Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Who Owns Your Body? A Mormon View

While debating abortion someone pointed me to “Defusing the Violinist Analogy” by Matthew Lu. I plan to write a substantial response to the article, but there is a point Lu raises that gives me a chance to explore Mormon theology. Since that allows me to set aside the abortion debate for a little while, I'm going to take the opportunity presented.

Lu, oddly, takes the position that “the right to decide what happens in and to my body does not by itself entail I own my body. Counter-examples are readily available: If I am renting a piece of property I have certain exclusive rights of use, but that obviously does not mean I own it. The right of use does not, as such, directly entail ownership” (italics his). I say “oddly” because at this point, Lu drops the subject. However, in the context of the abortion debate, saying that you only have “right of use” as opposed to “ownership” of your body carries with it the implication that someone owns your body—someone who can demand you use it to gestate. And that raises the question of who that someone is. Lu doesn't tackle that question. I suspect that is because his answer would involve “retrench[ing] into a religiously grounded position,” something he otherwise wants to avoid.

However, in this post, exploring a religiously grounded position is exactly what I mean to do. Specifically, I am going to apply the mythology of my tradition, Mormonism, to the question, “Who owns your body?”1

A standard response in traditional Christianity to that question would be “God owns your body.” This makes sense because in traditional Christianity, God is the creator of your body, and therefore can be said to own it. You possess it rent-free, as it were, but God can tell you what you may or may not do with it.2

There is, however, a startling contrast in Mormonism. In Mormonism, God created neither the matter nor the spirit which comprises your being (D&C 93:29, 33). Your spirit is eternal. In some form or another, you have always existed and you always will. In Mormonism, God cannot in any sense claim ownership over you.

It may be said that God is the creator of your body in the ultimate sense if nothing else. Nevertheless, according to Mormon mythology, the reason you have a body at all is because you passed your “first estate” (Abr. 3:26). God may have created your body and given it to you, but you are in no sense merely a renter. Your body was earned—bought and paid for if you will—by fulfilling the conditions God set for you.

This means that, from a Mormon viewpoint, you in fact the own your body. Just as an employer may not stipulate how you spend your wages, God cannot make demands on how you use your body. In Mormonism, everyone is a free agent—both in body and in spirit.

What, then, of the commandments? Don't they make demands that you do certain things with your body, or conversely, refrain from doing certain things to your body? Yes, but the reason is to get you to the next stage of your progression. That has nothing to do with the ownership of your body. This is perhaps why the Prophet Joseph Smith denied that God gives temporal commandments (D&C 29:34). If you want to progress to the next stage of your development, you will use your body accordingly. But if not, your body is still your own.

1In what follows, I will use the abbreviations for the LDS Standard Works as found here.
2The same argument also applies to your spirit in traditional Christian thought.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why Abortion is Permissible

I'm tired of “defending” abortion. By this I mean abortion is often treated as something that must be defended rather than a positive right. This is implied by the title of Judith Jarvis Thomson's “A Defense of Abortion” and David Boonin's book-length treatment under the same title.1 Boonin's Defense in particular is a systematic treatment of various arguments posed by abortion critics. Most of the literature I've read (though admittedly my reading is hardly comprehensive) favoring abortion rights is cast as a defense against abortion critics. Such a “defense” basically implies an argument that runs along the following lines:

1. Abortion is permissible only if no valid objections are raised against it.
2. No valid objection has been raised against abortion.
3. Therefore abortion is permissible.

We would never argue for the freedom of expression or freedom of religion in this manner. We press positive cases that speaking freely or going to church is permissible, defending against objections only secondarily.2 Yet, so far in my admittedly non-comprehensive reading, I've found only two works that attempt to establish a positive case for abortion rights: Roderick T. Long's “Abortion, Abandonment, and Positive Rights: The Limits of Compulsory Altruism” (and note the term limits in the title) and Katha Pollitt's Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

Why should this matter? A “defense” of abortion focuses on arguing “on terms that critics of abortion can, and already do, accept.”3 This is a perfectly valid approach. If you can't defend a stance on your own terms, why should I accept that stance? If the goal is to avoid a standstill, then this approach is probably the best way to proceed.

But, like the debate about biblical inerrancy, I think that debating abortion will always result in a standstill. Abortion opponents will either engage in new levels of sophistry or simply eschew reason and say intuition is the only thing that really matters.4 Abortion opponents, like biblical inerrantists, will always find some escape hatch, so the only point in debating them is to benefit third parties still amendable to argument.

If our goal is to benefit interested but uncommitted third parties, then presenting arguments an abortion critic is likely to reject has its place. For example, a third party benefits from having differing accounts of what it means to be a person with the right to life and whether those criteria apply to prenates. Even if this leaves those debating abortion at a standstill, the third party will have clear choices and an idea of the rationale behind the differing arguments.

As it so happens, the argument I am going to make here starts with premises that are generally accepted by the abortion rights proponent, the abortion critic, and the undecided person alike. From those premises, I will derive a principle which I believe soundly unifies those premises. Finally, I will demonstrate that if we consistently apply that principle to the topic of abortion, we will conclude abortion is permissible.

But first, we need to get some of the preliminary issues out of the way.

The Preliminary Issues and Fine Print

Prenatal personhood: I am neutral about whether a prenate is a person with the same right to life as you and me. Personally, I am inclined to believe that humans cannot possibly acquire personhood at least until monozygotic twinning and tetragametic chimerism are no longer possible, and probably do not acquire it until birth. Between these two points, I am open to the possibility, merely considering it doubtful. So far, I have not found any arguments favoring prenatal personhood convincing, though I think there are some promising approaches that may yet be parleyed into a successful argument.

In view of my neutrality, my arguments favoring abortion rights stipulate prenatal personhood. Some abortion rights advocates may think this cedes too much to the abortion opponent, particularly since I don't really believe the prenate is a person. However, Thomson's “Defense” long ago established that it is not enough to show that the prenate is a person with the right to life, the abortion critic must also show that an abortion unjustly deprives the prenate of its life. Abortion opponents have generally accepted that part of her argument, effectively rendering prenatal personhood irrelevant to the abortion debate.

Moreover, I have found time and again that abortion critics do not consistently apply the same rules that apply to you and me to the prenate. In other words, what they try to do is give the prenate special rights that exempt them from those rules.5 I've hinted at this in my objections to the so-called responsibility argument, and I may write future posts highlighting those inconsistencies. If stipulating prenatal personhood cedes ground to the abortion critic, it is not a concession that does them any favors.

Meanwhile, stipulating prenatal personhood also allows me to save space. I need not repeatedly say things like “if the prenate is a person” or “the prenate's rights, if any.”

General rules and exceptions: I am making an argument that abortion is generally permissible. In doing so, I will be making reference to rules about the general permissibility or impermissibility of certain actions. Many, if not most rules have exceptions, and perhaps you can think of exceptions to the rules I appeal to. It may be that even if you grant my argument about the general permissibility of abortion, you would still be able think of some exceptions. If those exceptions are justified, I will gladly grant them. However, exceptions do not void the general rule.

Consider this rule: “Homicide is wrong.” I would imagine you agree with this rule. I would also imagine you would also immediately think of exceptions to this rule. Self-defense is an exception that is considered noncontroversial. Other exceptions, like capital punishment and war are more controversial in modern society, but legitimate arguments can be made in favor of these exceptions. However, I think we would agree that even granting the exceptions, homicide is still generally wrong.

Likewise, the general permissibility of abortion does not mean there are specific cases where a woman having an abortion is not legitimately subject to moral criticism. I myself have read accounts that I found morally disturbing. I suspect that many of you have read or heard accounts you found disturbing, even if you tend to favor abortion rights. I am not saying that every woman's decision to have an abortion is above moral criticism; I am saying that she is permitted to make that decision.6

Again, this discussion allows me to save space. I will make statements that on its face do not allow exceptions. When I say “X is wrong” or “Y is permissible,” I generally intend those statements to be understood as “X is generally wrong” or “Y is permissible in typical cases.”

With these thoughts in mind, let us proceed.


The Argument7

Consider the following propositions:

1. Raping someone is wrong.
2. Enslaving someone is wrong.
3. Kidnapping someone for ransom or to further a criminal purpose is wrong.
4. Subjecting someone to involuntary medical/scientific experimentation is wrong.
5. Forcing someone to donate blood, tissue, and/or organs is wrong.

I think few, if any, people will have major objections to these propositions. We may quibble over the precise meaning of rape, slavery, and kidnapping, but if there are actions that are universally wrong, we would be agreed these actions would be among them. As for involuntary medical/scientific experimentation, Joseph Mengele and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment are widely if not universally reviled.

While debating abortion, I have encountered a few people who are open to forced organ donation--to a point. None openly advocate the practice. The vast majority of abortion critics agree that forcing bodily donations is wrong. Legally, such a practice has been forbidden by the courts in the United States. Meanwhile, China's practice of executing prisoners to harvest organs is roundly condemned by the international community. I think it is safe to say that proposition 5 is generally regarded as sound.

Now let us consider these propositions:

6. One may do anything necessary to prevent or escape being subjected to the actions of propositions 1 through 5.
7. Moreover, third parties may also do anything necessary to aid someone prevent or escape being subjected to the actions of propositions 1 through 5.

Again, I don't think many people will pose serious objections to these propositions. The law already recognizes them in cases of rape and kidnapping. Surely anyone trying to take another person's organs or perform involuntary medical experiments on them poses enough a threat of serious bodily harm that self-defense would be justified.8 And surely no one would condemn someone (legally or morally) for killing a slavemaster or Mengele if that is was necessary to escape them.

Now let us consider why the actions in propositions 1-5 are wrong, so wrong that it would justify doing anything necessary to prevent or escape those actions. At first glance, propositions 1-5 are just a random list of acts. They are serious wrongs, to be sure—serious enough to make propositions 6-7 true. Do these acts have something else in common?

Yes. All these acts involve using someone's body without consent. The difference between rape and having sex is that both parties consent to the latter. The difference between a slave and an employee is that the employee can quit. Kidnapping involves holding someone against their will, typically to force a third party into doing something to get their loved one returned. Involuntary medical/scientific experimentation uses a persons body for an end the person does not know and may not care about. And forcing someone to donate blood, tissue, or organs takes something from someone's very body for another's use.

The common factor of using someone's body without consent also explains why these acts are serious enough to make propositions 6-7 true, even if these acts do not physically injure the person. One's body is as close to an absolutely inviolable boundary as it gets. One's body is perhaps the only thing that everyone can truly call their own. To use someone's body without consent is thus a most profound violation of the person.

We can now connect propositions 1-5 together with this proposition:

8. Using someone's body without consent is wrong.

And we can accordingly modify propositions 6-7 as well:

9. One may do anything necessary to prevent or escape another using their body without consent.
10. Moreover, third parties may also do anything necessary to aid someone prevent or escape having their bodies used without consent.

Now, let us turn to the subject of pregnancy. Consider the following proposition:

11. During pregnancy, a prenate uses the mother's body.

Proposition 11 is simply a fact. Even if there were no other considerations, these are some of the things prenates do to women: They implant themselves into the woman's body. They dampen the woman's immune system. They tap the woman's blood supply to obtain nutrients and oxygen. They alter the woman's brain chemistry. They build their bones by taking the calcium from the woman's bones and teeth. They release their wastes back her body.

When the woman wants to have a baby, she allows the prenate do this to her. In this case, the prenate is doing nothing wrong. When the woman doesn't want to have a baby, what the prenate does to her causes her great harm. Based on proposition 8, we would conclude the prenate is doing something wrong. We'll summarize thus:

12. During an unwanted pregnancy, a prenate is using the mother's body without consent.
13. A prenate's use of the mother's body without consent is wrong.

And based on propositions 9-10, we conclude that the mother or a third party may do anything necessary to escape the prenate's use of the mother's body without consent:

14. The mother may do anything necessary to end the prenate's nonconsensual use of her body.
15. Moreover, a third party may also do anything necessary to aid a woman escape the prenate's nonconsensual use of her body.

All that remains to be asked is whether an abortion is necessary to escape the prenate's nonconsensual use of the woman's body. We can agree that one can do anything necessary to escape the situations described in propositions 1-5. Even so, killing the person doing these things isn't always necessary. We would only say that killing the offender is justified if killing them were the last resort or if killing them was the only means of escape. Surely this applies to the prenate using its mother's body without consent as well. However, given current technology, an abortion is the only means to escape a prenate using the mother's body without consent. Should the technology develop where the prenate can be transferred to another person or an artificial womb without any further cost9 to the woman than an abortion, the necessity of abortion would be questionable. Meanwhile, at least during the early stages of pregnancy, the answer is undoubtedly positive.

Another thing that might make the necessity of an abortion questionable is whether the fetus is viable. When the fetus has become viable, it could be argued that an abortion is no longer necessary. One can either induce labor or have a Caesarean section to end the unwanted pregnancy. Here, I must admit I am not a medical expert and therefore cannot answer this objection definitively. I can note that inducing labor or having a C-section both involve significant negative costs to the mother in terms of her total well-being. How do those costs stack against the negative costs of having a late-term abortion? That is a question I will leave to the experts.

However, when we say killing the offender would be justified if killing them were the last resort, we generally do not mean this in an absolute sense. We don't generally require people to take heroic measures to avoid killing those subjecting us to the actions of propositions 1-5. We don't, for example, require people to put themselves into further danger before saying that killing the rapist or kidnapper the last resort. One may do so, which why we would consider such people heroic, but they are not required to do so. We may say then that insofar as a late-term abortion is less risky than inducing labor or having a C-section, the late-term abortion can be considered the last resort.

We also probably wouldn't require people to incur significant costs to themselves to avoid killing the rapist or slavemaster, even if we aren't strictly talking about physical risk. The question is how much cost one must incur before we can say that killing the offender was the last resort. It seems to me that this can only be decided on a case-by-case basis. I would suggest using something like the reasonable person standard.10 Are the costs of not killing the offender too much to ask of a typical person? If the answer is positive, then we may affirm killing the offender was the last resort. If not, then killing the offender would not be justified. I suspect mere inconvenience would not qualify. If all a slave has to do to escape is wait an hour for the master to fall asleep before sneaking away, then killing the slavemaster would not likely be justified. Similarly, if the only consideration were that a late-term abortion is faster than the process of inducing labor or having a C-section, then a late-term abortion would not likely be justified. On the other hand, if escaping without killing the offender involves a good deal of pain and suffering, that would qualify. If the choice was between being raped, undergoing torture to avoid killing the rapist, and simply killing the rapist, then killing the rapist would be justified. If the negative costs of induced labor, a C-section, and late-term abortions are roughly equal, then even late-term abortions are justified. And the higher the costs of induced labor or C-sections vs. late-term abortions, the more a late-term abortion is justified. Provisionally speaking, even a late-term, post-viability abortion may be considered necessary for a mother to escape the nonconsensual use of her body by the prenate.11

Let us complete the argument then:

16. An abortion is necessary to escape a prenate's nonconsensual use of a woman's body.
17. Therefore abortion is permissible.


1David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
2See also Katha Pollitt, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, (New York: Picador, 2014), 61.
3Boonin, Defense, 2.
4Another approach is to fall back on one's religion, which of course raises the question of why I should be bound by their religion when we live in a secular society.
5It is this fact that more than anything else convinces me that abortion critics' real purpose is to control the lives of women, especially their sexuality. But that is an argument for another day.
6The same may be said about whether a specific person having an abortion acted wisely.
7Astute readers will recognize the general influence of Thomson and especially Long. I am, however, taking a different approach.
8Regan, Donald H. "Rewriting Roe v. Wade." Michigan Law Review 77 (1979): 1611-1618.
9In terms of health risk, pain and suffering, finances, or inconvenience.
10I would argue that the reasonable woman standard is especially justified in this case. Women are the only ones who get pregnant, suffer the effects of pregnancy, and incur the costs of induced labor, c-sections, and late-term abortions. This is not just a differential of effect in unwanted interactions or a case of historical vulnerability as in sexual harassment cases. Pregnancy is a case where men and women are fundamentally different; men simply don't have to face an unwanted pregnancy even in theory.
11Since late-term abortions are rare and are typically performed only in cases where the mother's life or health are threatened and/or cases of fetal deformity, the case I make here about viability may well be moot. Even if I conceded viability as the point where abortion is no longer necessary, I will still have made my case that abortion is permissible in typical cases. I do not so concede because the wrongness of using someone's body without consent does not depend on the duration of use. I am therefore obligated to take viability into consideration when examining the issue of whether abortion is necessary to escape the prenate's nonconsensual use of the mother's body.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Secular Pro-Life's New Double Standard

Secular Pro-Life (SPL) announced they were going on hiatus for the week of 22-29 December 2014. It appears they have been using the time to systematically ban pro-choice advocates from commenting and deleting their comments. I noticed this today when I was going through my Disqus comments and discovered a string of them had been marked "Removed." So far, at least forty of my posts have been so removed as I write this post. I've been given no warning, no explanation. When I made another post, I was informed I had been banned from posting comments. Again, no warning, no explanation.

Going over several blog entries, I've noticed that at least eight more pro-choice commenters had at least some of their posts deleted. I can't say for certainty the posters have also been banned, but no doubt they will get a surprise when SPL publishes new blogs and they try to comment.

Don't get me wrong here. It is SPL's blog and they can allow or disallow comments from anyone they so choose. And it is certainly no skin off my back if they are so insecure about their position that they have to block opposing viewpoints being left on their blog. If they only want to hear from yes-men, that's not my problem.

What is interesting though is that SPL has posted several blogs complaining about perceived censorship when it comes from the pro-choice side. Take a look here, here, here, and here.

I guess censorship doesn't really bother them that much after all.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bodily Rights vs. "The Responsibility Argument"

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time debating the abortion issue.1 A frequently recurring theme I run into is the so-called responsibility argument. The responsibility argument is usually used by anti-abortion advocates in response to the bodily rights argument put forth by pro-choice advocates. So to understand the responsibility argument, we must first briefly review the bodily rights argument.

The classic statement of the bodily rights argument is Judith Jarvis Thomson's “A Defense of Abortion.” Thomson argued that even if a prenate was entitled to the right to life, that right does not include a claim to using the mother's body in order to sustain itself. Just as we have the right2 to refuse anyone our body parts, even when their lives depend on it, so too a mother can refuse the prenate the use of her body. An abortion is therefore permissible in most cases.

The responsibility argument counters that, by virtue of voluntarily engaging in an activity knowing that pregnancy is a foreseeable result, the mother has given the prenate a claim to her body. This is sometimes phrased as “Consent to sex is consent to pregnancy.” Other times, it is more bluntly phrased as “[Choose a snarl word denoting woman] opened her legs, she can pay the price.” However phrased, the argument is that the mother's bodily autonomy has been forfeited3 by the act of having sex. Excluding cases of rape,4 abortion is therefore impermissible. Matters such as using birth control are irrelevant so long as the risk of pregnancy is not zero.

I must admit the responsibility argument does make a prima facie case for giving the prenate a claim on its mother's body in non-rape cases.5 The idea that people are required to take responsibility for their actions is well established in both legal and ethical reasoning. The consequences may sometimes include the forfeiture of certain rights, including bodily autonomy.6 Thus, we cannot simply dismiss this argument out of hand.

The questions that confronts us are: Is the woman really responsible for her pregnancy in a morally meaningful way? Granting the woman has some responsibility for her condition, does that responsibility rise to the level that abortion becomes impermissible when the woman had voluntary sex?

I have already gone through many outlines and started many drafts of this post. But the more I think about the “responsibility argument,” the more objections I come up with. So I've decided that, rather than write an essay that connects all my objections together, I would just make a numbered list. I am not saying these arguments are equally strong, though I do think some of them are decisive.

Without further ado then--

1. Consent to sex may be voluntary, but it is not necessarily free. To understand what I mean here, consider something more than ninety-nine per cent of adults have done at one time or another: getting up in the morning, crawling into their vehicles, and going to a crappy job, working for a crappy employer, making crappy wages. Those actions are completely voluntary—nobody put a gun to their heads and said they must do this. Yet, for all that, are those actions really free? No, they did it not because they wanted to, but because there is a host of pressures and obligations that forced them to do so. To not go to those crappy jobs carried consequences that made having even a crappy job worthwhile. Likewise with consenting to sex. Often enough, a woman consents to sex because of pressures and obligations7 that force her to do so.

Why does this matter when it comes to the “responsibility argument?” Precisely because of the rape exception. The rape exception specifically excludes rape victims because she was forced into the act. If being forced into the act is enough to exempt women from a general prohibition against abortion, then we can't limit ourselves to considering the crime of rape. We need to also exempt those who were forced to have sex by means other than physical force.

2. Sex may be necessary,8 but it is not sufficient to cause pregnancy. In order to get pregnant, a number of different factors must be in place, most of which are beyond the woman's control. The woman had sex, what happens after that is under the control of nature. The woman's lack of control over whether conception occurs or not also casts doubt whether pregnancy is foreseeable for any given act of intercourse.

3. Granting that objection 2 is wrong, it is still nature's fault that the prenate needs the woman's body to survive. In human reproduction, there simply isn't an option where the prenate can be created and not require the woman's body to survive. The woman is no more responsible for the prenate's condition than a potential organ donor is responsible for the illness or injury that caused the need for a replacement organ. In other words, at most she is simply responsible for the fact the prenate exists, and not for the fact it needs her body to survive.

4. Accepting a risk does not entail that we must accept the result should the worst occur. When we get into our vehicles and start the engine, we accept that there is a risk we will be injured in a car accident. But should an accident occur, it would be absurd to say that we must therefore forego medical treatment.

5. Nor does accepting a risk entail that we automatically give up our rights. If I leave my door unlocked in the knowledge that there are burglars out there, it would be absurd to say I've forfeited my property rights should a burglar actually enter my home and steal my things. If this is true for mere property rights, how much more so when it comes to the right to bodily integrity?

6. The responsibility argument sets a standard of strict liability that imposes extreme burdens on the woman to avoid the punishment of forced gestation. Effectively, her only options are complete abstinence during her fertile years, having a hysterectomy, or having a bilateral oophorectomy. All of these options have severe consequences for a woman's total well-being. There is no other case where we would impose extraordinary burdens on someone to avoid strict liability.

7. The responsibility argument does not address cases where the man sabotaged the birth control.9 Though having sex in these conditions cannot be considered voluntary (indeed, in some places sabotaging birth control legally constitutes sexual assault), logically the responsibility argument will not excuse the woman. True, her consent was conditioned upon properly using birth control, but even using birth control does not reduce the risk of pregnancy to zero. Since she would have still voluntarily taken the risk, she must still accept the responsibility and can still be required to gestate.

8. Even a rape victim may not be able to evade the strict liability standard demanded by the responsibility argument. One could avoid being raped by building an impregnable fortress and remaining inside of it. By failing to do so, she assumes the risk of rape and, by the terms of the responsibility argument, is therefore liable for the results. Given that we live in a rape culture where the woman is often, if not usually, blamed for the rape as it is, this argument isn't as absurd as it might appear at first glance.10

9. The responsibility argument is not applied evenly. The same argument would justify forced donations of blood, tissue, and organs when someone caused the need. Yet anti-abortion advocates deny this implication.

10. Anti-abortion advocates also try to say the responsibility argument isn't about punishing women for having sex. As it is, prohibiting abortion deprives pregnant women of their right to life, liberty, and security of person; their right to be free from slavery; their right to be recognized as a person before the law; their right to equal protection under the law; their right to be free from torture; their right to bodily integrity; and their right to decide when and if to have children, all without due process of law. The responsibility argument goes further than a blanket prohibition of abortion though, precisely by claiming that this wholesale deprivation of rights is justified because the woman had sex. The responsibility argument turns sex into an act of negligence, if not a crime.

11. If abortion is prohibited on the basis of the responsibility argument, it is inevitable that someone will die as a result of an unwanted pregnancy. This means she will have been sentenced to the death penalty for having sex. Even assuming the responsibility argument can be sustained, we should rightly ask if the punishment fits the crime. Death for having sex is completely incommensurate.

The responsibility argument creates a prima facie case that the woman who engages in voluntary sex forfeits her bodily autonomy by giving the prenate a claim to her body. This case does not hold up under scrutiny. Though her participation in sex is voluntary, it does not necessarily mean her choice was free. Even granting that her choice was free, her responsibility for her pregnancy is in itself questionable. The responsibility argument sets up a standard that imposes excessive burdens on a woman trying to avoid punishment. Advocates of the responsibility argument are not consistent in applying the principle. Finally, even if it is granted that the woman is responsible for her pregnancy, the punishment is wholly disproportionate to the act she committed.

Edit: Changed the link to Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" after one of the comments made me realize the html version here contained an error. The pdf version now linked also retains Thomson's footnotes, also omitted in the html version.

1I wish to make it clear that I am discussing abortion as a political issue, rather than a strictly moral one. My moral stance on abortion, while still comparatively permissive, is more restrictive than my political stance.
2Later recognized in the case of McFall v. Shimp.
3Some proponents will prefer to say that the right has actually been waived rather than forfeited. Holly M. Smith decisively refuted that notion in her paper “Intercourse and Moral Responsibility for the Fetus.”
4Most people using the responsibility argument also exclude cases that pose serious threats to the life and/or health of the mother. Technically speaking, the life/health exception belongs to a different category than the rape exception and is beyond the scope of the responsibility argument.
5Other cases may be exempt given the responsibility argument. For example, a woman who engages in intercourse without the knowledge that sex causes pregnancy would likely be exempt. It is not my object to tease out all the possible exemptions. If my counter-arguments are successful, then exceptions to the responsibility argument becomes a moot issue.
6A convicted criminal, for example, forfeits certain rights, including freedom of movement, an aspect of bodily autonomy.
7I realize that saying a person can be obligated to have sex will put me on thin ice in some circles. While I am prepared to argue that in some circumstances, a person can be objectively obligated to have sex, I need not have recourse to such an argument here. It is enough for the purpose of this argument that the woman feel some obligation to have sex, whether or not that feeling is based on an objective duty.
8Or not, when considering artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization.
9Indeed, in my experience, abortion opponents avoid the topic of reproductive coercion in general. The exception is when the man attempts to force the woman to have an abortion, which they use as a reason to prohibit abortion.
10And let's not forget Todd Akin's comments about “legitimate rape” in this context.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Reviving the Anointed Quorum: An Idea

In Joseph Smith on Mormon Women and the Priesthood, Fiona Givens argues that, contra some assertions, that Joseph Smith did not necessarily envision granting women the priesthood. Instead, the Relief Society was intended to be an autonomous organization within the Church, parallel to the Priesthood and collaborators in the administration of the Church. As the Relief Society was meant to be an effectual (if not actual) priesthood, Givens implies that restoring the Relief Society to its autonomous position would resolve the problems that lead some women to call for ordination in the Priesthood.

I disagree with that implication. Joseph and Emma's historical vision boils down to a separate but equal status for the Relief Society. But human history has shown over and over again that "separate but equal" is anything but equal. The reason why “separate but equal” schemes don't work is because there is always an unequal distribution of power between the parties being kept separate, and it always works against the party who is declared equal. For example, during the Jim Crow era, the problem wasn't just that the white majority didn't ensure the facilities being kept separate were maintained equally. Jim Crow laws worked because the white majority devised various workarounds to the 15th Amendment that effectively deprived African Americans the power to remedy the inequities.

We can see this dynamic working in the history of the Relief Society. During the preliminary stages of the Relief Society's organization, Joseph said his intent was to “organize the women under the priesthood after a pattern of the priesthood” (emphasis added). As Givens noted, Joseph instructed the Relief Society that “If the sisters needed the prophet's instruction," they were to "ask him [and] he will give it." And notably, the Priesthood shut down the Relief Society, possibly because of the conflict between Joseph and Emma Smith over polygamy.1

Therefore, restoring the Relief Society would not give women the role of full collaborators in the Church. The Relief Society never gave women the status of full collaborators in Church affairs to begin with. Being full collaborators in Church affairs requires having power, and the Relief Society was subject to the Priesthood, even in its original vision. The Priesthood retained the prerogatives of power while giving the Relief Society the illusion of equality. So long as the Priesthood retains the power, the Relief Society can never be truly autonomous, nor can women ever be equal collaborators in Church administration. The power differential between the Priesthood and the Relief Society must be addressed for this to happen.

If a separate but equal status for the Relief Society doesn't address the power differential between it and the Priesthood, what could? I have an idea. I don't pretend to have fully fleshed out the idea and all its implications, and therefore wouldn't call it a proposal. But if the basic idea is sound, I'm sure others could take it up and work out the details.

My idea is to revive the Anointed Quorum. The original Anointed Quorum existed for the purpose of ensuring the general membership received their temple ordinances. Once that purpose was accomplished, the Quorum was disbanded. For our purposes, the most significant point that should be noted is that the Anointed Quorum was composed of both men and women. Though intended for a specific purpose, the Anointed Quorum is the only governing body in LDS Church history where women were even theoretically made full collaborators with men.

This time, the Anointed Quorum would be vested with the authority to govern general Church affairs. It's membership would be composed of members appointed in equal numbers by and from the Priesthood and the Relief Society, subject to the law of common consent. The Priesthood and the Relief Society would be truly autonomous in the governance of its own affairs, subject only to the general policies set by the Anointed Quorum. The Anointed Quorum would have the power to proclaim official Church doctrine (subject to the law of common consent), administer Church finances, appoint Church courts, and otherwise set policy and procedure governing Church administration.

Women will never be full collaborators in Church governance unless and until the power differential between the all-male Priesthood and the female membership is resolved. The first and most obvious way to accomplish this is to extend ordination to women. Another alternative is to find some way to reorganize the Church's governing structure to ensure women have equal power with the Priesthood in administering Church affairs. Reviving the Anointed Quorum offers just such a possibility.
1. In another conversation, Don Bradley disputes the polygamy theory, noting the reasons the Relief Society stopped meeting in 1844 are not clear. It is not my intent to delve into a historical analysis about why the original Relief Society disbanded beyond noting it is unlikely it would have happened without the Priesthood exerting pressure on it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

How Not to Do Book of Mormon Studies

I am reading Book of Mormon Book of Lies (hereafter BMBL) by Meredith R. and Kendal M. Sheets.1 The Sheets' primary thesis is that the Book of Mormon is a plagiarization of The Travels of Marco Polo (hereafter Travels).2 Though the description and reviews on amazon.com made me wary, I hoped (in vain, as it turns out) the book would be able to contribute something useful to genre criticism of the Book of Mormon's travel narratives. The Book of Mormon contains a number of travel narratives, beginning with the Lehite party leaving Jerusalem for the promised land. Travels is a travel narrative, so in theory some useful comparisons could be made.



I can't say I'm disappointed, because my hopes weren't that high. But I still would have expected something better from authors claiming to have spent twenty-five years working on the project. Instead, what I got were several factual errors and a conspiracy theory derived from twisting Lucy Mack Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, and His Progenitors for many Generations.3 And that's before we even get into their methodology for proving the Joseph Smith plagiarized the Travels.



The methodology itself is pretty simple. Open either the Travels or the Book of Mormon to a given page. Find the same relative page in the other. Look around until you find a similarity. Declare plagiarism. For example, if you open Travels to page 119, this will be about 16% through a book of 756 pages. In the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, this comes to page ninety-four (out of 588 pages). Somewhere around this page, you will find something that is similar to the Travels. By “somewhere around this page,” you may actually have to turn more than thirty pages; never mind that. Any similarity will do, even the surface similarity of Manti being similar to Manji (BMBL 35). There is absolutely no reason to pay attention to the context of either book.



It should be obvious, but this kind of methodology has no built-in controls. One could theoretically use it to prove any work is a plagiarism of another. In fact, my response to the reviewers who discussed the process was disbelief. Surely there were some kind of controls to weight the resulting evidence! In this case, I really was disappointed.



Or perhaps I should have known. The Book of Mormon and the Travels are very different kinds of stories. Although the Book of Mormon does contain travel narratives, it is not, on the whole, a travel narrative. Proving the Book of Mormon is a plagiarism of the Travels was bound to be a case of stretching the evidence.



Though I still have not finished BMBL, I can make some preliminary assessments. Of the dozen or so examples I have read so far, there is only one parallel for which a strong case can be made for literary dependence. This is the story of Chinsan Ba-yan's massacre of the inhabitants of Manji:



At the time that Chinsan Ba-yan, or the hundred-eyed, subdued the country of Manji, he dispatched certain Alanian christians, along with a party of his own people, to possess themselves of this city; who as soon as they appeared before it, were suffered to enter without resistance. The place being surrounded by a double wall, one of them within the other, the Alanians occupied the first enclosure, where they found a large quantity of wine, and having previously suffered much from fatigue and privation, they were eager to quench their thirst, and without any consideration proceeded to drink to such excess, that becoming intoxicated, they fell asleep. The people of the city, who were within the second inclosure as soon as they perceived that their enemies lay slumbering on the ground, took the opportunity of murdering them, not suffering one to escape. When Chinsan Ba-yan learned the fate of his detachment, his indignation and anger were raised to the highest pitch, and he sent another army to attack the place. When it was carried, he gave orders for putting to the sword all the inhabitants great and small, without distinction of sex, as an act of retaliation.--Travels p. 503

Compare this story to that in Alma 55:7-24, and one could make a case for literary dependency. Moroni seeks to free Nephite prisoners being held in the city of Gid. He sends people of Lamanite descent to the city with a lot of wine. Fatigued and thirsty, the guards drink enough wine to get drunk and fall asleep. The prisoners are armed and have the opportunity to kill the prisoners. The Lamanites wake up, surrender to the now-armed Nephites, who take possession of the city. The basic outline of the story fits, and so does some of the wording. One could well infer literary dependency in this example.

Note I said “literary dependency” rather than “plagiarism.” There is a reason for this. First, the stories are different enough that this is not a simple case of plagiarism. More important, the basic plot device of getting a captor drunk in order to make good a character's plan goes back at least to the apocryphal/deuterocanonical book of Judith. If storytellers are not allowed to reuse plot devices in their own stories, that would be the end of literature, film, television and every other storytelling medium as we know it.

Moreover, to find the parallel, the authors had to move forward a full sixteen pages in the Travels from the relative point in the Book of Mormon. While this is not as bad as having to move twenty-seven pages in the Travels and thirty-two pages in the Book of Mormon to get the “plagiarism” of engraved writings (BMBL 32-33), it still does not give me much faith in their method. We could have just skipped the math entirely.

The only other interesting possibility I've seen so far is the comparison of the story in 1 Nephi 17:1-4 with a story in the Travels about customs surrounding childbirth, discussed in pages 118-120. Notably, both stories involve childbirth, nursing, and eating raw meat. There are some interesting parallels in the wording, but the contexts are radically different. Still, as the authors ask, “Where in literature are eating raw meat and nursing an infant found in the same paragraph?” (BMBL 119, emphasis theirs). Indeed, how many places in literature can you see that happening on the same page?

I have to admit, that is something that makes me go, “Hmm.” Nevertheless, I think that, on balance, the similarities in those stories are probably just coincidental. If Joseph read the Travels, I do not believe he had it in mind when he wrote 1 Nephi. After all, how many stories can you have one mention both nursing and eating raw meat on the same page and still have it make sense?

And the percentages? The Sheets do not give them, only the page numbers. The Travels story is found on pages 434-435, while the 1 Nephi story in the 1830 edition is on page 42. This is about 57.5% through the former, and 7.14% in the latter.

The rest of the identified examples so far are either surface similarities, require pulling the stories out of context, require complex justification to even make a connection, or have simpler explanations. Out of at least a dozen examples I've seen so far, only two of them are worthy of serious consideration for literary dependency. And for one of them, the math does not even come close to working. If this is the best the authors can do, I have little hope the book will improve.

1McLean, VA: 1811 Press, 2012.
2 Further references to the Travels will be to the edition translated by William Marsden (London: Cox and Baylis, 1818) because this is the edition used by the Sheets.
3 Liverpool: pub. for Orson Pratt by S.W. Richards, 1853.