Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Better Safe Than Sorry?

I'm pro-choice (term of art, perhaps, but you know what I mean) so I was intrigued by an editorial in yesterday's Boston Globe by Dean Barnett. Mr. Barnett opposes abortion not on religious grounds, or even moral ones, strictly speaking. The argument boils down thus: we can't agree on when "life begins". Is it at the moment of birth? Conception? Since no one really knows, we must not allow abortion of any kind.

This logic appeals to me. Though in fact, it IS a moral argument, based on the idea that killing another human being is wrong. If you accept that as fact, then you should oppose abortion. And that's where this turns ugly, especially for the modern conservative. Because in no way do most people think it's wrong to kill another human being.

First, I'll grant you that self-defense is an exception. If someone is trying to kill you, you have a right to defend yourself, because you're preventing someone from being killed. But most Americans believe in the death penalty. In this scenario, the man who wants to kill is isolated and prevented from killing you. Killing that man (or woman - I'm talkin' to you, Aileen!) is purely a matter of choice. Maybe this killer would have gone on to renounce their evil ways, perhaps even contribute a valuable book to society. If the majority of Americans support the death penalty, they have no reason to oppose abortion.

Then there is the war. If you support the Iraq war, in which we attacked a country either because we believed they had WMDs or to liberate the country from the oppressive murderous overlord who ran it, well, either way we're killing people because we choose to. Support the war? Leave my foetus alone!

I have no idea how Dean Barnett feels about the war OR the death penalty, though I will point out that he frequently writes for the Weekly Standard and Hugh Hewitt. If he's anti-war or anti-death-penalty, I doubt he'd be welcome there. Still if he is, then more power to him. And congratulations on a good, but problematic argument.

1 comment:

Skot said...

Ah, abortion and capital punishment. If these things did not exist, opinion-makers would have to invent them.

They're great go-togethers in that the binary approval-disapproval matrix makes such interesting bedfellows (Like pornography being opposed by both moral majority types and radical feminists).

We'll leave War out of this table, as at least in the west it tends to be a "Hate it, but..." even with it's most ardent supporters.

Abortion NO, Execution NO: Dean Barnett, Moral absolutists, the Catholic Church.

Abortion NO, Execution YES: Fundamentalists, Muslims

Abortion YES, Execution NO: Europeans, Hippies

Abortion YES, Execution YES: Moral relativists, Atheists, rednecks

I'm not sure where how the scientific community weighs in (they ain't monolithic) but from a biological view every living thing is physically connected by it's progeny back to the creation of life itself. You were a living embryo, and you were alive as pre-utero gametes, right back to your parents, and back billions of years in an uninterrupted chain of reproduction, to caveman to furry mammal to fish to worm to cellular organism.

In this view, the individual life of sexually reproduced creatures must eventually end (that's right: sex created natural death), so it sort of doesn't matter where in the individual's life when it dies, so long as the chain of life continues overall.

What I am curious about: how do animal rights activists feel about abortion and execution? Did anyone ever ask 'em?