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Posted by on Mar 20, 2014 in Featured, Politics, Secularism | 35 comments

The debate on secular arguments for abortion

abortion_pollMy colleague Notung has already said most of what I want to say on the background issues related to a current debate in the atheist/skeptic blogosphere – in summary, that we should be very wary of ruling things as out of order in terms of debate. As he does, I’d concur with Mill in saying that hearing opposing views to ours is typically a good thing, either because we can be exposed as wrong, or because we can take the opportunity to learn more about why we are right.

Two brief notes are in order, though. Before I get to those, I shall note, to avoid misinterpretation, that no non-affected person should ever get to say what another person does with his/her body, and even once another person is affected, they don’t get to dictate what others do with their bodies. Then, non-persons (like foetuses) have no rights claims whatsoever. This does not mean that abortion is necessarily always right – it simply means that nobody but the pregnant woman has a right to insist on that abortion. This is simply a sketch of a position, rather than an argument for it – I realise that there’s much to be explicated there.

In short, women have all the rights to choose, should certainly have more rights in this regard, and I’d even say that there are further rights that parents, more generally, should have in this area.

Those two notes, before I forget:

First, allowing for debate does not need to (and shouldn’t) mean tolerating endless rehashing of naive, discredited, or scientifically illiterate arguments. We’re not obliged to listen to anyone, or anything – and if your secular argument for abortion relies on twelve-week old foetus feeling pain, or having a soul, you’re not equally deserving of a place at the table. Saying that debate is permissible has nothing to do with the judgements we make as to the opinions and arguments we hear – one can (should) allow for debate, yet also not be shy of saying “you’re adding nothing to the conversation – go away and read a book”.

Second, having the final say (or the right to make the decision) in the matter of abortion is a completely different matter to whether you might (or might not) have useful thoughts to offer on the situation. Anyone can have a view, even if they are not the pregnant woman in question. Whether their view is informed, or useful, is a separate matter.

Assuming that someone who has the property of “not being a woman” cannot have useful thoughts to offer on the question is absurd. In the relevant sense of “not being able to gestate an infant for 9 months”, most 50 year-old women don’t qualify either – and might never even have had children – yet they are never told that they can’t even express a view on this topic (as men entering these debates occasionally are told).

They (the men) certainly don’t get to insist, no – but they do get to speak. As does anyone – and once they speak, feel free to tell them they’re talking nonsense. But pre-judging their speech as nonsense before it’s uttered is sexist nonsense.