Monday, September 08, 2008

The Anatomy of a Bad Pro-Choice Argument

After noting she thinks believing “life begins at conception” makes sense to a lot of people and providing her own phraseology for how she would prefer to acknowledge this scientific reality, Jill at Feministe writes:
But here’s the problem: The fact that a collection of cells starts to develop when that sperm hits the egg doesn’t make that collection of cells a person, or the moral equivalent of a born human being. I think most people would agree — an acorn is not a tree, a seed is not a plant, and a zygote is not a person, even if a seed is a necessary precursor to a plant and a zygote is a necessary precursor to a person. The fact that about half of fertilized eggs don’t implant — ending the potential development of those early “lives” — coupled with the fact that there is no “pro-life” concern for all those billions of fertilized egg-deaths belies the idea that pro-lifers really believe a zygote is the moral equivalent of a born human being. The anti-choice view has always been more about controlling women and controlling sex than saving lives.
Here Jill argues the unborn aren’t persons or “moral equivalent of born human beings.” Her reasoning seem to be as follows:

1. A lot of people don’t think zygotes are persons even though zygotes develop into persons.

2. Approximately half of fertilized eggs don’t end up implanting.

3. There is no prolife concern for embryos which fail to implant and therefore die.

4. Therefore, prolifers don’t really think zygotes are the moral equivalent of born human beings.

5. Therefore, the true motivation is really more about controlling women and sex than saving the lives of unborn human beings.

How many ways does this argument fail?

1. Jill provides no evidence that there is “no prolife concern” for embryos which don’t implant. This assertion can be demonstrated false fairly easily. There are a number of prolife organizations who are opposed to hormonal birth control because they think it may prevent/impede the implantation of a human embryo. Prolifers have also done much with regards to preventing the killing of human embryos slated to be killed for their embryonic stem cells. If prolifers didn’t really think embryos (at the stage of development where implantation takes place) were the moral equivalent of human beings, why would they expend so much time and effort to prevent the killing and cloning of these embryos? How are controlling women and sex the motivation for saving those embryos?

2. The supposed lack of prolife concern for embryos who don’t implant is likely more based on ignorance than lack of concern. My guess is less than 10% of prolifers have any clue as to how many human embryos fail to implant. Though it seems to be an oft-recycled pro-choice blog talking point - the vast majority of prolifers aren’t aware of it.

3. For prolifers who do know that numerous human embryos fail to implant, I believe Jill is confusing lack of ability to save the lives of those embryos who don’t implant with lack of concern. What are prolifers supposed to do to save the lives of human embryos when we don’t even know if fertilization has taken place or if there is something we can do to make implantation more likely.

4. Jill fails to acknowledge that most efforts of prolife organizations deal with preventing people from intentionally killing human beings not preventing unintentional natural deaths. Prolife organizations don't do much to cure Parkinson's but that doesn't mean they think people with Parkinson's aren't the moral equivalent of other human beings.

5. Even if prolifers showed no concern, that wouldn’t necessarily prove we don’t think human embryos aren’t the moral equivalent of born human beings. Do individuals who do nothing to prevent the high rates of infant mortality in some developing countries automatically not believe that infants in developing countries are the moral equivalent of grown human beings?

6. Even if prolifers showed no concern for embryonic human beings, how does that prove embryonic human beings aren’t persons? If your best argument for why unborn human beings aren’t persons is because prolifers don’t care enough about embryos at a certain stage of development, then you don’t have very much of an argument at all.

1 comment:

  1. This is late, but Jill admitted that that argument did not work. My username in that thread was φιλοσοφία. She referred to her old argument as a "less than perfectly consistent and well-thought-out talking point[]"!

    Lauren wasn't particularly happy at my attacking her privilege, so she banned me. But what do you think of Jill's admission that one of her favorite arguments for abortion rights doesn't work?

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