Thomas Friedman is pro-life!

I have to admit that I got a shock when I saw the title of Tom Friedman’s column in today’s New York Times: “Why I am pro-life.”  As far as I knew, Friedmans was what we call in America “pro-choice,” that is, a woman has the right to control her own body, referring to early-term abortions.  Did he change his mind?

No, he did something very clever—he construed the term “pro-life” properly. Let him explain:

. . . judging from the unscientific — borderline crazy — statements opposing abortion that we’re hearing lately, there is reason to believe that this delicate balance could be threatened if Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan, and their even more extreme allies, get elected. So to those who want to protect a woman’s right to control what happens with her own body, let me offer just one piece of advice: to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves “pro-life” and Democrats as “pro-choice.” It is a huge distortion.

In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

“Pro-life” can mean only one thing: “respect for the sanctity of life.” And there is no way that respect for the sanctity life can mean we are obligated to protect every fertilized egg in a woman’s ovary, no matter how that egg got fertilized, but we are not obligated to protect every living person from being shot with a concealed automatic weapon. I have no respect for someone who relies on voodoo science to declare that a woman’s body can distinguish a “legitimate” rape, but then declares — when 99 percent of all climate scientists conclude that climate change poses a danger to the sanctity of all life on the planet — that global warming is just a hoax.

The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society.

Although I get a sense I’m preaching to the choir here, there are several other pro-Obama articles in today’s Times. The other one I want to mention is the the paper’s own official endorsement of Obama for president. His policies are compared with Mittens’ in a long editorial, “Barack Obama for re-election“, discussing the candiates’ stands on the important issues of gay rights, women’s rights, the environment, the economy, medical care, and what they will do to the Supreme Court. Just one snippet:

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has gotten this far with a guile that allows him to say whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. But he has tied himself to the ultraconservative forces that control the Republican Party and embraced their policies, including reckless budget cuts and 30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas. Voters may still be confused about Mr. Romney’s true identity, but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda. Mr. Romney’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate says volumes about that.


  1. Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    As the old saw goes, for a Republican, the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth.

    Even the very premise of the anti-abortion movement is powerfully flawed — and I’m not referring to the bullshit of “ensoulment.” Rather, I’m referring to the idea that “life begins at conception.” That’s also bullshit.

    Life began a few billion years ago, and it hasn’t ended since.



    P.S. Vote Jill Stein for President! b&

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      I agree that a Green President would be a step forward. Ordinarily I would say nothing here, but I guess the pre-election sense of urgency makes me feel compelled to make a counter argument against voting for Jill Stein in 2012. Nothing personal intended.

      I understand treating a vote as a matter of principle, and that a strong showing in the vote count for a third party could make some kind of statement that can draw attention and potentially become a rallying point to build momentum over time, so that in some future election there could be a chance of winning. The thinking is, I believe, if we never start voting Green, we’ll never get there.

      The evidence that Jill Stein cannot win is overwhelming. Blame that on our system, our media, or anything else, fine, but reality is unmovable in the short term.

      A popular argument on the left is that there is no difference between the Dems and the GOP, so why not go third party? But a brief consideration of Citizens United, Roe v. Wade, and the fact that our next President is likely to make one or two Supreme Court nominations, which can effect profound outcomes for decades, by itself is already an overwhelming reason to favor Obama over Romney, even if for the sake of argument we assume all else is held equal. There actually is a long list of other important differences certain to have strong impacts on hundreds of millions of lives.

      An analogy about short term and long term electoral goals and principles might be a journey. We have a long term goal, our destination, that is consistent with our principles, and we want to head as directly toward that goal as possible. What do we do when we encounter an obstacle? Do we thoughtlessly hurl ourselves into it in order to maintain our principled direction, or do we make a short term deviation from principle for pragmatic reasons and resume our proper direction when we have a clear path again?

      To me it seems obvious that a symbolic third party vote is like driving into a wall or a swamp, it accomplishes nothing, where a pragmatic vote for Obama has some tangible impact on maintaining progress, to some degree, in the short term. A Romney presidency is a real step backwards, and an Obama presidency, though less than ideal, moves in the right direction in a number of important ways. A third party vote is romantic, poetic, and principled, perhaps driven by frustration and impatience, but not necessarily smart if the goal of a vote is to make a difference in governance between elections.

      Given that voting for a party is an act of large scale cooperation from a game theoretical view, getting the maximal payoff of Stein without unduly risking the maximum penalty of Romney requires a lot of trust. The long history of the parties is basically a process of building identity and trust, and the Ds and Rs are way way ahead in that area.

      If you just lay out a matrix of payoffs with probabilities attached, it seems fairly clear that a rational choice, for anyone with politics left of center to any degree, is to vote Obama, despite his faults. It provides the greatest chance of a positive payoff and minimizes the chance of a big negative.

      I think the only way to object to this argument is to argue that Romney and Obama are close enough to be effectively indistinguishable. I think this is a deeply flawed analysis based more on impulsive emotional anger at the corrupting influences of money, power, and fear of terror on our “bi-partisan consensus”, and less on clear rational analysis of the detailed histories, records, beliefs, and goals of the candidates.

      Of course your analysis prefers Jill Stein, but voting for her is no winning strategy, not in this election, and not even when iterated over the next two decades.

      This view does not ignore the long term goals. But to be effective with third parties we need range voting. I think this is a conclusion that is practically mathematical in its reasoning about elections.

      Our long term principled actions can take place outside of elections, in organizing support for range voting, Open Congress, Sunlight Foundation, and other democratic reform movements that are underway. Awareness is building, and in the Internet age a critical mass demanding reform could come within a decade. The stubborn push to brute force shoehorn a strong third party into our first-past-the-post system is likely to take much longer, and is not likely to succeed until after there is first a solid Congressional caucus for the party. It is likely to promote worse government in the meantime. First building a Congressional caucus, a House majority even, is how the Republicans succeeded as a third party in the 1850s, aided mightily by the tumult of the civil war split in the Democratic Party. I don’t think it pays to ignore the evidence of history on third party performance in America.

      • Posted October 28, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        First, no third party candidate will ever get elected so long as we have our current first-past-the-post electoral system.

        Second, we will never get rid of our first-past-the-post system until Democrats and Republicans understand that it is in their own selfish best interests to do so.

        And, finally, the only way to convince them to support some form of preferential voting is by hurting them so badly at the polls that they have no alternative.

        I wholeheartedly agree that Romney is the significantly more evil of the two candidates.

        But, honestly? From my perspective?

        Urging me to vote for Obama rather than Stein lest Romney win sounds as absurd as urging me to vote for Mussolini rather than FDR lest Hitler win.

        Yes, Romney would be bad for civil rights…but Obama is already murdering American citizens without even the pretense of due process; his spies listen to any conversation they want to without a warrant or any form of oversight; and his thugs sexually assault each and every airport passenger, many bus and train passengers, and, incredibly, even private drivers on the highway.

        I’m hard pressed to think of a meaningfully worse assault on civil liberties. Sorry, but gay marriage and even abortion rights aren’t anywhere near as important to me as the Bill of Rights.

        If we can bludgeon the major parties with significant third-party turnout — ideally, at least 10% each from both Greens and Libertarians plus a few percent each from the other minor parties — then the Republicans who lost race x because the Libertarians “spoiled” it for them will (hopefully) join with the Democrats who lost race y because the Greens “spoiled” it for them in embracing preferential voting.

        Once that happens, we can get to work building a truly representative government.

        And, until it happens, our only choices are to concede defeat before we open our mouths; fight with our vote at the ballot box in the only meaningful way we have; or resort to hopeless violence.

        And, yes. That means more elections such as Florida in Y2K and all the pain and suffering it caused. And it will hurt, badly.

        Thing is, it’ll only hurt a hell of a lot worse if we don’t.

        Really, this is no different from the calculus that originally brought us unions. If you join a union, your boss will fire you and you’ll go hungry. But if you don’t join the union and stand strong with your peers, your boss will turn you into a virtual slave with un-livable wages, unsafe working conditions, and excessive hours.

        Better to suffer a bit, or even to die on your feet, than to meekly submit without even putting up a token fight.


        • tomh
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

          Ben wrote:
          If we can bludgeon the major parties with significant third-party turnout — ideally, at least 10% each from both Greens and Libertarians plus a few percent each from the other minor parties — then the Republicans who lost race x because the Libertarians “spoiled” it for them will (hopefully) join with the Democrats who lost race y because the Greens “spoiled” it for them in embracing preferential voting.

          Do you really think so? In 1992, running as an Independent, Ross Perot got about 20% of the popular vote, almost certainly costing Bush, Sr, the election. In 2000, with only a few states that mattered, FL in particular, Nader cost Gore the election. If I understand your theory, supporters of both the losers in those two elections should have banded together to push for electoral changes. I haven’t seen any sign of it, though. I think that nothing short of an apocalypse will cause changes to the electoral system in the US. And then it may well be for the worse.

          • Posted October 29, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

            Change takes time.

            Look at all the movements and even nation throughout history who suffered huge defeats up front who later went on to victory.

            The only guarantee is that we shall surely lose if we surrender the fight after the first crack of the gun.


    • Notagod
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I will NOT vote Jill Stein for President.

      The fact is that either Romney or Obama will be President the issues and the Supreme Court are far to important to risk a possible Romney regime. The only thing we can do at this late date is move as far as possible toward the direction that Jill Stein represents and unfortunately as far as we can go at this time is to elect Obama.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        As I’ve said before, there is absolutely no way that, as a person living in the infrared state of Texas, my vote for Jill Stein will contribute to the election of Mitt Romney. Sure it’s a protest vote, but it is entirely guiltless. Perhaps if other people in hopelessy red states did the same, the Democratic party would take notice.

        • Notagod
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

          Exactly correct! I usually make note of that and should have.

      • Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough. We all have our differing pain thresholds.

        But be aware that your fear of a Romney win is no different from the fear of an oppressed worker that the boss will fire her if she joins the picket line.

        Me? I’m willing to stand on that line alone, even if it means I’m the only one who gets fired.


        • Notagod
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

          Yes it is different.

          There are aspects that are the same but the aspects that are different are the problem. There is no Supreme Court at a business. There are no anti-abortion laws at a business. There are no policies at almost all single businesses that will bring a nation and world to economic collapse. There are fat money grubbers in most businesses and they might be able to buy politicians but they aren’t the ones that sign the laws.

          If the republicans gain power they will overturn any good that Obama has done and make the things that Obama has done wrong even worse.

          • brujofeo
            Posted October 29, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

            Ben Goren, Jeff Johnson, tomh, Notagod, Timothy Hughbanks: well written all, but I’m surprised that only Hughbanks makes the obvious point: what you’re describing is really the choice between voting your hopes and voting your fears. In football we call the latter the “prevent defense.” And only Hughbanks touches on the fact that that this is an entirely different question if you’re voting in a swing state.

            Full disclosure: I joined the Libertarian Party in 1973, shortly after its inception. And here in California, I’ll certainly be voting for Gary Johnson, because I can “send a message,” secure in the knowledge that it will make no difference in the Electoral College. Obama WILL win here, and the difference will be greater than any possible number of votes for Johnson could make–even if one also factors in the small losses that Obama will suffer on account of those who vote for Stein. In those situations, it’s crazy NOT to vote for a third-party candidate…unless Obama or Romney is REALLY your choice. (Hard for me to imagine; you may correctly infer that I don’t have much in common with Jill Stein’s politics (or Rocky Anderson’s), aside from the idiot War on Some Drugs, but even I can see that either one of them would be a better president than the two seriously flawed major-party contenders.

            If I lived in Ohio or Florida, I might decide otherwise.

          • Posted October 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            There are aspects that are the same but the aspects that are different are the problem. There is no Supreme Court at a business [….]

            Businesses can and often do kill their employees through unsafe working conditions. They can and often do starve their employees and their families through under-paying, unjust termination of employment, and by missing paychecks. In America, they can and often do kill the families of employees by terminating medical care.

            If you’re willing to risk starvation and the cessation of medical treatment for you and your family in order to picket for safe working conditions, a livable wage, reasonable hours, and all the rest that unions have bought us, it shouldn’t seem so unreasonable to risk the evils of Republicanism in order to vote for a candidate that will stop presidential revenge killings and restore the Bill of Rights.


  2. John J. Fitzgerald
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    To the editor 28 October 2012

    As we head toward the final days of the 2012 election, I am struck by the dishonest quality of two of the Republican candidates asking for public support.

    Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for President, can best be described as a liar.

    He seems to have no respect for truth telling or the historical memory of his potential constituents.

    Consider his shifting positions on global warming. Romney told voters in June 2011 at a town hall meeting after announcing his candidacy. “I can’t prove [it], but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer, and number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.”

    Four days later radio windbag and thug, Rush Limbaugh blasted Romney on his show, saying, “Bye-bye nomination. Bye-bye nomination, another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. . . And we still have presidential candidates who want to buy into it.”

    By October 2011 Romney had done an about-face. “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet, and the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try and reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us,” he told an audience in Pittsburgh, then he advocated for aggressive oil drilling.

    And on the day after the Republican National Convention, he began moving back toward his June 2011 position. (Source: Scientific American, November, 2012.)

    The Republican Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts is not much better in the veracity department. Scott Brown’s specialty is fraud.

    He claims to represent the average guy, but takes millions of dollars from Wall Street interests to run a campaign of smoke and mirrors. He drives around in a truck and waves at the camera. Then votes for the interests of the very rich.

    He talks about bi-partisanship, but votes to make Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate. Here is what Brown’s friend, McConnell, said about President Obama, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” (Source: National Journal, 23 October 2010.)

    Does that sound like a bi-partisan approach? Brown supports McConnell and McConnell supports Brown.

    Brown and Romney’s campaigns remind me of the Wizard of Oz. Thoughtful readers will recall that the “Wizard of Oz” was a humbug. He was able to fool a bunch of ignorant Winkies and Munchkins, a brainless scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion, but he was no match for Dorothy Gale and her little dog, Toto. They dared to look behind the curtain and through the smoke and mirrors.

    Perhaps it is time to send both Romney and Brown on a one-way trip from Oz to reality by way of the ballot box on 6 November.


    John J. Fitzgerald
    Longmeadow, MA

  3. Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    One of my pet peeves is that right-wing ideas and organizations based in ignorance and intolerance have these “wholesome”, “you-can’t-possibly-be-against-this” monikers: Focus on the Family, One Million Moms, Pro Life, etc.

    As if Democrats are actually against families, moms and life.


    • Tulse
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      PZ Myers has often suggested that any time these organizations mention “family”, the term is more accurately replaced with “patriarchy”, such as “Focus on the Patriarchy”, “American Patriarchy Association”, and even “patriarchy values”.

      • Circe
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        That’s quite clever!

        Some of these names are positively Orwellian.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      Yeah. They are insidiously nasty. Romney’s “We Believe in America” is like that. The inclusion of “we” implies “they” don’t believe in America.

      I think a more apt slogan for Romney would be “I believe in whatever it is you believe in. Honest.”

    • Greg Esres
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Perhaps Progressives should adopt a similar naming strategy, as in same-but-different:

      pro-life ==> pro-people
      pro-family =-> pro-community

      • RFW
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Both of those sound suspiciously socialist.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

          I prefer pro-person for this reason.

          We’re talking about pitting individuals, persons, against things, the merely living.

          • Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

            Careful…the current favorite tactic of the forced birth coalition is to declare personhood (using that exact term) to begin at conception.


            • gluonspring
              Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

              I am aware that they are hard at work trying to take control of the definition of the word “person” and turn it into a vacuous religious term on par with “soul”. Using that word thus carries some rhetorical risk. On the other hand, I think they should be directly confronted and resisted on this point. The idea that a blastocyst is a person should be ridiculed. And that ridicule is easier than ridiculing the claim that it’s life, or “human life”, which is true, but irrelevant.

              It’d be nice to have a term that captures the idea of brain-based sentience, but nothing leaps to mind and pro-brain-based-sentience is not so catchy.

              Even with their attempts to make “person” into a religion infused legal term of art, I still prefer it to talking about Life or Choice, because those terms are significantly tangential to the issue. “What is a person under the law” is at least the right question to ask. Their answer to that question is asinine and should be subjected to the ridicule it deserves.

      • Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        “Pro-choice” already fills that void. Who but a Nazi Redcoat Communist would deny you the right to choose your own destiny?


        • Greg Esres
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          “Pro-Choice” tends to dodge the issue. Can a mother choose to kill her 3-year-old because it infringes on her right to choose her destiny?

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

            You know the answer to that question. It would be murder. Comparing a zygote or a fetus to a living breathing child is a false equivalence. The woman’s choice makes sense prior to the developing fetus becoming a viable child.

            • gluonspring
              Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

              I’d say “actual” child. The word “viabile” is one of those red herrings that the courts adopted hoping (and failing) for an objective standard to an inherently subjective question. I think it matters not one whit whether a fetus is “viable”. Ability to survive outside the womb is irrelevant. HeLa cells have no moral standing. Not because they aren’t human, not because they can’t survive on their own, but because they have no brain, no consciousness, no awareness. What matters is whether the thing you are talking about has, right now, not in the future, not potentially, but now, conscious awareness, whether it has joys and pain and hopes and fears. Being human is not about survival, or genetics or any such thing. It’s about minds and brains. Any discussion of who/what should be protected under the law has to involve minds and brains. The biggest dodge of all is the pro-embryo camp’s trying to make it somehow about some abstract idea of “human”, about having human DNA or being something that can somehow be made to survive outside the womb.

              Actually, it may not be a dodge, per se, because some people really believe that a blastocyst can have hopes and fears, experience join and pain. It is a scientifically ignorant position, based on the dualistic notion that God drops a “soul” into a fertilized egg and this soul, even without a brain, can have memories and pain and joys and fears. People really believe this. I think they often realize how ridiculous it sounds, so many don’t say it out loud, or say it only indirectly. But it is surely the falsehood on which most of the pro-fetus, and all of the pro-embryo, movement is about. The pro-person caucus is thus struggling against different moral opinions, but against religion and scientific ignorance itself. Of course, this idea of an embryo having hopes and fears, plans and dreams, is absurd when you say it out loud. I think the pro-person camp should not waste time on red herrings like viability and so on, but make them say their ridiculous idea out loud. And then ridicule is the appropriate response.

              • gluonspring
                Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I meant to say the biggest dodge of all is making it sound like it has anything to do with “life”. It does not. Life is not part of the issue. Only consciousness. Only having hopes and fears and joys and pain. Only being an actual, not potential, person. It’s not just a dodge for them to call themselves “pro-life”, but to imply that “life”, per se, is any part of the issue. It simply is not.

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

                Good point. I think Roe v. Wade uses viability, but I agree it’s tough to define, and I agree that viable isn’t equivalent of human.

                I just read a piece in NYT about how the anti-freedom anti-abortion government-control advocates are trying to use neuroscience to define “fetal pain” as a way to limit abortions. And they want to use the epistemelogical limits of science and the resulting ambiguity to achieve the most restrictive definition for onset of fetal sensibility to pain.

              • gluonspring
                Posted October 28, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

                ‘…are trying to use neuroscience to define “fetal pain” as a way to limit abortions.’

                I know they don’t have intellectual honesty as an aim, but it’s an improvement to even be talking abou a relevant point. If they are arguing over whether a fertilized egg “is human”, as many do, it’s not even touching on anything relevant. Pain is a potentially relevant point. Now, our ability to suss out such things is of course very limited. Can you feel pain if you aren’t conscious? Do crickets feel pain? Fish? Birds? Is the pain felt by a fish the same as by a bird or a mouse or a fetus or a child? These are questions we are unlikely to answer cleanly, but at least it puts it on grounds worthy of debate. For example, if they concede that pain is the criteria, then they must concede that blastocysts don’t count and should shut up about morning after pills. And if they concede that pain is relevant for moral standing, they should similarly take some pause to consider their love of bacon.

                I don’t expect these arguments to actually work on them, but if we’re going to argue, I’d rather at least be talking about the Huneker rating of a fetus rather than some vague and mystical abstraction like “human life”, or the dualism of a “human soul”. The more we can get away from those non-starters, the better. If they are talking about pain, they are on our turf. If they are talking about “human life”, you’re essentially trying to talk them out of their religion.

          • Tulse
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

            “Pro-life” tends to dodge the issue. Given that nearly 50% of all pregnnancies end in spontaneous miscarriages, far more than end from intentional abortions, surely “pro-lifers” should be far more concerned with miscarriages. Where are the telethons? Where are the ribbon campaigns? Why aren’t evangelicals clamouring for huge amounts of research?

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            Another issue pro-life dodges: why fret over unconscious unfeeling incompletely developed tissue in the process of becoming human, which in half the cases of fertilization won’t survive anyway by natural causes, when you could put all that energy and resources into assuring that every child actually born, breathing, and living has adequate resources to live up to its full productive and fulfilling potential as an adult human being?

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            Now we’ve met the issue you claim we dodge head on (and crushed it in my opinion). Why are you dodging the issues we’ve raised?

          • gluonspring
            Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

            Let me turn this around. If there is a fire in an IVF clinic and a 3 year old on the fifth floor and a hundred embryos in the lab in front of you and you have to choose, which do you save? If you don’t say the 3 year old, you are a monster, maybe a monster of ignorance who believes those embryos are something worth saving, but a monster nonetheless. There can be no comparison of a 3 year old and an embryo. It’s grotesque to even try.

          • gluonspring
            Posted October 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

            I would say that you are right insofar as sloganeering is concerned. To ears that regard a fetus as a child in the same way as they regard a 3-year-old as a child, or even those who find sympathy with that view, life beats choice. So I think “pro-choice” doesn’t really fill the rhetorical void because it sets up the the mental dichotomy “choice vs life”, or “my freedom vs a child’s life”. This is, of course, a bullshit dichotomy based on a false premise, but it works as propaganda. I don’t know what a better phrasing would be, but almost anything to break the losing framing of life vs choice strikes me as a rhetorical improvement. Insisting that we be described as pro-person isn’t too bad. It isn’t that catchy, but it opens the door to explain what we mean. It pits one idea of person against another, which is where the real debate is. Are you for people, or merely for living *things*, like plants and fish? The real debate isn’t about freedom vs life. It’s about what gets to count as a person. Do fish count? No? Then a seven week fetus shouldn’t either.

  4. gbjames
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink


    • abrotherhoodofman
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.

      Friedman was pro-war, wasn’t he? Just sayin’. “Pro-America, indifferent-to-collateral-damage” ?

      Nice words on this OH-so-tiresome subject, but not nearly enough to get me to attend his book-signings.

  5. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    That is akin to what I have been saying, but I think Friedman dropped the ball. Protecting the life and life choices of fertile women must be the most pro-life family strategy out there.

    Making women abstain from legal abortion will make them protect themselves from pregnancies, force them to consider risky abortions and risk the health, fertility and life of multiply fertile individuals for the prospect of future fertile individuals. All in all, I can’t see how so called “pro life” is even contextually pro life.

    But sure, the ideological/statistical context of conservative choices that starkly risks lives is also a problem for the group.

    • Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      The conservative mind thinks that, if you make something illegal, people simply stop doing it.

      No, they don’t have any evidence to support that notion, or any real attempt at an explanation as to why all the evidence points the opposite direction. You might say it’s a matter of faith for them.

      And, yes. This same notion is at the heart of the war on (some) drugs…as well as the fight against civil rights for people of all sexual orientations. You see, many of them themselves want to use drugs and / or engage in “deviant” sexuality, and they’re afraid that, if it’s made legal, they just might go ahead and indulge themselves….



      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        The conservative mind thinks that, if you make something illegal, people simply stop doing it.

        The conservatives who run the asylum don’t actually believe this. When push comes to shove, they don’t really think that the law applies to them. For them, there is always a workaround. If daddy’s little girl, or the pro-life Congressman’s mistress, gets knocked up s/he doesn’t want the child, the “important people” are just as likely as anyone else to fix it it with an abortion. They have the money to make it happen whether it is legal or not. That’s the way they handled such matters before abortion was legal and they’re just fine with going back to the good ‘ol days.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          The successful job creators will find a way to avoid the laws, which are designed to control those who take no responsibility for their lives. What else matters to Republicans?

          Here we see duplication of European Aristocracy and Southern slaveholder mentalities. They have their lot, and the exalted masters are blessed by God. I’m trying not to puke.

  6. Posted October 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I just blogged on this article as well. I wasn’t very impressed…

    • pulseteresa
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Advertising your pro-god blog here really isn’t cool.

      • Posted October 29, 2012 at 8:51 am | Permalink

        I did hint at having a very different opinion on the Friedman piece…so those who are only interested in reinforcing their own beliefs and opinions would be forewarned. I was just really surprised to see an article that mangles basic biology (fertilized eggs in the ovary??? lolwut) being promoted on a pro-science site.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted October 29, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

          The piece was more political than scientific. Scientists are interested in politics, and especially interested in opposing politics based on bad science and religious superstitions.

          People are quite capable of understanding that was an error, and figuring that the intent was “uterus” rather than “ovary”. To think this accidental substitution is some kind of fatal flaw in the article is to misunderstand the point of the article entirely.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      Okay, now I made the mistake of bothering to read this. What a trivial mind you have.

      How about I slip this under my coat genius?

      Really it is new for a person being considered for a position of real adult responsibility, the US Senate, to express the opinion that a woman who is raped should have her suffering compounded by additionally forcing her to deliver the child. That is sadistic insensitive cruelty that is unusual and shocking. It’s more offensive than the moron in Oklahoma who proposed a law against putting ground up fetuses in food products. As one who has observed American political life since the mid-70s I promise you, this is shocking to hear from a US Senate candidate. The spectacular revisionist claims that this country was founded as a Christian nation are also shocking and jarring and do not jibe with the world we grew up in. I don’t know how old you are, but your way of thinking was not accepted as mainstream thinking 20 years ago.

      This is a sign of the degradation and moral and intellectual bankruptcy that the Tea Party and Christianist right-wing has injected into our national dialog.

      So answer this: if God intended this rape-child, how do you argue that God did not intend the rape? That is some kind of sleight-of-hand you are playing in your own head to get that to compute. If God intends every pregnancy, why does he then destroy around half of them? What sense does that make? I figure the only answer you can come up with is that kitchen sink evasion and abdication of all responsibility for intelligent reasoning, commonly stated as follows: “God works in mysterious ways”. Right. If you aren’t embarrassed then you really aren’t very self-aware.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Of course god also intended this to happen.

      So did god intend for these parents to be idiots and make their son suffer needlessly, or did god intend for this boy to suffer for a reason, so he commanded the parents to be sadistic murderers? Or could it be, ask yourself honestly, that this is simply the way religion poisons people’s minds with false faith?

      It looks like the parents got off on the insanity defense, i.e. they plead religion. These parents couldn’t help themselves. They thought they were doing what is right.

      But they were doing it because unintentionally malicious preachers poisoned their brains with bullshit. Are you proud of yourself now for spreading this lunacy?

  7. Posted October 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    “every fertilized egg in a woman’s ovary”
    Not in humans. Fertilization happens somewhere from the ovary to the uterus. (And while we’re giving it to God, isn’t the idea of eggs leaving the ovary and drifting into the abdominal cavity and then the Fallopian tube, or maybe not, with the risk of ectopic pregnamncy, one of the crowning achievements of Stupid Design? At least the men’s end of the arrangement has got the piping all screwed together and caulked up tight.)

    But yes, the anti-abortion people’s hijacking of “pro-life” has irked me for decades, as though everyone else is anti-life, while they can aupport guns, wars and capital punishment (and meat-eating) and still claim that name.

    The ethical issue in the abortion debate is not when life begins (Ben is right, it began once, and the eggs and sperms are alive) nor when a human begins (they are also human tissue) but when beinghood begins – or is that meaningful? What we really want to know is when human rights begin, especially the right to life, and a related question, when the experience of pain begins. My concern in the abortion debate is not “the sanctity of life” but the prevention of suffering.

    Certainly the term “unborn child” is one of the most dishonest expressions, when used for the entire timespan from conception to birth. Pregnancy is a process, not a state. But then, the religious mindset seems to be very much devoted to either/or, good/evil, “either for me or against me”.

    On the other hand, my mother and sister assured me that a woman starts to think of what is in her as “a baby” very early in pregnancy. (I wonder if this is true after rape?)

    • Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      At least the men’s end of the arrangement has got the piping all screwed together and caulked up tight.

      Ahem! I beg to differ.


    • RedSonja
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      “On the other hand, my mother and sister assured me that a woman starts to think of what is in her as “a baby” very early in pregnancy. (I wonder if this is true after rape?)”

      While that may be true for them, it’s certainly not the case for all women. I suspect that’s more likely with a wanted pregnancy, at least. But one fried of mine with a wanted pregnancy referred to the zygote/fetus as “the parasite” well into pregnancy. I suspect the fact that said parasite was making her wretched with morning sickness, heartburn, and exhaustion had something to do with it.

  8. Claimthehighground
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to be late for choir rehearsal Jerry. I was busy reading the Friedman piece in the Times. Did I miss any preaching?

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      What exactly is the high ground? Is that where one stands to create the impression that they are above it all?

      • Gordon Hill
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        Beats me… I’m reluctant to look up… 😉

      • Claimthehighground
        Posted October 29, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

        No, Jeff, it is in reference to how the religious have claimed (with no rational basis) to hold the correct answers to all of life’s questions. CTHG is the road many of us are on to make reason & evidence based inquiry the default position, and render religious claims as the outliers.

        • Jeff Johnson
          Posted October 29, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          okay, thanks.

          • Claimthehighground
            Posted October 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

            Welcome aboard

  9. Pray Hard
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Religiorepublitards are only pro life until a child is born. After that point, the children are nothing but fresh meat.

    • Posted October 29, 2012 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Bumper sticker:

      “Republican – pro-life until you are born.”

  10. Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Misuse of the phrase “Pro-life” is something that’s annoyed me as well, although more because of the insinuation that the opponents of “pro-life” would be in some way “anti-life”. I’ve written about this recently on my own blog:

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      It was a framing win. In the rock-scissors-paper of sloganeering, life beats choice.

      • FastLane
        Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        That’s why I don’t call them pro-lifers. I, and most of the progressives I know, call them what they are: Anti-choicers. 🙂

    • Lars
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Ursula LeGuin made the point that “pro-life” can be taken to be the short form for “pro-liferationist”, with all of the concern for any consequences of such a perspective implicit. Certainly “pro-lifers” tend to display a horror of any sort of fertility control.
      Funny how Rand tended to demonize anyone who didn’t think as she thought they should as being “anti-life” as well. Particularly coming from a woman who viewed all forms of non-human life with, at best, disinterest, and who was so fearful of contamination that she poured boiling water on dirty dishes to kill germs.

    • raven
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      I just call them what they are.

      Forced birthers and female slavers.

      It’s completely accurate whereas pro-life is a lie.

      These self described prolifers have sponsored xian terrorism for decades while killing 8 or so MD’s and wounding several hundred people. While routinely threatening to kill anyone who gets in their way, one of which is myself.

  11. Ashlyn
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I trust women to make decisions about their uteri and about any potential people that may start growing in them. I also trust them to carry guns responsibly and to buy their own damn soda.

  12. Brygida Berse
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    For quite a long time, conservatives have excelled at creating slogans that frame political issues in their favor. Despite being almost always wrong, and sometimes outright lies, these sound-bites have been extremely effective at misleading the public (and especially the part of the public not blessed with attention span greater than that of a fruit fly). In addition to “pro-life”, think of “family values”, “just say no”, “support the troops”, “small government”, “taxes punish success”, “tax-and-spend liberals”, “socialized medicine”, “soft on crime” etc, etc. On the other hand, progressives don’t have much success in this regard, as they tend to recognize the complexity of the issues and to consider various points of view.

  13. curt nelson
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    That makes me like Thomas Friedman.

  14. Gordon Hill
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m pro life. Even more I’m pro living: being responsible for my behavior and accountable for my actions.

  15. jose
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    So how can this problem be addressed?

    The “it gets better” campaign was very successful. It became okay to favor gay marriage. I think the human contact in the form of videos from real people and their real experiences was central. Gut-level human connection is powerful, particularly among people who aren’t interested enough to challenge what they were taught and pay attention to reasons and arguments.

    I don’t think abortion being a secret, shameful thing is doing the cause any favors. The lack of actual testimonies makes it easy to portray abortion as a traumatizing and often mistaken decision that is greatly regretted afterwards, that destroys marriages, etc. The lack of actual pictures makes it easy to lie to the public with pictures of babies who were born dead as the victims of abortion, and so on.

    • gluonspring
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      I am puzzled by the “legal-safe-rare” kind of position that many Democratic leaders seem to embrace. It sounds stupid on the face of it to me. Look, if that embryo is a full blown person, rare doesn’t cut it. Can you imagine a slogan that wants murder to be safe but rare? On the other hand, if it’s just a clump of flesh, like an appendix, then it’s just bizarre to talk about making it rare. Who cares if it’s rare? This position concedes the whole argument to the opposition saying, in effect, that there is something shameful about abortion. I honestly don’t see how they can imagine that such a position can lead to anything but defeat.

      • Erp
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        legal, safe, rare because abortion is only part of the issue. Another part is access to effective methods of birth control to prevent pregnancy and knowledge of how to use them. In other words ideally any pregnancy started should be a wanted and expected pregnancy. Birth control does fail and pregnancies sometimes do not go as hoped (e.g., it turns out the mother’s health is at more at risk than she is willing to take or the fetus has abnormalities or other things happen) so abortion must remain a legal, accessible, and safe option.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          That makes sense. Rare in the sense of not needed is a good goal for a number of reasons. Maybe I’ve just been hearing them wrong and that is all they mean by this phrase. However, when I hear certain Democratic politicians say this they have come across to me as essentially admitting that abortion is tragic. The impression they have given me, maybe it’s a false impression but it is the one I get, is to be saying to the pro-fetus crowd that, “Hey, we’re with you that it’s a tragedy, we just think there are cases where this tragedy is the lesser of two tragedies.” Insofar as they are saying that, and maybe they aren’t, but if they are it strikes me as conceding the major point of the opposition.

      • jose
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        That position makes more sense regarding pregnancies than abortion. You would want pregnancies to be safe and wanted, so most pregnancies end with a wanted, healthy newborn and a happy, healthy mother.

      • Gary W
        Posted October 28, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        This position concedes the whole argument to the opposition saying, in effect, that there is something shameful about abortion.

        Not shameful, but possibly tragic, especially for abortions late in pregnancy. It is not necessary to view a fetus as a human person to believe that it’s more than just worthless tissue, you know.

        • gluonspring
          Posted October 28, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

          I’m going to take back my comment. At least as it is commonly understood.

          I suppose the category “abortion” is too broad for the point I had in mind. On the one end, I really can’t see that a blastocyst has any more moral standing than a rock and any talk of trying to make blastocyst destruction rare strikes me as conceding an absurd belief on the part of the pro-embryo crowd, namely that there is some soul implanted in the thing, or that there is something special or magical about it above and beyond the magic of your appendix. That’s just rubbish in my view, and no quarter should be given to that view. On the other hand, at some point on the other end of the process when I would still value the life of the mother over the life of the unborn, it does start to seem tragic and increasingly morally ambiguous. So insofar as we are talking about that, it is perfectly reasonable to want to make it rare. And, at all points, insofar as it is difficult or traumatic for the mother, again we’d want it to be rare. So I walk back my statement at least for, let’s say, anything that has a brain. If it doesn’t have a brain, that’s a call for education. No reason to even start to value things without brains.

          While by and large I think the only relevant factor in the moral standing of an embryo or fetus is where it falls on a Huneker kind of scale, I could also be pressed to concede that there is another factor that shouldn’t be ignored entirely and that is our innate human reaction to things that look human. We are wired to respond to things that look human in a certain way, and I can see that it might not be desirable or wise to violate this innate sense too overtly. So, even if I were to discover that a newborn baby was, on the Huneker scale, well below a cricket (unlikely, but supposing), I would still not advocate convenience infanticide because I would be a little bit concerned about the psychic and or social damage such a thing might do given how we have been pre-wired by evolution.

  16. James Weedman
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Can science answer any of these political, philosophical, religious or ethical questions that are raised in this post?

  17. Posted October 28, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget the death penalty. It never ceases to amaze me that the same people who call themselves pro-life are the very first in line to pull the switch to kill someone who quite possibly could be innocent. Where’s your sanctity of life, turn the other cheek, insert Biblical passage here to support anti-abortion view, now.

    • Miles_Teg
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      On the other hand, many people who want to preserve the life of murderers have no problem with abortion. If pro death penalty/pro life Republicans are inconsistent then so are anti death penalty/pro choice Democrats.

      I’m not taking sides on the aboron debate just saying that there are some cases where guilt is clear cut and the role involved richly deserve death. We all know cases like this, if you don’t then Google “bega school murders” or “snowtown bodies in barrels murders”.

      I also would rather not execute someone if there was creditable doubt about their guilt, but I some cases the evidence is overwhelming.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted October 29, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

        I also would rather not execute someone if there was creditable doubt about their guilt, but I some cases the evidence is overwhelming.

        As someone who is against the death penalty, I feel that the problem with this point of view is that the court system in most western countries has a binary position on a verdict: guilty or not guilty. There is not a verdict “guilty but with some credible doubt” or “absolutely no doubt about it guilty as all hell” Even confessions and multiple appeals cannot remove the possibility of a wrongful conviction and execution.

        Imagine how you personally would feel as they are about to end your life, knowing that you are innocent.

        • Miles_Teg
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m skeptical bout the death penalty. But in practice I believe the state can and should execute the worst murderes. But being “practically certain” makes me reluctant.

          I wouldn’t want to be wrongly executed, nor would I want to spend 25 years inside for something I didn’t do.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

            A very relevant point though is, that if you’re doing 25 years inside and fresh evidence (e.g. DNA) crops up, you can get a retrial. If you’ve been executed, oh well, too bad.

            I think the worst thing the justice system can ever do, is execute an innocent man.

            I’m generally against the death penalty for many reasons, I think I might countenance it for the very worst murderers (serial killers etc), but ONLY where the facts and identity of the murderer were truly beyond all possible doubt.

            • Jeff Johnson
              Posted October 31, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

              It’s difficult to define where to draw the line on which killers are bad enough to qualify as “the worst”. There would always be problematic marginal cases no matter how you defie the boundary.

              Our justice system uses the standards of innocent until proven guilty, and beyond all reasonable doubt, because it is presumed better to let a guilty person go free sometimes than to falsely convict an innocent person ever.

              You might say it’s predicated on the principle of erring on the side of caution, where injustice against the innocent is valued as worse than injustice in favor of the guilty. But in many places, and based on the high profile cases reported it seems primarily in conservative red states, it seems more important to convict and punish somone than to make sure it’s the right person. Many Texans think their large lead over other states in number of executions is something to be proud of. But tainted eye witness accounts too often cause death penalty convictions lacking other solid corroborating evidence.

              I think there is a lot of doubt in the case of Troy Davis, who was executed in Georgia last year. Police pressured witnesses. It seems most witnesses didn’t know exactly who had done the shooting until after being shown a photo of Davis by police. Then they started identifying Davis, who admittedly was at the scene but claimed to not be the shooter.

              There seems to be a lot of doubt in the Texas case of Todd Willingham. In both the Davis and Willingham cases it seems public political pressure discouraged authorities from taking action to stay executions in cases with with problematic evidence, and clearly reasonable doubts.

              It seems to me if we really want to err on the side of caution, we should abolish the death penalty. The number of convicted death row inmates who have been exonerated by later evidence, and the cases of actual executions in the face of doubts argues in favor of abolishing the death penalty.

              To top that off, i’ve read that the per inmate cost of administering a rigorous death penalty process with safeguards is greater than simply imprisoning convicts for life.

              So why execute murderers? To satisfy blood lust and vengeance is the only reason I can see. And I can’t see any reason why that should be a goal of our justice system.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:16 am | Permalink

                I tend to agree with you almost 100%.

                My standards for ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ would be extremely tough to meet, bearing in mind the fallibility of even eyewitness identification and the tendency of many police forces to think that their job is done when they’ve found a likely suspect to charge with the crime.

                So my idea of ‘worst cases’ would be e.g. a school massacre where the gunman was caught red-handed, gun in hand; or a serial killer where his DNA was found all over several victims. That sort of thing. Anders Breivik for example. Almost anything short of that would not qualify for me, such as the cases you’ve mentioned.

                I do agree that your justice system (like most) is nowhere near good enough to be able to justify the death penalty since it’s virtually certain that a considersable number of innocent people will be executed. That to me is unacceptable.

                The US is far from alone in having rather shaky standards of proof, here in NZ there are a number of people in jail who were just picked, so far as I can tell, by the police as being the ‘most likely suspect’. It would be cynical to suggest their attitude is always ‘this is a high-profile case, we need a conviction, doesn’t much matter who’ but certainly some of these cases are well short of ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’. Fortunately we don’t have the death penalty here.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted October 29, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        If pro death penalty/pro life Republicans are inconsistent then so are anti death penalty/pro choice Democrats.

        This is completely absurd unless you make some big assumptions. If you murder a person who has been born, you deprive them of the life they are actively participating in, planning, aware of, hoping for, ets. You also deprive those who love them, mothers, fathers, wives, children, etc. You take away by force that which is independent, autonomous, conscious, aware, life.

        In the case of terminating the process of fetal development, it is the mother who chooses. It is the source and giver of life who exercises autonomy to decide not to give and nurture life. And the “victim” in this case knows and feels nothing, is unaware of the prospects of life, has no emotional bonds, shared experiences, hopes and dreams of the future.

        This choice, by the way, is often made automatically by nature, which spontaneously aborts around half of fertilized embryos. Where is all the sentimental outcry over this tragedy of human biology?

        The equivalence of a fetus and a living person is entirely false and disingenuous. The degree of harm is not even close to comparable, and you obviously haven’t thought much about this to say what you have said. You are just spouting a slogan that you think confirms your preconceived notion of what life is, and what it’s source is.

        I’ll assume, correct me if I’m wrong, that perhaps you think “life begins at conception”, another of those overworn mindless mantras, like “marriage is between a man and a women”, that are way too oft robotically repeated and far to little seriously considered. If you do believe life begins at conception, tell me this: what changes between the moment before a sperm and ovum come into contact, and that moment of contact yielding fertilization? If the blastocyst is so precious to merit the label of “life”, why not the precursors, the sperm and the egg? Why may they be so casually destroyed without concern, but a fertilized embryo can not? I can’t see any solid foundation for claiming such a dramatic difference between the value of two tiny bits of biological material or the union of those two bits of material.

        • Miles_Teg
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

          Pardon me for not saying much about what you’ve said, but I don’t see the point. I *have* been thinking about this issue, for about 40 years, and my view is far more nuanced than you think.

          • Jeff Johnson
            Posted October 30, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            If you think killing an adult human being is equivalent to aborting a fetus, it doesn’t seem your nuance, whatever it may be, is contributing to clarity.

            • Miles_Teg
              Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink


              Where did I say that?

              • Jeff Johnson
                Posted October 31, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink

                When you said that if defending the fetus while supporting the death penalty is contradictory, so is supporting abortion while opposing the death penalty.

                The only way that makes sense to me is if you are drawing an equivalence between terminating a fetus and executing an adult. Anti-choice conservatives do this when they call abortion “murder”, and call liberals “baby-killers”, a practice that demonstrates both their stupidity and their vile natures.

                If they are not equivalent, but one is a more egregious interruption or desecration of life than the other, then the liberal and conservative positions are no longer both inconsistent; one is consistent and the other is not.

                So which way will you have it: is there an equivalent contradiction in the two political stances, or is there a fundamental difference in the harm done by abortion and execution of an adult, which renders the conservative position incoherent and the liberal one consistent?

  18. Laura Norder
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Is the Republican side of the abortion debate even about life? Could it be that it’s really about sex, and specifically enjoyable recreational sex as opposed to procreational sex? The latter is good and the former is sinful (for the want of a better word). It’s almost as if pregnancy is regarded as some kind of punishment and opting for an abortion is having the pleasure and avoiding the responsibility.

    I was surprised to hear during the Republican primaries and the debates on contraception, that this view includes not only extramarital sex, but also extends to sex within marriage.

    There seems to be a strong judgmental streak in the Republican world view that, in large part, boils down to weird (at least to me) issues around sex.

    • Miles_Teg
      Posted October 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      When I did first year anthropology years back the lecturer summarised his year long course in one sentence. “It’s all about control.”

      That goes for Republicans, and everyone else.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted October 29, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Right. On this issue, abortion, conservatives want to control others, and liberals want to give women control of themselves. Conservatives also want to control which humans can love and marry one another.

        It is ironic that on other issues, liberals want to control others such as polluting businesses, possessors of dangerous firearms, especially assault weapons and high capacity magazines, banks who manipulate and exploit unwitting customers, and asking a fair share from taxpayers who benefit from rule of law, organized and up-to-date infrastructure, a healthy and educated work force, equal opportunities for health and education, civil order, emergency services and other forms of insurance and security, and fair well regulated marketplaces offering economic freedom and opportunities for prosperity.

        The pattern I see is that when liberals want to exercise control, it is to prevent real physical harms, whereas conservatives show no interest in such control. They are interested only in freedom to absolutely control themselves, never yielding to others or societal conventions (the spoiled teenager Ayn Randian libertarian impulse), and to use the government power they claim to hate in order to exercise control over others (pregnant women, homosexuals) whose actions cannot possibly harm anyone.

        So there is control, and then there is control, not all the same.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 4:25 am | Permalink

          +1 !!

    • Occam
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

      The Onion/i> is, as usual, surgically accurate in its excoriating spoof:

      “Of course I don’t condone sexual assault. I’m just saying that sometimes when a woman is violated and impregnated against her will, it’s actually a really good thing in the end, because God’s rape of Mary gave us Jesus, and Jesus saved mankind from sin. So that’s one example right there.” At press time, multiple male Senate candidates in their 60s remained divided between those who believe pregnancies resulting from rape are biologically impossible and those who believe they are the divine will of God.,30083/

  19. dth
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Pro choice is losing the argument.

    I am in favor of abortion because of eugenics, which was the initial motivation of progressives, liberals and mainstream academics and intellectuals to push for legalization.

    “Choice” wasn’t an an issue. The pro-abortion camp was in fact anti-choice. When the Social Democrats came to power in Sweden, one of the first things they did was to legalize abortion and introduce forced sterilization. This was seen as part of the same package, especially in conjunction with the welfare state. Keynes was the director of the British Eugenics Society and he was distressed that the welfare state he proposed was not to be counterbalanced with eugenic measures.

    I furthermore don’t find value or life in other people’s fetuses, so I am pro-abortion by default as well.


    Tom Friedman is flailing his arms helplessly. All he produced is a list of red-herrings that are besides the point (and can be effectively addressed point by point by a conservative).

    Either an abortion ban is “pro-life” on the margin, or it isn’t. It doesn’t matter if it is counter-balanced by Mayor Bloombergs bans of “giant sugary drinks”, “smoking in bars and city parks to reduce cancer” and his “support for mitigating disruptive climate change”.

    Yes, for those who haven’t read the article: Tom Friedman seriously tries to equate abortion of fetuses with soda and apparently believes that he is convincing anybody.

    Bloomberg’s “support” against climate change is meaningless. Bill Gates has pointed out that population size is the most important factor in the carbon emission equation and in resource depletion in general. All realistic efficiency improvements are easily gobbled up by newly added population. Any relinquishment of resources and energy by the wealthy will instantly be used up by someone less well off. The bottom line doesn’t change and saving the planet is about the bottom line.

    AGW can only be stopped by controlling population (which is exactly what Bill Gates attempts to do). This is why many conservatives claim that AGW was concocted by the anti-life crowd as an excuse.


    It is quite remarkable that the pro-life side has not moved an inch on the abortion issue, despite secularization and liberalization on countless other fronts.

    The pro-abortion side on the other hand has given up its rationale and attempts to be more bleeding heart than those who weep over poor fetuses.

    That doesn’t look good to me.

  20. Miles_Teg
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    You’re not preaching to the converted, as we say in Australia. If I had a vote next month I’d vote straight Libertarian. Both parties and their lead candidates are catastrophically bad in my opinion.

    And while I’m not committed either way on the abortion issue I am grossed out by the idea of late term abortions.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 2:26 am | Permalink

      If you are concerned about late term abortions, you should fight to make abortions legal. Statistically in Sweden the rate of late term abortions dropped to a small rate (substantiated by medical concerns only) when abortion became legal. [ref: *

      Since late term abortions are riskier, the process of getting them approved more onerous and only allow for medical reasons, women choose to have an early abortion if they need one.

      * From sw Wikipedia through Google Translate:

      “Since Sweden had abortion 1 January 1975, the number of abortions each year fluctuated between 30 000 and 38 000. [5] Prior to 1975 allowed abortion under certain circumstances, and from 1965 until the amendment was changed practice gradually so that women were granted abortion application called 2 medical certificate.

      The number of teenage abortions declined sharply from 1975 (29.7 abortions per thousand women under age 20) to 1995 (16.7). Since then, the number of teenage abortions increased again to 25.4 per 1000 in 2006. Over 80% of all known teenage pregnancies terminated. [6]

      Later abortions than these are relatively rare in Sweden. In general, this is not about unwanted, possibly unplanned, pregnancies. When men and women today are older when they have children increases the risk of serious birth defects in fetuses. Many of the available survey methods can not provide information on fetal health until after pregnancy weeks 16-18. With the delay of information, discussion, reflection and decisions that go at least two weeks from the time of the test to the test results and decisions. These cases are dealt with urgently in women’s clinics because of the very demanding psychosocial situation that prevails for the couple in question.

      In Sweden, the National Board for consent to abortions after pregnancy week 18 should be performed. [2] [7] In the event the National Board believes that the requirements for special circumstances are met and that the abortion application so, these are severe malformations of the fetus (eg absence of the cerebrum), illness of the woman, who preeclampsia with HELLP complications or rarely difficult social conditions. Welfare should never give permission to late abortion if the fetus is likely to be viable and have no chance of survival, which under current practice is considered by week 22.”

    • RedSonja
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

      In the US at least, late term abortions are exceedingly difficult to obtain, and are legal only if the mother’s health is endangered or if the fetus is non-viable then, or will not survive long past birth. It’s not like women are saying “You know what? I know we had the shower and all, but I’m just not feeling this baby thing anymore! Off to Planned Parenthood I go!”

      Also, deciding on the legality of medical procedures based on their perceived level of “grossness” is a terrible idea.

    • Tulse
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      There are no abortion restrictions at all in Canada, and the rate of abortions past 20 weeks is 0.7%. In the US, with its very restrictive laws, the rate is double that.

  21. Miles_Teg
    Posted October 28, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    I had a Californian pen pal in the Seventies who was a liberal Democrat and said she hated Republicans because they were pro war and anti choice. I mentioned a story I’d heard about a woman who’d had an abortion so that she could wear a nice frock to her sister’s wedding. My pen pal was outraged and said such a woman should be “sewn shut”. Some other pro choice people I mentioned this too also were outraged. So I don’t regard liberals as a monolithic bloc on tis issue.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      The story about the frivolous abortion is probably apocryphal, invented by an anti-abortionist because it embodies the false accusations they always make. I’m sure there is some chance it could happen, but it is unlikely and too perfectly crafted as a political weapon. If it did happen, I think it is rare, as rare as the serial killer or other completely unfeeling psychopath.

      Regardless of the veracity of this suspect tale, pro-choice for me involves trusting women to know what to do, and to exercise that choice with some sense of responsibility. Of course there is resentment if one feels it is exercised carelessly, but this would never justify exercising state power to take possession of a woman’s body and force her to gestate and bear a child. That idea makes me way angrier than the idea of a frivolous airhead aborting to look good in a dress.

      When I was in college my girlfriend got pregnant. We both decided we were not ready for parenthood, nor for marriage, that we were too young and not settled enough. It just was not the right time, so we went to a clinic together and she had an abortion. I was with her during the procedure, holding her hand.

      I never felt any concern about the baby. But the experience was emotionally quite painful, both because of my girlfriend’s pain (not excruciating but very unpleasant), but more so because of the emotional sense of loss, the sense of having made a very hard choice, which inevitably comes with some regret. Many times I have wondered what that child might have become, and of how it may have enriched my life. Other times, I’m glad that child wasn’t born. I’m certain the child doesn’t care in the slightest, never had hopes or dreams or the slightest inkling of life. The child no more cares than I shall care about anything after I’m dead.

      In spite of the fact that I’m pro-choice, I’m not anti-human, or anti-life, or unfeeling or cold or callous. An I think very few people are. I’m sure many pro-lifers are less caring than pro-choice people, because their obsession is more with God’s anger than it is with human concerns of the welfare of the child, or of all the children that are born.

      Of course abortion is something serious that should be treated seriously, as any medical procedure should be, and the decision should consider all those involved and impacted by it. I simply don’t think the child is one of those impacted by it. It knows nothing, feels nothing, and has no more awareness than any of us had of the billions of years before we were born.

      • RedSonja
        Posted October 29, 2012 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        THANK YOU.

        Frankly, even if the strawabortion story was real, is that really someone society should be forcing to be a parent anyway? What do we gain by forcing women to give birth to unwanted children?

        As far as I can tell, the forced-birther crowd is mostly interested in punishing the (poor) sluts. It’s not about the children at all.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Permalink


          Exactly what I was going to say!

      • Posted October 29, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        The story about the frivolous abortion is probably apocryphal, invented by an anti-abortionist because it embodies the false accusations they always make.

        It’s also completely irrelevant.

        Part of the whole idea of freedom is granting people the freedom to do that which you disagree with.

        It is entirely reasonable for somebody to think that abortion is anywhere on the spectrum from mortal sin to icky and therefore not want women to get abortions, but also to believe that women should be the ones to make the choice for themselves as with any other medical procedure.

        I’d generally rather people didn’t get cosmetic surgery. But I believe that cosmetic surgery should be safe and legal (even if I wish it were rare).

        I’d generally rather people didn’t use recreational drugs. But I believe in full decriminalization (even if I hope that drug use is rare).

        And, too, I’d prefer women not have abortions, and not only because I think it’s better that people use other forms of birth control. But I also believe that it should only be the woman in consultation with her physician who should make decisions about this particular surgical procedure — same as for any other surgical procedure. Any restrictions or regulations that apply to abortions must also apply equally to reconstructive shoulder repair or a liver transplant or a nose job or a tooth filling.



      • dth
        Posted October 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        Russian women have 107 abortions per 100 live births. Other nations on the other hand are in the single digits. The enormeous range of abortion rates among european and western countries despite comparable legality cannot possibly be explained by objective socio-economic calculations of rational actors.

        Culture and mores play a large role.

        Lots of women have frivolous, unprotective sex with strangers, about 20% drink and smoke during pregnancy and so on.
        And these are precisely the kind of women who should consider an abortion. That was the main motivation for progressive, social democratic and liberal elites to push for legalization. (to limit the negative effects of liberalization of society and the welfare state)


        The reflectiveness and consideration you and your girlfriend have shown indicate that you would have been perfectly adequate parents.

        I would like to recommend Bryan Caplan’s book
        “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.”

        Caplan tries to put educated types at ease, who worry way too much about parenting and income.

        Parenting and income have zero longterm effect on children, except for cases of abject poverty or serious abuse.

        • Laura Norder
          Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

          The decision to have an abortion is more than an issue of being a parent versus not being a parent. According to the US Census Bureau 2012 Statistical Abstract National Data Book, for the year 2007, 59.1% of the abortions performed were for women who were already parents.

  22. greyhound1405
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    I assume that if he is pro life he is also opposed to capital punishments, wars as well as abortions, or is he like all the other hypocrites, saving the babies so they can become killing machines for government!

  23. CortxVortx
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    There is “pro-choice” and there is “pro-birth”.

    Both “pro-abortion” and “pro-life” are emotionally-charged misnomers.

  24. Posted October 29, 2012 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I too was startled — although I don’t like Friedman enough to care what he thought. This was one of his pieces though that I liked a lot. A long time ago I was wondering why the women’s rights crowd let the (mostly while male) misogynist crowd get away with “pro life.” I did not realize then how powerful simple slogans can be, especially with people who don’t or can’t think much. Yeah, I know: should have remembered Orwell.

  25. Kevin
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    referring to early-term abortions

    But your candidate voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted October 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Which candidate is that?

  26. gluonspring
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    While I appreciate what Friedman is trying to do here, I still think the pro-life label itself needs serious pushback, and not only in Friedman’s sense of highlighting the whole-outcome of life for people or trying to draw out the hypocrisy of caring so much about life before birth than life after. We need to forcefully reject the asinine premise that “life” is even a relevant category in the debate. Rather than try to claim the pro-life label, which will only perpetuate the myth that some mystical “life stuff” is what we are talking about, I think we’d be better off to just go ahead and say we’re NOT pro-life, and follow it up by saying we are pro-person. Set up a dichotomy that actually means something. I’m proud to say I’m not pro-life. I’m not for life at all! Living things are commonplace, they are food and fodder and disposable. I am, however, very strongly pro-person. So the question is, are you for people, or merely for living *things*, like plants and fish? The real debate isn’t about freedom vs life. It’s about what gets to count as a person. Do fish count? No? Then a seven week fetus shouldn’t either.

    As long as this fundamental issue isn’t addressed, as long as we allow them to keep it out of frame or to get away with the slight-of-hand that life = person, or some vague definition of “human life” = person, they will have a rhetorical advantage. I don’t think it will be enough to merely point out the inconsistency of worrying about the unborn more than the born. It will be necessary to contrast people with things. Are you pro-people, or pro-things?

  27. FastLane
    Posted October 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and I fully support abortion up to the 18th birthday, or whenever they move out of the house. HTH. 😉

  28. Posted October 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been arguing for a long time that the “real pro-life” people need to take the term back. Glad to see people finally catching on. This is the second similar article I’ve seen in the past week. I hope it catches some momentum.

%d bloggers like this: