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DavidOdden,

Maintaining the contradiction that a non-person has rights that negate the rights of a person is what makes no sense.

What makes no sense is your claim that a baby is a non-person inside the womb and magically becomes a person the second it leaves the womb. At some point, prior to birth, the non-person in the womb becomes a separate and distinct person with a human mind heart and body of its own. It may be wholly dependent upon the mother, but that is not something that birth resolves. Dependence continues long after birth.

It's a simple point, that only people have rights, and a fetus is not a person.

Initially, that is true, but it is also true that it is the role of a fetus to become a person. This happens in the womb. The ability to survive on ones own cannot be the main criteria for human life, if it is then there are whole continents on this planet free of human life forms.

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Lastly, I would like to point out the Ayn Rand recognised the possiblity for debate about late stage pregnancy. But dismissed it due to the fact that late stage pregnancy is not the essential issue in the debate.

I have always taken this to be an important point in my approach on abortion. Roe vs. Wade guaranteed legal abortion only in the first trimester - that states could not forbid the procedure before that point. I have seen human life survive tenuously in a neonatal intensive-care ward where the experience raised many questions in me about whether some of what was being done to encourage survival was right.

What is clear is that a fetus in the first trimester, and at least midway or nearly through the second, has little chance of surviving on its own. On the other hand, many premature babies weighing as little as a pound who needed help in the early stages after birth go on to survive on their own or with some occasional or minimum medical or other assistance. They can become conscious people at some point.

But remove a fetus that is three to 10 weeks old from a uterus and try to have it survive in an isolette or incubator with the kinds of interventions done to help premature babies, forget it.

The problem is that the law is based on emotion and on perceptions about how a mythical deity wants humans to live. What is lost in this whole debate over very late-term, or "partial birth" abortions is that these are not first or second-trimester abortions of fetuses that are early in development. They're babies who in many cases could survive like other people in many cases. If a birth would kill a mother or a baby is doomed to a terrible life because it has, say, half a brain or other problems that could impair cognition, then there should be an exception to allow it based on a decision reached between doctor and patient. A fetus in early or mid development is not the same as a baby at 36 weeks that could be born any minute. That's what is lost in the debate.

It would be nice if law could be based in science, where objective standards could be used to truly protect life while at the same time protecting the rights of a woman to choose whether to have a child. It is possible. But not in this world right now, with its lazy and irrational thinkers in power.

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Roe vs. Wade guaranteed legal abortion only in the first trimester - that states could not forbid the procedure before that point.
My understanding is that viability is generally taken to mean 24-28 weeks, which means that Roe made all second trimester abortions legal without trying to justify it by saying that the mother's health would be at risk without an abortion. In addition, it is my understanding Roe also allows for third-trimester abortions when the health of the mother is at risk.
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What makes no sense is your claim that a baby is a non-person inside the womb and magically becomes a person the second it leaves the womb.
There is no magic at all: it's a well-understood physical process. A child cannot have rights until it is born, because rights pertain only to actual beings, not potential beings. When the child is born, it becomes a person.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind viewers of the purpose of this forum, which is to facilitate trade among Objectivists and students of Objectivism. It is especially not a launching pad for anti-Objectivist religious propaganda. If you need clarification of the Objectivist position, it would be entirely appropriate to seek it here. Once you've decided that you oppose Objectivism, you should elect to disseminate that opposition elsewhere.

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In other words, if 5 minutes after a child is born the mother decides to take its life, the mother would be guilty of murder. However, if the mother had made the same decision 6 minutes earlier, she was just exercising her freedom of choice. That is the Objectivist position? That is nonsense.

It is especially not a launching pad for anti-Objectivist religious propaganda.

I can only assume that is aimed at me. Let me say this: I discovered Ayn Rand in september of 1998. Since then I have read virtually everything she has ever written. I confess that I didnt understand all of it , but what I understood I loved. If I learned one thing from her it was to think for myself. How ironic is it that the first time in 19 years that I actually discuss a topic with an Objectivist it is the one topic I disagree with Objectivism on: abortion. If I have to accept that life begins at birth to be an Objectivist, then I am not an Objectivist. It is a sad moment, but I'll live. It does answer a lingering question of mine--why Objectivism never caught on. It is an exclusive not inclusive club.

Once you've decided that you oppose Objectivism, you should elect to disseminate that opposition elsewhere.

I'll do that.

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It does answer a lingering question of mine--why Objectivism never caught on. It is an exclusive not inclusive club.

This sounds like an emotional response rather than a well-thought out response; a cheap shot rather than a meaningful statement. Do you honestly think that a couple of posts in a thread with a couple of other people provides a solid foundation for you to come to this conclusion? Have you completely ignored the larger possibilities of deeply ingrained religious beliefs, irrational traditions and cultural influences, Kantian followers and things that are much more likely to have impacted the slow growth of a reason-based philosophy?

I don't think you are being very objective in your assessment and you are certainly ignoring a great many other facts which are likely more relevant. If this is indicative of you thinking process, perhaps that's why the Objectivist position on the abortion issue is difficult for you to get a handle on.

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There is no magic at all: it's a well-understood physical process. A child cannot have rights until it is born, because rights pertain only to actual beings, not potential beings. When the child is born, it becomes a person.

David, I'm not sure I understand your definitions. When you say an "actual being", are you implying that actuality requires separation? So, a fetus is not an actual being because it's not totally separate from its mother? If so, why? Or maybe more importantly, why is that important? My understanding was that rights pertained to rational beings. And while it's curious to me to think that a being could be rational and yet not actual, that seems to be the case given your definitions. But maybe I'm jumping ahead of myself. Would you say that there is no point in a fetus' devlopment that it can be said to have a rational faculty as an infant does? Is it the moment that the chord is cut that rationality has begun?

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It's not about rationality, Kevin. It's more about protecting the woman's right to her own body...that fetus is a part of her body. It depends wholly on her...she makes all the calls. If she wants to drink alochol during her pregnancy, she can. If she wants to abort the pregnancy, she can. The fetus can make no calls, the fetus has no rights because it is dependent on the mother in every way.

A baby, however, is not. A baby can survive without its mother. But only (like you mentioned) once that chord is cut. Before that it is simply a fetus that is part of the woman and she can do what she wants with it.

EDIT: Have you read Dr. Peikoff's article on this? He differentiates very clearly between potentiality and actuality. http://www.peikoff.com/essays/abortion.htm

Edited by Mimpy
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My understanding was that rights pertained to rational beings. ...Is it the moment that the chord is cut that rationality has begun?

Could you be more specific about what type of rational faculty you're looking for in a newborn? Clearly, a fetus does not actually think rationally in any human sense, even a newborn baby does not. So, what are you looking for, in principle? For instance, are you looking for things like the presence of nerves and feelings of pain like a chicken might feel, or are you concerned that the fetus may have something more? In other words, are you looking for something in the cognition that is distinctively human as opposed to non-human mammalian?

You're right that the principle is the important thing. Nevertheless, from a practical standpoint, since post-viability abortions are almost non-existent in the U.S., it seems to me that -- at least roughly -- you support the status quo in terms of law.

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In the link you provided, Peikoff addresses only first trimester embryos. I think we all agree that these are potential not actual humans. What is at issue is the status of embryos in the third trimester.

Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a 'right to life.' A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable.

— Ayn Rand

What is at issue here is 'the later stages of pregnancy.' Objectivists seem to indicate that Ayn Rand resolved what she appeared to leave unresolved here. Did she at some point close the circle?

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... first trimester embryos. I think we all agree that these are potential not actual humans. What is at issue is the status of embryos in the third trimester.
I did not realise that you were concerned only about the third trimester. Good to hear that. (In that case, you can stay, lol :lol: )

In the U.S., the Christians want to ban all abortions, including the many millions done in the first trimester. They even want to curb the use of birth control. That's the important political fight.

Of course, you're right to also be looking for the principle that affects the few hundred third-term abortions. As far as I am aware, Rand never specifically addressed third-trimester abortions as such, at least in her published writings, and often qualified her statements on abortion by mentioning that they were strongly obvious up to the second trimester. Rand definitely did not advocate a ban on third trimester abortions, at least not publicly (and it is unlikely that she would not have gone public if she thought a ban was legally warranted).

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A fetus in early or mid development is not the same as a baby at 36 weeks that could be born any minute. That's what is lost in the debate.

It would be nice if law could be based in science, where objective standards could be used to truly protect life while at the same time protecting the rights of a woman to choose whether to have a child. It is possible. But not in this world right now, with its lazy and irrational thinkers in power.

I agree with you that we need an objective standard based on science. A full term fetus is not just a potential human being. The decision weather or not to have a child must be made much earlier.

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When you say an "actual being", are you implying that actuality requires separation?
Another paraphrase of "an actual being" is "something that actually is a being", and "a being" implies "not part of another being".
My understanding was that rights pertained to rational beings.
Right, and a fetus is not a rational being. It's not a being at all, it's part of another being, and in the future it might become a being.
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Another paraphrase of "an actual being" is "something that actually is a being", and "a being" implies "not part of another being".Right, and a fetus is not a rational being. It's not a being at all, it's part of another being, and in the future it might become a being.

But you didn't answer my last question. If the answer is that is does achieve rational capability at some point (Softwarenerd, when I say that, I mean a capability just like that of an infant's), then we have two separate conscioussness in one being. Does that really seem sensical to you? How can a fetus with a rational capacity not actually exist as a being? Is its consciousness somehow part of the mother's? It seems like you're putting this physical connection on a higher pedastal than the mental devlopment, which just doesn't seem right. And I don't buy that a fetus with some rational capacity has no rights simply because it's inside its mother, completely dependent on her. Why would it not have the same rights as any other rational capable being? What difference does dependence make?

Incidentally, yes softwarenerd, from a practical standpoint there are extremely few abortions that I would even conceivably object to. Like I said before, it's more a matter of nailing down the principle of the issue.

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In the link you provided, Peikoff addresses only first trimester embryos. I think we all agree that these are potential not actual humans. What is at issue is the status of embryos in the third trimester.

Regardless of their "status," they are still inside the woman's womb. They are a part of her body, and nobody has the right to dictate what a woman can do with her own body. If she wants to cut her wrists, she can do it. If she wants to snort cocaine, she (should) be able to. If she wants the clump of cells attached to her uterine wall to stop growing, she (should) be able to in any matter she deems appropriate. Just because that clump of cells now resembles a human baby doesn't actually make it a human baby.

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Incidentally, yes softwarenerd, from a practical standpoint there are extremely few abortions that I would even conceivably object to. Like I said before, it's more a matter of nailing down the principle of the issue.
That's fair enough. Thing is that a lot of people approach this issue visualizing near-infants, when that's not the issue at all. Further, even the miniscule number of third-trimester abortions that are performed are mostly not about birth-control: sometimes doctors do judge a fetus to be damaged in a way that makes it unviable as a child, the infant will die soon after it is delivered, and recommend that the fetus be aborted. At other times, it is clear that the fetus is not going to grow into anything that will ever have a rational faculty. So, even if you come to the conclusion that a fetus ordinarily has a rational faculty during the third trimester, recognize that some do not, and that's a medical question that is not a simple question of gestation time.
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Just because that clump of cells now resembles a human baby doesn't actually make it a human baby.

Full term fetus is not just a clump of cells. What if the fetus is outside of mother's womb but the cord has not been cut yet? Is he/she not a human baby yet? Doesn't he/she have a human kind of conciousness, conciousness separate from the mother? What are the essential characteristics which make up a human baby?

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softwarenerd,

As far as I am aware, Rand never specifically addressed third-trimester abortions as such, at least in her published writings, and often qualified her statements on abortion by mentioning that they were strongly obvious up to the second trimester. Rand definitely did not advocate a ban on third trimester abortions, at least not publicly (and it is unlikely that she would not have gone public if she thought a ban was legally warranted).

If that is the case, by what authority are Objectivists on this site declaring that she believed that abortion should be legal up to the moment of delivery?

Mimpy,

Just because that clump of cells now resembles a human baby doesn't actually make it a human baby.

It is more than simple resemblance, though. At some point, this clump of cells, as you call it, has its own heart, brain, lungs, liver, kindeys, etc. It not only resembles a human baby, it is a human baby.

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This post is not about what the abortion laws ought to be. It is my interpretation of Rand's views on the subject:

If that is the case, by what authority are Objectivists on this site declaring that she believed that abortion should be legal up to the moment of delivery?
Because she did support a legal line drawn at birth. She did not address third-trimester specifically, because she repeatedly said that all abortions should be legal. In that sense, I suppose I was wrong stating it the way I did, because -- by obvious implication -- she did support legal third-trimester abortions, even if she did not mention the words "third trimester".

She was particularly angry about people who wanted to sacrifice a woman for a clump of cells; that is the context in which she mentioned the first and second trimester. I suspect that she was more sympathetic (in an emotional, not philosophical, sense) to the struggle of those who wanted a line drawn somewhere close to birth, because she could see why they would be confused by the biological nature of the fetus. However, she did not agree with this view philosophically.

Philosophically, human "life" is not just biology, it is the process of living and acting as an individual. (This is a common confusion in Objectivist ethics, where people think that life-prolongation is the standard of value.) In a biological sense, a single cell is alive. In a philosophical sense, Rand was clear that life begins at birth.

The fact that life begins at birth is not an optional Objectivist issue, it follows clearly and directly from Objectivism ethical concept of "human life". It is a tough issue to integrate, but that is actually the position of the philosophy, not an unresolved issue.

If I have a little time, I'll try collecting the relevant quotations, but for now that's my summary of her position (E. and O.E.).

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But you didn't answer my last question.
That is because I hoped you would understand that the question was irrelevant. I thought that would be clear when I said that a fetus is not a rational being, and is not a being at all. So asking about rationality is irrelevant. Perhaps this would be obvious if you read the following conversation aloud, putting special stress on the words in italics:

A: "But don't rights pertain to rational beings?"

B: "Yes, but a fetus isn't a rational being, in fact it isn't a being
at all
"

A: "Okay, but why isn't a
rational
being?

You can clearly see how illogical A is being. We don't need to delve into scientific issues about brain development in order to determine that a fetus is not a rational being, given that it's not a being.

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That is because I hoped you would understand that the question was irrelevant. I thought that would be clear when I said that a fetus is not a rational being, and is not a being at all.

This is a slippery slope.

Def:

being - a living thing that has or can develop the ability to act or function independently

Characteristics of living beings (by def has to have at last one of those):

  1. Consciousness
  2. The ability to steer one's attention and action purposively
  3. self-awareness, self-bonded to objectivities

two more I found:

  1. The sensorial capacity to access an environment and one's own body in a way that offers the basic qualitative content for subjective experience.
  2. Capacity to conceptually interpret sensorial content as representing some thing to oneself.

A full term fetus matches the criteria of "living being".

Edited by ~Sophia~
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This is a slippery slope.
I think it's not a slippery slope: that dictionary -- NB you should always cite your sources and use the most objective and authoritative sources, especially becaue I love harrassing people over lousy dictionaries -- is simply in error. For example, neither a sperm nor an egg are in ordinary language considered to be "a being". The "can develop" clause is clearly religionist patlatl.

I assume you understood that my main point was that the jibberjabber about being rational is completely off point. As far as I'm concerned, the only third-trimester issue that arises is exactly about (1) whether man's right can actually conflict, contra Rand, and (2) whether a sperm-egg combo has the requisite "separate being" property. It is completely clear to me, beyond the smallest hint of a shadow of doubt, that the overt and covert religious fetal-rights activists are more interested in using last-minute abortions as a slippery-slope precedent (speaking of the well-greased hill) for banning all abortions, and possibly even contraceptives.

I very seriously propose that this nonsense about the rights of feti (fetera?) should be completely disregarded until there is a clear philosophical answer to the question of the rights of Siamese twins. If it can be proven that one twin must morally self-sacrifice (or be forced to self-sacrifice) for the sake of the other, then that argument can, maybe, be extended to forcing a mother to self-sacrifice for the sake of the fetus. Then we will finally have the proof of the necessity of altruism that these -- what swear-word can I use... altruists? -- demand of pregnant females. Until then, I just don't see it.

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That is because I hoped you would understand that the question was irrelevant. I thought that would be clear when I said that a fetus is not a rational being, and is not a being at all.

I understand this position, given your conception of a being, but I still feel that leaves us in an kward place. If the fetus may at some point have an independent rational faculty, while still being inside the womb- does that make it a second brain of the mother? A sort of double consciousness? I would say that your logical presentation makes more sense in the inverse- that given an independent rational faculty, it's nonsense to talk of it belonging to a non-being.

Incidentally, I think the slipery slope argument is precisely why it's important to have clarity of principles when dealing with the issue, and I think it's already being used on both sides of the argument- one side slides all the way to no abortion after conception, and the other slides to abortion up to the moment of chord-severing, but neither one has a solid moral backing.

Edited by softwareNerd
Fixed closing quote tag
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