A Philosopher's Blog

Anti-Abortion as a “Cheap” Moral Position

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 17, 2012
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A moral position comes with a price, or more accurately, prices. After all, the cost of holding a position is one thing and the cost of actually acting upon that position can be quite another.  There is also the matter of the cost of professing a moral position—after all, one might hold a position that is kept secret or profess a position one does not actually hold.

This, of course, assumes that a person can hold a moral position while not acting upon it—something that seems not only intuitively plausible but actually likely in many cases. For example, a person might hold to the view that s/he should help others in need, yet drive past someone in need because it is, for example, raining a bit too hard. It might be objected that a person who does not act upon a moral position does not actually hold that position, but this seems analogous to laws: it is one thing to have a law on the books and quite another to actually enforce it.

The price of a moral position can also vary considerably from person to person depending on the specifics of their situation. For example, the cost of holding and acting on a moral position supporting free speech is very low in the United States and rather higher in China. While the general notion of costs could be discussed at great length, I must now turn to discussing the main concern, namely being anti-abortion as a “cheap” moral position, specifically in the United States.

Obviously enough, the cost of holding to and acting upon an anti-abortion moral position will vary from person to person. In some cases, the cost could be very high indeed. For example, imagine a young girl living in poverty who has been impregnated by rape and is also morally against abortion. For her, the cost of acting upon her position could be very high indeed. In other cases, the cost could be fairly low. For example, a wealthy man who has no children could almost certainly hold and act on the anti-abortion position with far less cost than the girl in the previous example. It is also worth noting that the cost of a moral position can also be a cost inflicted on others. For example, while the man in the second example might pay little personal cost for his position, if he were an influential politician and acted on his position to create laws, then the cost of his position might be high for others. For example, if he saw to it that abortion was outlawed in all cases, then the girls and women affected could pay very high prices indeed for his moral position.

In the United States, there is almost no difference between men and women in regards to their views on the issue of abortion (and most American favor the right to abortion). What is, however, rather interesting is that the politicians and pundits who most actively claim an anti-abortion position are men. For example, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin have gotten considerable attention for their professed views on abortion.  Naturally, it is worth noting that in the United States women are still in the minority when it comes to holding office or being a national pundit.

It is also interesting, but hardly surprising, that those who take the anti-abortion view tend to be social conservatives or religious (or both). For people in these categories, the cost of their position varies considerably.

For example, the Catholic Church takes a strong stance against abortion. However, the Catholic Church pays a price for this position in that Catholic charities provide aid and support to girls and women who seek help from them. As such, the church is clearly willing to bear at least some of the cost of holding and acting on the anti-abortion moral position. To be specific, they are unwilling to push the full cost of their moral position onto others by simply telling them “no abortions, but you and the child are on your own.” Rather they say “no abortions, but we will help you in your need.” Obviously enough, the Catholic Church can still be criticized for its position, but it would be wrong to fault them for their charity. Unfortunately, some people take the anti-abortion position but want to get it on the cheap.

As noted above, many of those who hold to the anti-abortion position are social conservatives. It is thus not surprising that they also tend to be fiscal conservatives and thus typically oppose social programs aimed at helping those in poverty or need. Republican VP pick Paul Ryan, for example, is well known for embracing Ayn Rand’s economic views regarding these sorts of altruistic (or “collectivist”) programs. He did, however, attempt to distance himself from Rand in some philosophical matters. After all, Rand was not known for her theism and was a clear supporter of abortion rights (which are consistent with her other views).

While many women are in the position to have children without undue hardship, there are also many women and girls who are not in such a position. For example, girls in the lower economic classes are generally ill able to bear the cost of pregnancy and raising a child. There is also the matter of the cost of an unwanted pregnancy in terms of a person’s life plans. For example, an unwanted pregnancy can put an end to hopes of an education or career. There is, of course, also the matter of pregnancy inflicted by rape and the potential costs to the victim.

As might be imagined, cutting or eliminating social programs in accord with the conservative ideology would mean that the women and girls in question would bear the costs of the anti-abortion position of those holding to the conservative position on abortion. As such, it would seem that the anti-abortion and anti-social support views of the conservatives would entail that the women and girls would bear the cost of these views rather than those holding to the views.

These views are, of course, generally cheap for the holders in question. After all, people like Ryan and Akin are unlikely to be in a situation in which someone close to them is experiencing an unwanted pregnancy and also lacking in financial support.  As such, they can hold to their view with little chance of having to pay a meaningful or significant price. It is, in effect, a free moral stance for them. However, for the women and girls who experience an unwanted pregnancy and lack adequate means of support, the cost would be rather high indeed if the anti-abortion and anti-social support views became the laws of the land.

One interesting (and ironic) way to characterize the approach of social and fiscal conservatives who are anti-abortion and anti-social support is as engaging in ethical parasitism. That is, they are holding to moral positions while expecting others to pay the cost of these views. A less harsh way to put it is that they are living on ethical subsidies: the costs of their moral views are subsidized by other people who would pay the actual cost, should those views be imposed upon the country. Since I am opposed to such free-loading, I am morally opposed to these moral welfare kings who are unwilling to pay for their own ethics.

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26 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Mike is exactly wrong. It doesn’t matter a whit what a politician thinks of abortion, because abortion laws are not going to change. Saying “I am pro-life” is on the same moral plane as saying “I like NASCAR.” It is more of a cultural signifier than a statement having any real moral content. Similarly, when Obama talked about people “clinging to their guns and religion” he signified he was an elite liberal. Politicians make these cultural statements all the time to build rapport with their constituents, but they have no moral content.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      You really didn’t address my points. But, as you note, the Republicans have consistently failed to deliver what they promised to the anti-abortion folks. Interesting how the anti-abortion people keep falling for it year after year. Of course, to be fair, I suppose that they have no alternative-it is not like the Democrats will pretend to agree with them even to get their votes.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 5:50 pm

        I rejected your premise that being “pro-life” or “pro-choice” is a moral position in anything but a private sense. It is especially not a moral position when held by a politician.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

          It could be a private moral position if the person holding it did not extend it beyond the boundaries of his/her own person. So, for example, if Ryan said “I am against abortion, but this is a matter of private morality so I will not impose my moral view on anyone and certainly will not propose any laws that would make this a public matter”, then he would be keeping it private. However, people make this a public matter by taking actions aimed at imposing their moral views via the law.

          It might be claimed that politicians are merely presenting a political view (maybe you see this as a mere cynical maneuver to get votes) and hence have no actual moral commitment. If so, they would seem to be lying when they say it is a moral matter. After all, the opposition to abortion is claimed to stem from religious and ethical grounds and not just mere political posturing that is devoid of any actual commitment.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm

        And, to offer some internal criticism of your argument, the people who support abortion must live with all of those girls in China and elsewhere who were aborted merely because of their sex.

        • WTP said, on September 17, 2012 at 8:17 pm

          While true, the one-child policy has a good bit to do with the number of those abortions.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2012 at 4:37 pm

          Why? The fact that I am pro-choice in the context of the US does not entail that I support all abortion policies everywhere in the world. To use the obvious analogy, the fact that I am pro-law (that is, I think that people should generally follow the law in the US) does not entail that I think that people in a dictatorship should just obey the dictator.

    • biomass2 said, on September 17, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      “abortion laws are not going to change.”
      I wish I could be as confident as you are about that.
      Perhaps you have borrowed one of magus71’s crystal balls?

      I’m old-school. Past performance is no indication of future results.

      • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm

        biomass2, what exactly is the scenario that frightens you? The Supremes have found a right to abortion in the Constitution. Even if the Republicans are able to replace a justice or two, it is very unlikely they will upset precedent and overturn Roe v. Wade. And even in the extremely unlikely event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, the issue then passes to the states and in that case abortion will be restricted in only the reddest of the red states.

        If you look at the popular right-of-center websites like Instapundit, Hot Air, Weekly Standard, and National Review you will see abortion is simply a non issue. Abortion is being used by the Dems to tap into tribalism. It is irrational, but I must say it is working. When it comes to Obama, people like you and Mike have left your critical faculties behind.

        Just remember, those evil Republicans want to take away your birth control and send you back to the 1950s. Forget about the 5 trillion dollars we borrowed ($55K per person)…abortion is the real issue. Remember that.

        • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm

          Correction: our total deficit is $55K per person. Obama added $17K per person in the past 3.5 years.

          • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm

            Sorry, need to get this right. Our total debt amounts to $55K per person.

        • biomass2 said, on September 17, 2012 at 9:59 pm

          “Very unlikely” “extremely unlikely”. . . So how do those phrases compare to “abortion laws are not going to change”? Let’s see. . . “It’s very unlikely that abortion laws will change.” vs “Abortion laws are not going to change” OR try “It’s extremely unlikely that abortion laws will change” vs Abortion laws are not going to change.”

          So ‘they will not’ or ‘it’s extremely unlikely that they will’ . Which is it? If you’re saying they ‘will’ not, your crystal balls, I fear, are a bit overactive. Perhaps in some magical, mystical world we could have you fixed?


          It’s a non-issue. . . Yet personhood amendments keep popping up like quackgrass don’t they? And who pushes them, Republicans or Democrats? TJ. when too many innocents begin to agree that “abortion is a non issue” those amendments will pass and the likelihood of the kind of change that you paint as “extremely unlikely will become much greater than it already is.

          • T. J. Babson said, on September 17, 2012 at 10:10 pm

            OK–I get it–you think abortion is a burning issue. Try to keep that in mind when your life’s savings are wiped out due to the fiscal irresponsibility of today’s Dems.

            • biomass2 said, on September 18, 2012 at 9:41 am

              sent 1/ “you think abortion is a burning issue” Fortunately, the right has lost most of its efforts to make abortion for rape and incest illegal, and in the process the right has alienated many more women. Where, by the way, does Paul Ryan, the man who would be President of the United States should Mitt win in November and have some unfortunate accident on Lake Winnipesaukee, stand on abortion for rape and incest? Two steps away from being the leader of the “free” world. . . Yeah. The issue is burning. And don’t forget, though you may want to, those persistent efforts to get ‘personhood’ laws passed.

              sent 2/ First, I’m objective enough to consider the unfunded Medicare D program and two wars (un)funded by Bush tax cuts — under a Rep administration (executive and legislative) before I chastise the so-called “fiscal irresponsibility of the Dems”. . . Are you?

              Let’s share one of your crystal balls for a moment. I’ll try not to be repulsed. If we get the fiscal mess begun under Bush in order—and my ‘opinion-not-fact’ is that the chances of doing so are greater under Obama than under Mitt R, do you think abortion will still be under attack by the right Rep base? I do.

            • T. J. Babson said, on September 18, 2012 at 9:50 am

              I can’t believe that anyone seriously believes this election is about abortion.

              What this election is really about is whether a society can survive if 51% of the people vote to let the other 49% pay for everything.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2012 at 5:17 pm

              I would not say that the election is “about” abortion in the sense that it is the only or even the main issue. However, it is (as it has been) an issue. If it were not, then the Democrats and Republicans would not make any mention of it at all.

              I am impressed that the 51% thing is still a talking point. While this view seems to be tempting to Mitt and down through the Republican ranks, it is important to note why the households in question do not pay federal income tax. First, about half of those in this category pay no federal income taxes because their incomes are lower than the total of the standard deductions and allowed exemptions. Second, about 62% of those in the category have incomes under $20,000. Third, about 22% of those in the category are seniors benefiting from tax laws that benefit them, such as the exemption of Social Security income from federal taxes. Third, about 15% pay no federal income taxes because of a combination of low income and the tax credits relating to children. Fourth, about 13% get off the hook through deductions or other benefits. Roughly put, most of the households who do not pay federal income taxes do so because their incomes are very low. The laws that allow them to do this were not cruelly imposed by Democrats-look up the history of the relevant tax laws.

            • T. J. Babson said, on September 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

              I’ve got a lot of work to do (somebody, after all, has to pay the taxes to build roads, etc.) so I think I will go dark for a while. Be back after the election.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm

              I’ll light a candle for you, so you can find your way out of the dark.

            • WTP said, on September 18, 2012 at 11:01 am

              Great. FIrst Magus, now you. Reminds me of an old William Shatner movie, Sole Survivor:


            • biomass2 said, on September 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

              “I can’t believe that anyone seriously believes this election is about abortion.”

              TJ, I can’t believe that’s actually what you took away from my replies. Abortion is a ‘burning’ issue. It likely always will be—whether it’s beaten into the dust and gasping for its last breath or triumphs over the right of a woman to deal with the product of rape or incest in the manner she sees fit. No, TJ, punishing the rapist (who may never be caught) by punishing the woman isn’t my idea of justice. Every time I consider that idiocy, I try to employ empathy(not a particularly conservative trait, I know). If I were a woman, and I had been raped—you know reeeallly raped (not just fun-raped)—how much would I enjoy carrying around the result of that traumatic experience for nine months?How much would I love caring for it for16-18 years into the future? Current laws give the woman a ‘choice’. She can abort or she can take the other road and receive the ultimate fulfillment of giving birth to and raising a product of violent rape . Conservatives.of course, would take away that choice. That seems to be what they’re about. Control by government whether it be local, state, or national.

              For those of us who are not single-issue voters, elections are about many other things.
              The economy. Foreign affairs. Guns. (I’ve heard that that’s an issue for some. . . Wouldn’t some argue on here that it’s an important issue for them? A burning issue?) Some of those people may argue that the election is about the right to bear arms. I did not argue that the election is “about abortion”.

              I did raise a question or two in that 9:41 am reply. And I sense that you are trying to avoid them by unsuccessfully offering an intentional misinterpretation of my reply.

              TJ, I’d hate to see you ‘go dark’. But it’s great to hear you finally landed a job. 🙂 You’re on here so frequently at different times of the day, that I’m assuming—or misinterpreting perhaps?— that that’s what you mean when you say you have “a lot of work to do”? Am I right? Perhaps, if M&P R win, you’ll have more time to join us once again!

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2012 at 5:10 pm

              It does seem to be a point of serious contention. Otherwise the Republicans would presumably just drop that person hood plank and stop pushing the person hood proposals.

              Also, one can be concerned about more than one issue at a time.

              I know that the Republican strategy is to present abortion as a non-issue to the mainstream while also assuring the social conservatives that they are committed to pro-life and anti-abortion positions. This is a hard thing to do, since the two are rather inconsistent (non issue versus important issue).

              The current Republican stance on issues such as birth control and abortion tend to be rather against the views held by most people and, most especially, the majority of women. As such, it is hardly a shock that Obama is doing much better with women voters relative to Romney. As such, the strategy of trying to get people to ignore reproduction issues is rather important to the Republicans.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

          As far as abortion being a relevant issue, consider the personhood proposals that are being presented. Those are clearly aimed at being anti-abortion laws. One can also look at other laws and proposals, such as the infamous ultrasound law. There has also been the push back against birth control rights. Being concerned about this hardly seems to show a lack of critical faculties.

          There is also the obvious fact that Republicans regard this as an issue-they certainly brought it up often enough to indicate an interest.

          I do agree that the chances of a rollback to the 1950s is unlikely. However, the fact that the laws and proposed laws mentioned above are being pushed provides real grounds for concerns about the reproductive rights of women, be they Democrats or Republicans.

          As far as the debt thing, that is an issue. But being concerned about abortion does not entail that one must ignore all other issues and concerns.

  2. urbannight said, on September 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Urbannight's Blog and commented:
    Great arguement. Worth reading.

  3. Anonymous said, on September 20, 2012 at 2:22 am

    I agree great arguemen

    • Anonymous said, on September 20, 2012 at 2:29 am

      I would suggest that T.J. construct better arguments objectively

  4. GudEnuf said, on November 12, 2012 at 8:34 am

    First, let’s discuss the issue of “cheapness”. Is it a valid accusation? All of us have at some point taken moral positions that entail costs to other people. People who are not attracted to children are eager to condemn pedophiles. People healthy kidneys have no problem telling others that it’s wrong kill children and harvest their organs. If we can only moral condemn that which imposes no cost on others, we going to have to get rid have to throw out a lot of morality.

    Second, the pro-choice position can just as easily be accused of “cheapness.” The most obvious attack is that most pro-choicers are already born. What right do you have to support abortion when you’re not the one getting your brains sucked out by a vacuum cleaner? Taking the pro-choice side also gives you benefits. It’s like a “get-out-of-unwanted-pregnancy-free” card. And of course, endorsing the pro-choice side helps.

    Oh, and those compassionate liberals who vote for a wider social net? They’re not willing to pay for that. They just want to raise taxes on people making $250k/yr (otherwise known as “people who are richer than me”) I’ve know a lot of people who say the government should raise taxes, but I’ve never met a single person who deliberately skipped a chance to claim a tax deduction.

    Finally, if your going to accuse conservatives of being selfish, you should at least note that they give more of their own money to charity.


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