prochoiceThe debate on the initial thread has been… interesting.  The capacity for people to talk past each other is quite distressing.  I am really starting to appreciate the work George Lakoff has done on the issue Cognitive Framing in his book Moral Politics. How we think about and respond to issues is based on this cognitive framework which can affect how we view opposing points of view and how credible we judge them to be.

That being said, it is important to review the arguments in favour of  ownership of one’s body.

1) A person owns themselves.
2) Self ownership implies the right to free will
3) In having free will, you cannot have a duty to perform any affirmative actions.
Conclusion– You have no duty to provide another with the means to live.
Therefore it is permissible to remove anything classified as a separate entity from your body.

The objections raised to this have been middling at best and include the assertion that the sylogism ‘begs the question’ by not addressing the issue of fetal rights or the status of the fetus.  The actual explanation of the begging the question was left at that, but I will extrapolate and make the objection that the term person should also be applied to the fetus/zygote/blastocyst etc.  (Note: Allowing this extrapolation does not invalidate this particular argument and it is still a strong argument for the right of a woman to control her body)

If we are to allow the idea of personhood to a fetus then it is important to allow the distinction between the biological definition of human and the moral definition of human.  Biologically, the mass of cells in question can be defined as a ‘human being’ (and is often shrilly bleated repeatedly by the opponents of choice) but certainly not a fully functional independently biological entity.  Is it fair to describe the zygote/embryo/blastocyst as equivalent to that of an adult human being?

This would entail this view:

1.  Embryos are human beings.
2.  All human beings have equal moral status.
3.  Therefore, embryos have full moral status.

The implications of this argument have been discussed in part 2 of this series, which makes the claim that to be consistent those who endorse this claim must also accept the fact that spontaneous abortion is a much larger and more pressing issue that should be dealt with first, if we are to define the embryo as having full and equivalent moral status as an adult human being.

Going back to the conclusion of the first sylogism, we read that “In having free will, you cannot have a duty to perform any affirmative actions” the anti-choice side would put forward that the woman does have the duty to perform an affirmative action, that is to let the fetus grow in her womb (at direct risk to her health) as we have defined the embryo in question as having full moral rights equivalent to that of an adult human being, and therefore positive affirmative actions must be taken.

Therefore, if we are to follow the argumentation, we all have the absolute duty to save human beings and if given the opportunity to take affirmative action that will save a life we must do so.  The implications of this are far reaching as consider the following case:

A house is on fire and someone is trapped behind a deadly wall of flame.  That person will perish if we do not act to save his life.  We are obligated then, to run into the fire and attempt to save his life, if we subscribe to the notion that it is a duty to take positive affirmative action.

So,the rights view of the anti-choice stance, to be consistent, should state that whenever there is an opportunity to take affirmative action to save a human life, it must be undertaken.  This would lead to people being obligated to be the ‘hyper-good samaritain’.  That is risking their life and abandoning their rights in order to save the life of another.  This situation, clearly, is absurd.

This situation calls into question then the idea that a fetus/zygote/blastocyst should have the moral equivalence of an adult human being.