Government interfering in personal issues (abortion)
Posted: 04 December 2006 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I don’t understand why some people think it’s okay to tell others how they should handle personal issues.

Take abortion, for example. The fact that it’s so controversial should cause one to think, hey, too many people disagree on this topic’s fundamental underlying issues for us to decree that, "no, abortion is not okay." I just don’t see how abortion could ever be anything but a pro-choice procedure.

Am I preaching to the choir? Discuss.

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Posted: 04 December 2006 01:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A major part of most religions is to coerce others to conform with the tenets defined by that religion.  That’s why conservative Christians fight against abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, etc.  It’s why Conservatve Moslims kill non-Moslims, and each other.

The problem is much broader than just abortion; it’s about controlling everyone’s behavior in all sectors.

Occam

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Posted: 04 December 2006 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]A major part of most religions is to coerce others to conform with the tenets defined by that religion.  That’s why conservative Christians fight against abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex, etc.  It’s why Conservatve Moslims kill non-Moslims, and each other.

The problem is much broader than just abortion; it’s about controlling everyone’s behavior in all sectors.

Occam

Indeed; agreed.

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Posted: 11 December 2006 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Ok, just to guarantee I get flamed by all the libertarians on the board, I don’t agree that coercive enforcement of behavioral standards, including by government, is always a bad thing. Ultimately, any law is about restricting individual behavior, and the debate is usually about which behaviors to restrict and how. Except for adherents of extreme relativism/Postmodernism, who would argue any world view, and the actions proceeding from it, is as valid as any other, most people believe some behaviors are wrong and should be sanctioned or prohibited. And religion cannot take all the blame or credit for this since there are secular systems of ethics (such as utilitarianism) which can be used to support prohibiting individual behaviors.
Most of us on this board probably agree about what should NOT be prohibited (including abortion, gay marriage, and all the other betes noirs of the Christian Right). But I suspect a lot of us agree about many things that should be (female circumcision, slavery, secual activity between adults and children, etc….). And for some of these behaviors, we might even feel strongly enough to support community coercion in some form. So it doesn’t make much sense to me to lament that groups with ideologies opposed, in many ways, to ours seek to force their values on others. Anyone who believes there is a moral or ethical basis for judging the actions of others probably believes it is sometimes right to act on those judgements even if it restricts the freedom of others. More productive is a discussion of how one establishes standards for judging actions, by what mechanism such judgements are made and enforced, how is some core individual freedom preserved in the process, etc. Such a discussion is, of course, complicated and not likely to lead to simple rules or broad consensus, but we secular humanists often have the burden of working harder to understand the “big questions” since we cannot easily swallow the premade answers of religious traditions.  :wink:

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Posted: 14 December 2006 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I understand that many fellow non religious people believe in abortion being a woman’s right.  In my view abortion is murder. Is it a persons right to kill another person? If you don’t want a child use other precautions.*

*The exception to this is when it is not consensual.

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Posted: 14 December 2006 02:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“theatheistheretic”]Is it a persons right to kill another person?

Sometimes it is.

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Posted: 14 December 2006 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“theatheistheretic”]In my view abortion is murder.

... yes, but from what argument? We’ve been through some of them here in the past and they don’t work.

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Posted: 15 December 2006 12:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Re: Government interfering in personal issues (abortion)

[quote author=“elef3u”]I don’t understand why some people think it’s okay to tell others how they should handle personal issues.

I’m a huge proponent of reproductive freedom. That said, I do think it’s a bit dishonest to claim that abortion is a clear case of a “personal issue”. I happen to think it is, but this is something that requires some rather complex discussion, and takes us into the process of building a secular ethics - that is, an ethics that is built on the real-world effects of actions.

There are those non-theists who see abortion as having real-world consequences that are so negative they outweigh the positives gained from the freedom to choose. I tend to believe these people are wrong. Dead wrong. And, usually, it can be shown how their position on this doesn’t work with the rest of their ethics. In other words, I don’t think they have thought it through completely. Not the specific issue of abortion - I mean they haven’t given enough thought to what actually makes something “good”, “bad”, “right”, or “wrong”.


[quote author=“elef3u”]Take abortion, for example. The fact that it’s so controversial should cause one to think, hey, too many people disagree on this topic’s fundamental underlying issues for us to decree that, “no, abortion is not okay.” I just don’t see how abortion could ever be anything but a pro-choice procedure.

Am I preaching to the choir? Discuss.

The mere fact that “too many people disagree on this topic’s fundamental underlying issues” does not imply that the society should withhold judgment or just allow it to happen.  If we find a society where there is essentially no controversy on the issue (almost everyone feels that it is wrong), does that mean that the freedom of choice really is wrong? What about protecting the minority? It’s my understanding that there is very little support for same-sex marriage in the U.S. (even here in Massachusetts, where it’s legal). What percentage of the population must hold a different viewpoint before it’s declared a controversy?

Anyway, in a way I agree with you. Abortion should be safe and legal. Period. And I often paint the opposition to abortion as religious f*cktards who have never gone through the work of building a set of ethical principals, and their real-world consequences. However, I don’t think appeals to popularity is the route to justifying choice. I also feel that the issue *is* a bit more complex than you propose.

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Posted: 15 December 2006 12:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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[quote author=“theatheistheretic”]In my view abortion is murder.

Nobody in the history of the abortion debate has every laid out a non-religious explanation for the above statement. I’d be interested in hearing if you have one…

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Posted: 16 December 2006 06:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Once again, semantics plays a big role in the debate about abortion as murder. I think it is possible to make reasonable arguments both for and against abortion as murder, but I also agree to some extent with elef3u that the very lack of agreement on this point informs how we should structure our laws regarding it.

Murder-How about calling it the killing of a human being without a justification acceptable in the culture at large? (this leaves plenty of room for self-defense, warfare, state-sponsored execution, victim’s consent, and euthanasia, all of which are, of course, ethically debatable in their own right and would be classed as murder by some). This begs the question of majority and minority rights (see below), but is realistically how most of us use the word.
Then the debate shifts to “human being.” The boundaries of exclusion for this term are arbitrary and, if most cases, not especially logical. The scientific definition of species (individuals capable of producing fertile offspring) isn’t very useful here (legalizing killing those people with chromosomal abberations preventing fertility wouldn’t get much support under any world view). Cognitive criteria leave out those with brain damage, dementia, and many other disorders, not to mention the unborn, and frankly could reasonably include individuals of some other species as “human.” Birth is a traditional point in many societies, though some cultures have not endowed individuals with personhood under law or custom until 1-2 years of age. How about viability outside the womb, as the Supreme Court decided? Well, technology changes that boundary all the time.

All of this is to preface the idea that one can make a logical (not the same thing as reasonable nor correct) argument for abortion as murder simply by deciding to label as a “human being” the fetus at whatever arbitrary point they chose. Conception is no less arbitrary than birth.

Personally, I don’t like calling a bunch of nearly identical cells a person since it is absurd on the face of it and leads to the “every sperm is sacred” nonsense. If it were up to me, I’d pick a dividing line somewhere around the point where some reasonable number of fetuses on average (say 75%) could survive without the need for advanced life-support, but that’s just a practical solution that’s not likely to make anybody happy.

As in most things, a well though out determination will admit that clear boundaries are meaningless and that any dividing line is somewhat arbitrary. The belief system underlying one’s values creates the context of the definitions, and these then determine the ethical foundation for a final decision. The best we can hope for in the absence of widely-shared consensus on the underlying beliefs or definitions, is a mechanism for making the decision that minimally infringes on the individual’s freedom. Forcing someone to do something major with their body (have or not have a child) and with their life ever after (such as raise a child) is an immense burden, and given the lack of consensus and of objective, agreed-upon criteria for making the decision about the ethics of abortion, we should be very leary of compelling individuals in this area. In this sense, even though the general idea that the “majority” should get to dictate what everyone does is ethically questionable, it is true that an extremely broad consensus should be required before individuals are significantly burdened in terms of their personal freedom. As I said above, I do think it is sometimes appropriate to impose such burdens or compulsion, and I don’t have a general answer applicable in all cases as to when it is or isn’t appropriate nor what constitutes a sufficient majority, but I would err on the side of individual freedom whenever there is substantial disagreement, as with abortion.

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