Galt on Abortion and Bias

Jane Galt (the sharpest woman I’ve met) describes how the abortion debate is full of bias and bias accusations:

My favourite, though, are the posts where everyone speculates on the motives of the other side. … So what [pro-lifers] obviously really care about is screwing up women’s lives so that they’ll have to spend the rest of them barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen making lemonade for Pa and his friends when they come in from a hard day of plowing and oppressing colored people. And pro-choicers don’t actually care about women; all they’re really interested is enforcing a radical feminist agenda on the rest of us so girls won’t be able to wear dresses and lipstick any more and boys will have to have their genitalia surgically removed at puberty and replaced with a copy of The Feminine Mystique. …

There is quite a lot of reasoning from the result to the premise on both sides: people who think that it is of surpassing importance for women to take their place at the helm of half the world’s institutions notice that this would be much more difficult in a world containing both frequent sex with people you don’t intend to spawn with, and restricted access to abortion; they therefore reason that abortion must be moral. Conversely, the pro-life side notes that if you deny the obligation of a woman to carry her pregnancy to term, all sorts of other family obligations become harder to logically support, and therefore conclude that abortion must be wrong. Since the pro-life side generally does not care so much about total workplace parity, and the pro-choice side generally does not care so much about preserving traditional family structures, they conclude with some truth that there is a somewhat questionable moral discounting going on across the divide. But the sin is sufficiently equally distributed that this is not enough reason to dismiss the moral heft of the other side’s arguments.

Like Jane, I’ve not "found a well-reasoned answer to the abortion question," and remain uncertain.

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  • http://xuenay.livejournal.com/ Kaj Sotala

    I have not seen abortion debates discussed from the angle you’re describing, but the debates I’ve followed have concentrated more on whether or not aborting a fetus can be termed equivalent to murder. It seems that a similar issue with both sides being partially right emerges there as well: it seems arbitrary to decide that a fetus becomes a person when it’s born (or when it’s X months old), and thus accepting abortion would possibly mean that we’d have to accept the killing of children (or adults!) who were already born, as well. On the other hand, it seems equally arbitrary to say that killing a fetus is murder, but preventing sperm from impregnanting an egg cell is alright – after all, they both lead to the same outcome. Logically, if we banned abortion, we’d need to ban contraception as well, and the combination of those two would obviously lead to intolerable results.

    So yes, the abortion debate does seem to be heavy with bias.

  • michael vassar

    Well, we could allow baby selling. That would probably work. It’s one example of enabling coasian bargaining between pro-choice and pro-life sides. There are other ways, for instance, pro-life groups could contract with non-members for the non-members to give up their right to abortion, either absolutely or excepting certain events.
    We could require birth-control implants at age 14 or so in all women who can take them without significant health side-effects and require a fee for the removal of said implants.
    We could have all aborted fetuses cryogenically frozen for the indefinite future and let future agents deal with the problem.
    We could cede the issue back to the states.
    But frankly, I don’t see any plausible argument for abortion being a significant ethical problem. Our real problem is people being angry/upset about abortion, which genuinely causes them distress. Unfortunately, it seems to me that such people are being used, and that if abortion was legal, the political beneficiaries of their distress would ensure that most of them became upset about something else.

    Also, unfortunately, I think Jane is wrong about “Admittedly, there are some crazy people on both sides who really do cherish a vision in which [women leave the workforce and get back to having like, a zillion babies/men and women merge into a single androgenous species].” only describing a small minority. I think that the majority on both sides are what she is calling “crazy people”.

  • Buzzcut

    >>On the other hand, it seems equally arbitrary to say that killing a fetus is murder, but preventing sperm from impregnanting an egg cell is alright – after all, they both lead to the same outcome.

    Arguably, the sperm or the egg are still a part of you, genetically speaking. But once the sperm has fertilized the egg, the embryo is genetically distinct from either parent. It is a unique human being at that point, and deserves the protections that naturally arise from being so.

  • Buzzcut

    What about “being born” bias? We’re biased towards abortion, because we were born and didn’t have to experience the pain of being aborted firsthand.

  • http://www.ProductivityShock.com Jason Briggeman

    What do you do now with regard to abortion? If you saw one happening in front of you, what would you do? Would you be willing, say, to lock up the abortionist? To take his wallet? Would you be willing to confine the woman until she gives birth? Physically to prevent her from taking action against the child?

    Once you have the answer to those questions, you know how you stand.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Jason, someone who is uncertain would expect their choices to depend more on other details of the context, as overall principle would get less of a weight. In particular, they would be more reluctant to pay rule enforcement costs.

  • michael vassar

    Robin: the pro-lifers are, by definition, saying not merely that abortion is wrong, but that we should pay the rule enforcement costs.

    Buzzcut: Genetic distinctness is irrelevant. By that logic you can’t not use an egg or sperm which has mutations. Alternatively, you can kill your identical twin, or at the very least can have a single fetus abortion in the case of identical twins but not in the case of incest, rape, or risk to maternal life.

  • Ryan

    It really is an ethical problem, and it seems incorrect for anyone to simply decalre it sovled. Do we understand consciousness so completely? When exactly does it begin and end? If we render any person ‘unconscious’ is it no longer murder if we kill them? Each and every one of us was helpless in the past, reliant on others for survival, and not conscious to the degree we are now.

    These are the kinds of questions we should be able to answer before we say this is a solved issue. A hard-line biblical pro-life position is absurd, but so is a hard line liberal pro-choice, ‘women’s rights’ style position.

  • Doug S.

    I support Peter Singer’s view. It’s an unpopular position, but questions of morality are about as related to rationality as questions of beauty are. (/me shrugs)

  • http://n8o.r30.net/ Nato Welch

    I tend to think that the “present capacity to suffer”, which develops at the formation and operation of the central nervous system at the end of the first trimester is a perfectly viable and reasonable compromise point.

    On the pro life side, you satisfy all the folks appalled by partial-birth abortions and brandishing gross posters. On the pro-choice side, you satisfy those insisting on allowing the vast majority of abortions.

    In so doing, you also affirm a model of personhood that rests outside of genes themselves, and more on particular qualities of actually living beings.

  • Zhong Lu

    There isn’t a “well-reasoned answer to the abortion question.” Everybody should just draw an arbitary line based on their gut instincts and say “here is where I stand on abortion,” and accepting that other people may draw the line at a different place. That way no one will commit the fallacy of demonizing the other side.

  • TGGP

    One of the most unusual takes on the abortion issue is from Walter “Defending the Undefendable” Block, who basically says that abortion is an abomination worse than slavery, the Holocaust and child abuse and should be legal until technology has advanced to a certain point.

  • Scott W

    As mentioned, the nucleus of the debate is the designation of when does life begins. It is at that point where the state could logically intervene to protect the new citizen. Birth? Conception? Somewhere in between?

    With regard to bias, there are two competing notions implicit in the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” At the extremes, pro-choicers have a bias toward absolute liberty (of the mother) until delivery; and, pro-lifers have a bias toward absolute protection (of the baby) beginning at conception. The designation of when life begins is biased toward which ideal one supports (liberty or protection).

    The unique part of this debate is that the ideals do not even pertain to the same being: liberty is associated with the mother and protection with the baby. Perhaps Prof. Hansen hasn’t formed a well-reasoned answer because the debate tends to reduce to apples and oranges.

  • Maddog

    The 900 lb gorilla in the room is the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. That decision permanently shut off discussion of the issue.

    What we need to have but cannot is a national debate about when human and constitutional rights accrue to the individual. But we cannot. Arguments about abortion are a red herring.

    The discussions we have today are further fraught with problems. Can we really know our true position if there is no consequence to whatever position we espouse? I believe that those on the far right or left probably can. Their belief/position is religious in nature and highly unlikely to change. But for those in the middle the lack of discernable consequences for holding any position makes any position held to be less reliable.

    Until Roe v. Wade is overturned the discussion for most of us is academic.

    The Supreme Courts attempt to quell roiling public debate with god-like proclamation resulted in the opposite – the codification of roiling public debate.

  • lpdbw

    Off topic for this post, but I think on topic for this whole blog:

    Is there anything that should be said about a blog named “overcoming bias” where a poster states: “Jane Galt (the sharpest woman I’ve met)…”?

    While this is certainly a statement of personal opinion or a personal observation, and thus inarguable, it seems either gratuitous or superfluous.

    What does it mean to be the sharpest woman you’ve met? Sharp, but not as sharp as the sharpest man you’ve met? Sharper than any Black you’ve met, but not as sharp as the sharpest Asian? Does Megan have a chance to become the smartest person you’ve met?

    As it happens, I admire Megan, though I actually often disagree with her, and found your blog through hers, so please be aware I’m actually curious at your turn of phrase, and neither sniping nor picking nits.

    Well, to be honest, maybe picking nits just a little bit.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    lpdbw (did your mommy really call you that?), I can see why you might think my claim gratuitous or superfluous, but I don’t see how it is ambiguous. I can sensibly make one statement about Jane’s relative ranking without making all possible such statements.