Go Know Roe

You pose questions I have struggled with since I was a kid. Though I am not presently confessing a particular faith (I went from nominally Jewish to Episcopal, to lapsed when that church took a radical left turn), I had a naturally-occurring Manichean worldview as part of my childhood operating system. Early on, as I saw it, the world was divided into good and evil. I think the way good vs. evil can be taken into account (consistent with liberty and moral agency of each individual) is through a fair political process.

When it comes to abortion, the least bad thing we can do is legislate by majority rule in the states. My own belief is that abortion is always a moral wrong, evil if you wish. However, it is unworkable for a modern society to attempt to ban all moral wrongs. Early abortion falls into this category, as the individual rights of the woman exceed those rights which may attach to the zygote. This is especially so since the advent of reliable abortion-inducing substances which permit a woman (my view does not allow for the existence of pregnant men) to abort without involvement of any third parties like doctors or nurses - thereby removing this issue from “medical care”. As the important scientific realities exist on a continuum - and the state’s interest in the life of the fetus increases as the pregnancy progresses - I think the best compromise would be to ban all abortion through legislation after 15 weeks, for now. It may be restricted to earlier, should new knowledge of fetal brain function suggest it ought to be banned earlier.

In any case, thinking of abortion as mere “birth control” should be strongly discouraged. If we had anything resembling what used to be journalism, videos (which would be called ‘misinformation’) of ultrasound of the killing of embryos/fetuses - showing them obviously trying to escape the killing instrument (called a uterine curette) - should be made widely available. In this case, a picture would be worth very few words; what would follow would be gasps of horror and much silence. A less zealous defense of abortion would likely ensue, were actual knowledge of this reality of this barbarity to become widespread.


A corpse becomes such not necessarily when the heart stops beating, but when the brain function ceases irreversibly (with no possibility of temporary cessations such as hypothermia or barbiturate overdose). Death today is brain death. At this moment, there are likely several hundred living adult and child human beings on heart/lung machines in operating rooms or ICU’s, who will resume normal life because their brains are still alive while their hearts are being repaired or replaced.

This is completely consonant with my suggestion we rationally define the meaningful and legally-defensible beginning of “life” as the beginning of brain function. As I said, detection of heartbeat is simpler, but not unique to the individual, as the ability to transplant hearts from one (brain dead) individual into another (brain alive) individual, who remains a unique individual based upon his/her genetics + neurological informational content.


Yes, there are exceptions to the beating of the heart defining “life” – although we should note that those exceptions involve massive 24/7 external inputs to maintain that life in the absence of a beating heart. It is the simplicity & observability of a fetal heartbeat that makes it an easy marker for setting a line for when a fetus should be considered “human”. But that is simply an observation and a suggestion, not a hill on which I would be prepared to die.

What I am prepared to die on is the hill of Responsibilities. The drafters of the Constitution in the 1700s knew all about responsibilities – they were responsible for keeping themselves and their families and their communities alive. Because those responsibilities were so obvious & pervasive, there was no need to mention them in the Constitution. Instead, they wrote about the Rights purchased by observing those responsibilities.

Rights & responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. The question is – What are the responsibilities that women are signing up for when they assert the right to an abortion?


That is a good question! Sadly, as you note, the responsibilities understood at the Founding, to exist in counterpoise to rights, have fallen into - shall we say - disfavor. Actually, they have been cancelled by our betters, like much else of value and actually essential if one hopes to maintain a decent society.

As this first entered my mind, for reasons which elude me, I thought of OPM - for “Other People’s Money”. Immediately, I then went to the zeitgeist of the times in America, a palindrome (an anadrome, really) describing the new tribalism, as it turns out: “My People’s Oppression” or MPO™. Entitlement, a potent societal centrifugal force, has thoroughly replaced the original social cohesion which an ethos of Responsibility conferred. This was undertaken several generations ago via the ‘long march’ through institutions with malice aforethought by the left for the specific purpose of divide and conquer. It has worked as planned.

Today’s ‘equity equation’ goes like this:

              equity = MPO™+ ∞∑OPM .

Received wisdom, we are told demands “equity” - i.e. soothing the pains of oppression requires a ‘green poultice’ of other people’s money in infinite amounts (along with political genuflexion). Here it is expressed in ‘scientific’ notation, so it must be true. Anything else would be a “hate equation” (though math, we are told, is racist, anyway) or ‘misinformation’.


One day all humans will look Brazilian: Brazilian judge probed for blocking abortion for raped child | AP News


And this is why I hate both sides of this debate: if you’re so effing “pro-life”, who cares about rape or incest? And if you’re so effing “pro-choice”, why didn’t you exercise your precious judgment to prevent conception?

It seems to me our society used to feel, starting back in the 70s, that heterosexual coitus was so pleasurable it was …simply irresistible (like the song sez) and nobody could even be expected to think of the consequences at these moments of supreme abandon, and nobody SHOULD even hesitate when tempted to tumble into ecstasy—in fact, to do so would be a sign of “frigidity” and that was a bad, despicable way to be. It was wrong, cowardly, “uptight”, not to follow your desires.
(If you didn’t live through this period or you’ve forgotten it, please read John Updike’s “Memories of the Ford Administration”. )
Having sex, back then ,wasn’t seen as a “choice”, it was…”doin’ whut comes natcherly”, and that was a good thing. I think that’s why we got into the mindset that rational choice as to what to do if you conceive doesn’t become an option until after the fact.
But NOW, of course, heterosexual sexual relations are suspect ab initio. A mere “power play”. It is NOW despicable for a man to want sex, and it is naive for a woman to delude herself that she wants it. He thinks (or pretends) he wants her, but he merely wants to excercise dominance. She thinks she wants him, but she has no idea what she “really” wants because she is and remains a mentally defective incompetent well into her thirties.
Ditez-moi: if she’s so gormless she lacks the facility for agency to consent to, or refuse, sex, how come she’s the sole arbiter, (exclusive of even the father) as to whether the foetus lives or dies?
I’m really kinda surprised this is still such a contentious issue, when every societal attitude we now embrace is geared to DISCOURAGE and demonize heterosexual coitus. Gents, can you imagine wanting to get it on with any of those harpies wearing pants painted to look like theyre suffering a postpartum hemorrhage? Talk about a buzzkill…


It is a very difficult topic – probably because this is one of those situations in which we have to accept the “Least Unacceptable Alternative”, knowing that all alternatives are undesirable.

Perhaps one slightly less unacceptable alternative might be to require that – for any abortion performed after the fetus develops a beating heart – the mother is legally required to give the aborted baby a name and a decent burial; the aborted baby cannot be merely flushed down the drain or broken up for profitable parts. The woman’s responsibility for providing that decent burial is the counterpart to her right to demand an abortion. If the Supreme Court Justices look hard enough into the penumbra of the Constitution, I am sure they can find this provision lurking in there somewhere.


Gavin, your ability for clever sarcasm never fails to amaze and amuse me. LOVE the “If the Supreme Court Justices look hard enough into the penumbra of the Constitution, I am sure they can find this provision lurking in there somewhere.”

I don’t believe this is a “difficult subject”. We have had a “solution” for eons - that worked, and it is only the newly minted ”geniuses “ who can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag on a bright sunny day that have created the problem we never had.


I totally agree with your last sentence, Devereaux, but I’m wondering what, in your opinion, the time-tested solution is? The most obvious (do not f—uh, have intercourse) is kinda rough on married couples. So do you mean contraception?
(And BTW, I remember now that nobody who commented has answered any of the questions posed in my second-before-last paragraph of the OP: Should there be ANY time period, even a few minutes, after copulation, when the woman can legitimately seek to interfere with the zygote? And if there should be a longer period, should it depend on whether the woman knows, or thinks it likely, that she has conceived? Anybody? )


I think I answered that in the above quote. Scientifically, a unique individual becomes rationally as such and legally-cognizable when it has a functioning brain - specifically a cerebral cortex. That part of the brain arises over several succeeding weeks from the telencephalon, which, itself does not arise until the fifth week post-conception. So, to be conservative, there is no plausible individualized neural activity before the fifth week (and likely several weeks later).

Now, genetically, the individual is unique at conception. However, this is rather in the sense that blueprint or mechanical drawing is unique - not the unique structure or device drawn, however detailed the drawing. So, scientifically, I think there is a period before 5 weeks when a reasonable argument exists that - while it is still a moral wrong and given that enforcing a ban would be difficult, since the woman can take an abortifacient without any medical procedure requiring assistance - abortion could be deemed legal by state legislatures. That is my best, clarified, answer to this difficult question.


Yes I did notice that you addressed it. And I said in the OP that maybe the main contentious issue with Roe is that the initial 12 week period during which states can neither regulate nor prohibit abortion is much longer than it needs to be now, since now, anyone can detect a pregnancy at, like, two weeks, on the day she misses her period. What if the Supreme Court , (which will be announcing its decision any minute now,) were just to shorten the hands-off period from 12 weeks to 2 or 3 weeks? Or 5, as you say?
And why do you say that even before 5 weeks it is still a “moral wrong”.


I do believe I made an attempt to answer you question too. But just in case, I will be direct: No, the mother’s time to ensure that no pregnancy occurs after sex is BEFORE having sex. Use a condom, take the pill, don’t do it, those are all ways that women have to control the reproductive timeline of their bodies. But once the horse is out of the barn so to speak, you do not have the right to change that. I’m sorry to break that to you guys, but that has to be the only logical answer to the question. You cannot clean up spilled milk by putting the milk back in the glass.


Reproduction is a fundamental ontological element of our humanity. In the past century, we have already devolved to dissociating sexual intercourse from reproducing our species. I believe this separation has diminished our self-concept as spiritual as well as material beings; desiccated the sexual act from one of expression of genuine love of other (and of self), of human agency and of meaning; replaced that with mere pursuit of pleasure. In that sense, I believe we have made ourselves lesser humans. This descent surely has a significant moral dimension. Birth control, though, while it also diminishes us to a lesser extent, runs squarely up against economic and human population realities and can be morally justified, as I see it. It would be ideal to do so in cognizance of the likelihood we are forgetting the deep roots of sexual urge in reproduction of our species. Ideally, the act ought to remain somehow sacred.

To employ abortion as mere birth control, however, is to abandon all sense that sexual intercourse is, indeed - at least potentially - sacred and generative of our kind and of our selves. That use devalues every one of us and our kind. As we may assign moral value to any or all of our actions - individual, social and species - it is clear to me that abortion is immoral. It is surely not on the list of acts which can be listed as ‘positive’ or an asset on the ledger of possible human actions.


I think the question hinges on precisely when during pregnancy the “zygote” becomes a human being with a right to life. But this is scientifically unclear, as CW explained. If we believe that life begins at conception then all abortions would be a homicide. Nevertheless, there are some cases where homicide is not murder (e.g. manslaughter) or even completely justifiable (e.g. self-defense). So we have to consider if and under what circumstances is it justifiable to commit homicide in the womb?

In his theory of “evictionism”, which I mentioned above, Walter Block makes an analogy between pregnancy and trespass on private property. He says the fetus is like a trespasser on the woman’s private property. The woman does not have a right to kill the baby, for the baby has a right to life, but because she owns her womb, she has a right to evict the baby from it. The woman’s property rights existed before the baby trespassed into her womb, so it is justifiable to evict the baby even if the baby is necessarily killed. Block writes,

The position put forth here, in contrast, is one of eviction not of killing. However, if the only way to evict is by killing the fetus, then the woman’s right to her property - that is, her womb - must be held above the valuable life of the fetus.

Therefore, abortion is allowed only if there exists no “gentler” way of removing the fetus that would allow the baby to live. This is how Block arrives at the conclusion that abortion is permissible until the unborn baby is viable outside of the womb. But this conclusion has problems, including, as John pointed out, that fetal viability is “a continuum, not a step function as writers of law might wish”.

I do not agree with Block’s characterization of the unborn child as a trespasser. A woman of reproductive age knows there is a non-zero chance of pregnancy if she engages in consensual sex, regardless of what method of birth control is used. I propose the following analogy to help answer the question: Suppose you own a ship and you invite a friend to join you on a voyage to sail the seven seas. The voyage will last nine months. Do you, at any point during the voyage, have a right to throw your friend overboard, without a life jacket, so he will certainly drown? Of course not, you must endure your friend’s company, however uncomfortable, for the entire voyage or until you can deposit him safely at a port. You will observe that my analogy leaves no possibility for a moral abortion. Throwing your friend overboard even one day into the voyage would be murder.



I totally agree with your last sentence, Devereaux, but I’m wondering what, in your opinion, the time-tested solution is? The most obvious (do not f—uh, have intercourse) is kinda rough on married couples. So do you mean contraception?

In my ‘youf’ women controlled sex. They could choose to have it or not. IF they got pregnant, the boy was kind of obligated to marry her and make the kid legitimate. Caused the boy to have at least some fleeting questions about what he was doing.

Then about the time I went to the service, woman suddenly were obligated to have sex, or they were a “cold bitch”. Sex was everywhere, and the value of women fell. Indeed, I am surprised the world’s oldest profession survived, at least here.

NOW we have come full circle and the women again control sex - but in such a way as to terrorize the boys. So now you don’t have to marry the girl - you go to jail for rape - EVEN when she wished to have sex but then at some later date, for no apparent reason, decided she hadn’t really wanted sex. THIS is a sure way to see to it that the propagation of the species dies.


So it seems like the answer at which CW, Dev and Robert all arrive is that the sexual act should never be divorced from its purpose: reproduction.
Dev, you are describing exactly the cultural 70s phenom I described in my comment 35 . Some people say the widespread availability of the Pill was responsible for it all.
But CW takes into account the reality that it may just not be practical economically for a married woman to just go on getting pregnant every year from the honeymoon until menopause.

Recently I read two novels (in verse!) written in the 1950s. Y’know, the impression I get is that back then,people didn’t view having children as an economic liability. As long as they were at the minimal threshold where they weren’t worried a bout food, they just decided to have more kids based on whether they liked being parents. They didn’t expect the kids to live any more expensively than they themselves were doing. And as for the kids, they had no choice. Paul Johnson says the greatest change that marked modernity is that everybody, even children, became consumers. Children were encouraged to and did demand certain items in clothing, toys, and of course take it for granted that their parents would pay for higher education. Whether or not to fulfill the primary, and yes, sacred, duty of all adult organisms—reproduction of the species—is now reduced to a mere monetary calculation.


I think there are bigger factors that you might be missing. For one, much of the American population was still pretty rural and agricultural prior to WWII. Farms in that age required massive amounts of manual labor. You couple that with higher infant mortality rates–remember measles, mumps, polio, etc. were decimating many toddlers each year prior to the 60s–and you create a tremendous incentive to have 8, 9, 12 kids. Go back an look at some old photos from the post-Civil War era. They weren’t having that many kids back then because there wasn’t Roe. They were having so many kids to help on the farm or go to work in the city some how to help bring money into the family. You mentioned the thought of children being an economic burden, hell, back then children were an economic necessity for many families. I just think it is another example of the “American People” having a different view of society than what was thrust upon us in the 60s and 70s and certainly from what that view is today. Back then, at least this is my sense of situation, people were not looking to live MTV Roadrules all through life. Now, every damned day needs to be Instagramable and MTV Springbreak until they reach 80. Living in the moment means you are not living for the future. A people not willing to prepare for the future will not be around to inherit it. Mark Steyn has a similar saying.


Also my answer to your question is more like sex shouldn’t be treated as a pick-up game of basketball on Saturday morning with your buddies. That’s what it has become through hook-up culture. If you are going to treat sex as a recreational thing, then no, abortion should not be available to you as a means of birth control.


That’s very true, that children used to be more of an asset, they could do agricultural chores from a tender age. I read somewhere that kids a young as three used to be expected to, be did, stand out in the cornfields all day like living scarecrows to chase birds way.
And, lotsa wives used to be an asset, too, back in Abraham’s time; if you were living a pastoral lifestyle you needed lotsa women and children to turn animal products to food ‘n’ fabric.
s’why I don’t think polygamy will catch on again. We can see by the plight of those poor guys, serial inseminators, who have child support orders outa against ‘em from like 5 different women. No one wage earner can possibly support all those households. But if (when) he can’t, he ends up in debtors’ prison.

Robert, you were born too late for the “Sexual Revolution” , but it is now (as we hear all revolutions do) devouring its own children.


IIRC in the early 1900’s, when a child was seriously injured at a factory, the courts gave the family something like $4500 for the loss of wages. That was big money then, when a weekly wage could be $10. A Colt Single Action was somewhere about $15 in the late 1800’s, considered a princely sum then, only affordable to gunfighters and gamblers. Oh, what inflation has done to us!