In a Philosophy discussion forum, various issues concerning Abortion and Right to Life were discussed. An angle of tackling the issues philosophically, in the mix of various beliefs and opinions, was floated for exploration, various seemingly compelling excuses being put in focus: the question of “middle ground” in the judgment of certain actions such as abortion and certain types of murder, the question of approaching these issues philosophically and discussing the issues civilly and not fanatically, and the question of justifying certain types of abortion. Other controversial issues are Death Penalty and, perhaps surprisingly, Killing of Animals.
Someone said: “However, I think to say there is no middle ground is incorrect. Even when I firmly denounce an action such as murder, I recognize that in addition to possibly supporting the action someone could hold a more moderate position and neither firmly support nor firmly denounce an action”.
Another statement: “Because of their obvious ability to easily lead to passionate disagreement and violence, I think we need to approach these issues as philosophically as possible. We have so many different issues intertwined with each other, upon which we can disagree. So even if we bring one or two of our own beliefs or assumptions into question, we still may not be open-minded enough with each other to discuss these issues civilly and not fanatically”.
“Do we want an embryo or fetus to have the right to use a woman’s body against her will if the embryo or fetus needs to use her body to live? What about if the woman was made pregnant against her will? What about if a woman wants to abort a fetus late-term because carrying it to term will cause significant harm to her?” are some of the questions.
Beyond the Reach of Philosophy
It is true that “someone could hold a more moderate position and neither firmly support nor firmly denounce an action”, based, perhaps, on grounds similar to the consideration of the motives and background of the man who shot dead the notorious abortionist. Philosophize as much as they could, however, they are handicapped in finding any sort of moderate position if they actually agree that the action is really murder in all the technicalities of the definition of murder. In other words, they could find a moderate position if, in view of their own peculiar grounds of judgment, they can find another definition for the murderer’s action in place of “murder” which offers no middle ground at all.
To “approach these issues as philosophically as possible” and “be open-minded enough with each other to discuss these issues civilly and not fanatically” may be called for in some circumstances but the difficulty is in knowing where to draw the line between fanaticism and factualism, and between civility and over-rationalization based on the principle of relativism without borders.
The one termed fanatical may be justified to feel he is only being factual, driving his firm stand on the strong wheels of hard facts, that abortion means murder, for instance, and cannot be justified even in the face of seemingly reasonable grounds; because he would like to answer these questions by placing these reasons under the scrutiny of hard facts: he sees murder as “unlawful premeditated killing of a human being by a human being” which should be opposed always. He knows that the fact that a fetus is using the body of an unwilling woman to grow does not make the innocent unborn child, who did not place himself there, liable to merit death; that if the woman was made pregnant against her will the fact remains that it is not the fault of the fetus who also has the right to life; that there is this vastly proven fact that it is possible to love this child and derive a lot of value from him when he is born and given care, and that this possibility is based on another possibility that the woman’s bad feelings concerning the situation can change by focusing on the innocence of the child of her own womb, her own flesh and blood, rather than focusing on the guilt of his father who could have acted largely not out of hatred but most likely out of uncontrolled animalistic feeling towards her attractiveness; people do not usually rape or have sex with persons that are not attractive enough to them, to make them lust after such persons. The fact is that it is, therefore, a kind of love for her albeit just erotic. It is a fact also, that on this score, the woman could “forgive the man for he knew not what he was doing”. The woman may thus judge the situation more philosophically and show a more pro-life understanding.
What about if a woman wants to abort a fetus late-term because carrying it to term will cause significant harm to her? It is a known fact that medical knowledge and medical technology have improved so much there is hardly any such risk reason for abortion nowadays and one who has the correct facts will not support abortion be it early, mid-term or late-term type which may pose a greater risk than the risk she is trying to circumvent. The principle of double effect is, however, still acceptable in very few selected instances. The principle is that saving the woman’s life (one effect) necessarily, but unfortunately, leads to the death of the fetus (the other effect). The focus here is on saving the woman’s life and not on aborting the fetus.
It is possible to discuss the above issues civilly and also factually. The problem is that as the person maintaining a strong stand as above, with facts, is termed fanatic another is usually regarded as discussing more civilly and as being more philosophical when he uses facts to play around sentiments, and obtain a solution that is even antithetic to the important issues being addressed by those same facts. That is how the Pro-abortion Movement in the US civilly maneuvered the argument, branding the other group fanatic, and getting the government to legalize abortion in the US through that landmark Roe v Wade Supreme Court judgment on 22 January 1973.
It was during the process of doing an ultrasound recording of an abortion process that one of them apparently discovered how heinous abortion really is. The tape was supposed to be presented to the Congress to prove that abortion was very safe and that the remaining restrictions should be removed. Sentimentally playing around with ancillary facts, philosophically playing down the important and serious facts, prevented that doctor, who had done more than 40,000 abortions working in 3 different abortion clinics, and the feminist Medical Illustration technician, from knowing that abortion was a brutal murder of a defenseless human being, until they saw the raw facts on that day, in the ultrasound film they were making; they vowed never ever to perform abortion. Dr Benard Nathanson, the foremost pro-abortion activist who had performed more than 70,000 abortions, then turned around and used the facts in that film (The Silent Scream, released in1985), to campaign “fanatically” against abortion.
Death Penalty can be discussed philosophically and make a lot of meaning either way. The proponents hold mainly that certain criminals are dark-hearted sociopaths (psychopaths) that pose mortal danger to society and should not continue living; they also argue that the only fitting punishment for taking a life is for the criminal to pay with his own life; but some countries punish economic offences, drug-related offences and other offences that are not related to taking of life, with death sentence regarding such people also as grave dangers to the society. The argument against Death Penalty seems to be more appealing to more people: it does not result in anything better to the society than Life Sentence and blocks the chance of salvaging the criminal so he becomes a better person and able to contribute positively to the society. Many people on life sentence received parole after a certain time, having performed well in prison following a positive life-change; they become useful to society which now benefits more from not killing them. It is also argued that death sentence smacks of institutionalized low regard for human life.
Killing and eating of animals is not a sin neither is it a crime as long as one’s religious and socio-cultural beliefs do not forbid it. Those who do not eat animals cannot justifiably judge those who eat, and vice versa. Here again, it is impossible, or at least difficult, for the two groups to have an open-minded philosophical discussion on these issues when their stands are already no go areas.
It may be difficult to justifiably slam a universal judgment on different people of different backgrounds and persuasions. Here in Nigeria, the law and the general thinking regard abortion as murder but a significant number strongly justify it; in the US abortion is legalized almost completely and there is a much more liberal outlook on abortion by US citizens yet it is in the US that is found the largest and strongest Anti-abortion Movements. Furthermore, in the same US, Republicans and Democrats have some of their party principles formulated on the opposite sides of the divide concerning the issues of abortion and some moral issues and relationships. There seems to be no common grounds, therefore for people of such diverse and opposing views, background and thinking to be open-minded enough with each other to discuss these issues civilly and not fanatically. This is beyond the reach of philosophy.