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"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." Elizabeth Cady Stanton



Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The strongest pro-choice argument

Over the past year, I have noticed that most thoughtful, philosophically-bent pro-life websites that I frequent consider variations of Judith Jarvis Thompson's Violinist argument to be the strongest argument in favor of legalized abortion. Two excellent examples include Secular Pro-Life Perspectives, who has published entire series on this topic, and Life-Report, who has focused podcasts and written reports on this question. Indeed, the only time I have really tried to think rigorously about an argument was in relation to the violinist.

I now find the pro-life obsession on these types of arguments rather confusing, both because it is not a particularly strong argument in favor of completely elective abortion (in fact, it only absolutely applies in pregnancies due to rape), and because it is not an opinion that many thoughtful pro-choice academics, as well as average pro-choice plebeians, share.

Rather, the central question in both the grass-roots and glass-tower abortion debates is the nature of the embryo/fetus/baby. Stated more simply, when does meaningful life, worthy of protection, begin? Is all human life truly worthy of protection?

These questions lead those who wish to rationalize abortion to the strongest of the pro-choice arguments. And, indeed, we can see their effects in the publications of medical ethics journals, in the actions of biologists and geneticists, in the fertility industry, in the nature of the euthanasia debate, and in the intuition of the average Canadian citizen. So I believe it is worthwhile to spend much more time on the philosophical implications of a pro-life or pro-choice set of beliefs, especially in regard to the human who's life is truly at stake.

This is not to say that there hasn't been a huge focus, both by pro-lifers and pro-choicers, on the nature of the embryo. But almost without fail, the discussions that the average person curious about the morality of abortion have access to have been poor, emotionally charged, and philosophically vapid. I truly think it is rare to find a non-expert who has really spent time investigating their own beliefs with regards to the value of human life, and this has lead to much public discourse around abortion that is both useless and often quite nasty.

To that end, I downloaded the entire current issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics (May 213, Volume 39, Issue 5). This journal recently created a storm of controversy after publishing Giubilini and Minerva's now infamous article: "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?". Because of the response the article received, the JME has now published an entire issue focused on this specific question.

So, over the course of the next few weeks I will be reading each article and posting a corresponding analysis. I know it is hard for many people who were raised in the Christian world-view to understand how this could even be a debate, because ... well, of course the baby should live - all human life is sacred! But this is not a good counter argument, and a Christian education is not the kind of education that the average Canadian, or indeed, person in any country has received. Additionally, the sanctity of all human life has certainly not been considered obvious for many human societies throughout human history - including ours.

So without further ado, I introduce you to my newest series of blog posts: The strongest pro-choice argument. I want these posts to be as thoughtful, rigorous, and academic as possible, so my goal is to post approximately one a week - though it is entirely possible it will take me much longer to make my way through the supplementary literature. Either way, I look forward to this endeavor as a way to help myself understand my own views with regards to human life, and hopefully to enlighten my readers on their own biases and unexamined opinions.

As Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living. :)

P.S. The entire JME issue appears to be open access at the moment (I downloaded the entire thing while I was at Starbucks, without having to sign into the school's library account), so if you are curious to read the original papers yourself, download them now before you will have to pay to read them!

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