Pharyngula

We’re all Dakotans

Just a thought…but you know, my town isn’t far from the South Dakota border, and there really isn’t that much difference between my neighborhood and that of some small South Dakota town 50 miles away. I think the piggish prigs who are pushing the legislation to criminalize abortion are contemptible, but does that mean we people of the progressive state of Minnesota are any better? That got me wondering—I’m a fully entitled, blissfully unaware, card-carrying member of the Patriarchy, after all, so I’ve never had to consider what it would be like to be female, 17, and worried that I might be pregnant.

I tried to imagine it.

I can get a pregnancy test kit from the Pamida down the road. I’d feel a bit weird about it, though: this is a small town. We know everyone and they know us, and those are high school and college kids working the cash registers there. Everyone is going to know about it if I buy one…I suppose I could try shoplifting it, but jeez, if I got caught shoplifting a pregnancy test, I might as well just die.

If I somehow got the test and it were positive, the next step would be difficult. There is a sign on the edge of town here that purports to be helpful— it says “Pregnant? Need advice?” with a phone number on it—but it’s put up by some of the local religious wackos, and all they’ll do is tell you to keep the baby and slap you upside the head with a Bible, so they certainly aren’t to be trusted.

The phone book isn’t much help. I wouldn’t trust the Morris hospital either…locals again, and they have a reputation for being very conservative. They don’t do abortions anyway. The
nearest Planned Parenthood clinic is 45 minutes away, they don’t do abortions either, but they do provide emergency contraception…except that they’re only open on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. WTF? Do a lot of people get knocked up on Monday and Tuesday nights or something?

As it turns out, the only abortion providers in Minnesota are all in Minneapolis. Three hours away, by car; to get there by bus requires a shuttle to Alexandria, then taking Greyhound the rest of the way. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. Once there, though, there’s more. Minnesota has a parental notification law, so at least one parent has to come along, and the other has to send along a notarized letter granting permission. Then there is a state-mandated 24 hour waiting period: at the first appointment, they have to counsel the person against getting an abortion, and can only do the procedure the following day…as if a young lady who has had to struggle that much just to get there hasn’t already thought things through thoroughly. Spending a night in the Big City is going to cost.

Did I mention that the procedure itself is going to cost $500+?

I’m beginning to realize that the only young women who will be able to get abortions in my part of the state are the ones with a supportive family, or who are old enough and prosperous enough that they can afford the rigamarole and hassle. The ones who are going to be most distressed by a pregnancy, who are least able to cope with it, are the ones who are going to be excluded.

I’m feeling a bit ashamed of being a male and not having thought much about this before. That little Y chromosome does confer some privilege in this regard, and it seems petty and cruel that we should so unthinkingly impose a greater pain on those who have already had more than their share.

Right now, a few scrofulous boars in South Dakota have raised their snouts and squealed loudly, asserting their selfish rule over women, and it’s easy to condemn them. But there are only about 750,000 South Dakotans, so most of us don’t live there anyway; it seems to me that maybe what we ought to be doing is also looking to our own states’ laws on abortion. Our pigs might be a little more muted, but they’ve been busy for years, planting a lot of little restrictions that add up to a substantial hurdle.

“I think the stars are aligned,” said House Speaker Matthew Michels, a Republican. “Simply put, now is the time.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe now is the time to wake up and do something about this everywhere, not just South Dakota.


Here’s an interesting tidbit: South Dakotans disapprove of the law by a large majority. How do these morons get elected?

Comments

  1. #1 Joe
    February 25, 2006

    I’m not sure that it’s a case of *unthinkingly* imposing even more pain on girls/women who get or want to get abortions. I don’t even think it’s really about abortion, I think it’s about punishing girls for having sex because sex is bad (except for the guy involved, of course). Therefore the abortion should be punishment, and the purpose of refusing abortion would also be to punish the mother-to-be.

    And since Minnesota has a parental consent law for minors, how progressive of a state could we really be talking about? As an outsider, it seems to me that Minnesota is just South Dakota minus the steroids.

  2. #2 PZ Myers
    February 25, 2006

    That was my point: Minnesota has a reputation as a reasonably progressive state, but even here these restrictive laws are creeping in. South Dakota is just a bit more blatant about it.

  3. #3 SEF
    February 25, 2006

    the only young women who will be able to get abortions

    Make that “legal abortions”. Are there any figures on the backstreet trade (or patching up of botched jobs) for your area?

  4. #4 AndyS
    February 25, 2006

    Thanks, PZ, for putting a human spin on this topic. With all the heated political/religious talk on both sides I think we rarely consider actual 17 (and 16, 15, 14 …) year old women and girls who have to face the current harsh social reality. Unless the left wakes up and the middle finds its spine, and I’m cynical enough those things won’t happen soon, I’m afraid we’re going to see abortion again criminalized and go through a long cycle of seeing women brutalized by backalley witchdoctors before we as a society again come to our senses.

  5. #5 Christina
    February 25, 2006

    Joe, you said, ” I think it’s about punishing girls for having sex”

    Haven’t you noticed that prolifers like babies? We look on a baby as a blessing. How can you equate wanting the girl to be given a blessing with wanting to punish her? That makes no sense.

  6. #6 Christina
    February 25, 2006

    You want a human face? How about Linda Padfield and Yvonne Mesteth? Are their faces human enough?

  7. #7 Bruce Baugh
    February 25, 2006

    Darned few “pro-lifers” care enough to make sure that babies get adequate health care, that they and their mothers are safe from harm, that there’ll be even rudimentary reliable education available…talk is cheap. Spending time, money, and effort on the actual requirements of actually living people is hard. And the “pro-life” movement isn’t there. If everyone who said “I think every conceived child is entitled to the basics of a healthy life” went on to say “and it’s my responsibility to do my part”, and did their part, the US wouldn’t be so far behind the rest of the developed world in infant mortality, malnutrition, and a lot else. Show us an improvement in the quality of life for American children across the board that has anything at all to do with “pro-life” activism – anything measurable, and anything that applies to all children, regardless of the sinfulness of their mothers.

  8. #8 Skemono
    February 25, 2006

    On the note that Mr. Baugh started, y’all may enjoy (by which I mean, be incensed by) this article: After they’re born, compassion ends. Some excerpts:

    Many family-values-loving conservative Christians are staunchly opposed to programs that would help poor children get health care or day care or decent housing.

    It is as if they adore the child still inside the womb, but despise him as soon as he comes screaming into the world.

    Five years ago, political scientist Jean Reith Schroedel, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, published a book – Is the Fetus a Person? – that examined state policies throughout the country, comparing their restrictions on abortion with their support for poor children.

    She found that the states that imposed the most restrictions on access to abortion were also those that put the least money into health care or day care or housing aid for poor children.

  9. #9 Grumpy
    February 25, 2006

    What do we know about the condition of South Dakota’s child protection system? Before I passed a law that, in effect, will create a surge in the number of unwanted babies, I’d be dang sure my state had a top-notch adoption system.

  10. #10 Brian
    February 25, 2006

    Christina,

    It’s punishing her if she’s “being given a blessing” against her will.

  11. #11 Corkscrew
    February 25, 2006

    Haven’t you noticed that prolifers like babies? We look on a baby as a blessing.

    On the other hand, the only time where this issue of pro-life vs. pro-choice comes up is when the mother-to-be doesn’t feel the same way. In which case it is extremely misleading to say you’re wanting the girl to be given a blessing, when she sees it as a curse.

    In which case, the attitude that I’ve come across seems to be “well, you had the sex, you’re stuck with the baby”. In this sort of situation, it could be legitimately implied that the baby is being used as punishment for the sex.

  12. #12 Laura
    February 25, 2006

    My own experience (at 16) was similar but not quite so bad. The birth control thing was absolutely an issue. Everywhere you could get birth control, i.e. condoms, they were stocked behind the counter, so you had to ask. When I got pregnant at 16, I managed to make myself an appointment at the only place where I could get an abortion across state lines, about 1/2 hour away. I got a friend lined up to drive me there and we got enough money together ($200). Then my mom found out and we kept the appointment and she drove me instead. I have no idea if there was a parental notification law or not. I might have been turned away when I got there. Can you imagine what I might have done then?

    How do we fix this problem? All those issues you just mentioned? Those are state laws, so I guess we have to start there unless we want to push the Supreme Court to rule that these barriers constitute an undue burden. Why aren’t we rioting? (That’s my new motto.)

  13. #13 natural cynic
    February 25, 2006

    Christina, do you seriously get sad every time you have your period. If you think that every child is automatically a blessing, maybe you should be trying to get one every time you possibly can. Maybe everyone should feel that way, then the person who will solve the overpopulation problem will come sooner. And be doubly sad if you are having unprotected sex and have your period, since there is a good chance you just spontaneously aborted a defective embryo.

    [I apoligize for the comments if you are infertile. If you’re not, then they stand]

  14. #14 bmurray
    February 25, 2006

    Christina, I think this whole thing could be solved quite tidily if you’d just take all the unwanted blessings off their hands.

  15. #15 Rey
    February 25, 2006

    “they have to counsel the person against getting an abortion”

    Gads, I’ve heard about that kind of thing. I read about it here once, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it passed. They say “Well, women have a right to know all that”, but really it’s just condescending BS assuming that women lack the capacity to look up information on abortion themselves and base their decision on it (and thus they have to be talked OUT of it, naturally “information” only goes one way). And the American Right likes to make noise about personal responsibility…

  16. #16 wolfa
    February 25, 2006

    Christina, why not also show the faces of the women who die in childbirth, which is more dangerous than a first-term abortion?

  17. #17 wolfa
    February 25, 2006

    Uh, trimester.

  18. #18 the amazing kim
    February 25, 2006

    I’m speechless, PZ. I didn’t realise it was that bad in the mericas.
    You should submit this to the next Carnival of the Feminists, I’m thinking.
    Lucky for me I’m not even in your state, let alone your country, as it seems that even in the “land of the free”, or whatever you call it, not much freedom exists. For some groups at least.

  19. #19 Bruce Baugh
    February 26, 2006

    I have known one pro-lifer I really respect – he and his wife have adopted six or eight children on a permanent basis, and run a foster home, and the kids they shelter get good education and a lot of help with self-esteem and go on to lead better lives. He’s also active in environmental issues, including water quality (they live out in the California semi-desert), and a bunch of local measures to help with quality of life. I call him pro-life without any irony or qualification – I disagree with him a lot about abortion, but he’s doing more for the cause of life than almost anyone else I know.

    Then, um, then there are all the rest.

  20. #20 Xavier
    February 26, 2006

    I’m so disgusted right now. Seriously. I want to throw up.

  21. #21 rat-terrier
    February 26, 2006

    Gee Christina, my sister was repeatedly raped by my stepfather, and only dumb luck prevented the bestowing of a blessing upon her, at age 14. Does that throw a wrench in your binary absolute world where things are either all good or all bad? Quandaries can be difficult without comic-book-simple dogma to light the true path. You should sweat an ambiguity some time…it strenghtens a trait called “thinking”.

  22. #22 kutsuwamushi
    February 26, 2006

    How can you equate wanting the girl to be given a blessing with wanting to punish her?

    How can you even equate being pregnant against one’s will with a blessing? That is seriously warped (and frightening) thinking.

  23. #23 Joe
    February 26, 2006

    Haven’t you noticed that prolifers like babies?

    Christina: how many unwanted babies have you adopted? It’s lovely for the pro-life/anti-choice crowd to say “we love babies and we want fetuses to become babies,” but then when push comes to shove I don’t see conservatives lined up at the adoption center. So if y’all get your way, what happens is girls are forced to have babies they don’t want (or they’ll just self-induce abortions or go see “back alley doctors”), and then those children will predominately live terrible lives because, hey, no one wants them and they aren’t provided for or cared for or loved.

    Then if you take conservative thought and compare it to the Iraq War where a utilitarian perspective justifies killing people to make us safer from terrorists (not really though), and if you apply that to abortion you have to accept a pro-choice position. But I forget, as a rule intellectual consistency doesn’t agree with conservatives.

    Tell you what, you go adopt three inner-city crack-babies and I’ll start seriously considering your “argument” that pro-lifers are only in it because they love babies. Until then, I’ll insist that you’re deluded and have bought the patriarchical mythology of the Republican party.

  24. #24 Bruce
    February 26, 2006

    I think the statistics are something like 87% of counties in the US do not have an abortion provider. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t end up allowing states to severely restict abortion it is already very hard to obtain an abortion for women who are not close to a metropolitan area (as PZ has pointed out).

    Coincidentally, my first post on my new web page deals directly with the problem of limited access to abortion.

  25. #25 Drake
    February 26, 2006

    “The stars have aligned”

    I find it telling that the South Dakota politician used an astrology metaphor. If your critical thinking skills can’t eliminate astrology, who knows what whacko ideas you will believe?

  26. #26 Rosie
    February 26, 2006

    In the UK you can get free pregnancy tests from the doctor, sexual health/family planning clinics, student unions, and many places related to young people’s welfare (e.g… I can’t think what to call them… but we have a centre here where young people can go for counselling, young parent workshops, cheap food and showers etc). You can also buy them in just about every pharmacy, supermarket, even the pound shop (dollar store).

    You can buy emergency contraception over the counter in the chemist/pharmacy if you are over 16 after discussion with the pharmacist. You can also get it free from family planning clinics, doctors’ surgeries, and hospital emergency or GUM departments. I believe some school nurses can also dispense it.

    It’s a shame not everyone has as much access to this as people in the UK. It’s still difficult for a lot of teenagers, but it’s a lot easier than it sounds like it would be where you live.

  27. #27 Ken
    February 26, 2006

    It’s not like one could get an abortion in SoDak before this got passed. The only providers came from Minneapolis two or three times a month and could not perform very many procedures in a day.

  28. #28 Kate
    February 26, 2006

    PZ, though you’ve also demonstrated it many other times, you (like many other rational men) are an ally to women. Don’t worry that you haven’t thought about it before; thinking about it today puts you in the top 2-3% of men who have.

  29. #29 ema
    February 26, 2006

    Haven’t you noticed that prolifers like babies? We look on a baby as a blessing. How can you equate wanting the girl to be given a blessing with wanting to punish her? That makes no sense.

    If you look on babies as a blessing, good for you! Except, it’s not about you. What makes no sense is forcibly subjecting someone else to an increased risk of morbidity and mortality based on your own likes/outlook/beliefs/etc.

  30. #30 Redbeard
    February 26, 2006

    Ah, the blessing of a child!

    How blessed to pay for $20 of diapers a week, a $100 baby car seat, a $100 stroller, a $100 high chair, and a $300 crib.

    What a blessing to have to pay for those things and baby clothes WITH THE EARNING POTENTIAL OF A TEENAGER IN A SMALL TOWN!

    What a blessing to have to wake up in the middle of the night when the baby is teething!

    Having a baby is a tremendous, sustained, expensive effort… and it should not be forced on somebody because she disobeyed daddy’s “don’t have sex until you’re married” lecture.

  31. #31 Henry
    February 26, 2006

    I dunno if PZM or anyone here knows, but something struck me with the parental notification law: if the notification of both parents is required, what if one somehow cannot be notified (deadbeat dad, currently out of contact for legit reasons, just plain dead)?

    Then of course there’s the issue of a situation like rat-terrier described.

    Of course, the whole thing could be avoided by just staying home and eating an assload of wild carrot, mugwort or pennyroyal. Sometimes I’m genuinely tempted to just circumvent all this BS and start “herbalabortion.com”, since all-natural/herbal remedies don’t have to pass FDA approval.

    Also, I find great irony in the “stars aligning”, in part because my mind immediately associated that with Lovecraft’s fiction and how Cthulhu would rise again when the stars are right. If that’s who they really worship, it explains a lot.

  32. #32 brook
    February 26, 2006

    The solution is simple: No abortion for me? No sex for you.

    Women (and responsible men) need to make it absolutely clear to the mean spirited boneheads that there are consequences to their actions. Even in South Dakota, immaculate conceptions aren’t that common so we’re just calling on guys to do their part to help end abortions. No sex no unwanted pregnancies.

    This might sound like abstinence idiocy but since I’m the one saying no (not anybody else telling me to say no) it’s about reclaiming my procreative powers.

    Let’s print up bumper stickers. No abortion for me? No sex for you.

  33. #33 Lemony
    February 26, 2006

    I’d just like to second Rosie’s thankfulness for the NHS and related initiatives in the UK. It seems curious that we should be in a situation where socialised medicine feels less politicised than private care.

  34. #34 Ray
    February 26, 2006

    I have no issues with abortion in certain cases — medical necessity, or when pregnancy is the result of rape, and the procedure should be readily available for those cases.

    I do have a big problem with using abortion as a means of birth control. This is both morally wrong, and unethical, in my opinion.

    People make all sorts of bad decisions, and willingly assume risks that can have devastating, life-long consequences. Having unprotected sex falls into this category. Sure, it’s convenient to abort a fetus to make the problem go away. Not too long ago, it was also convenient to just leave the baby out in the woods to die of exposure, which also solved the problem. I don’t see much difference between the two.

  35. #35 Lemony
    February 26, 2006

    Ray: You don’t see much difference but many others – myself included – do. You’re equating the in utero foetus with a developed and delivered human child. You’re imbuing with a “human spirit” or some other philosophical concept, we would suggest that for much of pregnancy it merely represents a bundle of cells with no “spirit” independent of its mother, this means that its removal is entirely analogous to the removal of the scar tissue I’ve developed over the years from other willingly assumed risks.

    I wouldn’t allow damaged cartilage in my knees from skiing and climbing accidents to massively change my life when the problem can be removed. Why should a woman be forced to allow a bundle of cells to develop into something which will likely have a much greater effect on hers?

  36. #36 brook
    February 26, 2006

    Ray, have a vasectomy and encourage all your friends to have one too and you’ll be part of the solution not the problem.

  37. #37 Roman Werpachowski
    February 26, 2006

    Ray, have a vasectomy and encourage all your friends to have one too and you’ll be part of the solution not the problem.< .i>

    Because, as we know, it is the man who carries all responsibility for being fertile.

    You’re equating the in utero foetus with a developed and delivered human child.

    What is the magical difference?

    I am for the right for abortion when there are health problems or the pregnancy is a result of a crime. I am against abortion as a magical cure for irresponsibility.

    PZ, w/r to your heartbreaking story: if someone is not mature enough to ASK for a condom in a store, he shouldn’t have sex. End of story.

  38. #38 Joe
    February 26, 2006

    I really like Brook’s bumper sticker slogan: No abortion for me? No sex for you.

    Ray, *even if* you consider the fetus to be a baby, a human person (which, before viability just seems absurd to me), you can’t justify forcing a woman to live in a parasitic relationship for 9 months. Unless your position is that the government should force all people with two healthy kidneys to donate one of their kidneys when someone else needs one.

    Shorter Ray: You got pregnant, you should pay the price! And you people are insisting that this *isn’t* about punishing women/girls for having sex?

  39. #39 Joe
    February 26, 2006

    And there it is too in Roman’s most recent comment (2/26/9:58am) — the WOMAN “carries responsibility for being fertile.”

  40. #40 MissPrism
    February 26, 2006

    Roman,

    One magical difference is that one of them is a bundle of cells that cannot feel pain and one of them is a baby.

    Another magical difference is that one of them can be handed over for adoption, but the other one can only be kept alive by forcing a woman to keep a pregnancy she doesn’t want.

    I see you’d allow exceptions if the pregnancy is the “consequence of a crime”. If a foetus is, as you claim, equivalent to a baby, would it be OK to kill a rapist’s baby after birth?

  41. #41 Ray
    February 26, 2006

    Joe – I don’t know if a fetus is a baby or not, but it will eventually become one. In any case, what’s the difference, really, between aborting a fetus and killing a newborn baby, other than a trip through the birth canal? Then end result is the same: one fewer person in the world.

    As I said, pregnancy is risk of unprotected sex. If you assume the risk, you live with it. It’s no different form driving drunk, or a driving recklessly and getting into an accident. The resulting car accident is not a punishment, it’s a consequence of a poor choice. The pregnancy is not a punishment either, it’s also the consequence of a poor choice.

    A big problem, of course, is that many people who oppose abortion on religious grounds also oppose sex education, and throw a hissy fit when someone suggests making birth control available to teens. I’m all for education to make sure people understand the risks, and making birth control readily available, but abortion is not an ethical birth control measure.

  42. #42 MissPrism
    February 26, 2006

    Ray,
    If someone crashes their car while drunk, the hospitals still treat them. The nurses don’t say “Take some responsibility! You drank the beer, you walk on the broken leg.” If they did, we’d rightly see it as punitive.

    People occasionally do irresponsible things, and then deal with the consequences as best they can. Sometimes a woman decides that the best way to deal with a pregnancy is an abortion.

  43. #43 Skemono
    February 26, 2006

    I think the statistics are something like 87% of counties in the US do not have an abortion provider.

    So it’s been said.

    However, what I’d really like to know is this: abortions cost hundreds of dollars. And also, “over time, women having abortions have become increasingly likely to be poor“.

    So tell me, Ray, Roman: just who the hell are these people who use “abortion as a means of birth control” or “a magical cure for irresponsibility”?

  44. #44 MissPrism
    February 26, 2006

    PS: and what about when contraceptives don’t work? The Pill has a 1% per year failure rate even if used perfectly. Has the woman who gets pregnant whilst on the Pill made a poor choice?

  45. #45 ema
    February 26, 2006

    I dunno if PZM or anyone here knows, but something struck me with the parental notification law: if the notification of both parents is required, what if one somehow cannot be notified (deadbeat dad, currently out of contact for legit reasons, just plain dead)?

    Here’s another thing to ponder about parental notification laws: if a teenager becomes pregnant and decides to take the action (termination) that will lower her risk of death, she has to obtain parental permission because she’s not deemed mature/responsible enough to make that medical decision on her own. However, if she decides to do the opposite–increase her risk of death by carrying the pregnancy to term–just like that, she’s a model of maturity, and requires no adult control.

    Frankly, I don’t see what argument a state with parental notification laws can use to prevent a parent from forcing his/her teenage daughter to undergo an abortion based on the parent’s concern over the teenager’s health/life.

    I do have a big problem with using abortion as a means of birth control. This is both morally wrong, and unethical, in my opinion.

    Please provide evidence that abortion is used as a birth control method in the US (it is in Japan).

    Sure, it’s convenient to abort a fetus to make the problem go away.

    What methodology do you use to define the effect of health states/medical procedures on prefect strangers? Also, you mean “the problem” of an increased risk of morbidity/mortality (with carrying a pregnancy to term), no?

  46. #46 wolfa
    February 26, 2006

    Yes, pregnancy is a risk of sex (protected or unprotected). But childbirth is not an inevitable result of pregnancy — you can miscarry, or you can abort, or you can give birth.

  47. #47 windy
    February 26, 2006

    Has the woman who gets pregnant whilst on the Pill made a poor choice?

    “You assume the risk, you live with it.” Apparently yes.

    If you drive at all, not just drunk, you have assumed a risk, and then you live with the consequences if anything happens.

    You have a choice not to smoke but also not to eat or drink anything unhealthy; if you assume the risk, and you get cancer, live with it!

  48. #48 Shell
    February 26, 2006

    Ray:
    You honestly see no difference between a first-trimester embryo and a newborn?

    You don’t know that birth control can fail? That it is not always easily available? That the number of women who can legitimately be accused of using abortion as birth control is pretty damn small? It’s an expensive and uncomfortable method to say the least.

    “Convenience.” Y’know, nine months of pregnancy, the risks of pregnancy and childbirth, and at the end of it a baby doesn’t add up to an “inconvenience” in my book. For a teenager, and for many other young women, it is Armageddon.

    But you don’t care about all that, do you? You know, if you think abortion is unethical, you can stay the hell away from the clinic, and let the rest of us make our own ethical decisions.

  49. #49 Ray
    February 26, 2006

    I think the auto accident analogy is a valid one. If you have an accident, and injure someone, you have a responsibility to the other injured party. If you paralyze someone in the accident, you’re not allowed to kill them just because it’s easier and cheaper than providing for their long-term care.

    Similarly, if you have sex, you assume a certain risk of pregnancy. The risk can and should be minimized, but it can still happen. You can be the best driver in the world, and still have an at-fault accident. In both cases, you have a responsibility to live up to.

    Interesting questions: if you don’t beleive that a fetus has rights, does that mean it’s OK to impregnate women with the specific purpose of then aborting the fetuses for use in medical research? How about viability? What if medical science advances to the point that a first-semester fetus can survive outside the womb? Where do you draw the line?

  50. #50 MissPrism
    February 26, 2006

    I’ve just noticed: nobody’s yet made a pun about South Dakoathanger.

  51. #51 Lemony
    February 26, 2006

    Missprism: Oof! I think your b3tan background’s showing a bit there!

  52. #52 Bardiac
    February 26, 2006

    Great post, PZ. I wish every adult in our states had to work out how s/he’d deal with the mundanities of getting access to health care, and really thought about it when they voted. Maybe it would help.

  53. #53 poke
    February 26, 2006

    I don’t know if a fetus is a baby or not, but it will eventually become one. In any case, what’s the difference, really, between aborting a fetus and killing a newborn baby, other than a trip through the birth canal?

    Could the difference be, oh, I don’t know… DEVELOPMENT? Identifying personhood with a stage of development is not magical thinking. Note that the mysterious ineffable life force your position postulates as having entered the fetus (presumably at conception) also has to leave at some point. “Pro-lifers,” if they’re going to be consistent, should really be protesting the fact that our notions of medical death have changed over time as well, since all of that stuff identifies the brain as the seat of personhood. Note also that the rest of our laws – concerning the rights of children and the mentally ill, for example – are all consistent with the view of personhood and rights being granted at stages of development.

  54. #54 Ophelia Benson
    February 26, 2006

    Yeah. I’ve been having this conversation for years with people who focus solely on Roe v Wade and the Supremes. I keep saying, ‘but abortion is already unavailable in a great many places, partly because so many providers have been intimidated out of doing them.’ Scary that a lot of people aren’t aware of that.

  55. #55 windy
    February 26, 2006

    If you paralyze someone in the accident, you’re not allowed to kill them just because it’s easier and cheaper than providing for their long-term care.

    But we also distribute the risk by having traffic insurance (I don’t know the rules in the US but I assume it’s similar)

    So, should we have sex insurance that everyone having sex is required to pay? We might require a higher premium from anyone having unprotected sex, but isn’t that a bit hard to control?

    Then if there is an “accident”, the insurance could either cover all costs of child care up to 18 years, or a $500 abortion (if you keep the baby, you pay for it yourself.)

    What do you think would be the insurance premiums in each case, and which would be more popular? If you think obligatory sex insurance is wrong, why then should reckless drivers have better coverage than reckless sex-havers?

  56. #56 Arun
    February 26, 2006

    If for the sake of argument, we accept the anti-abortionist point of view that the immediate product of conception is human life, then we have a major public health crisis on our hands – it seems that some 15% of conceptions end up in miscarriages – and that is a conservative estimate. This would be the leading cause of death among humans, I think. Is there any research going on to alleviate this massive loss of human life?

  57. #57 Nomen Nescio
    February 26, 2006

    you can be the best driver in the world, but you still run a small risk of smashing headlong into a semi-truck every time you get behind the wheel. this is the risk you willingly, knowingly assume by driving; therefore, you have no moral right to mitigate it by wearing seat belts, or buying a car with an air bag — you took the risk, you live with it.

    in fact, we should all be driving rattletrap 1965 chevies, made back before Ralph Nader introduced all these immoral “safety features” that only allow people to escape their responsibility to die painfully, purely for their own convenience’s sake.

    oh, and my nasal mucus has all the same human rights i do. throwing it into the trashcan wrapped in a dry paper towel makes me a murderer.

    seriously, ray: the mere fact that the line is difficult to draw does not absolve us from the moral responsibility to draw it somewhere, and to support our choice of place to draw it. you want to refuse that challenge by forcing others to live as if no distinctions could ever be made between gametes and adults, which is ridiculous on the face of it. i see that as a gross moral failure on your part, and it makes me view you as contemptible.

  58. #58 George
    February 26, 2006

    It is all about impressing the the will of some against the poor. Why to rich folks not care, simple, they can afford an abortion by traveling to it even if it means going to a foreign country – or Minneapolis…

  59. #59 Kagehi
    February 26, 2006

    What is the magical difference?

    Well:

    1. Children *after* they are born don’t generally place the life of the mother in potential danger.

    2. We don’t see a large number of them aborting *after* being born, on their own, or an even larger number due to stress to the mother. Or did you miss the recent studies that show male children are more likely to be spontaniously aborted than girls, when the mother is under extreme stress, like, oh, I don’t know, having an unwanted child…

    3. Once they are born, you pretty much lose any chance to deal with birth defects that are not enough to have aborted them, but sufficient to turn the initial costs of the birth, crib, etc. into a long term investment that could leave them in constant *extra* care and cost tens of thousands a year, just to keep them in a state that is “sub-human” and which they will never improve from. And some people on the pro-life side are insane enough to believe that runing *two* lives is *still* a blessing, because God is merely testing the mother.

    The problem with the argument that there is no difference is a) its not necessarilly scientifically valid prior to certain stages and b) it fails to consider *anything* other than the emotional knee jerk reaction to the idea that there isn’t a difference, which some people have.

  60. #60 S.D.jim
    February 26, 2006

    Ray: in response to your position that one should face the consequences of unprotected sex, you are focusing on only one side of the issue. Pregnancy is the result of a female egg being fertilized by a male sperm and said egg successfully implanting in the female womb, Currently only fertile females face the consequences of pregnancy. Men are required to accept any legal responsibility only if they are married to the pregnant female.

    In order to equalize responsibility, if the outrageous abortion ban passed by my State becomes settled law, I think it fair a companion law be passed that requires the father of the �baby� (as determined by DNA test) be responsible for his fair share of the medical expenses of the mother to be and the child to be throughout the pregnancy and beyond, and further be responsible for child support for the next 18 years of the child�s life.

    Ray as a supporter of responsibility for unprotected sex, would you support such a law?

    To those who argue for the right of a female to determine the health and welfare of her own body and mind, the above is not meant to negate or marginalize any such arguments. I fully support all of them. It is only meant to point out the �irresponsibility� of Ray�s argument.

  61. #61 sp
    February 26, 2006

    PZ and others, it’s so great to see people talking about this. I hadn’t thought about this issue in years. As a 28 year old woman, I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know ANYTHING about the Congressional Ban in 2003 or any of the other junk. Until I started reading about in at Bitch PhD and other blogs. So I sat down the other night and completely educated myself (at least as much as I could for one night) and posted my findings at a blog I have with a friend of mine. The next morning, my friend (of the blog) and I had a discussion where it was decided this type of post would make our blog (with all women readers right now – just started it) too serious. She was afraid we’d alienate our conservative friends and admitted that although she thought the information was useful, she found it a little hard to think about the details of late-term abortions. because i think it’s important information I moved it to my own personal blog.

    This experience made me sad. All my friends who are admittedly from the South, but who are also in their peak productive years (some with daughters of their own) don’t even want to talk about this! It’s just too uncomfortable! WTF?!?! And then I realized that no one here at my forward thinking, liberal, West Coast University is talking about it either. And if I bring it up, they say it’s too serious, too much of a downer.

    So I’m glad you thought about it, and I’m glad you posted about it – because people like you with widely read blogs have such a large impact. Thanks, PZ.

  62. #62 Melee
    February 26, 2006

    Ok, this mightn’t help too much as I hear its also difficult for teenagers in this country (I’m an Australian transplant to the US) to get access to the contraceptive pill but..

    The Morning After Pill (MAP), which is the emergency contraception that one can take within 72 hours of unprotected sex (NOT RU-486, the ‘abortion pill’), is essentially a really high does of the regular contraceptive pill. What it does is increase the hormones in a woman’s body to a very high dose, so that when they drop off again, as they normally do right before a period begins, they trigger a period. This prevents any possibly fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb lining (with a certain percentage success rate, something like 75-80%, I don’t recall precisely). It also turns you into a raging PMT monster that needs to be separated from society, and can cause extreme nausea. The usual dosage of this pill is that one takes an anti-naseua agent 20 minutes before the hormone pill, and then repeats the process 12 hours later (although I think in more recent versions they’ve combined the anti-nausea agent with the hormone pill – I’m old and its been a long time since I had to take it). So it basically takes a day. Your period should then arrive relatively swiftly, and assuming it does, one can be fairly certain the MAP has worked, and you won’t become pregnant.

    How does this help? Well it is just a higher dose of the normal pill. Which means if you can get access to birth control pills (through friends, parents, whatever, and you only need about 4 of them, so its possible to nick a sheet for emergencies) then you have access to emergency contraception. You must also be able to fight the nausea and keep it down, and I’m sure there are the usual contraindications for the pill that would make it a risk to take medication that wasn’t prescribed to you – but it sure is better than nothing. I know this because I once took a higher-than-usual dose of my pill as I couldn’t get to my GP in time, and when I did, he told me I’d self-medicated successfully and went through the science with me. I think its information that should be being given to more women, especially teenagers who have so little control over their own reproductive capabilities.

  63. #63 windy
    February 26, 2006

    Let’s say that anyone involved in a car accident which results in somebody being paralyzed, will not only have to support the victim for the rest of their lives, but also move in with them, hand-feed them and wipe their asses. That’s only fair.

  64. #64 Harry Eagar
    February 26, 2006

    Scar tissue?

    So much for the evolutionary concept of emergent properties, I guess.

  65. #65 Ray
    February 26, 2006


    In order to equalize responsibility, if the outrageous abortion ban passed by my State becomes settled law, I think it fair a companion law be passed that requires the father of the �baby� (as determined by DNA test) be responsible for his fair share of the medical expenses of the mother to be and the child to be throughout the pregnancy and beyond, and further be responsible for child support for the next 18 years of the child�s life.
    Ray as a supporter of responsibility for unprotected sex, would you support such a law?

    Absolutely. It takes two to make a baby, and both parties should share responsibility for the child. The State also has a responsibility to educate people, and to ensure that those most at risk for unwanted pregnancy have adequate access to birth control and medical services.

    Unfortunately, the religious pro-life folks have no real interest in providing for the social services that their position demands.

    And BTW, I agree with you that the SD anti-abortion law is a horrible idea. Government should not be in the business of denying access to medical care, and there are certainly legitimate reasons why a woman might have an abortion.

    My issue is with using abortion as birth control, which is the scenario painted in PZ’s original post. Someone who has unprotected sex, gets pregnant, then goes looking for an abortion, is using the abortion as a birth control measure. Unfortunately, the pro-choice people for the most part refuse to consider the ethical and moral implications of this, and instead accuse anyone who brings it up of wanting to oppress women.

  66. #66 John
    February 26, 2006

    As others have pointed out, there’s a fundamental problem with this claim:

    As I said, pregnancy is risk of unprotected sex. If you assume the risk, you live with it.

    A problem here is that this statement presumes that the fetus has a certain moral standing. Let me illustrate with another example:

    Doctor to patient: It seems you have a tapeworm. As you know, eating undercooked meat puts you at risk of acquiring parasites like tapeworms. Since you assumed the risk, you must live with it. I therefore will not provide any treatment for your tapeworm.

    In the case of a tapeworm, of course, we see that this claim is absurd — a tapeworm has no moral standing. So what moral standing does a fetus have? Certainly reasonable people can disagree about this, but to claim that an early-term fetus has the same moral standing as an infant seems implausible. Anyone who believes that abortion is allowable in cases of rape or incest admits as much — there is a difference in the moral standing of a fetus and an infant.

  67. #67 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2006

    I’m all for using abortion as birth control. Why not? Why should we have any mystical attachment to a blastocyst or gastrula or fetal blob? Go ahead, flush ’em away.

    Humanity is the product of interaction with other members of humanity. It isn’t something as simple and stupid as chromosome number or the right arrangement of fingers and toes or even, as too many anti-abortionists claim, a property of a single cell.

    Anti-abortionists devalue human life when they make these godawful arguments for an absolute definition of “human” that is entire-fuckingly-ly cytological. It defines a person as a scrap of meat, and in particular, treats a living breathing thinking conscious woman as a meat incubator.

  68. #68 Ray
    February 26, 2006


    Humanity is the product of interaction with other members of humanity. It isn’t something as simple and stupid as chromosome number or the right arrangement of fingers and toes or even, as too many anti-abortionists claim, a property of a single cell.

    That’s nice, but then at what point do people obtain their “membership cards”? When, exactly, do you get your rights, and are eligible to have them protected by society?

    It used to be an accepted practice to take unwanted babies out into the woods and leave them there to die (or provide the local fauna with an easy meal). Is that OK too, or is it sufficient to simply leave the womb in order to have rights?

  69. #69 graefix
    February 26, 2006

    I am glad Laura brought up the difficulty of getting condoms. I lived in a small town as a teenager, and the thought of going into the one drugstore in town to buy condoms (possibly from a high school classmate, as PZ points out) would have terrified me. Man, just thinking about the situation we have created in this country makes me furious.

    I am inclined to agree with Shell, who pointed out that the number of women using abortion as birth control is likely very small. It’s kind of like the idea of the “welfare queen.” It’s just one more caricature that keeps the wingnuts fuming, but which has little basis in reality.

    And Brook – the bumper sticker idea? Awesome. Maybe women across the country should withhold sex from men who vote Republican until their party takes its head out of its ass.

  70. #70 PZ Myers
    February 26, 2006

    People don’t get “membership cards”. That’s the problem with the anti-choice mentality: it’s all black or white, you’re human or you’re not. There are shades of gray here, and we as a society have to draw a line, somewhat arbitrarily, but hopefully with a mind to utility and with a sense of fairness to the women involved. Saying that the line is drawn at fertilization is absurd and definitely places an undue burden on women.

    Personally, I don’t have as much of a problem with infanticide as you might think. It has a very long cultural history, and makes a great deal of sense biologically—and I have three kids. I know full well that there isn’t much human about those squalling blobs until they start to interact with the world. Like I said, it’s shades of gray, though, and after birth is starting to get very close to an uncomfortable edge.

    If I had to draw a line myself right now, though, I’d say first trimester, no problem. Second trimester, OK…but some social censure is reasonable (there ought to be some responsibility here, and geez, lady, if you don’t want a baby, don’t wait months to take care of it). Third trimester, we’re getting to the point where it’s viable, and that looks like the point where I’d say the woman and ideally, her partner, is obligated to accept the responsibility fully, and abortions should only be allowed when the life of the mother is endangered.

    I’d also add another qualification that won’t be popular. I think it ought to be reasonable for a parent to request that no special effort be made to preserve the life of a premature baby. Kids born a couple of months premature can be saved, at extravagant cost that can break a family from the beginning; it ought to be acceptable to just let the kid go.

    I’m rather more radically pro-choice than most people, and less sentimental about babies.

  71. #71 windy
    February 26, 2006

    Ray: It used to be an accepted practice to take unwanted babies out into the woods and leave them there to die

    Damn those skanky stone-age women that had such a convenient method of birth control! Just carry the baby full-term while gathering food at the same time, give birth with no medical help, and then leave the baby to the wolves! Just so you can have more irresponsible sex with cave-men.

    This method of birth control sounds so convenient, I’ll start using it right away!

  72. #72 Benjamin
    February 26, 2006

    Back in the days when infant mortality rates were high and people got married early, a high fertility was useful. Now it just isn’t, and it hasn’t been for a long time. We live in societies (I’m in Australia) that do not support having children. With economic policies that actively discourage it. Government policy provides very little support to parents, no support with childcare, poor education and health, little availability for maternity leave (in casual employment – what a joke!), and let’s face it, programs that assist families and children are usually the first on the chopping block when it comes to making cuts.

    Yet these moralizers behave like pregnancy is just going to stop you from going out with your mates on a friday night. They trivialize it. This argument about abortion as convenience is a load of old bollocks. A child is not a inconvenience, it’s a life, even if you adopt it out. I would rather see a thousand abortions than one unwanted child. And I wouldn’t want to see anyone who would take a decision to abort lightly to have a child anyway. Seriously, who thinks about where these kids will end up? Better when it’s a bunch of little cells than having to grow up in the horrible circumstances of working class United States (Or underclass Australia) and be unwanted.

    Sex is part of being human, we cannot erase those drives and nor would we want to. It’s these ascetic priests who keep on pushing the self denial angle as moral: people who can, no doubt, afford to have a ‘conscience’ because they have the resources to do so. Let’s face it though, this about control – no different to the hysteria of intelligent design, it’s about imposing theocratic values. The truth is you cannot stop sex because it’s our biology, we know the abstinence programs don’t work and they never have, by withholding decent sex education, access to contraception and access to abortion (which is not contraception by the way), you just re-enforce a cycle of poverty and social problems.

    Land of freedom my arse, and unfortunately, my country’s not that far behind.

  73. #73 Unstable Isotope
    February 26, 2006

    Thank you, PZ, for such a thought-provoking post. It’s rare to see men think about this issue in-depth. The sad truth of the abortion issue is that women bear the burden. Pregnancy is much more dangerous than an abortion, yet outsiders, who don’t know you or your situation, tell us they can make decisions for you since “they know best.”

    The argument that you should be willing to get pregnant every time you have sex is just wrong. It’s very, very sexist – where is the man’s responsibility? Doesn’t he have equal responsibility in this regard. Yes, people *should* use birth control. It’s just silly to act like something like sex, one of the strongest human drives, can be controlled with a stern lecture. I think everyone would agree that the last attempt to legislate morality, prohibition, was an absolute failure. Why do they think that this would be different?

    I find it hypocritical that pro-lifers aren’t out there pushing for more access to birth control. If they aren’t doing this, or adopting, all they’re doing is trying to control behavior.

    This is an issue of autonomy. Either a woman has the right to control her own body, or she doesn’t.

  74. #74 anon
    February 26, 2006

    To all the asshats who like to bring up the “abortion as easy birth control” argument: When I was 19, my fiance and father of my two children had a vasectomy… just after that I found out that I was pregnant for the third time… my first pregnancy was horrid and I spent the last trimester in the hospital and on drugs to keep me from going into early labour… and dealing with verbal abuse from the father… during my second pregnancy the abuse escalated from verbal to physical and all I really remember from that period of my life is a black cloud of depression and anxiety…. I was on the pill the first time I got pregnant and throughout the relationship he refused to wear a condom and was abusive if I refused to have unprotected sex… so yeah, the abortion that I had was a form of birth control (that quite possibly saved my life) making the decision was not easy and I did not make it lightly… thank goodness that I was able to go to the hospital in my small town and it was covered by my provincial health insurance… thank goodness I didn’t have to get the permission of the father… thank goodness I didn’t have some patronizing ass who had no clue what I was going through try and tell me what decision I should make about my body and my life and my future and my ability to take care of the kids that I did have

    p.s. the day I had the abortion is the day I broke up with him and although it cost me a couple cracked ribs and a bruised and bloody body it was well worth it and by taking control of my body that day I realized I could take control of my life too

    p.p.s sorry if I was a little rambling… I just get really sick and tired of people thinking they have the right to qualify when it is okay for a woman to make a decision about her own body … there are waaaaaay too many shades of grey for it to be anything other than a personal decision

  75. #75 sara
    February 26, 2006

    The guy who wants a woman to be in dread of getting pregnant while he is having sex with her is a sadist, period. I don’t care what kind of twisted Catholic (or fundie Protestant) sexuality makes this a turn-on. It’s like getting raped twice: once by the man, and a second time, by the unwanted pregnancy. And the second “rape” lasts nine months.

  76. #76 mantis
    February 26, 2006

    Unfortunately that SurveyUSA poll is misleading. If you click the link at the bottom of the pie chart, you find that the poll surveyed Colorado residents, not South Dakotans. The poll was sponsored by KUSA-TV Denver. Someone should poll South Dakota.

  77. #77 wolfa
    February 26, 2006

    Ray, having an abortion is taking responsibility for the pregnancy.

    PZ, I can go up to 8 weeks between periods (usually it is 5 1/2 weeks) — by the time I was sure I was late, I could well be in the second trimester, and that’s before I had a chance to think about it. And I’m lucky, too: I live somewhere where abortions are available, for free, in hospitals, so I don’t need to save up for one in a private clinic (though I could do that too), or find a way to drive to a city and get one while taking time off from work (which I’d need to save up for, too). No one is going to delay an abortion just for fun, but given a certain amount of time before you know you’re pregnant, and time taken to make this decision, the need for “social shaming” of abortions by the second trimester is nonexistent. And since few women merrily go along pregnant for 6 months, then decide to get abortions for fun (as opposed to for health reasons, either for them or their fetus), and even fewer doctors are going to say “You have a perfectly healthy 7 month old fetus! You’re also totally healthy! Let’s have an abortion!”, the need for laws restricting these abortions seems minor as well, and designed to make it hard on those women who really do need late abortions (as, alas, sometimes happens).

  78. #78 Dan D
    February 26, 2006

    I don’t like the idea of the bumper stickers and of women withholding sex as a protest to anti-abortion legislation:

    1) Sex is supposed to be fun for women too, so why should women have to deny themselves the enjoyment? In that regard it plays precisely into the moralists’ hands. They don’t believe women should be able to have non-procreative sex anyway, so you’d be doing their work for them.

    2) Speaking personally, I would break up with any partner that overtly used sex as a bargaining chip in our relationship, and treated it as some favour they were doing for me in exchange for my behaving one way or another with them. That’s pretty close to prostitution to me, and not really the basis of a loving relationship. Even worse if it to punish “society” because we had the misfortune of living in a state that banned abortion through no fault of mine.

    I feel sorry for girls who grow up in rural areas. PZ’s point on birth control is perhaps the most salient. True opponents of abortion should be handing out condoms at Halloween and Christmas, and demanding they be put in school vending machines. They may be just behind the counter, but to a teenager in a gossipy small-town which strongly disapproves of pre-marital sex, that’s a significant barrier.

    Let’s not even forget about the self-righteous pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control and morning after prescriptions, and in some cases even refuse to return the prescription scrips themselves to the women who come in. For a woman who maybe got a morning after prescription from her doctor for just such an emergency, and now needs to fill it on a sunday, having the prescription refused at what may be the town’s only pharmacy, and even worse the prescription itself confiscated by some smug asshole is just awful.

  79. #79 Wyatt Bordewyk
    February 26, 2006

    As a South Dakotan, I think it’s ludicrous to even think about trying to overturn current abortion laws. Not only is it a travesty to women all over the United States, its a major setback in legislation in South Dakota and the rest of the country. This escapade will cost South Dakotans millions of dollars that could be better spent on education, not to mention sexual education that would prevent a large portion of abortions. Errr.

  80. #80 NatureSelectedMe
    February 27, 2006

    PZ:I tried to imagine it.

    That’s not a very scientific approach, is it? Gather facts and make a hypothesis. Once you start to ‘imagine’ how other people think, you start living in a fantasy world. No matter how plausible it sounds, it’s still fantasy. Of course it’s opinion, but you sound like you’re getting worked up enough for action.

    I’m beginning to realize that the only young women who will be able to get abortions in my part of the state are the ones with a supportive family, or who are old enough and prosperous enough that they can afford the rigamarole and hassle. The ones who are going to be most distressed by a pregnancy, who are least able to cope with it, are the ones who are going to be excluded.

    You sure know how to state the obvious. Let’s save these young women from rigmarole and hassle?

  81. #81 Ron Sullivan
    February 27, 2006

    Anti-abortionists devalue human life when they make these godawful arguments for an absolute definition of “human” that is entire-fuckingly-ly cytological. It defines a person as a scrap of meat, and in particular, treats a living breathing thinking conscious woman as a meat incubator.

    Nicely put, and so was the original post, and I’ll quarrel with the “lines” in your other response later.

    But this “ray” clown’s alleged fine distinctions aren’t worth bothering with, as he’s (evidently) unable to distinguish between my uterus and “the woods.”

  82. #82 Kathy from SD
    February 27, 2006

    Making abortion illegal will no more prevent it than Prohibition prevented drinking. Decrease the symptom (abortion) by alleviating the problem. Give people (anyone of procreating age) the information and tools to prevent procreation. Eliminate poverty. Eliminate spousal abuse situations. Try to alleviate any and all of the reasons that a woman would feel unable to continue a pregnancy.

    Finally, eliminate “abortion” clinics. Abortion is a medical procedure that should be performed at any medical/surgical facility.

    As for women “choosing” to have an abortion in the second or third trimester, I pity them that necessity. As a mother of two, I know that bonding occurs before that time. I can’t believe that it would be a decision undertaken lightly or with frivolous reason.

  83. #83 Christopher
    February 27, 2006

    “It’s no different form driving drunk, or a driving recklessly and getting into an accident. ”

    And that’s why paramedics never help out people who cause accidents… Wait.

  84. #84 noema
    February 27, 2006

    Once you start to ‘imagine’ how other people think, you start living in a fantasy world. No matter how plausible it sounds, it’s still fantasy.

    I submit this as the most idiotic claim I’ve heard from anyone in weeks; and this is after having had my eighth grade social studies teacher girlfriend read me some excerpts from her students’ papers. There were some pretty good howlers in that bunch– eigth graders have a reputation, you know– but nsm went and topped the lot. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though… considering the source.
    Wouldn’t this logic imply that the only people not living in a fantasy world are autistics (and/or all those lacking a ‘theory of mind’)? The capacity to imagine the view from someone else’s window is pretty fundamental; without it we’d have a very hard time navigating the world. There’s also good reason to think the same capacity for empathy and seeing another person’s point of view is an important, and frequently if not constantly leaned upon source of moral guidance. So, on the view in question, I take it that the domain of persons inevitably carves up into two camps: (1) those with profoundly debilitating psychopathologies and (2) those who, living in a fantasy world, are by definition crazy. So much for clinical psychology, I guess…

  85. #85 cfrost
    February 27, 2006

    I see only one person has mentioned population. The U.S. Census Bureau says we just reached 6.5 billion up from 6.0 billion in 1999 and 3 billion in 1960, and we’re due to reach 7 billion by 2012.
    Eventually, when we start eating each other, the Jesus freaks will drop the sentimental abortion crap and start citing chapter and verse to prove why they should be at the head of the line with plate, fork and bible.

  86. #86 G. Tingey
    February 27, 2006

    In Britain, all contraception, including abortion is “free” – that is, paid for out of taxes.
    The same applies in all the civilised European countries.

    (i.e. those without a catholic heirarchy that can affect laws – Poland and Croatia come to mind.

    What does this say about the level of civilisation in the USA – marching towards Gilead.

  87. #87 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    That’s not a very scientific approach, is it?

    That’s amazingly wrong. It’s exactly the scientific approach: think, imagine, predict, and then go out and test your ideas against the real world. That’s exactly what I did. I asked myself what I would do if I were young, female, and pregnant, and went looking in my community to see what resources were there.

    Do you know anything about how science works?

  88. #88 Arun
    February 27, 2006

    “Give us this day our daily outrage, and a evolution-denier to rail against. As ID falls by the wayside, provide us alternate sustenance for our blogs. Amen”.

  89. #89 Keith Douglas
    February 27, 2006

    PZ (re: your last message), people often forget about the imagination and creativity used in inventing scientific hypotheses. A lot of bad textbooks promote the myth that hypotheses can basically be “read off” data, which is doubly wrong.

  90. #90 NatureSelectedMe
    February 27, 2006

    It’s exactly the scientific approach: think, imagine, predict, and then go out and test your ideas against the real world.

    I agree. You’re right. That’s exactly the scientific approach. But you didn’t interview anybody, did you? You stopped short. That was my point. It’s great to imagine how someone feels but I think you have to talk to them.

  91. #91 Jeff
    February 27, 2006

    So far, in his comments on trimesters and infanticide, PZ has discussed the most what to me is the biggest conflict in determining the legality of abortion – when the fetus is a person. Obviously (well, maybe it’s not so obvious to everbody), a fertilized egg really isn’t a person, yet, and most people agree that by the time the baby is born, it is a person. And in between is a gradual development, so there’s never going to be a black and white answer to this question. Since many readers of this blog are pretty knowledgeable, can anyone give links/references or possibly an explanation on development of the brain? I don’t even know where to start, and my Google searches have turned up large numbers of pro-life explanations that say brain activity starts early, but I don’t know what type of activity that is.

    Humanity is the product of interaction with other members of humanity.
    That particular definition seems pretty weak to me, at least in determining whether an organism should be considered human to receive rights under the law. The two examples that come to mind are feral children, with no human interaction, and severe cases of autism, with very little human interaction. I think development of the brain would make for a much better definition.

    Along these same lines of framing abortion as a definition of when it’s a person, even though this is going to sound very callous, I don’t think that rape or incest should make for automatic abortions. If you think that the organism inside the woman is a person, and you think that it’s wrong to kill a person (obviously not the case for everybody- euthanasia, infanticide, & capital punishment are argued from both sides) to kill that organism would in effect be to punish it for the sins of the man who impregnated the woman. If you don’t think that the organism inside the woman is a person, then it’s kind of irrelevant how the woman was impregnated, since there’s not much of a moral issue in killing a bunch of cells.

  92. #92 Jeff
    February 27, 2006

    If you think that the organism inside the woman is a person, and you think that it’s wrong to kill a person … to kill that organism would in effect be to punish it for the sins of the man who impregnated the woman.
    I guess on the other hand, to force the woman to go through nine months of pregnancy and end up with a baby at the end of it, would be punishing her for the crime of the man who impregnated her. Which would be the lesser of the two evils? In cases where the woman came forward early enough to get an abortion right away, there wouldn’t be much of an issue. But what about cases where for whatever reason (shame, intimidation, etc), the woman doesn’t come forward until the baby has developed to the point where it would be considered a person?

  93. #93 windy
    February 27, 2006

    Natureselectedme: I agree. You’re right. That’s exactly the scientific approach. But you didn’t interview anybody, did you?

    In case you didn’t notice, some women have already commented here on how they felt getting abortions as teenagers.

    You stopped short. That was my point. It’s great to imagine how someone feels but I think you have to talk to them.

    Sheesh, do you think scientists can’t have a single thought about something, if they don’t complete a study of it and submit it to peer-review?

  94. #94 NatureSelectedMe
    February 27, 2006

    Sheesh, do you think scientists can’t have a single thought about something, if they don’t complete a study of it and submit it to peer-review?

    No, they don’t have to submit a peer review for everything. But this post seemed like a call to action which will result in spending other people’s money. I just wanted to stress that it wasn’t a complete study.

  95. #95 S.D.Jim
    February 27, 2006

    To P.Z., Jeff, Ray and others who are concerned about Person hood, or what defines a Human etc. within the abortion debate you may be overlooking what I think are several important observations.

    The abortion debate is a religious argument imposed on politics. In the western religious tradition which is endorsed, to varying degrees, by the vast majority of Americans, that which defines Humanity is The Soul.

    To me, it seems even we atheists and non believers fall prey to this nearly universal meme at times. Arguments about 1st, 2nd, or 3rd trimester abortion, when person hood should be attributed for purposes of granting legal rights, and even viability, reflect an unconscious acceptance of this meme. Such questions, seem to me, to be a contentious yet unconscious debate about ensoulment rather than scientific questions or debate about Women�s rights.

    The Catholic position of ensoulment at conception and the right of said ensouled Human to legal protection appears to be generally accepted by most politically active antiabortionists. Thus abortion debate subconsciously revolves around when, under what circumstances, or if the the destruction of a Human Soul is allowable.

    Ironically, as many have pointed out, the compassion for the unborn baby does not seem to extend beyond the deliverance from the host. Likewise, all seem comfortable with the restriction of rights and responsibility of born children from infancy to adolescence, yet see no problem with restricting or denying the rights of the Host in favor ot the unborn.

    To me, we who support the Choice position too often debate the antiabortionists on their own terms when we unconsciously accept the meme of ensoulment.

    P.Z. I am a long time lurker and an admirer of you and this blog. And, do not mean to imply that you or the others mentioned are guilty of any of the above, but do think many of us are without being aware of it.

  96. #96 Carrie
    February 27, 2006

    Ray–
    Pregnancies are divided into trimesters, not semesters.

    Your ethics and morals are yours. Don’t expect others to share your ethics and morals. I believe meat is murder; does that mean I should support a bill banning meat consumption? Of course not. My ethics and morals are mine only and I shouldn’t expect the entire world to follow them.

  97. #97 NatureSelectedMe
    February 27, 2006

    Carrie, there’s got to be some minimum that everyone follows. If I believe in slavery, would that be OK?

  98. #98 Harry Eagar
    February 27, 2006

    I suppose that some people arrive at antiabortion views because they are ‘sentimental about babies.’ The anthropological explanation of that is that humans have to invest more to raise helpless young than any other species.

    So I would not conclude that being unsentimental about babies is a good thing.

  99. #99 Frumious B.
    February 27, 2006

    All: Listen, it’s not just teenage girls who accidentally get pregnant. It’s really pretty pompous and patriarcal to say “all those poor, young women, burdened with unwanted pregnancies, what will they do?” Grown up women with enough to money to pay for an abortion also have unwanted pregnancies. South Dakota’s new law affects them, too. Pharmacies which don’t carry condoms affect them. Pharmacists who won’t dispense morning after pills affect them. Try imagining yourself as a 27 year old woman, or 34 year old, or even 42 year old, who just plain doesn’t want kids, or doesn’t want any more kids. They all deserve access to abortion, and they shouldn’t have to crawl over ground glass to get it.

    Re: personhood: Red herring. My uterus is not a hotel. Find someplace else to stay.

  100. #100 Jeff
    February 27, 2006

    How is “personhood” a red herring, unless you feel that abortions should be legal right up till the moment of birth? I don’t think it’s an issue of “ensoulment,” either. It’s a question of when does this organism growing inside a woman start to get rights of its own, and how to balance those rights with those of the woman.

  101. #101 Harry Eagar
    February 27, 2006

    Utilitarian arguments cut both ways. 42-year-old women get into car wrecks and become unwanted, expensive, inconvenient and ill-timed quadraplegics, too.

    Here’s a guideline: If you are following a rule that you wouldn’t want invoked against you in a nursing home, it’s probably a bad rule.

    Professor Myers is unconcerned about primitive infanticide. Primitives also bumped off their old people. Is that equally a matter of small consequence?

  102. #102 Shell
    February 27, 2006

    Harry said: Professor Myers is unconcerned about primitive infanticide. Primitives also bumped off their old people. Is that equally a matter of small consequence?

    Shell: Well, no or maybe, depending. Professor Myers’ opinion on infanticide is his own. We are not now equating infanticide and first-trimester abortion, are we? Again? Can we say one more time “the fallacy of the excluded fucking middle”?

    Sorry about the cussing. I am NOT happy about some people’s views on this. I am NOT willing to let them own the debate. I am NOT willing to minimize my outrage or damp down my contempt.

    We can argue about where to draw the line. But if your argument is that we can’t, you need to say exactly why we can’t, when we draw lines elsewhere – contentiously, but we draw them. Is there some reason besides “I feel this way”? Because if not, fuck you; you are not the person involved and you do not get to decide how other people in this society SHOULD feel. How, indeed, according to all polls, MOST of the people in this society DO feel.

    I do not have a “fringe” voice. I am smack dab in the middle of the main stream. Unfortunately, one fringe view seems to be transcendant in this country. That may change. Roe v Wade is supported by the majority in the US. Do not assume that this will be accepted as have been many another religious-right meme.

    Again, sorry about the cussing but I refuse to censor my feelings about this – it is TIME TO SPEAK UP.

    Stand up and do so. To everyone you see.

  103. #103 PZ Myers
    February 27, 2006

    Exactly. This is a major issue, and I think it’s going to blow up in the Republican’s faces.

    Good.

  104. #104 David Wintheiser
    February 27, 2006

    brook wrote, “Let’s print up bumper stickers. No abortion for me? No sex for you.”

    I got a chuckle out of this when I first read it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s a bad idea to go with something like this.

    Why? Because the folks pushing abortion restrictions are convinced THIS IS THE WAY THINGS ARE ACTUALLY GOING TO HAPPEN. For them, that’s exactly the point behind restricting access to abortion, emergency contraception, and all the rest.

    Yes, all the rest. There are already elected officials out there offering legislation to require a doctor’s prescription for the purchase of condoms. (Scroll down to the Mississippi section.) If the anti-abortion lobby gets this, and the anti-gay-rights lobby gets their marriage bans, what do you think they’re both likely to do with all their spare time?

  105. #105 Dawn
    February 27, 2006

    I have to weigh in on this. I don’t believe abortions should be banned, and the SD law really has me concerned.

    However, for all the people who want to know where the girls/women are who are using abortions as birth control are: come to ANY inner city ob/gyn clinic and you will meet the girls who are 16 and on their 4th abortion, the women who have had 5 children and 8 abortions, etc. They do use it as a form of birth control. (I’ve worked in clinics in Detroit, MI, Virginia (various places), several cities in NJ and NY–they are all the same)

    I personally don’t believe it should be used this way. I would never use it this way. But I also can’t stop the women who do use it as their method of birth control. They often refuse any other method offered.

  106. #106 Dawn
    February 27, 2006

    PZ–if you were being sarcastic about using abortion as a form of birth control, please forgive this addition to my last post–

    Abortions are NOT harmless to a woman. Like any surgical procedure, they can have complications–uterine perforation being one of the most common (and including, and up to death from anesthesia). Any woman who uses abortion for birth control also increases her risk of premature delivery of future pregnancies based on the number of VTOP (voluntary terminations of pregnancy) she has undergone, as they weaken the cervix.

    I agree with you that first trimester abortions should not be restricted. Second trimester abortions should, in my mind, have some restrictions because of the increased risk of harm to the woman, her health and her future reproductive health. I have real problems with third trimester terminations. Except for cases where the fetus will die at birth or shortly afterwards (i.e. anencephaly), or the mother’s life is in danger, as you said, I really can’t agree with their use.

    I also agree with you that parents who deliver severely premature infants should be given the right and the option to withhold treatment.

    You have written a thought provoking and wonderful blog.

    P.S. I want one of those bumper stickers—No abortions? No Sex. I love it!!!!

  107. #107 Dawn
    February 27, 2006

    And yet again…

    Jeff–I can’t give you exact informtion about brain waves in a fetus, but if you can get access to a good human embryology textbook (I gave mine away to a student who couldn’t afford one or I’d have the references at my fingertips) it will give you all the known stages for fetal development–heart beat, neural tube development, brain waves, etc.

  108. #108 NatureSelectedMe
    February 27, 2006

    I can’t give you exact informtion about brain waves in a fetus

    A woman has an abortion to get rid of a baby. Just keep it at that level. You guys are so insincere when you start to rationalize it away from what it really is. It’s like you’re saying see, there’s no dilemma; its not really human. It’s not alive (I like that one). The issue isn’t whether the fetus is human but whether it’s the woman’s choice to have the baby. That’s always been the issue.

  109. #109 Nomen Nescio
    February 28, 2006

    A woman has an abortion to get rid of a baby. Just keep it at that level.

    why? it’s a wrong level. at very most — if i were to be particularly, unusually forgiving towards the opposing side — i might only say that that level is easily debated against, and very commonly disagreed with, and disagreed with for very excellent reasons. far more usually, i’d just cut the bullshit diplomacy and call your “level” for what it is: wrong.

  110. #110 NatureSelectedMe
    February 28, 2006

    it’s a wrong level. at very most
    I disagree. I think people are rationalizing to make themselves feel better.

  111. #111 Frumious B.
    February 28, 2006

    Jeff:

    Personhood is a red herring in the discussion of how a woman uses her uterus. If you disagree, show me your scars from your living organ donation to save a person who will die without it.

    Dawn:

    While surgical abortions do have serious complications, so do live births. The surgical abortion performed ina doctor’s offfice is safer and is not likely to cause problems with future fertility. Your scare mongering is uninformed and unethical.

  112. #112 Harry Eagar
    February 28, 2006

    I find it odd — odd to the point of weirdness — for someone who makes his living as an evolutionary developmental biologist to use a definition of individuality that is purely social.

    Professor, shouldn’t there be, in principle, a conclusion you ought to be able to draw about these things? I have a friend who is a population geneticist and a conservationist, and he is awfully concerned right now about saving one individual plant that is, in his view, the last, remnant representative of a race or variety of a species that is, depending on whether you are a lumper or a splitter, fairly common.

    Plants are not people, but the principle ought to be the same. Either there are individuals or there aren’t. If there aren’t, I don’t see how you can do evolution.

    Now, it happens I think that the purely biological approach leads to a certain conclusion about individuality. My opinion about that is not worth a great deal, as I don’t know as much biology as some of the professionals who post here, or the proprietor.

    It might be that if I knew more, I’d reach a different conclusion. But to deny that there IS a biological approach is bizarre.

  113. #113 Alon Levy
    February 28, 2006

    If for the sake of argument, we accept the anti-abortionist point of view that the immediate product of conception is human life, then we have a major public health crisis on our hands – it seems that some 15% of conceptions end up in miscarriages – and that is a conservative estimate.

    The real rate of miscarriage is 78%; it only drops to 15% after pregnancy is confirmed.

    Professor Myers is unconcerned about primitive infanticide. Primitives also bumped off their old people. Is that equally a matter of small consequence?

    Old people are self-aware by any standard you can think of; newborns are still in the gray area between persons and non-persons, pardon the terminology.

    Roe v Wade is supported by the majority in the US.

    You’re right, but at the same time most Americans support more restrictions on abortion than there are now.

    Thus abortion debate subconsciously revolves around when, under what circumstances, or if the the destruction of a Human Soul is allowable.

    Do you have any evidence for that? My own view is that moral personhood stems from certain neurological processes that begin around the time of birth (but then again, I don’t come from a Christian culture).

  114. #114 Judy L
    February 28, 2006

    A fetus, at whatever stage of development, is physically subject to the will of its host body. If the fetus is a person, then that personhood is also subsumed by the personhood of the host, and subject to her choices while it lives within her, as it is in fact a part of her as much as any other part of her body. Regardless of whether a pregnancy is the result of consensual or non-consensual activity, the pregnancy itself is not a moral issue at all, since (non-god-based) morality implies a material relationship between persons. Pregnancy is not a relationship between a woman and her fetus (since it has no independent personhood); pregnancy is the condition of the woman herself. It follows then that an abortion is an act that a woman performs on a part of herself (or consents to having someone else perform on her), which means that abortion itself is an act that has no morality attached to it at all; it is neither good nor bad. The only morality issue for abortion is whether a woman consents to having a third party perform the abortion, i.e., it is morally decent for an abortion-provider to respect a woman’s consent to perform an abortion on her, and it is morally indecent to force a woman to have an abortion. I think it’s also morally indecent to restrict a sexually mature person’s right to make choices about their own body for themself, which is why I’m happy that I don’t live in the United States and I encourage those who do to flee while the fleeing is good.

    It seems to me that the most rabid anti-abortionists are straight men. I think they hate us (women) because of our perceived sexual vulnerability (they seem like to punish and dominate people whom they regard as sexually vulnerable – women and gay men and children – in order to repudiate the sexual vulnerability of heterosexual men). As far as I’m concerned, if a person can’t be impregnated through consensual insemination or rape, he shouldn’t be allowed to vote on abortion rights issues. I might have an opinion about circumcision (I think it’s barbaric except where medically necessary to save the life or penis of a boy or man), and my opinion might have material consequences for a penis that I would have legal responsibilities for (i.e., a son’s), but as a woman I don’t think I have any business telling a sexually mature male that he has no right to choose to cut his own foreskin off (But it’s alive! A blessing! A miracle of intelligent design!) Blah-de-friggin’-Blah.

    P.S. I’m sick of hearing people claim they’re okay with abortion, except when it’s “used as birth control”. Let’s get this straight: Abortion is the only true birth control. There are contraceptives and pregnancy preventatives, devices and drugs which can prevent conception or pregnancy (attachment of a zygote to the uterine wall), and then there is abortion, in whatever surgical or pharmaceutical form it takes, and abortion is the ONLY way to intentionally prevent a fetus from developing and being born. Viva la choice!

    Oh, and I love babies too. I even think that my tax dollars should go to support other people’s babies and the promotion of pre-natal health for women and their fetuses, and also to support women who don’t want to get pregnant, who are pregnant and don’t want to be, and also men who want more control over their own fertility.

  115. #115 windy
    February 28, 2006

    I have a friend who is a population geneticist and a conservationist, and he is awfully concerned right now about saving one individual plant that is, in his view, the last, remnant representative of a race or variety of a species

    Look, human individuals are unique, but they are not ‘last, remnant representatives’ of their kind and that is not a reason to bring as many different ones as possible into existence. Now if the last Neanderthal woman was alive and pregnant today, we might be concerned about her fetus as the last of its kind, but if she said she wanted an abortion then that should be her choice still.

  116. #116 JY
    February 28, 2006

    Thus abortion debate subconsciously revolves around when, under what circumstances, or if the the destruction of a Human Soul is allowable.

    This doesn’t make sense — if you believe in a soul, you tend to believe its something that survives death. So abortion in no sense causes the destruction of a human soul, were such a thing meaningful. Since the Catholic church, AIUI, just did away with ‘Limbo’, abortion simply accelerates the little ‘ensouled’ blastula’s soul’s journey to heaven. For this sort of pro-lifer, it’s not about loving babies, it’s about making sure they get their fair share of suffering before their trip to the hereafter.

  117. #117 Harry Eagar
    February 28, 2006

    Windy, if humans only have value when they are scarce, it is hard to see why you shouldn’t just bump off the inconvenient ones; we have plenty more where those came from and we could sure use their parking spaces.

    Of course, nobody would ever reach such a conclusion, unless he was . . . uh, a leading biologist at the Smithsonian Institution. (Ales Hrdlicka)

  118. #118 Dawn
    February 28, 2006

    Frumious B said: Your scare mongering is uninformed and unethical.

    F.B. with all due respect, I am not trying to be a scare monger. My point was that terminations are surgical procedures and like any surgical procedure, have risks of complications and are not innocuous procedures. I know the risks of childbirth also…from the point of view of a care provider (I am a licenced certified nurse-midwife) and also from being a woman who has experienced childbirth and some of the more dangerous complications.

    My other point was that REPEATED terminations may lead to problems in future pregnancies. I won’t resort to anecdote to relate the problems I saw in practice; I’ll stick only to the peer-reviewed published articles. One TOP is not a problem usually but some medical researchers (per Medline search) have found (and others have not found…I’ll admit that to be fair) that even with one TOP women have an increased risk of complications in future pregnancies afterwards.

    I am, as I have said, pro-choice. I believe that what a woman does should be between herself and her care provider (and her belief system).

    I do not believe that abortions should be legislated any more than any other surgical procedure should be. Depending on your viewpoint any medical procedure is fair game for the politicians so let’s remove them all from the political arena and put them back into the patient/physician relationship where they belong.

  119. #119 NatureSelectedMe
    February 28, 2006

    Judy L, that is one fine piece of rationalization. You’ve got it all there. And circumcision!. Although you should have talked about female circumcision too.

  120. #120 windy
    February 28, 2006

    That was my point: humans are not the same as rare plants. Every human has the same value even if there’s lots of them, potential humans don’t. In your example, the plant only had ‘value’ when it was scarce, and the biologist wasn’t concerned about the commoner variant – but he probably didn’t want to destroy those either.

    But there’s no absolute “individual or not” criteria in biology. We define human individuals more by mental uniqueness than biological uniqueness. A ‘plant individual’ is not so clearly defined either as you might think – it might be several clones that are the same genetically. In contrast, we don’t consider human twins to be a single individual.

  121. #121 Judy L
    March 1, 2006

    NatureSelectedMe:
    “Female circumcision” is quite problematic, since it is typically forced on girls who can not consent, within a culturally coercive context that makes truly free, informed choice impossible (not having her external genitals butchered can have severe material consequences for a woman’s ability to live sucessfully within her community). If your social reality is one of coercion and domination then there is no possibility of true consent (just because an enslaved person can’t or won’t try to escape because the consequences are too dire doesn’t mean they are choosing to be enslaved).

    Removal of the hood of the clitoris has neither cosmetic benefits (this is an argument my mother likes to use in favour of male circumcision) nor have I have heard of it being medically necessary to ensure to the proper fuctioning of the clitoris. Female “circumcsion”, as I understand it, usually refers to the scraping off of all the external female genitals (removal of the head of the clitoris and scarring the labia) and sometimes excison of the underlying clitoral structures (the clitoris itself is mostly an internal organ).

    If a woman wants to remove the hood of her clitoris I’m not going to stop her, and in fact many men and women “mutilate” their bodies through decoration (like piercing or tattooing), not to mention plastic surgery, which may interfere with normal functioning (there’s a chance I won’t be able to breastfeed because of the reduction surgery I had 14 years ago, but I made that choice and am delighted every day with it, because for me, nursing a baby is not MY breasts’ main function in my life). All this body modification is fine and dandy and morally decent so long as informed consent is present.

    P.S. Female “circumcision” never needs to be discussed along with male circumcision, because there’s really no parity: in male circumcision, the head of the penis is not sliced off, and in most cases the skin on the head of the penis just toughens up a bit and the organ can function normally. I think it’s barbaric when it’s done to satisfy religious or superstitious beliefs, and truly indecent and abusive when it’s forced on baby boys by insecure men who insist that their sons look like them, or women who insist that it will make a boy’s penis more aesthetically appealing or acceptable to future sex-partners or locker-room buddies.

  122. #122 Nomen Nescio
    March 1, 2006

    Judy: i’ve recently convinced myself that “female circumcision” really should be called female genital mutilation, even though that’s a moutful of a phrase, exactly because there’s no parity between it and male circumcision. i wish that it was a more convenient phrase than it is, but calling this procedure “circumcision” i feel just downplays it too much. (i could easily live without my foreskin and not miss it too much. remove the whole glans? no thankyou!)

  123. #123 Harry Eagar
    March 1, 2006

    I like to find examples as far away from humans as possible, in order to try to allow clear thinking without emotional complications. Plants are pretty far from people.

    If potential plants are not valuable, why are we spending hundreds of millions of dollars on seed banks to maintain varities of food plants that have, for the moment at least, no commercial application?

    Seeds are not plants, are they?

    The question, though, is whether individuals matter biologically. In ‘The Ancestor’s Tale,’ Dawkins spends page after page talking about this. He calls it the problem of ‘discontinuity.’

    It is the same question that I have posed about individuality, and whether there is a materialistic, biological basis for ascertaining it.

    Professor Myers, Alon Levy and others think not. You, windy, appear to fall somewhere between. Twin mammals, as you note, do not pose a problem to a biological determination of individuality.

    That, presumably, is because the nurture part of their overall nature generates pretty obvious somatic differences, not to mention, in humans, personality differences. I suspect the differences among clones of a plant are there, just not so obvious to us.

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