MandM header image 2

“Are there Good Reasons for Abortion?” Wendy Savage and Madeleine Flannagan Debate on Unbelievable?

July 24th, 2011 by Matt

Wendy Savage and Madeleine FlannaganThis week, the UK’s Christian Premier Radio show, Unbelievable?, aired an episode on the topic “are there good reasons for abortion?” The episode saw host, Justin Brierley, moderate a debate between this blog’s Madeleine Flannagan and Professor Wendy Savage, a representative of Doctors for a Women’s Choice.

A range of topics related to the issue of abortion were raised which saw some interesting back and forth between Madeleine and Professor Savage.

Amidst the discussion as to what counts as a good reason for having an abortion, they got into post-viability abortions, whether a fetus is human, whether brain activity or lack of dependency on the mother should be the criteria for humanity, the use of terms like fetus, abortion for fetal abnormalities, abortion to save a woman’s life, the  argument from backstreet abortion and so on. The episode provides a pretty good presentation of the alternative views in the debate.

I am clearly biased but I think Madeleine offered the more persuasive position; her arguments were on the mark and very cogent yet she came off measured, humane and reasonable. You can listen to the Unbelievable? episode here: Are there good reasons for abortion?

RELATED POSTS:
Abortion and the Morality of Feticide: Part I
Abortion and the Morality of Feticide: Part II
My Body, My Choice? The Inconsistent Paternalism of Feminism
Abortion and Viability
Abortion and Sentience Part I
Abortion  and Sentience Part II
Abortion and Brain Death
Illegal “Backstreet” Abortion
Abortion and Child Abuse
Is Abortion Liberal?
Abortion and Capital Punishment: No Contradiction 
See our Feticide and Abortion tags for more.

Tags:   · · · · 50 Comments

Leave a Comment


50 responses so far ↓

  • If a baby at conception is a human being with all the rights of a full grown man, how can there be any special cases where the killing of that baby is justified?

  • You did a great job Mads. My wife and I were greatly disturbed by Dr. Savage’s points. The decision about ending a pregnancy over a child’s sex particularly bothered us. Let’s say you have a nation like China or India where the boys greatly outnumber the girls because of State restrictions on births. If the proportion gets two large (such as in China) and there are not enough girls…then what does the State do? They restrict births of boys. It’s eugenics. I can’t see how using Dr. Savage’s presuppositions she could argue that the State is wrong.

    Her story about the eleven year old girl was deeply emotional and sad, but at the same time she acted as though the only option was for the eleven year old to raise the child by herself or for her to have an abortion. The family, friends, etc. as potential help was never mentioned and I don’t believe adoption was ever mentioned throughout the program.

    By the way, “term” in American English simply means a period of time. Such as this “term” of university. Late in a university term means it’s close to exam time. A “late term” pregnancy means “close to birth.” I don’t know why she made that point, but it was wrong.

  • Term in that context is surely between 36-42 weeks gestation.

    Using the phrase ‘close to birth’ creates as many problems as you seem to be attempting to resolve as a viable ‘birth’ can take place anywhere from 22-24 weeks onwards.

  • I had to chuckle at the end of the broadcast with the comment on the “American” misterminology of “late-term abortions”. Ahem. Since the duration of pregnancy is commonly divided into trimesters, the word “late-term abortion” refers to an abortion that happens in the third trimester, trimester meaning a “term” within the pregnancy by itself.

    The debate was a good one. Although given several opportunities to give reasonable moral grounds on why an unborn child should have fewer rights than that of a born child, she was unable to deliver (no pun intended). She failed to make a distinction between abortion for objective reasons and arbitrary reasons by admitting that the basis for an abortion ultimately rests on whether the mother *feels like giving birth to a baby. Therefore, I understand her avoidance of the moral question when it comes to legalization of abortion. If the law were to put restrictions on abortion, then the law would inetivably have to make moral criteria for which an abortion is acceptable, which would automatically mean that some women who *feel like getting an abortion would not legally be able to do so. Too bad Dr. Savage doesn’t see the logical end of her own reasoning.

    Excellent job, Madeline.

  • Paul, the attempt to play verbal games does not cease to amaze me here. The obvious issue is this, a fetus from 30-40 weeks does not differ in any physiological way from a premature infant in a neo natal ward of the same age or earlier. If the latter is human so is the former. Talk about american language is simply an evasive way of avoiding using the word “infanticide”


  • Paul, the attempt to play verbal games does not cease to amaze me here. The obvious issue is this, a fetus from 30-40 weeks does not differ in any physiological way from a premature infant in a neo natal ward of the same age or earlier. If the latter is human so is the former. Talk about american language is simply an evasive way of avoiding using the word “infanticide”

    I’m not an expert on embryology and human development, but its my understanding that at roughly 22 weeks, the cerebral cortex begins rudimentary function, and that marks the point at which we cannot reliably say that the fetus has no mind.

    So if that is true, we can say there is a stark and perhaps even morally significant difference between a fetus of age 30 weeks, and younger fetuses.

  • @Matt – the amazement that you seem to be displaying may have more to do with your own personal issues rather than the science of the subject which is what I’m commenting on.

  • “Are there Good Reasons for Abortion?” Wendy Savage and Madeleine Flannagan Debate on Unbelievable?…

    Here is a great debate on abortion by two women: Wendy Savage and Madeleine Flannagan on the Unbelievable? broadcast. Well worth listening to!!!…

  • Are there Good Reasons for Abortion?…

    “Are there Good Reasons for Abortion?” Wendy Savage and Madeleine Flannagan Debate on Unbelievable?…

  • Paul,
    I’m surprised that you consider the field of Linguistics to be a science. After all, your comment discussed the meaning of the word “term,” and you discussed the literary context of the term saying that in that literary context it must mean a certain period of time.

    In your second comment you said you were commenting on the “science of the subject” with the comment on the meaning of the word “term.” Fascinating, I had no idea that some people considered linguistics to be a science in its own right. I thought it usually fell into the humanities section of education.

  • Matthew Flannagan you say “The obvious issue is this, a fetus from 30-40 weeks does not differ in any physiological way from a premature infant in a neo natal ward of the same age or earlier.”

    Am unborn fetus at 30-40 weeks differs from a premature infant in a neonatal ward of the same age by being physiologically connected to another human being by means of a umbilical cord (along with other physiological differences). Your statement displays a grand ignorance of human development, and is demonstrable false. Your broad statement must be retracted or amended. This may or may not be a moral difference to you, but to claim it is not a physiological difference is stunning. Cheers.

  • Thanks for the feedback everyone. It is always nice to hear what people though when you have put yourself out there!

    The ‘term’ conversation was something I found a tad bizarre on the show – I mean, was that it in terms of a response to the objection I had just raised? I am finding it a little strange seeing it popping up online on various parts of the web now that the show has aired.

    The context was the fiction of the necessity of post-viability abortions to save the life of the mother. I used words that I thought would convey that I meant to refer to those abortions that occur later, after viability, as opposed to those that occur earlier, pre-viability. Surely people listening got that was what I meant?

  • Enenennx the umbilical cord is more of a relational property than an intrinsic physiological property.

  • Madeline Flannagan: special pleading? The umbilical cord is more of a “relational” than a “physiological” property? Does the umbilical cord have physiological properties? Yes. Is it different in the fetal than in the neonatal period? Yes. The word “difference” has no meaning if you want to qualify it with special pleading about “relational” status. Not only that, you are confounding the normal meaning of relational in such a context. Additionally, what about fetal blood circulation, or the significant differences in fetal and neonatal respiration? These wouldn’t be “relational” in the connotative sense you are implying with the umbilical cord, and are also physiological differences.

    To say there is no difference physiologically is just poor form, and disrespects the biology of life. Again you can say there is or is not a moral difference, but I don’t see where you are justified in saying there is no physiological difference. You might say that those physiological differences don’t matter morally, but then say that. But saying there are no physiological differences when there simply are sounds ignorant, and also sounds manipulative and rhetorical and pulling at emotions. Granted you didn’t say this originally, Matthew Flannagan did, nor do I remember you implying this in the interview, where you stated a clearer case than such a statement would indicate.

  • Either way it is not a morally relevant difference Ennenex.

  • Either way, then, say it correctly. You were wrong.

  • Ooops not you, Matthew. Cheers.

  • Ah.., who knows, yours and Matthew’s unified voice is tough to parse out sometimes. “No moral difference” is not the same as “No physiological difference.” We seem agreed.

  • Ennennex, of course by the same excessive pedantry. It would not be true to say there was no physiological difference between African Americans and caucasains, or that there is no physiological difference between myself and any other human being.

    We know what is mean’t when people say things like this, what is mean’t is that one can’t say there is anything about their physiology that justifies saying one group are human and the other not. This was clear from the context of what I said which was

    ” The obvious issue is this, a fetus from 30-40 weeks does not differ in any physiological way from a premature infant in a neo natal ward of the same age or earlier. If the latter is human so is the former. ”

    The piont then is that there is nothing about a 30-40 week fetus which would suggest it is not a human being and a premature infant is. Just as its implausible to say Pakeha’s are human and Maori are not. No one would take seriously the clam, “but one has dark skin so they are different”.

  • Ennennex, I am saying there is no physiological difference that can justify one saying a premature infant is a human being and a post viable fetus is not.

    Is that clear to you now?

  • Drj, three things, First, the example I gave was the difference between a prematurely born infant and a fetus at 30-40 weeks, in terms of brain development these are both past the 22 week stage.
    Second, I don’t think rudimentary brain function is either necessary or sufficient to for an organism to be human. Its not necessary because an adult human being is not considered to be dead until he has irreversible cessation of brain function, if he has brain function which has ceased but will return its considered homicide to kill him. Its not sufficient because at 22 weeks a fetus only has very rudimentary brain function an adult cow or pig has more mental function so if the presence of this level of function makes one human then cows are human.
    Third, In fact in terms of actual brain function, many adult mammals are superior to newborn infants, its only in terms of potential function, that is abilities the infants brain will acquire with normal growth and development that an infants brain has superior mental capacities.
    I have addressed these points in some detail here http://www.mandm.org.nz/2008/11/sentience-part-1.html and http://www.mandm.org.nz/2008/11/sentience-part-2.html


  • First, the example I gave was the difference between a prematurely born infant and a fetus at 30-40 weeks, in terms of brain development these are both past the 22 week stage.

    Point taken. In your response you had said “30 weeks and earlier“. I wasnt sure how far back “earlier” meant. Prior to 22 weeks I would say there is a big physiological differences in the brain. But I would agree with you given that we are talking about later stages in pregnancy.


    Second, I don’t think rudimentary brain function is either necessary or sufficient to for an organism to be human. Its not necessary because an adult human being is not considered to be dead until he has irreversible cessation of brain function, if he has brain function which has ceased but will return its considered homicide to kill him.

    When cessation of brain function is involved (coma, deep unconsiousness, etc) I would use the analogy of a broken limb. We don’t say that the person has no limb – its ability to function has just been temporarily impeded. In the same sense, we cannot say that a person who was temporarily lost many brain functions does not have a mind. Its still there, its just not working at full capacity.

    In the case of a fetus younger than roughly 22 weeks, we can say definatively that they have no mind, in the same way we could say a zygote has no legs.


    Its not sufficient because at 22 weeks a fetus only has very rudimentary brain function an adult cow or pig has more mental function so if the presence of this level of function makes one human then cows are human.

    Third, In fact in terms of actual brain function, many adult mammals are superior to newborn infants, its only in terms of potential function, that is abilities the infants brain will acquire with normal growth and development that an infants brain has superior mental capacities.

    I’m not quite committed to the anti-speciesist stances of guys like Peter Singer. I don’t necessarily think there is a problem with preference for one’s own species. So I don’t really have a problem saying that a human infant with rudimentary brain function is more morally significant than a pig with advanced brain functions.

    On the other hand, I can see problems here for both of us in the case of another hypothetical animal that has advanced brain function equal to that of a human being. How would you address that scenario? Would they have the same moral significance as a human, and if not, how could you justify that? Could we still kill them and eat them, or deny them the same rights we generally afford to humans?

  • Oh, I would like to listen to the radio spot – is there anyplace where its available not in quicktime format? Can’t listen to it!

  • Matthew Flannagan thanks for clarifying. You say: “It would not be true to say there was no physiological difference between African Americans and caucasains, or that there is no physiological difference between myself and any other human being.”

    Just as it would not be true to say “There is no physiological difference between a fetus and a newborn.”

    Thanks for agreeing with me after you accuse my thoughts of excessive pedantry.

    Matthew Flannagan you say: “what is mean’t is that one can’t say there is anything about their physiology that justifies saying one group are human and the other not.”

    Then say what you mean, i.e. fetus are human. But so are severed limbs and piles of body waste, as both are composed of human physiology. What you said is just a fancy way of asserting there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn, but since you are trying to buttress your argument with a demonstrably false statement about physiology it seems dishonest.

    And the ways in which an African Kiwis are physiologically different than Caucasians pale in comparison to the ways in which fetuses differ from newborns. You are more similar to a cow or pig in terms of physiologically mechanistic functioning than you are to a human fetus. But I’m sure your argument doesn’t apply at dinner time.

    Also, if I might chime in on your discussion with drj. There you mention something about a fetus’s brain that has the “potential function” to have superior mental function. Talk of potentialities troubles me. Not to be silly, but as we are all star stuff, everything, though admittedly through more remote processes, has the “potential” to be, you know, part of a fetal brain. Parts of the beef you eat will become brain. So if we rely on potential premised arguments (or even use potential premised arguments) the risk of arbitrary delineation (i.e. when do we begin to count “potential” as “actual” versus “potential” counting only when that potential is in such-and-such a form) becomes real, yes?

  • Are There Good Reasons for Abortion?…

    If you haven’t heard it already, this week’s episode of the UK radio show Unbelievable features a good debate between Madeleine Flannagan and Wendy Savage on the topic of abortion. Listen to the exchange here…

  • enenennx
    In response to your comments.
    1. You write Then say what you mean, i.e. fetus are human. But so are severed limbs and piles of body waste, as both are composed of human physiology. What you said is just a fancy way of asserting there is no moral difference between a fetus and a newborn, but since you are trying to buttress your argument with a demonstrably false statement about physiology it seems dishonest.

    This is mistaken on several counts,
    first I was arguing that a fetus was human by showing it did not differ in any physiological or psychological way from something that is human, so simply asserting it would be inappropriate in this context.

    Second, “severed limbs and piles of body waste” are not human in the sense I use the term. If you’d consulted my writings on the subject you’d see I define human in this context as a being the killing of which constitutes homicide.

    Third, this is not the same as saying there is no moral difference between a fetus and newborn. I would say that an attacker and his victim are both human, killing either would be homicide yet it does not follow there is no morally relevant difference between a attacker and his victim. Killing in defence of another is a form of homicide albeit a justifiable form.

    2. And the ways in which an African Kiwis are physiologically different than Caucasians pale in comparison to the ways in which fetuses differ from newborns. You are more similar to a cow or pig in terms of physiologically mechanistic functioning than you are to a human fetus. But I’m sure your argument doesn’t apply at dinner time. Actually my example was foetuses and premature infants not new born infants, so this is not a counter example to my comment. But even if it were none of these features plausibly mean that infants are human and foetuses are not, any more than skin colour makes Africans less humans than Caucasians, and that was my point.

    If a doctor shot a 9 week premature infant in the head we would consider it homicide, a 10 week premature infant is a 30 week fetus outside the women. They are the same type of organism at the same point in development.

    3. You write “. Talk of potentialities troubles me. Not to be silly, but as we are all star stuff, everything, though admittedly through more remote processes, has the “potential” to be, you know, part of a fetal brain. Parts of the beef you eat will become brain. So if we rely on potential premised arguments (or even use potential premised arguments) the risk of arbitrary delineation (i.e. when do we begin to count “potential” as “actual” versus “potential” counting only when that potential is in such-and-such a form) becomes real, yes?”

    No this simply fails to grasp how the word potential is used in the discussion.

    First the phrase the “potential brain function” refers to the potential a brain has, in other words its referring to an existing brain and asking what properties that brain will have in the future if its allowed to develop, star dust does not have potential brain function in this sense.

    Second, this is part of a more general point, in discussions of this sort to say X has the potential to Y. Means that the organism X is such that at a future point that organism X will continue to exist and have Y. It does not refer to situations where one organism ceases to exist, and another comes into existence that has Y . Hence it involves a form of underlying metaphysical identity between the stages in question. This is spelt out in the literature.

  • At what point does the brain exist so as to have “potential”? At conception? Does a brain’s “potential” come from it’s existence, or does a brain’s “potential” exist prior to the brain itself?

    Additionally, is seems you are making a metaphysical argument but couching that argument in terms of non-metaphysical entities, i.e. pshychology and physiology. This seems dishonest. If you believe a fetus is “metaphysically” the same as a born human, then say so. A fetus is not non-metaphysically identical in terms of it’s physiology or psychology to a newborn.

    As it stand you believe a fetus (also a conceptus?) is identical physiologically and psychologically to a newborn. This seems untenable. Unless of course you bring in metaphysics and potentialities, but then you lose the right to use the word identical, so it would seem. Cheers.

  • Enenennx,

    1. A brain cannot have the potential to do anything until it exists. I am inclined to think the idea that something can have properties before it exists to posses properties is absurd. There is no non existent brain which exists prior to its existence which has the property of being a potential brain.

    2. Your again misconstruing my argument, I never said a fetus or conceptus was physiologically or pscyologically identical with a new born.. What I said was that a fetus at 30-40 weeks is identical in the sense of being the same type of being at the same level of development as a prematurely born infant. This seems to me to be plausible, it seems total nonsense to state that killing a premature infant in homicide and a 30-40 week fetus is not homicide.

    3. As to your claim that a fetus is not identical with a newborn. I did not say this in any of the comments above, but it’s worth noting your own comments show you recognise this is false.

    You are commenting on things you claim ( correctly) that I wrote several days ago. Your accusations therefore involve the assumption that I who writes today also wrote a few days ago. In other words you assume I am the same being today who wrote those comments several days ago. You assume this, despite the fact that I do not have exactly the same physiological or pscological states today as I did when I wrote those things.

    When people say a fetus is identical with an infant they mean the same thing, just as I today am the same being as the Matthew who wrote several days ago, the infant that is born on at a particular time T5, is the same being or organism that existed in the mothers womb at t4, T3, T2 and so on, its just the same being at a latter stage of its life.
    This is not a terribly controversial claim.

    It would be silly to suggest that when you pull a hear out of my head I cease to exist because I am no longer identical physiologically ( I have one less hair) than I did before. Identity is preserved over time despite physiological and psychological changes. For identity to not be preserved something much more radical needs to change, such as be being vaporised, or split into fifteen pieces, and so on.

  • Whenever there is talk about abortion, my sense is that the pro side becomes a bit arbitrary in their reductivism. If we are all just stardust, then what is the big deal with killing anyone at any age, why talk about morality at all. That tack becomes self defeating pretty quickly. At the same time, why not reduce the individual to their genetic makeup? Already, at conception, all the potential of that person does exist, as genetic information. Who knows what wonders, which Einsteins, Newtons, Aristotles and whoever elses abortions have robbed us of. That last bit is a little melodramatic, maybe, but it seems true as far as I can tell. I know Dr flannagan has already dealt with specific objections here, but I did want to ask why the genes themselves would not be as good a starting point in talking about the potential of a person. I would think that such a consideration would make abortion a less preferable option even for the coldest, rationaliest utilitarian. Perhaps the genes are indecipherable at this point, though, and not worth the wager?

  • Do you have thoughts at what stage a brain begins to exist, prior to which the products of conception have no potential to be a human?

  • Are There Good Reasons for Abortion?…

    This week, the UK radio show, Unbelieviable?, aired an episode on the topic “are there good reasons for abortion?”. The episode saw host, Justin Brierley, moderate a debate between New Zealand blogger Madeleine Flannagan and Wendy Savage, a representat…

  • Once again, I’m confused, but thank you for your thoughts. I read some of your (Matthew Flannagan’s) previous posts on abortion.

    Issue 1:
    Matthew Flannagan says: “A brain cannot have the potential to do anything until it exists.”

    Are you asserting a difference between “potential” and “potential to do anything”?

    For example, you say a brain cannot have the potential to do anything until it exists. But you seem to also say that a brain has the potential to exist before it exists.

    Does a conceptus have the right to not have all it’s possibilities ended because it merely has the potential to be (but specifically not the potential to do, as you point out). As a conceptus does not have a brain or a heart or a digestive tract, are you saying a conceptus does not have the potential to do brain heart or digestive tract things (as your assertion that a brain cannot have the potential to do anything until it exists seems to suggest).

    Issue 2:
    Matthew Flannagan says: “Your accusations therefore involve the assumption that I who writes today also wrote a few days ago. In other words you assume I am the same being today who wrote those comments several days ago.”

    I don’t believe you are the same person day to day; I believe you are a continuation of your previous identity, with new thoughts and desires and knowledge, with dead cells shed and new cells constructed from material you gleaned from your environment. Just as the majority of the DNA in an embryo comes from raw physical material external to the original conceptus, what constitutes you physically is gleaned from your environment. I don’t claim to know what actually constitutes “you”, but I imagine it is some combination of your physical stuff and your thoughts, desires, wants, knowledge, personality (all of which may be due to arrangements of your physical stuff, I don’t know).

    Issue 3
    Matthew Flannagan you say: “What I said was that a fetus at 30-40 weeks is identical in the sense of being the same type of being at the same level of development as a prematurely born infant. ”
    Does this apply to a 29 week old fetus? How about a 28 week old fetus? 27? For you how far back does this go, this assertion that a fetus is at the “same level of development” as a prematurely born infant? Does a fetus’s right to life not exist at whatever week (if there is one in your opinion) a fetus is not at “the same level of development”? Is this 30 week assertion merely based on the fact that a 30 week fetus can be keep alive outside a womb? As this technology is inevitably going to change, does this mean our state of technology grants rights to certain younger fetuses that previously did not have those rights as the technology improves?

    Issue 4
    This one might be silly, and I am willing to see it that way but would need it’s silliness pointed out to me.

    Is it morally justified to kill a Neaderthal conceptus or fetus? What about any of the other humanoid species that have existed? Would you consider theses species to be human though they are not, according to the definition of human here and in your other threads. What about the conceptuses and fetuses of simian creatures?

    I do appreciate your time and thoughts on these matters. I don’t see specifically where these issues are addressed in your previous posts (though they are lengthy with even lengthier threads, so I may have missed it). From my end I don’t feel excessively pedantic, but will concede to being so if adequately shown.

  • A very interesting discussion – thank you for posting the link.

  • Whenever there is talk about abortion, my sense is that the pro side becomes a bit arbitrary in their reductivism. If we are all just stardust, then what is the big deal with killing anyone at any age, why talk about morality at all. That tack becomes self defeating pretty quickly. At the same time, why not reduce the individual to their genetic makeup? Already, at conception, all the potential of that person does exist, as genetic information. Who knows what wonders, which Einsteins, Newtons, Aristotles and whoever elses abortions have robbed us of. That last bit is a little melodramatic, maybe, but it seems true as far as I can tell. I know Dr flannagan has already dealt with specific objections here, but I did want to ask why the genes themselves would not be as good a starting point in talking about the potential of a person. I would think that such a consideration would make abortion a less preferable option even for the coldest, rationaliest utilitarian. Perhaps the genes are indecipherable at this point, though, and not worth the wager?

    Its funny, I almost have the exact opposite assessment of abortion discussions. In my experience, the theist anti-abortion side tends to become unusually and uncharacteristically reductionist. There is a pattern that emerges, where almost all of the moral worth of a human being is places on the existence and particular arrangement of certain molecules (i.e. DNA). A strange thing, for those who are typically so enamored with the transcendent.

    I think emenenmx is right to raise the potentiality issue as he does. Since everything essentially has a rather broad potential, from stardust to DNA, just what are our moral responsibilities in relation to that potential?

    We may one day have the technology to ensure that every egg produced by a woman is fertilized and gestated to term. Every egg is a potential human. So should we do it? It seems rather silly to think that we should, but the some of the arguments from the anti-abortionists might commit us to a position that says “yes, we should”. We’ve got to make sure every potentiate realizes its potential, that’s the moral thing to do, according to many of their arguments. What if we have the tech one day to turn star dust into eggs, and eggs into humans? Should we do it? Again, seems silly, but the pro-life side might say that we should.

    As for the “abortion may have rid of the next Beethoven” argument – well, that cuts both ways – it may have rid us of the next Hitler too. There’s just simply nothing productive in that sort of speculation.

    As for genes, sure… they do make a possible good starting point for a morally significant potential – seems arbitrary to me, but we can consider it. But also, what about the formation of the mind? Why would you reject that? I think that starting point is much more sensible.

  • The potential argument is terrible. They’ll be banning periods and wanking next.

  • Maybe just to clarify something way back in the thread, Madeline Flannagan states that the umbilical cord is “a relational property”. This is absurd enough to presume it was a typo on her part, yes? The umbilical cord might provide a relational link between a fetus and a womb, or one might say that the type of physiology a umbilical cord performs is a relational one between parent and offspring, but to say the umbilical cord is simply “a relational property” is wrong. Unless I’m missing something whereby physical entities can BE properties and not just HAVE them, as a plain reading of Madeline Flannagan’s assertion (if left without explanation) states.

    So at recent count, the identity, relational, and potentiality arguments the Flannagan’s collectively use and explain don’t seem to cut it for pre-30(?) week fetuses, at least not in their handling of those arguments. Which it seems like they’re not even attempting to use these arguments for conceptuses or fetuses anyways. Cheers.

  • found this interesting, re:potential and viability.

  • Matthew Flannagan you say:
    “Ennennex, I am saying there is no physiological difference that can justify one saying a premature infant is a human being and a post viable fetus is not.

    Is that clear to you now?”

    It seems as if you are saying humanity is based on a state of technology. Is this what you are asserting? Is there a physiologic difference that justifies one in saying a pre-viable fetus is not a human being and a post-viable one is?

  • madeleine,

    legally, would there be any other implications of accepting the humanity of a fetus? for example should there be coroners reports or police investigations into still-births and naturally occurring abortions? at the very least an autopsy to find cause of death, but possibly even manslaughter or murder charges if the mother was somehow at fault?

    i don’t think you can pick and choose the implications; there needs to be consistency, right?

    and out of curiousity, is there any point after which a fertilised egg becomes a fetus and so a human, or is it at fertilisation? i guess for religious people the question would be at what point does it have a soul, and so becomes different from an animal fetus.

    on a different note: in ‘freakenomics’ author sd levitt did a study linking abortions to a drop in youth crime 15-20 years later, if anyone wants to have a look at it. pretty much the lower-socioeconomic accidental mothers who want to to have abortions won’t do a particularly good job of raising valuable members of society if they aren’t allowed too. i don’t think he’s commenting on morality, just real-world consequences.

  • I asked Alexander Pruss–a philosopher at Baylor University– in the comment section on his blog about the use of “potential” with regards to the abortion debate. Alexander Pruss was kind enough to write up a post on it.

    It can be found here: http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2011/08/fetal-potentiality.html

  • Paul you writeThe potential argument is terrible. They’ll be banning periods and wanking next.
    Actually a couple of comments above I pointed out this is a straw man, I pointed out that does not follow from the potentiality argument because people (like Don Marquis) who use the potentiality argument mean a specific type of potentiality. I said
    in discussions of this sort to say X has the potential to Y. Means that the organism X is such that at a future point that organism X will continue to exist and have Y. It does not refer to situations where one organism ceases to exist, and another comes into existence that has Y . Hence it involves a form of underlying metaphysical identity between the stages in question. This is spelt out in the literature.
    So Paul, my question to you, seeing it had already been pointed out to you this was a straw man, seeing I have pointed it out again, and seeing its been repeatedly pointed out in the literature. Are you and other pro choicers going to keep using this argument?

  • Drj I think emenenmx is right to raise the potentiality issue as he does. Since everything essentially has a rather broad potential, from stardust to DNA, just what are our moral responsibilities in relation to that potential?

    Again, I pointed out above that this is a straw man, funny how people keep repeating the standard slogans after they have been shown to be flawed. No one argues that a fetus is a human being because it has “broad” potential of the sort you mention.

  • legally, would there be any other implications of accepting the humanity of a fetus? for example should there be coroners reports or police investigations into still-births and naturally occurring abortions? at the very least an autopsy to find cause of death, but possibly even manslaughter or murder charges if the mother was somehow at fault?

    This does not follow, the fact that X is a human being does not mean that everytime X dies we need to investigate for homicide.

    Moreover what’s the problem supposed to be here, do we have investigations into every cot death that occurs? Do you think this has anything to do with whether infanticide should be a crime?

    on a different note: in ‘freakenomics’ author sd levitt did a study linking abortions to a drop in youth crime 15-20 years later, if anyone wants to have a look at it. pretty much the lower-socioeconomic accidental mothers who want to to have abortions won’t do a particularly good job of raising valuable members of society if they aren’t allowed too. i don’t think he’s commenting on morality, just real-world consequences.

    I have read Freakenomics, what you fail to note is that, if sound, the same statistics show that infanticide would have lowered the crime rates.

    If the same socio – economic group had killed the child as a newborn instead of as a fetus, the results would be the same, the child would still have not have grown up to be a criminal. Do you support infanticide for low socio economic families? This is why as you say sd levitt did not advocate his study as a moral argument for abortion.

  • Matthew Flannagan, what do you make of the phenomenon of twinning and recombination? Is metaphysical identity preserved or lost? When an embryo twins is what was once one metaphysical identity now two metaphysical identities. On the rare occasions when embryos recombine, do two metaphysical identities become one? Has one of the two embryos done great moral wrong to the other? Ought we hold one responsible for the death of the other’s metaphysical identity when it exits the womb?

    The literature may speak of “metaphysical identity”, but it seems a slippery concept. Can you spare a paragraph or two to define it clearly, or point me to a paper you find convincing?

    For example, some questions I might have are: what is necessary for metaphysical identity, and what is sufficient? The same clot of biomass may be necessary (or at least a biomass that can continue to replace and reproduce it’s parts) but is it sufficient? Biomass that recognizes self? But that would exclude the very young and some diseased and comatose and challenged?

    It appears to boil done to that organismal entity which has the potential of which you speak is that entity which has the metaphysical identity of which you speak which is defined by the organismal entity (likely recombinations excluded) that has the potential you’re talking about. Circular.

  • If we say that potential only matters in the context of particular metaphysical identity, doesn’t it seem like metaphysical identity is really carrying all the “moral weight”, and talk of potential is a little superfluous?

    Why not just say that metaphysical identity X has intrinsic moral value? That’s what it seems like it reduces too.

  • ‘This does not follow, that everytime (a human) dies we need to investigate for homicide.’ how did you get ‘everytime’ from “at the very least an autopsy to find cause of death, but possibly even manslaughter or murder charges if the mother was somehow at fault?” talk about attacking a straw man. i guess that’s easier for you to do than actually answering questions.

    you mention cot deaths, and i don’t know much about this, but aren’t there still often coroners reports, and at the very least a doctors certificate establishing cause of death, even if the elderly or terminally ill die? if the basis of your argument against abortion is that a fertilised ovum has the same right to life as you and me, there are further implications you need to accept as well. every pregnancy that is ‘lost’ is a person dying and should be treated as such. this seems pretty straight forward.

    emenenmx, i think mainstream christian opinion is that the factor differentiating a baby from biomass like a puppy or kitten is the presence of the soul (metaphysical identity?), and that it is this soul which somehow gives rise to the sanctity of life. matt have i got it right? because you then need to be very clear about at what point a soul is implanted. why can’t it be at birth? and as drj noted, ‘potential’ would then be a meaningless discussion. potential to have a soul?

    of course killing everyone who was statistically more likely to become a criminal would drop the crime rate, this is what michael laws is saying when he advocate compulsory sterilisation. the logical extreme of this is that the extinction of mankind would eliminate crime all together, but that doesn’t really help the discussion, and it’s not what i’m saying. the point is that if women are given the choice of opting out of motherhood, a natural secondary consequence will be less unwanted children born into situations where the mother cannot protect or provide for them properly and who will consequently lead crap lives. this mother-regulated bias will be in favour of wanted children in stable homes.

  • Sam G,

    I think I agree. A mother can drink, or do any of a many number of things to cause a miscarriage. In fact Numbers 5 has specific instructions for causing abortions in certain cases (your wife’s womb must be cleared out if she’s been unfaithful or raped, and the Levitical priest does some hocus-pocus, and a drink is consumed which turns the uterus out, which, if there is a conceptus or fetus, this ritual is meant to kill it; there may not always be a fetus involved, but the intent seems to be to kill the contents of the womb).

    So whether the mother or the Levitical priest causes the abortion by means of the women imbibing something, it seems that the possibility of murder is present, and to not at least consider that certain abortions ought to be investigated is silly.

    Also Sam g, I’m waiting for MF to come out and say “soul”. He seems to believe it is the soul, but wants to use academic language to couch his handling of certain arguments. MF: if it is the soul that is your “metaphysical identity” say so, and then say when a soul enters an organism, and whether or not other sentient beings have souls. And either way, your thoughts on how twinning and recombination affect your “metaphysical identity” or “soul” would be appreciated. Cheers.

  • Hey Matt, could you please give me some reasons for why you believe infanticide to be wrong? Might sound like an odd question but I would like to read you answer.

  • I think the ultimate view on abortion is expressed in the 33 minute documentary titled “180 Movie” currently going viral on youtube with in excess of 15000 hours of viewing in 2 weeks:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y2KsU_dhwI

    Your comments with how this view would add to the discussion in this post would be valuable.

  • Just listened to the debate – you did a great job – more power to you!