The Fundamental Right to Choice
Issue   |   Wed, 02/22/2012 - 02:19

Before we get started, here’s a heads up: we will be using gender neutral pronouns in this article to allow for the inclusion of individuals who do not identify as women but whose anatomy includes a uterus and who are thus capable of being pregnant. These gender-neutral pronouns are ze, which corresponds to he/she, and hir, which corresponds to her/his.

As feminists, as women, as WAGS majors and as Amherst College students, we obviously have something to say in response to the recent anti-choice article published in The Student. We were proud to hear of the immediate reaction against the article on campus. That said, we’re just going to jump right into what we found most horrifying about the article and the subsequent discussion in comments on The Student’s website.

First and foremost, the argument that fetuses are dependent beings is not ridiculous or devoid of logic. In fact, it’s an obvious conclusion. A fetus is undeniably dependent on the person carrying it. While infants and college students may still be reliant on others for basic care or financial support, neither is dependent on others. The difference is simple and yet frighteningly overlooked: college students and infants are not living within another person’s body and therefore have bodily autonomy and independence — fetuses do not. This fact is unassailable, even if one brings in arguments about where life or humanity begin. While the fetus resides in the womb, it is dependent on that person’s body. This is why abortion cannot be reduced to murder; doing so ignores the existence of a completely autonomous human being whose life cannot be contested. This is not about one autonomous human being killing another autonomous human being. This is about a human being deciding whether or not ze wants to carry another life form within hir body.

Second, we refuse to apologize for our conviction that the rights of an undeniably conscious, living, sentient person are more important than the rights of a life form that cannot live independently. A fetus does not have a fully formed interior or exterior life and depends entirely on the body of the afore-mentioned sentient person. It is not insane, immoral or illogical to value fully formed, independent and sentient life over a cluster of human cells that are currently none of those things, despite the fact that they have the potential to be.

This is one reason why the comparison to the Holocaust is so offensive — the argument that a morula, blastula, zygote or fetus is exactly the same as a fully-formed, undeniably conscious and self-aware human being reduces the value of that fully-formed life. The people that died in the Holocaust knew exactly what was happening to them. They did not possibly know. They did not maybe feel the pain, if they were at that stage of development yet. They knew exactly what was happening to them. They could undeniably feel everything. The victims of the Holocaust felt the physical pain of abuse, starvation, disease, torture, rape and death. They felt the psychological pain of knowing that everyone around them considered them so worthless as to be killed for sport. They felt the dehumanization, the fear, the terror and the grief of being separated from their loved ones or of watching them die. They felt it all — it is undeniable. Fetuses cannot feel these things, if they feel at all. Comparing these two vastly different situations delegitimizes the struggles of those who lived through and died in the Holocaust.

Overall, the argument presented in last week’s article lacks maturity and understanding of the complexity of abortion. Arguments that make the issue black and white imply that those who have abortions are cruel, heartless humans who have abortions willy-nilly because they don’t want to bear a baby. Abortions are not easy or convenient, either physically, emotionally or financially. They are a not a simple response or an easy way out. Suggesting alternate paths make it seem like going through pregnancy is as easy as checking yes or no on a contract. The anti-choice movement seems to be unaware of difficult family situations, of health problems, of the psychological trauma of carrying the child of a rapist or the immense financial costs that come along with a pregnancy and the child that comes afterwards. When one ignores these circumstances, one robs the child bearer of hir humanity. The health concerns that come from someone being physically unable to care for hirself, let alone hir child, can have negative effects on both the parent and the baby, even when the baby is planned for. If one looks at statistics of hospitalizations from botched abortions before and after Roe v. Wade, one can see that the number of women dying on a hospital table drops when abortion is legal. The choice is not between having abortions and not having abortions; the choice is whether or not the government is going to protect the health and save the lives of the humans having them.

Furthermore, we would lastly like to address the debate about this article on The Student website. As mentioned above, we were proud to see so many students speaking out against this anti-choice article. The fact that they were often anonymous does not render their opinions any less valid; not everyone has the privilege of feeling safe enough to speak out.

However, one thing about the discussion was disturbing to us. Intermittently, posts appeared asking others to respect the opinion expressed in the article for the sake of a civil debate. In this case, we think this is too much to ask. While personal attacks on the author do not further the dialogue in a constructive way, feelings of anger in response to the opinion expressed are valid and should not be repressed or ignored. You don’t need to be polite in the face of an argument for your rights to be taken away. You don’t need to respect an opinion if it continues the systemic oppression of every person capable of being pregnant. If people try to tell us that their opinion, driven by personal beliefs that we do not share, should dictate what we do with our bodies, we do not need to respect that argument. We do not have to respect an argument that tells us that other people are more qualified to make decisions about our bodies than we are. There is absolutely no way we can respect the continuation of an oppression that views people who can be pregnant as incapable of making their own decisions regarding their own bodies. No one, absolutely no one, should be forced to do anything with their body that they have not willingly volunteered to do. To be polite in the face of arguments to the contrary is not necessary.

This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of what can possibly be said on the matter by any means, but simply the issues that seemed most relevant at this time. Given that we are each privileged along several axes of our respective social identities, we are sure our concerns differ from others’, but we have tried to be inclusive of as many different perspectives as possible in this short space.

To conclude, there is one reason that we are glad the article in question was published: it has brought an important feminist issue to the foreground of discussion on campus and has triggered an outpouring of pro-choice sentiment. On a campus where feminist and gender issues are often sidelined or ignored, it is good to see such important discussions finally getting the attention they deserve.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 04:55

I'm a fully developed fetus and I approve this article

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 12:35


confused (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 12:45

I can't believe Amherst students actually would believe that one can suspend civil discussion if one's offended. Respecting someone's opinion is not validating it, it is just respecting the right of someone to have a viewpoint and allowing dialogue. Can you imagine how israeli-palestinian talks would go if negotiators took the approach that Maia and Salena endorse?

I disagree wholeheartedly with Mr. Kaake's article, and I believe that his use of the holocaust and his insistence on equating abortion with murder is insensitive and over-the-top. But I respect his right to express an opinion that abortions are immoral. I think it would do the authors of this piece a whole lot of good to understand where Andrew is coming from and take his argument for what it argument.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/29/2012 - 16:59

They are respecting his right to his opinion. They are simply disagreeing with it and all its flaws. Which is what we as Amherst students are taught to do- debate.

Justin (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 14:24

If the editorial staff at the Student had simply hacked off the last four paragraphs, this would have been on OK article.

Unfortunately, they didn't. And so we the readers are treated to a bizarre and illiberal assault on the very notion of civil disagreement, of which Ms. Budinger and Ms. Mares ought to be deeply ashamed. The idea that it is legitimate for the opinions of a fellow student to be met with hostility and disrespect (indeed, the affirmative declaration that they SHOULD be met with such) is antithetical to the very notion of a liberal education. We are here to learn from one another, to have our opinions tested and shaped by the thoughts and arguments of our professors and our fellow students. The authors' declaration of hostility-- declaration of contempt-- amounts to nothing more or less than a rejection of the central principle of this College and of democratic fellow-citizenship.

Abortion is an incredibly difficult issue, and intelligent, principled people can and do disagree. I am pro-choice, but, precisely because I have approached the issue with at least a modicum of open-minded respect for my opponents' position in the long series of discussions and arguments which I've had with professors and fellow students, I am able to recognize the force of the pro-life argument, and the real difficulties and weak links that exist in the pro-choice case. I am also able to argue the pro-choice position far more effectively due to this process of mutually respectful argument.

The authors of the article would, apparently, prefer to indulge their righteous fury and ignore the grey areas and ambiguities. For shame.

JKoo (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 14:40


I was glad to read your post (though I think that this sort of attitude is exactly what is holding back the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are going...). Kaake's article was painful for me to read, not only for my vehement disagreement with his argument, but also for the pathetic logic, ignorance, and terrible analogies. However, he is entirely entitled to state his opinion, no matter how backwards or misogynistic I believe it to be. After all, my response to his opinion is simply my own opinion; if his can be suppressed and disrespected, so could mine.

Indeed, we have to ask exactly how Amherst students plan to help bring change to the world if we carry on in blind idealism, unwilling to face the fact that many (often most) people in the world disagree with us. Obviously sometimes no solution can bridge some gaps in opinion, but that doesn't mean we should ignore one side. The truth might not always be in the middle, but if we are preparing to make the world a better place, we have to be willing to get off our horses and shake hands respectably.

M Mares (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 17:00

To clarify, I definitely did NOT mean to say that Kaake should not have been able to express his opinion. I certainly do not believe that any opinion that disagrees with mine does not have a right to be expressed. I completely respect the right to free speech of people who disagree with me, but it is possible to respect someone's right to express an opinion and even to engage with that opinion in dialogue without suspending my emotional reactions.

If someone experiences emotion in the face of an argument, that emotion can be legitimate and denying or suppressing that emotion can be detrimental to dialogue. As expressed in the article, I do not believe that personal attacks are constructive. I also do not believe that discussions in which anger is included must by necessity devolve into shouting matches where no one is heard and nothing is accomplished. I think that abstracting the debate from the realm of emotion runs the risk of delegitimizing emotion as a method of discourse. Yes, dialogue in the midst of anger may not always be productive, but dialogue can still occur, after or in light of the anger, and anger can certainly arise in the midst of dialogue as new things are being said. What I was trying to bring across was that emotion can have a legitimate place in dialogue and that suppressing emotion should not be a requisite for engaging in that dialogue. Especially in this particular debate, we cannot always (if ever) have a calm discussion removed from emotion because this is an emotional issue that affects many people individually. It can be a tall order to tell a person who feels hir bodily rights are being infringed upon to suppress hir emotions in light of that infringement. Should that person be excluded from dialogue because ze wants to express hir emotional response? Or, the converse, should a person be excluded from the dialogue because ze is upset in the face of arguments that may contradict hir beliefs? Many people engaged in this dialogue feel personally unsafe in response to potential policies that may restrict their rights to bodily autonomy. Participating in dialogue on this issue may be a triggering experience for some people. Furthermore, there are plenty of ways to talk past one another even in the calmest of debates. Denying a place for emotion in the discussion does not necessarily guarantee constructive dialogue, but it does guarantee that some perspectives and reactions will be lost or excluded. While personal attacks don't further discussion, expressions of emotion CAN, even if they are sometimes expressions of anger.

Kristin Ouellette (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 20:20

I think one of the major faults to our liberal education is our tendency to be too tolerant of intolerance. There is such a thing as being too socially conscious, and as being too considerate of sexist, racist, or homophobic comments. Imagine the outrage that the Amherst community would feel if a student published an invective article about how black people are less intelligent than white people, or how letting women in Amherst was the worst decision the school ever made. Even an article against gay/lesbian right to marriage, which is a "hot topic" in national politics (for old people, maybe), would only be met with disdain and disappointment at Amherst. Sometimes in the world, if rarely, there is a right and wrong.

It is ok to take a stance, Amherst students. It is ok to say that one side's argument is better than the other.

There is also such a thing as the appropriate medium for a publication, and I think a large part of the blame for the hooplah surrounding this article falls on The Student for allowing such a biased and hurtful article to be published. Again, I don't think The Student would have published a flyer from the KKK or neonazis pointing fingers are evil bean counting Jews (though they allowed Holocaust allusions to float around, so idk). I can hardly imagine that the editors would allow an article to run calling the Israelis or Palestinians "murderers." Yes, free speech is important, but that is what Reddit is for. Go there, Mr. Kaake, and be down-voted 500 times before you try again in print. The Women of the World would like an apology.

Though I may be a skeptic, I think that The Student has been trying to take advantage of the online commenting and gain viewers/readers by publishing polemic, controversial articles. In some instances this is good––we all want to be involved in the AAS drama. But it was hurtful and alarming to find an attack on women's rights as I opened the paper at breakfast and took a swig of OJ, which I nearly spit on the back of someone's head. The article above was necessary to simmer down the agitated student body––thank you Budinger and Mares for taking the time write the article we all wanted to write.

Every time I watch another Rick Santorum video I pray that some day liberally-educated people will inherit the earth and women won't have to perform abortions under the porch with a slotted spoon and a Mickey Mouse Pez dispenser.

But alas, the hope must lie in the next generation.... boldly go where no man has gone before.

Lilia (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 23:06

Kristin, I see you channeling that Slavoj Zizek. Intentional?

Justin (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 23:17

I think it's really important to understand what precisely the implications of the belief on the part of pro-lifers (I am not a pro-lifer, but I think their view is legitimate and non-discriminatory/non-sexist/non-horrible) that a fetus is a human person with meaningful rights.

If you do indeed believe that a fetus is a person with meaningful rights, then it makes no sense to say that being pro-life is anti-woman or whatever the trendy nomenclature is. It's not nearly as simple as "either you're for women's rights or you're against them"; there's a far deeper moral question at work, and it's one that is incredibly difficult to resolve. If there was no issue deeper than 'should women have a right to an inconsequential medical procedure,' then allegations of sexism or intolerance might have a place. But it isn't. It's a question of exactly what sorts of beings deserve protection under the laws. If a fetus is a rights-bearing entity in the strong sense, then its interest in life is deserving of consideration-- and depending on your wider views on reliance obligations, you can legitimately think that protecting the life in question is important enough to outweigh the liberty interest of the pregnant woman.

I think that the position I've just outlined is wrong (for various idiosyncratic reasons that I don't think are relevant here), but it really isn't sexist-- sexism doesn't even enter the picture.

So yes: take a stand. Make an argument.

What I'm mad about, though, is the authors' endorsement of the viciousness in the comment thread on Kaake's article. I'm mad about their blithe acceptance of the attacks on his intelligence, good faith, and his very right to have opinions on the matter at all. And I'm mad most of all about the fact that they regard these attacks as legitimate responses to the expression of an opinion that differed from that of the campus mainstream.

Allegations of sexism are a copout and a distraction. If you think he is wrong, make the argument directly. Don't muddy the waters.

Lilia (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 00:11

Justin, I simply refuse to believe that when a male writer tells women as a demographic that, even if they are raped, they should not be able to get an abortion because that writer knows better than those women the joy of that life and the possibility of it's Steve Jobs-esque success and the harm of that abortion that sexism is not in play. I refuse to believe that when that same writer is okay with the state defending itself with lethal force in times of war to prevent undue harm to its citizens but not okay with a woman defending herself with lethal force against an unfeeling bundle of cells that may cause her undue harm that sexism is not in play. More generally, I refuse to believe that when our overwhelmingly male Congress and state legislatures put these bundles of cells on a pedestal and debate the issue without soliciting the input of the women who would be harmed by a lack of legal access to abortion or by mandatory penetrative ultrasounds or limitations on contraception that sexism is not in play.

Say what you will about the problems of vicious discourse and straw-manning-- those points are well taken. But sexism IS a legitimate contention here. Others have already articulated many of the gaping holes in Kaake's article (albeit a bit too angrily at times) in the previous thread. In terms of facilitating discourse on this campus, we don't do each other any favors if dumb down or smarten up or render abstract the arguments actually made in a specific text. There is a version of the pro-life argument that exists purely in a textbook, and there are the versions that actually exist in the world. Kaake's is one of them, and it is okay to criticize the implicit assumptions about who ought to make what decisions for whom that undergird his argumentation, as long as we don't resort to ad hominem attacks. Saying that his argument is sexist can help us understand how the broader debate about abortion rights is often tainted by sexism as well, not merely genuine concern for unfeeling bundles of cells.

Jenna Iden (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 00:20

Greetings, Internet. I would like to state for the record that the authors of this article were very clear about the reaction to Andrew's article. "While personal attacks on the author do not further the dialogue in a constructive way, feelings of anger in response to the opinion expressed are valid and should not be repressed or ignored." They very quickly addressed the rudeness of attacking Andrew's character rather than his position, but also noted that people are allowed to be passionate about an issue. Their target was the idea that every opinion is unquestionably valid.

Unquestionably, everyone has a right to an opinion and to expressing that opinion. But I am also well within my rights to challenge that opinion with every fiber of my being. While I was similarly disgusted by the personal attacks on Kaake's character, I found nothing wrong with the firestorm it provoked on campus. Debates are not about two beliefs running parallel; they are about collisions. Leave the character attacks out of it, but let's damn well debate.

14 (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 14:59

"the argument that fetuses are dependent beings is not ridiculous or devoid of logic. In fact, it’s an obvious conclusion."

"college students and infants are not living within another person’s body and therefore have bodily autonomy and independence — fetuses do not."

partialy true. infants are certainly not "independent" - at least in the sense that you can leave them alone and they can survive. Neither are those that are physically disabled, mentally disabled, nor the very elderly. There is not a big difference in sentience of a baby 1 month before birth a one month after. Some elderly adults are barley sentient. But that does not mean it is morally ok to neglect or kill them off because taking care of them would be a nuisance.

"It is not insane, immoral or illogical to value fully formed, independent and sentient life over a cluster of human cells that are currently none of those things, despite the fact that they have the potential to be."
What about those aforementioned mentally disabled and elderly. for those people that are neither independent nor sentient is it morally ok to dispose of them? they certainly have less potential to benefit the world then a fetus. if the answer is no, then rethink your argument. if the answer is yes, then lets turn on the ovens and stop wasting human and financial resources on those that cannot give back to society.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 17:09

You've been indoctrinated by the hyperagenda of the WAGS department. Don't let this cloud your thoughts and infect your writing next time. Use moral principles and not pluralism next time.

Lilia (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 18:01

I should clarify that when I say sexism is "in play" in the instances I cite above, I mean not that it is irrefutably proven but that it's something that should be on the table to discuss rather than being written off as a "copout." I was sleepy, not trying to beg the question.

John (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 01:34

Kristin, do you really think that the editors of The Student should have acted as censors and not published Kaake's article? It contained not personal attacks, and although it was polemic and hyperbolic, this is not grounds enough to refuse publishing a view that by the way, is pretty commonly held. If we start censoring everything that could be perceived as offensive, we are corroding free speech. And I'm not saying Kaake's article wasn't offensive, but are we so sheltered at Amherst that we cannot read pro-life arguments without labeling them misogynistic and sexist rather than attacking the shaky grounds upon which the argument sits? I know plenty of pro-life people who are not misogynists at all. They hold two views which I dispute. The first is that a fetus is a person. This can be disputed scientifically, philosophically, historically, etc. The second view is that ending human life is wrong in all circumstances. Again, this can easily be disputed, as it has in the comments on Kaake's article. However, these two views don't equate necessarily with a misogynistic or sexist attitude.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of the abortion debate, pro-lifers inevitably directly or indirectly call pro-choicers agents to murder and pro-choicers inevitably call pro-lifers sexists and fascists. Reasonable people will look past these labels and engage in the arguments, while the "offended" will ratchet up the name-calling. This dichotomy is evident from the comments on this site. This brings me back to my first point, that the editors of The Student don't have the responsibility to censor Kaake's article. It is not their responsibility to protect those who can't see past the inherently polarizing nature of the abortion debate.

Senior (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 17:16

I usually disagree with people who complain about political correctness, but this article takes it too far, yet at the same time (as Justin points out) attacks the liberal notion of civil discourse. Respect my opinion because I'm a woman, but I won't respect yours because you're privileged. How convenient. I hope that WAGS department is happy that this type of non-argument based jibber-jabber comes from their representatives.

Smith (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 17:17

This article is a ringing endorsement of my decision to never take a WAGS class

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 19:05

abloo bloo the wags department doesn't want my opinion as a man how dare they! don't they know that I refuse to accept the existence of the inherent power differentials society places between men and women???

the liberal notion of discourse is as awful as pretty much everything else neoliberalism has brought to the world. not all arguments deserve the same respect.

also seriously lol at the idea of feminist propaganda. god forbid someone push forth the idea of equality. time to go back to reddit and post angry things on the men's rights forum

so confused (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/25/2012 - 00:34

so you guys who're all about "Feminist propoganda" and "WAGS propoganda"

...what gives you this overwhelming arrogance that you know more by your casual observation of the world about women's rights, etc etc than people who have studied this for 10+ years


what do you think feminist scholars do

sit around comparing about how much men suck and writing books about that?

how do you discredit an entire department of professors who have dedicated their life to the scholarship of women's studies


nom nom nom (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/25/2012 - 12:54

Here are my first impressions on your article. Like almost all discourses on abortion, I feel like no one ever stays logical (even me). So like I said these are first impressions and they may not be valid or sound.

In the first paragraph you say, "While the fetus resides in the womb, it is dependent on that person’s body. **This is why abortion cannot be reduced to murder**; doing so ignores the existence of a completely autonomous human being whose life cannot be contested." It seems to me that the main reason why you can abort a fetus is based on the idea of dependence. Abortion is not murder because the the fetus is dependent on the person. However, if you could have a person develop from a zygote to an infant outside of a women would you object if someone tried to terminate those group of cells? If you think that it would be acceptable to terminate those cells then it dependence isn't the main reason why abortions are okay. If you think you couldn't terminate those cells then why do those cells have moral worth and how do their dependence on a person void their moral significance?

The second point is somewhat more valid, because comparing abortions to the holocaust isn't a perfect analogy but from an anti-abortion perspective I find it to be not outrageous like everyone seems to think it is. If you believe that a fetus has the same intrinsic value as an adult then your article is right and the only distinction is that why the holocaust (in form) is worse than the abortions happening in the US is because the Jews suffered then they were killed. From Kaake's perspective abortion in this country is the same as the government allowing millions of people to be painlessly killed in their sleep. They have no knowledge of being killed, nor do they feel pain but they are sacrosanct creatures being killed unjustly. This is how (I believe) an anti-abortion person would have to see the existence of abortion in the world. Which is why it's not irrational for it to be his most important topic in the race. If you thought that Obama was slaughtering millions in another country, no way would anyone vote for him. Same for Kaake, that's how he see's Obama and it's only logical that he would prioritize that issue.

Finally, I had some objection to these lines, "You don’t need to be polite in the face of an argument for your rights to be taken away. You don’t need to respect an opinion if it continues the systemic oppression of every person capable of being pregnant." As alluded to before this article is not sympathetic to the other side's perspective when it ironically claims that Kaake did the same thing as his opinion "lacks maturity and understanding of the complexity of abortion." Mr. Kaake could easily have put that line in his article just slightly reworded to say, "You don’t need to be polite in the face of an argument for your *right to life to be taken away* . You don’t need to respect an opinion if it continues the systemic *murder of every person with out the luxury of being born yet.*" It would be outrageous to Amherst students if Kaake said that. It seems like the only difference is that you think you're right.

Furthermore you say, "We do not have to respect an argument that tells us that other people are more qualified to make decisions about our bodies than we are." On face value, that seems blatantly wrong, the government (sometimes correctly, sometimes incorrectly) makes these judgements for us with respect to drugs and alcohol and the fact that you can't get surgery done by someone who's not qualified (it's my body! I can have anyone I want open me up). People who are smarter and more qualified than you and I make these decisions all the time because it's better for society that they do.

In sum, I found your argument as to why abortions are acceptable to be underwhelming and just as unconvincing as Kaakes argument against them. Also I feel like the rest of the article showed an unsympathetic portrayal of the anti-abortion position that indicates to me that you don't really have an understanding of how they view the topic.

As I mentioned before, I could be very wrong as I've taken about 20 min to type this response. So feel free to criticize anything I've said (not that anything was going to stop you in the first place).

ps. In case it's not clear I think abortions are fine/should be legal but I also don't think women have a "right" to abortion. I come from a pro-life family/community/high-school and really dislike it when I see people portraying anti- abortion people as women haters trying to trample on "right's" because those are my family and friends and that's not what how are.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 03:09

I would like to begin by offering my appreciation for your labeling Kaake's article as "anti-choice." He, and people like him may be "pro-life," but that they are is nearly inconsequential. The debate here concerns the right of all women to choose what to do their developing fetuses. "Pro-choice" is by no means the counterpart of "pro-life." There are many, many people in the pro-choice camp who find abortion immoral and would therefore never get one themselves. For this reason, it is far fairer to take away their use of the euphemistic "pro-life" label and instead apply the more appropriate "anti-choice."

Secondly, I would like to applaud your general argument. You don't make the familiar, problematic claim that fetuses have no degree of personhood or that they cannot have any human rights. Instead, you show that even if we do acknowledge fetuses some degree of personhood and some claim to rights, these rights cannot be powerful enough to trump a woman's own medical decision or to be equated with the personhood or rights of a developed human. This, in my belief, is the stronger, more appropriate way of making the argument.

Lastly, I am extremely grateful for your comments about our supposed imperative to respect all opinions. I have been thinking about publishing an article just on this topic. We get caught up in the imperative to respect each other (certainly a very worthy and correct imperative) that we overextend it to the supposed imperative to respect each other's opinions and viewpoints. Such a belief is mistaken. We ought to respect each other while arguing opposing viewpoints, we ought to be polite to one another, and we should probably even consider each other's viewpoints to enough of an extent that we understand why the other person has them. However, we owe no similar courtesy to the opposing beliefs themselves. I will argue that if someone says, "I find abortion repugnant and therefore you ought not have the right to perform one" it is no less problematic than if that same person says "I find homosexuality repugnant and therefore you ought not have the right to it." Anti-choice arguments are based on personal, intuitive distaste for abortion that are very, very often backed by religious belief and therefore deserve no respect from any of us. Making this point is rather dangerous since too many people do not differentiate between a lack of respect for an argument and a lack of respect for the person making it. Such people also face difficulty in understanding that one's not respecting an argument does not necessarily mean that one did not think the rationale of it through or even that one can disrespect an argument while still sympathizing with how and why the (faulty) logic was formed.

I will, however, warn you against making statements like "to be polite in the face of arguments to the contrary is not necessary." This implies that there might be excuse for personal disrespect, which is quite problematic.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 03/05/2012 - 00:14

Daniel, you say that "there are many, many people in the pro-choice camp who find abortion immoral and would therefore never get one themselves." If those people find abortion immoral then why would they allow others to do it? Can you find an example of another issue where this is the case? People who find female circumcision immoral don't just not do it themselves - they are very against other cultures committing the act. Same with murder, stealing, cheating, child molesting...etc. If you find something immoral, then it should be immoral in every case. It makes sense if you are pro choice to think that abortion is morally acceptable. In fact it is a huge contradiction to believe that something is immoral, yet allow others to do it.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Tue, 03/06/2012 - 13:53

You're absolutely wrong. There is a very distinctive difference between just finding something immoral (or even better yet, finding something immoral in one's own case) and forbidding others from doing it. You want cases? Absolutely!

- I think it is immoral to commit adultery. You probably do to. In fact, I would bet that a majority of Americans feel this way. Yet we wouldn't outlaw it.

- Philosopher David Velleman thinks that it is largely immoral to smoke. I agree with him. Yet neither of us would propose legislation that would legally forbid people from smoking.

- I think it is immoral to not recycle when the opportunity to do so is so available. I would only support penal laws against people not abiding to recycling rules.

It is only in the most severe of cases that we try to actually forbid people from doing certain things. Often this deals with rights that would be violated as a result of those "immoral" actions. I, and the authors of this article will argue this is not such a case because personhood has not been developed so much as to give the fetuses rights.