Should abortion law be based on morality, technology or something else?

To prevent myself from hijacking Can abortion be responsible birth control? any further than I already have (sorry!), let me present a few threads which have spun off into an interesting (to me) side issue:

This is all from the other thread.

Right. And I think that once that happens, it is permissable for legislation to change, as long as the state is willing to assume financial responsibility for the zygote and potential child.

That’s how I read it, too. But I don’t agree that brain activity is the benchmark that legislation should depend on.

When you say “it’s all right,” you implicity condone legislating based on morality, which I don’t think we should be doing. I think legislation should change as technology chage. I don’t think morality should change as legislation changes.

I agree!

Oops, and the essay in question. (I didn’t realize the link wouldn’t copy.)

I see this point raised often, and I still don’t understand it. Of course laws should be based on morality. How is it possibly justifiable to base a law on anything other than morality? It’s illegal to steal, because stealing is immoral. It’s illegal to murder someone, because murder is immoral. The big question with the abortion debate is not whether the laws should be moral; the question is whether abortion is immoral. If abortion is immoral, then it’s perfectly justifiable to pass laws against it, but if it’s moral or morally neutral, then it’s not justifiable to pass laws against it. Usually, when people say that we shouldn’t ban abortion because it’s a moral issue, what they really mean is that we shouldn’t ban abortion because it’s not a moral issue.

I think that abortion law should be based on the desire to safeguard the health and welfare of the greatest number of people.

I believe life begins at conception, so all abortion is murder, but I recognize that death (especially soon after conception) is not the worst possible outcome of a pregnancy–and I’m prepared to value the mother’s life over the baby’s life.

As uncomfortable as it makes me to admit it–I do support the right of the prospective mother to decide that her unborn baby is too much of a burden, in cases where the baby will be severely handicapped but viable. (I’d prefer the handicap was discovered sooner, and the decision made earlier, but drawing a bright line at X weeks is a little too arbitrary for me). Also, although it would probably not be the choice that I would make, I would support the right of a woman diagnosed with cancer mid-pregnancy to put her health ahead of the unborn child’s health.

I also recognize that if one tries to craft a law such that abortions are “safe, affordable and available to those who need them most” there will always be a certain number of abortions performed for what strike me as capricious or selfish reasons, rather than true need.

And I very firmly believe that efforts to reduce the numbers of abortions should focus on making birth control safe, affordable and available to those who need it, making sex eduction not focus only on abstinence, making society and the popular media less focused on Sex is Good, More Sex is better, and making adoption an appealling choice for those who find themselves pregnant when they would prefer not to be.

I apologize for using loaded language in this post, but I can’t stand the word “fetus” and I feel that the pro-choice side of any abortion debate is WAY, WAY too quick to deny the humanity of the unborn.

Most laws have some moral basis. Murder is immoral, and is illegal. Stealing is immoral and illegal. However, when a question is based solely on morality, especially when the subject is a hot button like abortion or contraception, we have to ask ourselves whose morality are we talking about? Libertines? Puritans? There can be valid moral arguments for both sides of the issue. So who wins out? One danger of moral certainty, is that it becomes All Or Nothing. Also, does the moral “need” for abortion outweigh the moral “need” for an individual to make their own health decisions, or take away their right to “command and control” their own lives and bodies?

But doesn’t this lead to Fritz’ dillemas? There are plenty of times when a moral action may be illegal, or an immoral action legal. (Stealing bread to save a starving child in the first case, companies forming in-house “not-for-profits” to fund themselves in the second.)

Not to mention the trouble we have agreeing on what is, in fact, moral. Yet we must make and enact laws now, not in some future when the philosophers have morality all sorted out.

We can base a law on what helps people, or hinders them the least. This may or may not be “moral” action, unless you have a very wide definition of “moral”. We can base laws on protecting rights. We can even base laws on ethics, which are not exactly the same as morals. We can, as **Eureka **suggests, make laws based on the desire to help the greatest number of people, or we make laws based on what helps our most productive citizens. There’s lots of options.

Is it? Or is it illegal to steal because we don’t want our stuff stolen our ourselves murdered, and we’ve made it a rule? More people work on the lower levels of Kohlberg’s Moral Stages than the higher ones. These people don’t break laws because they want to be rewarded by society, or because they listen to what they’re told, not because laws are based in morality.

Ok, just to preface, abortion is not a hot button issue with me. It has not directly affected my life. I don’t vote based on abortion views. It does touch upon other issues of ignoring the 5% on either extreme side of an issue as well as a loathing for disingenuous slippery slope arguments which are near and dear to my politically moderate heart.

The reason that I cited Sagan, aside from the fact that he is the closest thing I have to a hero and the reason that I went into science, is that he was the first person I’ve seen that gave a dispassionate and reasoned explanation for a specific time during gestation that a fetus becomes a baby.

He makes a great case that we as a society, put a special place for human life above other life. We can experiment on monkeys in ways that we can’t and shouldn’t experiment on people. At about the end of six months, he argues, a fetus becomes decidedly different from animals.

This day (that he bases on brain wave function that would make a fetus decidedly human, for those who haven’t read his essay) is not likely to change significantly over time. I suppose with greater scientific advancement, if we found that the numbers were wrong, and the date was actually sigificantly different from that, then the law should be changed. That is also the only point that I disagree with Sagan on. He proposes setting the date conservatively at six months, whereas if I were in charge I would tend toward setting the date VERY conservatively and more toward five months.

I don’t like using technology as the yardstick because I firmly believe that in my lifetime we will see such advances that fetuses as young as two or three months may become possible to bring to term outside of the womb. That shouldn’t change the law such that now, all of a sudden, it is wrong to abort a two month old fetus. You are still aborting a potential human, which is not yet a human. Potential humans are not humans, as Sagan points out with his arguments about masturbation and menstruation not being morally wrong.

I wish that any abortion laws did not impinge more on women than they would on men. That’s biology though, and there is nothing that can be done about it. But, I think it is fair to tell a pregnant woman that she has a right to choose, within a pretty fair window of time, even assuming that she does not become aware of the pregnancy for quite some time. But, at some point, that pregnancy becomes a baby and the window closes. We have to dispassionately and intelligently decide when that is. I think Sagan’s arguments are better than any other I’ve heard (most of which seem quite arbitrary).

Laws can be based on a cost/benefit analysis. This will take morality into account, but the law will not ultimately be based on morality but economics.

Quoth SteveG1:

What do you mean, whose morality? People don’t have different moralities. What’s moral for one person is moral for another person, and what’s immoral for one person is immoral for another person. People disagree on exactly what is moral and what is not, but that just means that some people are wrong. If a person considered it moral to follow the milkman on his rounds and dosed all the bottles with cyanide, and then did so, would you say that he was a moral man? No, he’s still immoral, and his notion of morality is wrong.

No, we don’t know exactly what is moral and what is not (though we do have a pretty good idea, in some cases). And yes, we do need to make laws, despite not knowing exactly what is moral in all cases. So what we need to do is to try to decide as best we can what is moral, and base our laws on that. If our understanding of a particular aspect of morality improves, then of course we can and should then change the laws. And even now, there are cases where a moral action is illegal, or vice-versa, so we should change those laws.
Quoth WhyNot:

I’m curious what your definition of “morals” is, if you think that the idea of helping people or of not hindering them, or protecting their rights (and for that matter, what are their rights?), is somehow beyond the scope of morality. I’m also curious about your definition of “ethics”, and how exactly they differ from morals: I do see a distinction between the two, but I get the impression that I don’t use the word the same way you do.

I am joining in over here…good idea, Whynot, to start a new thread. Didn’t mean to completely hijack the old one…

Just to start off, an answer to something jsgoddess said to me over on the other thread…

I don’t believe in screaming! :slight_smile: I have some very definite opinions on this & other subjects, but I don’t believe that people who disagree with me are evil, or stupid. So, I try to approach it from that viewpoint. Besides, I really don’t believe that anything said here has much possibility of changing anyone’s mind…the most we can hope for is to try to understand where the other side is coming from. This is why I asked the question in the first place.

Anyway, I read the article, and it was very interesting. However, I still believe the conclusion is wrong. First, I want to re-post something else I said in the previous thread, because I think it is relevant here…

First of all, the article makes the statement that a fertilized egg is no different from a sperm cell or egg cell separately, in terms of its potential to be a baby. As I said above, this makes no sense to me. The fertilized egg WILL BE a baby, if it is healthy and nothing interferes with it, but an egg by itself or a sperm by itself will NEVER be a baby. Saying again and again that the zygote is a “potential” person does not erase the fact that it will be a person…it is biological destiny. The assertion that “most” fertilized eggs are never implanted is 1) suspect…I don’t know if “most” are, and they do not cite a statistic, if there even is one, and 2) irrelevant, because a fertilized egg that does not implant is not what we are talking about…if it doesn’t implant, there is no need for an abortion. A fertilized egg that does not implant does is not destined to become a person, but one that does IS destined to become a person (using “destiny” again in the biological sense).

Also, I think their search for a “uniquely human characterisitic” is a little remiss…they skipped over a huge one without even a mention…human DNA. I think my OB/Gyn would have been pretty startled if he did an amnio on me and discovered my baby had horse DNA! These kinds of tests clearly show not only that a fetus will be a person, but even what type of person they will be…male, female, black, white…whatever. And as far as the characteristic of looking like a person…I can never really get past the fact that even women who have had an abortion, when given the opportunity to see an ultrasound of their wanted baby at 8 weeks gestation, will still call it “my baby” and show the picture to people, even though it looks like a tadpole. So, I don’t think the fact that it doesn’t have the characteristic of *looking * human at that stage is relevant.

Finally, I don’t like their conclusion that human thought is the relevant turning point into “personhood.” To me, it is too much of a slippery slope, that this criteria will also be applied to people after they are born. The presence or absence of brainwaves is problematic enought…some babies are born with nothing but a brain stem…is it ok to kill these babies? But calling it “thought” REALLY bothers me…do severely retarded babies live up to the lofty claim of “human thought” that separates us from the animals? So is it OK to kill these people, too?

So, again, thank you for the article…it gave me the insight I was seeking into the logic used by the pro-choice side, but it also actually reinforced my own opinion.

Just laws are based on justice, not morality or mortality or technology. It is illegal to steal or murder because they are crime; they deny peaceful pursuit for the victim.

Likewise it is a crime for anyone to use another’s body without permission. There is no morality in the denial of that right; no matter the law.

You have the right to close your doors from intruders; you have the right to expel them from your home even if you leave your door open in a “bad” neighborhood. You have even stronger rights to your bodies and health.

I do not think it wise to give up the rights to your body on the basis of “morality”. I am sure there is someone that could use your organs or blood. Would you have us set up a national database of tissue types? Then those that would otherwise die can instead take away even your liberty. After all, it seems the “moral” thing to do.

The truth is that mankind has only authority to secure equal rights to peace through regulation and justice. Morality and sins fall only under the authority of god.

Please try to remember this concept as “separation of church and state”.

Peace only through Liberty

To me, morals are individual rules for right and wrong. Ethics are the overarching principals that help us determine what is right and wrong.

“It is wrong to kill” or “Killing in the defense of the weak is good” - morals
“Quality of life should be protected” or “National security is important” - ethics

Once we arrive at an ethic, or set of ethical principles, we can use them to determine morals - but because there are conflicting ethical principles, people may weigh each differently when determining what is moral. For example, “Quality of life should be protected” and “National security is important”: if I weigh the first as more important, I will determine it immoral to use chemical weapons on my enemy, because they would greatly reduce the quality of life of any survivors. If I weigh the second more important, I will determine it moral to use chemical weapons, because they are good at killing a lot of enemies with little danger to my own troops.

In a colloquial sense, morals are between you and God or you and your conscience. Ethics are between you and everyone else. These are the definitions I was referring to when I said that I don’t think laws should be made on the basis of morality, but would accept them on the basis of ethics. We shouldn’t outlaw abortion because it’s a moral wrong (because that’s between a person and her god or her conscience, and she may be weighing conflicting ethical principles differently than I would), but it might be more acceptable to outlaw abortion on the grounds of human rights for the unborn child.

But frankly, abortion is one topic I don’t think should be legislated even by ethical standards. I think the government should just butt the hell out until it’s possible that they might get a citizen out of the whole process: at viability. Only then do they have any sort of vested interest in the contents of my uterus - not when it’s a potential child, but when it’s a living, breathing actual child.

And justice is based on morality.

Some say that you can’t legislate morality. I say that morality is the only thing that one can rightfully legislate. Any law that is not ultimately based on principles of right vs. wrong are either capricious or unjust.

I should have ended my earlier post, explaining my feelings about the question at hand…what should abortion law be based on? IMO, it should be based on science and ethics…the science part is my feeling/understanding that the fetus/baby IS a human, not a “potential human,” based on its genetic makeup, and the ethics part is our generally accepted ethical rule in our culture that it is wrong to kill innocent humans.

I guess we disagree. I don’t think the woman’s right to choose is an arbitrary measure, and I think she should have that right until the baby is delivered.

I’m as pro-choice as they come, but I can’t see how this is defensible. An eight month fetus is virutally indistinguishable from a just born baby. While I don’t contend that life begins at conception, it certainly begins before birth.

It’s my understanding that the ancient Greeks (and recent modern poor countries) allowed parents full control over infants. If a child was born with a deformity it might be considered evil and left on the rocks for birds to attack.

It is immoral for man to violate a persons god given right of equality in pursuit of happines. PERIOD.

I say use science to make the process easier for the woman.