Tuesday, May 28, 2013

An abortion debate

I joined this web page called debate.org where you can have formal debates with people, have people vote on your debates, and vote on other people's debates.  It's mostly young people (teens and 20's), but a lot of them have formal training in debating, so there's some good debates there sometimes.  I've been kind of impressed with the level some of the teenagers on that page debate at.  Of course, like any web page, it also has its trolls and idiots.  Still, I'm having fun with it.

I've completed 39 debates so far, and I thought I'd post the opening statements to a few of those debates here on my blog just so I'll have something to post here.  Some of my debates are silly, and in some of them I play devil's advocate.  I'm not going to post those.

This first one is an uneventful debate on the subject of Abortion.  My opponent wanted to argue that it was sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.  After stating his position, he forfeited every round, which is why it was uneventful, but I tried to keep the debate alive.  Here was my opening:

Thank you for coming to tonight's debate. Pro hasn't given me much to work with, but I'll see what I can do.

Pro thinks it's wrong to forbid a woman to have an abortion, and he gives two reasons: (1) because it's sick and unfair, and (2) because women should be able to have control over their own bodies. Let's take these one at a time:

Pro's case

1. It's sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.

It seems to me that whether it's sick or unfair depends on what exactly an abortion does. After all, you could replace the above sentence with a variety of other activities and discover that some of them are sick and unfair while others are not. If I replaced "have an abortion" with "drown her children in the bathtub," you'd all recognize right away that it wasn't sick and unfair to forbi that. But if I replaced "have an abortion" with "use the bathroom," you'd recognize that itwas sick and unfair to forbid that. But suppose I replaced "have an abortion" with something you had never heard of before. Suppose I replaced "have an abortion" with "bep a buon." Well, then you'd wonder what the heck I meant by "bep a buon." You couldn't say whether it was sick and unfair to forbid a woman to do such a thing unless you know what it was I was talking about.

Likewise, with abortion, whether it's sick and unfair depends on what it does. If, for example, if abortion entailed removing a tumor, then it would be sick and unfair to forbid that. But if abortion takes the life of an innocent human being just because the mother doesn't want to be burdened with it, well then it's hard to see why it would be sick and unfair to forbid a woman to do that.

Now, keep in mind that pro has the buden of proof in this debate. That means he's got to defend that claim. He's got to tell us what abortion does before we can accept his first argument. In a little bit, I'm going to argue that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being, so he's going to have to answer that argument, too.

2. Women should be able to have control over their own bodies
In general, i agree with this, but I do not think it is without exception, and the exception I make is very relevant to this topic.

Let's say that some woman had a baby, and the only way to feed that baby is to breast feed it. There's no formula available, and nobody else is willing to relieve the woman of the burden. Would she be morally justified in letting her baby starve on the basis that she has control over her own boob and has the right to say who can and can't use it? Well, surely we'd recognize that if a woman did such a thing she'd be a monster. We might in some extreme cases say that a violinist who was attached to her, using her organs to stay alive, had no right to stay attached, but mothers have obligations to their own young that they don't have to adult violinists. A mother who starved her own child and attempted to justify it on the basis that she ought to have control over her own body would clearly be in the wrong. And so it is not wrong to punish her for neglect and child abuse. And the right to punish her depends on the right to forbid her to do such a thing.

Again, it all depends on what abortion does and to what. If there is a living human being inside the woman, then abortion isn't just something she does to her own body. Rather, it's something she does to somebody else's body. What if the fetus inside of her was a girl! Abortion would violate her bodily rights!

My case

In tonight's debate, I'm going to defend two basic contentions: (1) that the unborn, at least through most stages of development, is a living human being, and (2) that it is not sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.

1. The unborn, at least through most stages of development, is a living human being.
The fact that the unborn is a living something is beyond dispute. Biological life is typically defined by certain characteristics, such as growth, reproduction, metabolism, and reaction to stimuli.[1] The unborn has all of these, so it is definitely alive.

But so are plants, lizards, and possums. What distinguishes species is whether they can interbreed. Now, of course, there's more to it than that. After all, nobody thinks that a human toddler can procreate, but it is still a member of the human species. What distinguishes species, more specifically, is their DNA. In fact, their DNA is what determines whether they can interbreed when they become adults.[2] Well, there's no doubt that the unborn have human DNA. We know this because the DNA you have now is the exact same DNA you had when you were a zygote. If your DNA is human now, then it was human then. It follows that the unborn are living and human. (Surely no one thinks there's a possum in there that later turns into a human!)

But not everything that is human is an individual human being. After all, your hair, liver, toes, and shin bones are all living and human. Well, okay, your hair is not living, but the rest of it is. However, your liver, toes, and shin bone are not individual human beings. They're just human parts and organs that belong to individual human beings. I'm going to give a few reasons to think that the unborn that is both living and human is also an individual human being.

1.1. It has a unique DNA distinct from its parents, and it does not share that DNA with anything else. It follows that it isn't just a part of another human being since there's no other human being that it could be a part of.

1.2. It is self-integrating. That is, if allowed to, it will go through every stage of human development--zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, child, adolecsent, adult. As Frank Beckwith once said, "You didn't come from a zygote; you once were a zygote."[3]

1.3. If the unborn were part of its mother rather than being a distinct human being, then after only a few weeks, you'd have a woman with two heads, four legs, four arms, and in the case of a male fetus, you'd have a woman with a penis.[4] But individuals do not have two heads, etc. Even simese twins are two distinct individuals.

It follows from what I have argued that the unborn, through most stages of development (and probably from conception) is an individual living human being.

2. It is not sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion.
It should be evident by now that it is not sick and unfair to forbid a woman to have an abortion. Abortion takes the life of an innocent individual living human being. Mothers have an obligation to care for their young, so it is plainly immoral to have them killed. It is not sick or unfair to forbid a mother to abuse her own young to the point of death. Nor is it sick and unfair to require a mother to care for her young when she is unable to put it up for adoption yet.

Rather, it is sick and unfair for a mother to have an abortion, knowing what it does--takes the life of her own offspring. I don't want to gross anybody out, so I'm not going to post any pictures here, but if you can stomach it, this link shows images of aborted fetuses from the first trimester.[5] These pictures show exactly what abortion does. You can distinctly see the severed arms and legs of the fetus, complete with fingers and toes. This is a real human being. I submit to you that it is sick and unfair to the unborn for a mother to have them killed for any other reason than to save her own life. I doubt you would be nearly as turned off by pictures of removed tumers or appendixes because you know that's not the same thing.

That's pretty much all I have to say. I look forward to Pro's closing statement and hope he'll have some good arguments for me.

[1] http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Biological+life

[2]  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17652131

[3]  http://www.ccel.us/Beckwith.3.html

[4]  I got this point from Scott Klusendorf.  http://prolifephilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/07/what-is-unborn.html

[5]  http://www.priestsforlife.org/resources/photosbyage/index.htm