Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Our Moral Intuition Says Abortion is not the Same as Murder

This is an very interesting video that demonstrates how our moral intuition about abortion denies its equivalence to murder. Even the video's committed anti-abortion activists could not bring themselves to say that, were abortion made illegal again, women who abort their fetuses should receive a prison term commensurate with murder. Perhaps more surprisingly, most of these anti-abortion activists seemed to think there should be no penalty at all. The interviewer tries to get them to think more deeply about this contradiction, but without much success.

The lesson is that most people do not regard abortion as equivalent to murder, despite the rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Most people don't think clearly about almost any issue. So what does this demonstrate?

As for whether abortion is murder, it might help to compare it with the killing of someone while they are asleep.

In both cases, there may be no suffering involved. So what's the difference?

Anonymous said...

When they can prove that a fetus prior to 8 months has sentient thoughts Ill reevaluate my stance on abortion. Until then it should forever remain an option in any society that considers it's self civilized. And with the planet's climate shifting we desperately need to aim for global Zero Population Growth anyways. Anything within reason that brings us closer to that goal must be allowed, provided and encouraged.

Alex said...

"Most people don't think clearly about almost any issue. So what does this demonstrate?"

I think you're being purposely obtuse, but I'll answer anyway: it demonstrates that our ingrained sense of morality doesn't judge abortion the same as murder, despite claims to the contrary.

Do your own survey if you like. Go out and ask people whether women who abort their babies should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives. Pick any group you want - you can even interview only fundamentalist Christians - and I guarantee that the majority will be opposed to treating these women the same way that we treat murderers.

Obviously these people DO recognize, at a very basic level, the fact that abortion is not murder. They've just allowed religious indoctrination to trump their own morality.

Amy said...

When I had a miscarriage, I mourned that baby. That baby was real. He or she could have had a future. It was tragic, and it was difficult to go through. But in our culture, it wasn't acceptable to mourn a miscarriage. He or she was not a beloved child, he or she was "just a fetus" to be disposed of. The things people said to me were appalling to me. There was no value attached to that little life. And when we stop valuing life at it's earliest form, to me that poses a danger. If unborn children are seen as a inconvenience, or a burden on the planet, whatever... where will this lead us? Once it's completely acceptable to abort babies (and let's face it, it's not as if it's difficult to avoid pregnancy to begin with!) will we then begin doing away with the elderly? The infirm? People with special needs or learning disabilities? They aren't contributing, after all, and our planet is overcrowed, right? I'm by no means saying I have all the answers! But I am so very worried about this issue.

Webs said...

Amy, I am truly sorry for your loss and it must have been tough. So the fact you are able to speak about it shows real progress on your part.

But please keep in mind that not everyone is going to go through the same experiences as you.

If unborn children are seen as a inconvenience, or a burden on the planet, whatever... where will this lead us?
To some parents a child may be a burden. What about a rape victim? What about cases of incest? While both are extreme cases, the former does happen and to tell that expecting mother she has to give birth is utterly atrocious, sickening, and wrong on so many levels and would create a burden.

But those extremes aside, maybe it leads us to a society with less unwanted children around. How many pro-lifers adopt? Maybe a high majority do, but those that do not adopt can stop talking all together, because without abortions there would be an incredible amount of unwanted children running around that would also be prone to teenage pregnancies and growth from this is exponential. Who is going to adopt the unwanted children? Do pro-lifers realize there is no infrastructure in place to handle this?

and let's face it, it's not as if it's difficult to avoid pregnancy to begin with
Well if it really was that simple then we would have less pregnancies. It's easy for us to say, "Well duh! Don't have sex." But less easy for some to adhere to that idea. And I do agree that if teens didn't have sex, or used protection, the numbers would be lower and less abortions could be used. Yes this is a positive. But how many pro-lifers hand out condoms and proper sex education pamphlets at their protests? It seems they want to have their cake and eat it too.

will we then begin doing away with the elderly? The infirm? People with special needs or learning disabilities? They aren't contributing, after all, and our planet is overcrowed, right?
I fail to see the connection here. No one has proposed the idea of having abortions because they help lower the population. Instead we are supporting abortion with one reason being it helps to keep the population low. In other words no one here is going to slippery slope to the idea of killing the old because the effect of this would be minimal as older people tend not to reproduce. But children born of teenage parents within lower classes tend to be prone to higher crime and higher rates of teenage pregnancy. So stopping unwanted pregnancies in this area could have a drastic effect. As it already has in our society.

My personal thoughts are that abortion should be legal and available. But we need this with a comprehensive sex ed program for children. So that when they have sex they make smarter choices thus needing abortions a lot less. And we can start to progress to a system where abortions are used as a last resort.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Amy:

I am sorry to hear about your miscarriage.

Nevertheless, I'm curious to know: how would you answer the question posed on the video? What is the appropriate penalty for a woman who has an abortion?

Anonymous said...

I think you're being purposely obtuse, but I'll answer anyway: it demonstrates that our ingrained sense of morality doesn't judge abortion the same as murder, despite claims to the contrary.

Yes, but what does this have to do with whether abortion should be considered murder?

If the majority of the population believe that honour killing is justified, then should it be legal?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

What does this have to do with whether abortion should be considered murder?

I think it has a lot to do with it. If a law goes against the moral intuition shared by the majority of the people, then that law is likely to be widely disregarded, thus leading to underground providers and disrespect of the law.

GrannyGrump said...

And what's the point? Not all killing is equal; that's why there are different laws on the book to address different kinds of killing.

There's a world of difference between angrily bashing a guy's brains out with a hammer because you caught him having sex with your girlfriend, and coldly murdering your wife for the insurance money. There's a difference between gunning down a rival drug lord and bludgeoning a co-ed to death as she sleeps in her sorority house. But all the victims are just as dead, and we all agree that in all the cases, the perp did wrong.

Just because all killings don't elicit the same outrage doesn't make some killings less "killing".

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Grannygrump:

But all killing isn't "murder", which was my point. Or did you miss that somehow, seeing that it was in big letters at the top?

What's your answer to the question in the video?

Amy said...

I'll be honest: I don't know how I would answer that question. On the one hand, I think abortion is horribly wrong. But I also think that if we tell a woman she can't make a decision that pertains to her own body, that's a serious erosion of personal freedom. This is something I really struggle with.

Thank you for your sympathy. It was a long time ago, but is still difficult to recall.

To answer Webs's question, there is an infrastructure in place. Many people do adopt. My hubby and I have savings set aside for an adoption. The government doesn't just hand you a baby. They make you pay for it. I wish I could have a hobo mark or something on my doorstep, so people who didn't want their babies could drop them off and I could have them. I'd have a dozen if I could. I won't have more biologically... I have three amazing, wonderful children now, and there are too many babies who need a good home. But nothing would make me happier than to wake up one morning and find a baby on my doorstep with all the legal paperwork signing him or her over to us. It's not going to happen, of course, but it's a lovely thought!

SLC said...

I'll go Prof. Shalit one better. If abortion is murder, it must be first degree premeditated murder which, in many US states, warrants the death penalty. So the question is, if legalized abortion is again made illegal, should a woman caught having an abortion receive a sentence of capital punishment?

kylevonmour said...

This is a difficult question. While I don't think I can answer it completely, I think I can add a few thoughts to muddy the waters some more. If abortion were made illegal again, then I don't think women that have abortions should be penalized as murderers. The same may not apply, however, to the abortion doctors. For example, suppose abortion were illegal and an abortion doctor was found aborting a late term pregnancy in which the baby could survive outside the womb unassisted. I am inclinded to think that doctor should be tried as a murderer.

I'm sure someone will want to bring up the "what about rape or incest" objection. While I think a large number of rape or incest abortions are not going to be late term abortions, I'm not trying to address every possible scenario. I'm just saying that if abortion were illegal, aside from extraordinary circumstances, it seems to me that an abortion in about the 33rd week or so could be considered murder, and the murderer would be the doctor that performed the abortion.

When they can prove that a fetus prior to 8 months has sentient thoughts Ill reevaluate my stance on abortion. Until then it should forever remain an option in any society that considers it's self civilized.

Why is the burden of proof on those who believe a fetus is a life? It seems to me that in a "civilized" society, we should seek "proof" that a fetus is not a life before we allow people to casually dispose of it.

Anonymous said...

What's the difference whether or not people believe those who commit abortion should be charged with murder?

Is a life being taken or isn't it?

Because a lot of people don't get lot of feelings out of a reaction to discussing abortion---that means it's...okay? And therefore those who think othrwise are wrong? And therefore an act of killing a human should be legal? Seriously?

I don't get a big emotionl reaction when I read about a liquor store owner in Texas getting shot. I don't get a big feeling out of another dozen Iraqis blown up by suicide bombers. Why? Because I am removed from each situation in varying degrees.

If people were made to watch the killings of unborn humans as they take place on video, or if they saw the killings in person (i.e. late term abortion where they pull the baby out and stab the brain), then people would have a much different reaction.

What then of our "moral intuition"? I SPECIFICALLY CHALLENGE YOU TO GO TO AN ABORTION CLINIC AND WATCH A LATE-TERM ABORTION. Then come back and tell us about your moral intuition.

Surely your "moral intuition" would change....thereby proving that it was never moral intution to begin with.

And because your feelings would change then THAT would make the act of killing a human life less "okay", whereas before it was more okay???

Nonsense. Taking a human life is wrong. Period. Today's wonderful technology is putting us on the spot morally, and we can't get out of it by taking opinion polls on current feelings.

FJ

Jeffrey Shallit said...

FJ:

I think your black-and-white view fails to take into account the context of each situation. After all,
war, capital punishment, self-defense, and euthanasia all can result in "a life being taken", but not all are equally wrong.

Your argument that one should find abortion wrong because it is disgusting to view is not very convincing. I don't want to watch a colostomy, either, but that doesn't mean I want to outlaw it.

And I see you've completely avoided the question, which is, is abortion murder? And if so, what should the penalty be for the women who has one?

Anonymous said...

I'm not avoiding the quesion---I'm getting to the heart of your reasoning.

Do you truly believe that an abortion is equivalent to a colostomy?

I'm not talking about some "yuck factor"---I'm talking about looking at a human who is alive and watching them being killed.

Do you honestly believe that if you personally go to watch a doctor pull a baby out of a womb and then puncture the brain with a scissors that you will only have some sort of "ewww gross!" kind of reaction?

Or maybe, just maybe---your "moral reasoning" might change ever so slightly?

Here's the thing: Is a human life being taken? Obviously YES.

Is a human life being taken without his/her consent? Again, obviously YES.

Is the human whose life is being taken INNOCENT and doing no harm which could make the killing justifiable (i.e. self defense)?
Again, obviously YES.

By any moral measure, the taking of innocent human life is WRONG.

On punishment:

Why are people who are asked that question unsure of the deserved punishment?
Because their focus is on saving the child, not on being law enforcement stand-ins. Virtually all of the people who protest at killing factories have great empathy for the women who have abortions and realize their greatest punishment will be the mental anguish they eventually encounter for the rest of their lives. They also realize that there is an issue of culpability because so many women have fallen into this society's trap of abortion promotion.

I'm just baffled by the overall reasoning----

That for anti-abortion people there is apprehension about what punishment a woman should receive proves that...what?...abortion is obviously a-ok?
Uh, okay. :[

Anti-abortion people are much, much more interested in changing people's hearts than in putting people in jail.

FJ

Jeffrey Shallit said...

FJ:

Still afraid to answer the question, I see.

As for "changing people's hearts", you're going to have to do a lot better job with your reasoning to persuade me. It was you who suggested that mere disgust over the procedure would be enough to change my mind, and I explained why that is not so.

I also gave you four instances in which an innocent life could be taken: war, self-defense, capital punishment, and euthanasia. I pointed out that we do not treat these as equivalent to murder; so why should we treat abortion as equivalent to murder? You avoided this point, too.

Until you come to grips with the fact that nearly everyone, anti-abortion zealots included, does not consider abortion the same as murder, you won't understand the point of my post.

kylevonmour said...

I think your black-and-white view fails to take into account the context of each situation. After all,
war, capital punishment, self-defense, and euthanasia all can result in "a life being taken", but not all are equally wrong.


Professor Shallit, I'm having a little trouble determining exactly what your position is. You seem to be against "black and white" statements calling abortion murder that don't take into account the context. Are you making an absolute statement that abortion is never murder? Or are there contexts in which it is? I'm not putting words in your mouth. I'm just trying to clarify.

And I see you've completely avoided the question, which is, is abortion murder? And if so, what should the penalty be for the women who has one?

I'll avoid making an absolute statement. I do believe, though, that abortion can be murder. If a baby were killed three days before it was born as opposed to three days after, why should the latter case be considered murder and the former case be considered perfectly acceptable? Having had several children myself, I see it very difficult to sustain the idea that just because the child hasn't been born then it is not a life.

As to your second question about punishment, since I believe abortion can be murder, in those situations in which it is murder I believe that it should receive the same punishment as murder. The murderer, however, is the abortion doctor, not the woman. I don't understand why the pro-abortionists assume it would have to be the woman.

Now, all this being said, I concede that the question of when life begins may never be settled to the point that there will be general acceptance of the point at which abortion can be called murder. Thus, I would not be comfortable sentencing abortion the same as murder, except perhaps in some extreme horrific partial birth abortions. This concession does nothing, though, to say that abortion should remain legal. Just because the exact point of life's beginning may not be answerable with the scientific precision that will satisfy everyone, why should this justify keeping abortion legal? To repeat a question from my earlier post, why should the burden of proof be upon those that think a fetus is a life? Why shouldn't the pro-abortionists have to prove it is not a life before abortion is made legal?

Anonymous said...

I'm not anti-abortion but I think you're wrong. Some people do put abortion on the same level as 'murder', they just might not think that prosecuting women for abortion is practical or that the mentality behind getting an abortion is as bad as the mentality behind murdering, even though the end result would be just as tragic (their perspective).