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Speaker: Abortion: morality and health

145 Responses

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  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Iain Thorpe,

    I’ve always thought that free speech is probably the single most important right in our society and we are all damaged when it is restricted. Blocking someone on the basis that they might say something upsetting in future while letting others speak is wrong at a very fundamental level.

    There’s a big difference between actual free speech, and what’s best described as “the best free speech money can buy”.

    ‘kiwi_guy’ didn’t come across as a garden variety anti-abortionist, chances are he’s more like a self-proclaimed MRA of the kind who read sites like WND and Breitbart.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5415 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    It's perfectly possible to not be comfortable with having an abortion yourself, but still support the right of every woman to make that choice for herself.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    She is not ignorant, nor lacking in empathy, and certainly shows no signs of any sense of entitlement. I don’t think she would ever judge a woman for having an abortion...

    She sounds rather like a now-departed relative of mine. It was the realisation that people like her wouldn't be around forever that drove me to research my family history a few years ago.

    One day when I mentioned that an aunt of hers appeared to have died suddenly in her mid-20s in 1926 she surprised me with the revelation "Oh but she died as a result of an illegal abortion". It wasn't what I'd have expected from someone who I'd assumed would have been squeamish about so much as mentioning the A-word. Once she'd volunteered the story of how she'd discovered the truth I felt I understood something of the pragmatism behind her beliefs.

    While she'd been an infant at the time of her parents' sudden trip to Dunedin, she wondered why she and her siblings were given souvenir presents of the Dunedin Exhibition when what had taken place was plainly a tragedy. As an adult years later her mother revealed the truth to her, adding that the presents were because "We didn't want you to worry too much".

    So would there have been presents if her aunt had died in more socially acceptable circumstances? "People try too hard to cover these things up", she told me. "If it had just been about feeling sorry for Aunty at the time, I'd never have thought about it enough to badger Mum all those years later".

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young, in reply to Lilith __,

    However, that 'massive technological intervention' also covers a pricetag and in any case, it can't compensate for baseline areas of fetal development such as respiratory alveolar development.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    In the case of my family, it was my grandmother's sister who died from a backstreet abortion in the thirties. My mum is named after her. That's why I'm pro-choice.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Iain Thorpe,

    I've always thought that free speech is probably the single most important right in our society

    Free speech doesn't mean Russell is required to provide a platform for someone to speak. It's the government not persecuting you for saying things, and just as importantly, not persecuting the people who point and laugh when you do.

    As far as abortion goes, I've mellowed in my old age. I no longer go out of my way to actively endanger anti-abortionists, I just point out that they're at best wilfully ignorant arseholes. In the same way as "but free speech" is the weakest possible defence ("it's not illegal to say that"), "abortion should be banned" translates to "child rape victims should be forced to carry the resulting pregnancy to term and give birth, even if it kills them"... that's close to defining the top of the arsehole scale.

    This is something that affects my vote, and my support for political parties. I have (and probably will again), specifically donate and add a note with my donation when parties commit to liberalising abortion. Yes, including the McGillicuddy Serious Party. Even to the extent of sending Jamie Whyte a supportive note.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1193 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to serenity22,

    Great comment, and welcome to PAS if no one else already did it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Iain Thorpe, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Sorry I was working on the assumption that this was a place where all views responsibly expressed were welcome. From what you say only some views are welcome here. As I said at the beginning I don't agree with kiwi_guy at all. But I think that you manage somehow to morph compassion into intolerance. Remember he wasn't banned for what he had done but on the basis of some notion of what he might do. Anyway I accept that my comments relate entirely to my misunderstanding of what you are all here for. I'll bother you no more with the clearly unwelcome suggestion that views you disagree with might still be worth engaging with.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2015 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    Great comment, and welcome to PAS if no one else already did it.

    +1
    And thanks Joe for sharing that story.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Without wanting to derail the thread, it’d be nice if anti-abortionists put some effort into helping people who *are* born. With the huge increase of poverty in NZ, so many live human people are suffering. And I would have thought that'd be a moral issue.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    I could be wrong, but I think that was the original idea behind Birthright. But yes, I'd tend to think that anti-abortionists would better serve their cause by helping such organisations, and providers of contraceptive advice, so as to reduce demand for abortion.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Iain Thorpe,

    I’ll bother you no more with the clearly unwelcome suggestion that views you disagree with might still be worth engaging with.

    Of course they might be. But it seemed pretty clear kiwi_guy was trolling, looking for a scrap. Attempts to engage in debate were not taken up. Every comment, more insensitive misogyny.
    You might think engaging on that level is worthwhile, and there are places to do it. But unless you have a lot of time on your hands and a suffocating sense of ennui, it’s not worth it.
    Sadly, you’re "engaging" on much the same level: polishing a grievance and ignoring the many good-faith thoughtful responses people have offered. Next time try engaging yourself before flouncing.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2090 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Yes, except they don't believe in contraception either. Emergency contraception is "verboten" because it is an 'abortifacient' and all other forms of contraception, whether barrier or pharmaceutical are forbidden to conservative Catholic anti-abortionists because they abide by Humanae Vitae (1967). Mind you, that's conservative Catholics. There's a wonderful Catholic feminist pro-choice dissident group called Catholics for Choice: http://www.catholicsforchoice.org

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    That, and they make up mendacious factoids about condom and contraceptive reliability and safety. Anything to assist straight guys out of behaving in a responsible manner and assisting their partner in postponing pregnancy or childbearing unless women actively want that.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Next time try engaging yourself before flouncing.

    All of what you said, plus: pro-choice women and feminists are really TIRED of engaging in arguments with bad faith abortion trolls and misogynists. We read these arguments over and over and over again, everywhere, in every comments section. Iain, if you're still out there: we've reached full capacity with this shit. We can't take any more of it on.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Jack Harrison, in reply to Danielle,

    We have been debating abortion as the sole right of the female human for so long it is now painful for those who have a basic knowledge of human rights. Men have no say in abortion. Get your head around it. It’s not up for discussion anymore in any rational sense, it is an absurdity and a reflection of our true awkwardness to all things sexual,but with disgusting choices provided to our womanfolk.

    wellington • Since Aug 2014 • 296 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Craig Young,

    Certainly conservative Catholics don't believe in contraception, but conservative Catholics are only a subset of people who are anti-abortion.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Deborah,

    @deborah

    Yes, it’s a vexed moral issue, and there is no clear dividing line between human person / not human person. We’re fairly clear that a baby is a human person (Peter Singer <i>et al</i> not withstanding), and we’re fairly clear that a newly fertilised egg is not (various religious types not withstanding). So we leave it to individuals to decide.

    Thanks for that summary, it certainly is vexed. I would go so far as to say that our feeling that even a baby is a human are not universal, although they might be in NZ. Infanticide is a cultural practice born of necessity and although I abhor the idea, I can't argue against it on purely logical grounds. Being born isn't automatically a magic dividing line after which it is 100% clear to everyone with logical certainty that an entirely different moral status applies. A 20 weeks premature child is much less developed than a full-term one, for instance. I don't think that still being inside a womb is the only dividing line wherein some rights could be seen to cohere to the baby.

    Also, in the other direction, there's certainly some argument (although I find it extremely tenuous) that the potential child exists before conception. Which means many people see contraception as a moral equivalent of abortion - and that can even include abstinence as the form of contraception. It's crazy IMHO, but if we want to make limits, they shouldn't just be our invention with no account for the actual range of opinion on it.

    @george

    Limit cases are important, because they define the edge of what is acceptable. If we state that autonomy of the woman is a superseding factor from a certain point until birth, that is a moral judgement.

    They are, but I don't think finding limit cases in ethics can really ever have the kind of strength they do in, say, maths. It's much more about typical cases than extreme cases. To that end the limits you set are less extreme than what is possible, but probably capture something like 99% of popular opinion. It would be interesting to see some sort of density curve to get an idea of about where the population feels that the rights of the fetus reach the point of overwhelming those of the mother. The other 1% could be unbounded in either direction. Some people might think people never get rights over their parents, others think that you have a duty from the moment you can try to begin making babies. It would be good to know just how numerous such opinion is - I'm thinking a very tiny fraction.

    @Lilith

    Human is the species. But any old bit of human tissue is not a person.
    And if you start talking about “potential people”, you get back to eggs and sperm and not wasting them, which is clearly absurd.

    Absurd to me and you, but not everyone. I think that confronting them with their numbers might be better than attempting logic, because unfortunately logic doesn't work well here. Or, alternatively, rather than denying that extreme cases exist, you just limit the debate without claiming to limit the range of human thought. I think this works reasonably well as a discussion tool - you can keep climate change deniers out of a debate about what to do about climate change not by saying that the situation is settled (which invites trollery) but just that the discussion is limited and makes the presumption of climate change, and in order to be productive, will not involve any discussion at all about whether it is, in fact, happening. So George's suggestion is practical, since it does contain the entire range over which we'd normally call the process an "abortion". You might consider the things that happen beyond that range to have similar moral properties, but they won't require an abortion clinic, and under practical laws will not be called abortions. Anyone at all can practice birth control or kill a newborn baby.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'd be especially interested in the curve of opinion in the range of conception to birth on when abortion should be allowed. I'd suggest that it could only be a decreasing number - there wouldn't be many people who thought it was not OK at an earlier phase, but OK later on. The most interesting bit would be if there was any sudden dip point. It's probably not something most people have thought through in detail - I don't know what typical fetuses are like at various points, although it is very easy to find out. My gut feeling is that noticeably human features to the eye would be such a dipping point, much more than any more abstract scientific notions like brain activation. Viability might be another dipping point - the thought that the fetus is now sufficiently advanced that it could survive with care and eventually be healthy would cause pause for most. If I were forced to guess I'd think more people than not would baulk at abortion at around that point. But that really is a guess.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Certainly yes, but a very large subset. Much of the remainder, at least in New Zealand seems to consist of conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Protestants. And there are some undeniable denominational tensions between the two factions, which adversely affects the viability of the NZ anti-abortion movement.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Young,

    And insofar as viability goes, one crucial point could be the development of alveoli within the lungs, which doesn't take place until past the twentieth week of pregnancy. According to NZ stats, that's long after most New Zealand women have abortions. In the case of severe and lethal fetal anomalies, that essential physiological development might not be there, or there may be other factors such as the absence or lethal impairment of specific bodily organs such as the brain, heart, liver, kidneys et al in utero.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 563 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    the curve of opinion in the range of conception to birth on when abortion should be allowed.

    I'm almost certainly on the extreme end. But here's my OWG thinking.

    It's the mother's choice.

    What I believe is acceptable is largely irrelevant except for the purposes of having a discussion, with that in mind.

    There are cultures where children are not named until two years after birth because many of those babies will die - some of them because they were not fed because the family simply couldn't afford to feed another mouth. For most cultures that is a really extreme case - yet given the circumstances understandable.

    We now know brain development doesn't stop, ever, and significant changes occur well into the mid twenties. So as a marker brain development is largely useless.

    We know children born prematurely almost all suffer more health issues than those carried to full term indicating there is significant development of the fetus right up until birth - so that's pretty useless as a marker.

    We've seen medical interventions keep younger and younger fetuses alive to maturity and there is no reason to expect that trend to stop. At some point I expect it will be medically possible to keep a fertilized embryo alive to maturity. So that is a useless marker.

    In short all the things you can stick a flag in and say "this defines a human" are largely useless as markers.

    So for me, and this is only my OWG opinion, the only useful decision is at what point does the life of the developing human stop putting the life of the mother at risk. Up until that point the decision can only be that of the mother, they are the ones risking their lives and health.

    It is simply unreasonable for society to label that decision illegal, by doing that we are forcing someone, by law, to put their life at risk.

    But that is only my old male opinion and as I said irrelevant.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4450 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    There are cultures where children are not named until two years after birth because many of those babies will die - some of them because they were not fed because the family simply couldn't afford to feed another mouth. For most cultures that is a really extreme case - yet given the circumstances understandable.

    Something I noticed from family histories was apparent siblings with the same name. I assumed there'd been some kind of error of transcription until I noticed that subsequent Johns, Charlottes, etc were replacements for those who'd failed to survive. It's a practice that seems to have carried on in NZ right up until around WW1.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    What I believe is acceptable is largely irrelevant except for the purposes of having a discussion, with that in mind.

    The relevance of your opinion or mine goes way further than only the purposes of discussion. OWGs have disproportionate power, and in a democratic society everyone who can vote has influence over what becomes law. Hence my interest in such curves, and what thinking processes influence them. Even if you believe your opinion is irrelevant, that belief is itself an opinion, and it is highly relevant, because it dictates whether your voice will be heard or counted. You can be sure that there are plenty of people who should, in your opinion, have irrelevant opinions, but who disagree and are working hard to make those opinions heard.

    For most cultures that is a really extreme case – yet given the circumstances understandable.

    Yup, and I bet that any culture that is fine with infanticide would probably find abortion even more obvious and desirable. If it were available, I wouldn't be surprised to find their general opinion on infanticide to change. But if it were available I'd be pretty surprised if they even were in such extreme circumstances that infanticide would present itself as reasonable.

    We now know brain development doesn’t stop, ever, and significant changes occur well into the mid twenties. So as a marker brain development is largely useless.

    Not if there is some minimum level you pick as significant.

    We know children born prematurely almost all suffer more health issues than those carried to full term indicating there is significant development of the fetus right up until birth – so that’s pretty useless as a marker.

    It's not a simple binary, certainly. Premature is a question of vital weeks, with a steady rise in chances of survival and thriving. This is a moving goalpost as medical science rapidly advances. Even if there's no moment of certainty, it's possible to map the probability as a curve. There is a minimum that has ever been reached. This can and will change, but we legislate for now. Then there's arbitrarily chosen percentiles, like, say, a 50% chance of survival. Even full term babies are not at 100% - birth is one of the more likely times for a fetus to die.

    In short all the things you can stick a flag in and say “this defines a human” are largely useless as markers.

    I'd agree that binary markers are mostly arbitrary in this way, hence pointing out early that the binary of even being born isn't a priori obviously the most important point. But I'm not even attempting to make markers in this contribution, just to understand how other humans make their markers, or at least how they make their marker curves. Not because I want to stipulate how people should think, but because I want to understand how they do think. It seems like a good angle when trying to decide how to influence them to my actual opinion, and it is, obviously, vitally important to the practical matter of how our laws come to be. Even if there is objective morality, not just subjective or cultural, we still face the problem of how to make it happen, and in NZ that unfortunately involves convincing a hell of a lot of OWGs.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch, in reply to BenWilson,

    Even if there is objective morality, not just subjective or cultural, we still face the problem of how to make it happen, and in NZ that unfortunately involves convincing a hell of a lot of OWGs.

    And plenty of OWW.

    I'm convinced that there is a consensus to allow safe and accessible abortion. The curve that Ben has described is real. The first few weeks, and the months after that, are at the top end of that support curve. Of course there are going to be people who oppose even at that point, but they are immaterial to this debate.

    But if you don't define your terms, you create an absence. That allows the opposition to frame the debate and fill the 'facts' they want, and means that politicians are operating in a position of uncertainty. They hate that, and won't respond favourably even if they are on your side - as I'm sure that a majority are.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

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