Tuesday, February 8

Reconsidering Mr Vellman's Arguments

Earlier today I took a rhetorical shot at Mr Vellman's essay on abortion, to which he points out that "I'm missing the thrust" of his argument. He asked me to re-read all his posts more carefully and take them as a whole, before passing judgment, not pick a (regrettable) phrase here and there to lampoon. Well, it's late, but I skimmed the previous posts and will make a less acerbic pass at his argument.

Mr Vellman's arc of argument travels something like this:
  • Liberals should loosen their grip on Roe v Wade because
    • It is a court fiat which could be overturned
    • Most abortions performed aren't the ones which are widely protested
    • Finally "there are legitimate moral reasons for restricting abortion after 18 weeks."
  • Furthermore the argument that the right to abortion is about a "right of privacy" held by the woman "does great damage to liberal's credibility" (Note: I'm withholding snarky remarks here with a certain amount of difficulty). :)
  • He then admits that his arguments will not find traction with those who hold against abortion on religious grounds, but secular objections to abortion are brushed aside by supporters who seem to view abortion in a "light minded" approach. Which I infer is basically that they don't take the issue seriously enough.
  • In the next essay, Mr Vellman informs us that the Conservatives ask when human life begins, liberals when the fetus becomes a person. (Note: human life begins at conception. The arguments ensues over whether that matters.)
  • As to the question of when a fetus becomes a person, he finds that your mental life defines you as a person.
  • However, based on his "similarity" arguments of today's essay, he doesn't even have to go there, because it can be found that shortly after the fetus stops looking indistinguishable from a chicken fetus, we shouldn't kill it. (Which is where I attacked earlier today pointing out that dehumanization is not a new tactic).
  • At this point in his argument, Mr Vellman has come far. He has entreated his fellows on the left, to retreat from third trimester abortions to 18 weeks (which he terms "quickening").
He mentions but discards arguments based on viability in vitro however not because viability is going to be ever retreating towards conception as medicine continues its march to a Brave New World (so to speak) and thus those arguments will get weaker as time goes on.

In my previous post, I had pointed out that the point isn't about when the fetus gets "personhood" or a "right to life", but that we should treat human life as special, sacred. A fetus doesn't have the mental life of an adult, but neither does a newborn. That's not the point. The point is that it will (God willing) become fully human. Therefore, from conception I believe we should regard it with special significance.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Vellman's point about avoiding "light-mindedness", but he doesn't take it far enough. This is why abortion should be illegal. Legality and morality are not the same. An act can be legal and immoral, and just as easily can be moral but illegal. I might argue that a father whose child has been harmed, if justice was not served, might find it moral to execute justice on his own. This is illegal. It may be moral. Similarly that a couple might decide that moral thing to do is to abort their child is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Just as the previous case, that does not necessitate society removing legal penalties for their actions. Those legal penalties will insure that one does not entertain those actions lightly. In a world in which there are dozens of ways to prevent pregnancy in the first place if even a tiny amount of responsibility is assumed before conception makes the case that "light mindedness" will be not avoided without the making abortion illegal.