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March 09, 2003

Baby do you hear me?

Is a fetus conscious? Interesting question. My acceptance of abortion isn't based on "choice" as much as I don't believe that the first trimester fetus is a human being with any level of sapience. My misgivings about 2nd & 3rd trimester abortions revolve around this. This article seems to leave 1st trimester abortions (over 90%) alone-but introduces some doubts into the second trimester variety. If there are non-trivial doubts, that is a serious consideration. Finally, as far as consciousness, one thing they didn't mention is that many human beings remember that it was around 3 or 4 that they became self-aware, that "memories" are imprinted. I can tell you how I viewed the world at 4 years, but not at 4 months.

Posted by razib at 08:21 PM




If the standard for the end of a life is brain activity, shouldn't the start of life be judged by the same standard?

Posted by: todd at March 9, 2003 09:29 PM


I don't think its really relevant to the abortion debate: either you believe a woman has a right to control what happens to her own body, or you don't.

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 9, 2003 10:21 PM


On demand abortion also encourages abortion by lessening stigmas attached to abortion. It removes a proportion of incentives for abstaining from sex thus increasing sexual activity amoung a population. A utilitarian wont care so much about this and just say the more sex the merrier, but this is not a wise view. Lessening the value of actually 'taking a human life' weather its sentient or not is the problem.

Posted by: ShakeyKane at March 10, 2003 02:24 AM


Jaqueline,will you still accept that argument when euthansia of the "unproductive" becomes mandatory(that is,if the one places tax payers in the mother role,it's not so far fetched)and you are deemed unproductive?

Devalue life in one area and you devalue it in others.The boomers fought for abortion to avoid the consequences of their own hedonism,no more and no less."Choice" is merely a cover for narcissicism.

Posted by: M. at March 10, 2003 07:45 AM


Razib-re no childhood memory-see

Simcock, G. & Hayne, H. 2002. Breaking the Barrier? Children Fail to Translate Their Preverbal Memories Into Language. Psychological Science, 13 (3), 225-231.

Abstract: "Childhood amnesia" is the term given to the well-known phenomenon of our almost complete lack of memory for the experiences of our very early childhood. Exactly why it occurs is long been a subject of debate. New research suggests the answer may lie in the very limited vocabulary of very young children. A study of 2- and 3-year-old children found that children can only describe memories of events using words they knew when the experience occurred.

Posted by: at March 10, 2003 07:56 AM


First atheism, now abortion. We really know how to palpate people's emotions, don't we?

As for women controlling what happens to their bodies, I tend to see the argument for abortion on demand as demanding women sexual freedom without consequence. Fight the good fight, but it's never going to happen.

Posted by: duende at March 10, 2003 08:53 AM


The "women have the right to do what they please with their own bodies" argument is a typical property rights argument similar to the "what we do in our own bedrooms is no one else's business" used by leftists in the past. I am not a libertarian (I'm a paleoconservative) but I think that property rights should be accorded an importance position in the law books. My feeling is that leftists do not really regard property rights as important. For instance little regard was shown for the property rights of the boy scouts when they were taken to court for rejecting homosexual scout masters. No "right to do what you want on your own campus" was acknowledged when Bob Jones university when banned interracial dating (remember that the IRS was about to change Bob Jones U's tax status because of its refusal to conform with PC). I think that when a leftist goes on about a woman's right to do what she pleases with her body, the leftists are simply exploiting the principles of their opponents and not being honest about their own.

Posted by: Sporon at March 10, 2003 09:46 AM


Childhood amnesia is the default, but apparently not 100%.I've run into many accounts of people claiming very early memories that were confirmed by their parent. All anecdotal, of course, but how to prove otherwise? My husband described memories that he had reason to believe took place at less than a year old. I have a memory that my parents insisted was impossible because it took place when I was less than two.

I speculate that this may be related to instances of children starting to speak clearly and in a rational way within a few months of birth. This is very rare, and is usually associated with some type of prodigality. How otherwise to explain such developments than abnormally early myelinization? If this is true, than it's possible part of the development is pre-natal. If so, then there are ethical issues involved in third trimester abortions.

I'm totally in favor of women's right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy (I had to make that choice myself), but it seems reasonable to limit that choice based on possible consciousness of the foetus. The problem is, of course, how to prove consciousness.

Posted by: Catana at March 10, 2003 10:03 AM


1) It's not your own body anymore as soon as another conscious being is brought into the picture. Pregnancy and childrearing are unlike any other human activity, and they lead to special responsibilities incompatible with absolute individual freedom. You can ditch your friend or mate on the side of the road, but you can't do it with your children.

2) If you are seriously in doubt about whether or not you are terminating the life of a conscious being, that seems to be a great argument for erring on the side of caution.

3) A tremendous number (if not the majority) of abortions aren't performed because a woman genuinely wants one. Rather, she is often pressured into it by the father or her immediate family, who don't want to take responsibility. Abortion has had the somewhat paradoxical effect of removing social barriers for male action, thereby giving many women less actual choice about their lives. In some cases, women who could once have pressured the father into a economic provider role forty years ago, no longer have that option.

Posted by: Thrasymachus at March 10, 2003 02:19 PM


We're so far from an actual understanding of what it means to be conscious that this discussion strikes me as a little premature. If something can feel pain, it seems to me that it deserves pain-relief if you're going to do something to cause it pain, but that's a quite separate question. Invertebrates feel pain. Aplysia, a sea slug, was used as a model organism for some of the earliest studies on learning and memory by Kandel. Neither pain, nor ability learn or remember is sufficient for humanity, and isn't that why we have this debate? Because it's a human we don't want to kill? I personally think a woman should have the right to choose, but she shouldn't wait so long that an abortion will require inflicting pain on the unborn. Of course, pain medication can be used even very late, but that's dodging the issue.

Posted by: Grady at March 10, 2003 09:06 PM


GC - your utilitarian argument doesn't necessarily hold water (at least from society's perspective) - the average unwanted child may still make a positive contribution. Remember that even a poor environment is usually good enough. Of course, if we take the mother's utility into account things change.

I think the self-determinacy argument (I own my body) is interesting, but given that not all pro-choice folks also favor drug legalization there are clearly other arguments that would need to be made. I am pro-choice mainly for this reason: if you ban abortion, you either need a full-blown police state to consistently enforce your law, or else the law will be applied primarily to those least able to game the system - the usual suspects, poor, lower-class, and lacking connections. Neither outcome is acceptable to me.

Posted by: bbartlog at March 11, 2003 07:54 AM


I am pro-abortion

Posted by: L at March 11, 2003 07:57 PM


For the record, I'm a libertarian, not a leftist, so please don't ascribe leftist views to me.

M, I have no problem with letting the unproductive starve. Mandatory euthanasia crosses the line from letting someone die and killing them. Letting someone die is OK, taking additional action to kill them is not. (In regards to abortion, I think the law should be a woman always has the right to expel a fetus from her body, but not take additional action to kill. If expelling results in the fetus dying because it is not yet viable, so be it.)

Sporon, I think the Boy Scouts should be able to kick out anyone they want, and universities should be able to set any policies they want (and we should stop funding universities with tax dollars while we're at it).

Thrasymachus, I don't think children have any inherent right to have their parents take care of them. I don't think anyone has the right to force another person to take care of them, regardless of age.

bbartlog, I'm pro-drug legalization too.

Consistently yours,

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 12, 2003 04:33 PM


Jacqueline:
I have no problem with letting the unproductive starve...
I don't think children have any inherent right to have their parents take care of them. I don't think anyone has the right to force another person to take care of them, regardless of age.

Wow, Jacqueline. I've never found someone with a moral code I regard as evil before. Misguided, sure, but not evil. This complete denial of responsibility to fellow human beings amazes me. It is fully anti-thetical to my beliefs. You've amazed me.

I came across the text of a letter once, dated about 1 B.C. from a Roman citizen to his pregnant wife, "Know that I am still in Alexandria.... I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I received payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it, if a girl, discard it." That attitude was at least excusible as part of the social norm in a more harsh and primitive time. Your expression of the same, as a matter of philosophy no less, is striking in this day and age.

I suppose it's not really as bad as all that. Shortsightedness is probably the best explanation for such a belief system. You probably haven't worked out the consequences of what you've said. Someone who actually applied those moral principles in each aspect of life would be a monster. And a society that did so would be a close approximation of hell--for the short time such a society would last before it destroyed itself.

Posted by: Thrasymachus at March 12, 2003 05:23 PM


easy Thrasymachus-you are in danger of being captivated by the horror. I'm sure Jacqueline is just young and fired up. There's a reason the constitutional convention imposed 35 as the minimum age to be president. If you can't be ruthless when you're young and talk is cheap, when can you be ruthless?

Posted by: martin at March 12, 2003 07:51 PM


Martin, that puts me in the mind of quoting Churchill: "Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains."

I'll grant you that I was being a bit too aggressive. Sorry Jacqueline, hope you know I was attacking your ideas, not you. Still, Martin, you've reminded me that the Thrasymachus presidency dosen't start until 2017 so I guess I'm allowed a bit of ruthless too. Heh.

Posted by: Thrasymachus at March 12, 2003 08:05 PM


Sure. BTW by "captivated by the horror" I meant that I thought you were responding more to the fact that there was a female name attached to the post than to the relative merits of the assertions contained therein.
Your backtracking only confirms it. Since algebra indicates you're 21-hope you don't mind some advice. Your urge to reconcile will only earn you feminine contempt.

Posted by: martin at March 12, 2003 08:42 PM


My philosophy that I expressed is in regards to what I think the law should be. I guess I should have been more specific!

I think people should (but not forced to by the state) and will take care of each other, and I do this myself.

But it should not be forced by law.

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 12, 2003 08:52 PM


I think that abortion is wrong morally. I think that it is a form of murder, but I'm very undecided about whether it should or should not be criminalised, because I believe that that the state should only punish wrongs that threaten the social organism, no matter how dastardly they are. The question to my mind then is, does abortion threaten the social organism in some way? If it happens a lot will it cause societies moral boundaries to blur?

Posted by: Sporon at March 12, 2003 09:19 PM


on a minor note-plenty of societies accepted infanticide & exposure and neglect and expulsion of the unfit. some of them-such as the inuit-have a LLLOOONNNGGGG track record at success and continuity before the advent of modernity. neither here nor there-but moral outrage is shaped by the gods of our age....

Posted by: razib at March 12, 2003 09:24 PM


Is killing in self-defense "murder"? Think about it. Pregnancy and childbirth is a pretty horrible, disgusting, painful experience, that frequently killed women before modern medicine, and still kills some women today. Don't women have a right to self defense against this assault on their bodies by an unwanted parasite?

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 12, 2003 09:49 PM


Heh, Martin, the ruthless me is back after reading that last post. By the way--I'm 23, I actually went to the trouble of figuring out the first inauguration after I turn 35. I'll be so old then.

Jacqueline, it's only self-defense if someone is trying to kill you and you are in imminent danger. You can't whip out a shotgun and blow away the guy you work beside because of second-hand smoke.

Besides, modern medicine makes childbirth deaths extremely rare. But as far as that goes, a study in Finland recently found that women were 4 times more likely to die in the year after abortion as they were after childbirth or miscarriage.

You state that you agree with personal responsibility. You just want the government doing anything about it.

I don't agree. If society doesn't regulate itself, things get bad pretty quickly. Absolute personal freedom is simply not compatible with human happiness. Absolute personal freedom isn't even compatible with long-term absolute personal freedom. There need to be systems and institutions in place that encourage and sometimes enforce personal responsibility.

Hedonism is fun for 1, 1.5 generations tops.

Posted by: Thrasymachus at March 12, 2003 10:13 PM


How can you call bringing an unwanted child that you can't support into the world "personal responsibility"? It's one of the most irresponsible things a person can do. Abortion is a far more responsible action to take with an unplanned pregnancy. I'm sick of people having kids they can't afford because they want them, or because they morally disagree with abortion, and then expecting everyone else to pick up the costs. That's not personal responsibility.

Also, if someone is beating you, not to death, but they are hurting you, and the only way you can make them stop is to kill them, you don't think you should have a right to kill them to defend yourself?

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 12, 2003 10:24 PM


The folks over at Capitalism.org explain it better then I can:
http://www.capitalism.org/faq/abortion.htm

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 12, 2003 10:54 PM


Abortion is a far more responsible action to take with an unplanned pregnancy.

Jacqueline, you've denied individual responsibility even to children, and now you're concerned with a person's responsibility to society? You can't have your cake and eat it to.

And the beating argument is silly. As I said, it's entirely different when it's a child (who is conscious of no harm to its mother, mind you). There are simply some things in life that need to be endured because of children. Sorry that we don't live in some sort of individual freedom dreamworld.

Heh. I looked at capitalism.org like you said. Hmm, I thought. That's a pretty dogmatic way to get your viewpoint across. I continued down.

"What is the capitalist view on abortion?

Given the above, under capitalism abortion is an inalienable right. Any one who advocates the outlawing of abortion -- like Steve Forbes -- is an enemy of individual rights, and thus of capitalism."

The 'capitalist view', and me I thought capitalism was an economic model.

Yet here it's picking out a view you must have to be a capitalist. Then it's picking out enemies of the viewpoint.

Classic cult behavior, I thought. Who's running this thing?

Clicked on to the home page. Big Ayn Rand quote on top.

Next went to were it says shopped--that's how you can always tell. Ann Rynd bookstore. Hmm.

Looked at the 'partner of the objectivism network' link.

Yes I'm sure. Ayn Rand cult site.

Individual freedom dreamworld indeed.

I don't actually have too much against cults. Modern religion is so far removed from daily life that it's like drinking non-alcholic beer. A little moonshine while you're growing up will broaden your horizons. But you do have to develop some critical thinking and figure out a cult's problems for yourself. It's unfortunate, but you can't be led out by other people.

Posted by: Thrasymachus at March 13, 2003 07:56 AM


Just because there are some cultish Randroids out there doesn't mean that Ayn Rand didn't have a lot of good points.

Posted by: Jacqueline at March 13, 2003 09:51 PM