Problems with “after-birth abortion” argument

A recent paper entitled After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? has caused quite a stir amongst the religious because it purportedly shows that abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide. Their argument is no more than an argument of the form “If you think abortion is morally acceptable for reason X, then you also think infanticide is acceptable.”

This begs the question “what is reason X?” In their paper, reason X is “because a fetus not a person.” It is very important to note that even if their logical argument is flawless, it only applies to people who support abortion rights for this one very specific reason: that a fetus is not a person (as defined below). They have not shown that anyone actually supports abortion rights for reason X or that any existing laws are based even in part on reason X. That is, they have not shown that the “if” statement actually applies to anyone.

This point is important enough to re-iterate: their conclusion does not hold in general. It only holds for those who support abortion rights specifically because of reason X.

Their argument

(1) A person is “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

(2) Neither fetuses nor newborns are capable of attributing value to their existence.

(3) Therefore, neither fetuses nor newborns are persons.

(4) Therefore, fetuses and newborns have the same moral standing.

Can you see the flaw?

Even if we accept (1) (2) and (3), (4) does not immediately follow. To see why, I will use a glaringly obvious and simple-minded analogy, following their line of reasoning.

(1) A cat is a creature that says “meow.”

(2) Neither horses nor dogs say “meow.”

(3) Therefore, neither horses nor dogs are cats.

(4) Therefore, horses and dogs are equivalent.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Even if you grant me the first three, (4) still doesn’t follow. Just because horses and dogs are both not cats doesn’t mean they’re the same animal!

In order for (4) to be a logically valid conclusion in their case, they need a further claim — that personhood is the only relevant factor in determining moral equivalence classes. Otherwise, while fetuses and infants may both be non-persons, they have not been shown to be equivalent to each other. In order to show this, the authors must show that all other differences between fetuses and infants have no bearing on their moral standing. One particularly glaring omission is that the authors have conveniently ignored the fact that fetuses take residence inside the body of another human while infants do not. If this fact is irrelevant to the moral status of fetuses as compared to that of infants, an argument must be made to explain why. Since the authors have neither made nor proven this crucial claim, they cannot logically conclude (4).

Their claim that supporting abortion is the same as supporting infanticide has not been shown as a valid, even within their narrow framework and using their non-standard definition of personhood. I hope this analysis was of use to someone. Please feel free to share this with anyone attempting to equate abortion and infanticide, or with anyone experiencing doubt about their pro-choice stance due to Minerva and Giubilini’s paper.

Yoshihiro Hattori and Trayvon Martin

I recently read about the case of Yoshihiro Hattori, another shooting death of an unarmed teenager by someone (Rodney Peairs) who claimed self-defense. The Hattori case is like the Martin case, but with far more evidence that the shooter behaved with reckless disregard towards human life. There was also far less potential for riots and civil unrest. Peairs was subsequently acquitted. I honestly don’t believe either killing was racially motivated, but it will be interesting to see the differences in how the cases are resolved. It will show whether facts or political pressure play a bigger role in how our justice system works. Note: the two states in question (LA and FL) have similar self-defense laws, but FL grants even more protection to those claiming it. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of their cases:

What they looked like

Hattori: a 130 lb Japanese teen in a white suit
Martin: a 6′ tall, 160 lb black teen in a dark sweatshirt and dark pants

Why the shooter found them suspicious

Hattori: was a stranger who rang the doorbell on Halloween, prompting the shooter’s wife to panic and tell her husband, “Rodney, get your gun.”
Martin: was an unfamiliar person in a neighborhood recently plagued with burglaries

What they were doing when the confrontation began

Hattori: walking away from the house after no one answered the door
Martin: contested. No eyewitness testimony.

What they were allegedly doing when they were shot

Hattori: laughing, telling Peairs “we are here for the party,” and having an “extremely unusual manner of moving”
Martin: slamming Zimmerman’s head into the concrete and/or punching him in the face

Witnesses?

Hattori: his homestay brother witnessed everything up close, and his testimony agreed with that of Peairs.
Martin: no witnesses to the beginning of the physical altercation nor the moment of the shooting. Existing witnesses corroborate Zimmerman’s version of events (according to police).

Other options for the shooters?

Hattori: Peairs could have remained inside the house, called the cops and continued to observe from the window. He could have shot to wound, rather than kill. These options would not have been less safe than the one he chose.
Martin: contested. Dependent on who confronted whom. No eyewitness testimony.

My conclusion

If Rodney Peairs was acquitted after shooting an unarmed teenager for walking towards him in an “extremely unusual manner,” then George Zimmerman shouldn’t be convicted of any crime based on the facts in his case. If there was reasonable doubt that Peairs committed a crime, there is even more doubt that Zimmerman committed one. I keep hearing the inflammatory and false statement “Trayvon was killed for the crime of walking while black.” Here I’ve found a case where someone was actually killed for walking while Japanese — what, did he move like Samara in The Ring? But even that didn’t get his killer convicted. The Japanese have no equivalent of the Black Panthers, nor do they have a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton. There was puzzlement and petition-signing after the acquittal, but no riots. If Zimmerman is convicted, that will be a pretty strong indication that political pressure is more important than evidence, and that is hardly justice.

Though state attorney Angela Corey claims “We do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition,” the fact that the state attorney’s office and the police chief originally declined to even arrest Zimmerman based on lack of probable cause shows otherwise. Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz claims that Corey’s decision to charge Zimmerman with second degree murder is “irresponsible and unethical” — probably a political move to get re-elected. This is worse than just a senseless death. It’s people capitalizing on a senseless death to further their racial agendas, to get re-elected, and to get on their soap-boxes about gun control and self-defense laws. Furthermore, they demand a senseless trial to senselessly waste tax dollars on something likely to result in the exact state of affairs before the media made this case their pet: George Zimmerman walking free and protesters flooding the streets.

Healthcare: a simple solution

Why is healthcare a problem in the United States?

There are people who do not have health insurance and end up bankrupt when they get sick. They do not have insurance either because it isn’t provided by their employers, they can’t afford it, or they’ve been denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

Why is health care so expensive here?

There are many many many theories. It isn’t because we consume more health care. It isn’t that we get sick more often. Prices are higher because they aren’t regulated. Prices for drugs and standard procedures vary widely based on prices negotiated by insurance companies, with the uninsured paying the most.

What’s your easy fix, already?!

Walmart. Yes, you heard me. There should be one very powerful buyer that can pressure healthcare providers to lower their prices so they operate on a razor thin margin in exchange for the guarantee of a large consumer base. This buyer can then pass on most of the savings to the consumer. Best of all, the healthcare-Walmart can offer both a la carte services and insurance, and match the price of any competitor! A proposal of this nature might be more popular than the current health care bill. It could even have the slogan “if it doesn’t save you money, you don’t have to use it.”

Criticise Israel

Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass wrote a poem called Was gesagt werden muss, and was, as a result, banned from Israel. What prompted me to write this post was an opinion piece written by Mark Levine, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at UC Irvine, which can be found here.

I know it’s only an opinion piece, but given the high journalistic standards at Aljazeera, I’m disappointed that Levine’s piece was published at all. The title gave me hope, but the content is little more than a large steaming pile of tu quoque.  Basically, it says “yes, Israel is guilty of atrocities, but so is the rest of the world!”

Levine makes the following observation in his effort to excuse Israel for its actions:

“Israel’s gluttony for Palestinian territory, and its willingness to encourage a regional nuclear arms race to keep it, is ultimately no different than the the gluttony for the 60-inch TV, the iPhone/Pad, the cavernous homes and cars…”

Maybe someone can explain this to me. I just don’t see how buying an iPhone is “ultimately no different” from forcing Palestinians out of their homes. The latter is much more similar to the Holocaust. So if he’s excusing Israel, he must similarly excuse the Nazis. Yet, the Holocaust has been used by Israel as a justification for occupying Palestine. How is this not recognized as a grave disrespect towards the Jews who lost their lives? I find it hard to believe that the victims would have wanted more suffering in their names. Israel’s existence tells the world, “to honor the 6 million who were murdered, we will force innocent people to endure some of the same treatment.”

Also of interest is his assessment of Grass’ poem:

We can also understand, however, why it’s in poor taste for a man who volunteered for the SS, an organisation whose sworn mission was to annihilate Jews, to talk about Israel “annihilating” the Iranian people.

Actually, I don’t. Isn’t it, by the very same logic, “in poor taste” for Israel to be in possession of nuclear weapons while condemning and threatening Iran over a nuclear program that may not even exist? Yet, that isn’t his opinion. He doesn’t seem to apply his logical fallacies in a consistent way.

This line of thinking isn’t isolated. A different article, The moral blindness of Gunter Grass, says:

Having served in the organization that tried, with a fair amount of success, to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth [Grass] should keep his views to himself when it comes to the Jews’ doomsday weapon.

If his observations are correct, why should he? Once again, the fact that he may have once been an SS member has no bearing on whether or not his criticisms are true.

It just doesn’t matter that it’s a former Nazi who wrote the poem criticizing Israel. It doesn’t matter that America is addicted to war, or that other countries are also guilty of human rights violations. The facts remain, and it’s disingenuous to pretend tu quoque arguments mitigate them in any way. Maybe professor Levine should have a course in formal logic (emphasis on logical fallacies) before he writes anything more.