Abortion from a Veil of Ignorance

As someone who is pro-choice I have come up against a problem that make we question this stance.

If we look at abortion from a time before we are conceived, do we want this option available for non-life threatening reasons? For every abortion there are two “individuals” who are directly affected and we would have no idea which we would be. The cost imposed on the woman to continue the pregnancy would include time and expense from the pregnancy which including many costs including increased health risks but not a very high risk of existence ending. The cost to the embryo/fetus would be the end of viable existence. So in relation to these two “individuals” I think the cost seems to be higher to the embryo/fetus. Normally, in a situation like this we would expect if the value to the embryo/fetus was really higher than the value the woman gets out of aborting they would negotiate an efficient deal. However, here the transaction costs are too high. An embryo/fetus can’t negotiate. Also there might not be an efficient deal that the embryo/fetus could reach. If the embryo/fetus could offer billions of dollars to the woman, she would in all likelihood be willing to continue the pregnancy. However, the embryo/fetus does not have this to offer. All the embryo/fetus has to offer is future earnings - which could be almost anything. So we may well be left with a bilateral monopoly where there is no efficient solution. Meaning we would have to decide which side we give the property right to. Do we give the woman the right to her body or do we give the embryo/fetus the right to develop. One side is going to impose a cost on the other. Now ex-ante we don’t know if we are more likely to be the embryo/fetus in danger of being aborted or a woman who wants an abortion (actually we are probably more likely to the embryo/fetus since one woman can have multiple abortions). Again, I think the cost to the embryo/fetus is greater since it will cease to exist – someone will be willing to pay more for avoiding not existing vs. the cost of pregnancy. And given the impossibility of negation we should give the property right to the side that has the higher value. So looking at it from just the two perspectives of the embryo/fetus and the woman we achieve a greater level of efficiency by stopping all non-life threatening abortions. Even the woman who might want the right to an abortion ex-post does not want this right for ex-ante. Am I going wrong somewhere?

Also, I am not really sure how to work in externalities into this equation. I can see big problems with more babies being born. There might be babies that will impose a cost of society. However, I am having a hard time coming up with a way to determine value of these costs to both sides. Any ideas on externalities?

The first sentence should say makes me question, make we.

Well, I’d say your “property rights uber-alles” approach, personally, but let’s examine abortion in those terms anyway for the sake of argument.

As would the removal of a tumour. We must establish that conception imbues some “personhood” upon the gestating entity. I’d say it’s essentially just a tumour until some time that we arbitrarily bestow personhood upon it (at, say, 18 weeks - this of course erring massively on the side of caution in terms of brain function compared to, say, pigs which we kill and eat).

By definition. It is not capable of ‘volition’ in any sense, and thus is ethically no different from, say, a potato.

Am I to negotiate with my own sperm in this manner, by the way?

This is a social issue, not a fiscal one.

The embryo is not an “individual” and can suffer no “cost.”

I’m not sure I followed all that, but I think my answer to the question you asked would be:

]I might die for my Mom’s right to an abortion. That’s a reasonable proposition, given that I would die to defend my Mom’s right to an abortion, which is a less hypothetical formulation.

If I’m failing to follow what you’re asking, please feel free to clarify.

It’s only the mother carrying the ‘gestating entity’ who considers it a baby. And we all know how irrational women are. Also pig ignorant, ascribing to their tumour a soul and a heart, and even sometimes giving it a name. A human name.

Another job for the crusaders fighting the war on ignorance.

The hell!? :confused:

Mothers (and fathers for that matter) don’t consider their baby a tumour or an entity at any stage during his or her development. Not in my experience, or according to my observations, anyway.

I don’t think that attempts to rationalize everything (often, incidentally, according to the latest theory, which may indeed be overthrown) represents the establishment of knowledge at the expense of ignorance. Not if one believes that the irrational, the emotive, the instinctive plays an important role in ‘understanding’, as opposed to knowledge.

Let me chime in with sentient meat. Abortion is not an issue that’s decided by the government weighing the costs of the decision. It’s an issue of the government letting the only person directly affected by the decision make the decision. That’s what the concept of rights is about. For instance, we have a right to free speech. What does this mean? It means the government can’t forceably shot someone up even if they calculate that the cost of doing so is less than the cost of allowing them to keep on chattering their fool head off. Same with a woman’s reproductive rights.

But even if I did agree with your method of reasoning, I wouldn’t agree with your conclusion.

“The cost imposed on the woman to continue the pregnancy would include time and expense from the pregnancy which including many costs including increased health risks but not a very high risk of existence ending.”

First, you’ve left out one rather important cost to the woman. Having a child is a painful experience. Very painful. Consequently, there’s a good reason for many women to want to avoid it.

Second, you dismiss the possibility of a woman’s death during pregnancy from the calculations on the ground that the probability of it is low. Well the probability is about 1 in 100,000. Incidentally if Al Queda were to carry out an attack comparable to 9/11 tomorrow, the probability of any one person in the USA being killed would be about the same, 1 in 100,000. Yet no one dismisses the threat of Al Queda on the grounds of it bringing “not a very high risk of existence ending”.

Of course they don’t, roger, it’s an analogy used only for the purposes of this argument.

Yes. Most people who support abortion style themselves ‘pro-choice,’ and you’re talking about all but removing the choice element here.

I disagree. One individual is affected.

I think if you remove the woman’s ability to exert control over such an important decision in her life (to have a child now, or not to do so) you are significantly dimishing the value of that life. Guesstimating the potential of a fetus seems like a totally ludicrous course of action, much as it doesn’t make sense to accord it rights based on your estimation if its potential earnings. Anyway I don’t think you factored in the possible effects on the mother’s career. :rolleyes: I don’t agree with roger’s earlier post, but I have to chime in that this approach seems to miss the forest for the trees. The major issue here, according to most, is rights. To focus on earnings is callous at the very least. You may not be able to calculate the value of rights in such a straightforward manner, but their value outweighs potential earnings by a longshot.

What is your reason for saying an embryo is not an individual? Looking at this from an ex-ante nobody is really an individual in anything but a theoretical sense since they don’t exist yet. We are looking at this situation before we exist. At some point we will all be an embryo/fetus before we are born. Can you explain why rights do not vest until birth.

I also don’t see why something has to be an individual to have property rights. We give corporations property rights as virtual persons.

The embryo/fetus is also directly affected.

Free speech is not an absolute right. But even if it was, the government could still pay you to shut up if it was worth more to them than chattering your head off was to you. However, in the case of abortion the fetus can’t pay the woman to not abort it.

I think we need to be clear we are interfering with something’s rights here. The woman or the embryo/fetus. We can either protect the right of the woman or the embryo/fetus. I have no problem with us assigning the right to the woman but I think we need a logical reason. I think we need a logical reason to say that an embryo/fetus does not have rights. Ex-ante we are all at risk of being aborted.

I didn’t leave this out. It is all part of the cost of having a baby. i just don’t think there is a way to say this cost is greater than the cost of not existing.

Don’t forget to balance this against the risk of death from abortion (which I admit is quite low). But the risk to the embryo/fetus is almost 100%. (Are there any case of an abortion not terminating an embryo/fetus?)

I might not have been clear enough on this point. I am not focusing on the earning potential. I just trying to show the embryo/fetus has nothing real to negotiate with. I was following the line of the Coase theorem where it doesn’t matter who we assign the right to they will negotiate an efficient solution absent transaction costs. However, here the transaction costs are too high.

So basically ex-ante we have an equal chance of being an embryo/fetus that a woman wants to abort or being that woman. (Actually we have a slightly higher chance of being the embryo/fetus but let’s ignore this). Now we have to decide who to assigning the right to.

It’s not that simple. Like sentient meat says it depends on when we confer personhood status to the potential person growing inside the woman. If the embryo/fetus isn’t a person then you are right, only one person is affected by the decision. But those calling for government intervention don’t see it that way. They think the mother and the baby are both people.

This is one of the great contradictions of American politics. Abortion is our most divisive long term political issue. It, more than any other single issue, defines the major political parties, yet it doesn’t fit our ideological paradigm. It doesn’t happen often but the most liberal American could consistently be pro-life and the most conservative American could consistently be pro-choice. It’s not our view of human nature or of the nature of rights that divides us on this issue but simply when we believe a human becomes human and thus deserving of human rights.
Umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu.

  • A Xhosa proverb meaning, “A person is a person because of persons.”

I don’t think it is even necessary to say that an embryo/fetus is a person. Since we all have an equal chance of being the embryo/fetus or the woman, the choice is where do we assign the right. Person or some other form of existance what does it matter?

If by ‘it’ you mean calling the growing baby a tumour, I see your point. But if you also mean by ‘it’ ‘gestating entity’, then I don’t think SM intends this as an analogy. He intends it as fact. My point is that no parent I know would consider their baby growing in the womb an entity, and that their uniform failure to do so speaks loudly to all but those who take a view of science and knowledge parodied by Dickens in ‘Hard Times’. ‘Facts, facts, boy, give me facts.’

I would say that three individuals are affected - and this from both a scientific and an emotive point of view: the two individuals who produce the baby growing in the womb and the baby (entity, tumour, growth - what you will) in the womb. At any rate, to say that only one is affected (the female half of the reproductive machinery) is a value judgement and definitely not a conclusion based on the hard facts.

I don’t think you can say the father is directly affected.

Read The post again. The baby/tumor analogy - which is a common one around here - is, like his baby/potato analogy, is just that. Note the sentence “We must establish that conception imbues some “personhood” upon the gestating entity.”

Obviously the other person involved in producting the fetus is involved most of the time, but I think we’re talking about it from a biological standpoint.

I had no idea it was a judgment, I thought we were having a debate. :rolleyes: My point wasn’t that the fetus is unaffected. It’s that it’s not an individual.

I don’t actually think so. I think stance on abortion does fit an individual’s ideological paradigm; in fact, almost defines it. I would like to know how many people on this board are pro death penalty and pro choice, for example. For my money, attitudes to abortion generally arise from and reflect a religious orientation.

An issue that DOES cut across the two sides (call them liberal and conservative - in social terms) is stance on the right to own guns. You’ll find loads of people who oppose the death penalty and support abortions (the default liberal position), who also support the right for civilians in addition to the police force to carry guns, and use them as and when necessary - even if a few innocents get killed along the line. They wouldn’t phrase it as I have done, but that is after all what will happen whenever lethal weapons are involved. Death-dealing is what lethal means.

Marley, ‘gestating entity’ is SM’s scientific description of the baby developing in the womb - ‘tumour’ is his analogy.

But best he clears it up, if he meant something else.

Well, the man (as well as the woman) is involved in a core and fundamental way from a biological standpoint. Otherwise, no third person (the baby growing in the womb).