Abortion as murder

The comment thread on this post is open to anyone who opposes abortion as murder on grounds that a fetus (at the stage it is performed) is a person. Please either
(i) confirm that the correct response of society is to indict and prosecute the mother who arranges it for capital murder (premeditated) (if you like capital punishment, presumably with that sentence), or
(ii) explain why anything less isn’t either hypocrisy or sacrificing the lives of innocents and moral principle for political expediency.
Links to abortion opponents taking position (i) publicly would be nice.
Never mind explaining why a fetus is or isn’t a person; that’s for another place and time.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

65 thoughts on “Abortion as murder”

  1. My attitude has not changed one whit since I became aware of the problem in the 1960s. It is the mother’s decision. If anyone tries to force pregnancy, they should not only be liable for all costs of rearing the child, but, also, pay compensation to the mother for pain and suffering.

    No pay, no say.

  2. There are a variety of (ii)-style answers. Here’s one: imagine you were
    made dictator of a country where infanticide was widespread and widely condoned, like Han-dynasty China or ancient Greece. Would you institute the same penalty as for (other types of) murder? My sense is that a lot of modern, infanticide-condemning Westerners wouldn’t, at least at first.

  3. RK, your answer sounds to me a justification based on political expediency, so it doesn’t seem to satisfy (ii).

  4. I’m pro-choice, but putting myself into anti-choice shoes, here’s my best type ii argument.

    If we think the purpose of laws is to reduce the incidence of crimes, as opposed to vengeance or justice or whatever, then presumably we want to choose the mildest punishment that will be effective. To me, that argues for punishing women who choose abortion with a year or two in jail and hefty fines, on the theory that deterrence will be more effective with these types of “criminals” than with, for example, thieves. I don’t think this is hypocrisy. Is it hypocrisy to distinguish between murder and manslaughter, both of which are intentional killing?

  5. With respect to (ii), anyone who’s read Gonzales v. Carhart knows full well that paternalistic misogynism that refuses to acknowledge women to be moral actors is alive and well in abortion “analysis” and is, in fact the primary concern driving the abortion views of the median Supreme Court Justice. If pregnant women aren’t considered moral actors but rather mere unwitting dupes who need to be protected from themselves then there’s nothing hypocritical about viewing abortion as murder but not indicting women who get abortions for murder. In the eyes of someone who accepts the method reasoning of Justice Kennedy in Carhart II it’s no different than not indicting a six year old or a severely mentally retarded person for murder.

  6. Consider the case of a fetus in her 33rd week of life. We should be clear from that question that Michael either believes that fetus isn’t a person (which would mean that infants are not persons), or that that Michael doesn’t oppose her abortion. [edited for site policy]

  7. Hm, that would be me, with the following provisos:

    1. Only post-viability, with viability being judged in the individual case. A non-survivable defect in the fetus would render it legally pre-viable through the whole pregnancy.

    2. Provision for self-defense abortions, if an independent medical evaluation established the need for it. No evaluation by somebody chosen by the abortionist or the mother would be acceptable.

    Since we’re confidently assured by the abortion industry that genuinely elective late term abortions are essentially non-existent, this should cover everything but really evil mad dog killers who happen to be pregnant, right?

  8. Trying harder to put myself into anti-choice shoes, I think the answer doesn’t stop at “women aren’t moral agents.” Even if women aren’t moral agents, they still need someone to control and regulate them. And historically, the answer is that women are the property of their husbands or fathers. Nowadays husbands and fathers don’t have sufficient tools to do that, but in the good old days, they had sufficient power that there was little need for the criminal justice system to intervene. Husbands or fathers controlled women’s property and could confine them to the house or an institution if they disobeyed.

    Hence, if you’re looking for ugly views among the anti-choice crowd, don’t look for attempts to criminalize women’s behavior. Instead look for attempts to take away their autonomy more generally. Making divorce more difficult is one attempt that springs to mind, but I imagine that the traditional values crowd has other plans too.

  9. Monsters, I’m pretty sure that at some point between (i) wine and roses and a gleam in the eye and (ii) a second after birth an egg becomes a person and killing it after that point is murder. I don’t have the certainty of many as to when that point is. I think you do, and that you think it’s very early, but that’s another question. So should we or should we not hang women who deliberately arrange to kill their fetuses that we judge to be people?

  10. In response to Michael O’Hare’s 11:55 comment, we do not look for when an egg becomes a “person,” and then ban abortion at that point. We decide at what stage of embryonic or fetal development we wish to ban abortion. Perhaps, by “person,” Michael O’Hare means merely the point at which we decide to ban abortion, but, if that’s the case, then we can dispense with the label “person.”

    Also, the decision at what stage to ban abortion must take into account what no one in this thread has mentioned: the right of the mother, as opposed to the government, to control her body. It makes a difference that an embryo and a fetus are within a woman’s body.

  11. Henry, for all practical purposes, I would agree with you. But I *could* imagine a situation in which a child was able to develop maybe 6 months to a year longer in the womb – maybe with a little videoscreen or cellphone to play with: still within the woman’s body, but definitely having taken on “personhood” in the sense that it would presumably be developing complex thought and interacting with society.

  12. Henry@11:04 am: RK, your answer sounds to me a justification based on political expediency, so it doesn’t seem to satisfy (ii).

    I don’t think the intuition against punishing infanticide like murder in these societies is based on political expediency. I think it’s based on the notion that an immoral act is less culpable when it’s endorsed by the prevailing morality. That’s why we’re relatively forgiving of sexism when it comes from the elderly, or racism when it comes from Thomas Jefferson.

  13. “the right of the mother, as opposed to the government, to control her body. It makes a difference that an embryo and a fetus are within a woman’s body.”

    It makes a difference pre-viability. Post-viability, abortion isn’t the only way of ending the pregnancy, and the determination to abort rather than deliver becomes a choice about the end state of somebody else’s body.

  14. I think it’s possible that abortion falls somewhere between murder of a fully developed person and the killing of mere cells with no moral standing at all. It is possible, then, to believe in restrictions on abortion on the grounds that the act is a serious moral offense without arguing that it is equivalent to murdering a fully grown person. It seems that personhood develops over time; one doesn’t suddenly go from being a non-person to a person. Abortion could, then, be restricted without imposing the punishments we apply for murder.

    Even if it is all-or-nothing and abortion could only be restricted on the grounds that fetal humans are fully persons, there still could be good reason for stopping short of the severest punishments. Perhaps the women undergoing abortions have suffered enough. The law could acknowledge the difficulty and pains of their situation without making the procedure completely free of penalty. If you think, as most pro-choicers appear to, that fetal life doesn’t count for anything (unless it’s wanted), even lesser penalties would of course be unacceptable. But if you think fetal life has some moral standing and cannot well be completely ignored in our laws, then some kind of middle-ground compromise seems inevitable.

  15. I followed the link that dave schutz gave, and it reminded me of the time I picked up a hitchhiker who was running for President of the United States (sort of a grass roots campaign). He wanted to empty the prisons on the grounds that vengeance is the Lord’s, to abolish money and replace it with barter, and, on the issue of abortion, he had a solution which was not without its originality. He wanted to take all aborted fetuses, grind them up, process them into hot dogs, and force feed them to women who said that they were nothing but lumps of tissue. He had some other planks in his platform, but we arrived at the intersection he needed to go to before he had a chance to expound them.

  16. I believe that abortion is murder of a real person. I come to conclusion # 1, that a mother who has her baby aborted should be brought up on capital murder charges. In fact, I wanna go one further. I think the father should also be brought up on charges of murder in most circumstances, unless the father had absolutely no knowledge that the mother was pregnant with his baby and was planning an abortion. The abortion “doctor” should also be brought up on charges of murder. You’re right Michael O’Hare, anything else would be inconsistent with my worldview and position on the issue and would make me either a hypocrite or turning a blind eye to murder. I’ll be completely consistent and I call on all those who believe abortion is murder of a living human being to also be consistent. I can’t think of a web link to an abortion opponent taking a position like this publicly, but until abortion is illegal it’s kind of beside the point, so I guess I’m not surprised I don’t hear this. If abortion was made illegal on grounds that it was murder, what other punishment would there be for abortion?

  17. “Post-viability, abortion isn’t the only way of ending the pregnancy, and the determination to abort rather than deliver becomes a choice about the end state of somebody else’s body.”

    Brett, let’s say that viability begins at six months. (I’m just making up the number.) For the government to force a woman to carry a child for three more months is an imposition on her liberty. I’m not claiming that that settles the issue, but it is a consideration that we should not ignore when we decide the question.

  18. Surely prosecuting for murder would both reduce human population pressure on the planet, and have many, many more maladjusted, miserable people born to people who don’t want and/or can care for the child(ren). Sounds good for fewer people, bad for a higher percentage of miserable people infecting our populace. And what about the little snowflakes waiting to be born? Who out there is making their wimminfolk bear these little snowflakes???

  19. Not all the names of the commenters on this thread identify their sex, but all those that do are men’s names. Maybe that’s why I am alone in recognizing a woman’s right to control her body. Let’s hear from some women.

  20. Try this website


    Here is the money quote:

    “(2) A more severe punishment should be given to the abortionist, as he or she is the one profiting off the abortion practice and would likely have a much fuller understanding of what an abortion does to a developing human being in utero. Past statutes normally punished with a long prison sentence.

    (3) A less severe punishment should be given to the woman found guilty of inducing abortion, with increasing severity for repeated offenses. However, since convicting someone of a crime requires evidence, and there likely would be little material evidence in abortion cases, it may be appropriate to offer the woman impunity or a lesser charge in exchange for testimony against the abortionist.”

    And no, I do not endorse the above views.

  21. So, Bux, is a miscarriage (medically known as a spontaneous abortion) something that should be investigated by law enforcement? A human being has died, and should have a death certificate with the cause of death on the appropriate line of the form. That cause of death has to be certified, since there is an unexplained fetal demise. The percentage of recognized pregnancies that end in miscarriage is in the neighborhood of 15%. The rate of early embryo loss (which is never recognized as a pregnancy) is more difficult to quantify, but infertility doctors estimate this to be in the neighborhood of 40 %.

    Ideas have consequences; if a fertilized ovum is a human being, we need big government to track down cases of pregnancy loss and rule out foul play, the same as we do with unexplained deaths in general.

  22. Post viability, you don’t have to wait, you can induce labor. So, no, it really IS about killing the baby.

  23. Good point too Ed Whiteney. I agree.

    By the way, folks do realize that there have been cases in which a pregnant mother was murdered and the offender has been prosecuted for two murders. Why would this be if the fetus is not a real human life? Should be only one murder. And yet this happens under the law now.

    As to Henry’s comment, a woman’s opinion is irrelevant if abortion is murder. Remember Michael O’Hare started out this specific post with assuming that abortion is murder and not arguing that case here. So if we assume abortion is murder (and again, that’s the big “IF” that we’re not asked to debate in this particular post) then how is it relevant what a woman has to say about the rights of her body. I don’t know anybody who would argue that a woman does not have a right to her own body. Pro-lifers simply argue that women do not have an absolute right to their body at the expense of taking the life of another body.

    Balloon boy…it makes all the difference in the world on what’s inside

  24. Post viability, you don’t have to wait, you can induce labor. So, no, it really IS about killing the baby.

    So you’re in favor of forcing women to submit to a potentially dangerous medical procedure against their will? They’re breeding an interesting sort of “libertarian” these days.

    Of course, this all makes a lot more sense if I just keep in mind that you believe women aren’t people.

  25. Here’s a thought experiment for the rest of you commenters, who as far as I can tell are men:

    You know that there’s a dangerous kidnapper about, but because you’re unlucky, or you were drunk and didn’t take enough precautions, or you were careless, you are knocked unconscious and attacked by the kidnapper. When you awake, you find yourself connected by tubes to some other person. Now your body is supporting both your life and the life of another person– maybe you’re a human dialysis machine or something like that. At any rate, the other person will die if you are disconnected. If you opt to stay, you have a nonzero chance of dying, and will almost certainly be uncomfortable and throw up a lot.

    Can you cut the tubes and leave, or do you have to stay there for nine months against your will? If you want to, you may assume that the other person was not involved in your kidnapping, did not choose to be hooked up to you, but now wants you to stay.

    If you think you can leave, how is that different from my having a birth control failure and having an unwanted pregnancy.

  26. @ Brett

    Post viability, you don’t have to wait, you can induce labor.

    Is this really true? I mean, first of all, there’s viable and there’s viable – the achievements in medicine’s ability to rescue extremely premature babies are wonderful, but they aren’t magic. A very premature baby is going to require a lot of very expensive care, will be at great risk, and will have real problems, despite everyones’ best efforts; my (lay) understanding is that at the edge of what we can do to rescue premature births the resulting person will be afflicted for life by their premature removal from the womb. So, just because the fetus has progressed to have a reasonable chance of viability doesn’t mean it would be ethical to end the pregnancy by removing it; it makes much more sense to say that once the fetus has crossed this threshold it has gained more rights to be weighed against its mother’s rights. Also, is “induce labor” even the right term? Again as a layperson, I’d suspect that surgery would be a much safer bet to extract a viable fetus months before it is ready to be born – safer for the baby, and maybe also for the mother.

    @ Bux

    In fact, I wanna go one further. I think the father should also be brought up on charges of murder in most circumstances, unless the father had absolutely no knowledge that the mother was pregnant with his baby and was planning an abortion.

    Ah, the flipside of the belief that women aren’t really moral actors: it’s the potential father’s decision what happens with the potential mother’s body. Good to know. Can we go after the manufacturers of pregnancy tests next? Surely they’re culpable. Maybe the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages, who have no doubt contributed to many pregnancies, should be liable if abortions result.

  27. Thank you Bux, for your internally consistent response.

    As best we know, breastfeeding does not prevent conception, only implantation. Which is to say, it causes the death of a human being. What punishment would you see meted out upon women (murderesses) who rely on breastfeeding for “contraception”?

  28. Michael, if I read you correctly, you think that some abortions, late in pregnancy, are murder. How do you solve the problem you’ve identified?

  29. Cardinal Fang, can we just refer to the standard responses to Thomson’s violinist thought experiment? Abortion debates would go much faster if we assigned numbers to all the arguments, and listed the ones we found convincing at the beginning.

    The polls are pretty inconsistent, but in general, women’s attitudes towards abortion don’t seem to differ sharply from men’s. In particular, they’re not markedly more pro-choice. Obviously this isn’t fatal to pro-choice arguments (at least the good ones), but if you’re a pro-choicer, I’m curious to know whether you think it’s an inconvenient fact, and whether you have an explanation for it besides false consciousness or whatever. (Of course, if your answer to the first question is no, you might not think it needs an explanation.)

    Apologies for derailing the thread even further, but it looks like Professor O’Hare’s original restriction on this comment thread (only people who oppose abortion as murder) fell into desuetude a while ago.

  30. How come the words Christian, Christ, Jesus haven’t appeared once yet in this thread?
    Crikey, someone here has to play the devil’s advocate:


    What would Jesus say?

    Maybe I should also get out ahead with what I believe is the fundamental whitey-righty answer:


    To hell with Christ, any chance we could burn her at the stake?

    Which is all to say Michael, when you strip the thing bare naked as you have tried to do with your post, then one needs to strip the answers just as bare too. For most white-right bigots my answer does just that. After all, most Christians aren’t really Christian are they? For the more educated southern white-right bigots, driven by the need to clothe their primitive faith in logic, see R.Johnston’s post upthread at 11:18 am. That post on white-boy paternalism/justification is just brilliant…

  31. For the record, the Catholic church practices the spiritual equivalent of this. There have been at least two cases recently where children (ages 9 and 11, respectively) were pregnant with pregnancies that threatened their lives, and after having lifesaving abortions, the girl and doctor and, I think in at least one case, the girl’s mother, were all automatically excommunicated. If I recall correctly, at least one of the rapists responsible was not excommunicated, because he’d gone to confession. So that was all right then. In the Catholic worldview, excommunication puts the soul at risk of being condemned to Hell, so I would argue that this is the spiritual equivalent of capital punishment.

    Similarly, a nun who approved a lifesaving abortion was excommunicated recently in the US.

    Just a couple of links:

  32. RK, are you asking whether I think it’s inconvenient that women aren’t markedly more pro-choice than men? Do you mean, inconvenient when assessing the validity of my pro-choice point of view? No. Or do you mean inconvenient when I try to persuade people to agree with me? Maybe, but that is an uninteresting tactical discussion.

  33. Bux: “By the way, folks do realize that there have been cases in which a pregnant mother was murdered and the offender has been prosecuted for two murders. Why would this be if the fetus is not a real human life? Should be only one murder. And yet this happens under the law now.”

    The Wikipedia article on “Feticide” contains a link, http://bit.ly/3B5tX1, to a summary of state laws from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Alabama, for example, but only because they are first on the list:

    Ala. Code § 13A-6-1 (2006) defines person for the purpose of criminal homicide or assaults. The law defines person to include an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability and specifies that nothing in this act shall make it a crime to perform or obtain an abortion that is otherwise legal.

    So, whether a fetus is a “person” or not, killing one is murder in many states – with an exception for legal abortion.

  34. Michael, was it a more interesting question when you didn’t think it had any relevance to your position? You are someone who opposes some late-term abortions because, at that stage, the fetus is a person. So, will you confirm that you hold what you say is the correct response, and wish to prosecute those mothers who arrange such abortions for murder? Or are you a hypocrite, as you’d have it, and inclined to think a different penalty appropriate?

  35. Bux, how do you view bombings of abortion clinics? I assume that if an individual entered a public school and began killing children you would have no moral issue with taking his life. If the moral equivalence is complete then acts of violence against abortion providers would seem consistent with your views. What about the killing of Dr. Tiller?

  36. @ Henry,

    There's plenty of documentation on pre-Roe abortions in the historical record. One memoir from the period is Larry Karp's The View From the 'Vue. Karp was an intern and Ob/Gyn resident at Bellevue Hospital in NYC in the early 1960s. What the record shows is that a woman who wants an abortion will get one. Illegal abortionists came in all sorts, Karp only saw the results of the bad ones, of course.

    What it came down to in that period was that women of wealthy families with an inconvenient condition took a sudden trip to Scandinavia. Some middle class women found themselves visiting a relative in a state where abortions could be obtained. Poor women (and many middle class women) had to get it done where they could. There were always a few doctors who performed D&C's off the books, if you knew someone who knew one. But there were also (almost literal) back-alley abortionists who stole surgical instruments and might (or more likely not) bother with something approximating aseptic technique. These (and women who tried to self-induce with the coat hanger of legend, and other implements) were the ones who ended up in ERs.

    What Fred said about women with advanced pregnancies is borne out in the record. Women with advanced pregnancies rarely (if ever) wake up one day and decide that they are tired of being pregnant and run down to the local PP clinic and demand an abortion. In another life, I was a research analyst in Kansas, and I had cause once to review the abortion records (the original records, not the computer tapes). There was an obvious classification — early abortions (estimated gestational age 10 weeks or less) were generally justified on the basis of mother's mental health. Late abortions (estimated gestational age 16 weeks or more) had objectively verifiable indications. Things like a cancer diagnosis in the mother, anencephaly, hydrocephaly in the fetus, and the list goes on. Every one of those records documented a family tragedy.

  37. @fred: your estimates are pretty good even if you don't factor in the issue of underlying developmental problems. Basic NICU care goes for $2-3K a day (extra for the fancy stuff, or if you actually need doctors to do things), so pretty much the minimum you're talking about for getting a "viable" infant out of the hospital is $150-200K. So 5,000 births of just-"viable"is somewhere north of a billion dollars.

  38. The comment thread on this post is open to anyone who opposes abortion as murder on grounds that a fetus (at the stage it is performed) is a person.

    That's not me, but for consistency I think it would be good to include mothers who have gone to fertility clinics. I don't think those fertilized ova in test tubes are any different, from a biological standpoint, from any others.

  39. "What Fred said about women with advanced pregnancies is borne out in the record. Women with advanced pregnancies rarely (if ever) wake up one day and decide that they are tired of being pregnant and run down to the local PP clinic and demand an abortion."

    Granted. People rarely up and decide to commit murder, either. Doesn't imply it ought to be legal.

    I'm told that late term, elective abortions are practically non-existent. If that's so, what's the problem with them being illegal, and treating them as murder? Virtually nobody would be subject to such a law, given this premise.

    It's rather hard to confirm, however, that virtually nobody goes for an elective late term abortion, when the determination of medical necessity is nominal, with a constitutional bar against anybody checking to see if it was pretextual.

  40. Could it be helpful to think about slaves? In the antebellum South – and no doubt other slave-owning societies – chattel slaves were somewhere between animals and people. In the South Carolina Slave Code of 1740, slaves could be tried for murder, which presupposes moral personality. "Section XXXVII treated a white person who killed a slave quite differently. Willful murder of a slave was punished by a fine of 700 pounds. Killing a slave "on a sudden heat of passion" resulted in a fine of 350 pounds." Even £350 was a considerable sum; a year's income for a gentleman. Say $100,000 today.

    The anti-abortionist position (not mine) could then consider fetuses as like slaves: human but of a lesser sort. So penalties for murder would appropriately be lower than for full people. The schema also allows for the partial introduction of the woman's rights, as analogous to those of a slave-owner. Killing your own slave was presumably treated more leniently than killing someone else's: the property interest mitigated in one case, aggravated in the other.

    Amazingly, this slave code included some social protection.

    "The code did recognize that slaves were entitled to a sufficient level of food, clothing, and shelter. Section XXXVIII permitted a complaint to be filed against a slave owner who was derelict in providing the necessities. A court could order the owner to provide relief to the slaves. Likewise, section XLIV authorized the fining of slave owners who worked their slaves more than fifteen hours a day during the hottest time of the year."

    I wouldn't take this Old Deal over the New, but Ayn Rand would be shocked.

  41. Brett, you're not paying attention. late-term elective abortions are now, and always have been, illegal. The only late-term abortions that are legal are those performed due to medical necessity. You complain that there's insufficient defense against fraudulent claims of medical necessity, but that's a question of fraud, not of abortion. You ally yourselves with people who claim single cells are people (inconsistently, at that: if the anti-abortion activists truly had the courage of their convictions, they'd try to make in vitro fertilization illegal, or at least require that very few oocytes be fertilized and that all be implanted) apparently in order to get better regulatory measures to defend against something that you yourself admit basically doesn't happen – or in the rare cases that it does happen, as with this monster in Philadelphia, it's an aberration that may well have resulted from a lack of access to non-fraudulent medical treatment and a lack of social services.

    To the extent that elective abortions are occurring later than they otherwise might, surely some of the blame must be placed with the anti-abortion forces who regulate abortion so as to limit access: women seeking abortion may have no place to go within hundreds of miles, may have no way to pay, and may face additional hurdles, especially if they are minors. And these obstructions are thrown up in bad faith, at least as fraudulently as you – without substantiation – allege doctors might make false claims of medical necessity. Consider the case of Priscilla Owen, formerly of the Texas Supreme Court and now a federal judge:

    In a dozen "Jane Doe" cases in which the court was asked to allow a pregnant teenager to bypass the state's parental notification requirements and receive an abortion, Owen voted every time to deny the bypass. When lawyers for a college-bound teenager who was in her fifteenth week of pregnancy–and who had already endured more than a month of legal delays–asked that the high court expedite action on the high school senior's request for permission to bypass the parental notification requirement, the court majority quickly granted the bypass. Owen wrote a dissent that asked: "Why then the rush to judgment?"

    You claim to support first-trimester abortion. Well, there was a young woman who sought just such a termination, but was delayed by state restrictions until well into her second trimester, including a judge who clearly was perfectly happy to ponder the pregnancy until well after the viability threshold.

  42. James Wimberley raises an interesting issue. The absolutists on abortion (both sides) insist on the legal status of an intrauterine life having a value of either 0 or 1, where 0 is a nonentity and 1 is a full person. However, most people seem to have an intuition that the value for a fetus could be between 0 and 1, approaching 1 as the pregnancy gets closer to term. This intuition lacks the exactness that we humans tend to crave, and possibly is needed for the clarity we expect for our legal system to operate.

    It is astonishing that the right-to-life movement has not (to my knowledge) sought an injunction against an abortion clinic under existing animal protection laws. Cruelty to animals is illegal in virtually all jurisdictions, and even if a fetus does not have the status of a person, it would well have the status of an animal.

    I once had a book about the history of the criminal prosecution of animals in parts of Europe, where pigs who killed children were duly tried and hanged for murder. I suppose it is a bad idea to introduce one more tangent to the main discussion, but couldn’t resist mentioning this curious piece of history.

  43. I'm a physician who practices pediatric critical care (intensive care) and have read this post and comments with interest. The dilemma of figuring out where one stands on abortion makes either extreme position appealing: Bux has the certitude that all abortion is murder; the alternative is that all abortion, right up to term, is legal if the woman wants it. Most people, though, find themselves somewhere in between these two extremes and are left with the messy process of defending their position. So, since everybody else besides Bux has been breaking the posting conditions, I will, too.

    Folks like Brett want to make the decision nice and clean by talking about pre-viability and post-viability. As several commentators have pointed out, this is a false distinction. Certainly a first trimester embryo is not viable. After that things get very, very murky. When I trained 35 years ago, I was taught a 25 week, 500 gram, second trimester fetus was non-viable; a scale in the delivery room determined if resuscitation was to be attempted, or if the event was to be called a miscarriage.

    So did I, for example, murder a 450 gram, 24 week gestational fetus when I turned away? After all, the heart still beats for several minutes at least, and the tiny bundle usually makes some gasping efforts to breathe. These days, because of better technology, we do push the viability threshold downwards. But it's never even close to a bright line, and we still leave some tiny bundles (fetus, infant — even the words are politically and emotionally charged) behind in the delivery room.

    When parents decide they don't want such a bundle to be resuscitated, are they committing murder, too? Because some parents do make that decision, as is their right. As others have pointed out upthread, such bundles, if resuscitated successfully, nearly always have horrific medical problems for the rest of their (shortened) lives. I deal with many such families years later, and more than a few have told me they wished they had not chosen to unleash the technology. Some have told me they felt pressured by the doctors or nurses; others actually feared prosecution (from people with Bux’s viewpoint). And doctors, of course, fear malpractice and wrongful death suits.

    For myself, I support first trimester abortion as a woman’s choice. I think the ethical balance is in her favor. I am personally conflicted after that point, but would support a state’s right to prohibit abortion during the second trimester except when there is a reasonable probability that the mother’s health is seriously threatened.

    Third trimester abortions should rather be deliveries; infants are clearly viable then. If the infant is known to have some dreadful problem (e.g. trisomy 13 or trisomy 18), the usual rules of medical ethics apply, in which a parent has the right to allow only comfort care and not futile care. But I think the infant should be delivered alive and given whatever chance nature brings.

    Bux is right in that, if abortion is murder, murderers need to be prosecuted. In contrast, if abortion is always legal, with the woman’s rights trumping those of the fetus, then what essentially is infanticide is also legal. But those fringe, extreme positions, though logically consistent, are, to me, absurd.

  44. As to the viability question: Obviously a fetus at six months gestation is going to require extraordinary medical care. Add to this the reality that a woman is hardly likely to bring a fetus to that point and then opt to discontinue the pregnancy unless the problems for that fetus are some where between substantial and insurmountable. All of this extraordinary care is realistically going to cost in the millions or tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

    So the question is, who is going to pay for all of this? In a time when productive adults with families dependent on them are denied lifesaving care because society is unwilling to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars why does this unformed individual deserve an amount of money dedicated to it’s suvival that could save the lives of many more people who we seem willing to wash our hands of?

    Here is the problem with the debate about abortion: We are trying to pretend we can have this debate in a vacume. The real qustion to start the debate is: Why do women chose to abort a pregnancy?
    *When it is a matter of health the choice seems less a choice and more a matter of necessity.
    *When it is a personal choice it gets complicated. It usually boils down to money. Money for health care, child care, restriction of ability to work or get education, adequate housing. It always amazes me when people with good resources act as if people without those resources should just whip them up out of thin air. And so often these are the same people who want to eliminate funding for the forty year old truck driver who needs a transplant.

    So start by admitting that nobody want abortions to happen. The sad reality is sometimes they are the best option. The way to eliminate abortions is to try to eliminate the conditions that create the circumstances that make an abortion the lesser of two evils.
    *Provide universal health care. This is probably the one thing that would do the most good for pregnant women as well as everybody else.
    *Affordable day care so a mother can work to support her family.
    *A mandated livable wage. Somebody making $400 a week at 7/11 isn’t going to be able to feed and clothe themself and a child.

    In the USA we seem to find these things impossible but somehow the rest of the civilized world manages to do them and still keep the trains running on time better than we do. The point is that true morality has less to do with what we forbid individuals to do and more what we as a society are willing to do to create an environment where people can thrive. In such a place people will be more likely to choose the moral path to all of our benefit.

    Michael O’Hare: I appologize for ignoring your prescription of qualification on this thread but that horse seems to have left the barn some time ago.

    Ed Whitney: Now what I really want to know is, did the guy win that election?

  45. I’m the guy who posted under “Anonymous” “As to the viability question…”
    I don’t know why my name gets dropped off sometimes but I usually don’t notice until after I’ve posted. Darned annoying it is!

  46. Women get abortions because they either don’t want to be pregnant, or don’t want to have a child. Their range of reasons for not wanting one or the other is rather wide, from simple convenience, to dire medical necessity. The problem is that the latter desire, after some point in the pregnancy, involves killing somebody.

    I think we can all agree that better contraception would solve part of the problem. It won’t solve the entire problem, because sometimes people change their minds after it’s too late.

    “millions or tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.”

    I think you’re getting a little loose with those zeros, fella. Delivering a baby and putting it up for adoption isn’t THAT expensive.

  47. There are only 2 positions on abortion. Pro-abortions by doctors in clinical settings or pro-abortion in back alleys. Either way abortions are going to happen. Alleys or hospitals are the only really choices. I’m pro-hospital. Most republicans are pro-alley.

  48. It is entirely possible to be OK with abortion in the first (or even second) trimester and not in the third, and be both logically consistent and respectful of women’s rights to be our own moral decision-makers. Why? Six months ought to be long enough for a woman to make up her mind; period. The exception would be when the fetus is never going to be viable (which doesn’t represent, therefore, a moral choice about the fetus’ survival) or when the mother’s life is or may be threatened by continued preganancy and that fact doesn’t become apparent until after viability. Then, as Brett Bellmore points out, the fetus can be delivered rather than aborted (usually by C-section). This in fact happens fairly often, due to pre-eclampsia, heart disease, kidney disease, etc. The results may not be optimal for the fetus, but the fetus will die anyway if the mother does.

  49. Tyler is right, but “alleys” is mostly a metaphor; when abortions were illegal in some states, they did not, for the most part, occur literally in alleys. Women who could afford the travel expenses went to states or nations where they were legal. (It must be the same today to some extent, where some states make abortions more difficult to get than do others, and some women — minors, for example — probably travel to other states for them; as usual, as with the prohibitions on government funding for abortions as well, conservatives oppress the poor.)

    I don’t know what poor women who could not afford hotel expenses most often did when abortions were illegal in some states. Some used wire hangers at home. Some doctors may have done illegal abortions in their offices, without the proper equipment, which only a hospital or clinic would have. Is there anyone knowledgeable about this?

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