Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Matter of Evidence

Some time ago, I watched the Evangelical movie A Matter of Faith. I figured at worst, I would get a few laughs. And maybe, just maybe, the movie would present some new argument in the evolution vs. creationism debate that I would have to think about. The laughs I got, even if they weren’t intended. My hopes for a new argument were obviously way too high. What follows is not a review as such, but rather some reflections on and about the movie and its themes. I hope the information on the movie’s website and the trailer will be enough to follow my thinking and the reader won’t have to watch the entire movie. Otherwise, see the Godless Wolf’s review, which goes through most of the plot points if you don’t want to watch the movie.


Sexism: The sexism starts near the beginning of the movie when Stephen tells Rachel not to get married until she’s at least 45. This is presented as a joke, but the underlying thought is the theme of the whole movie. Don’t make decisions for yourself and don’t think (especially about sex). Stephen becomes concerned that Rachel is losing her faith based on flimsy evidence. He is so concerned about Rachel’s “changing views” that instead of talking to her about it, he confronts her biology teacher. The biology teacher, Professor Kaman, then challenges Stephen to a debate. Libby Anne points out a contrast here with the similarly themed movie God's Not Dead: Does Josh Wheaton’s father even appear in God’s Not Dead? I’m pretty sure that’s a no. Why isn’t Josh’s father getting all concerned about the fact that, oh no, he sent his son to a school with an atheist philosophy professor?! Oh right, Josh has boy parts, so he doesn’t need daddy to rescue him, he can stand up for himself thank you very much” (italics as in original).

When Evan asks Rachel whether she thinks God created the world, she refuses to answer, which Evan takes to mean “no.” He never considers for an instant that Rachel might simply have been pushing back against his bullying. The bullying continues later when Evan guilt trips Rachel into seeing the “error” of her ways by questioning her Christianity based on (you guessed it) zero evidence. In what may be an unintentional window into the producers’ view of proper gender relations, the final scene depicts Rachel walking behind Evan into a park. This is where he reveals that they first met eight years previously when he bullied her out of a fifty cent coin she had found. Evan was a bully then, and is a bully now.

We never get to see how Rachel processes the information she receives in Kaman’s class. She shows discomfort at the new information—that is to be expected. Later, she flat out states she still believes God created the world. That is not good enough for Evan, hence the guilt trip. But I would have liked to know what her thoughts were. Was she trying to reconcile evolution to her religious beliefs? Compartmentalizing them? Outright rejecting evolution or the parts of her religious upbringing that conflict with it? Neither Stephen nor Evan care enough about her to explore what she is thinking—they just assume the “worst.” Given their binary view of the topic, perhaps it was impossible for them to ask these sorts of questions. In one of the many ironies of the film, Professor Kaman accurately describes the subject of the movie: Stephen is “a religious dad who doesn’t like his little girl thinking for herself.” For all the talk about “teaching the controversy” at the end of the film, this is exactly what no one except the “evil evolution teacher” allows her to do.

Rachel's mother, Kimberly, contributes nothing to the story. She has few lines, none of consequence, and mostly serves as set dressing. She could have been eliminated entirely from the movie and no one would have missed her. It seems the only point of having her in the movie at all is to demonstrate how a proper woman should act—in deference to her husband and for God’s sake not doing any thinking.


Unintentional hilarity: Stephen is shocked—shocked!--that a biology course in a secular university only teaches evolution. Where exactly did he have his head buried for the last hundred years?

Evan’s confrontation with “Guy in Library” actually makes Evan look like an idiot to anyone who has any real knowledge of evolution. Yes, Evan, my mother looks like an ape. So does my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. So do I. So do you. This is because we are apes!

Evan’s attempt to make Professor Kaman’s policy of giving a C to everyone who simply shows up to class into an evil plan to “get students to doubt their faith in God and the Bible” is absurd on its face. First, none of Kaman’s students need to take a biology class at all, with the possible exception of biology majors.1 This means someone who wants to avoid having their faith challenged can easily do so. Though Kaman’s grading policy is apparently well known, Rachel’s class has plenty of empty seats. Kaman is never depicted as mentioning God or the Bible in the classroom. In a fortunate contrast to God’s Not Dead, Kaman does not demand students accept evolution. Many, if not most of Kaman’s students would have already been introduced to evolution in the public school systems they came from. They either would have already dealt with any problems evolution caused for their faith or would already be well on their way to doing so. Kaman’s evil plan is a day late and a dollar short for most of his students.

The circumlocutions used to avoid directly saying Nice GuyTM Tyler is just trying to get into Rachel’s pants are embarrassing. Any idiot watching the movie knows what's going on, so why not use forthright language that people actually use? It’s not like the producers would have had to use vulgar language. Just say something like, “He’s only interested in you because he wants to have sex with you.” Or “He just wants to get you in bed.”


Unintentional ironies: The only generally likable character in this farce is Professor Kaman, the designated villain. The father is an overbearing meddler. The “good” Christian boy is a manipulative bully. Boys who have a romantic interest in Rachel turn out to be Nice GuysTM. Rachel herself is an empty object, being acted upon rather than being an actor in her own life; the writers should have given her the more appropriate name Abelia. Professor Portland remains bitter over his completely just firing for twelve years, but judging from his estate, he wasn’t exactly suffering because of it. The only possible marks against Kaman’s character are the way he goaded Stephen into the debate and then singles out Rachel in class when he announces it. But in the first case, as Kaman pointed out, Stephen did visit Kaman to confront him on the issue, and in the second case, it would have likely become known Stephen was Rachel’s father anyway. Kaman is portrayed as amiable, willing to live and let live, jovial, and reasonable; the movie even goes out of its way to show Kaman’s scientific credentials are impeccable. This is a definite improvement over the caricature presented in God’s Not Dead, but ironically it makes the Christian characters come off much worse when they cast aspersions on him.

The movie continually jumbles all kinds of things together with evolution, including abiogenesis and cosmology. But let’s focus on abiogenesis for the moment. Evan at one point says, “Life comes from life. It doesn’t come from non-life.” Yet ironically this is exactly what Genesis portrays. “Let the earth put forth vegetation:” (Genesis 1:12)2. “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures” (Genesis 1:20). “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind” (Genesis 1:24). “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). If that is not life from non-life, I don’t know what is.


The debate that wasn’t: When we finally get to the debate, it simply spirals out of control. Even though the debate was supposed to be “Evolution vs. Creationism,” the debate hit on just about every topic except evolution and creationism. Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the fact that the only character who offered any evidence for their views was Kaman. It quickly becomes obvious Stephen is incapable of presenting any evidence for his view, while Portland does not intend to offer any evidence and would rather preach. Setting aside Stephen and Portland’s infantile views of what science is, presumably they would agree with Kaman that science is about evidence. And neither Stephen nor Portland offer any. All they have are platitudes and in Portland’s case, outright falsehoods. When Kaman declines to continue the debate after Portland’s speech, this is apparently meant to signal capitulation. In Kaman’s final scene, he looks at his rubber chicken with an enigmatic smile, which is apparently meant to signal he is reconsidering evolution. However, both could just as easily be read as Kaman following the Proverb that one should “not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself” (26:4). After all, under the circumstances, what would have been the point in continuing? Preaching is for churches, not debates.

Stephen and Portland try to paint evolution as a matter of faith. Ironically, however, their unwillingness and/or inability to present any evidence for their position only points to the exact opposite conclusion. The theory of evolution is a matter of evidence. Unlike creationism, no faith is needed when it comes to accepting evolution. Either the evidence supports it, or it does not. What would be a matter of faith is any metaphysical reflections the acceptance of evolutionary theory might spark. And this brings us to--


The excluded middle: The movie tries to paint evolution vs creationism as matter of atheism vs. Christianity. Stephen says in his opening statement, “Not only is the teaching of evolution an attack against those well-known first words of the Bible, ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,’ but it is an undermining assault against the authority of God, which really becomes the main issue here.” Portland accuses Kaman of accepting Freud’s3 views because “evolution leaves no room for a supernatural Creator” and goes on to make the standard slur-by-implication that atheists just want to do whatever they please. Despite a throwaway line that even “some Christian schools” teach evolution (the horror!), the movie completely ignores vast numbers of Christians, including scientists, who accept evolutionary theory without it diminishing their faith. For just a small list of Christian scientists who accept evolution, see the Godless Wolf’s review, linked above. Presumably the producers would deny these scientists are “real” Christians, but that would only raise the question of what gives them the authority to decide who is a Christian and who is not. Regardless, the point is that accepting evolution does not require one to become an atheist.

Why would they accept evolution? Because of the evidence, of course. As Pope John Paul II said:

Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of [Humani Generis], some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than an hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”


On “teaching the controversy”: As Dr. Kenneth Miller points out, calls to “teach the controversy” really amount to an attempt to short circuit the scientific method. In real science, it is damned hard to achieve a consensus. In order for a theory to gain a scientific consensus, it must be able to explain the most data, be coherent both internally and externally, provide avenues for further observation and/or experimentation, and do all this over time under the constant criticism of peer review. What “teaching the controversy” does is demand something, say creation science or intelligent design, be taught without going through the process of gaining a consensus in the scientific community. “Teaching the controversy” makes sense in areas where there is still a great deal of scientific debate going on. But when it comes to the broad outlines of evolutionary theory, there is no scientific debate. If intelligent design advocates want to make “teaching the controversy” a viable approach, they need to do the work of making intelligent design a valid scientific approach to biology first.

One must also wonder if we can take the producers at their word that all they want is for schools to “teach the controversy” so people can “decide for themselves.” Remember, the thing that gets the ball rolling in this movie is the fact that Stephen fears Rachel is changing her views, that is, deciding for herself. As Libby Anne also pointed out, it’s not like Stephen didn’t have eighteen years to affect Rachel’s views. Was he “teaching the controversy?” The movie depicts Kaman’s class as Rachel’s first exposure to evolutionary thought, so obviously the answer is no. Both Stephen and Evan’s actions are attempts to bludgeon Rachel into submission and have nothing to do with encouraging her to evaluate differing viewpoints. So it is with “teaching the controversy.” The Christian Right cannot get their religious views force fed to students in public schools, so they use the argument of “teaching the controversy” to make an end run around the First Amendment.

Teaching the controversy” is subterfuge, and a painfully obvious one at that. Notably, the movie’s own resource page contains links only to creationist sites. Suppose I started demanding schools start teaching a view of Native American origins according to Mormon Scripture.4 Failing to achieve that goal, suppose I then demanded that schools “teach the controversy.” Somehow, I seriously doubt those who want to “teach the controversy” when it comes to the origins of life would be very supportive of my demands. In fact, I’m pretty sure there would be a serious uproar on the Christian Right about it. All we need to do is witness how conservative Christians get so fired up when it comes banning Sharia, but have no problems when it comes to imposing so-called biblical law on the country.


Comments are, of course, welcome. Please keep them directed at the movie under discussion. I am not interested in debating evolution vs. creationism as such. Specifically, I will not respond to any attempts to Gish gallop.

1Most universities require all students to take some science classes, but the choice of which ones is usually up to the student.
2All biblical quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
3As a sidenote, the fact the writer/director has Kaman rely on Freud mostly demonstrates how far behind the times he is when it comes to religious scholarship.
4Obviously this would be very imaginative scenario.

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 into 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 is 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.