Got there in the end Stephen!
All moral positions involve prioritizing and qualification
Good, I'm glad we agree on that. And I'm glad you agree that the moral principle of "protecting an innocent human life" also falls within that qualification.
I have merely been pointing out your inconsistency in desiring laws to protect you from someone's free "choice" of killing you to make life easier on themselves, while not advocating laws to protect the lives of unborn human beings.
Where have I ever made an unqualified statement to the effect that I do not advocate laws to protect unborn babies? Quite the reverse in fact, I have consistently made the point that in many circumstances abortion should be illegal, and even when legal, should be discouraged, and other alternatives explored.
However, this discussion is getting too strung out and fragmented, and we're in danger of focussing too much on the surface details of where we disagree, as opposed to the wider points of agreement or disagreement which underlay them. In abortion debate the moral arguments and the legal often get entangled to the detriment of both of them, so I just want to step back a moment, try to separate them, and, using the quotes (from you) above and my replies as a starting point, endeavour to reiterate in a more straightforward way, where I'm coming from.
First of all my personal view of what we've been calling the "moral" position.
I asked you all those questions simply to try and establish whether your own moral position imparted some special significance to human life above all other life, and, though you didn't address the invitation to comment upon what IS human, it appears that it does.
The relevance to abortion is, I would have thought, obvious in that we are exploring the circumstances under which lives are terminated by the actions of other lives. But we'll come to that later. First of all let's concentrate on this question of the taking of life.
Interestingly you asked me: "Are you suggesting (really) that there is no difference between eating Chik-fil-a, and killing a two year old human being?"
I suppose, before starting to answer that, I ought to ask you for more precision. What, for instance, did you mean by "difference". Still, I think I know what you mean. You are basically suggesting that it is more generally acceptable to our society to kill a chicken than a two year old human. I obviously accept that. I do not however necessarily agree that as a general proposition, viewed from different perspectives, it is true that killing a chicken is more acceptable than killing a human. Take the planet "Aviana" for instance. There the population would be utterly horrified if a feathered creature was killed to save a mere bald crawling mammal.
The point here is that all life is valued to one degree or another by some other life (if necessary you can take this right down from the species level to the personal level to prove its validity). It is perfectly understandable that you sit here in your skin on your planet with your god and reach the conclusion that you are the life form that should be last in line for the fast food processing unit of the universe. But then there are lots of other scaley, feathered and amoeba-like Stephen's out there who probably think that they also should not be served up with a plate of McFries. The only rational objective conclusion is that all life forms are "equal". We could get into a discussion of the definition of life form, but we won't, because it does not harm the logic to simply admit all "things".
From that platform we can move on to look at some of the issues we were discussing. In this context the ideas of "right" and "wrong" are a bit distracting as they usually lead right back to religious or social context, so instead I'll use "desirable" and "undesirable". We could get terribly entangled in, no doubt, fascinating debate at this point, but for the sake of brevity (and because I believe it, and this is all just my opinion) I'm going to assume that causing hurt or death to another being is always equally undesirable. (If it still really bothers you that I'm lumping a chicken in with a human baby here, you might like to revisit my question about the Neanderthal, the "what is human?" issue).
So now I'm in the unenviable position of needing to reconcile the idea that it's undesirable to kill any other life with the myriad actions I perform each day like walking through a orchard, or burning a rotting log, or eating the Sunday roast or wearing a condom, or having an abortion.
The fact is that I perform undesirable acts in exterminating the life I exterminate each day. It gives me no pleasure to think that I'm killing wasps as I step through an orchard, or frying woodlice as I burn the log, and to that extent alone it's undesirable in my view. I reconcile this, or to put it another way, live with it, by, I suspect, a series of very complex, and probably Machiavellian, processes in my mind which loosely amount to what you earlier termed "conscience". All sorts of concepts come into play here:
The concept of mitigation
The concept of recompense and amelioration
The concept of least harm (between different courses)
The concept of unknowing or ignorance
The concept of diminished responsibility
The concept of mistake or error
The concept of repentance
How these interplay, the weights and emphasis on each and the way they are employed, to reconcile action to conscience, is determined mainly I think by upbringing, social background, life experiences, health, wealth etc, and maybe some biological and chemical inputs too.
So every time I kill something (knowingly) I accept that what I have done is undesirable and pacify my conscience with an amalgam of reasons, justifications, excuses, apologies, reparations etc, such that I continue to be able to live with myself reasonably peacefully.
Obviously there comes a point where many decisions to kill become "easy" simply because the circumstances are repetitive and once the palliative is tried, tested and accepted over and over, it becomes instinctive. Driving down a bug infested highway would fall into this category. Although I try to avoid moths in my headlights I have generally accepted that it is impractical to do so without endangering other motorists. Similarly I will usually take the line that braking or swerving for animals and birds is too risky in congested fast moving traffic.
But, to illustrate the complexity of this (and to move closer to abortion, you will be relieved to hear) I remember once driving down a road at 60mph with a guy on my tail for many miles. Despite the fact that I was doing the speed limit or even slightly above he persisted in tailgating following far too close. The road bent sharply and there ahead a mother duck was leading a line of ducklings across the tarmac. There was no swerving to avoid, it was simply brake or kill. In some ways I'd like to say I had no time to think, but the truth is I did in fact have sufficient time to deliberately decide to do emergency stop, knowing full well the guy behind would collide with me and we'd possibly both be injured, but that at the slower speed we'd done round the bend it would be unlikely to be fatal. This is in fact what happened. I suffered mild whiplash, and he had quite severe chest and facial injuries (no airbags in those days). The ducklings escaped unscathed. I could quite easily have prevented our injuries, yet I remain quite comfortable in my decision given all the circumstances. I wondered afterwards if I had known for instance that he was dashing to save a life himself whether it would have made any difference, and I supposed it would, but rationalised that we use all the data we have at the moment given to us to make a decision, and that if the decision is right for the only possible moment it can be made, then it is right. So as you can see Stephen I really don't have a problem with putting human well-being at risk in order to preserve other life in the "right" circumstances, by which I mean circumstances where that combination of factors allows me to make peace with conscience. And to go on from this I freely admit that I'd find it easier to kill a housefly than a butterfly, easier to kill a dog than a cat, easier to kill a vulture than a nightingale, easier to kill a rabbit in the night than in daylight, easier to eat a fillet steak than kill an Aberdeen Angus, easier to destroy the unseen and unknown to preserve the known and loved. You see, constant prioritization, evaluation and decision.
Accordingly I do not view abortion as "different" in the way you imply I do - it's just another area in which conscientious priority applies. However there IS an empirical difference, which you identified, in that I cannot immediately think of a situation other than abortion where in a non physical life threatening situation it is potentially an acceptable option to take the unacceptable step of killing another human being. But, frankly, so what? All this proves is that there may be only one situation where it is potentially acceptable to me. But I guess this singularity is what makes abortion a battleground, and particularly brings into focus the conflict between people like me, who believe that the "rules" of morality are not largely dictated by some deity, and those who do.
So to be absolutely plain there is no question in my mind that it is undesirable to kill a zygote, human or otherwise. But being a human zygote does not entitle it, in my view, to some exclusive bypassing of that difficult equation which the mind has to perform in reaching a decision acceptable to conscience. Sure, being human, and being evaluated by humans it is always likely to get a better hearing than say a rabbit zygote being evaluated by humans instead of other rabbits, but nevertheless it must be evaluated - the worth of allowing it to live weighed against the disadvantages of so doing.
Of course it's unacceptable to kill a wasp because it's annoying me, but I possibly might.
Of course it's unacceptable to kill a kitten because it's annoying me, but I never would.
Of course it's unacceptable to kill an unborn baby, but, if I became convinced that the mother was likely to suffer as my sister-in-law's sister did without an abortion, I am absolutely certain that my conscience could reconcile it at an early enough stage in the pregnancy, i.e. when the zygote was around the status of "wasp" rather than "kitten".
And talking about suffering, into that decision of conscience must come the question of how we define "life". This is another area where I often find myself at odds with mainstream religion and the medical fraternity, who imo take the sanctity of breath and blood to ridiculous and uncompassionate levels. There are obviously plenty of arguments here about euthanasia, assisted suicide, the right of the individual to determine his/her own fate etc etc, we'll leave all those aside. I'll simply say that I believe that there is a point (points) where the fact of being able to breath is not sufficient compensation for the pain and suffering (mental or physical) of being able to draw breath. I also believe that this state is reached in all beings, and in our human society is more prevalent than we care to accept, being suppressed by social convention and expectation, medical imperatives and possibly religious pressures. There is a kind of shame or disgrace involved in wanting or choosing to die.
So while those in favour of a complete ban on abortion may refer (sometimes rather disparagingly) to the mother's "emotional state" as if it could never be of consequence set against the life of a zygote, I prefer to maintain a mind sufficiently open to the possibility that a mother may, by being forced to go to term, suffer a non-life for decades on end, culminating, as my relative's did, in a physical suicide.
So much for the moral position, now, a quick look at my views about abortion law.
I marginally favour legality for abortion.
I say marginally because on balance I think there are far too many abortions and some abortions that are performed would not be performed if it was illegal. This is an argument for absolute illegality which however ignores the fact that even if numbers of abortions were reduced somewhat, those that were performed would be performed in very hazardous conditions, threatening the lives of both mother and zygote.
My own experiences of dealing with the non-medical aspects of abortion cases, and particularly handling situations where an individual was in conflict with family or friends over a prospective abortion bear this out. I frankly shudder to think what the outcome of these would have been had the families in question had the weight of the law behind them.
Then again there are always going to be girls caught in horrendous social situations where nothing is going to prevent them from trying to "dispose" of the evidence (the baby) except possibly rapid and sympathetic counselling. This they are not going to get if abortion is illegal. They will simply travel, as thousands of Irish girls do each year, to a place where abortion is legal. Failing that they will opt for other methods of termination.
The incidence of unsafe abortion world wide is incredibly high (about 50% of all abortions I think) and probably understated because of the problems with data collection. And the vast majority of unsafe procedures are a direct result of the determination of women to risk abortion coupled with the lack of suitable facilities due to either specific legal sanctions or unavailability. Ten's of thousands of women die annually because of unsafe abortions.
A blanket ban on abortion is not going to suddenly educate men into not behaving badly, nor is it going to overnight, change the views of those who would disown a daughter for becoming pregnant. All it will do is drive thousands of girls towards practises that will threaten their lives and of course that of the zygote.
I'm therefore quite convinced that a framework of restricted legality, with compulsory counselling and special tribunals, is the best way to save the lives of both mothers and babies.