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Abortion Rights and Parental Obligations

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personally wondered if there was still debate among Objectivism, about where "personhood" or "individuation" began.    Many resources take it to be the moment of birth, whether c-section or labor.     Below is a different view,  from an Objectivist writer.    I found it compelling to consider, perhaps others will also:

 

Abortion Rights and Parental Obligations
An Objectivist Account

Greg Perkins

people can also implicitly adopt responsibility for caring for others: If Bob decides to take Mary for a ride out to sea, he does not have the right to then order her off his boat to her death.¹⁶ That would be murder because Bob chose to bring Mary — another person — into a state of vital dependence on him. Mary’s rights would be violated by then arbitrarily removing his support and thrusting her into mortal danger rather than delivering her safely from the dependent condition he created. (And note that such withdrawal of support would be a rights violation no matter whether she was threatened by his explicit design, depraved indifference, or mere recklessness.) Bob is responsible for Mary’s welfare until the dependence he invited has ended.
 
 

Fetal Rights and Maternal Obligations

Recall that rights are rooted in the essential nature of the entity itself, that there is no metaphysically-significant change in the nature of the newborn at birth, and that we recognize its basic human rights at every point thereafter. This indicates that the point of personhood is reached some time before birth. But does this introduce an inherent clash of rights between mother and fetus? Are we faced with any call to compromise, “balance,” or “trade off” rights between them? No. On this account, all people retain all of their rights, completely intact. A mother can have no duties or claims forced upon her in a rights-respecting society; people can only be bound by obligations they choose to create.

The principle from the boat ride identifies how maternal obligations arise as fetal rights obtain: in choosing to let her pregnancy proceed to the point of personhood, the mother thereby adopts responsibility for the person she brings into a condition of vital dependence. Like the boat captain, she is not free to then arbitrarily kill or neglect her charge; that would be a clear violation of a person’s rights. She has chosen to shoulder the responsibility of supporting the fetus to independence, and this is a serious obligation she can and should be held to.

 
 
 

Attaining Personhood

Finally turning to personhood itself, recall that a human being need not be fully developed to be a person (indeed, it cannot be fully developed while in the womb). Nonetheless, a person must necessarily be an actual human being and not a mere potential. The point we seek to identify is where the entity becomes an essentially formed human being — a living human organism with essential organs and a nervous system, operating at least at some basic level to maintain its own existence as an organism.²¹ This captures the basis of the capacity for biological independence explicitly demonstrated in birth, and names what is implicitly recognized in the idea of viability when it is not bound tightly to technology. Importantly, this keeps our attention where it belongs: on the basic nature of the developing entity.

A glance at prenatal development makes it clear that this point cannot be in the first trimester, because the embryonic stages of development conclude only as “All essential organs have at least begun formation.”²² Indeed, early on, human embryos are largely indistinguishable from those of other mammals, with higher evolutionary features appearing later (like the cerebrum, the most sophisticated part of our brain, which develops last).²³ Later, in the fetal stages of development, weeks 25–28 feature rapid brain growth and the nervous system finally developing enough to control some body functions. At this point the respiratory system, while still immature, has also developed to the point where gas exchange is possible.²⁴ So the developmental point of personhood appears to be near the beginning of the third trimester, and this point’s candidacy is perhaps urged by the still later appearance in week 31 of “Thalamic brain connections, which mediate sensory input [and] form.”²⁵ Of course this is only a layman’s estimate; determining just when this stage of development is attained is a biological question that must be answered by scientists, not by philosophers.²⁶

It is interesting that, if the start of the third trimester indeed marks the developmental point for attainment of personhood, this would result in my arguing for an outcome which roughly agrees with the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade bottom line that a woman may abort her pregnancy for any reason until the fetus reaches viability (which the Court took to be at about seven months or 28 weeks), while abortion after viability must be available when needed to protect the woman’s life or health.²⁷ Unfortunately as explained above, the point the Court argued for was characterized using the technologically-bound concept of viability, thus clouding the essential issue of personhood. And their position was based on a “right to privacy” and entailed a balancing of rights against “state interests” rather than being an expression and defense of basic human rights as inalienable absolutes.²⁸ This has confused the discussion of rights and obligations, and hobbled our legal system’s pursuit of just and uniform treatment of the myriad issues around and beyond pregnancy and parenthood.

Conclusion

Prior to the point of being an essentially formed human being — of actually being a human being — an embryo can have no rights to be recognized or violated. So the pregnant woman must be left legally free as a matter of right to choose whether to carry an embryo to the point of personhood. After that point, the fetus is a human being with the attendant basic human rights, and these must be safeguarded in a rights-respecting society. This entails no clash or compromise of rights because parental obligations arise as fetal rights obtain: in choosing to bring another person into a condition of vital dependence on her, a mother elects to shoulder the responsibility of (non-suicidally) supporting that person to independence — a responsibility to which the father can likewise elect to be bound via contract.

Thus we have an integrated approach to fetal rights, reproductive rights, maternal obligation, and parental obligation. Importantly, this is an account that demands full and consistent recognition of the basic human rights of all as absolutes, never to be compromised or abridged.


https://medium.com/@gregperk/abortion-rights-and-parental-obligations-9acaed799539

Edited by dream_weaver
Clean up cross posting

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What does it mean to be "an essentially formed human being"? 

That's the basic point of contention, isn't it?  

An Iranian cleric may argue that "ensoulment" (which supposedly happens in the 4th month) is when the embryo essentially becomes a human being. Articles like this try to say that we need to use a biological idea of "essentially formed human being" rather than some arbitrary religious one.
 

But, it isn't that simple: it's really impossible for biology itself to lay down the ground rules of what it means to be an essentially formed human being. For example, some people wills say that when the fetus can fell things, it is human. other will say that when it is "viable" it is a fully formed human being. Biology can figure out if the criteria is met or not, but the criteria itself is not a question of biology. It's a philosophical guideline. 

 

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Fetal rights? No such thing, an egg yolk has no right to become a chicken.

First off, pregnancy doesn't diminish or compromise individual rights because there's no contest between the actual and the potential.  The whole concept of rights is dependent upon a choice of action, which a fetus certainly hasn't the ability to make, only the parent(s) do. 

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I think you're right that a pregnant woman has a moral responsibility to abort her unwanted pregnancy as early as possible. But that has nothing to do with politics.

7 hours ago, tomaspajaros said:

People can also implicitly adopt responsibility for caring for others: If Bob decides to take Mary for a ride out to sea, he does not have the right to then order her off his boat to her death.¹⁶ That would be murder because Bob chose to bring Mary — another person — into a state of vital dependence on him. Mary’s rights would be violated by then arbitrarily removing his support and thrusting her into mortal danger rather than delivering her safely from the dependent condition he created. (And note that such withdrawal of support would be a rights violation no matter whether she was threatened by his explicit design, depraved indifference, or mere recklessness.) Bob is responsible for Mary’s welfare until the dependence he invited has ended.

 

 

Huh? This scenario has nothing to do with "implicitly adopting responsibility", and everything to do with a correct interpretation of rights. If Mary was on the boat uninvited, ordering her off it in the middle of the ocean would be murder for the same exact reason it is in your scenario: your property rights don't include the right to kill someone for trespassing. The earliest you can get an unwanted person off your property is when it's safe for them to leave.

There's no such thing as "implicitly adopting responsibility", in Oist politics. The concept of individual rights is perfectly sufficient to build a fully functional political system on. One of the more obvious consequences of that concept is that you in fact CANNOT impose obligations on people who have not EXPLICITLY AND FREELY adopted them. That would be a violation of their rights.

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Why not say that a baby becomes an actual human being when it starts reasoning, that is, when it understands concepts involving some amount of abstraction, such a "food" or "chair"?  Not speaks, but understands.

If it is too difficult to draw a legal line at this point, the legal line might have to be drawn a little earlier, perhaps a fixed short period of time after birth.

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3 hours ago, Doug Morris said:

Why not say that a baby becomes an actual human being when it starts reasoning, that is, when it understands concepts involving some amount of abstraction, such a "food" or "chair"?  Not speaks, but understands.

If it is too difficult to draw a legal line at this point, the legal line might have to be drawn a little earlier, perhaps a fixed short period of time after birth.

One problem is that this has to be tied to some burden-of-proof concepts. Can you legally destroy your new-born child because you have no evidence that he can reason? What kind of reasoning do we require, e.g. the ability to follow a coherent argument (many people fail that test), before we recognize that the being is a person? What is the nature of fetal cognition? Bear in mind that the womb is not an impenetrable stasis chamber, and there is evidence that aspects of the ambient language are learned in utero (the ability to tell “that’s mommy’s language” from “that’s another language”).

The problem is that it is plain that a newborn or a 4-month old is a person, even if they are not capable of sophisticated reasoning, and redefining ‘man’ ignores the reality of what the word refers to – which I contend relates to the faculty of reason, and not the actual demonstration of reasoning. Denigrating first order concepts (“dog”) as insufficient proof of humanness (it’s not abstract, the unification of concepts into other concepts) ups the ante for what it means to be “man”, and I don’t see the argument for adding such a condition to the definition of “man”.

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David Odden,

I didn't mean to be denigrating any concepts.  I was just trying to clarify my position by giving examples of concepts that seemed low level to me.  "Dog" would certainly qualify as a concept involving low level abstraction and qualifying anyone who understood it as reasoning and therefore actually human.  When I wrote of "some amount of abstraction", I was distinguishing concepts from proper names such as "Mama" or "Papa".

How is it plain that a newborn is a person but a dog or cat is not?  The newborn has much greater potential than the dog or cat, but is there a plain difference in what is actual?

The burden-of-proof issue may justify drawing a legal line in a way that probably sets it earlier than actually achieving reason and/or personhood.

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Since all concepts (by definition) are abstractions, referring to “concepts involving some amount of abstraction” suggests that you mean “those concepts which involve some amount of abstraction”, as distinguished from “those first-order concepts drawn directly from experience”. I take it that you simply meant “when it understands concepts”, period. Now the next question would be, what do you mean by “understands concepts”, as opposed to “has concepts” or “forms concepts”? Frankly, before ITOE was written, I don’t think anyone really understood concepts but of course we have used them for eons. Why not simply say “has concepts”?

The question of how plain the meaning of words is difficult. There are no intrinsic relations between words and referents, i.e. the relationship between “yellow” and what it refers to is not because those sounds necessarily convey the property of yellowness. The relationship between a word and its referents is conventional and defined only in the context of a particular language. I use the word “person” in this discussion because it refers to the same thing that “human” does, and the same thing that “man” does except when “man” is used to refer to “adult human male”. Do you agree that “person” and “human” refer to the same thing? Do you also agree that “person” and “man” when used in the sex- and maturational-neutral sense refer to the same thing? I would expect so, but perhaps you will surprise me. However you answer those question, how do you justify your answer? I base my conclusion on my knowledge of what things the word refers to. Perhaps my knowledge is wrong – at one time, I was wrong about the referent of “rafter”.

Rand makes two essential identifications, which I agree with. A propos “man”,

Quote

 

(ITOE)

Man’s distinctive characteristic is his type of consciousness—a consciousness able to abstract, to form concepts, to apprehend reality by a process of reason . . . [The] valid definition of man, within the context of his knowledge and of all of mankind’s knowledge to-date [is]: “A rational animal.”

“Rational,” in this context, does not mean “acting invariably in accordance with reason”; it means “possessing the faculty of reason.”

 

A propos “reason”:

Quote

 

(The Objectivist Ethics)

Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.

 

I’m not introducing a covert “heresy” argument; if you disagree with either of these identifications, that’s fine, but I’d like to see a reason to reject them, and also what you would replace them with. It looks to me like the disagreement has to do with what the referents of “man” are.

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There's very little disagreement that a fetus begins as a potential man, or that It requires certain Rights to exist.  The contention revolves around who, if anyone, is entitled to choose that It cease to exist.  Even if no one gets to choose, Nature bats last.

Either the Individual bearing that life is entitled to choose, or the State usurps that Right.

 

 

Edited by Devil's Advocate

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17 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

Why not simply say “has concepts”?

That might work.  In order for there to be a concept there must be a word symbol.  In order to observe that a child has concepts, we must either observe it talking (or perhaps signing, writing, or typing) in concepts or observe it understanding when someone else does.  The latter often comes first.

On 1/31/2019 at 3:20 PM, DavidOdden said:

The problem is that it is plain that a newborn or a 4-month old is a person

I take it you are referring to the potential we know they have, not to their actual performance so far as I at first thought you were.  So we can conclude that a newborn is a potential person.  But can we conclude that a newborn is an actual person? 

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So we can conclude that a newborn is a potential person.  But can we conclude that a newborn is an actual person?

“Potential person” would have to refer to something at the embryo end of the developmental scale. “Man” a.k.a. “person” already expresses potential – man is the animal with the faculty of reason. A faculty is a potential, not an actual performance. The potential to integrate and identify already exist before birth, though clearly not through the whole of fetal development. A fertilized egg is a potential person, and probably a fetus at 26 weeks is still just a potential person (that is, those facts which enable man’s special identification and integration powers are still under construction: but they get constructed before birth).

In other words, I think that appeal to “potential” is confusing, when speaking of a concept defined in terms of a potential.

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Here's another approach.  Man has rights because reason is the primary tool by means of which he lives.  So the question becomes, at what point does a fetus or baby start using this tool?  Wouldn't that be when he or she starts forming concepts?

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The first step in reasoning is that you must be able to perceive and identify facts of the world. “Identifying” implies discrimination – as Binswanger points out, concept formation depends on identification of similarities in two or more things excluding a third. The second step is assignment to a linguistic form. The third step towards reasoning is forming propositions, which involves developing the “subject/predicate” distinction (i.e. you have to have the rather high-order concepts of entity and attribute). Then you have to grasp some sophisticated laws of logic. Survival qua man is not possible if you only know how to discriminate cats, dogs, pigs, sheep and people.

Children don’t clearly get to the third stage until they are over 2 years old, and it takes a few more years to get to that last stage. It is not clear when they get to the second stage, because infants know things that they can’t do. They have to have developed the motor control necessary to say “dog”, “cat” (even imperfectly). They also need to develop auditory and visual skills to the point that they can discover that this thing is a “dog” and that thing is a “cat”. Some while ago, it was realized among developmental scientists that we don’t have to wait for children to utter recognizable words in order to conclude that they have developed basic language skills, we can also test whether they can perceive language units. I would say that at present we don’t have much knowledge of what’s in their brains below 6 months, but the main impediment to them speaking is lack of motor control, and not a cognitive lack.

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On 1/30/2019 at 1:14 PM, tomaspajaros said:

Fetal Rights and Maternal Obligations

Recall that rights are rooted in the essential nature of the entity itself, that there is no metaphysically-significant change in the nature of the newborn at birth,

Stop right there.   What is metaphysically significant about birth is that first the baby is surviving independently with its own breath and heartbeat and second that the baby is at last removed from the sensory deprivation chamber of the womb and can experience the world.

In the gradual growth of the fetus through birth and beyond infancy, birth is the only change in status which is discrete, objective and not also arbitrary (as in setting age 18 for rights and privileges of adulthood can be somewhat arbitrary, it could be 17 or 16).  Ethically and legally personhood should be understood to begin at birth.

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I see an argument against last-minute abortions, once the water breaks and labor begins. At that moment, during the birthing process, the baby is between states of physical dependency and independency. It is moving away from one and toward another. We should consider, then, recognizing its right to physical independency.

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I see an argument against last-minute abortions, once the water breaks and labor begins. At that moment, during the birthing process, the baby is between states of physical dependency and independency. It is moving away from one and toward another. We should consider, then, recognizing its right to physical independency.

So can I.  I just described birth as a discrete event and compared to the rest of life it is but it still can take hours.  When during that process is the legal line to be drawn? "...once the water breaks and labor begins" is as good as any.

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18 hours ago, Grames said:

...  Ethically and legally personhood should be understood to begin at birth. 

Agreed, because it is at this point that the newborn achieves independence, if not self-governance.  Follow the umbilical.

8 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I see an argument against last-minute abortions, once the water breaks and labor begins. At that moment, during the birthing process, the baby is between states of physical dependency and independency. It is moving away from one and toward another. We should consider, then, recognizing its right to physical independency.

This remains an argument for potential at the highest point of the slippery slope.  A right without choice or ability is a contradiction, and objective law requires non-contradictory application.

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7 hours ago, Devil's Advocate said:

This remains an argument for potential at the highest point of the slippery slope.  A right without choice or ability is a contradiction, and objective law requires non-contradictory application.

Can you elaborate on that last part? Which choice or ability does the baby lack at the start of the birthing process and then gain at the end of it? It normally has the ability to function outside the womb long before birth, but it cannot exercise that ability until it literally breaks free from the inside. My point is that the baby has the ability to survive independently and starts to exercise that ability once it begins to break out of the womb. I'm trying to base the right to life on the baby's own actions, rather than its dependency on someone else severing the umbilical cord.

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2 hours ago, Devil's Advocate said:

Social interaction.

Fetuses usually begin interacting with the mother in the second trimester, culminating in quite a memorable ordeal during birth.

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10 hours ago, Devil's Advocate said:

Do you see how slippery the slope is now that you've fallen back to the second trimester?

That was your position which slid into the second trimester. My view is not based on social interaction. It's based on physical independence from the mother. To achieve this state requires a process of birth. It's not the case that the baby goes from dependence to independence in the blink of an eye. There is a transition process. So, does the baby have a right to the steps involved in that process once it has started? Or is it the mother's right to stop that process before it finishes?

Once the water breaks and labor begins, it's not like the mother can still claim that the baby physically depends on her. No, it now depends on separating from her. It has outgrown her body. It needs to leave. In fact, remaining inside her body has become a disvalue.

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12 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

... My view is not based on social interaction...

Rights are freedoms of action in a social context, so you may want to reconsider.

25 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

... So, does the baby have a right to the steps involved in that process once it has started? Or is it the mother's right to stop that process before it finishes?

The fetus has no ability to control the labor, and the mother retains the right to defend her life against whatever complications arise during the pregnancy, including labor, so...

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On 2/6/2019 at 10:01 PM, Devil's Advocate said:

The fetus has no ability to control the labor

What do you mean by "control"? Without a fetus labor would neither begin nor end. And supposing the fetus could control the mother's involuntary contractions, would that mean it has a right to the mother's body?

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On 1/30/2019 at 10:14 AM, tomaspajaros said:

[Quoting Greg Perkins]

The principle from the boat ride identifies how maternal obligations arise as fetal rights obtain: in choosing to let her pregnancy proceed to the point of personhood, the mother thereby adopts responsibility for the person she brings into a condition of vital dependence. Like the boat captain, she is not free to then arbitrarily kill or neglect her charge; that would be a clear violation of a person’s rights.

Others have already pointed out a couple philosophical issues with the "boat ride principle." Additionally, I simply don't think it works as an analogy for abortion. During abortion a woman isn't ordering or forcing the fetus off her body/boat. Indeed, this is not an option for the mother. The fetus cannot understand or act on such a demand. To make the boat ride analogy more relevant, the unwanted passenger should be a newborn baby or perhaps a comatose patient, not a conscious, healthy adult. Then the scenario could be seen as appropriately ridiculous.

The "vital dependence" idea does not work with the boat ride, because it relies on a context in which the passenger is absolutely helpless, and under normal circumstances this would never be the case. Not only could the passenger plead his case for staying aboard, he could also physically fight the captain for control of the boat. This is a far cry from the actual vital dependence of a fetus in the womb of its mother.

Edited by MisterSwig

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