killing v. murder

Max Sawicky sawicky at
Wed Aug 25 16:05:28 PDT 1999

Ms. K: it's a moot point, given that, as you note, no one can read minds. furthermore, it's also a moot point given that this type of thing is extraordinarily rare. . . .

mbs: The only number I found was 1% of abortions occurring after 21 weeks, which for 1996 (the latest year reported), meant 13,700, if memory serves. Obviously the number falls as the weeks pass. How fast it falls I can't say.

Whether the resulting numbers are "extraordinarily rare" depends on the comparison. We can agree there are enough to merit discussion, otherwise nobody here would be saying anything.

I'm reminded, again, of Kathleen Turner's great line in Prizzi's Honor. Jack Nicholson is stunned to learn she has carried out many contract murders. She says, "well, it's not that many if you consider it as a proportion of the population."


it's not inconceivable, no. and, as i've already explained, the root of that sort of thinking doesn't issue from the practice of abortion but from other social ills that ought to be addressed before we imagine that we should limit or question the sincerity of and need for and seriousness of parents' decisions to have an abortion.

mbs: NB I'm not the one who argues that an assessment of motives is appropriate or realistic. That followed from an implication in Marta's post. She didn't endorse it explicitly either. She did say that motives have something to do with the acceptability of the act. I don't think the fetus, nor many who are about the fetus, care about that very much.

furthermore, in order for it to truly be considered eugenics, then i'd say it'd have to be organized in some way, don't you think? that is, there would be an ideology behind it, it would take on some sort of or set of organizational forms, would operate as a movement and so forth.

mbs: I agree that eugenics is mostly a matter of state policy, though individuals have been known to exert their own personal initiatives in this field. Someone posted something a few weeks ago, or maybe I read it in the Post, about a project in Vermont which sought to organize a eugenics program.

Obviously culture and ideology can and do influence reproductive decisions in perverse ways, even though there are no literal state interventions involved.

My main point, however, is that a policy abhorred by all of us in the social arena is given free play in the private, under an absolute right to choice. If you have choice, you can't keep Margaret Sanger out of the room.

i don't think eugenics ought to be a label slapped onto just any old thing because what eugenics means becomes so various as to mean nothing.

that you think having an abortion is a whim is a bit of a problem. assuming that parents choose to do this for any old reason and that those reason are but mere whimsy--which is what you might as well say--is well uummm totally out in left field. in fact, when that ball gets done flying we might want to map the galactic coordinates because i'm sure wherever it touched down you've got to have landed on an unknown galaxy.

mbs: I agree "whim" was not a good choice of words. I was thinking from the standpoint of the fetus, for whom the gravity of the decision is much greater than for the parent(s). I was also thinking about the situation of someone who, late in the game, begins to doubt a prior intention to give birth. Whimsy is obviously not a good term, but I would presume some kind of turmoil in the woman's decision-making process which could make the ultimate decision vulnerable to relatively small forces, like being balanced on a knife edge. I take Yoshie's point that basically, I have no clue as to what sort of situations are involved, and this would be worth knowing for this discussion.

>Rather than ask what is a fetus, I might have asked
>instead, what is a baby less than, say, a day old?
>Or one that has lived in an incubator for a week?
>'It' has no socialization to speak of. And if only
>socialization makes us human, then the baby is not
>human and has no rights.

K: sounds to me as if you're raising it in order to stir up the shit. your concerns become rather meaningless as we've said time and time again if you were to consider that we ought to focus our attention on eradicating the need for abortions and very late term ones in the very first place.

mbs: Yes, I was alluding to certain astonishing philosophical implications in some others' posts. I agree that the most useful practical thing to do is to create an environment in which late-term abortions dwindle into virtual non-existence. But this is a bit of a cop-out in one sense: any such project will take some time, during which this nettlesome issue, which we have just admitted is nettlesome in some way, will persist in invididual cases. It's a little like saying, don't like crime? A revolution will solve that.

all of your worries disappear--poof! voila!--as soon as we address those issues and you know this. very few people have late term abortions. many of them are before true viability. and, moreover, the reasons for having them are often very very serious. the procedure as i told you last year is extraordinarily painful and not fun at all. any woman who undergoes one knows this and has to think long and hard about doing it. that you think anyone would willing spend all that cash and go through the agony for a whim is surprising.

mbs: I agree, as above, though I would say serious for the woman and serious for the fetus are two different things.

furthermore, it isn't socialization that makes us human. it is our practice of thinking that a baby is human that makes us human and are what makes us engage in the practices of socialization. it is no longer a potential human being when born but is one.

mbs: this particular bit above I don't get at all. It seems to argue by assertion, and I'm not sure I even understand the assertion.

as to the issue of rights--where are those located anyway? what makes them somehow apolitical--somehow outside of the social? because this is what you are suggesting and why i think you have a difficult time understanding feminist arguments for abortion without turning them into individualist arguments that depend on the discourse of "rights"

mbs: My understanding of ALL the pro-choice arguments here is that they ALL hinge on a notion of rights. Obviously my understanding could be mucked up. But that's what I see. I don't reject that framework, BTW. I just don't think it flies.

what are rights in the first place? rights are defined by the state, the polity. they aren't natural or god given simply by virtue of one's birth, despite what the declaration of ind. says. so, since rights are political and depend on social institutions and social practices to make them so and to make them real in their effects, then a baby has rights if a particular society says it does and acts on that belief.

Sure, but so could a baby in the womb have rights, in this light. Or society could say that an unsocialized newborn is not really human yet, hence it has no rights.

The latest philosophical astonishment was CC's remark: " . . . So the question of whether the fetus is living or not is simply not a question worth discussing, because there is no moral value to be put on life itself."

I can't buy that. I guess I'm just a softie. My focus gravitates to the weakest, most vulnerable in the situation. It isn't the woman.


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