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Does a Woman Have a Right to an Abortion?

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  • paul
    Thanks Eric for admitting me to the group. I was browsing Ayn Rand sites and stumbled on the Lawrence University Students of Objectivism site. I particularly
    Message 1 of 6 , Nov 15, 2004
      Thanks Eric for admitting me to the group. I was browsing Ayn Rand
      sites and stumbled on the Lawrence University Students of Objectivism
      site. I particularly noticed the essay titled "Does a Woman Have a
      Right to an Abortion?" (see:
      http://www.lawrence.edu/sorg/objectivism/abortion.html ). I've been an
      Objectivist and a fan of Ayn Rand for the past 20 years, however, as
      near as I can tell there are some holes in the Objectivist philosophy,
      or at least in the arguments presented in this essay.I wanted to
      comment and see what other objectivists think.

      Point 1:
      The essay states:

      "The only problem I have is seeing why the obvious fact of the living,
      breathing woman doesn't similarly justify infanticide". The answer to
      this question is simple; infanticide is clearly murder that requires
      an active action by the murderer. A more difficult question is why
      isn't child neglect justified, especially when it results in the death
      of the child?

      Under strict Objectivism, a child has no claim on the altruism of the
      parent, except in an emergency. In The Ethics of Emergencies (Ayn Rand
      1963), Ayn states "What, than should one properly grant to strangers?
      The generalized respect and good will which one should grant to a
      human being in the name of the potential value he represents -- until
      and unless he forfeits it." and "It is on the ground of that
      generalized good will and respect for the value of human life that one
      helps strangers in an emergency -- and only in an emergency". Ayn also
      describes emergencies as "an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in
      time, that creates conditions under which human survival is
      impossible".

      Argument 1a: Clearly the early years of a child's life without
      parental protection would fall under this definition of an emergency.

      Argument 1b: A child is not a stranger to the parent and therefore
      should be accorded (at least) the same respect one would grant to a
      stranger.

      Point 2:
      The essay further states:

      "There is simply no basis on which to assign rights to the unborn.
      Individual rights can only be possessed by individual entities. The
      fetus is a physical part of the body of a woman. Thus it is she that
      has the right; she is the actual, individuated entity.

      Individual rights can only be possessed by individual living entities.
      Life is a process of self-sustaining, self-generated action. The fetus
      does not sustain itself, the mother does. She is the only living
      entity to speak of."

      and:

      "Is the decision to draw the line between rights-bearers and
      non-rights-bearers at birth a similar matter of
      principle--epistemological principle? Is it a judgment we would make
      due to the existence of the _tiniest_ degree of rationality in the
      fetus--no matter how small--just as we would reject the tiniest degree
      of altruism in ethics?"

      Argument 2a: In this age of medical science, logic just doesn't
      support this premise. The point of birth can be induced early, but
      there is no reason to believe that rights can be granted early. If
      rights are granted at birth and birth is induced early, then the
      granted rights must already be in place before birth. I agree that the
      fetus is not conceived with human status, but gains this status at
      some point between conception and birth. Logic and science have not
      yet determined at what point the fetus becomes human.

      Argument 2b: To arbitrarily select birth as the point at which the
      fetus obtains human rights is unacceptable and unworthy of Objectivist
      philosophy. Logic and reason simply don't allow unsupported
      assumptions, especially when this assumption supports ones original
      premise.

      Point 3:
      Objectivism doesn't seem to concern itself much with responsibility
      other than that which is falsely imposed by a fraud and a thief. The
      only explanation I can come up with is that, like John Galt, a true
      objectivist is always completely correct and their actions are without
      fault. Being without fault, there is no wrong requiring their taking
      responsibility. It would be nice if it was true, but this seems to be
      a matter of convenience, without real merit. In reality people make
      mistakes; neither Andrew Carnegie nor Bill Gates are John Galt.
      Freedom demands responsibility, without which, freedom would be
      nothing more than anarchy. Objectivists must bear responsibility for
      their own actions when they effect others. This in no way implies
      responsibility for harm caused during an act of self defense, but if a
      manufacturer makes a faulty product, that manufacturer is responsible
      to correct the wrong. Should he refuse, he is no more than a fraud and
      a thief himself.

      Argument 3a: A truly Objectivist woman would never need an abortion,
      because she would never become pregnant unless she were to carry the
      fetus to full term. In this case the entire argument is mute.

      Argument 3b: With the exception of rape, a woman desiring an abortion
      is responsible for her own condition. As this condition was brought
      about through her own actions, she bears a responsibility to the
      fetus, at least once the fetus reaches the point of being human.

      Argument 3c: Because humans have the right to life, this right must be
      respected once the fetus becomes human. The problem now is to
      determine when the fetus becomes human. Since at this time this is not
      knowable, you must assume that the fetus can become human at any point
      during it's development. The logical conclusion is simply that
      Objectivism just doesn't support the right of abortion.

      I find this conclusion a bit disturbing because I tend to be limitedly
      pro-choice (I don't support partial birth abortion). Logic can only
      support truth, regardless of whether or not you are disturbed by the
      result. I would be interested in any proofs to the contrary that you
      may consider.

      Thanks for providing this forum and allowing me to voice my opinion.

      paul
    • Eric Lanser
      There are many points to address in your post. I ll limit this first post to just a few of them. First, the content you link to, along with much of the other
      Message 2 of 6 , Nov 16, 2004
        There are many points to address in your post.  I'll limit this first post to just a few of them.
         
        First, the content you link to, along with much of the other content on the site, was written for the club many years ago by its former owner.  It's worth browsing through if you haven't read it.
         
        >A more difficult question is why
        >isn't child neglect
        justified, especially when it results in the death
        >of the
        child?
         
        >Under strict Objectivism, a child has no claim on the altruism of
        the
        >parent, except in an emergency.
         
        One's obligations to children do not rest on the Ethics of Emergencies.  In the modern West, a parent has a choice about whether or not to have a child.  When one elects to have a child, one does so with the knowledge that it will be dependent for 16 - 22 years.  A child, and a baby in particular, is utterly dependent on its parents.
         
        With respect to their parents, babies, unlike adults, have something similar to 'positive' rights.  Simply neglecting to feed a dependent infant is child abuse.  One has to keep in mind that having a child (in the modern West) is a chosen action.  It is the action of creating a dependent individual with specific needs, which it will have no means (nor any obligation) to repay.  If one chooses to create such a being, supporting and providing for it (for 16 - 22 years) is one's obligation.
         
        One owe's nothing to a stranger.  Strangers must depend on one's benevolence for charity or aid.  A being which one elects to create has a far different claim on its parent than does a stranger.

        >The point of birth can be induced early, but
        >there is no
        reason to believe that rights can be granted early. If
        >rights are granted
        at birth and birth is induced early, then the
        >granted rights must already
        be in place before birth. I agree that the
        >fetus is not conceived with
        human status, but gains this status at
        >some point between conception and
        birth. Logic and science have not
        >yet determined at what point the fetus
        becomes human.
        The whole process, from conception to adulthood, is marked by many gains in rights.  The rights of a 3 year-old, for instance, are not violated by its mother blocking it from crossing the road alone.  Children, up to a significant age (16 - 19, I'd say), need guardians to make various decisions for them.  They do not have the right to enter contracts or do any number of other things until they approach adulthood.  One doesn't gain the right to 'liberty' or full control over one's "pursuit of happiness" until adulthood.
         
        As to when one finally acquires the right to life, this comes much earlier.  This comes when one is a separate, individual entity.  One is not yet rational (probably not even the tiniest bit).  But, when one becomes an individual entity, with the potential to become an adult human being, one gains the right to life.  The fetus is human (genetically) from the get-go.  The issue is when it gets rights, which depends on more than one's genetic code.  Being a separatedly-existing entity is a requirement to have individual rights.
         
        More on your other points to follow in the coming days.
         
        Eric
      • paul
        Thanks for the reply. I agree with your evaluation. Please note that my comments are mostly directed to the mentioned essay, which I realize was written in
        Message 3 of 6 , Nov 16, 2004
          Thanks for the reply. I agree with your evaluation. Please note that
          my comments are mostly directed to the mentioned essay, which I
          realize was written in 1997. I also noticed that the author doesn't
          seem to have taken credit by listing a name.

          The issue of child abuse was explicitly directed to a comment in the
          essay (last paragraph): "When he speaks of a different subject, the
          matter of individuation and Siamese twins, Mr. Gray seems to say that
          the obvious fact of the living, breathing woman means that the fetus
          has no rights. I agree with him. ***The only problem I have is seeing
          why the obvious fact of the living, breathing woman doesn't similarly
          justify infanticide.*** I think that the answer has to be one based on
          acting on epistemological principle."

          My comments on obligations to strangers during an emergency, came
          directly from Ayn Rand "The Ethics of Emergencies". It was the only
          reference on obligations to individuals that I could find. I argued
          that a child is, at a minimum, due what is due to a stranger. I'm
          surprised at how little objectivist writings mention responsibility
          for your own actions. Obligation seems to be a non-issue to the
          objectivist, who always acts correctly (i.e. John Galt or Howard
          Roak); but their perfect actions would never create an unwanted child.

          paul


          --- In LU-OBJ@yahoogroups.com, "Eric Lanser" <eric.w.lanser@l...> wrote:
          > There are many points to address in your post. I'll limit this
          first post to just a few of them.
          >
          > First, the content you link to, along with much of the other content
          on the site, was written for the club many years ago by its former
          owner. It's worth browsing through if you haven't read it.
          >
          > >A more difficult question is why
          > >isn't child neglect justified, especially when it results in the death
          > >of the child?
          >
          > >Under strict Objectivism, a child has no claim on the altruism of the
          > >parent, except in an emergency.
          >
          > One's obligations to children do not rest on the Ethics of
          Emergencies. In the modern West, a parent has a choice about whether
          or not to have a child. When one elects to have a child, one does so
          with the knowledge that it will be dependent for 16 - 22 years. A
          child, and a baby in particular, is utterly dependent on its parents.
          >
          > With respect to their parents, babies, unlike adults, have something
          similar to 'positive' rights. Simply neglecting to feed a dependent
          infant is child abuse. One has to keep in mind that having a child
          (in the modern West) is a chosen action. It is the action of creating
          a dependent individual with specific needs, which it will have no
          means (nor any obligation) to repay. If one chooses to create such a
          being, supporting and providing for it (for 16 - 22 years) is one's
          obligation.
          >
          > One owe's nothing to a stranger. Strangers must depend on one's
          benevolence for charity or aid. A being which one elects to create
          has a far different claim on its parent than does a stranger.
          >
          > >The point of birth can be induced early, but
          > >there is no reason to believe that rights can be granted early. If
          > >rights are granted at birth and birth is induced early, then the
          > >granted rights must already be in place before birth. I agree that the
          > >fetus is not conceived with human status, but gains this status at
          > >some point between conception and birth. Logic and science have not
          > >yet determined at what point the fetus becomes human.
          >
          > The whole process, from conception to adulthood, is marked by many
          gains in rights. The rights of a 3 year-old, for instance, are not
          violated by its mother blocking it from crossing the road alone.
          Children, up to a significant age (16 - 19, I'd say), need guardians
          to make various decisions for them. They do not have the right to
          enter contracts or do any number of other things until they approach
          adulthood. One doesn't gain the right to 'liberty' or full control
          over one's "pursuit of happiness" until adulthood.
          >
          > As to when one finally acquires the right to life, this comes much
          earlier. This comes when one is a separate, individual entity. One
          is not yet rational (probably not even the tiniest bit). But, when
          one becomes an individual entity, with the potential to become an
          adult human being, one gains the right to life. The fetus is human
          (genetically) from the get-go. The issue is when it gets rights,
          which depends on more than one's genetic code. Being a
          separatedly-existing entity is a requirement to have individual rights.
          >
          > More on your other points to follow in the coming days.
          >
          > Eric
        • Eric Lanser
          Your latest reply brings up an issue to address which was also present in your first post. ... First off, obligation is wider than just making up for your
          Message 4 of 6 , Nov 17, 2004
            Your latest reply brings up an issue to address which was also present
            in your first post.

            >Obligation seems to be a non-issue to the
            > objectivist, who always acts correctly (i.e. John Galt or Howard
            > Roak); but their perfect actions would never create an unwanted child.

            First off, obligation is wider than just 'making up for your mistakes.'

            Second, morality is the realm of the chosen. It applies to what is in
            your control. Morality has no impact on your getting hit by lighting
            (out of the blue). Unwanted children can easily fall into this
            category. Birth control is good these days, but not fail-safe.

            Eric
          • paul
            Again I mostly agree. However you seem to equate faulty birth control with getting hit by lightning. That may be so if you hold the end of a lightning rod
            Message 5 of 6 , Nov 21, 2004
              Again I mostly agree. However you seem to equate faulty birth control
              with getting hit by lightning. That may be so if you hold the end of a
              lightning rod during a storm (or fly a kite with a key on it), but
              unwanted children don't just happen, they require an active
              participation on the part of their parents.

              My issue is not with mistakes, but in the many objectivist writings
              (Ayn Rand in particular) that ignore mistakes. While Ayn glosses over
              the issue, she does seem to imply that neither Galt or Roak would
              engage in sex if they weren't planning on being responsible for a child.

              Logic cannot change reality, but incorrect logic can ignore it. Many
              objectivist writings ignore obligation other than how it applies to
              ones own self interest (obligation to follow correct logic). This
              seems to be related to the concept that correctly applied logic will
              not allow for an unchosen obligation (a mistake) to arise, including
              an unwanted pregnancy.

              If correct logic is always applied, mistakes will never happen. The
              issue of obligation than reduces to correctly applying logic. This is
              fine for making a point, but in reality this just doesn't happen. I
              think the philosophy leaves gaps for less than perfect people.

              paul

              --- In LU-OBJ@yahoogroups.com, Eric Lanser <eric.w.lanser@l...> wrote:
              > Your latest reply brings up an issue to address which was also present
              > in your first post.
              >
              > >Obligation seems to be a non-issue to the
              > > objectivist, who always acts correctly (i.e. John Galt or Howard
              > > Roak); but their perfect actions would never create an unwanted child.
              >
              > First off, obligation is wider than just 'making up for your mistakes.'
              >
              > Second, morality is the realm of the chosen. It applies to what is in
              > your control. Morality has no impact on your getting hit by lighting
              > (out of the blue). Unwanted children can easily fall into this
              > category. Birth control is good these days, but not fail-safe.
              >
              > Eric
            • Eric Lanser
              ... This, I guarantee you, is not what AR has depicted in her novels. And, in any case, it is not true. Sex is a profound value independent of its (sometimes
              Message 6 of 6 , Nov 21, 2004
                >My issue is not with mistakes, but in the many objectivist
                writings
                >(Ayn Rand in particular) that ignore mistakes. While Ayn glosses
                over
                >the issue, she does seem to imply that neither Galt or Roak
                would
                >engage in sex if they weren't planning on being responsible for a
                child.
                This, I guarantee you, is not what AR has depicted in her novels.  And, in any case, it is not true.  Sex is a profound value independent of its (sometimes beneficial, sometimes tragic) capacity to produce children.  To quote Ayn Rand, "Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals" (Ayn Rand Letter Nov-Dec 1975).
                 
                >This seems to be related to the concept that correctly applied logic will
                >not allow for an unchosen obligation (a mistake) to
                arise, including
                >an unwanted pregnancy.

                The point that there are no unchosen obligations is not arrived at by ignoring the possibility of mistakes.  There are no unchosen obligations because, looking at the concept 'obligation' (which is not the same thing as 'duty'), there is no such thing as an unchosen one.  Obligations are all conditional: If I want to achieve X, I must do Y.  This is the pattern of obligation.  'Causality versus Duty,' in "Philosophy Who Needs It" presents this position.
                 
                >If correct logic is always applied, mistakes will never
                happen.
                Depending on what you mean, this is either not true, or not directly in man's control.  If you mean that when one uses logic he is guaranteed accuracy, this is wrong.  There are many errors of application that are possible to man, not to mention errors of knowledge. 
                 
                If you mean that (given that one doesn't make any mistakes in applying logic and one has valid premises) mistakes will never happen then this *is* true.  However, this is not in one's direct control.  One can not hit a switch to be immune from errors of application or knowledge.  John Galt will make mistakes, even errors of logic.  What he will not do is fail to go by his best judgement.  Nor will he fail to correct his errors if he realizes them.  (Nor will he accept arbitrary claims that his conclusions are incorrect; evidence that he has committed an error of knowledge or an error in his reasoning has to be pointed out for him to doubt them.)
                 
                Honest errors of knowledge are possible and this fact is acknowledged by Objectivism.  One cannot side-step fallibility by claiming man has a method (logic) which makes him *immune* from error.  The difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality is discussed in Galt's Speech:
                 
                "Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul. Make every allowance for errors of knowledge; do not forgive or accept any breach of morality."  (Atlas Shrugged, 974).
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