Friday, October 31, 2008

Abortion: a disqualifying issue

A number of years ago, William F. Buckley, Jr. was discussing the abortion issue with a guest on his program, "Firing Line." The guest challenged Buckley's assertion that a conservative should not vote for a candidate who supported abortion. The guest charged that this was "single issue" voting.

Not at all, said Buckley. "Abortion is not a single issue," he explained: "It is a disqualifying issue."

If you had, say, a candidate with whom you agreed about everything, but he was in favor of bringing back slavery, Buckley asked, would you vote for him? No. Because slavery is a disqualifying issue.

Abortion operates in the same way (or should) for a voter who believes that life begins at conception. As Buckley explained, a prolife voter should no more vote for a pro-abortion candidate than he would for a person who favored infanticide--because that's exactly what abortion is.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's making two unstated assumptions:
1) There is no other disqualifying issue of greater importance.
2) If all candidates are disqualified on this one issue, there is no reason to prefer one.

jah

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

I never said there weren't any other issues that were of greater importance, but I do happen to believe that. If you believed that life began at conception, then wouldn't you believe abortion was resulting in millions of deaths per year? If so, what issue would you think was greater than that?

And I don't understand your statement about all candidates being disqualified. Only those with the wrong position on the issue would be disqualified.

I didn't say it in the article because I thought it was clearly implied, but, of course, a candidate's incorrect position on abortion is only disqualifying from the perspective of a prolife voter. It is not necessarily disqualifying from the perspective of a proabortion voter.

The the prolife voter, lives are at stake; for a proabortion voter, lives are not at stake (unless you believe the nonsense from the more radical elements of the proabortion movement who assert, without much evidence, that there would be a high number of deaths from illegal abortions), only certain perceived civil rights.

It would be much more rational for a proabortion voter to vote for a prolife candidate than vice-versa.

Anonymous said...

But of course the interesting question is; what does it mean to say life begins at conception? Fertilization as a biological process has a number of different component steps which take a measurable amount of time to complete (although I can't find typical numbers).

If this is the beginning of life, at what specific stage of completion does non-life become life?


jah


MC: It would be much more rational for a proabortion voter to vote for a prolife candidate than vice-versa.

That's true.

MC: I never said there weren't any other issues that were of greater importance, but I do happen to believe that.

On a national level, the US has supported brutal corrupt dictators because they were anti-Communist. I never felt that Communism was the worst evil. But if in your opinion abortion is the worst wrong, then you are at least being consistent.

If both candidates are pro-abortion, do you not vote, vote for third party candidate, or pick the lesser of two evils (a la Louisiana's infamous slogan "Vote for the Crook" (as opposed to David Duke))?

Lee said...

> But of course the interesting question is; what does it mean to say life begins at conception? Fertilization as a biological process has a number of different component steps which take a measurable amount of time to complete (although I can't find typical numbers).

I think the more interesting question is, when does a human zygote reach a state where other humans are obliged to respect them as humans?

I mean, we already know it's life. But mosquitos are life, too, and we swat at them.

And this is where the fundamental philosophical differences between the materialist and the Christian are made apparent.

Christians, by and large, and still, are taught that human life belongs to the Lord. It is his to dispense with, or to allow to come to fruition. A prudent fear of the Lord does not rule out the possibility that whatever it is that is special about human life is not also special about a zygote, or a fetus.

The materialist, on the other hand sees simply a cell, or a cluster of cells, barely sentient, let alone conscious. It follows that it is the human mother's attitude about it that determines whether it is worth something. If she loves and adores it, it is special. If she does not, removing it is no different in any way than removing a wart.

Do materialists believe there is anything special about human life at all? Now, there's an interesting question. Rather than worry about the slippery slope of when a fetus becomes a fully entitled human being, why worry about it at all? How does a materialist distinguish between human flesh and, say, a 12 ounce porterhouse? Ask not why we should respect a fetus's life; ask why we should respect anyone's?

Lee said...

> On a national level, the US has supported brutal corrupt dictators because they were anti-Communist. I never felt that Communism was the worst evil. But if in your opinion abortion is the worst wrong, then you are at least being consistent.

Name a brutal and corrupt dictator that the U.S. supported who maintained anything close to the body counts that the communist countries maintained. And if communism is not the "worst wrong", what is?

Lee said...

> Lee: "A prudent fear of the Lord does not rule out the possibility that whatever it is that is special about human life is not also special about a zygote, or a fetus."

In writing as well as programming, I need to avoid "not" logic, obviously. Please read this as if the last "not" is not there.

Martin Cothran said...

Jah,

Rather than human "life", I should say human "person". I should have guessed this discussion might get a little more technical. Human personhood begins at conception.

In regard to fertilization, I am unaware of any definition of that term that would involve an extended period of time. Here is Miriam Webster's definition:

the process of union of two gametes whereby the somatic chromosome number is restored and the development of a new individual is initiated

How long does that take? I used the term 'conception' rather than 'fertilization', but as far as I know that terms mean practically the same thing in this instance, and both are practically instantaneous.

If you know differently, I'd like to hear it.

I contend that considering this as the beginning of human personhood this way not only makes common sense, but is the least problematic definition.

I also think that, even if someone had a less rigorous definition than this, that he should find abortion as it is practiced in the U.S. (i.e. primarily as birth control) a terribly disturbing practice.

Anonymous said...

lee: How does a materialist distinguish between human flesh and, say, a 12 ounce porterhouse?

I would say that the near universal ability to do so suggests that there is a distinction. But the materialist has graduations (sure mosquitos are life but they get swatted) whereas the Christians have a step function but have difficulty defining where the step is.


jah

Anonymous said...

lee: Name a brutal and corrupt dictator that the U.S. supported who maintained anything close to the body counts that the communist countries maintained.

Please compare the opinion of most of the people of South Vietnam about their leader(s) with that of the North Vietnamese about their leader.

jah

Anonymous said...

MC: In regard to fertilization, I am unaware of any definition of that term that would involve an extended period of time. Here is Miriam Webster's definition:

the process of union of two gametes whereby the somatic chromosome number is restored and the development of a new individual is initiated
---------------

Here's a brief overview: http://mrg.genetics.washington.edu/pdfs/12479616.pdf

At what point in the processes described (not extended that much in time but clearly divisible into a number of separate events) does personhood start? Is it ok to interrupt the process of conception at some point before this because there is no personhood?

MC: and both are practically instantaneous.

That's the problem with overlaying a human interpretation on a natural process. The process is definitely not instantaneous (as described in the overview above) and problems/differences can occur at various stages with a variety of outcomes (such as fraternal twins). So a non-personhood/personhood distinction is going to have to be a bit more specific as to when this drastic change occurs. In general people like to classify things/phenomena in boxes; nature in general does not comply. That is what makes it difficult/impossible to scientifically distinguish life/nonlife, one species/derivative species, blue/green, etc. But science does not depend on fixed boxes.

jah

softech said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
softech said...

Great subject. I have been playing around with the idea of the comment structure recently.


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