A Philosopher's Blog

Virginia’s Ultrasound Law

Posted in Ethics, Law, Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Science by Michael LaBossiere on February 24, 2012
English: The state seal of Virginia. Српски / ...

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The Virginia state legislature is on track to pass a law requiring women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before being permitted to have an abortion. As might be imagined, there is considerable opposition to this law. Some critics have  even argued that forcing women to undergo an invasive procedure could actually be a sex crime under Virginia law. As might be imagined, this matter raises numerous moral concerns.

One point of concern is that, as presented in comedic fashion on the 2/21/2012 Daily Show, some of the folks supporting the bill seem to be directly violating their own professed principles regarding the appropriate role of the state. For example, the woman who put forth the bill previously argued against “Obamacare” on the grounds that the state should not make such an imposition on liberty. As another example, the governor of the state was critical of the TSA “pat downs” as being too invasive. He has, however, expressed his intent to sign the bill into law.

As might be imagined, forcing women to undergo such an invasive procedure seems to be rather inconsistent with the past arguments by these folks regarding individual liberty and the appropriate role of the state. After all, if it is unacceptable for the state to force people to buy health insurance because it violates their liberty, forcing a woman to undergo penetration against her will seems to be even more unacceptable.

Naturally, I am not claiming that these people are wrong now because their current view seems to be inconsistent with their past views. After all, doing this would be a fallacy (ad hominem tu quoque). However, it is fair to simply take the reasons they presented against forcing people to buy health insurance and apply them to their own view on the forced ultrasounds. As such, if they were right then, then they would seem to be rather wrong now. Naturally, people tend to not be very big on consistency-as Mill noted in his discussion of liberty, people generally take the view that the state should do what they want and do not base this on a consistent principle regarding what is fit and unfit for the state to do (or not do).

The most important point of concern is, obviously enough, whether or not it is right for the state to mandate such a procedure. While, as noted above, proponents of this bill seem to have railed against state imposition in other matters,I will accept that  there are cases in which the state can justly impose. The question then is whether or not this is such a case.

The most common basis for justifying state imposition is the prevention of harm. To use an obvious example, the state justly forbids people from stealing. In the case of the ultrasound, the assumption seems to be that this law will help reduce the number of abortions and this will, as some folks see it, combat a harm. However, the evidence seems to be that this will not be the case. Dr. Jen Gunter has a rather thoughtful analysis of this matter that addresses this point. As she notes, sex education,access to medical care and  contraception have the greatest impact on reducing abortion rates. These are, oddly enough, often opposed by the same folks who are vehemently opposed to abortion. As such, the law makes no sense as an abortion reducer even if it is assumed that the state has the right to make impositions with the goal of reducing abortions. In light of this, it would seem clear that the law is morally unjustified.

Even if the law would, contrary to fact, reduce the number of abortions, there is still the question of whether or not the state has the right to make such an imposition. After all, there are appealing arguments for individual liberty and keeping the government out of peoples’ business-often made by the very same people who back this particular intrusion into liberty (as noted above). My general principle is that the burden of proof rests on those who would make such impositions into law. That is, they have to provide a sufficient reason to warrant impinging on personal liberty and choice. As its stands, the proponents of this law have not made such a case. After all, it will not even achieve its apparent goal of reducing the number of abortions. There are also no legitimate medical reasons for making such an imposition and, as such, it seems to be an unwarranted and  needless attempt to legalize the violation of the rights and bodies of women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 Responses

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 24, 2012 at 8:49 am

    The state is obligated to protect it’s subjects, which, in the case of pre-natal life, means protecting the newly conceived child. We were all zygotes once. I, the person who I am now, this body, was once as small as the period at the end of this sentence. We need to STOP dehumanizing ourselves and begin respecting the majesty and mystery of human life. A human life has dignity and worth. People are not property Professor. There are two unique human bodies involved in every abortion, not one human body (a woman) and her property (the zygote, fetus, product of conception). Shame on our society! History will be our judge. Let’s get on the right side of history, justice, and love, please.

    BILL MOYERS: You mean down when we were mere cells?

    LEON KASS: When we were–

    BILL MOYERS: Or a cell?

    LEON KASS: We were a very special kind of cell, Bill.

    BILL MOYERS: Potentially.

    LEON KASS: No, no. We were– when you– look, when– R.G. Edwards created the first test tube baby, Louise Brown, 1978, he said, and he sort of stumbled over the truth. He said, “She was beautiful then and she is beautiful now.” And by “then” he meant when she was a zygote, when she was a fertilized egg which he had fertilized.

    [What really strikes me is just how little Bill Moyers (and Prof. Mike) thinks of human life in its earliest stages.]

    • anon said, on February 24, 2012 at 9:45 am

      “The state is obligated to protect it’s subjects, which, in the case of pre-natal life, means protecting the newly conceived child.”
      So what you are saying is that the rights of the “baby” override the rights of the mother? If a state is obligated to protect it’s subjects in the matter in which you describe, would a starving person be allowed to steal food from another who has food? What if the starving person came up with a way to attach a tube from themselves to another in order to be fed (like an umblicial cord) would the person they attached the tube to be allowed to remove said tube even if it meant the death of the other person?

      Most Christians that I know that are “pro life” want to do everything they can to protect something that isn’t a human yet but don’t actually give a shit about people who are alive and need help.

      “We need to STOP dehumanizing ourselves and begin respecting the majesty and mystery of human life.”
      What IS the “majesty and mystery” of human life? Are you protesting against wars, are you attempting to prevent massacres in Africa, are you against the death penalty, are you attempting to REALLY do something to prevent violence and killing in the US or is it just about forcing women to do something you want them to do?

      “A human life has dignity and worth.”
      Unless you are gay, or black, or muslim, or athiest, or .

      “People are not property Professor.”
      Libertarians would disagree since they are all about property rights and you are your own property.

      “There are two unique human bodies involved in every abortion”
      Things that are not a human body are not, a human body.

      “What really strikes me is just how little Bill Moyers (and Prof. Mike) thinks of human life in its earliest stages.”
      “life” in its earliest stages isn’t that special. Things that are actually alive, grown, and mature have a better chance at living than things that are just starting to grow. A lot of early life is extinguised naturally or, using a scientific word, aborted. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion, “Only 30 to 50% of conceptions progress past the first trimester.[14] The vast majority of those that do not progress are lost before the woman is aware of the conception,[10] and many pregnancies are lost before medical practitioners have the ability to detect the presence of an embryo.[15] Between 15% and 30% of known pregnancies end in clinically apparent miscarriage, depending upon the age and health of the pregnant woman.[16]” It sound like the state has a long way to go to protect the “unborn” from nature.

      • anon said, on February 24, 2012 at 9:48 am

        I f’ed up part of my response. As far as “people are not property”, what do you say about Christians that owned slaves? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_slavery

        • ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

          People are not property. True Christian people who owned slave treated them with dignity and worth, because the Bible says for slaveowners to do so. Slavery was/is ancient. Christianity is what stopped it.

      • ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 24, 2012 at 11:22 am

        You – “So what you are saying is that the rights of the “baby” override the rights of the mother?“

        Me – Yes. Two people are involved, not one. women’s right presuppose human rights, dignity, and worth. If the child has no protection from the mother who seeks to harm her, why should the women have protection, say, from a man who wishes to harm her? Maybe he thinks women are less than human. Who is to say, right? What standard will we use to protect women from men once we have allowed baby murder?

        You – If a state is obligated to protect it’s subjects in the matter in which you describe, would a starving person be allowed to steal food from another who has food? What if the starving person came up with a way to attach a tube from themselves to another in order to be fed (like an umblicial cord) would the person they attached the tube to be allowed to remove said tube even if it meant the death of the other person?

        Me – Yes, a person who is starving may take food that does not belong to her because she has the inherent right to provide for her own life. In this instance it is not stealing. This is Catholic moral theology. Your analogy is very faulty. Such an instance is never necessary, ever. The child in the womb is not an invader, she is an innocent, living, growing, person who depends upon her mother to survive. By nature, women have a strong desire to care for their unborn child even at the expense of their own life.

        You – Most Christians that I know that are “pro life” want to do everything they can to protect something that isn’t a human yet but don’t actually give a shit about people who are alive and need help.

        Me – Excuse me? What is the “something that is not human” pro-life people want to protect? The child? The child is human. Did you flunk 8th grade biology? Christian are commanded and do help people in need. The are far more Christian aid organizations that there are atheist ones, for example. What’s the largest charity in America? Catholic Charities?

        You – What IS the “majesty and mystery” of human life? Are you protesting against wars, are you attempting to prevent massacres in Africa, are you against the death penalty, are you attempting to REALLY do something to prevent violence and killing in the US or is it just about forcing women to do something you want them to do?

        Me – Did you watch the video: From Conception to Birth? Watch it, please. I do protest against wars, euthanasia, poverty, racism, capital punishment, and abortion, and have been in jail because of these. You? I am committed to the protection of life, which is threatened in today’s world by war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia. I believe these issues are linked under a ‘consistent ethic of life’.
        I challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation, and respect in protecting the unprotected. I wish to create a peaceful, just, and sustainable future which respects all of humanity and the planet.

        You – Libertarians would disagree since they are all about property rights and you are your own property.

        Me – Libertarianism shorn of Natural Law devolves into property rights. I am a libertarian
        under Natural Law.

        You – Things that are not a human body are not, a human body.

        Me – ? Watch the video, please. And have a heart, too. Thanks :)

        You – “life” in its earliest stages isn’t that special. Things that are actually alive, grown, and mature have a better chance at living than things that are just starting to grow. A lot of early life is extinguised naturally or, using a scientific word, aborted. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion, “Only 30 to 50% of conceptions progress past the first trimester.[14] The vast majority of those that do not progress are lost before the woman is aware of the conception,[10] and many pregnancies are lost before medical practitioners have the ability to detect the presence of an embryo.[15] Between 15% and 30% of known pregnancies end in clinically apparent miscarriage, depending upon the age and health of the pregnant woman.[16]” It sound like the state has a long way to go to protect the “unborn” from nature.

        Me – What standard would you use to extinguish an innocent human life? And how would you prevent that standard from being used against other undesirables?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 24, 2012 at 11:08 am

      I’m unsure if the zygote in the biological chain leading to my current body was a person. True-if the zygote had been snuffed, I would not be here now. However, the same would be true if my most distant ancestor was snuffed before reproducing, but I am not that ancestor.

      Of course, if I am a soul or another non-physical entity, then it seems possible that I could just have gotten another body if the zygote that could have been me did not make it. After all, my soul could probably operate any body.

      If, however, there are no souls and we are just meat-bots, then killing the zygote that became me would have prevented me from existing. But this would seem to entail that the theological claims about souls are false and this could entail that God cannot exist, unless He is also some sort of physical thing (as Hobbes argued).

  2. dhammett said, on February 24, 2012 at 10:58 am

    If you wish, consider the following vid (mentioned by Mike in his article) an intrusion —-somewhat like the unwanted insertion of a transvaginal ultrasound wand into your nether regions : :)

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/virginia-politics/post/va-ultrasound-bill-gets-daily-show-mocking/2012/02/22/gIQAoV2LTR_blog.html

  3. [...] A Philosopher’s Blog: Virginia’s Ultrasound Law (by Michael LaBossiere, PhD. Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at Florida [...]

  4. wtp said, on February 24, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    “In the case of the ultrasound, the assumption seems to be that this law will help reduce the number of abortions and this will, as some folks see it, combat a harm. However, the evidence seems to be that this will not be the case. ”

    You mean the evidence that you choose to look at. In spite of my other opinions I am very pro-choice within the context of the earliest possible timeframe. I do, however, greatly respect the position of those who disagree. As dhammet (God help me here) states (via AJ) a large number of conceptions never produce a viable child. If life does begin at conception, we have a serious health issue to address. But that’s just my perspective. The opposite side of that argument has significant merit. To not acknowledge this is willful ignorance, pure and simple. This is a very profound philosophical issue and to see it treated so in such a cavalier manner by a philosopher is disappointing…but I’m used to it.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 27, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      To properly accuse a person of failing to take into account available evidence requires showing that legitimate evidence available to that person was ignored. Feel free to provide the evidence I missed.

  5. T. J. Babson said, on February 24, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Dumb law. Even dumber commentary.

    • T. J. Babson said, on February 24, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      I was mainly thinking of the “sex crime” nonsense.

  6. Patrick Sperry said, on February 24, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Hmm…
    Well? I certainly do not approve in what amounts to a sexual assault. Of any kind, against a man, or a woman. Then we get to the basic over all issue. Abortion, and, I don’t believe in it, within some pretty strict situations? It may be allowable. But, I happen to think that is very rare based upon more than twenty years directly involved in Emergency Medical Services…

    For all of you outright proponents of abortion? I say this. When the failure to have an abortion is an affirmative defense against having to pay child support? Then I might well support unlimited abortion.

    Until that time killing life, or potential life, is best called murder, and, is best left to the parties involved to make any decisions. BOTH the Woman and the Man! And their interpretation of their relationship with God, if any…

    And is no business whatsoever of the Government, period, in any form or manner.

    Professor, do I really need to go through the three points of Kantian evaluation? This is, after all is said and done a cloud of issues.


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