Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rules of Engagement, Draft One

First of all, I want to thank Shannon, anonymous, and anonymous for their comments on the first post. Shannon, your comment was extremely thoughtful, and I would suggest that everyone give it a read. You all bring up great points that we should get to in time.

As I stated in the first post, the purpose of this blog is to attempt a disciplined exploration of the complex issue of abortion rights. In order to have a productive discussion on any issue, there have to be rules of procedure that all parties agree upon. So in this post, I'd like to start a list of rules for proceeding.

One thing that often happens in discussions on the abortion issue, is the usage of the terms baby, child, and person instead of the appropriate terms of fetus and embryo. Since one of the main issues of discussion is whether or not the fetus or embryo are fully human persons, labelling the fetus/embryo with these terms break one of the most primary rules of logical reasoning called "Begging the question"

'Begging the Question' has traditionally described a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proved is assumed implicitly or explicitly in one of the premises

For instance, in Shannon's post she says:
I feel for people who do get an abortion - it seems like an easy way out of a difficult situation - but killing a child is never going to be the right answer to a situation, no matter how good it may look at the time.
Using the word child instead of fetus, presupposes the conclusion that the developing human has already achieved child status which is what the argument is about in the first place. Most Anti-Abortionists believe that a human being's life begins at conception. Most Pro-Choice people believe that a human being's life begins at fetal viability (the point at which a fetus can survive without the mother). Calling the unviable fetus a child is misleading and potentially inflammatory. Please don't misunderstand me. I don't think that Shannon had any intention to be misleading in her post, and in fact I found it to be a well thought out essay worth reading. But if we are trying to have a discussion that illuminates and potentially eliminates our differences, lets find out where we agree, and build from there.

From this exploration lets agree to the first rule:

Rule #1: We will avoid the logical fallacy of "Begging the Question".

As this rule pertains to our current discourse so far, lets agree to use the words that do not assume the conclusion of one side of the debate or the other.

Based on generally accepted definitions:
  • After conception until 8 weeks of gestation, we will use the word "embryo" to refer to the developing organism.
  • From 8 weeks until birth, we will use the word "Fetus" to describe the developing organism.
  • After Birth, we can use the generally accepted words of child and baby, etc.

I welcome your comments or suggestions regarding the first rule, and how I've applied it to our discussion.


  1. I appreciate your thoughts on this. BTW, very I'm very new to this blog. It does seem that there should be *some* point while the fetus is in utero that one would be able to use the term "baby". Generally speaking, most women feel like they are in the "safe zone" for having a baby survive outside the womb at about 28-30 weeks. It seems a little too restrictive to censor the word "baby" when referring to a fetus that is by most standards viable. I just looked up statistics regarding survival of premature births, and actually found this quote, "In general, babies born after 24 to 25 weeks of gestation are mature enough to survive, although they will need a prolonged period of intensive care." (found on What do you think? Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Your point is well taken. Please register and comment with a name or nickname so that your voice gains a persistent presence in the future.

    Although there are many different usages of most words in a language, I think the usage for the word "Baby" that you are referring to is not productive for this discussion.

    The first reason is that the most authoritative sources define "Baby" in the following way:

    A very young child (birth to 1 year) who has not yet begun to walk or talk.

    in addition, the stages of human development are well laid out here:

    These sources specifically exclude pre-birth fetuses from the "Baby" label.

    The second reason is that using the word "Baby" adds ambiguity to the discussion. As well as being used to describe a young one, the word is used as a term of endearment, an insult, and several other meanings.

    Since the word "Fetus" and "Embryo" are generally accepted and unambiguous, I think it will be best to continue to use them exclusively in this discussion.

    I would love to hear from you if you feel that using these words will hinder our ability to discuss these issues productively.

  3. I must say it is quite interesting that you offer a discussion only to limit the context in which one can communicate their thoughts. What is the reasoning/motive? I also find it disturbing that in order to discribe my thoughts/position I have to refer to unborn child as an organism. Why is that? Is that thought of aborting an unborn child to painful for some to realize? So mask it and just call it an organism? Dont get me wrong I'm not here to judge or to pick sides I'm just trying to understand and learn more about this debate. I dont see this topic as black and white but more as a sea of gray. Both sides have apparent faults. Should abortions be outlawed: no
    Is abortion an acceptable means of birth control: no
    Just my thoughts anyway. Since I dont know were to start with this or were to end, I'll just leave it at that for now,Thanks.........

  4. I am hoping that limiting our discussion by applying time tested rules of reasoning and logic will help us come to a better shared understanding than the typical chaotic emotional discourse that carries the day in most discussions on this issue.

    If you read the article again, I suggest that we call an embryo 'embryo', a fetus 'fetus', and a child 'child.' All these are also organisms, as are you and I. I am only suggesting that we use words to describe the things they mean, not the things we want them to mean.

    Finding a shared vocabulary is just the first step in a long road, yet it is extremely important nonetheless.

  5. I do understand that you dont want this forum to become nothing more than endless waves of hate speech and I thank you for not deleting my comment and replying as well. One question I have is how do you have an open discusion by "limiting" the wording one can use? "By applying time tested tested rules of reasoning and logic" is a nice thought but the world is not static nor is it a controlled scientific expirement. Further more if we (humans) used more reasoning and logic in our decisions and daily lives we could avoid many of life's hardships, abortion included. Yes I understand there are things that can not be controlled by our own "reasoning and logic", such as rape.
    I also read your article correctly the first time, my point was it seamed a bit one sided. I think you know what I'm saying. It is my opinion that your chosen wording seems to disassociate that which we are talking about human embryos, human fetuses' and human children. And not just some blob of cells in a petri dish.
    Thanks for the enlightment on what is and isnt an organism or should I say human organism. So yes let us decribe things for what they really are and not what we want them to mean. I do agree we need to take into consideration what we say and how we choose to convey our thoughts. Maybe we should use a little "reasoning and logic" with a dash of respect.
    If I may, What is your stated position in regards to abortion? I'm fairly certain I already know, just thought I would ask to be fair.

    I also have a few more questions for you or others:

    If abortion is a womens right then what rights should a man have?

    What I mean by this is if a women has the right to terminate the pregnancy which took a man and women to create. Regardless of how bad the potential father may have wanted the child, then why doesnt the man have the right to deny any benefits to the mother and child of a pregnacy that the women wanted to keep and the man didnt.
    And yes I have seen abortion affect the man worse than the woman. Why is there only one side to the story?

    Why do we have abortion and not assisted suicide?

    Atleast the later of the two has a voice in their termination. Because a fetus is a potential child, just the same as a child has the potential to be an adult human. Its nothing more than a stage of growth. Once again let me be clear I'm not on one side or the other in the abortion debate.

    Thank you and I look forward to the discussion........BB

    Next time I will sign-up for a screen name

  6. Thanks again for a thought provoking post. There are many important issues that you bring up and I'm sure we will get to them in time. Forgive me if I don't respond to all of them immediately.

    The 2 issues that I would like to respond to first are:

    1. The discussion regarding the choice of terminology.
    2. My role in this discussion and my 'side' of the issue.

    1. In continuation of our discussion about terminology, I first want to tell you that your comment was very encouraging to me. It had that effect because you suggest in it a compromise that I'm hoping will be satisfactory to you and others who visit this blog. Let me ask you then, would prepending the word 'human' to fetus and embryo as you wrote be an acceptable practice to you? I think saying 'human fetus' has the benefit of being both accurate, specific, and respectful. I would love alternate suggestions if you can think of any that might satisfy all readers better than this.

    2. I can understand your curiosity about which side of the issue I'm on. It probably seems to you that I'm pro-choice, because it is clear that I believe in the power and usefulness of rationality, which is strongly associated with science and education, which is strongly associated with the pro-choice movement.

    This is not the case. In actuality, I am not resolute about the issue. As you know there are many more than 2 sides in this complex subject. In addition, there is the political aspect as well as a personal aspect of the issue. A person might have strong feelings about their own behavior, and yet might not feel it is appropriate to impose those beliefs on others.

    My purpose in starting this blog is to explore the issue in a way that I think will be helpful to others and myself. My role is to moderate an ongoing discussion, and try to create an environment where the discussion can be productive. Just as there are productive ways to discuss things with a spouse, for instance, there are productive ways to discuss an issue in a blog. Most informal discussions wouldn't accept the rigor of being held to the rules of logic and reason. This, however, is not intended to be an informal discussion.

    Unfortunately, the anti-abortionists have often been perceived as religious absolutists because those are the loudest voices in that group. I believe there are rational anti-abortion arguments, but we rarely see them without them getting drowned out by the more dogmatic rhetoric. The pro-choice movement is strongly misperceived as well, and contains within it a wide range of views, some rational, and some not.

    This blog is not a debate that will lead to a winner. What will hopefully happen is that over time we will be able to define exactly where our differences lie, and maybe even find some commonalities that we didn't realize existed.

  7. I have a question. Why is it that when someone gets an abortion they are automatically labeled? Has anyone offered to find out why or what is going on, why this person is making this choice?
    I have a friend who is making the hardest choice in her life literally her life. She almost died with her first child she was told another pregnancy would kill her at the time she was to young by state laws to get her tubes tied. So she was responsible and took every precaution yet, she finds out she is pregnant. She is told if she carries to full term it doesnt look good for her. So what should she do Die for a child that wont survive or fight to live for a child who is alive and needs her mother? The doctors have told her that this may be the safest procedure, and even this is a risk. She has cried for days over this choice, But, do you think when we walk up to the clinic that the protesters would bother to think shes anything other than just a young girl who got herself in "trouble" they will make it even harder on her. So whatever happened to not judging others noone knows what they will do in someone elses place till they are put there. I personally will support my friend and drive her there and protect her from those who wish to say she is bad because she is doing something they feel is wrong. Only God has the RIGHT to judge.