Redux: Rape, Abortion, and "Personhood"

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Tiassa, Nov 1, 2012.


Do I support the proposition? (see post #2)

Poll closed Nov 11, 2013.
  1. Anti-abortion: Yes

  2. Anti-abortion: No

  3. Pro-choice: Yes

  4. Pro-choice: No

  5. Other (Please explain below)

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  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Mod Hat — A warning at the outset

    We're going to try this again, and people will stay on-topic.

    The underlying theory of this topic is granting life at conception "personhood" [LACP]; it is of no use to try to justify the standard unless that justification is specifically related to justifying the implications.

    Those who come into this discussion looking for a fight, or trying to troll it into closure in order to suppress the discussion will not be granted the same leeway they were last time. The same goes for those who wish to litigate the abortion discussion from square one; it is a long-running discussion in political discourse, and has plenty of history here at Sciforums.

    Editing five hundred posts to extract relevant material is unrealistic. The posts selected for copy to this new thread are those that are on topic, or can be brought back to topic, and occurred before the general meltdown of the prior discussion.

    But members will stay on topic.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
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  3. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Rape, Abortion, and "Personhood"

    The 2012 election cycle has brought a number of controversial declarations about rape to the fore. In 2011, Congressional Republicans sought to restrict Medicaid funding for abortions to "forcible" rape, in effect demanding that poor children who are victims of statutory rape should be forced to carry any pregnancies that result from the crime. Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan was a co-sponsor of that bill.

    Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), who ran for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, explained that if a rape was an "honest rape", he would overdose a woman with estrogen in order to compel a miscarriage.

    Missouri Senate candidate, and current State Representative Todd Akin, went so far as to suggest that if a rape is a "legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that down".

    Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who won his Republican primary race against conservative stalwart Sen. Richard Lugar, declared that a pregnancy resulting from rape is God's will.

    Washington congressional candidate Josh Koster (R-1) simply refers to "the rape thing", and suggests that it is inappropriate to abort a pregnancy resulting from rape because it is "putting more violence onto a woman's body". He apparently does not believe there is any violence about forcing a woman to carry a rape pregnancy to term and risk permanent physical injury from delivery.

    And all of this is because Republicans, who disdain birth control, oppose abortion. None of the anti-abortion advocates can explain what happens to a woman's status as a human being during pregnancy.

    Perhaps the problem is in our laws.

    Thus, a proposition. In the end, politics in effect is an art of compromise, and as much as I disdain the proposition of compromising on human rights, we need to recognize that however distasteful we find anti-abortion misogyny, there might well be some middle ground.


    • Acknowledging "personhood" (life at conception), from the moment of conception, a woman's general human rights are suspended. Legislation affording them specific interim "maternal rights" will be crafted to preserve all but the woman's right to govern her own body and what takes place within it.

    • Any rape is to be charged as a federal civil rights crime carrying a minimum sentence of life in prison, in addition to state laws pertaining to rape itself.

    • Any pregnancy resulting from rape demands a second federal civil rights charge on behalf of the "person" created by the crime.

    • Any miscarriage or other loss of pregnancy resulting from rape brings a charge against the rapist of Murder in the First Degree With Special Circumstances. (As long as capital punishment is in effect, it is a viable sentence.)

    • The public trust, either federal or state, assumes paternal financial responsibility—i.e., child support—until the offspring reaches twenty-one years of age measured from conception; if the offspring is enrolled in college, the state obligation for educational assistance extends to the completion of a degree program.

    • Public responsibility for financial support is not severable by adoption or other transfer of child custody or parental authority.

    • Any rape of a minor female that results in pregnancy will oblige the public trust to rehabilitative, medical, educational, and other financial support of the rape survivor, as well as the offspring.

    • Any rape of an adult female that results in pregnancy will oblige the public trust to rehabilitative, medical, and other financial support of the rape survivor, as well as the offspring.

    • Any person found to be complicit in any rape will be charged as an accomplice to whatever crimes are charged against the rapist. (To wit, if the pregnancy miscarries, resulting in Murder 1 Special, the complicit individuals will be charged as accomplices to that crime.)

    • The public trust willingly accepts these and other responsibilities in exchange for its authority to suspend a woman's general human rights.

    And that's just for starters. There are other complications stemming from the "personhood" argument:

    • Any miscarriage or other termination of pregnancy must be investigated as a potential homicide.

    • Menstrual irregularity in heterosexually active women must be investigated to ensure that there has been no miscarriage.

    • Any person found to have contributed to miscarriage or other termination of pregnancy will be charged with Murder in the First Degree With Special Circumstances.

    One might certainly point out how complicated this is, and note the difficulty of enforcement. But these are not excuses for refusing to enforce the law. After all, this whole "personhood" suggestion of life at conception isn't just about abortion, right?

    If a pregnant woman continues to work, and miscarries after tripping over a plastic chair-mat and colliding with the desk, this must be investigated as a homicide.

    If a husband slams on the brakes to avoid a deer running into the road, and his pregnant wife suffers a seat-belt miscarriage, this must be investigated as a homicide.

    As is well-known, in questions of pregnancy and termination, I assert a dry-foot policy; as long as an organism exists inside another person, it is that other person's jurisdiction.

    Quite clearly, anti-abortion advocates disagree with this outlook.

    Very well; if they want "personhood" at conception, these are the minimum demands before that outcome is even negotiable.

    After all, it is also well-known that I am a voracious advocate of equal protection. If a blastocyst is a person, it has human rights. And if the excuse for not enforcing those rights is that it is too complicated or expensive, the lie of the "personhood" argument is exposed. Time for the pokies, indeed.

    So ... these are the minimum terms for getting my outlook to the table in order to negotiate "personhood". And when I say minimum, let there be no question: There will be no watering down of a rapist's culpability. There will be no dilution of the public trust's responsibility. We can pile onto the rapist and public trust as much as one thinks is necessary, but we will not diminish these minimal obligations.

    I find the whole "personhood" assertion unethical and distasteful. But if I am to compromise on these points at all, yes, I have a list of demands.

    My fellow liberals and feminist neighbors need not remind me that I am a man and have no standing to bargain for a woman's human rights. Nor do I need to remind them that I am a parent of a daughter, and responsible for defending and upholding her human condition.

    So I would note to my pro-choice neighbors: I know, I know.

    But this exercise is more intended for anti-abortion, pro-life, "personhood", or whatever else we might call it, advocates.

    Is this an ethical compromise, in their outlooks? Is it just? Or is this whole "personhood" thing really just about putting women back in their places?
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  5. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    The whole issue is very complicated. Where I support a woman's right to make choices regarding her health, I also recognize that where there is life, there's a potential person. I much prefer to leave the question with the women involved. Am I an accessory to murder by doing so? I think so.
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  7. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    I can't vote. The proposal is too convoluted, with too many absurd extremes. I suppose that's the idea.
    Really, the issue needs to be simplified.
    1. What is the role of government in the lives and welfare of citizens?
    2. How do we define a citizen?
    3. Government serves the same function in the life of every citizen - regardless of age, gender and income.
  8. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    The absurd extremity of life at conception "personhood"

    It is convoluted, but it is also simple:

    • These are not absurd extremes; they are logical outcomes according to "personhood" and Equal Protection.​

    If you were found dead, with a hole in your chest, would society refuse to investigate your death as a homicide because it is too complicated, or too expensive?

    If that blastocyst is a person, those "absurd extremes" are nothing more than the implications.

    "Life at conception" has a certain political value, but what is its real value in terms of morality and, functionally speaking, justice?

    There are moral implications to the principle, and if it is set into law, there are legal implications as well.

    It is my belief that these "absurd extremes" are nothing more than the logical implications of life at conception.

    If that "person" inside a woman dies because of someone else's action?

    The simplification is, well, simple enough to express:

    • What happens to a woman's human rights once she becomes pregnant?​

    Last year, we at Sciforums explored the notion that, "It's a child not a choice ... but not if you were raped", which examined the anti-abortion rape exceptions. It's a thirty page thread, all of five hundred eighty-two posts. I will say that I'm impressed, to some degree, that the question has moved into the American political arena; as I wrote last year:

    It's a matter of appearances being more important than principles.

    "Abortion is murder!" they cry. But they also don't like to be seen as misogynistic. They don't want to be seen as hostile to rape survivors.

    And that's all it is.​

    What we've seen during this election cycle is that some anti-abortion advocates are trying to move past the "child, not a choice" question as it pertains to rape. To the one, I might suggest that took a certain amount of political courage. To the other, the next thing they need to do, ethically speaking, and in order to establish our society's legal outlook and definition of justice in this sector of jurisprudence, is to reconcile the implications. In that discussion last year, I also explained, "I can envision a world that completely outlaws abortion, but the reality is that nobody would go along with it."

    And every time I raise the implications of "personhood", someone will point out the extremism and absurdity. What this suggests to me is that life at conception really is just about abortion and putting women back in their place. After all, the practical juristic implications of "personhood" include Equal Protection. Thus, if a blastocyst is a "person", what are the implications of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment?:

    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    (Boldface and bold-italic accents added)

    What are we going to do about that?

    Now, I'm not trying to oblige you to formulate an answer; it is a difficult answer, or set of answers, which is my larger point. If we intend to establish "personhood", this is the next phase of the discussion.

    But this is the simplest expression of the "convoluted" question: How do you provide equal protection for the "person" who exists inside a woman?

    You might consider the proposal a collection of absurd extremes; perhaps it is easier to start with two questions and let everyone else devise their own proposals:

    (1) What happens, under life at conception "personhood", to a woman's status as a human being at the moment of conception?

    (2) How do you enforce Equal Protection for the "person" growing inside a woman?​

    The first set or proposals, pertaining to rape-induced pregnancies, generally respond to the apparent suspension of a woman's human status.

    The second set, pertaining to pregnancy in general, is comprised of further implications of enforcing Equal Protection for the "person" inside a woman.

    "Personhood" has a certain political aesthetic, to be certain, that many find attractive. But it also carries tremendous juristic implications.

    It is my opinion that if those implications are absurd and extreme, then so is life at conception "personhood".


    Constitution of the United States of America. 1992. Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School. November 2, 2012.
  9. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    I would think that she becomes responsible for the life within, whether or not it is by choice (rape). This is the logical conclusion of such a situation: the embryo's life trumps the liberties of the victim where her choice to terminate the pregnancy is void. There can be no other outcome--right or wrong. I am without any parallel that might compare or provide example of a similar circumstance. This is truly unique to the abortion question.

    The laws would be applied much as you suggested. The embryo's life would be protected by law, and any harm to that embryo would be addressed by law.

    Certainly this would be a 180 degree turn in how we presently view life in the womb. If we do define it as being a person at conception, then we must protect its life as we would any other.
  10. siledre Registered Senior Member

    I don't think we should be legislating this issue for good or bad, this is between a woman and whatever god is out there making that determination.
  11. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    Don't you think we shoulder some responsibility as a community? We wouldn't stand by and watch a mother kill her child under any other situation. I also would leave this question to the mother, but that just makes me culpable as well.
  12. lightgigantic Banned Banned

    I'm not sure why it is so absurd in contrast how we provide equal protection to children residing outside of their mothers. Its not so much an issue of enforcement but entitlement and provision (whether in the form of bias in divorce cases, or maternity leave or some other government/societal based grant/concession for rearing a child).
  13. PhysBang Valued Senior Member

    'Acknowledging "personhood" (life at conception), from the moment of conception, a woman's general human rights are suspended.'

    This has to be one of the most evil things I've seen.
  14. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    Now, I find myself struggling with other peoples definitions that draw the line between "a cluster of cells" and a person. To me, that cluster of cells is full of potential. When you kill those cells, you are effectively murdering the person that could have been. Protecting the fetus at conception is, in my mind, a valid argument. I could easily project personage on the fetus, because that is exactly what it will be if given the opportunity.
  15. darksidZz Valued Senior Member

    Everyone is responsible for their own lives, yet we live together. In case of abortion I feel and see woman have all the power, so let them do what they will with their own bodies and men stop trying to force them to keep babies they don't want, but........... it will never be this way
  16. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    What are your feelings when one life contains and controls the future of another? I think that is the crux of discussion. If we leave it up to the woman, do we wash our hands of all responsibility for the other life? Remember, it's not just the life of the woman that is involved.
  17. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Brief Notes

    That is the challenge, it seems. Indeed, it's why I have a dry-foot policy; my resolution is to simply assert that what takes place inside a woman's body is her own business. Thus—

    —unless I'm reading you wrongly, I would disagree with the comparison. The child existing outside the woman's body has its own physical reality.

    The anti-abortion advocates do not address the woman's status while pregnant. As we seem to agree, the conundrum is unique. In order to enforce the rights of a blastocyst or fetus as a person, we must necessarily suspend a woman's right to self-governance. In that sense, I might as well cast my vote in the poll; I cannot endorse any suspension of a woman's humanity for the fact of pregnancy. Nor would one want me in charge if personhood was the rule; Equal Protection is a vital foundation of our society, and I would sacrifice as many lambs, send as many people to prison, wreck as many lives, as I must in order to make the point. Meanwhile, I would be remiss in my duty, as such, if I did not. Did a woman experience menstrual irregularity? We must investigate, in order to make sure a "person" has not died, and if we have evidence suggesting such a death, we must ensure that the defenseless "person" did not die by homicide. (It is also worth pointing out that women would have an insanity defense; culpable men, not so much.)

    I suppose the upshot for the moralists is that all these complications will have a tremendous chilling effect on heterosexual relations; women will be far less willing to consent to heterosexual intercourse if they are staking their very status as human. Men will be far less willing to say her mouth said no but her eyes said yes if they're facing life in prison.

    Of course, I can't imagine the impact the implications I've suggested would have on an individual born by force of law after being conceived by rape. We will be mandating a whole new array of human neuroses.
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2012
  18. Bowser Namaste Valued Senior Member

    I was pointing out that under any other situation, death of the child would be considered murder. Yet we draw a line between the mother's uterus and the delivery room. As much as we want to give women power over their bodies, we can't ignore the fact that pregnancy involves an unborn child. I understand there are many interpretations concerning the definition of life within; mine would be that it is a potential person at any stage of development. This seems to much of the disagreement among those who argue this issue--when is
  19. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Absurd Necessity

    Do you really see no practical difference between a child that lives as an independent organism outside its mother and one that lives as a dependent organism inside a woman?

    And think beyond simply "abortion" here.

    As a man, I'm never going to have to get up on a table and spread my legs so Inspector Bob from the Special High Investigative Team Menstrual Enforcement Division can poke around inside my vagina and maybe even scope my uterus to make sure I haven't been pregnant recently.

    And therein we find a practical issue: In the past, some have suggested that investigating menstrual irregularity is far too complicated, and therefore absurd or extreme. But if the child existing outside its mother were to die unexpectedly, society would put some effort into finding out why. The organism living inside another woman? offers this information:

    It's easy to become overwhelmed by the numerous statistics floating around out there on miscarriage rates. Depending on the context, you might find numbers saying everything from 5% to 70% of pregnancies miscarry. What's even more confusing is that most of these numbers are correct when put into context. For example, one study found that women who have given birth have a 5% risk of miscarrying the next time around, and some research has indicated that 70% of fertilized eggs may never go on to become a full-term pregnancy. But those numbers don't help you if you're just trying to determine an average person's risk of miscarriage after finding out she's pregnant.

    I think the answer offered by UpToDate, an online reference source for doctors and patients, might help to clarify the confusion:

    "Miscarriage in early pregnancy is common. Studies show that about 10% to 20% of women who know they are pregnant have a miscarriage some time before 20 weeks of pregnancy; 80% of these occur in the first 12 weeks. But the actual rate of miscarriage is even higher since many women have very early miscarriages without ever realizing that they are pregnant. One study that followed women's hormone levels every day to detect very early pregnancy found a total miscarriage rate of 31%."

    You're now looking at investigating nearly one in three women at some point in their lives? And then add to that menstrual irregularity?

    This is where the problem arises: Equal Protection means investigating potential homicides cannot be pushed aside for an entire identifiable class of people simply because it is too complicated or expensive.

    If a society declares a fertilized ovum a "person", and includes in its laws an assertion of Equal Protection (e.g., Amendment XIV, USC), you must afford every person that protection.

    Little Timmy dying of cancer is something that we don't necessarily need an autopsy for; we can figure out how he died. But if Timmy dies unexpectedly? Yes, society will investigate. And I should also remind that no body does not equal no death. It is, actually, possible to convict someone of murder in these United States without a corpse.

    It's not that I don't see the point when someone simply says it's absurdly complicated to enforce the law this way, but that's part of the point: It is also our obligation under LACP.

    Well, unless we want to amend the Constitution to strike the Equal Protection Clause from Amendment XIV and the Due Process Clause from Amendment V.

    Even now, a week later, I can't figure out what you mean by this.


    Danielsson, Krissi. "Miscarriage Rates". About. November 4, 2009. November 11, 2012.

    The Constitution of the United States of America. 1992. Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School. November 11, 2012.
  20. billvon Valued Senior Member

    No. Because: "Little Timmy dying of cancer is something that we don't necessarily need an autopsy for; we can figure out how he died." Little Timmy (or Fetus Timmy if you like) is even more likely to die from a miscarriage than cancer; thus, no autopsy (or even investigation) is needed.

    I am pro-choice, but honestly your strawman about "investigating one in three women" is absurd.
  21. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Defeating the Purpose

    Well, a broader application of what you're suggesting is that society would say, "Well, Billvon died of heart trauma after something pierced his chest", and leave it at that.

    "Death From Miscarriage" defeats the purpose of LACP, especially if that miscarriage comes from a foreign object inserted into the uterus, an abortifacient potion, or baseball bat, fists, &c.
  22. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    By its nature, pregnancy is a phenomenon that is a matter of life and death, literally.

    It seems that people on both extremes of the debate are forgetting this, and try to simplify it into something it isn't:
    One side conceptualizes it as slightly more than a matter of cosmetics;
    the other side conceptualizes it as a matter of a peaceful, safe life with no hardship.

    So the former think of the unborn as "tissue," "non-person", from conception to birth.
    The latter think of the unborn as an innocent person just minding their peaceful, harmless business in a world of peace, safety, ease and prosperity.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2012
  23. Trippy ALEA IACTA EST Staff Member

    I'm sure there's a point that I'm missing somewhere. This is one of several aspects of American culture (as seen from my perspective anyway) that I've never quite been able to grasp, and it seems to come down to the same basic few points as other aspects of the American politic.
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