Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Man-On-Dog Expert Weighs In

Man-on-dog expert Rick Santorum has weighed in on the issue of abortion.

In an interview with's Terry Jeffrey, Santorum scolded President Obama for his remarks about abortion during Rick Warren's Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum in 2008. Yahoo's Holly Bailey writes:
"The question is -- and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer: Is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no," Santorum says in the interview, which was first picked up by CBN's David Brody. "Well if that person, human life is not a person, then, I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'We are going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"

Santorum was referring to Obama's comments at a 2008 forum with Pastor Rick Warren in which he said the question of whether a baby should have human rights was "above my pay grade." Obama later said his remark was too flip, but "I don't presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions."

Santorum took Obama to task for his position.

"Just about everything else in the world he's willing to do -- have the government do -- but he can't answer that basic question which is not a debatable issue at all," Santorum told Jeffrey. "I don't think you'll find a biologist in the world who will say that is not a human life."
According to The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta (and others), Santorum's comment is "consistent with the internal narratives of the contemporary abortion rights opposition movement":
Opponents of abortion in recent years have compared the status of fertilized eggs, even pre-implantation, to that of pre-Civil War slaves who were not considered fully human. For example, materials from the Illinois Right to Life Committee argue that "The court decisions on slavery vs abortion demonstrate an equivalent denial of personhood for two different categories of human beings, slaves and unborn children."
That's why a black man is supposed to share Santorum's view of abortion, I suppose. (Since Obama's mother was white, does that mean that Obama should be only 50% pro-life? Just curious.)

Let's take a closer look at Santorum's comments. In the first paragraph I quoted from Bailey's story, Santorum claims to be surprised that a black man would deny that a human fetus is a person under the Constitution. But in the fourth paragraph, he expresses surprise that Obama doesn't agree that a human fetus is a human life. Every biologist would agree, after all, so it's not even debatable. But the following statements are not synonymous:
  1. The human fetus is not a human life
  2. The human fetus is not a person under the Constitution
I agree with Santorum on one thing: (1) is obviously false. But is (2) obviously false? If it were, then why do so many intelligent people assert it? They're not all morons, are they? What about unborn human entities conceived in, say, Peru by Peruvian parents?

I'm not a Constitutional law scholar like Barack Obama, so I have no real expertise in this area. But I know enough to know that asserting (2) is not stupid. And I do know what is stupid: thinking that (1) and (2) amount to the very same thing. They don't, and that is "not even debatable." Now, I'm not ready to say that Santorum is stupid. He may have simply realized that the shift from (2) to (1) would help him politically. He attributes (2) to Obama, but then shifts to attributing (1) to Obama. While Santorum may not be a moron, he may be a bit of a prick. That's right: another good Christian prick. Does Christianity really allow twisting the truth and being unfair to one's opponent when it's politically expedient to do so? Just wondering.

Those who wish to draw an analogy between human fetuses and American slaves claim that human fetuses are legally and perhaps morally on a par with adult human beings. If Santorum intended to say that this claim isn't debatable, then he is almost certainly wrong. Judging from their responses to the candidate's responses to the same question, the folks at the Saddleback Forum would probably agree with Santorum. Many folks want a simple, unequivocal response to the question whether the human fetus has moral or legal rights. That is exactly the answer John McCain gave them: the unborn human entity has rights at the moment of conception. But as William Saletan points out, if we actually seriously believed this, the thought of women of child-bearing age using birth control, nursing their young, drinking coffee, and even exercising would horrify us. That's the consequence of having a simple approach to a complicated problem.

Even if we agree with McCain and (presumably) Santorum, the inference to the truth of the extreme pro-life position is hardly automatic. For what those who embrace the extreme pro-life position either forget or simply neglect to point out is that a living, breathing person usually carries the human fetus, and that woman is a human life and also most certainly a person under the Constitution (assuming that she is an American citizen, of course). Is the pro-life position "not even debatable" when this truth is acknowledged?

I grant that the right to life is fundamental, and I can even grant that the fetus has such a right at the moment of conception. But the woman carrying that fetus also has a full set of rights, and the right to bodily integrity is perhaps just as fundamental as the right to life. If we don't even own our own bodies, then we are nothing. Any attempt to make women the legal or moral equivalent of livestock must be regarded with skepticism.

In this conflict between the rights of the fetus and the rights of the human being that carries it, what reason do we have to think that the fetus always wins? I am willing to bet that Rick Santorum is not able to provide a satisfactory answer to this question. Like it or not, the fetus and is neither morally nor legally nor factually equivalent to an adult human being, and we should stop trying to pretend that it is.

However strong the woman's rights are, neither she nor anyone else has a right to kill her child once it is born, and therefore no one has the right to abort a viable fetus. That much seems perfectly clear, to me at least. Those who claim that pro-choicers have no moral qualms about the abattoir in Philadelphia are as guilty of oversimplifying the position of their opponents as Santorum is of his.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson