August 2012 Archives

Rape and Abortion

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Predictably, reaction to Todd Akin's "ill-conceived" (his own description) remark has immediately veered off into the weeds, away from the thing that was truly offensive. The absolutely unacceptable thing he said was not that abortion shouldn't be available in cases of rape - it's that he tried to draw a line between "legitimate" rape, and to imply that most cases of "rape" that result in pregnancy are not rape at all, really. He believes that a woman is physically incapable of getting pregnant if she don't secretly like the man who is having intercourse with her - something there's (obviously?) no evidence for. I'm not really clear if his argument is "these are all cases of morning-after regret" or "those sluts are secretly enjoying being raped" but regardless of which it is, it's a ridiculous, beyond-the-pale sort of statement that should disqualify him from public discourse, probably forever but certainly for a long time.

Of course, that is almost immediately not what we're talking about. What we're talking about is whether Mitt Romney supports abortion being an option in the case of rape. Which, he has now come out to tell us, of course he supports abortion being an option in that case.

The problem is that this position from him is completely incoherent. It's utterly unethical on his own terms. It shows (yet again) how completely his "principles" are merely whatever has to be said in order to survive the crisis of the moment.

To understand why this is incoherent, we need to understand why he's opposed to abortion to begin with. His website states that "Mitt believes that life begins at conception". In and of itself it's a banal statement - the cells that join to conceive are, in fact, alive, and when they become an embryo they are neither more nor less alive than before. However, most people who say "life begins at conception" mean "I believe the point at which the set of cells inside a pregnant woman is morally equivalent to, say, a three-year-old, is at the moment those cells combine to become an embryo". That, in other words, causing that embryo to die is, in fact, just as murderous an act as shooting a three-year-old kid in the head. I am pro-choice because I reject this view - I don't believe a bundle of cells that has the potential to turn into a human being is a human being. I do think there's some point where it becomes a human being, and then should be protected from killing by the law - but such a time to me is very clearly after 20 weeks of pregnancy (and quite possibly further along than that).

Thus, the moral vacuousness of Romney's stance. He believes that killing embryos is just as bad as killing children. Except if the embryo was created by an act of rape. Then it's OK to murder. One wonders if he thinks it's morally permissible to kill children (or even adults) if they were conceived in a rape? If not, why not? When (and why) would he draw the line? I suspect he'd draw the line about where I would for all cases of abortion - which just shows, again, the nicest thing you could say about his moral philosophy is that it's incoherent.

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