i'm glad the mississippi personhood thingummy failed. probably, what is and what is not a person is not a matter best left to voters. on the other hand i'm not sure it's best left to philosophers or scientists either: it's a wickedly difficult or impossible question in various cases. to tell or remind you of my views on abortion: i am pro-choice. but i am queasy. i think it has been central to the progress of women in some ways, and specifically i definitely agree that every woman ought to control her own sexuality and reproduction. on the other hand, how much a fetus in vitro counts morally is a serious, and perhaps an impossible question. not nothing, and the question of whether abortion is an exercise of the autonomy of the person on whom its performed or the worst sort of violation of another person is just a really hard question. i was pretty clear when i was 16 and my 14-year-old girlfriend had an abortion. i got queasier, i must say, after seeing a number of births, and having some children. so if ron paul is pro-life obstetrician, i can respect that and understand it.
really it is a relief not to be a lobbyist, an activist, or a politician. in other words, if the head of naral were queasy, she couldn't say so. and she probably couldn't get queasy. her commitment is immune to revision or experience. obviously, so is a fundamentalist pro-life position. in a way, the extreme and absolute nature of the positions reflects the deep obscurity and difficulty and ambiguity of the question: you need subjective certainty - an absolute rigid faith one way or the other - precisely because the questions of objective truth are impossible to answer. it has to be an absolutely clear answer, precisely because ther is no answer. well, i have the luxury of living with that, because it does not matter what i think.
now if it faces me again with one of my daughters, or god forbid a hypothetical pre-menopausal lover of my own, then i will leave the ultimate decision to her, of course. and i do think that's where it belongs. but i also won't feel exactly right about it.
i've accused the pro-abortion rights side of being disingenuous when the make abortion merely a matter of a woman's control of her own body; they take it more seriously than that would indicate, as when obama and everyone else says that we can all agree that we should reduce the number of abortions.
one might say that the anti-abortion rights folks are caught up in a similar contradiction, as pointed up by the wichita abortion doc's murder. their rhetoric is murder, taking innocent human life just for your own convenience etc. but when someone actually takes that rhetoric seriously, like the shooter in this case, the pro-life groups back off entirely.
this suggests that there is actually a middle ground underneath the heated rhetoric: that it's a morally fraught thing, but not the same as murder. and yet articulating that position in a clear way would be extremely difficult, and prescribing policies that correspond to that would also be.
i've probably said this before, and i preface by saying that i am uncomfortably in favor of abortion rights. but the common ground on which obama (and his ilk) want to meet the other side is this: "we all agree that we want to reduce the number of abortions." (i just heard kerry kennedy say the same on morning joe). ok: why, exactly? taking abortion seriously as a moral quandary, which obama does explicitly, is not compatible with pro-choice dogma: that it's a matter of a woman's control over her own body, or that it's adequately framed as "the right to choose" (a truly empty focus-grouped formulation). these positions are calculated to project the idea that abortion is morally equivalent to, you know, having a mole removed or preferring bud to coors. once you allow that there is, actually, a moral issue, you've left the basic repertoire of pro-choice rhetoric.
i might say that the abortion thing bewilders me. i think henry has to be right that there's something wrong with the question of when (human) life begins, which sounds empirical but doesn't actually seem to be. the question might be: who (or what) counts, morally, and how much? the problem for me is like this: killing a newborn baby strikes me as a monstrous crime. but it's not the moment of birth that fully accounts for this: at the moment before the baby still counts. so when does it not count? you can't fix the point but you can't not ask, exactly. of course there could be wrong things that people do with their own bodies: lying, for example, in certain circumstances. but the idea that the abortion question is *only* about what women can do with their bodies begs the question, which is precisely whether and when we've got another human being that counts, morally. a fetus both is and is not a part of its mother's body.
my mother, both my wives (mothers of my children) etc have had abortions. they're not murderers. and i would describe myself as pro-choice. but i just want to say that the idea also gives me a touch of nausea; i am, really, morally squeamish about it. so i don't really know what questions to answer to try to develop a moral position. people's autonomy and control of their bodies and their sexuality etc is a fundamental value of mine, of course. but that's not the only value in play and all i can say is..i'm worried about this whole thing.
true obama has said he doesn't know when life begins, that that's "above his pay grade." that's a good place to start, and he can, e.g., because he's not a catholic. but you can't just say: some people, like embezzlers, think embezzling is ok, and i'm not willing to impose my beliefs by law. no one hesitates except when there's an actual political price for doing so: hence the hypocrisy. or you can't say that unless you're an anarchist, which would then make one wonder how you can hold or aspire to hold political office.
now if you are pro-choice on the grounds that the only question is a woman's control of her own body, then i would ask you, first, to oppose all drug laws and the like, all paternalist legislation. and i would point out that that the current boilerplate - "we can all agree that we should work to reduce the number of abortions" - is incomprehensible. *why* should we, if it's just about a woman's autonomy? because in general we want to reduce elective medical procedures? so do we all agree we need to reduce the number of liposuctions or botox injections? what's the issue?