trying to further their beliefs and agenda. Being Good Samaritans (charity) just happens to be a core part of their ‘Christian agenda’, just as the inherent value and dignity of every person is core to their ‘Christian beliefs’, just as self-sacrificially serving the poor and standing up for the oppressed is a major part of their Christianity-inspired intentions. So what if some of them want to convert people? You do, don’t you? And from a Christian perspective, becoming a Christian is the greatest thing that can ever happen to someone; helping someone become convinced re: Jesus is an act of love, not greed. But even still, the charity is offered regardless, and many Christian charities separate the charity work from the evangelism just to make that point extra clear. Assuming there must necessarily be sinister ulterior motives of “authoritarian control”, or that they do good “because someone or something told them it was the key to a magical place” suggests a total lack of knowledge re: Christians, what they think, what they do and why they do it. I’m not sure that “Doing good just because good needs doing” (or “doing good for goodness’ sake”) actually makes sense.

    How much of all that applies specifically to AGA or Chai Ling, I don’t know.

  18. @Joel:

    What are some of the many medical, social, cultural and familial reasons that justify the killing of a human being? What’s your criteria? I’d like to see examples in each category.

    If we accept your criteria for the sake of the argument, what does it mean for the born whose lives also meet the criteria? (You did posit: “It is acceptable in some circumstances to kill another human.”)

    And what does that mean for all the abortions (and doctors and mothers) that fall outside your criteria?

    Medical? Not all pregnancies result in live births or live mothers. Ectopic pregnancy would be one example.

    Social, cultural, familial? Some parts of the world can be very dangerous for women, and “honour killings” are still unfortunately common in some regions. Imagine a young, unwed woman in Afghanistan becoming pregnant. The consequences, should her family find out, could well be fatal for both mother and child. Should she seek an abortion (which, of course, would be a huge risk in itself) in the hope of nobody finding out and being able to live long enough to get married and have children in less dangerous circumstances? Would it be right or wrong for a doctor to deny her an abortion and send her home to her family on the basis that abortion is morally wrong?

    I would argue that if by killing one person you achieve a greater good for society, then it is acceptable to kill that one person. For example, that fourth plane in the 9/11 highjackings, the one that crashed in the field in Pennsylvania. By sacrificing their own lives, and the lives of the crew and highjackers, the passengers prevented what was highly likely to be a much larger number of deaths.

    I can’t answer your last question because I have no firm idea of when life begins. It’s not a question I ponder terribly often, but it seems to me that it’s a question one would need to be able to answer before answering your question.

    • @Chris Waugh,

      Thanks for answering. But I want to take a closer look at your answer.

      You said:

      I don’t think this needs to be limited to strictly life or death situations

      and suggested several categories (cultural, etc.) for non-life-threatening situations in which the killing of a human being would be justified. So I asked for examples. But you replied with examples of life and death situations. I want examples of non-life-and-death situations that justify killing another human being, because taking life in a life and death situation, where the loss of life is inevitable, does not justify taking life in non-life-and-death situations.

      Then you offered this:

      I would argue that if by killing one person you achieve a greater good for society, then it is acceptable to kill that one person.

      Is this really what you want to argue? I can think of millions, if not billions, of people around our overpopulated world who we could justify killing with this criteria.

      • It’s a fair cop. Alright, replace “honour killing” (that’s a horrific term, isn’t it?) with “lifetime of severe physical and psychological abuse for mother and child”. A woman pregnant because she was raped by a close relative may have the psychological strength to go through with the pregnancy, but another may not. Would you force her through something you knew to be causing her severe suffering?

        “Is this really what you want to argue?”

        Well, yes, but it’s a difficult one because clearly a line must be drawn somewhere, and it must be fairly tight and firm, otherwise, as you imply, genocide becomes permissible.

        And yet, no, because I’m not stating my own views as I don’t have any firm ideas on the subject. I’m just putting ideas out there for the sake of argument, first of all because I enjoy the discussion, but more importantly because I firmly believe that the discussion helps all of us sort out what we do or do not believe and expands our understanding of the issues. Bear that in mind when you reply.

        So where does one draw the line? Killing people to relieve overpopulation clearly doesn’t cut it because we have plenty of methods for relieving the ills caused by overpopulation without killing people – relocation to underpopulated areas, for example. Or more efficient water use and water recycling and improved agricultural science and technology and access to modern medicine. So I went looking around politics, and it gets difficult there, too, because all the dictators I can think of who could’ve justifiably been assasinated (Hitler, Gaddhafi, Stalin, Pol Pot… the usual roster) have a massive amount of blood on their hands. Would it have been justifiable to assasinate Hitler in 1933 before he started killing people, but when his attitude to Jews and other “Untermenschen” was clear? Was it known then that he would set about trying to eradicate the “Untermenschen”? And if so, would his assasination have been justified? But I’m still thinking life and death, and therefore not really helping myself.

        So could the assasination of a political leader be justified if under that leader’s rule a large proportion of the population was consigned to poverty? If so, then what level of poverty (or what size gap between rich and poor)? And what proportion of the population? Would an assasination of Hosni Mubarak have been justified because under his rule 50% of the Egyptian population were living below the internationally recognised poverty line while a select few were stonkingly rich and getting richer?

        How about in cases of political oppression or foreign occupation? Was the Provisional IRA justified in taking up arms to end British rule over Northern Ireland because Catholics were systematically and legally discriminated against and oppressed? Were earlier generations of Irish nationalists (Fenians, IRB, Michael Collins, etc) justified in taking up arms to end British rule in Ireland? Of course, there is still an element of life and death here, as those who openly opposed British rule or protested for equal rights for Catholics in the 6 Counties were sometimes killed (Bloody Sunday, for example), but those who kept their heads down and got on with their lives were generally safe. So should they have just shut their mouths and got on with their lives in the face of blatantly unjust laws?

        To be honest, I really can’t answer any of these questions. I do believe a situation can reach a point where violent rebellion and the killing of the oppressor and his agents is justified. Nelson Mandela actually was a terrorist, but I still rank him as a hero because the evil inherent in using violence to end apartheid was outweighed by the evil that was the apartheid system. Killing civilians, however, was not justifiable. Still, if in lifting the campaign from sabotage to guerilla war Umkhonto we Sizwe had limited their killings to agents of the apartheid state (e.g. soldiers and police), I would’ve considered it justified. Trouble is, I’m not sure where exactly one reaches the point where armed rebellion, including killing, is justified. I think Mandela was right to begin the armed struggle against apartheid, but Umkhonto we Sizwe was wrong to extend that to killing civilians. Was the Provisional IRA justified in beginning (yet another) armed rebellion against British rule? I really don’t know. But once the rebellion began, I think their official policy of only targeting military targets was right. However,their actual practice of a very loose definition of ‘military target’ that resulted in easily avoidable civilian death was clearly wrong.

        To bring this back to abortion, I think it’s one thing to be strictly anti-abortion, as in “abortion is always wrong in every circumstance”, but I do find such a strict stance to be immoral and I think that a law banning abortion outright would be highly irresponsible. I think abortion should be available to any woman requesting it no questions asked, although with an appropriate measure of counselling before she undergoes the abortion so that she fully comprehends what she is doing. “Appropriate” because every woman is different and some will require more counselling than others, and regardless, the counselling should be free of any judgement. I say this because a law banning abortion would not end abortion but drive it underground. Legal abortion means it happens out in the open where it can be regulated and everything possible done to ensure women’s health and safety. Banning abortion means driving abortion underground means greatly increasing the risks to women’s health and safety. Banning abortion does not sit well with my conscience. And it’s not just a health and safety issue. We must remember that we can never judge another person’s actions or situation. I already referred to Matthew 7 and Romans 2, and actually, I think the principles outlined in those chapters can apply regardless of what one thinks of Christianity or religion in general. I do believe even the most hardcore anti-religion atheist could see the sense there.

      • @Chris Waugh,

        …I’m not stating my own views as I don’t have any firm ideas on the subject. I’m just putting ideas out there for the sake of argument, first of all because I enjoy the discussion, but more importantly because I firmly believe that the discussion helps all of us sort out what we do or do not believe and expands our understanding of the issues. Bear that in mind when you reply.

        I really appreciate that you’re actually willing to play devil’s advocate, or try on some pro-abortion-rights arguments just to see where they go. I’m not arguing any of this against you — not at all. I’ll try and be extra careful to phrase things in a way that makes that clear. I’m just glad someone’s willing to put pro-abortion-rights ideas up for examination, because all too often I think people accept them uncritically.

        Just to review: for the sake of the argument we’re assuming that the unborn are in fact human persons, and that in certain circumstances it would be justifiable to kill a person.

        Forcing women to suffer
        First, the emotionally-charged “woman in hardship” argument:

        … replace “honour killing” (that’s a horrific term, isn’t it?) with “lifetime of severe physical and psychological abuse for mother and child”. A woman pregnant because she was raped by a close relative may have the psychological strength to go through with the pregnancy, but another may not. Would you force her through something you knew to be causing her severe suffering?

        This argument looks good on the surface; after all, it packs a powerful emotional, sympathetic punch. But I think it withers under the light of scrutiny in more ways than one.

        First, the argument is that if the continued existence of an innocent person causes or contributes to a certain (arbitrary) amount of hardship for a second person, then killing the innocent person is justified. What does that mean? I’ll rephrase your example: A mother of two was raped. So her husband divorces her, and his family throws her and her children out (after all, the husband has other wives). Due to the stigma she and her children and aged parents now carry, she will have to eke out a living as a semi-literate at the bottom of her poor, patriarchal society with four dependents. So she takes them all to the Red Cross clinic where aid workers kill her infant and aged parents, relieving her of her unfair burden and significantly lessening her degree of hardship (which is still substantial). She keeps the three-year-old because that way she’ll earn more money begging. Who are we to tell her otherwise? Point being: the age of the person being killed is morally irrelevant to this argument, so killing children or the aged would be just as justified as killing the unborn.

        Second, anti-abortion rights people have no problem agreeing that women around the world face all kinds of terrible situations, situations that would be greatly exacerbated by an unwanted pregnancy. But in addition to the objection that one person’s hardship can’t justify the murder of another, a second objection is that abortion is not the solution, or even a good temporary fix, to these kinds of hardship situations. There are better short-term and long-term approaches, and our efforts and resources are better spent there. Not only is the killing is unjustifiable, it’s not the most helpful answer anyway and in some cases contributes to gender inequality by enabling sex-selective abortion (“no questions asked”) and the skewing of gender ratios (like in my hometown in Canada). Of course women in hardship should be helped — no one’s saying they shouldn’t, or that we should have any less sympathy — and they are helped by all kinds of pro-women, anti-abortion agencies (when such agencies aren’t stymied by legal action from Planned Parenthood). But abortion-rights advocates have to justify the killing of an innocent and explain why abortion should be the solution of choice when it’s arguably an inferior option. This point is similar to the one you made here:

        Killing people to relieve overpopulation clearly doesn’t cut it because we have plenty of methods for relieving the ills caused by overpopulation without killing people.

        Third, even if we granted an exception in specific cases like what we both described (and I’m not), the women’s hardship argument is just another case of appealing to extreme, emotional examples that can’t justify the vast majority of abortions performed today (which are ‘no questions asked, no reason required’). This third point ties into most of the rest of your reply, in which you explored where to “draw the line,” meaning, what justifies killing innocent persons:

        Justified killing

        …all the dictators I can think of who could’ve justifiably been assasinated [...] could the assasination of a political leader be justified if under that leader’s rule a large proportion of the population was consigned to poverty? [...] How about in cases of political oppression or foreign occupation? [...] I do believe a situation can reach a point where violent rebellion and the killing of the oppressor and his agents is justified.[...] Killing civilians, however, was not justifiable.[...]I’m not sure where exactly one reaches the point where armed rebellion, including killing, is justified. [...] easily avoidable civilian death was clearly wrong.

        I realize the point of all this is trying to determine if or when killing is ever justified, and not analogize evil murderous dictators with innocent, defenseless babies. But either way none of it comes close to touching abortion.

        So far the closest we’ve got to abortion is: the woman will either die or have a life that we say is not worth living if the baby isn’t killed, therefore it’s justifiable to kill the baby. But between the dictators and revolution and extreme hardship, you’re still only exploring extreme examples as justification for much more mundane reasons for abortion; special, extreme situations (i.e. death is inevitable regardless, war, etc.) don’t justify killing another human being in the more mundane situations behind the overwhelming majority of abortions. Unless you’re going to conclude that abortion is only justifiable in the most extreme cases (effectively condemning the vast majority of abortions and sticking yourself with the problem of coming up with solid criteria for “extreme case” that won’t justify killing born people), you have to justify killing a human being for reasons that aren’t extreme. Such as…

        For the greater good of society

        I would argue that if by killing one person you achieve a greater good for society, then it is acceptable to kill that one person.

        Is this really what you want to argue? I can think of millions, if not billions, of people around our overpopulated world who we could justify killing with this criteria.

        Well, yes, but it’s a difficult one because clearly a line must be drawn somewhere, and it must be fairly tight and firm, otherwise, as you imply, genocide becomes permissible.

        I see several problems with this, in no particular order:

        — A line doesn’t have to be drawn somewhere. We can just declare the right to live to be an inalienable, universal human right.

        — Either the right to life is a non-negotiable, inalienable human right, or it’s negotiable. But it will never be both negotiable and “tight and firm,” as societies in which this is negotiable have demonstrated. It’s naive to imagine the people doing the negotiating of that line would be doing so with only virtuous and ethically pure intentions — people haven’t managed to yet, and it’s naive and arrogant to assume that we’d be the first.

        — In my first response to you, I took “greater good for society” to simply mean the “general survival of the human race” because I was only making the single point. But we’re divided into distinct societies. So the people we kill in order to “achieve a greater good for society” will of course be determined by what kind of society we’re trying to create. There are multiple competing visions of what a desirable or ideal society is. Never mind the Communist and totalitarian regimes of the past and present (though they are certainly relevant to my point because it demonstrates what happens when the right to life is not considered an inalienable right) or the elderly and disabled who have been “euthanized” without consent in Holland. Just within liberal Western democracies there are competing ideals — ‘visionary’ Atheist preachers like Sam Harris are willing to kill people, in certain cases, for their thoughts (read it in his own words). He has a very specific vision of a “good” society, and very specific ideas about who is bad for it. But we don’t need extreme examples like that to make the point; any kind of specific social vision will do: if we can kill people “for the greater good”, then which specific greater good? And what then of dissidents and dissenters? If you disagree with the prescribed vision of a greater society… but we’ve seen this over and over again. Extreme stuff in China from 1949 ’til now, but even in Western countries people can lose their jobs, or not get papers published, for expressing opinions outside the Establishment’s prescribed political-social orthodoxy.

        — How would determining such a line (who can be justifiably killed for the greater good of society) fit with the idea of “not judging” people? Seems like a massive double-standard.

        Being strictly anti-abortion is immoral
        This is basically another “hardship” argument, but plays out a bit differently.

        I think it’s one thing to be strictly anti-abortion, as in “abortion is always wrong in every circumstance”, but I do find such a strict stance to be immoral…

        To show that strict anti-abortionism is immoral because the survival of the child brings undue hardship to the mother, you’ve got to demonstrate how the hardship brought by the survival of the child justifies killing an innocent human being. No one’s denying that hardship is involved; what anti-abortion-rights people argue is that (a) hardship doesn’t justify the taking of an innocent person’s life, and that (b) abortion is no solution to those hardships anyway. Arguing that hardship for one justifies the death of another reveals a human rights double-standard that would have to be explained. (Even hardcore pro-lifers often make an exception in cases where death is inevitable, but those extreme, rare cases don’t justify the others. Arguing that it’s immoral to force a mother to die in childbirth is irrelevant to virtually all abortion scenarios. It’s actually pointless to discuss these extreme situations because no abortion-rights advocate I’ve every heard of is willing to limit abortion to extreme situations — but no one wants to be stuck trying to defend less-sympathy-inducing reasons, like “we don’t want daughters” or “it will cramp my lifestyle.”)

        Making abortion illegal

        …and I think that a law banning abortion outright would be highly irresponsible. [...] a law banning abortion would not end abortion but drive it underground. Legal abortion means it happens out in the open where it can be regulated and everything possible done to ensure women’s health and safety. Banning abortion means driving abortion underground means greatly increasing the risks to women’s health and safety.

        The argument is that a law banning abortion outright would be highly irresponsible and result in an increase harmful human behaviour, and therefore we ought to allow innocent people to be killed (as if killing innocents wasn’t harmful behaviour). This has two major problems that I can see.

        First, what’s worse: great difficulty and inconvenience, increased dangerous illegal activity and a messy (theoretical) legal situation, or killing millions of innocent people and betraying a foundational value of our civlization by claiming universal human rights but then only granting them selectively, not to mention the harm to women and continued denigration of women inherent in abortion (i.e. perpetuating the denigration of motherhood)?

        Second, the appeal to all the problems changing the law would bring is a bit of a straw man, because realistically, if there was ever such a change in law, it wouldn’t occur like abortion-rights advocates imagine. Sure, if we made all abortions illegal tomorrow, there would be a lot of problems (though I doubt anyone can reasonably argue that they justify murder, but that’s beside this point). But pro-life activists like the one I linked to imagine a more realistic scenario (and this is their agenda) whereby abortion first has to become unthinkable for the average person — a sea change in public opinion — before it even has the chance of becoming illegal. So by the time aboriton became illegal is would be considered murder my most people, there would therefore be significantly fewer abortions happening anyway. In that situation, implementing new laws banning abortion would look significantly different than the emotional doomsday scenario of pro-abortion-rights scare tactics. So the scenario of suddenly charging millions of doctors and women with murder is a false one.

        Third, is it the law itself that would be irresponsible, or its poor implementation? If the latter, then we can just prepare to implement it well.

        Miscellaneous stuff:

        I think abortion should be available to any woman requesting it no questions asked,

        No questions asked? The reason doesn’t matter? How about, “We don’t want a daughter?” The only way this makes sense to me is if we assume the unborn are not human persons. Otherwise all your reasons trying to justify the murder of innocent persons (mother’s hardship; pursuit of “the greater good”; difficulty of making it illegal) are just a thought experiment (and I realize they may be just that); they’re irrelevant if the reason behind the abortion doesn’t matter in the end. (I realize you’re only ‘trying out’ the premise that the unborn are human persons, so the quote above is maybe not connected to that premise.)

        although with an appropriate measure of counselling before she undergoes the abortion so that she fully comprehends what she is doing.

        Why? And what should we tell her to make her fully comprehend what she is doing? “You have the State-given right to kill this innocent person for any or no reason, which is precisely what you’ll be doing when you have her aborted.”?

        We must remember that we can never judge another person’s actions or situation.

        We absolutely can, should, and do judge other people’s actions. All of us. I think it’s wrong to rape or kill people. If I see that happening, I will impose my morals on that person and intervene — unapologetically. What I shouldn’t do is judge that person’s value, or situation, or their ‘heart’ (that’s the point of Jesus’ teaching, which you referenced), because I can’t know what in that guy’s life has brought him to the place where he does those bad things and how much personal responsibility he bears, so I’m not going to judge him as a person (“only God can see the heart” as we way). But his actions? Surely. I shouldn’t judge a woman (in the sense Jesus means) who aborts her child, but that doesn’t mean I can’t judge her abortion to be a form of murder.

        To be honest, you referencing the Bible caught me off guard; I wasn’t expecting that.

  19. Run out of reply buttons again…

    Joel, I’m not sure where to begin, but I do know where and when to end and for reasons extraneous to this discussion that will have to be very soon. Let me just pick out a few things in your reply that bug me.

    I don’t find the “woman in hardship” argument emotionally charged, and that’s certainly not how I intend it. I intend it only as an objective assessment of the facts.

    I don’t see anything extreme in any of the examples I’m giving. The unfortunate fact is that “honour killing” and psychological, sexual and physical violence are a very real fact of life for millions of people in this world. So is political and economic oppression. I find it hard to call what are facts of everyday life for so many people “extreme”. You, on the other hand, have left me with the impression that for you it’s all or nothing. Either zero killing or a total free for all. I’m trying to avoid that.

    We may be working on the assumption that the unborn are just as much people as the born, though I thought I’d already refused to answer when I believe life begins. In any case, age is not irrelevant. I tend to consider the needs of the younger to be more important than those of the older, and therefore in a case where food and water were not enough to sustain a population, the elderly should make themselves scarce, or at least voluntarily cut their consumption to the bare minimum, in order to ensure the survival of the younger generations. And I wouldn’t rule out using force to help them understand why should they not cooperate. I would also rate the needs of the born as being more important than those of the unborn. Pregnancy is not entirely without risk, and even if we accept life begins at the moment the egg is fertilised, I don’t think we can see that life as any more than a potential life until it has gestated to a point it would be considered by doctors to be a viable life outside the womb. And no, I don’t consider that to be a contradiction.

    I’m trying to base my arguments not an a set of ideals, but in gritty, murky reality. I’m not so big on human rights, and I think this world needs to start talking more about human responsibility. I’m also far less interested in ideals – which are good and useful things, sure – but in figuring out how to reduce the amount of suffering in the real world. Ideals are great for guiding our actions, but we must accept the need to compromise to fit the full complexity of any given situation.

    My ideal society is an open, tolerant, liberal society in which the state’s control over our private lives is kept as tightly reined in as possible. When it comes to sex and drugs, what consenting adults get up to without harming any third party is no business of the state. Abortion should be available on demand no questions asked with the sole proviso that the woman seeking abortion must be fully and clearly informed before she is allowed to proceed with the abortion. Why? Because I want a decadent society or open slather on the unborn? No. Because these are things that I would rather have out in the open where they can be regulated to ensure the minimum possible harm is done. Even in a society in which all people are educated to believe that drugs, extramarital sex, and abortion are morally wrong prohibition of these things does not magically end them, but drive them underground. That’s why we still hear of people being stoned to death in Iran for adultery or decapitated in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft. I don’t extend this tolerance to allowing the murder of a born person (and thinking about it, I would be quite happy with abortion restricted to cases of medical necessity once the unborn have reached a stage of gestation where they are viable outside the womb – but not being a doctor I’ll leave it to the experts to define that) because we can all agree that a born person is alive, whereas regardless of what assumption this discussion is based on, there’s a lot of debate out there about exactly when life begins.

    Does that risk sex-selective abortion and an open slather on the unborn? Well, yes, but that risk I think is better managed through education, development, and the changes in society they bring about than through legal restriction.

    And sorry, I know I’m leaving a lot unanswered, but in writing this I’ve had constant distraction, and there’s a large stack of essays sitting next to me that need to be marked and very soon I’ll have exams, so here I’m going to have to bow out. Thanks for the great discussion.

  20. @Chris Waugh,

    And sorry, I know I’m leaving a lot unanswered, but in writing this I’ve had constant distraction, and there’s a large stack of essays sitting next to me that need to be marked and very soon I’ll have exams, so here I’m going to have to bow out. Thanks for the great discussion.

    I totally understand that and empathize. I don’t expect people to have endless time to discuss things online with people they don’t know. So thanks for taking the time, and for being willing to dig into a tough issue! I appreciate it.

    My comments on the rest of your reply are below. And I would point out that, when it’s life and death issues, I think we maybe ought to make time to deal with them.

    I don’t find the “woman in hardship” argument emotionally charged, and that’s certainly not how I intend it. I intend it only as an objective assessment of the facts.

    Calling it emotional charged isn’t meant as a criticism of the argument. Of course it’s emotionally charged — we’re considering very real and painful situations that deservingly evoke sympathy and, hopefully, provoke action.

    Sometimes these situations are abused for pro-abortion-rights ends (by appealing to people’s emotions instead of rationally defending the idea that it’s ok to kill a person for xyz reasons). But regardless, the situations are legitimately emotional, imo.

    I don’t see anything extreme in … “honour killing” and psychological, sexual and physical violence …[and] political and economic oppression. Really? I do. These things are all extreme in their own right. And especially extreme when compared to the vast majority of abortion cases, which boil to down to avoiding a major inconvenience of one kind or another, not death or unbearable economic hardship.

    You, on the other hand, have left me with the impression that for you it’s all or nothing. Either zero killing or a total free for all. I’m trying to avoid that.

    If people are going to claim that it’s legitimate to kill certain innocent human beings — which is exactly what pro-abortion-rights does — then it is totally fair for me to demand their explanation and justification. I’m trying to make you articulate a rational and morally defensible criteria for the legitimate killing of human persons that will legitimize the majority of abortions performed daily but not legitimize the killing of born human persons.

    It’s difficult (I think it’s impossible), but that’s not my fault or my problem; that’s the fault of the pro-abortion-rights position. And I’m trying to get you to articulate a rational, moral justification for it because when you (or anyone else) fails, it demonstrates how ludicrous it is to kill babies in the name of human rights.

    Your other option is to abandon the idea that the unborn are human persons. But then you have two different problems: (1) you have to argue against the genetics and biology that says the unborn are human individuals distinct from their mother, and (2) argue for why personhood is should be withheld from certain human individuals (and give your criteria for who gets personhood and who doesn’t).

    We may be working [with] the assumption that the unborn are just as much people as the born, though I thought I’d already refused to answer when I believe life begins.

    It was your idea at the beginning to assume that the unborn were humans and run with that premise. So we did. Of course, you don’t have to start with that assumption (but then see my paragraph immediately above).

    In any case, age is not irrelevant. I tend to consider the needs of the younger to be more important than those of the older,

    So then the need (for life) of the younger unborn outweighs the need (of convenience) of the older mother? You’re making a case against abortion here.

    and therefore in a case where food and water were not enough

    Another extreme example — virtually no abortions are performed because food and water are not enough. This is irrelevant to the vast majority of abortions that were performed today.

    I would also rate the needs of the born as being more important than those of the unborn.

    But this assumes situations where need is so great that survival is threatened. Again, not the situation for the vast majority of abortions that will be performed tomorrow and therefore irrelevant.

    even if we accept life begins at the moment the egg is fertilised, I don’t think we can see that life as any more than a potential life until it has gestated to a point it would be considered by doctors to be a viable life outside the womb. And no, I don’t consider that to be a contradiction.

    (1) That is a blatant contradiction. Either it’s alive or not alive but potentially alive; it can’t be both.

    (2) Also, you’ve just introduced new criteria: viability outside the womb. Viability outside the womb all depends on the degree of care the person can receive after they’re born. Full-term babies can die quickly after birth (if not prompted to start breathing), or slowly (if abandoned). But premature babies can survive if given very expensive neo-natal care (like my daughter). And as technology progresses, the age of viability slowly gets younger. In the future, if we produce artificial wombs, according to your criteria of viability every conception would be viable; we could remove a zygote and place it in an artificial womb. But I have a hard time seeing how it is moral to decide which innocent people we can kill — who gets the right to life and who doesn’t — based on how advanced our technology is.

    I’m trying to base my arguments not an a set of ideals, but in gritty, murky reality.

    And I’m pointing out the gritty murky reality that innocent human beings are routinely dismembered in the name of human rights ever year.

    My ideal society is an open, tolerant, liberal society in which the state’s control over our private lives is kept as tightly reined in as possible. Fine. But we’re talking about killing human persons. I assume you want the state to draw a line at “murder”. Or do you want to live in a society where the state doesn’t prosecute murder?

    When it comes to sex and drugs, what consenting adults get up to without harming any third party is no business of the state. Abortion should be available on demand

    But, according to your premise, abortion kills a living human person. Therefore, abortion harms a third party. Therefore, according to what you said, it’s the business of the state. Abortion is ‘harming a third party on demand.’

    Why? … Because these are things that I would rather have out in the open where they can be regulated to ensure the minimum possible harm is done.

    Well, right now, with abortion the way it is, “minimum possible harm done” means millions of innocent, defenseless human persons are killed, according to your own definitions.

    Even in a society in which all people are educated to believe that drugs, extramarital sex, and abortion are morally wrong prohibition of these things does not magically end them, but drive them underground.

    You’re just restating an idea here from your previous comment, rather than replying to what I wrote to you about it, which was basically: (1) What’s worse, dangerous underground activity or millions of innocent deaths due to the withholding of legal personhood from a targeted group of human beings (a Holocaust)? (2) A realistic law-implementation scenario would not be as terrible as pro-abortion-rights proponents suggest.

    That’s why we still hear of people being stoned to death in Iran for adultery or decapitated in Saudi Arabia for witchcraft.And why are these things wrong? Because it’s intolerance leading to the brutal slaughter of innocent people. Why is abortion wrong? Same reason.

    I don’t extend this tolerance to allowing the murder of a born person (and thinking about it, I would be quite happy with abortion restricted to cases of medical necessity once the unborn have reached a stage of gestation where they are viable outside the womb

    So the right to life is determined by how advanced our technology is? We covered this above.

    we can all agree that a born person is alive, whereas regardless of what assumption this discussion is based on, there’s a lot of debate out there about exactly when life begins.

    (1) No, there’s debate about when personhood begins. But no one is going to argue that a zygote isn’t alive. (2) But your criteria for killing the unborn still applies to some born people.

    that risk I think is better managed through education, development, and the changes in society they bring about than through legal restriction. I agree that education and development are parts of the long-term solution. The part I don’t get is where you essentially conclude “since we’re working on the long-term solution, it’s ok to allow murder in the short-term.” Why not do both: outlaw murder and pursue long-term solutions?

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