Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies 2.21

  • Bart Ehrman, author of God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer, was interviewed on Fresh Air.
  • News flash: Boys do not actually find girls fundamentally repulsive.

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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12 Comments

  1. Are we going to have to sit down the entire Missouri legislature and read them the real definition of abortion? Preventing an egg from being fertilized is an entirely different thing.

  2. "Boys do not actually find girls fundamentally repulsive."

    Big oversight in this article: gay boys do (at least sexually). I don't think I've ever heard sex slang about women as yucky and offputting as what can come out of the mouth of some of my gay male friends.

  3. Are we going to have to sit down the entire Missouri legislature and read them the real definition of abortion? Preventing an egg from being fertilized is an entirely different thing.

    It's not that simple, at least for pro-life copasetics. I blogged on this a ways back, but the gist is that Plan B, the pill, etc. all can reduce the chances of implantation, which is good enough for pro-lifers to see it as abortion. A bit ridiculous, to be sure, but not quite as counter-factual as sometimes portrayed. I'd rather argue without reservation that abortions aren't wrong, especially at this stage, than be slightly incorrect in arguing that abortion (by the pro-life definition, which is the only one they care about, of course) from using Plan B isn't possible.

  4. I should probably amend that to "may reduce" instead of "can reduce" because the it's still not entirely clear how likely or common the effect is, and it may turn out to not happen in practice at all. We don't really know for sure yet.

    That still doesn't entirely do away with the idea that pro-lifers see the possible prevention of implantation as an apparent risk , and hence enough to get all worked up about it.

  5. Thanks for the link to the Bart Ehrman interview. I just finished reading "Misquoting Jesus" a few days ago, and I enjoyed it thoroughly but it didn't answer the questions I had about why he had deconverted. It looks like "God's Problem" talks about that in more detail — that's going on my reading list next!

  6. Yeah, Bad, that's why the pro-lifers also fund all sorts of medical research into the natural phenomenon of non-implantation. Over 50% of all humans die before they're ever implanted without the influence of contraception! The pro-lifers care about these unique human beings with full rights and are looking for a cure!

    Oh, wait…. no they aren't.

    Interesting how the pro-lifers only get worked up about non-implantation when contraception is involved. Contraception they'd want banned even if it didn't have a chance of doing that. What an amazing coincidence!

    It's insane to concede that Plan B could cause abortion when the real situation is more like "there's no scientific proof that it causes non-implantation, which actually isn't even abortion anyway".

  7. Generally the philosophy of the pro-life side is that natural tragedy happens all the time, and much of it unavoidable: but that this doesn't justify actions humans take that cause "death." That view of things seems quite batty, primarily because most of them believe in a God that set up the whole situation in the first place (not to mention making women's hips too small in comparison with giant baby heads) but don't pretend that there isn't a view there at all.

    And not calling things which reduce implantation abortion is just double-speak on our part. We call these all manner of implantation rejections and failures "spontaneous abortions" medically, it seems like a cop out to declare that they only aren't abortion when birth control is involved. As I argued, the fact that abortion is a common natural process is probably a much more powerful pro-choice talking point than denying that the pill and other forms of birth control could ever cause an abortion.

    And as long as we have evidence that things like LH suppressors change the uterine lining in a way known to reduce the chances of implantation, the "no scientific proof" line is also a cop-out. There are good prima facie reasons to believe that implantation would be prevented in some cases, and the best human research can say is "we don't have any good evidence that it doesn't" not that we know that it doesn't. It's actually a very difficult thing to study, because it's not like we can pinpoint the location of fertilized embryos directly prior and even directly post implantation.

    However crazy you think the pro-life side is, as long as the manufacturer's own warning says that it reduces implantation, it's hard to fault their objections on factual grounds. They consider human acts that cause abortion, including causing the uterus to reject a fertilized zygote, immoral. My position is that it is not immoral at all, not that it's inconceivable.

  8. Bad, you and I are on the same side here, so I don't want this to turn into some huge argument. But I do want to clarify a few points. First, believe me, I am all too familiar with the pro-life philosophy. I wasn't "pretending there isn't a view", I was pointing out how inconsistent that view is (presuming, of course, these pro-lifers approve funding for, say, cancer research rather than letting their loved ones naturally & tragically die of cancer w/o any treatment, it being God's will and all).

    And I understand that medically speaking, the term "abortion" is widely encompassing. But it's not as widely encompassing as you seem to think. Pregnancy is currently defined as beginning at implanation; legally & medically speaking, anything that happens to a blastocyst before that is not abortion. Legally and medically speaking, a drug is not an abortifacient if it does not act after implantion. Plan B does not act after implantation. Legally re-classifying it as an abortifacient IS insane, and due either to confusing it with RU-486 or a sneak attempt to re-define where pregnancy starts by going through a legal back door. Obviously the latter would have very far-reaching implications; that is the entire point of such a gambit.

    Now, from what I'm reading, you and I seem to basically agree. So perhaps we will understand each other better if I rephrase the argument in my previous post to the much more accurate version:

    "It's insane to concede that Plan B is an abortifacient, because it is both medical and legal nonsense and a clear sign that deeper legal and constitutional issues are being attacked."

  9. If preventing a fertilized egg from implanting, or even removing a recently implanted egg from the uterine wall, is "going against god's will", wouldn't in-vitro and such be even more blatantly going against god's will?

    For that matter, wouldn't the death penalty also be much more against god's will than abortion? War?Cancer research? (what about cancer research based on stem cells?)

    Until they can come up with a logically consistent objection against "defiance of god", I don't see how you can take them seriously …

  10. But it’s not as widely encompassing as you seem to think.

    Words are precisely as encompassing as they are used.

    Pregnancy is currently defined as beginning at implanation; legally & medically speaking, anything that happens to a blastocyst before that is not abortion.

    This is irrelevant though: pro-lifers define the start of moral concern as conception. Thus, they consider it abortion (or, if you'd like, exactly as bad as what even you would call abortion), and thus they want to stop it. Legal definitions are defined by fiat of law, which they are trying to alter in the usual way, and medical definitions do, in fact, do call things like failures of implanation to be "spontaneous abortion." That is because abortion is "An abortion is the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death."

    The point I'm making is that abortion is a natural and normal part of the reproductive process: the body _naturally_ expels embryos leading to their death all the time. I think that's a lot more powerful of a reality than trying to carefully dance away from using the word abortion.

    Plan B does not act after implantation.

    Again, this is shading the truth a bit much. It alters the lining of the uterus in ways that are known to interfere with successful implantation (which is a process, not single event). It is true, though, that part of implantation is the release of further hormones that render the effects of things like Plan B moot.

    Legally re-classifying it as an abortifacient IS insane, and due either to confusing it with RU-486 or a sneak attempt to re-define where pregnancy starts by going through a legal back door.

    I don't see why it's insane at all: if you believe that life starts at conception, then prevention of implantation is a form of chemically inducing abortion, and it's perfectly rational to call drugs that can prevent implantation abortifacients. If you don't define abortion that way, that's fine, but it doesn't change anything substantive. They still consider whatever it is you want to call it, and that they call abortion, to be as bad as what you call abortion.

    What's insane here is having moral concern for something that has no nervous system or even fully differentiated cell layers.

    exarch: Until they can come up with a logically consistent objection against “defiance of god”, I don’t see how you can take them seriously …

    My habit is never to take people seriously or unseriously, but to take specific arguments seriously or unseriously. The fact that you find the rest of their moral positions nutty, selective and hypocritical is beside the point, most importantly because I agree with you. It still doesn't change the fact that, in specific, being against forms of birth control (including the pill) is consistent with the belief that life starts at conception, rather than some crazy practice out of left field.

  11. Bad – It seems we differ on a matter of practicality. I don't think adding "but abortion is natural and okay anyway" to "pregnancy begins at conception" will be an even remotely successful gambit in the current legal atmosphere. Legally re-defining pregnancy as beginning at conception would inevitably be a huge victory for the pro-lifers. The practical fallout would be the massive reduction of access to birth control, not a massive increase in acceptance of abortion. And I don't want anyone taking away my birth control pills.

    And I was not "shading the truth" about Plan B. If you take Plan B after a successful implantation, it will not harm the fetus. If you take RU-486 after a successful implantation, the fetus will die and be expelled. Practically speaking, these are different drugs that act in different ways and it IS in fact medically and legally insane to classify them as the same thing, regardless of one's personal opinion on blastocysts.

    being against forms of birth control (including the pill) is consistent with the belief that life starts at conception, rather than some crazy practice out of left field.

    No it is not. If their main concern was blastocysts, pro-life groups would be handing out condoms on the street corners in an effort to reduce the abortion rate. And yet, they're against condoms too, even in areas where HIV is endemic (meaning pro-life policies directly lead to a lot of preventable deaths. Ironic!). This does not fit in well with your theory that they're concerned for all those blastocysts out there – none are even made with condom use! Instead, going by their actions and not their words, it seems their main concern is legislating their own brand of sexual morality rather than "saving the babies".

    To return to my earlier analogy, if there were some mysterious medical condition(s) that wiped out half of all 2-month olds, would the pro-lifers just say "Eh, it's sad, but it's God's will"? No. They'd fight for medical research into preventing those deaths. So why is the "Eh, it's sad, but it's God's will" argument acceptable when some medical condition(s) wipes out half of all blastocysts? They claim to value the blastocyst as a unique human life as much as they value a born person, after all. How is that attitude NOT inconsistent?

    Here's a helpful chart that illustrates why it is so hard for me and others to take pro-lifers at their word: http://www.amptoons.com/blog/archives/2006/03/21/

    I haven't done a very good job of not turning this into some big argument, it seems. Although I'm frankly getting bored with this whole exchange. It's just stupid nitpicky stuff we disagree on, and it's getting rather tiresome. So I'll end with one last point:

    The point I’m making is that abortion is a natural and normal part of the reproductive process: the body _naturally_ expels embryos leading to their death all the time. I think that’s a lot more powerful of a reality than trying to carefully dance away from using the word abortion.

    Ideologically, I agree with you 100%. But really, when have the religious right ever cared about reality?

    If you have a response, I'll probably read it, but other than that I think I'm done with this thread. If you're interested, though, here's a site that I largely agree with on this topic: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/category/fe

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