What do you call a Liberal who Opposes Abortion?

While I’m talking about abortion, I’ve always wondered why certain liberals are so opposed to abortion.

So we have a couple of strands to liberalism which I think make good public policy and good personal philosophy.

The key thought – and although most proper philosophers think Mill overrated, he is the go-to guy for my-first-liberalism-workshops – is that you shouldn’t harm other people or restrict their actions unless they’re going to harm you or someone else. Even if they are doing something which you think is a bad idea, like smoking, you should leave them to it. A lot of the debates on abortion really hinge on whether you think a Zygote, Foetus or Embryo is a person who needs protecting or not.

But the harm principle isn’t really the foundation of liberalism, the foundation is the thought “what if I’m wrong?”

That is why we shouldn’t interfere with the actions of others, because my judgement is, in general, only likely to be as good as yours. In specific cases your judgement about your life is, as a rule, going to be better than my judgement about your life.

I don’t have the necessary information to decide things on a case by case basis for you, so it should be left to you. I think that abortion is one of those subjects where even the most voracious critics really have to consider “what if I’m wrong? What is a Zygote/Foetus/Embryo isn’t a person”

Decisions should generally be left to those with the most information and the best incentive to get the decision right. This is a pretty basic, even Hayekian, point. That means, especially with respect to abortion, the woman involved. I don’t think anyone has any more incentive to become au fait with the morality and practice of abortion than a woman considering one.

You might disagree with the decisions of women who choose to have abortions, but they are in a much better position to make that decision than you. Opposing abortion is in much the same ballpark as supporting the smoking ban, the absolute certainty that an outsider knows the best.

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5 thoughts on “What do you call a Liberal who Opposes Abortion?

  1. An interesting argument but not one that works I think.

    “Decisions should generally be left to those with the most information and the best incentive to get the decision right. This is a pretty basic, even Hayekian, point. That means, especially with respect to abortion, the woman involved. I don’t think anyone has any more incentive to become au fait with the morality and practice of abortion than a woman considering one.”

    The people who know best about the right or wrong of capital punishment are obviously those making the decision about whether to inflict capital punishment. Thus I, as a liberal, should not interfere, opinionate upon, the actions of the authorities in inflicting capital punishment. For obviously they know best. They are, as you say, the people with the local knowledge.

    Substitute slavery, unfair working conditions, child labour, what you wish, for capital punishment.

    That’s one. A second is:

    “the best incentive to get the decision right.”

    Well, no. The woman’s interest, if she’s considering an abortion, is her interest, obviously. An interest which is directly contrary to the interest of the foetus. Just as the interest of someone thinking of killing their spouse for the insurance is fairly obviously directly contrary to the interests of the spouse being considered for a killing for the insurance.

    We would say that the considerations of interest in the second case make, despite that local knowledge ‘n’all, the first spouse really not the person to be trusted to weigh the respective interests. We certainly don’t allow as a defence in the subsequent trial the statement “Yes, but it was best for me that they die”.

    I do agree absolutely that if the foetus is not a person then the logical/moral problem goes away. I find that an impossible contention if abortion is at 30 weeks for a club foot or hare lip. I find it a near impossible one at 20 weeks for “social reasons”. I’m not sure where I am when we talk about methods of contraception which aren’t in fact anti-contraception but are anti-implantation (a quite different thing and how many do work).

    I’m also entirely aware that the law will never be changed to reflect my views and I’m not even sure that I’d like to live in a society where they did. But if killing peeps is wrong and babbies in the womb are peeps then we do have something of a problem, don’t we? What with one third of them each year being cleared out just on the say so of someone with a very biased, if local knowledge based, analysis of the respective interests at play.

    1. Okay, so up to a point you’re a modest liberal but on certain topics “here you stand you can do no other.” You might be wrong, but you’d rather be wrong in the direction of restricted women’s actions than wrong in the direction of restricting a foetus etc’s actions.

      Which I can respect, I think you’re catastophically wrong, but it is a philosophical position I can get down with. I do wonder how you would feel were you to have to give up your bodily integrity to carry a baby to term. I’m sure you’ll be willing to admit that in an alternative more seahorsey universe abortions would uncontroversial and you would probably give it nary a thought.

      Others things you’ve said I have a problem with.

      “Well, no. The woman’s interest, if she’s considering an abortion, is her interest, obviously. An interest which is directly contrary to the interest of the foetus. “

      I’ve never heard an opponent to abortion argue that a pregnancy is a baby and that mothers under no circumstances love their baby, and in fact, their interests are diametrically opposed.

      Once you argue that a foetus etc. is a person than these arguments get more complicated, however, I don’t think you are more likely to make the judgement call “is this thing a person” than the woman involved. Your opinion on whether this foetus etc. is a person is likely to be less accurate than a woman who is pregant. Your distance doesn’t make you more objective, it means you lack the relative knowledge to accurately assess the situation.

      I will never run a football club, I have no incentive to tilt the rules in favour of shareowners, players, fans, TV companies, but that does not mean I should be in charge of corportation/tax/ law/regulation for football clubs

      “I’m also entirely aware that the law will never be changed to reflect my views and I’m not even sure that I’d like to live in a society where they did. “

      Here’s an interesting question, would you rather live in this world where Dorries is not in charge of our social policy or a world in which Dorries is in charge of social policy. Millions of “lives” would be saved by some of here policies, millions of others would be fucked up by others. Where would you stand? How much is a foetal life really worth to you?

      Also, I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but I’d appreciate your thinking on it, as you’re usually methodical in your explanations and I’ve never understood this: Is Abortion murder? Should those women who abort a pregnancy be punished?

      I suppose you could argue that a woman did murder a foetus but offer some sort of “provocation” defense. But I’m not sure that really cuts the mustard. What is your position?

  2. “You might be wrong, but you’d rather be wrong in the direction of restricted women’s actions than wrong in the direction of restricting a foetus etc’s actions.”

    The way I usually put this: I agree that there’s a conflict of rights. And what do we do when there is a conflict of rights? Usually, we try to weigh up which is the most important right in the conflict and then go with that one. We. for example, have a set of very restrictive rules on what can be used to prove that someone done it M’Lud. This is because we assume (rightly or wrongly,) that punishing the innocent would be worse than leaving some guilty unpunished. We’ve thus swung the system in favour of the right we consider more important, the protection of the innocent, than of the one we consider important, but not as much so, the punishment of the guilty.

    In this baby/mother clash of rights one has the possibility of their life being fucked up, the other the possibility of no life at all. I regard that latter as more important and thus the one to be protected in this clash.

    “I’m sure you’ll be willing to admit that in an alternative more seahorsey universe abortions would uncontroversial and you would probably give it nary a thought.”

    Well, interesting example, for “abortion” actually means removal from the womb before term. If abortion did not at the same time mean death then I’d have no problem with it at all. Hoick it out and stick it in the father to grow, why not? Or an artificial womb, whatever.

    “I’ve never heard an opponent to abortion argue that a pregnancy is a baby and that mothers under no circumstances love their baby, and in fact, their interests are diametrically opposed.”

    “I want this out of me, killing it be damned” and “Don’t pull me out, I’ll die” are, yes, I really do think I’m right in saying this, diametrically opposed interests.

    “Your opinion on whether this foetus etc. is a person is likely to be less accurate than a woman who is pregant.”

    No, see killing spouses above.

    “I’ve never understood this: Is Abortion murder?”

    I don’t know. I certainly insist that it is at least the killing of a potential human being and thus something that shouldn’t be a commonplace. I am certain that at some point, it is the killing of an actual human being and thus is, well, killing a human being. That this is largely done for the convenience of one or more other humans horrifies me. I don’t think that killing people in order to have a better life is a moral action.

    “Should those women who abort a pregnancy be punished?”

    As I’ve said, I can’t see any way that this could be done without making everything worse than it is.

    “What is your position?”

    Confused as to what the correct actions are, crystal clear as to what I believe the morals are at one end of the spectrum and getting hazier as we move to the conception end of it.

  3. In this baby/mother clash of rights one has the possibility of their life being fucked up, the other the possibility of no life at all. I regard that latter as more important and thus the one to be protected in this clash.

    You don’t actually need that other kidney, do you? Well, there’s a fairly long queue of people who will die if you don’t give it up for transplant – and they are actual already-existing people, rather than merely potential people. Also, kidney donation is a good deal safer and less inconvenient than pregnancy and childbirth. So, whose rights do you regard as more important there, and why?

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