Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, March 11, 2005

Unwanted Houseguests, Negligent Drivers

To me, the abortion argument must deal with difficult counter-arguments, but my position is clear because it is founded on eternal truths and modern science. To a pro-abortionist, however, the arguments are much more complex. If you want a long and enlightening read on the matter, here are two posts.

At Agoraphilia, Glen Whitman writes with a lawyer's mind why every abortion analogy, like "The Unwanted Houseguest" and "The Negligent Driver," fails the logic test. He concludes:
So in my opinion, all the analogies fail. They can still be of use, however, because they highlight all the relevant considerations. A woman does have a property interest in her body, but property interests are sometimes defeasible (as the necessity cases demonstrate). A woman does create the risk of pregnancy (at least if the sex is consensual), but creation of a risk does not imply consent to all possible consequences. Pregnancy does put a fetus in a precarious situation, but not a situation that can sensibly be characterized as harm relative to the alternative of non-existence. A reasonable answer to the abortion question has to take all of the above into account. (And I should emphasize, again, that all of these analogies assume for the sake of argument that the life in question is a legally relevant one.)
Then his "erstwhile roommate," Julian Sanchez, responds at Notes from the Lounge, stating both his bias and his premise clearly at the outset:
I don't think fetuses are persons or that they have any rights, and you don't need elaborate thought experiments to explain why you're not obligated to play host to a tapeworm under any circumstances. Still, plenty of interesting debate proceeds on the assumption that, if not from the instant of conception then at any rate sometime well before birth, the fetus is person-like enough to have either full blown rights or close enough to create a realmoral issue. For the sake of the rest of the post, I'll assume that counterfactual. Suppose that at some point the fetus does become sufficiently personlike that we want to attribute rights to it, and we want to know how to regard abortion past that point: What then?
Despite relegating the fetus' existence to of no more significance than the tapeworm's -- they're both just parasites, after all -- Sanchez does some heavy mental lifting to fill in around the edges of his roomies' deconstruction of the abortion analogies. But in the end, moral relativism gives him no firm ground on which to stand, and he comes breathlessly close to admitting that there is no moral justification for abortion:
Our ordinary analogies won't work for abortion. Not just because a houseguest isn't like a fetus in the womb, but because the ordinary concepts we fall back on when thinking about obligation—agreement (whether implicit or explicit) or harm (defined relative to some baseline)—aren't applicable. Intuitively, creating a rights-bearing entity entails some kind of obligation to the creative being, but our intuitive categories of obligation don't fit the case well.
His intuitive categories struggle to make the case fit; mine let it fit comfortably, as comfortably as a fetus in a womb.