City of Brass

City of Brass

moving beyond pro-life and pro-choice in the abortion debate

Lets get my personal opinion out of the way: I am generally in suppoort of Roe vs Wade because I think it does a good job of providing a simple, algorithmic solution to the messy lack of moral and ethical concensus on abortion. Ultimately the “maximal” positions of the pro-life movement and the pro-choice movements are untenable (though there are far more of the former than the latter).

As far as I am concerned, Roe vs Wade must be defended at all cost, not because I am devoutly pro-choice, but rather because it is actually a very reasonable compromise between the maximal positions. I think that there’s a need however to examine the abortion issue from behind the safety of Roe however so that we can establish what principles we truly uphold as a society and then seek to apply them to other areas of law. In a sense, thanks to Roe, the abortion debate might be a tool for clarifying the moral issues surrounding life and death. We must accept as an axiom that – unlike child molestation or homicide or rape – there is no concensus on abortion, and there never will be, because abortion is a unique case because pregnancy is a symbiosis between two individuals with equal rights.


Once we accept the reality that Roe is here to stay, we can move forward and explore the abortion issue with fresh perspectives. One example of this is from one of my favorite conservative blogs, League of Ordinary Gentlemen (LOG), where guest author Sidereal attempts to dismantle the linear abortion debate axis into a two-dimensional graph, and makes what I think are key insights into where American public opinion really lies (and thus illustrates exactly why there is a political stalemate, since the politics of abortion are waged at the maximal ends, and thus essentially irrelevant).

I think however that the obsession with Roe has obscured the larger philosophical issues that abortion encompasses, however – what has been lacking these past 30 years has been a thorough examination of the actual principles by which we assert our pro-life or pro-choice convictions. The central issue is one of rights, in conflict between those of the mother and those of the baby. For the most part the politics f abortion have reduced this complex issue to a caricatured argument about “value” and “convenience”. Before the issue was so crazily political, though, there were people trying to investigate the philosophical aspects of the issue – for example, this fascinating philosophy paper (PDF) from 1971 by Judith Jarvis Thomson that really approaches the entire debate from an original perspective, which attempts to justify abortion after explicitly conceding the point (in the hypothetical) that life begins at conception. This is not easy reading but it really is a profound and thorough analysis. One of the key points it argues is in defining just what, exactly, is meant by the concept, “right to life” – and argues persuasively that the right to life “consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly.” It also makes a distinction between the Good Samaritan and the Minimally Decent Samaritan. It’s essential reading and really broadens the abortion debate in a meaningful way – including raising questions about how the same arguments should apply to issues like the death penalty and collateral damage.

  • freelunch

    Well said. Both Sidereal and Thomson manage to give some reasoned support to those who cannot see any sense in either absolutist position (even if the absolutist pro-choice position is pretty much a straw man invented by anti-abortion folks).
    Conflicting rights is what the Supreme Court, and, to a lesser extent, appellate courts have to do on a regular basis. Those who either do not understand this or for political purposes deny that it happens need to go back over the history of our courts and learn what they do.

  • freelunch

    I garbled my second paragraph. It should read:
    Resolving the balance of conflicting rights is what the Supreme Court, and, to a lesser extent, appellate courts have to do on a regular basis. Those who either do not understand this or for political purposes deny that it happens need to go back over the history of our courts and learn what they do.

  • Turmarion

    I like this post, but I’ve read the Thomson paper before, and I have to say it’s one of the weirdest things ever written in moral philosophy. What’s even weirder is that it intends to be taken seriously. I mean, analogies of being forcibly attached to a violinist for his life support (which some critics rightly point out is more like rape than generic pregnancy) and fetuses growing from seeds that blow in the window?! It’s hard to see how such arguments can be taken seriously on this planet. There may be an argument to be made about balancing right-to-life of the fetus against the needs, health, and life of the woman–but Tompson’s paper sure isn’t the one to make it.

  • JohnnyG

    You’re either for abortion (which you are definitely) or you’re against abortion. You can’t have it both ways as you’re trying to.
    Abortion is the killing of one human being for the convenience of another. That’s pretty simple. That means that there never is a valid excuse of killing the unborn baby.
    The United States needs to stop all killing of the unborn as it’s terrible to think that millions of unborn children are killed every year! Downright appalling!!!



  • Rabia

    The right to have an abortion is not a command to have an abortion. I didn’t have one when I became pregnant, even though I was single and the baby was sure to have significant health issues. The denial of a legal abortion does not prevent abortions–it never has. The middle ground–access to safe abortions under restrictions like Roe v. Wade when necessary for a woman’s survival and/or peace of mind (thus preventing suicides)–is to my mind the only reasonably ethically position. Well done blog, Aziz!

  • Your Name

    Your false dichotomy is part of the reason for the anger and the failure on the side of the anti-abortion crowd. They have been fed this erroneous assertion for years that those who support choice are pro-abortion. That is not true. It is indefensibly dishonest propaganda. Those who write it should feel shame.
    The reasons for abortion, as Rabia mentions, are not some simplistic selfishness that you present, but a complex mix of problems. The supposedly pro-life folks who claim that abortion is murder, who carelessly claim that a fetus is a baby, who have shown by the way they vote that they don’t care what happens if these babies are born, who refuse to compromise on abortion, even though they have lost are doing their best to keep the abortion rate higher than necessary. Yes, the pro-lifers are morally culpable for not compromising.
    So, do you want to be self-righteous or do you want to help bring the abortion rate down? The pro-choice folks are willing to work with you on doing that, but if you refuse to compromise, look at the mirror next time you scream “killer”, look at the mirror.

  • LIsa

    I say.. there should be limits regarding abortions as they are used for birth control. There should be a national private list of people, men and woman, The men who keep getting woman knocked up and woman.. because there are many repeat abortions.. over and over.. I know one gal who had ten.. UUMM birth control…Also the government SHOULD not pay for this treatment… No medi-cal….IT is NOT an illness.. only in any special cases where it is a life saving treatments for the mother…There should be some form of limits to discourage unsafe sex… I am for PRO-vention.. with limits on abortions

  • Lisa

    ALso why I am saying this.. is because a lot of woman that have gotten pregnant are lower income and well if it hurts the pocket book then maybe they will take better care if the first place and MEN also will be more accountable…

  • Your Name

    The idea that Row v Wade represents some sort of nice compromise completely misses the point.
    The Supreme Courts job is not to help us little peole make nice compromises.
    It’s job is to decide whether or not any given legislation or law enforcment tactic violates the Constitution of the United States of America.
    In Row v Wade, the supreme court decided, basically, that the constitution prohibits state legislatures from making abortion law. In other words, Row v Wade asserts that the COTUS guarantees the right to abort a fetus, and democratically elected state legislators have NO say in the matter, nor do citizens who disagree on this unusually tricky moral issue.
    In theory, the morality/legality of abortion is something we would discuss as grown ups – as is happening here (to an extent…), but in reality, our right to think about this and democratically make laws regarding this has been stripped away by.
    We may be “discussing” abortion here, but what we are not doing is influencing POLICY on abortion, one way or the other.
    We can’t do that anymore, becuase the Supreme Court decided to pretend the consitution prohibits us from doing so.
    That is the problem with Roe v Wade.

  • Your Name

    Sorry about the spelling grammar disaster.
    Kind of in a hurry (probably not the best time to post….)

  • Your Name

    If you include all the Supreme Court cases, Roe vs Wade is hardly a compromise. The United States has the most permissive abortion laws in the world. A better compromise would have left it up to the states.

  • Aaron Pohle

    If you believe there is a “messy lack of moral and ethical concensus on abortion” why are you in support of the Supreme Court dictating that the Federal government alone has the power to make the decision for everyone?
    Personally, I don’t have a problem with aborting being legal, but I have a huge problem with it being within the power of the federal government and not the states. Not only do I not agree that they have the authority, but I believe that authority was expressly denied to the federal government for issues just like this. 300 million people are not going to all agree on what sets of laws they should live under, and they should not be forced to.
    The problem I see with the abortion debate is neither side is willing to compromise at all. Both want the federal government to fully support their view. Either way, I believe, this would be wrong. The correct compromise would be to remove this as a federal issue and leave it up to the state legislatures.

  • Tom DeGisi

    The problem I see with the abortion debate is neither side is willing to compromise at all. Both want the federal government to fully support their view.
    I’m pro-life and I’ll happily settle for pushing it back to the states. There are no effective laws against late-term abortions due to the Supreme Court. If it went back to the states there would be.

  • Abambagibus

    I wonder what the mathematical calculus is behind the algorithm to which Mr Poonwalla refers. Our reduction to a series of numerically materialistic computations is not exactly what Pythagoras had in mind when he considered the sanctity of life. And isn’t it ironic that all who believe that all prenatal human life is disposable, like a yet to be fully cooked pizza, have happily already been born? Yet among them there are many, I am sure, who would lovingly regard the aforementioned pizza as more worthy of development, culinary or otherwise, than an ethically inedible fruit of the womb. Fortasse Abambagibus.

  • Jim

    If you replaced “abortion” with “slavery” and “roe vs wade” with “Dred Scott” in the first two paragraphs, this could easily be the beginning of an op-ed from 1860.

  • Tom DeGisi

    Here is the truth about abortion laws in America. Aziz believes that there are laws restricting second and third trimester abortions. OK, who has been convicted under these laws? I read about people being prosecuted and convicted of felonies for dog fighting and animal abuse. Here in Kansas we convicted Tiller of a misdemenor for failing to get an independant second opinion – although it may have gotten thrown out later, we will never know. Excuse me? All Tiller had to do was a better job of getting a second opinion and he can abort any baby he likes? That’s an effective law against late term abortion? There are no such constraints on our laws against dog fighting.
    I’m not seeing the compromise. What I see is regime which allows abortion with only minor procedural restraints any time between conception and birth. It’s easier to get a late term abortion – which kils a person – than it is to get a concealed carry license. It’s easier to get a late term abortion – which kils a person – than it is to build a church under the zoning laws of Lenexa, Kansas.
    Please, Aziz, if you have the time, defend this notion of a compromise by showing that there are effective limits which actually prevent most late term abortions from being performed. I bet you won’t even find some. When Kansas law used viability as it’s standard, Tiller aborted babies as non-viable for having a hare lip. Limitations designed to leave the decision up to a woman and two doctors are not effecctive limitations at all.

  • Paul

    hello Tom Degisi I am pro life, always have been, always will be. The reason I as a pro lifer will never “comprimise” is because (same with govt and terrorists) we shouldnt negotiate with evil. I respect your viewes and oppinion but a person can either stand for life or death my choices must end when another persons right begin. There is no excuse for murder. Not law. not financial. And not conveniance (which is the reason for abortion in most cases) (I jump from sight to sight looking for blogs and so I wont come back to this sight the chances are (I cant read your reply)) thanks

  • Luke

    There should be no “compromise” when it comes to killing innocent life. The person should have no “right” in deciding whether an innocent life should be born or not. The concept of “pro-choice” is ridiculous. This is Innocent life we are talking about. We aren’t talking about people who chose to commit a crime or anything like that. Innocent life. I don’t understand how you can justify killing millions of unborn children a year as a legitiment practice. I’m not a very smart guy, I am only 19 years old. However, I do understand that this is genocide. Millions of kids a year will never have a voice, a choice, or life. There is NO middle ground on this subject. Either you care about innocent life or you don’t. NO middle ground.

  • Tim H

    Fifty five years and some-odd months ago, My Mom and Dad engaged in sexual congress with the express purpose of having a child. Within a few hours, one of my father’s sperm managed to penetrate my mother’s egg, and a very short time later, something truly miraculous happened.
    The egg divided, and all of the genetic information that made up my father, and all of the genetic information that made up my mother combined to make up all of the genetic information that is me, Timmyjohn. And ever since that moment, I have been on a spiritual journey to become me. I have never for a moment stopped becoming me. And I had as much of a God given, unalienable right to the process of becoming me when I was composed of two cells as I do now, when I am composed of way too many cells. (Especially around my middle!)
    This is because during gestation, regardless of which “trimester”, (HA! what a human word!), I was becoming Tim Hansen. I wasn’t becoming a blowfish, or a gazelle, or a pollywog, or a bristle cone pine tree, or a bacterium, or an African gray parrot. To be sure, I am not today the man I was yesterday, or that I was last year, or that I was at the age of twenty, or even the person I was at six weeks in the womb. But it is inarguable that every nano-second from conception to this moment has been spent in the ineluctable continuum of my creation, and no one man or nation of men or especially my mother has the right to interrupt that continuum. To do so would be murder. How could it not be so?
    It seems the modern feminist movement has pinned its idea of liberation to the realization of complete reproductive freedom. The argument goes that each and every woman must have the sole responsibility for her own body. The problem with this logic of course is that the supposed “need” for an abortion arises out of an utter abdication of that responsibility in favor of short term sexual gratification. I mean relatively short. At least, I’ve never heard of an orgasm lasting fifty-five years and some odd months!
    Therefore, it does one absolutely no good to start demanding “reproductive rights” after one has reproduced! It’s like screaming “Gravity isn’t fair!!!” after you’ve deliberately jumped off a cliff!
    The question posed by my statement above is not at all the murky, unsolvable conundrum some would have me believe. My existence is a fact. There is really only one logical point at which my existence commenced, and that is that point of conception. All life is precious. All life is a continuum, from beginning to end, therefore to end that life prematurely is the gravest of sins.
    I don’t know what to make of this. I only know that the argument belongs right here, at the beginning .

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