A Philosopher's Blog

Pro-Life vs Anti-Abortion

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 4, 2016

Like almost everyone else, I would prefer that there were far fewer abortions. While this might seem like a problematic claim to some, it actually is obviously true. People who oppose abortion obviously want there to be fewer abortions. However, those who are pro-choice are almost always not pro-abortion. That is, they do not want abortions to occur—they would prefer that women did not end up in situations where they see abortion as the best option.

While I do not fall into the pro-life camp in terms of political labelling, I do take a position in favor of life. To be specific, I prefer to avoid killing when doing so is possible and I fully accept that killing anything is an act of some moral significance. In some case, the ethics of killing are easy: I have no issue with killing the bacteria that are working hard to kill me and I accept the need to kill other living things in order to use them as food. In other case, like abortion, the ethics are rather more challenging. After all, abortion involves killing a potential human being and this is clearly an act with great moral significance. Because I have a general opposition to killing, I have the obvious general opposition to abortion. However, I do accept that killing can be morally justified and believe this does apply to certain cases of abortion. As such, I favor reducing the number abortions and support certain means of doing so. I do not, however, favor it being banned.

For those who follow abortion in American politics, the usual means of reducing abortions are aimed at making it harder for women to get abortions. Numerous states have passed laws requiring waiting periods and have imposed medically unwarranted restrictions on abortion clinics aimed at closing them. I am completely opposed to these means of reducing the number of abortions. While I have various reasons supporting my view, my main reason is that these approaches put the burden almost entirely on the woman. Roughly put, it is the woman who bears most of the cost of the moral and religious views of those who impose such restrictions. These costs can be extremely high and not only in terms of the financial cost.

The moral foundation for my opposition to this method of reducing abortions is based on the fact that such imposition is unfair and the fact that this method imposes an extremely high cost on women and society as a whole. It is the wrong way to reduce the number of abortions. As such, I favor approaches that would reduce the number of abortions while distributing the cost more fairly and also reducing the cost to women and society as a whole. To this end, I offer the following general proposals.

The first is doing what is required to reduce sexual violence against women—this would reduce the number of abortions and, rather importantly, make the world safer for women.

The second is to mandate effective and realistic sex education for the youth and also make effective contraception readily accessible. If people have a better understanding of sex and have access to the means to prevent pregnancy, there will be fewer unwanted pregnancies and hence fewer abortions. This has other obvious benefits, although some people do oppose birth control.

The third is to provide greater social support for mothers and children. This would include such things as affordable day car for all working mothers, financial support for lower income mothers, and other support that would make raising a child less of a financial burden. This would reduce the number of abortions by making the choice to have the child more viable.

The third is to address the numerous aspects of gender inequality that burden women. These include wage inequality, the glass ceiling, and other such things that contribute to making it difficult for women to have a family and a career. This would lower the number of abortions by making being a woman and a mother less of a career handicap, thus giving women a greater opportunity to choose to continue an unplanned pregnancy.

There are, of course, some obvious objections against these proposals. The first is that doing so would require the use of public money. The “advantage” of the usual approaches is that they are initially free for the state and the cost is put upon the women. Such cost shifting is beloved by the morally shifty. As such, it comes down to the ethics of deciding who should bear the burden and cost. Being pro-life rather than anti-abortion, I hold that the cost should be shared—I am willing to pay a price for my principles rather than expecting others to bear that cost.

The second objection is that these approaches would require some radical changes to society. Those who oppose fairness and prefer the “traditional” approach of keeping the women burdened will find this problematic. However, they would seem to be wrong about this—morally defending unfairness is rather challenging.

The third objection is that this approach will still allow abortions to occur—there is no proposal to impose new restrictions or ban abortion. My reply is that I do acknowledge that it would be preferable to have no abortions—just like it would be preferable to never have to harm anyone or anything in any other context. However, if it is accepted that a person’s interests can warrant harming another living being, then there are clear grounds for warranting abortion in many cases. As such, while I favor reducing the need for abortion, I cannot favor eliminating it—anymore than I can support a total rejection of ever doing harm. I do, of course, recognize that such complete pacifism could be morally commendable.


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  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on March 4, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    “A truly “pro-life” society is not one where there is simply abortion restrictions, but one where policy and culture make sure that every child is truly welcomed…” Read more: This is the sharpest debunking of pro-choice arguments I’ve read http://theweek.com/articles/573848/sharpest-debunking-prochoice-arguments-ive-read

  2. TJB said, on March 5, 2016 at 12:28 am

    Mike, philosophy is one of the professions most dominated by males. Have you thought of giving up your position so that a female can have a chance?

    Just kidding.

    But seriously, when you talk of “mothers and children” aren’t you forgetting that men have an equal role in raising children? You seem to be relegating men to “the back of the bus” with respect to this critical responsibility.

    • WTP said, on March 5, 2016 at 1:12 am

      Cue the “Oh, not at all…”

    • ronster12012 said, on March 5, 2016 at 8:09 am


      Are there really philosophers of the non male variety? I mean real philosophers, the originators and not teachers. Not to take anything away from teachers, of course,but it is something I have wondered about. Particularly about philosophy as it doesn’t require anything other than an inquiring mind and an original outlook. There should be no reason for the absence of female philosophers if they are actually equal.

      As for male input in the abortion/childrearing question, he has no say but all financial responsibility( even if she has committed fraud, the only instance where fraud doesn’t nullify a contract)…it must be to do with male privilege or something.

      • TJB said, on March 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        There are a few female philosophers. Ayn Rand comes to mind. Maybe Simone de Beauvoir. Maybe even Dear Abby?

        • ronster12012 said, on March 7, 2016 at 11:23 am


          I see that you ran out of any female candidates after Sartre’s GF. I wonder why that is…it couldn’t possibly be because men and women actually are different so what is it?

          Even further, why is the best at anything nearly always a man(trigger warning for any fragile princesses reading this….lol)? Are men in general more original and more focused?

          • TJB said, on March 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

            This is a must read by Roy Baumeister with great explanatory power:

            When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually “How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

            Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

            The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too. Who’s in prison, all over the world, as criminals or political prisoners? The population on Death Row has never approached 51% female. Who’s homeless? Again, mostly men. Whom does society use for bad or dangerous jobs? US Department of Labor statistics report that 93% of the people killed on the job are men. Likewise, who gets killed in battle? Even in today’s American army, which has made much of integrating the sexes and putting women into combat, the risks aren’t equal. This year we passed the milestone of 3,000 deaths in Iraq, and of those, 2,938 were men, 62 were women.

            One can imagine an ancient battle in which the enemy was driven off and the city saved, and the returning soldiers are showered with gold coins. An early feminist might protest that hey, all those men are getting gold coins, half of those coins should go to women. In principle, I agree. But remember, while the men you see are getting gold coins, there are other men you don’t see, who are still bleeding to death on the battlefield from spear wounds.

            That’s an important first clue to how culture uses men. Culture has plenty of tradeoffs, in which it needs people to do dangerous or risky things, and so it offers big rewards to motivate people to take those risks. Most cultures have tended to use men for these high-risk, high-payoff slots much more than women. I shall propose there are important pragmatic reasons for this. The result is that some men reap big rewards while others have their lives ruined or even cut short. Most cultures shield their women from the risk and therefore also don’t give them the big rewards. I’m not saying this is what cultures ought to do, morally, but cultures aren’t moral beings. They do what they do for pragmatic reasons driven by competition against other systems and other groups.

            Stereotypes at Harvard

            I said that today most people hold more favorable stereotypes of women than men. It was not always thus. Up until about the 1960s, psychology (like society) tended to see men as the norm and women as the slightly inferior version. During the 1970s, there was a brief period of saying there were no real differences, just stereotypes. Only since about 1980 has the dominant view been that women are better and men are the inferior version.

            The surprising thing to me is that it took little more than a decade to go from one view to its opposite, that is, from thinking men are better than women to thinking women are better than men. How is this possible?

            I’m sure you’re expecting me to talk about Larry Summers at some point, so let’s get it over with! You recall, he was the president of Harvard. As summarized in The Economist, “Mr Summers infuriated the feminist establishment by wondering out loud whether the prejudice alone could explain the shortage of women at the top of science.” After initially saying, it’s possible that maybe there aren’t as many women physics professors at Harvard because there aren’t as many women as men with that high innate ability, just one possible explanation among others, he had to apologize, retract, promise huge sums of money, and not long afterward he resigned.

            What was his crime? Nobody accused him of actually discriminating against women. His misdeed was to think thoughts that are not allowed to be thought, namely that there might be more men with high ability. The only permissible explanation for the lack of top women scientists is patriarchy — that men are conspiring to keep women down. It can’t be ability. Actually, there is some evidence that men on average are a little better at math, but let’s assume Summers was talking about general intelligence. People can point to plenty of data that the average IQ of adult men is about the same as the average for women. So to suggest that men are smarter than women is wrong. No wonder some women were offended.

            But that’s not what he said. He said there were more men at the top levels of ability. That could still be true despite the average being the same — if there are also more men at the bottom of the distribution, more really stupid men than women. During the controversy about his remarks, I didn’t see anybody raise this question, but the data are there, indeed abundant, and they are indisputable. There are more males than females with really low IQs. Indeed, the pattern with mental retardation is the same as with genius, namely that as you go from mild to medium to extreme, the preponderance of males gets bigger.

            All those retarded boys are not the handiwork of patriarchy. Men are not conspiring together to make each other’s sons mentally retarded.

            Almost certainly, it is something biological and genetic. And my guess is that the greater proportion of men at both extremes of the IQ distribution is part of the same pattern. Nature rolls the dice with men more than women. Men go to extremes more than women. It’s true not just with IQ but also with other things, even height: The male distribution of height is flatter, with more really tall and really short men.

            Again, there is a reason for this, to which I shall return.

            For now, the point is that it explains how we can have opposite stereotypes. Men go to extremes more than women. Stereotypes are sustained by confirmation bias. Want to think men are better than women? Then look at the top, the heroes, the inventors, the philanthropists, and so on. Want to think women are better than men? Then look at the bottom, the criminals, the junkies, the losers.

            In an important sense, men really are better AND worse than women.

            A pattern of more men at both extremes can create all sorts of misleading conclusions and other statistical mischief. To illustrate, let’s assume that men and women are on average exactly equal in every relevant respect, but more men at both extremes. If you then measure things that are bounded at one end, it screws up the data to make men and women seem significantly different.

            Consider grade point average in college. Thanks to grade inflation, most students now get A’s and B’s, but a few range all the way down to F. With that kind of low ceiling, the high-achieving males cannot pull up the male average, but the loser males will pull it down. The result will be that women will get higher average grades than men — again despite no difference in average quality of work.

            The opposite result comes with salaries. There is a minimum wage but no maximum. Hence the high-achieving men can pull the male average up while the low-achieving ones can’t pull it down. The result? Men will get higher average salaries than women, even if there is no average difference on any relevant input.

            Today, sure enough, women get higher college grades but lower salaries than men. There is much discussion about what all this means and what should be done about it. But as you see, both facts could be just a statistical quirk stemming from male extremity.


            • ronster12012 said, on March 7, 2016 at 8:08 pm


              Thanks for that read. It reminds me of Warren Farrell and his book, ‘The Myth of Male Power’ which I read in the ’90’s. He was a male ‘feminist’ and even was on the board of NOW, at least till he went all heretical…lol.

              I tried explaining the point regarding males being on the extremes to a female friend. WTF was I thinking??? All she heard was that I thought that men were better than women and that I was sexist for saying so.

              “This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

              Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.”


              And most men work for others and do not run the world and have nowhere near the power or privilege of any woman who marries one of the rich or powerful. Looks+vagina=female privilege?

  3. Michael LaBossiere said, on March 5, 2016 at 7:20 am

    No, but I chair search committees everyone gets a fair chance. I don’t support collective justice at the cost of individual injustice.

    You make an excellent point-I did miss that. Encouraging and helping boys become responsible men would help, as would supporting strong family structures. This would include improving the economic opportunities for men as well. To borrow from Confucius, the wise man works on the trunk of goodness, which is the family.

    • WTP said, on March 5, 2016 at 9:13 am

      . This would include improving the economic opportunities for men as well

      So, like, it’s capitalism’s fault. This is the crux of the matter right here. A dodging of responsibility. A real man is accountable for himself and the responsibilities that he creates. There are jobs for men who show responsibility. Even with the best efforts by philosophers, economists, and other wannabe politicians to regulate such jobs out of existence, there are still lots of jobs to be had that require little education or skills. But you do have to make sacrifices and show that you are a responsible man. It is shameful that a man who is put in a position of trust teaches such despair and excuse making.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 5, 2016 at 11:49 am

        I didn’t blame capitalism. The blame lies, in part, with those who rig the game of capitalism. There are capitalists who are critical of the form of capitalism we have here-some even argue that it is no longer true capitalism, but a state controlled system that benefits the few at the expense of everyone else.

        • wtp said, on March 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm

          JHCIACB, I know you’re not blaming capitalism. I inferred that as a joke. Duh. But then you turn around and blame the system, man while totally avoiding my point…which I think kinda helps make my point. See the part following: the word “crux”? It’s about dodging of responsibility. After TJ points out that you were “forgetting that men have an equal role in raising children”, your ego could only admit you made a mistake by diverting to “improving the economic opportunities for men”. Men’s responsibilities to their women and children are irrelevant to economic conditions. That’s what RESPONSIBILITY means. Whenever this concept needs to be applied you find excuse after excuse. It is shameful that a man who is put in a position of trust teaches such despair and excuse making.

          As for “a state controlled system that benefits the few at the expense of everyone else” is socialism. You like socialism. You just pretend using other words. But that’s not the point here, is it? What is the point?

  4. nailheadtom said, on March 5, 2016 at 9:56 am

    What does taking a human life, pre-natal or otherwise, really mean? A being that once had no existence returns to non-existence. The owner of the life taken isn’t even aware of the fact, or even that the owner ever did exist. Only its social connections are affected. Since the mother is the only one that has a real relationship with the fetus, why shouldn’t she determine if the fetus continues to grow? In our society the concern isn’t for the unborn, it’s for those that are outside the womb. If this be the case, why aren’t mothers responsible for the detrimental effects of their behavior on offspring that are born? It’s illegal for an adult to poison another adult. But, apparently, it’s acceptable for pregnant women to ingest drugs and alcohol that produce things like fetal alcohol syndrome in babies carried to term. I’ve been waiting for some years for a fetal alcohol victim, or its father, to sue a mother for poisoning it during pregnancy.

  5. muzzybarker said, on March 6, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    How do Safe Haven laws measure up as a solution? They do effectively shift the responsibility of the parent to the state. There is no burden on the mother once the child is born.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 7, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      As you note, allowing a parent to surrender a child without any legal consequence would shift the post-pregnancy burden to the state. However, if this is the only solution being offered, it would fail to address some rather serious concerns.

  6. ronster12012 said, on March 7, 2016 at 11:38 am


    What do you think of this Swedish proposal to allow males to ‘legal abortion’, ie. to sever all and any ties between them and the ferus till the 18th week, so that the woman can still get an actual abortion?

    “It’s not just up to women to decide whether to have a baby or not, says the youth wing of Sweden’s Liberal Party. It has proposed granting expectant fathers the right to “legally abort” their unborn child up until the 18th week of pregnancy.
    “Men should have an equal right to opt out of parenting and choose whether or not to become a parent,” Marcus Nilsen, chairman of the party’s youth wing West (LUF) told the Swedish Aftonbladet newspaper.

    This means that men are proposed to have the right to disclaim paternity until the 18th week of pregnancy, as long as it’s possible for a woman to undergo the abortion procedure.”


    I can’t see it taking off as it would reduce the power of the matriarchy….

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 7, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      True, if having a child is a matter of choice, then the man should have a choice as well. The main and obvious concern is that males would use this law to ditch their responsibility to their kids.

      • ronster12012 said, on March 7, 2016 at 7:33 pm


        While I don’t think that the proposal would get anywhere, and to me, it is merely more evidence of cultural decay(legalism versus biological reality), it is interesting because it addresses the legal asymmetry between men and women.

        A woman can unilaterally decide to abort a fetus regardless of the male’s wishes.meaning that he has no legal standing in the matter……yet if she decides to keep it he all of a sudden he acquires legal standing and more, legal obligation. If she has lied to him(and the courts) about him being the father, she was never ever prosecuted for fraud…OK, this was more so in the days before DNA testing…but the point still stands…she is the privileged one, not the man.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 8, 2016 at 3:01 pm

          I certainly agree that there is a moral and legal problem here. As you note, the man seems to have no legal rights if the woman elects to abort and the man has no easy legal out in terms of responsibility like child support.

          One approach is to argue that working out this matter is not a fit subject for the coercive power of the state: the two should discuss this matter. The obvious reply is that the state is already involved.

          One obvious concern is that the woman has to bear the child, which places far more burden on her than on the man. Now, if a technological means was developed to allow the fetus to develop in some sort of “robowomb”, then a man who wants to keep the child and a woman who does not could take that option. Then the woman would presumably pay support to the man.

          • ronster12012 said, on March 8, 2016 at 6:52 pm


            Further to state involvement, if the two, after talking about it cannot reach agreement then what?

            “One obvious concern is that the woman has to bear the child, which places far more burden on her than on the man. ”

            She is compensated for that many times over by the level of protection and social respect she receives from men in general. Plus she gets to live longer than men(on average) and draw more resources than she contributed. I am not necessarily complaining about that as i am something of a biological realist, just noting that most people don’t get to eat their cake and keep it too.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 9, 2016 at 3:07 pm

              If an agreement cannot be reached, then it comes down to a consideration of the ethics. For the man to compel the woman to keep or abort the child would be morally wrong. For the man to simply walk away from all responsibility for impregnating the woman would also be wrong. For the woman to ignore a man who does not want a child would also be wrong. There is, as I mentioned before, the practical problem: if a man could just opt out of responsibility, irresponsible men would do just that. It would be analogous to letting one person just walk away from a shared debt just because he was a man.

              Of course, one problem with the responsibility issue is the exceptional consequences from a relatively minor action (sex) and the fact that the man might have taken appropriate precautions to avoid impregnating the woman. That said, something similar could be said of involuntary manslaughter-it can arise from a minor action.

      • nailheadtom said, on March 7, 2016 at 8:43 pm

        “Ditch their responsibility to their kids”? Where does that responsibility originate? Like so many other modern societal relationships, it’s a creation of the state. Before DNA testing, which is, in fact, scientifically bogus, the case for fathers was that “if you’re nominated, you’re elected”. Prior to the all-powerful nation/state, however, this wasn’t the case. Not every illegitimate child was as fortunate as Fielding’s “Tom Jones” but life seemed to move along pretty normally anyway, without the state taking a position on abortion, or the finances of illegitimacy, although the church had its own take on the subject.

        • ronster12012 said, on March 8, 2016 at 7:44 am


          “Before DNA testing, which is, in fact, scientifically bogus,”

          Please tell me more about that.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 8, 2016 at 3:02 pm

          It is, I think, a moral responsibility on the grounds that a person is accountable for the consequences of his actions.

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