Abortion, Rights, and Pascal’s Wager


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved a very slowly developing exchange with Alex Holzbach, a blogger who is a Christian libertarian anti-abortion activist and an editor of the Tumblr Politics tag. He recently responded to a post in which I challenged him to specify the source of the human rights of fetuses (and where I explained my argument that allows for some abortions insofar as some fetuses do not have higher brain function and thus should not properly be understood as the bearers of rights).

And here is what he says:

The difference between the life of a fetus and the life of a plant is the inherent humanity of the fetus. Of course both humans and plants are alive, but they are not equal in value. Although this belief can be (and usually is) taken from a moral perspective, it can be taken as a legal one through documents like the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Just like I have done, the Founders have agreed – with no real explanation – that humans are set above animals in importance. When I argue my case against abortion, I make the assumption that the reader agrees that human life is more valuable than plant life or animal life.

Unfortunately, this appeal to the self-evident nature of human rights is not properly an argument, nor does it give us any chance at furthering our discussion. It is, effectively, a means to shut down the conversation, akin to saying, “I just believe this.” And, as Alan Gewirth rightly noted, in discussing Jefferson’s intutionist answer regarding the source of our rights, “it would not serve at all to convince the many persons throughout history who have had different intuitions on this question” (5).

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Professor Ari Kohen, fervently argues you know who on pro-choice issues, philosophy and logic (all futile, I might add). Read it, because it might be long but it offers an excellent debunk of many anti-choice arguments.

Incidentally, this quote from the piece might go over the anti-abortion activist’s head, but is worth highlighting:

The trouble, of course, is that Holzbach is patently wrong when he claims that nothing is lost if we ban abortion and he turns out to be wrong about human rights. And he is wrong in a way that is quite telling: he entirely ignores the rights of women. If we encourage the government to ban abortion, we are encouraging the government to limit the liberties that women have when it comes to their bodies; there is no way to get around the fact that this is an infringement — and quite a serious one — on their rights.

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