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October 15, 2012



These are tricky issues, but very few people think we should be unconcerned about future, unconceived, people; worries about government debt or climate change are just nonsense if we take this view.

Are these not completely different scenarios? In the case of government debt, environmental stewardship and all the other legacies we leave for our collective children, it is a practical certainty that there will be another generation to come, and it's not relevant to the argument which children are born and to which parents. We're not talking about current rights of hypothetical future people, but of future rights of the people that will exist then - and the argument is not contingent on knowing who those people are.

In the case of children that I might decide not to have, if I decide not to have a child, that person doesn't exist in the future, and so will not have any rights.

It is a complete nonsense to talk about current rights of non-existent people in the way that you are attempting here.


Sam - it's not just rights that are the issue.
Let's say that abortion means that a woman has a child in future (child B) that she would not have if she had carried child A to birth. Let's also say that she is a better parent of child B than of child A - because she's more mature, or better off or in a better relationship, whatever.
Insofar as parenting matters, it's then likely that child B has a better life than child A.
Ptermitting abortion thus raises future welfare - relative to banning abortion, as it gives us child B rather than child A.
I don't see this is complete nonsense.

Richard Gadsden

Given that a woman has a right to choose, what precisely is the choice that she has the right to?

The argument that is usually presented is that the right is to choose not to be pregnant - forcing a woman to carry a child to term against her will is repugnant.

But this raises a question in respect of, say, a 36-week foetus. If the woman wished to have an abortion (in a place where abortion until birth on demand is legal), then the abortion would be remarkably similar to a Caesarian Section. So why not just entitle her to a Caesarian on demand, and then viability becomes an case-by-case question, rather than a general rule.

Now, a Caesarian on a six-week foetus would be a pointless risk, so a straight abortion would be permissible on this ethic.

On this basis, viability is absolutely a moral line - it distinguishes between the foetuses that can be aborted from those that have to be born (either induced labour or an elective Caesarian).

2. el inşaat makinaları

2. el inşaat makinaları


I think @Richard Gadsen is on to something. Ordinarily, my thinking on abortion is about 2 principles. One, that it is more wrong to force a woman to carry a foetus to term than it is to allow her to choose to terminate that potential life. Two, that the wrongs that logically follow from declaring a foetus a person rather than part of the mother's body (drinking alcohol while pregnant is child abuse, etc.) are so bad and intrusive that it is better to allow the mother to terminate a potential life.

But what if we said that it is the mother's right to give birth at any time during the pregnancy? Particularly if we could link this to a universal right to give a child up for adoption, then it becomes society's problem, and society's burden/choice, to decide who lives and who dies, since premature babies can consume many medical resources.

It clarifies the moral argument considerably, and puts appropriate weight onto the viability argument.

I also think that it would expose some of the hypocrisy/religious intolerance behind the anti-abortion movement. At their core, they are not only anti-abortion, they are anti-contraception, and ultimately, anti-sex. They long for the days when most every (young)unmarried person was terrified of having sex, because you could only get contraceptives if you were married, and getting pregnant was a nine-month sentence to unpleasantness for the woman, as well as an eighteen-year sentence to child support.


Most categories of recorded crime in the UK rose steadily from about 1945 to the early 1990s, and since then have fallen steadily. Did abortion become less and less available until 1990, after which it became more and more available?

Andrew Fisher

I think that someone who says that rights to life (or to an abortion) cannot be contingent on medical technoogy is probably deeply confused.

However if that same person goes on to say in the same post that an argument from religion is 'impermissible' and discusses the moral status of people that don't exist yet is clearly just trolling.


"Is it possible to have a non-emotional debate about abortion? Mehdi Hasan fears not."

And got very wound up about it on Radio 4 this morning, shoutily mansplaining that it's OK to be a left misogynist who frames their opinions in the language of the Tories.

What's sauce for the gander...


"This fails because, as Owen Barder has said, rights cannot be contingent upon medical technology."

Sorry, but that does not make sense.

The right (not to mention the ability) to have an abortion itself depends on medical technology, as indeed do reproductive rights in general.

The right to assisted suicide, the right not to be resuscitated, the right to be treated when ill - they all depend on medical technology.

dave heasman

Abortion was legalised in Britain (not the UK) in 1967, and abortion numbers rose over the following years as the process got quicker and safer. So a drop in crime from the early 90s follows from this, I think, as crime is mostly committed by males aged 15-30. Unless Phil thinks that crime is in fact committed by neonates?


Difficult debate, and I'm not sure the arguments presented here add much substance to the discussion (it's almost a relief to know that Chris is not always of the utmost relevance, and thus human).
I have a strong understanding for both sides on this question, pro-choice and pro-life. What I find puzzling however is the compromise solution: allowing abortion only in case of rape or health-risks to the mother. If the rights of the foetus prevail, what difference does the condition of the mother. The foetus is not responsible for the rape or the health-risk...
On the other hand, it is very tough to forbid abortion in case of rape or health-risks. Is the State entitled to take such decisions for women? Not if you ask me.
Thus, in case of rape or health-risk, the mother should have the choice. Her rights prevail. And therefore, they should prevail in all circumstances.
This is just logic, but that does not mean one needs to feel comfortable with the act.


So a drop in crime from the early 90s follows from this, I think, as crime is mostly committed by males aged 15-30.

OK, my dates were out. But 15-30 is pushing it - I'd say 12-24, which would see the crime-reduction effect starting around 1979 and reaching its full extent in the early 90s, not starting in the early 90s and continuing for another twenty years.

People have debated this one at much, much greater length, but I think the verdict is that this particular bit of Freakonomics is Bad Science. As you might say.


I'm not sure that to view this issue in terms of economics is likely to be any help in reducing the polarisation of views.

To ask someone if they're in favour of abortion is to (really) ask them what exactly they think it is that makes human life precious. Those who believe that life is a gift from God will always oppose abortion for obvious reasons, whilst those who think it's sentience or some other "higher" characteristic that gives human life its value may be more openminded because - after all - a foetus, certainly in its early stages, can hardly be said to be sentient or capable of feeling pain. It's alive, but only alive in the way that a toenail or a mushroom is alive.


Abortion as a postponement of life? So if I had been aborted & there was some other guy here now that my mother gave birth to later that guy (or girl) is me?


In today's OECD countries, virtually no newborns available for adoption fail to get adopted. Women who do not want to raise their babies should give them up for adoption.

It is immoral to execute the innocent human fetus for the convenience of the likely irresponsible mother.

Morality is inevitable because, before the abortion, was the conception.
Which pretty much involved sex.

If the woman didn't want to be pregnant, she most very probably had irresponsible sex.

A lot of the morality about sex is about the fact that irresponsible sex leads so often to unwanted, unprepared for pregnancy.

To discuss abortion without sex is like discussing gov't debt without mentioning spending -- all too common for those who want more.

To discuss abortion without adoption is fundamentally unserious.


Whether externalities matter or not is dependent on the moral status of the unborn child. If someone decided to launch a strident defence of killing newborns I suspect few of us would be prepared to debate them in the terms of its societal consequences.

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