Vox Populi

If fetuses are people, do we care?

Subject:            If Fetuses are People, Do We Care?
Re:                   “Face the Fetus: It’s time for abortion rights advocates to stop denying reality
From:               Thrasymachus
:                Tue Mar 30 1323h Both sides in the abortion debate (Saletan included) seem to consider it an article of faith that if fetuses are recognized as having human rights the right to an abortion will be imperiled or possibly even foredoomed. This position seems reasonable enough on the surface, but, like so many arguments that seem reasonable enough on the surface, it’s fundamentally false.

That’s not to say I don’t understand the error; if fetuses are acknowledged as possessing any rights as all, then it would seem reasonable that they also possess the right to not be killed. Pro-Lifers have made this assertion so frequently, with so much conviction, and for so long that even Pro-Choicers seem to have long since conceded it. But nonetheless, it’s wrong.

I think you’ll agree that I’m a person. I have hands, feet, a law degree and a bewildering array of romantic entanglements and student loans. I am, in short, a living human being entitled to the full range of constitutional amendments that this entails. Moreover (although you’ll have to take my word for it) I’m an American Citizen and a mentally competent adult, which endows me with even more rights.

That means, for instance, that if I’m caught in a snowstorm and I’m freezing to death, I have a legal right to break into your empty hunting lodge and seek shelter, as long as I pay for the damages. If I’m piloting a ship and a terrible storm is coming, I have a right to tie up at your dock. Under the Constitution, life is regarded as precious, and my right to live trumps your right to be free of trespassers and damage to your property.

But if I should somehow find myself lodged in your abdomen (no, I mean ALL of me… and you have a dirty, dirty mind!), and if you, as a result, are undergoing massive hormonal changes, severe personal and professional inconvenience and a not insignificant risk to your physical health, then my rights in this position must be balanced with yours.

You might not wish, after all, to carry a tiny attorney around in a body cavity for nine months; you might not wish to undergo significant physical changes and risks to your health. And if I was to tell you that IF you let me stay there, then even after I exited your physical body you’d be utterly and comprehensively responsible for my well-being for the next 18 years…

Well, a reasonable person might possibly decide to decline. Not a monster, not a demon, not a murderer… just a normal individual with a life to live, or other commitments, or a lack of appreciation for punditry. And I honestly don’t think that I could blame you.

My guess is that if “miniaturization and random abdominal lodging” of fully grown adults was a common medical condition, the laws surrounding it would be complex and they would not assume that the “miniaturized” have an inalienable right to make use of other people’s bodies by simple virtue of their condition.

After all, the world is full of misfortune and misfortune’s victims. The law doesn’t make us donate money to shivering homeless people, send AIDS drugs to Africa, suffer fools gladly or watch O-Town in concert. Nor should it. And I suspect that most conservatives would be the first people in line to say so.

I might be dependent on my job for support; hell, if I had a family they might ALL be dependent on my job for support; but that doesn’t mean that my boss can’t fire me if he feels like it. His rights trump mine.

Our responsibilities to other people aren’t a function of their being human. Legal responsibilities are only assigned in the context of specific relationships. If I take you out on my boat, I’m responsible for bringing you back. If I accidentally shoot you, I’m responsible for finding you medical attention. And if I’m your parent, I’m responsible for keeping you safe, happy, healthy, well-educated and alive.

The question, then, isn’t whether fetuses are human. That’s a threshold issue, to be sure, but it’s far from dispositive. Even if we determine, as a nation, that fetuses are as human as anyone posting on this board, the debate isn’t over. We then have the problem of resolving what legal relationships apply.

In my opinion, only the relationship of parent to child would suffice to justify imposing the enormous, lengthy, and heavy obligations of carrying a pregnancy to term, through delivery, and up to college. So what we have to ask ourselves is: What does motherhood entail?

What must one do to invoke that relationship, and its accordant rights and obligations? At what point does a pregnant woman carrying a fetus become a mother?

Under the radar, that’s the real question society is wrestling with. Not what constitutes a “human,” but what constitutes a “parent” and a “child.” We’re not battling over the frontiers of life; we’re battling over the frontiers of motherhood.

Conservatives, ideally, would like that role to be imposed on women from the moment of conception. (The negative stereotpe of the conservative position is that at least some of them would like that role to be imposed on women from the moment of their conception, but I digress). Liberals, ideally, would like that role to be imposed at the moment of live birth. (The negative stereotype of the liberal position is they would like this role to never, ever be imposed, since it interferes with the overarching right of the State to dominate child-rearing and of the individual to engage in senseless hedonistic pursuits).

I think that in the final analysis, basic ethical and philosophical issues like “life” and “choice” and “personhood” and “rights” are a cop-out. That’s not what we’re really fighting over, and deep in their hearts, both sides of the abortion debate must know it. We’re not fighting over the moment when a lump of protoplasm (or, if you prefer, two lumps) becomes a human being.

We’re fighting over the instant when a missed period, a positive pregnancy test or a lump of protoplasm in a woman’s belly becomes her child, in her thoughts and in her soul. The heartbeat when she looks into its future and sees it enwrapped in her own. And whether she tells you by words, or by shuddering sobs, or by shy secret smiles; if she tells you at all; there’s no mark on that clock but her own.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Salon Selectives: “ Admittedly,” confesses Geoff in Fighting Words Fray, “my only assumed knowledge of the Al-Shifa episode comes from the reportage of Christopher Hitchens” in Salon. After rereading Hitchens’$2 1998 piece in Salon, in which Hitchens wrote… Secretary Cohen also admitted in the same statement that there was no longer any “direct” financial connection to be asserted between bin Laden and the plant …then reading Monday’s Fighting Words, Geoff is thrown for a loop:

And yet, today, Hitchens declares that a “strong Iraqi footprint” is to be found in Al-Shifa. He claims that “whatever the forensic truth about the factory may have been, the Clinton administration clearly regarded it as a front for Iraq/al-Qaida cooperation. ” How does that square with Cohen’s admission that the link was not accurate? If Bin Laden wasn’t related to Al-Shifa, if they were mistaken about that, by what mysterious process are we supposed to assume some credibility to the speculative Iraqi/Al-Qaeada link in Al-Shifa? 
Geoff subsequently pleads for a little help in the Fray, “Anyone know where Hitchens repudiated the accuracy of his investigation into Al-Shifa? Because if I missed it, I’d sure like to be brought up to speed.” To get Geoff up to speed on Hitchens, click here. J_Mann has been out front on the al-Shifa incident, both in Chatterbox Fray (here in response to ShriekingViolet’s top post) and FW Fray. Here, JM responds to Geoff’s query by laying out the tightrope Bush opponents have to walk in regards to Clarke and Al-Shifa:
1) If you believe that Clarke is a nonpartisan public servant testifying in the public interest, then I think you probably have to believe his testimony that, based on the secret evidence he has access to, it is certain that Al-Shifa was producing nerve gas. If so, then Hitchens, you, and I were all wrong, Clinton was right, and there is a very probable Iraq-Al Quada-WMD connection in the recent past.

(2) Alternately, if you don’t believe Clarke on Al-Shifa, then I don’t see how you give a lot of credence to his criticisms of the Bush admin.
Geoff’s reply to JM here is instructive, as is JM’s dialogue with HitchCrit maven, doodahman, that begins here. Both threads abut the right margin and are chock full of good stuff, such as ddm’s footnote referencing Hitchens’ “epileptic fit of Chomskyism” immediately following the 1998 attack. Over in Chatterbox, while BeverlyMann praises Timothy Noah’s assembly of the competing Al-Shifa scenarios, Thomas charges that “the piece ignores all of what’s interesting about the case: the supposed ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the dangers of WMD in the hands of terrorists, limited and uncertain intelligence, etc.” Thomas follows up here:
It is true that the piece talks about the reliability of the soil tests. But it doesn’t tell us what the Clinton administration should have done if it were uncertain about the intelligence. Which way should it have leaned, in a world of imperfect information?
To delve into the world of EMPTA and to sample the Sudanese soil, click here. The Leviathan’s Folly: Demosthenes2 can’t buy into the Unborn Victims of Violence Act on two counts:
First, it changes the nature of a crime based upon an unsupported supposition, namely that a fetus is a distinct person vested with rights and entitled to an equal degree of protection based upon an emotional appeal on whether there are: “two victims or one.” The fact is that rights—any rights—are granted by society and vested in its citizens. There is no such thing as “human rights” any more than there are “fetal rights.”… The second issue is that the legal consequence of damage to the mother and fetus changes depending upon the status of the mother, literally as a carrier, when she herself may not even be aware of it. It is one thing when the mother is seven months pregnant … and another when the woman is weeks along and unaware of the presence of the fetus. In such circumstances we prosecute and penalize DIFFERENTLY not on the basis of law or consequential harm but on the awareness of the mother of her condition.
ShriekingViolet evokes the Frame Game discussions of William Saletan’s Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War:
The partial-birth abortion ban and the UVVA are brilliantly conceived wedge issues, designed to force abortion rights advocates to make cold, clinical arguments about the legal status of the fetus that will alienate moderate voters. And it works, because of the fundamental dishonesty in liberal rhetoric about abortion.

Abortion is a hideous procedure that no decent woman WANTS to undergo. It does not end a human life in any meaningful sense, but it does involve the disposal of a potential human being as if it were a waste product. There is no getting around this point.
To square the juridical with the personal, respond to SV here … KA 2:20 p.m.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Department of Stovetop Apparatuses: Mickey Kaus takes a swipe at Richard Clarke for a “a clear willingness to mislead” (if not a “direct contradiction”) on the matter of his political affiliation by testifying to the Sept. 11 commission that he took a Republican ballot in the 2000 Virginia Presidential primary, but then fessing around on Meet the Press as a Gore voter in the general election. Larry2 responds:  

I mean, what’s this world coming to? Next thing you know you we’ll have bloggers who claim to be Democrats do nothing but tear down the Democratic candidate as well as anyone who points out the bankruptcy of the current Republican administration.

Of course, that wouldn’t be a direct contradiction, but it would show a clear willingness to mislead. Wouldn’t exactly encourage trust in the blogger when it comes to his bigger points, to the extent that he has any …
Arlington writes, “paint me hypocritical, because I did the same thing”—that is pulled the lever for McCain, then someone other than Bush in the general. A-ton is thrilled to have Kaus explain his“true motivation, to deceive somebody. I always wondered why I did it.” You Had To Go Rouen Everything! Fraywatch hasn’t showered any love on TV Club Fray this season, and with four of 13 episodes of The Sopranos in the books, it’s high time. Hail zinya for her weekly digest. (Read her primary threads on Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3, though there are several other morsels worth savoring.) Z had a good chuckle at the notion of Carmela jotting down Madame Bovary on her to-buy list as a novel by “Goosetav Flowbear.” For z’s parallels between Carm and the Mme., click here. Zoinks! From High Television to Low Television, Chris Suellentrop’s Assessment of Scooby Doo got some run in the Fray. Though The_Bell’s declared major in the Fray is politics, his deconstruction of SD (“Like a Dog to Vomit“) is something to behold. A Scooby Snack from the post:  
Yes—hard as it may seem to believe—Freddy and his little ascot were once meant to be the epitome of grooviness. The same was true for Daphne’s miniskirt and even geeky Velma’s neon-bright orange and yellow outfit. It was as if Pat Boone’s white bucs collided with Haight Ashbury and released behemothic psychedelic forces too ridiculous to control. Shaggy, with his loose, sloppy clothes, long hair, and goatee is the only vaguely authentic hippie in the bunch. And even he has more of an atmosphere of “neato” than “groovy, man” about him. Interestingly, while the iconic factor limits wardrobe updates and leaves the other three looking like anachronistic grotesques in more recent program, Shaggy—intended to be the freak—is just as unchanged but seems wholly apposite as a modern-day slacker.
Best quip in the Fray? Courtesy of wrongshore-3 (in a playful rebuttal to Suellentrop):
I would have got away with my inscrutable longevity, if it hadn’t been for you meddling cultural critics. 
Neato … KA10:55 a.m.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Subject: “The persistence of memoryRe:     “Forget Me Not: The genius of Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindFrom: Sissyfuss1
Date:  Wed Mar 24 1018h David Edelstein calls Eternal Sunshine the best movie he has seen in a decade. I haven’t seen it yet, but from the plot outline, it seems one hell of a concept. Like the best of science fiction, the story delves into an imaginary future, but only to confront us with timeless questions. Can we achieve happiness if we could selectively erase memories of pain and loss? Or do they constitute such an essential part of our being that shedding them will reduce us to soulless, cheerful zombies? That is a fascinating question, even though the idea will remain more fiction than reality for a while.

I think a major part of our emotional experience is constituted by recollection or anticipation of events, rather than consuming the present. Manipulating memory is not cosmetic surgery, therefore, but a triple bypass on our souls. Gotta be careful.

One of the essential conditions of enjoying a novel or a movie is that you, reader or viewer, have no control over how events unfold. A great narrative will draw you in, trigger identification and empathy, and unleash strong emotional expectations. You will ardently wish that Lara and Zhivago will find each other again. But imagine what fiction will come to if readers are allowed to customize the characters’ fates. Literature will die! Film will atrophy! Our powerlessness over the script is essential for our pleasure, even though there are moments when we madly want to change it. I am inclined to think that the same is true of life.

Even if everybody agreed on this philosophy, I don’t think the problem will go away. Erasing or blunting a single painful memory is unlikely to compromise the overall integrity of our experience. Imagine the problem of self control faced by a long time smoker trying to quit, and multiply that a hundred times. If the technology were easily available, can we trust ourselves not to succumb to a happy make over? I don’t think we can, given the great lengths we usually go “to forget.”

Social interactions will be profoundly affected if we could control memory. It would be too easy to fire people, to exploit them or break their hearts, or even to kill. I suspect suicide will be a lot easier and common, at least among the clinically depressed. If anguish becomes like heartburn, curable by popping a pill, our conscience is likely to go on a permanent holiday. What’s stopping you if you cannot cause lasting psychological damage to others?

I am not a Luddite even when it comes to our bodies. I see great potential in genetic engineering or cloning technology. But the idea of controlling memory scares the hell out of me. A designer mind is a terrible thing to gain. In the eternal sunshine, everyone wears plastic smiles, burying their happiness right next to where they buried their sorrow.

On a scale of 0 to 5, rate how extensively you are likely to use a technology that allows you to be rid of unhappy memories. 0 indicates total rejection, and 5 indicates fullest possible use. I am a 0.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Hitting the Clubs: William Saletan christens  Campaign 2004 Club Fray by posing this question:

If Kerry’s a flip-flopper and Bush is stubborn, which is a worse flaw in a president?
Geoff tackles the riddle with a Socratic query of his own:
Is flippery-floppery a procedural offense or a cosmetic one?
He then elaborates by reasoning that
It’s admirable to be stubborn and right. Dangerous to be stubborn and wrong.

It’s good to flip-flop if you’re in the wrong. Not so good to do so if you were right to begin with.

I tend to admire people who flip on account of compelling evidence.
Evidently, Geoff faces a pivotal choice as to how to spend his summer:
In the end, they’re both pretty mediocre politicians. So, reaching deep to find a rationale to actively back Kerry instead of just getting high and watching Cartoon Central for the next 6 months, I’d have to focus on the “character issue.”
Where does Geoff come down on the character issue?  Click here.  Most fraygrants qualify their responses by measuring the nature of flip-floppery and stubbornness. Here, GodOfWine delineates between “a weather-vane approach” to f-f, and a  changing of coursed “based on a variety of concerns and factors [that] prevents devious and disingenuous internal and external intrigue.”The Fairiazation of Masculine Iconography? “Much like the incurable diseases plaguing mankind a worse disease is infecting and destroying all male symbols of masculinity,” rantsmassaman in response to Seth Stevenson’s close read of the “Kindler, Gentler Brawny Man.” massaman is just getting started:
Albeit, they are more stereotypes than anything else, nevertheless, they are being eroded into feminine, wimpy, touchy-feely, symbols of the fairyistic agenda entrenched in the media. Will any real men, if there are any left in the media, please take a stand for the few remaining real men in the world? I implore you, please. The last thing you want is a real man, like myself, having to take it upon my shoulders and purchase one of these media conglomerates and turn it right side up, reeking havoc in the process…I will give you six months. If things do not change then Hell is coming for breakfast!
Shabu, correctly notes that “the old Brawny dude meshed with gay stereotypes much more neatly.”That Volatile Exchange Rate:  From the inordinately busy Dispatches Fray, regarding Girls Gone Wild, Evil_Burrito here:
Hats? They strip for hats?

And all this time I’ve been offering them money…
More Club Fray Invitees:  audonben, yggy, JV-12, W_H_Sleeman, JohnLex7, GovernorJohnson, Marylb (previously, if informally, invited), RichMahady5, Patient_Observer, biteoftheweek. Many more to come .. KA1:30 p.m.