Saturday, April 28, 2018

Abortion And Anti-Natalism Part 2: The Pro-Choice Argument

No issue continues to be as divisive as abortion. The polls on the ethics of abortion have not significantly budged in the past few decades, with no clear majorities for it or against it. As a negative utilitarian who is sympathetic to the ideas in anti-natalism (but who isn't an anti-natalist), I am naturally pro-choice as a result. I see it as excessively immoral to force a woman to give birth with total disregard to her circumstance, or the future baby's circumstance. 

But abortion still needs to be argued for, especially given its controversies. I think the pro-choice crowd has in general failed to make a strong case for the ethics of the pro-choice position, whereas the pro-life crowd has vehemently made many cases against abortion. The reason why is obvious: abortion is the law of the land, and therefore pro-lifers are more motivated to make the case against abortion than pro-choices are to make the case for it's morality and legality. And this has the potential to turn the tide of opinion in favor of outlawing abortion, which could motivate politicians to implement stronger anti-abortion restrictions, despite the supreme court's 1973 decision. 

So in making the case for the ethics and legality of abortion I want to start where I think many pro-choicers fail. A common argument many in the pro-choice side make is that the fetus isn't human and isn't alive and that therefore aborting it isn't killing a living human being. I don't think it's necessary to claim this to defend abortion, and I also think it's wrong. A fetus has human DNA, making it genetically identifiable as human or homo sapien, and it is a living organism, requiring food that it metabolizes into energy to subsist. So I think this common argument forces the pro-choice position into defending two claims that are indefensible and ultimately unnecessary in defending abortion, and they should be dropped. It is simply unnecessary to claim a fetus isn't human or alive to justify abortion.

There are two conditions that I think make it ethical to abort a fetus. The first is that fetuses are not conscious, which means they experience no pain. This is especially true in the first trimester of gestation, during which about 90% of abortions occur. The second is that the fetus is not an independent human being. It needs to be bodily attached to a host (the woman) in order to survive. And that means it is not deserving of individual human rights. 

Let me explain these two points in a bit more detail. For (1) above, if the fetus does not have a developed nervous system or brain, it cannot possibly be conscious enough to feel pain. The science surrounding when a fetus is capable of feeling pain is complex. A highly cited 2005 study concluded that "the capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available." What we have here is an instance of sorites paradox: the problem of gradualism. The nervous system grows gradually, it doesn't appear in an instant, and may develop at slightly different times in different fetuses. So we're forced to make a general dividing line on when on average the fetus is capable of feeling pain, and that appears to be sometime in the 6th month of pregnancy, or the third trimester.

For (2) above, by saying the fetus is not an independent human being, I'm not saying it isn't genetically distinct. A fetus is genetically distinct, I just don't consider genetic distinctness sufficient enough to warrant independent status. It's necessary, but not sufficient. To be sufficient, genetic distinctness would have to be met in addition to bodily autonomy. Meaning, the fetus would have to be able to naturally survive without being bodily attached to the host. Independent human beings do not need to be physically attached to other human beings to survive. Now some babies born naturally prematurely need to be attached to machines in order to survive, but that's different. That isn't being attached to a human being. And once you are born, you are an independent human being by any standard. So as long as the fetus needs to be bodily attached to another human being to naturally survive, it isn't independent, and is therefore part of the woman's body. But we have another example here for sorites paradox: when does the fetus become able to survive naturally outside the womb? Certainly by the third trimester this becomes possible in most cases, and it is usually impossible in the second trimester, and always impossible in the first trimester. And here, just like with pain development, we must make a general dividing line on when on average the fetus is capable of naturally surviving outside the womb, and this also appears to be sometime during the transition between the second and third trimester.

These two criteria must be met together in order for abortion to be ethical in general circumstances, which means the ethics and legality of abortion up until the beginning of the third trimester is ethically justified. In rare circumstances, like when the life of the mother is at risk, or there is fetal abnormality, I support the legality and morality of abortion all the way up until birth. 

When you combine this with the consideration in mind of the suffering forced on a child who may be unwanted, who may be uncared for and unloved, who may be put up for adoption and forced to live in foster homes, who may be more likely to be abused, or be forced to exist in abject poverty, or forced to survive in a violent and dangerous environment — with the fact that the negative impact of suffering outweighs the positive impact of pleasure when they are given in equal durations — the ethics of abortion is more than justified. I'm not saying these conditions have to be met in order to justify an abortion, they just add to its justification.

And that's why I support the pro-choice position. Abortion should be a legally accessible option to women who for one reason or another prefer to terminate the fetus before birth at least up until the first trimester in normal circumstances and all the way up until birth in extreme circumstances like the ones I mentioned above.

Now any argument against abortion that appeals to a soul or anything supernatural is immediately inadmissible as evidence. These are non-starter objections. So please do not waste my time commenting on this post with such claims. I will likely not even publish it because it's a waste of my time.

That being said, on the topic of abortion, I get it. I get that there are many passionate people against abortion, both those who are theistic and atheistic. Abortion does involve human life, so it's not a trivial matter. I want to live in a future world where there are zero abortions — but not because it's made illegal — but instead because we've educated people on safe sex practices and perfected birth control and contraception to such a degree and with such an accessibility that no women ever gets to a point where she has an unintended pregnancy. 

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