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local decisions about abortion - Ilya Shlyakhter (notestaff) - letters to editors
September 21st, 2007
11:56 am

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local decisions about abortion

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From:to_the_editor
Date:September 25th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC)

Re: (eric's response concluded)

(Link)
Well, Ilya, I guess that's it. I spent a lot of time on this this
morning, because I want to give you a decent response and explain why
I'm not going to respond in the future. I took up this correspondence
with you in the first place for two reasons: first, because it seemed
the polite response to an email, and second, because I wanted to show
you that pro-lifers are not as stupid as you think they are. I think
I've fulfilled my duties on the first count -- in part by trying to
explain, here, why I'm breaking off the correspondence. I rather
doubt I've gotten anywhere on the second one, because you seem
unwilling to take me seriously and unwilling to recognize your own
presuppositions. But I've done what I can, and I don't think it's a
good use of my time to try to do any more. I hope I've given you a
little food for thought.

I'll look forward to your parting blast!

I wish you the best,
Eric Johnston

(ps - you're welcome to post these emails, if you really want to. For
the record, the NYT piece was solicited, not submitted -- I'm really
not looking for ways to get into this conversation. But someone at
their op-ed page heard of me and thought it would be entertaining to
post my position. I'm really not all that concerned what goes on the
web about me, good or bad.)
From:to_the_editor
Date:September 25th, 2007 06:07 pm (UTC)

Re: (eric's response concluded)

(Link)
hi eric,

ok. i'm sorry where i offended you or misheard you, and i appreciate
your taking
the time to explain yourself. i probably did rely on some stereotypes that
may not applly to you specifically.

you're right that some of our disagreements cannot be bridged. i
think discussions
are useful regardless of that, as they help everyone refine their position and
understand better the other side's thinking, even while still
disagreeing with it.

now, let me respond to some of your points, and after that i'll just
wish you the
best luck with your dissertation and everything else you're doing.

i don't believe that government should do nothing but protect us from
each other (as you can easily see by reading my letters at
http://ilya.cc/lett ); i think the government should provide a robust
social safety net, and help people with education, job training,
universal health care etc. but these are all services that the
government offers. that's very different from when the government
forbids you to do something. i very strongly believe that the
government may not forbid you to do anything unless it demonstrably
harms someone else. smoking is bars is banned to protect non-smoking
patrons, not to protect the smokers. the unfortunate result of
permitting everything that doesn't harm others is that we must permit
apparently distasteful things like pornography. but the alternative,
to protect people from self-harm by banning self-harmful behaviors, is
worse. who decides what is self-harmful? some will say that reading
Noam Chomsky is too harmful to be permitted. some will say that
mountain climbing is too risky to allow. who decides? the only
viable solution is to allow everything unless it harms someone. we
have regrettable exceptions to this (like criminalizing nonviolent
drug use), but the answer is to remove the exceptions -- not to
criminalize more "victimless" crimes.
social engineering is a fine thing, and there are many effective ways
to accomplish it.
you can reduce abortions by promoting sex education and contraception
(something the Catholic Church recklessly opposes), by promoting
adoption like your friends are doing, by educating women on the
psychological dangers of abortion, by creating jobs so that everyone
can afford to raise their kids, by increasing enforcement of child
support, and in many other ways. just as, you can fight smoking by
educating people about its dangers and providing smoking cessation
programs. if it's possible to achieve laudable social goals without
the abhorrent action of creating victimless crimes, then that route
should be pursued; and as illustrated above, that is almost always
possible.
From:to_the_editor
Date:September 25th, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC)

Re: (eric's response concluded)

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of course, we disagree about whether creating victimless crimes, i.e.
protecting people from themselves by threatening them with jail if
they do self-harmful things that harm no one else, is such a bad
thing. in general, most things currently defined as crimes in our
society _do_ have identifiable victimes other than the perpetrator.
that seems to be a reflection of a live-and-let-live consensus in our
society. i think this live-and-let-live approach is a large reason
for this country's prosperity and power, compared with more moralistic
and restrictive societies like iran.

you're right that my strong attachment to individual rights -- that
invasive things may not be done to you except to protect others -- is
an axiom. it is also tempered in many ways; e.g. i support higher
taxes to fund social programs, because taking away part of your income
is less invasive than controlling your medical procedures. and i
support gun control because, again, there are many alternative means
of self-defense, so the particular self-defense method of owning a
lethal gun is a less basic right than controlling whether you have a
child. most of all, "invading" your life by taxing your income or
restricting what guns you may owe is for a clear benefit to others.
invading your life by controlling whether you may abort a fetus that
is not a child, is of no benefit to others. these two considerations
-- how bad is the invasion of your life, and how big the benefit to
others -- must be balanced in all decisions. we just disagree about
what the acceptable balance is.

> (Incidentally, you are also leaving out a tremendous lot of work done
> by the pro-life community beyond banning abortion: especially crisis
> pregnancy centers. A few of my friends have even adopted babies who
> were going to be aborted. That is not easy.)

where did i say that such things are bad? on the contrary, i respect them
very much. but if you can reduce abortions by such voluntary means,
without criminalizing victimless behavior, then there is no need to do
something as drastic as defining a new victimless crime.

>We are
> not imposing any risk on others that we are not taking on ourselves.

that is certainly a welcome change from what many "conservatives" do
(like sending others' children to war but not their own). in practice,
the well-off would still have abortions available to them ( by traveling to
another state or country ), so overturning Roe would ban abortions
mainly for the indigent.

more important, that you live your moral beliefs is very respectable,
but not a justification to impose them on others. jehova's witnesses may
"abstain from blood" in a car accident, but may not force others to do so.
moral vegetarians may not impose vegetarianism on others.
living your beliefs is certainly necessary before you try to impose
them on others,
but is hardly sufficient.

>Just because I oppose abortion doesn't mean I like judicial
> fiats.

i understand that your commitment to democracy is real. we just disagree
about which personal behaviors may fairly be voted upon by others.
clearly not 100% of everything is up for a majority vote, as the Bill
of Rights shows.
exactly what _is_ up for a vote -- that we disagree upon.
From:to_the_editor
Date:September 25th, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC)

Re: (eric's response concluded)

(Link)
>DNA makes a fetus a person
all i was saying is that "having DNA" has nothing to do with personhood
(viruses have it, bacteria have it), so it was strange to hear DNA brought up
in the context of the discussion. certainly there are other biological
features of fetuses that may be elucidated by science, that will help clarify
when a fetus becomes a person. but "having DNA" is not such a feature.

>my position on legal abortion, and the Catholic Church's
> position, is *not* based solely on "defending the innocent."

Ok, good to hear that. It's also based on "protecting people from themselves
by threatening them with jail if they do something self-harmful, or by
threatening
with jail anyone who facilitates their willing self-harm". As noted above,
we disagree on whether this is ok. Certainly, if these things are ok, I don't
understand why cigarette smokers and makers are not jailed.

> in what sense does regulating
> medical procedures invade one's privacy (we regulate *every* other
> medical procedure

"Regulating" medical procedures involves letting you opt for a risky medical
procedure that may harm you physically and psychologically, as long as
the risks are explained to you. Regulating medical procedures does not
involve banning procedures simply because some people may have
regrets afterwards.

This is different for children, of course; the parents or guardians
decide what's
best for the child. But once you're an adult, you're allowed to take risks and
possibly harm yourself. The state is no longer your "parent" in the same sense
that your mother and father were.

>But you
> have not engaged the actual real world, where Roe is held to prevent
> malpractice cases against abortionists.

If women routinely don't have accurate information about what an
abortion entails,
the answer is to improve communication. There is no reason why "in
the real world"
you cannot communicate a message to people willing to hear it.
I'm all for pre-abortion counseling, perhaps by specially licensed counselors
unaffiliated witht abortion clinics. But ultimately, after all the counseling,
the choice must be the woman's, since it's her life and she has to live with the
consequences, and she's an adult.

>fatherlessness and abortion
> have climbed, in synch, at a rate disproprotionate to the rest of the
> country.

Correlation doesn't mean causation -- both these things could be caused
simultaneously by a third factor, such as an economic downturn that
disproportionately affects that group. But in any case, since there are
measures short of criminalizing abortion for reducing fatherlessness --
stronger enforcement of child support, better access to sex education and
contraception, educating women so they have more power and can
stand up to irresponsible demands by men -- the justification for doing
something as drastic as restricting women's choices is not there.
Of course, we disagree whether restricting abortion is such a drastic thing.

>your dogmatic attachment to abortion.

Of course, my attachment is not to abortion per se, but to not forbidding any
victimless personal behavior. I'm uncomfortable with abortion, as I am with
homosexuality for example; I'm just far more uncomfortable with controlling
people's lives in major ways, without justification rooted in public safety.
I do believe in helping people not harm themselves ( I volunteer on
suicide/listening hotlines, for example ); but I believe this should be done
non-coercively.

Ok, I tried to address some of your points. Thanks again for taking
the time to write. Best wishes for your dissertation, your job search
and your family.

regards,

ilya
Ilya Shlyakhter Powered by LiveJournal.com