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What it’d mean to be really pro-life

Emily Manuel is the editor of Global Comment.  She can also currently be found at Bitch on women in electronic and on the Twitter talking about snacks.

I’m pro life, not “pro life.” Or, to put it another way, I’m pro living.

One of the things that frustrates me as a person of faith is how limited the understanding of life is for the “pro life” movement. Pro-life consists, in its entirety, of the complete conflation of sex with babymaking – first, by making access to contraception as bloody difficult as possible, and second with the familiar attacks on abortion. As I wrote this last night, the U.S Federal government seemed likely to go into a shutdown that is effectively driven by the Republican desire to unfund Planned Parenthood. And since the Hyde Amendment (boo hiss!) already prohibits Federal funding of abortion, this battle is (and make no mistake, it’s not over yet), misleading GOP framing aside, about the birth control and cancer screenings PP provides.

With the flurry of bills this year, the “pro-life” movement has made clear abundantly clear how little they value the lives of pregnant women (the pregnancies of trans men and female-assigned genderqueers are not even a blip on their radar). Previous exceptions for rape and incest are heading out the window, as are cases where the pregnant person’s life is in danger. That life does not count.

But what would it mean to be truly pro-life? It would mean valuing every life. Every.

First, some consistency might be nice. If you claim to be pro-life, you can’t be pro-war, pro-gun or pro-death penalty. You can’t be talking piously about the millions of “babies” (ie fetuses) dying every year in the U.S and advocate whole-heartedly for the slaughter of people in other countries, or blithely ignore the number of shootings and accidents in this country. You can’t ignore the bloodshed that comes with policing the borders of this country, the white supremacists, the vigilantes.

You can’t be anti-environmental regulation. All those children you want to be born need somewhere to live, need food that hasn’t been polluted, need earth and ocean to be productive. Genesis/Bereishit 1:28 says “ Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion ” (the translation’s the same for that in both Jewish Publication Society and King James). So many conservatives conveniently forget that “replenish” bit and head straight for the “have dominion” section”—using that as an excuse to turn the world into a scorched-earth Mad Max nightmare (trust me on this, I’m Australian – giant killer kangaroos fighting it out with koalas for the last gum leaf, it’s not pretty down there). Some Christian conservatives like that word Dominion so much it effectively forms the basis of their religion.

And frankly, if you are pro life, you can’t be anti-labour, apologising for a capitalist system in which most products come with a human toll, from farms to sweatshops. 100 years after the Triangle Fire, it’s worth remembering that it was unions that made the industrial workplace remotely safe to work in, and as with the fight over contraception and abortion, the cost was often paid most heavily by women.

Left to the capital class and most of us would still be living in a Dickens novel. And with the racist for-profit prison system putting prisoners to work for next-to-nothing at best, some people still are.

Being pro life would mean fostering the conditions for life to fully flourish. That makes taking care of every child after it’s born. That’d mean having an adequate healthcare system, one that can provide for the care of people no matter how poor they are. It’d mean a free education system, not one based on coercion. Just last week at Detroit’s Hope Academy, parents were followed to school, arrested by ICE agents and taken away in view of the school in unmarked vans, for the “crime” of not having documents. These and a hundred, a thousand, other traumatising stories form the fear and violence woven into the fabric of migrant communities’ lives.

Being pro-life would mean having a politics that includes desire, that includes a multiplicity of desires. Sexuality is a natural part of life (remember, the “natural” was defined by St. Jerome in the 4th century as not sinful), and in order for people to fully express their sexuality they need to be able to control their reproductivity. Because raising a child is work, and not everyone is capable or wants to do that loving work at a particular moment in time and those people need to express their (G_d given, natural, evolutionary-produced, whatever you prefer) sexuality too. A patriarchy where heterosexual cis women do most of the childcare without giving them adequate support is not one that allows those women to flourish in every possible way.

This politics of desire – dare I say theology of desire – would mean being pro-LGBT. Some people have desires for the same sex, have different sex/genders to the ones they were assigned at birth. Stifling those desires, those practices, those lives, is anti-life too. For much of human history, LGBT people have had to pretend they were otherwise, and it has not resulted in happiness.

I know there are exceptions to many of the above, moral people who believe in life and honestly believe that abortion is anti-life. I think they are mistaken on that last score, but I can understand, sorta. But they are exceptions. The fact is, pro-lifers as a whole overwhelmingly advocate brutal, violent policies on every possible level. Freud talked about thanatos, the death drive, the desire for the void. I think the pro-life movement is driven by thanatos, because if abortion and contraception were made illegal, what would happen? Catastrophe. People would die. Hell, people are dying now. Never has there been a political position so badly named as the pro life movement.

But for those of us who do care about life, who do care about people, I think we should making this clear. Should be screaming from the rooftops. We are for justice, for safety, for desire, for love, for happiness, for lives that are filled with as many wondrous possibilities as there can be.

We are for life. And they are not.


  1. ozymandias wrote:

    (Although I’m interested in Catholic theology, I’m an atheist; Catholics should feel free to correct me.)

    Your argument here sounds very similar to a Catholic doctrine called the “seamless garment of life”. Under this doctrine, the church opposes abortions and euthanasia, but they also oppose the death penalty, war, environmental pollution, the rich oppressing the poor, etc. My Catholic school’s theology class regularly collected things for migrant workers in Immokalee and for Appalachian families; they told us this was God’s work.

    The exception, of course, is the church’s positions on sexuality. More progressive groups, such as Dignity USA, are trying to make the case that, hey, you know, gay people are people too. But frankly the church is fucked about that whole fucking topic.

    Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  2. Amz wrote:

    I think you’re also describing the tenets of several Asian theologies — Zen Buddhism, specifically, comes to mind.

    Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Permalink
  3. Lee wrote:

    I’ve heard two descriptions for the soi-disant “pro-life” movement that I think are much better: “pro-birth” (because they turn away as soon as the child is born) and the more in-your-face “forced-birth”.

    Frankly, I think the current scorched-earth, no-exceptions-for-anyone faction will do the movement more harm than good in the long run. These things have *always* been the logical endpoint of the pro-birth position, but for a long time the moderates — those who have honest moral objections to abortion, but understand that sometimes it’s necessary — could fool themselves into thinking, “But it would never come to that.” Now the closet door is open and the monsters are coming out, and a lot of people are having to think seriously about just what their position entails. And since I believe that most people are NOT in fact monsters, I think eventually they will come down on the side of rationality over fanaticism.

    The question is, will America be able to survive until they do?

    Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Casie wrote:

    it would be funny to officially change the anti-war and anti-death penalty movements into pro-life movements and see if it makes the right squirm. “Oh, what? I thought you were pro-life?”

    Or even pro-life for women whose lives depend on getting an abortion. we could call the procedure a “preemptive strike”.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink
  5. Brigid Keely wrote:

    @ozymandias, when I was at a (liberal) Catholic high school, we were taught that God did not demand needless suffering, and thus euthanasia was ok in certain circumstances. This was around the time (late 90s) that suicide was no longer considered a mortal sin, but the final stage of a deadly disease (depression) that hopefully one could diagnose and treat before it became fatal.

    Ms Manuel, thanks for writing this. It’s fantastic. Not to be overly nitpicky, but you have “Max Max” instead of “Mad Max” and that might cause some confusion for some readers.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink
  6. Nathan Davies wrote:

    Thank you! This is a beautiful essay, you’ve shown more clearly than I could the hypocrisy inherent in the socially conservative position in America.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Permalink
  7. Emily Manuel wrote:

    @Ozymandias Yeah, there’s a certain resemblance. I’m not Catholic, but liberation theology is definitely an influence (many liberation theologies were not wonderful on sexuality themselves). And yeah, the church is basically fucked up, it’s fairly safe to say.

    @AMZ Hmm in some ways, but perhaps not others? I’m not too familiar with Zen in particular , does it have the same conceptualisation of desire as a problem as in the Four Noble Truths? I don’t really conceive of desire as necessarily problematic or the cause of suffering, even unsatisfied desire.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink
  8. Emily Manuel wrote:


    Thanks 🙂 I’ll fix up the Mad Max thing now!

    Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Permalink
  9. Lemur wrote:

    I disagree that you can’t be pro-life and pro-gun. I own a gun because I value my life and my family’s. I also own it to help provide food for my family. I’ve never shot anyone, or even pointed my gun at another person. So how does that conflict with being pro-life?

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 12:08 am | Permalink
  10. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    re: “If you claim to be pro-life, you can’t be . . . pro-death penalty.”

    Um, can anyone see a principled difference between wanting to protect the life of an unborn baby (talk all you want about collection of cells etc., but at least at some point in time, it’s not much different than a baby that’s been born)–and, say, the best course of public action toward a convicted serial killer? Maybe that one has done nothing wrong, and normally poses little danger to society; but the other has done something heinous, and may pose something of a continuing threat? Can we agree that it is possible to make a principled distinction between the two?

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink
  11. notlaika wrote:

    If we’re assuming “pro-life” means a firm commitment to the value of all life, then no, you can’t be pro-life and pro-death penalty.
    I’m sure other people will be along to state this better, but it’s troubling to draw a line between worthy and unworthy life like you do. Even if the justice system were perfect and totally never *ever* convicted innocent people, and even if there weren’t issues with the state having power to execute its own citizens… yeah, I’d still be on the side of your hypothetical serial killer. Lifelong imprisonment removes the threat to society (you don’t seem the type to care if they kill another prisoner), and it’s cheaper ’cause of the appeals process, which is abso-fucking-lutely necessary to avoid executing innocents.

    If being pro-life means you think all life is valuable, being pro-death penalty means you think that some lives are worse than worthless. I’d say those are incompatible.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 4:18 am | Permalink
  12. XtinaS wrote:

    It’s a fetus, for Pete’s sake.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  13. Emily Manuel wrote:


    I guess I should have known better to make a passing comment to gun control without explaining it further.

    Basically, I think that most people in most situations do not need guns. Talking in broader patterns, guns are not only just associated with intentional violence but with a horrific number of gun accidents. I don’t think that actively arguing for their proliferation (which is what I meant by pro gun) is allowing life to flourish, no. And I mean, there’s a difference between a farmer having a hunting rifle and armour-piercing automatic weapons, you know?

    Guns can be a tool – I don’t have a problem with hunting (your family’s food being obviously life extending) – but in most circumstances they’re decidedly not.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  14. Emily Manuel wrote:

    @N’awlins Contrarian

    Yes, what Notlaika said. In the U.S. we have to take account of the really extreme racial biases in arrest, conviction, and death penalty sentencing. DNA testing has been vindicating scores of people innocent of the crimes they’ve been convicted of..

    Soo I would say that the apocryphal serial killer story is really a minor exception to a broader story which includes no small amount of injustice, and in any case, I agree with Notlaika that even in those cases that imprisonment is preferable to death.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink
  15. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    @Emily Manuel

    My point was that we cannot “assum[e] ‘pro-life’ means a firm commitment to the value of all life” because a person might have a principled opinion about abortion, or capital punishment, or any of these issues that is NOT a firm commitment to the value of all life, but in fact more complex and nuanced. A firm commitment to the value of all life is only one basis for an opinion on abortion. In this country, “pro-life” usually means in an abortion context, as the article itself says. But people who want more restrictions on abortion want them for a variety of different philosophical (and other) reasons. The pro-life movement is far from monolithic.

    I agree with you that our criminal justice system needs major reform on several fronts, and that capital punishment is intertwined with several of them. However, I’m not sure that I see a lot more injustice with keeping an innocent person locked away for life than I do with executing that person–both are horrific. And actually, those who are innocent but initially get the death penalty probably have a much better chance of establishing their innocence than those who ‘only’ get life in prison (or 40 years or whatever). But I think the circumstances under which capital punishment should be applied are philosophically distinct from whether it should ever be applied.

    Agree that the right to defend oneself and one’s family from criminal attack is one of the most fundamental rights–and for many, a gun may be the best (or nearly only) tool to do so reliably.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  16. Raemon wrote:

    While I’d like to agree with this post, I have to agree with N’AWLINS CONTRARIAN. It creates a strawman position and knocks it down, which would be great, if it represented what pro-life people actually believe.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink
  17. Minty wrote:

    There certainly is a difference between a hunting rifle, or a handgun for self-defense, and “armour-piercing automatic weapons”. But is armour-piercing automatic weapons what “pro-gun” people are generally arguing for? Looked at from a certain perspective, I guess believing that all life is sacred would require you to believe that the life of someone who tries to kill you is sacred too. Actually believing that *all* life is sacred, and being willing to kill, even to defend other lives, might be inconsistent. But, again, I don’t actually know what “pro-life” people believe about this. I don’t know how many of them are pro-life because they believe all life is sacred, and I don’t know how many of them are also pro-gun.

    Also, about that “horrific number” of accidental deaths from guns– according to the CDC, the only things that cause less accidental deaths than guns are bicycle accidents, accdiental cuts, and overexertion.
    The question of murders using guns is more complicated, but from what I understand, the majority of guns used in crimes were obtained illegally, so it’s doubtful that putting more restrictions on who can legally buy what kind of gun would keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink
  18. Em wrote:

    But is armour-piercing automatic weapons what “pro-gun” people are generally arguing for?

    Actually, yes. The people who are actively pro-gun argue for the legalization of firearms no civilian has a use for outside the shooting range.

    The people saying strawman are missing the point. “Pro-lifers” don’t actually say that fetuses are more important than people (though their actions belie this). They say that life is sacred, including “the unborn.” Emily is absolutely right in pointing out the hypocrisy of “pro-lifers” to act in preservation of only one category of life, while claiming the sacredness of all life to justify their activism.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink
  19. Alyssa wrote:

    I love this post. As to the controversy over pro-gun and pro-death penalty Emily was setting up a distinction of what the meaning of pro-life SHOULD be. That doesn’t mean there aren’t moral stances (like owning a gun for protection or thinking serial killers just maybe deserve to die) which wouldn’t fall under her definition of pro-life. Advocating for the deaths of some people (either those who threaten you or murderers) may be the right thing to do under certain conditions, that does not make them pro-life.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  20. sophi wrote:

    @minty, i’m not sure about the armor piercing rounds but i know that my pro-gun friends are opposed to a ban on extended clips. which msnbc hosts are fond of bringing up when discussing gun violence related current events. i actually haven’t asked them to explain how they think we should draw the line.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  21. Zatti wrote:

    No, this is a strawman that deliberately dodges the notions of responsibility and free will. One may engage in war against parties who are conscious and have made decisions that one convinces oneself are evil. The fetus, if it’s a person, is wholly innocent barring some “original sin” that the vast majority of Judeo-Christians don’t see as being something to kill over. Being essentially innocent, the unborn are more deserving of protection than, say, the serial killer that keeps coming up in the Comments here. That’s why some anti-abortionists are willing to kill abortion doctors; the doctors are knowingly consenting to termination of these innocent lives. The fetuses get even more attention for ‘protection’ because they have absolutely no means of self-defense. That’s why describing anti-abortionists as adhering to “brutal” policies will sound absurd to them; you’re advocating what they see as straight-up mass murder. That’s how it goes for these paradigms, unless you ignore context in order to invent yet another argument against anti-abortionists, presumably because you’re bored of making the all the more logical and honest ones.

    Monday, April 11, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Permalink
  22. johnny wrote:

    except the straw-serial killer is a person.

    a fetus is not.

    it is ‘innocent’ because it is lacking consciousness and the ability to have yet done anything evil. is a fingernail ‘innocent’? a tumor?

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  23. Sarah wrote:

    “remember, the “natural” was defined by St. Jerome in the 4th century as not sinful”

    I was raised by a couple of hippie Catholics, so the above quote really resonates. It seems so often the only voices from people of faith we ever hear are the angry, intolerant ones – which is why this piece is so, so refreshingly wonderful.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  24. the izz wrote:

    This is incredibly eloquent. Thank you so much for articulating these ideas. Because I am an atheist I sometimes have trouble talking with theists about being pro-life or pro-choice. Your article really helped me understand a theistic pro-choice, and as you say, actually pro-life position.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink
  25. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    @Johnny, re: “except the straw-serial killer is a person. a fetus is not.”

    Sorry, but IMO yours is a straw-man argument. By and large, people who agree that a fetus is not a person favor broad abortion rights, and people who favor major restrictions on abortion think that, at least at some point, a fetus is a person.

    The real question–the important one–is when is there a person. Take whatever scientific and/or philosophical perspective you want, but: is a day-old baby a person? Is it a person one day before it is born? What about a month before it’s born, when it’s highly viable? Onset of brain function? Onset of heartbeat? Implantation? Fertilization? The real issue is when is there a person–where do you draw the line, and why? Because once there is a person, that person has individual rights (of exactly what extent and parameters is broader subject). That is the real question, the tough question. Although there will always be true fringe crazies, if somehow (don’t ask me how!) intelligent, informed, sincere people could agree on the answer to that question, then reaching a quite broad consensus on what legal rights and regulations ought to apply would be comparatively easy.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink
  26. Geroboem wrote:

    @ Contrarian:

    First, what is a person? Not when. Not “what is life.” What is a person? Answer that with certainty first, then the world can start on the question of “when.”

    Second, when is a person no longer a person? When a person conceives, do they automatically lose personhood? When a person murders, do they lose personhood?

    Who gets to be a person? Can personhood be forefit?

    “Person” is a red herring. It turns the conversation away from “who has rights and what are they.” This question of “when does life begin” assumes that the state of being alive automatically affords rights. If being alive gets you rights, and one of those rights is the right to continue to be alive, why is it okay to kill anyone? Why is it okay to ask someone to die because there is another life possibly at stake? Who decides which lives are valuable and which are not? What standards does that invisible hand use to define the value of life?

    You can’t ask just one question. The “real question” isn’t “when is life” but “who has rights and what are those rights.” And if you can answer that a fetus has stronger rights than has a pregnant person or convict, then you’re not really very pro-life, are you? You’re just pro-fetus.
    Your position on the serial killer places more value on an “innocent” body than on a criminal body. But it also places more value on a potential body than on a living body. The battle of fetal life vs. prisoner’s life seems an easy one to tackle in your world view. But what is it that makes a pregnant person’s life less valuable than the possibility of a new life? What danger or threat does a pregnant person pose the world? You might say a fetus is defenseless against a medical intervention, whereas a pregnant person is only fighting nature and time. But this isn’t the whole story. The fetus is more defenseless against nature than is the pregnant person. In fact, a pregnant person must actively defend potential life against nature and time. Nature can easily kill or render non-viable a fetus. There is poison in everyday food. There is serious danger in everyday medicines. A pregnant person’s failure to eat enough can be harmful to a fetus. The fetus cannot survive / flourish without the active participation of the pregnant person. So what aspect of personhood does a pregnant person lose that it imperative for them to ensure the birth of an offspring? And what right does anyone have to decide FOR SOMEONE ELSE that their life is less important than their fetus’s potential life?

    Why should a pregnant person’s rights change when they conceive? Is a pregnant person a different class of person from a fetus? If there are classes of people, and they have different rights, can there really be such a thing as “personhood?”

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink
  27. Geroboem wrote:

    @ Zatti:

    “The fetuses get even more attention for ‘protection’ because they have absolutely no means of self-defense. That’s why describing anti-abortionists as adhering to ‘brutal’ policies will sound absurd to them; you’re advocating what they see as straight-up mass murder.”

    And you’re advocating what others see as straight-up enslavement of women. If the state washes its hands of responsibility for the health and welfare of born people (who need access to health care, education, etc.), but compels women to bear children, the state is essentially turning women into nothing more than walking wombs and tits. In this framework, women OWE the world children, but the world doesn’t owe women the tools to help those children flourish. And the world doesn’t owe women their own health and welfare.

    On the one hand, the state says “I care for all life,” and on the other hand it says “but I don’t care for all living.”

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm | Permalink
  28. ink wrote:

    I could not disagree more with N’Awlins Contrarian’s statement that “The real question–the important one–is when is there a person.”

    That question is, to me, completely and utterly irrelevant to the issue of abortion. I simply do not care, in any way, if a fertilized egg is a “person,” or if an embryo is a “person,” or if a fetus is a “person.” Nor should anybody else care, in the context of abortion rights.

    No born person has the right to use my body against my wishes, period. Even if they need my organs to prolong their own life, they are not allowed to use those organs against my wishes.

    In the context of abortion, I think it is essential to hammer this point home. IT DOES NOT MATTER when personhood begins. IT DOES NOT MATTER IF A FETUS IS A PERSON.

    The only personhood that is relevant in the abortion debate is the personhood of the girl or woman who is pregnant. If she is recognized as a human person, then she should certainly receive the most fundamental human right there is: the right to ownership of her own person. No other person, born or “unborn,” is entitled to use her body against her wishes.

    It actually sickens me to see how effective the forced-birth folks have been at reframing this issue, to the point where even “pro-choice” people fall into the trap of debating whether a fetus is a person or not.

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink
  29. Raemon wrote:


    Okay, first of all, I AM Pro-Choice. I (and I assume, Contrarian) are in no way arguing the Pro-Life position is RIGHT. The point is that if you are going to argue with Pro-Life people, you need to ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY BELIEVE.

    They believe a fetus is not part of your body, it is a person with rights. They (usually) believe it has a soul. They believe that killing it is exactly as ethical as killing a newborn baby. And if the number

    You cannot win an argument with a Pro-Life person by insisting that you have a right to control your body, any more than they can win the argument by insisting that you’re a baby killer.

    I agree that the personhood of the fetus is irrelevant. But I think personhood, and “rights” in general are not some real thing that we can prove and argue about. They are conventions we agree upon because we collectively prefer to live in a world where they exist.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink
  30. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:

    Absolutely, I agree that we need to establish what is a person. But by any normal criteria, at some point no later than birth (and by some people’s criteria as early as fertilization), there exists what most people would concede is a person. Whether you want to frame the question as what is a person or when does a person exist, really, you’re looking at very much the same questions.

    IMO, personhood cannot be forfeit, because it exists or doesn’t exist regardless of the person’s action, but arguably, a person’s voluntary actions (such as committing crimes) can cause that person to forfeit the rights that otherwise accompany personhood (“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, or whatever).

    Your use of “a potential body than on a living body” begs the question: what distinguishes a potential body from a living body? When in the normal course of development does this occur?

    Re: “Why should a pregnant person’s rights change when they conceive?” Again, I think this kind of side-steps the issue. If (for the sake of discussion) at some point the cells become a person (putting aside the question of why or when), then the issue is not simply the rights of one person, but the rights of two people. If there are two people, each with rights, then is it not appropriate to balance the rights of the two, as well as we can?

    Some of my comments to Geroboem also address what you wrote, but the stuff you’re getting at (I think) highlights issues raised by rape exceptions to abortion restrictions. If one of your kidneys is, um, ‘harvested’ against your will for someone else’s benefit, pretty much everyone agrees that that’s wrong. If you become pregnant because you were raped, then a similar situation results–your body was (and is being) used against your will. But the distinction–I know you do not agree, but this is just to assist in framing the discussion–is that because pregnancy is a well-known possible consequence of sex (even with condoms, the pill, etc.), a pregnancy from consensual sex is in some sense the result of the pregnant woman’s voluntary action, and if and/or when the cells become a person, the fact that the second person’s creation was in some sense the result of the first person’s voluntary action is somehow relevant to attempts to address the competing rights of the two people.

    I am not asking you to agree with any of this. I am suggesting to you that, if you want to understand how others see the issues, if you want to move the public discussion forward (instead of participating in mutual shout-downs and pure power politics), then understanding other perspectives on the issues could be useful.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  31. Raemon wrote:

    >“Person” is a red herring. It turns the conversation away from “who has rights and what are they.”

    With this point in particular, the answer doesn’t change. The Pro-Lifer would usually say that all persons have the right to live until they commit a crime that revokes that right. Even if they accept that people have a right to control their own bodies, when push comes to shove, the right to control your body is less important than the right not to be murdered.

    I don’t think “rights” can carry us all the way to a useful morality, because there are circumstances where rights conflict with other rights, and then you have to make a judgment call about which is more important. If your judgment is based on your gut reaction, then your opinion isn’t any more valid than that of a Pro-Lifer. If your judgment is based on careful analysis of various factors, then I think we should be talking about those factors rather than the rights themselves.

    “Personhood” is a hazy thing and any attempt to distinguish it is going to be arbitrary. For legal reasons, we probably have to. The least arbitrary place I can find is “whenever the fetus has developed the ability to experience pain.” I don’t know when that actually is. “Development of the cerebral cortex” is an often cited point, I don’t know, or even know how to find out, if that is true.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  32. dirtydudley wrote:

    The personhood debate is B.S. Nature provides the inconvenience of the shoddy logic with the horrible circumstance of ectopic pregnancy. Damaged fallopian tubes can have a fertilized egg implant in them. These eggs eventually rupture the tube and nearby organs. If the woman’s constitution/inernal-mechanisms are strong/sensitive enough, they abort this aberrant (vis a vis miscarriage) pregnancy. If this does not happen, the woman and embryo will die. Does that embryo have a right to life that supersedes that of the mother? No. Why? Is the doctor that excises that malignant mass of cells a murderer? No. Why?

    Nature is messy. The rules that the conscious mind puts on it will fail: Ban on contraception vs HIV. Ban on mixed fibers in the modern world vs the modern world.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  33. Em wrote:

    The real question–the important one–is when is the personhood argument ever not a humongous TROLOLOLOLOL?

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink
  34. N'Awlins Contrarian wrote:


    I guess this is the way I see it: Do you want to win hearts and minds, to convince people who do not now agree with you to agree, to persuade potential swing voters? Or do you just want to say something that people who already agree with you will agree with?

    Because if you actually want to persuade people who don’t agree with you, you kind of have to be well-prepared to address any of your opponents’ arguments that might appear to some people to be colorably reasonable.

    I’m sorry you see this as a troll. Most sincerely, I don’t intend it that way. I do feel like the public debate is mostly people talking (or often, shouting) past each, not really addressing the most substantial points of their opponents. There are all sorts of thorny bioethics issues related to when does human life (or personhood or whatever you want to call it) begin and when does it end. To ignore those issues is to largely abandon persuading people who are skeptical of parts of what you have to say.

    But of course, if the level of the discussion is degenerating to name-calling (and for a while it seemed to be so substantive, so useful), well, I’m done.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  35. Em wrote:

    Concern troll is concerned.

    The personhood (OF THE FETUS) argument is a red herring that neatly disappears the personhood of women and other “can get pregnant” people.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  36. LilithXIV wrote:

    “And you’re advocating what others see as straight-up enslavement of women.”

    Yep, pretty much. Focusing on the potential personhood of a fetus as if it justifies taking away a woman’s right to control her body, her very life and the course it takes, because it’d be more convenient if she was instead reduced to a baby-making factory.. is pretty much just reproductive slavery. It treats pregnant person’s rights to their bodily autonomy as something to negotiate or entirely negate. It is designating a pregnant person’s ‘place’ as little more than a human incubator.

    And which side are pro-life people on when things like planned parenthood and universal healthcare are targeted? These things would benefit the supposed sacred persons right? Perhaps it’s not about protecting life after all is and is more about using women as a means to more resources. Apparently even if she would die, well that’s better than giving her an /abortion/ right? Or at least that’s what that nun who was excommunicated was told.

    Don’t you think women are a little sick of being thrown under the bus for reasons that seem to always lie in ‘maybes’ and ‘probablys’?

    Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink
  37. karen strait nesbit wrote:

    People are pious, some quiet and others not so. Most children are born out of egos and raised by egos. This does not make a good person. Keep egos out of decisions and we can live more openly and embracingly.

    Monday, April 18, 2011 at 11:41 am | Permalink
  38. karen strait nesbit wrote:

    most children are born out of egos and raised by egos. This does not make a healthy child. Keep egos out of decisions and this society will more open and embracing.

    Monday, April 18, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  39. Raemon wrote:

    >>“And you’re advocating what others see as straight-up enslavement of women.”

    >Yep, pretty much.

    My god people, nobody is advocating that. They are arguing that you should actually understand what your opponents believe rather than pretending they are incomprehensible monsters so that you have SOME chance of actually communicating with them!

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  40. Ainbthech wrote:

    I don’t know. Every single time I try arguing from a position that grants ‘ok, we’ll call it a person even though I disagree,’ and points out that they’re giving that person greater rights to a woman’s body than any born people have, we very quickly get to the ‘sex is consent for allowing that person to use your body until gestation is done,’ argument.

    Add in the huge portion of the movement that is against contraception and sex education, both designed to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. Add in the fact that only a fringe believe that rape and incest victims should be denied abortions. Add in the fact that they’re picketing abortion clinics and ignoring IVF clinics.

    The only reason they can still think that they believe an embryo is a person from the moment of conception is massive cognitive dissonance.

    I think we comprehend quite well what they think. But I’d love some better tactics for breaking through that cognitive dissonance. Building empathy for the women negatively affected by their brutal beliefs hasn’t worked in the slightest.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  41. biomuse wrote:

    I would have greater respect for, and even consider associating myself with, the pro-life movement if it would do one extremely important thing: Drop the outlawing of abortion as a goal.

    How any group that claims the teachings of Jesus as the basis for its actions can want to ally itself with the law (which is always coercive, always about the monopolization of the means of violence) in the case of something so personal and about which there is such widespread genuine disagreement is entirely beyond me.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
  42. ASSASSIN wrote:

    @ n’awlins – at least you’re up front about the whole “consequences” thing, but let me explain this to you. women can’t DECIDE to get pregnant. no matter how much we fuck and how much we watch our ovulation cycles and all that stuff. nature is actually set up pretty nicely that way–with humans having the desire to have sex independent of our fertility, it would be pretty annoying to be horny as often as many humans are and have PIV-sex result in a pregnancy EVERY. DAMN. TIME. RAIN OR SHINE. thankfully, pregnancy is not always (or even statistically more likely than not) the result of unprotected PIV sex. many times, fertilized eggs fail to implant. many times, implanted embryos are miscarried (OMG NATURE’S ABORTION!) because something is jacked-up about that embryo.

    so, putting aside the very obvious issue of the fact that even properly used contraceptives do fail on occasion (you’d call that “the woman taking rational precautions to manage her risk”), until there is some fucking switch a woman can turn on and off before each and every time she has sex that decides whether she will become pregnant with a viable fetus, sex—–>pregnancy suffers from a gaping logical hole you could drive a truck through. sex may be a necessary condition of pregnancy (but it isn’t even, with modern technology!), but it isn’t a SUFFICIENT one. all that biological shit that goes on between a sperm meeting an egg and the birth of a kicking, screaming BABY, is like, not under the control of the person in whose body that zygote may become a baby. this is a really, really basic point and obviously there are 100 other reasons abortion should be a protected right, but i just wanted to point out that basically arguing that “well, she had consensual sex, so she deserves to get pregnant” is like saying “well, he got behind the wheel of a car, so he clearly deserved to get killed in a head-on collision.”

    there is no actual difference between the kidney-harvesting analogy and abortion, but if you are concerned with punishing sluts, you’ll make up some angle and that is what the anti-choicers do. it is our job to break down this crap so people can see it for what it is.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink
  43. Lilith wrote:

    I’m not pretending anti-choice people are incomprehensible, I’m saying that what I comprehend from their messages is.. itself monstrous and largely manipulative. Or at least that’s certainly what it sounds like most of the time (Murder of abortion providors, nun gets excommunicated for giving an abortion to save a woman’s life, redefining rape, restrictions on sex education and birth control as AinBThech mentioned. There’s more, of course, so much more). Maybe anti-choice people should make their position more clear, instead of telling everyone else to ‘stop interrogating the text from the wrong perspective’.

    So I’m rather confused, Raemon, if you’re asking us to ‘see what they’re actually saying and believe’ but also to ignore what many of them have made clear what they are saying and believe?

    Friday, April 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  44. LilithXIV wrote:

    Uh, sorry, I accidentally used my old email for that previous comment (is Lilith) x.x

    Friday, April 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink
  45. Fergus808 wrote:

    Here in the UK (technically a Christian Kingdom),I myself & many like me, will phone in to complain if a (particularly BBC) journalist or newsreader uses the euphemism “Pro-Life”. We make sure that the correct term in the UK is anti-abortionist.
    I recommend this piece of praxis to all like-minded Progressives, wherever they may be domiciled.

    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink