A Philosopher's Blog

Is Pro-Life a Cover for Misogyny? II: Sorting Principles

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 19, 2015

In my previous essay I laid the groundwork for the discussion that is to follow regarding the pro-life moral position and misogyny. As argued in that essay, a person can be pro-life and not a misogynist. It was also shown that attacking a person’s circumstances or consistency in regards to their professed belief in a pro-life moral position does not disprove that position. It was, however, contended that consistency does matter when sorting out whether a person really does hold to a pro-life position or is, in fact, using that as cover for misogyny.

While there are open misogynists, open misogynists generally do not fare well in American elections. As such, a clever (or cleverly managed) misogynist will endeavor to conceal his misogyny behind more laudable moral positions, such as being pro-life. This, obviously, sells better than being anti-women.

Throughout 2015 Americans will be (in theory) deciding the candidates for President and then in 2016 they will be voting. Republicans in general and the current crop of presidential candidates profess that they are pro-life, but there is still the question of whether they truly hold to this principle. Republicans are also regularly accused of being misogynists and part of this involves asserting that their pro-life stance is actually an anti-women stance. One way to sort this out is to consider whether or not a person acts consistently with a pro-life position. Since people are inconsistent though ignorance and moral weakness, this will not conclusive reveal the truth of the matter—but it is perhaps the best method of empirical investigation.

On the face of it, a pro-life position is the view that it is morally wrong to kill. If a person held to this principle consistently, then she would oppose all forms of killing—this would include hunting, killing animals for food, capital punishment, and killing in war. There are people who do hold to this view and are consistent. This view was taken very seriously by Christian thinkers such as St. Augustine and St. Aquinas. After all, as I say to my Ethics students, it would be a hell of a thing to go to hell for a hamburger.

The pro-life view that killing is wrong would seem to require a great deal of a person. In addition to being against just straight-up killing in war, abortion and capital punishment, it would also seem to require being against things that kill people, such as poverty, pollution and disease. As such, a pro-life person would seem to be required to favor medical and social aid to fight things like disease and poverty that kill people.

As is obvious, there are many pro-life people who oppose such things. They even oppose such things as providing food support for mothers and infants who are mired in poverty. One might thus suspect that they are not so much pro-life as anti-woman. Of course, a person could be pro-life and still be opposed to society rendering aid to people to prevent death.

One option is to be against killing, but be fine with letting people die. While philosophers do make this moral distinction, it seems a bit problematic for a person to claim that he opposes abortion because killing fetuses is wrong, but not providing aid and support to teenage mothers, the sick, and the starving is acceptable because one is just letting them die rather than killing them. Given this view, a pro-life person of this sort would be okay with a woman just abandoning her baby—she would simply be letting the baby die rather than killing her.

People who are pro-life also often are morally fine with killing and eating animals. The ethics of killing animals (and plants) was also addressed explicitly by Augustine and Aquinas. One way to be pro-life but hold that killing animals is acceptable is to contend that humans have a special moral status that other living things lack. The usual justification is that we are better than them, so we can kill (and eat) them. This view was held by St. Augustine and St. Anselm who were fine with killing animals (and plants).

However, embracing the superiority principle does provide an opening that can be used to justify abortion—one merely needs to argue that the fetus has a lower moral status than the woman and this would seem to warrant abortion.

Many people who profess a pro-life view also favor capital punishment and war. In fact, it is common to hear a politician smoothly switch from speaking of the sanctity of life to the need to kill terrorists and criminals. One way to be pro-life and accept capital punishment and war is to argue that it is the killing of innocents that is wrong. Killing the non-innocent is fine.

The obvious problem is that capital punishment sometimes kills the innocent and war always involves the death of innocents. If these killings are warranted in terms of interests, self-defense, or on utilitarian grounds, then the door is open for the same being applied to abortion. After all, if innocent adults and children can be killed for national security, economic interests or to protect us from terrorists, then fetuses can also be killed for the interests of the woman or on utilitarian grounds. Also, animals and plants are clearly innocent beings—but they can be addressed by the superiority argument. Someone who is fine with killing people for the sake of interests or on utilitarian grounds, yet professes to be devoutly pro-life might justifiably be suspected of being more anti-women than pro-life.

A pro-life position can also be interpreted as the moral principle that abortions should be prevented. This is, obviously, better described as anti-abortion rather than pro-life. One obvious way to prevent abortions is to prevent women from having them. This need not be a misogynistic view—one would need to consider why the person holds to this view and this can be explored by considering the person’s other expressed views on related matters.

If a person is anti-abortion, then she should presumably support ways to prevent abortion other than merely stopping women from having them. Two rather effective ways to reduce the number of abortions (and thus prevent some) are effective sex education and access to birth control. These significantly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the number of abortions. Not surprisingly, abstinence focused “sex education” fails dismally.

To use the obvious analogy, being anti-abortion is rather like being anti-traffic fatality. Telling people to not drive will not really help. Teaching people how to drive safely and ensuring that protection is readily available does work quite well.

Because of this, if a person professes to be pro-life/anti-abortion, yet is opposed to effective sex education and birth control, then it is reasonable to suspect misogyny. This is, of course, not conclusive: the person might have no dislike of women and sincerely believe that ignorance about sex is best, that abstinence works, and that birth control is evil. The person would not be a misogynist—just in error.

In closing, it must be reiterated that just because a person is inconsistent in regards to his professed pro-life moral principles, it does not follow that he must be a misogynist. After all, people are often inconsistent because of ignorance, a failure to consider implications, and moral weakness. However, if a person professes a pro-life position, yet is consistently inconsistent in regards to his actions and other professed views, then it would not be unreasonable to consider that there might be some misogyny in play.

 

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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 20, 2015 at 12:07 am

  2. T. J. Babson said, on August 20, 2015 at 8:15 am

    “On the face of it, a pro-life position is the view that it is morally wrong to kill.”

    Not fair, Mike. This is not the pro-life position unless you add “an unborn baby” at the end of it.

    The basic idea is that babies are human, have committed no offense toward anyone, and should therefore not be killed. It is not very complicated.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 20, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      I do consider other possibilities. Aquinas and Augustine begin their discussions of killing with the commandment “thou shall not kill.” So, a reasonable foundation for Christians opposing abortion would begin with the view that all killing is wrong. Augustine and Aquinas make the case that some killing is justified.

      In the essay, I do consider that the pro-life position is based on the view that 1) killing humans is wrong and 2) killing the innocent is wrong. As I note in the essay, people who hold to the principle that innocent humans should not be killed would need to be opposed to war-that kills many innocent humans. The Catholic church is consistent here: they oppose war, capital punishment and abortion. Other folks oppose abortion by making the claim about the value of innocent human life, but are hawks about war. But, as I argue, if we can justify killing innocent humans in war based on national interests or on utilitarian grounds, then these same justifications can be employed to justify abortion. That is, if we allow exceptions to the “killing innocent humans is wrong”, then those exceptions would need to be applied consistently. So, if the US can go to war to protect its economic interests and kill X number of innocent people, then the same principle would seem to allow a woman to abort her fetus to protect her economic interests.

      But, if killing innocent humans is wrong in the case of a woman’s interests, then the same would seem to apply to war as well. Some folks are consistent about this: they allow abortion to save the mother and in cases of rape and incest. They also accept the ethics of defensive wars-we can only kill in self-defense or when a terrible wrong has been done.

      • WTP said, on August 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm

        but are hawks about war.

        This overloaded use of “war hawks” is the kind of BS that must stop. Define the term more properly in what you really mean before you go slamming everyone who has ever voted for war reluctantly. You don’t know what a real “war hawk” is. Hitler (yes, i went there) was a war hawk. His overt purpose for going to war was to get Lebensraum for the German people. Stalin and Lenin and most of the Communist leaders were war hawks, seeking to impose Communism/rule over other people. Mao, to some extent, was a war hawk. Putin is a war hawk (though his army actually sucks..kinda like Mao’s but without the volume). Hamas/Hezbollah leaders are war hawks. Some elements of the Israeli leadership (though specifically not Bibi N. or similar) are war hawks. There hasn’t been a war hawk leader, nor much desire for such in people of influence in this country, since at least the Spanish-American war. Nor does endorsing a policy of having a strong military make one a war hawk. Those endorsing such are far more than likely very knowledgeable about the horrors and desire to prevent war.

        Mike you have no, absolutely no, f-n idea how the real world works. You are terribly naive in regard to what war is and in regard to how political power works in the world outside of the West/Japan/similar. You do a great disservice to the efforts of our political and military leaders entrusted with executing wars in the tremendous efforts they go to to avoid civilian casualties. I would venture to guess, though there’s no way of stating this with any certainty, that the majority of the casualties and deaths our good men take on the battlefield are a result of extraordinary care taken to minimize civilian casualties.

        • WTP said, on August 22, 2015 at 12:58 am

          Re “war Hawks”, and yes this is slightly out of context and there is fault that pussy, afraid to take action philosophers will inevitably find with the weaker aspects of this point, but I feel it needs to be stated and restated whereever possible:

          It goes without saying what absolute badasses our United States Marine Corps are, and what the two Marines in France did today reflects historically what makes EVERY member of the United States Armed Forces unlike any other service in the world: We are the ONLY nation that routinely sends our troops to fight for, die for, and defend the people of other nations to preserve their freedom.

          I pray we never lose this characteristic about our nation. In a time when so many in our world work to tear down people who are heroes, this is a proud reminder of WHO WE ARE AS A NATION, regardless of who’s in the driver’s seat.

          If you’ve worn the uniform of our nation, I thank you personally, and today is just another day where our Armed Forces put it on the line for people they may never know. There is no greater act of love, and I’m grateful for every last one of you.

          Thanks, guys.

          …via Ace of Spares.

          Fuck you and your “war Hawks” epithets.

          • ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 12:19 pm

            WTP

            ……………………………………..

            “It goes without saying what absolute badasses our United States Marine Corps are, and what the two Marines in France did today reflects historically what makes EVERY member of the United States Armed Forces unlike any other service in the world: We are the ONLY nation that routinely sends our troops to fight for, die for, and defend the people of other nations to preserve their freedom.”
            ……………………………………….

            FFS, WTP, do you believe that shit? I suppose one needs to promulgate such a view to get the stupid and gullible to sign up for wars for bankers, Israel or some other geopolitical game.

            Here’s what Maj General Smedley Butler USMC had to say on the matter:

            “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

            Is he right?

            cheers

      • TJB said, on August 20, 2015 at 8:50 pm

        “So, a reasonable foundation for Christians opposing abortion…”

        Now you have slipped “Christians” in for no reason. One does not need to be a Christian to feel that killing unborn babies is wrong.

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 22, 2015 at 2:25 pm

        “As I note in the essay, people who hold to the principle that innocent humans should not be killed would need to be opposed to war…”

        So, if we apply this same reasoning to pro-choice folks:

        1) they are in favor of killing innocent people

        2) they are in favor of war

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 23, 2015 at 6:47 am

          Quite so. I’ve argued that pro-choice principles can be used to justify hunting and these would also extend to war. As you might guess, pro-choice folks who think hunting is barbaric want to argue they can be pro-choice but anti-hunting. Interesting, one usual tactic is to argue that animals have a higher moral status than a human fetus. This is just a variant on the “x is superior to y, so x can do as it will to y.”

          In the case of war, some folks would argue that adult humans have a higher status than the fetus, so killing adults is wrong while abortion is acceptable. So, the usual moral status tactic. But, if the woman can have an abortion because it is in her interest, war that serves the interest of others would also seem justifiable.

  3. TJB said, on August 20, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    Mike, here is how you treat the pro-choice position:

    A person can be pro-choice in that he believes that there are situations in which the woman has the right to chose, yet also hold that there are cases in which such a choice would be immoral. There are plenty of real folks who accept a right to chose, yet would oppose abortions at month 8, abortions that are done for the purpose of eliminating a female child, etc.

    Full of nuance. Yet here is how you treat pro-life:

    On the face of it, a pro-life position is the view that it is morally wrong to kill. If a person held to this principle consistently, then she would oppose all forms of killing—this would include hunting, killing animals for food, capital punishment, and killing in war.

    No nuance.

    And yet, in the real world, is the the pro-choice position that favors unrestricted abortion and thus has no nuance, whereas the pro-life position, which tries to eliminate things like partial birth abortion, is the side with nuance.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 21, 2015 at 9:01 am

      You need to keep reading. I go on to consider various interpretations of pro-life. For example: “A pro-life position can also be interpreted as the moral principle that abortions should be prevented.”

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 21, 2015 at 9:46 am

        The problem is that you seem to accept in the pro-choice position lots of flexibility to oppose abortion in certain circumstances, but on the pro-life side you do not seem to allow such flexibility.

        I think most people are fine with abortion early in a pregnancy but grow increasingly uncomfortable as the zygote more and more resembles a baby. This is essentially a pro-life position.

        The pro-choice position advocated by, for example, Planned Parenthood, says that even one second before birth the baby has no rights and can be killed.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 21, 2015 at 9:59 am

          I also accept that pro-life has considerable flexibility. One unfortunate side effect of presenting it as a simple two-side situation (pro-life or pro-choice) is that this does not capture the positions between the two extremes. While some people are “abortion is always acceptable” and some are “abortion is never acceptable”, there is vast moral terrain between the two.

          Most folks are between the two extremes, so they are both pro-life (they think at least some abortions are wrong) and also pro-choice (they think that there are at least some situations in which a woman has the right to chose).

          I’m reasonably sure that Planned Parenthood does not advocate that it is morally fine to kill a baby one second before birth. I looked through their web site and PDFs, but did not find that position advocated. Can you give me the link to where you found it?

          • TJB said, on August 23, 2015 at 10:17 am

            Mike:

            Here is a PP statement opposing 20 week bans:

            http://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion-access/20-week-ban/

            Here is a NYT article saying babies are viable at 22 weeks:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/health/premature-babies-22-weeks-viability-study.html?_r=0

            I think the burden is now on you to show where PP opposes abortion under any circumstance.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 24, 2015 at 1:59 pm

              Some points:
              1. 22 Weeks is still later than 20 weeks. But, it is reasonable to consider whether or not those two weeks make a moral difference.
              2. The PP statement predates the 22 weeks viability study.
              3. 22 weeks is still very different from “1 second before birth.”

            • WTP said, on August 26, 2015 at 9:42 am

              Some points:
              1. 22 Weeks is still later than 20 weeks. But, it is reasonable to consider whether or not those two weeks make a moral difference.
              2. The PP statement predates the 22 weeks viability study.
              3. 22 weeks is still very different from “1 second before birth.”

              And remember, there is no such thing as a “slippery-slope”. It’s a logical fallacy.

          • TJB said, on August 23, 2015 at 10:55 am

            “I’m reasonably sure that Planned Parenthood does not advocate that it is morally fine to kill a baby one second before birth. I looked through their web site and PDFs, but did not find that position advocated. Can you give me the link to where you found it?”

            Of course they would not state their position in those exact terms for political reasons. However, can you find any circumstance in which PP would agree to restrict abortion? If there is no circumstance in which they would restrict abortion isn’t my statement that “Planned Parenthood says that even one second before birth the baby has no rights and can be killed” in fact correct?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 24, 2015 at 2:01 pm

              Burden of proof is on you here.

            • T. J. Babson said, on August 26, 2015 at 7:45 am

              Not at all. There is no evidence that Planned Parenthood opposes abortion under any circumstances, which fully supports my earlier statement.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm

              There is also no evidence that PP supports abortion under any circumstances.

            • WTP said, on August 26, 2015 at 8:44 am

              Heh…Come on TJ, obviously Mike expects you to provide proof that there is no evidence of such. Surely you can do this. Burden of proof. All on you. Philosopher says so.

            • T. J. Babson said, on August 26, 2015 at 12:44 pm

              “There is also no evidence that PP supports abortion under any circumstances.”

              We do know that PP supports abortion up to 20 weeks, and that viability is now in principle 22 weeks.

              As to your comment about the PP statement predating the 22 weeks viability study, there is this amazing thing called the World Wide Web that allows one to update one’s position in real time. If PP wanted to say that their support for 20 week plus abortions is on hold pending further study, they could easily have updated their website.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 27, 2015 at 10:13 am

              Well, 20 weeks would thus still be before the earliest known possible viability. So, even with its current principle, PP does not support the abortion of viable fetuses.

  4. nailheadtom said, on August 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    Why is it that the wishes of the father, 50% of the baby-making process, are never included in the discussion? Especially when, if a woman gives birth to a child in this society, the father is legally responsible for the financial wherewithal of the child? To my knowledge, no potential father in the US has ever been legally able to require that his fetus be brought to term over the objections of the mother.

    • ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Tom

      The answer is male privilege………that’s why they get no say. It’s got to be that, obviously…

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 24, 2015 at 2:03 pm

      The father’s wishes do get considered. But, the woman has to carry the child, face the risks of pregnancy and the mother is usually the one who ends up raising the child, etc.

      • ronster12012 said, on August 24, 2015 at 2:47 pm

        Michael

        How are the father’s wishes considered? He has no legal right over the fetus only potential obligation.
        If the woman wants to abort there is nothing he can do legally yet if she chooses to keep the child he is on the hook. She can lie and say she is on the pill(fraud), say that the child is his when he has been cucked(DNA testing makes this more difficult now) and he is still on the hook. Male privilege obviously lol…….

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 25, 2015 at 6:04 pm

          True, the father has very limited input. As you say, the father cannot insist on an abortion, yet is financially obligated. But, the man does not have to marry the woman or do anything else for the child.

          On the one hand, it can be argued that the man should have some say in the matter, since he has at least a financial stake. On the other hand, there are those who make a big point about people being responsible and living with the consequences of their actions. Since a guy knows that sex can make a woman pregnant, if he chooses to do so, then he has taken on that responsibility.

  5. nailheadtom said, on August 24, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    Yet another aspect of fetal development. It’s illegal to poison another person, even if the person survives. Yet pregnant women ingest substances that compromise the health of a fetus carried to term with no legal consequences. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most obvious example but there are others, smoking, drugs, etc. Certainly at some point in the future someone afflicted by the preventable tragedy of fetal alcohol syndrome will sue their mother for damages. How do you suppose the case will be decided?

  6. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 25, 2015 at 5:10 pm


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