Today, I received a few messages from people concerned and a bit confused about some Twitter comments from Richard Dawkins on abortion and pigs. I believe it began with this:

I don’t know why he was suddenly Tweeting about this, but the brevity required of Twitter didn’t do him many favors. For those who are confused, see this video of Dawkins in conversation with philosopher Peter Singer:

To simplify for those unable to view the video: anti-abortionists sometimes argue that a fetus is a person that demands protection because of certain attributes, including the ability to feel pain and suffer. Singer (and Dawkins) argue that an adult pig shares those attributes with (and to a larger degree than) a human fetus, and so anti-abortionists who eat meat are hypocrites.

Generally, I agree with this idea, though there are a number of problems with it. The biggest one is that pretty much all anti-abortionists argue that one of the most important characteristics that makes a fetus a person is its ability to develop into a person. Obviously, pigs are not very good at this, and so you will probably not have much luck convincing any anti-abortionist using the pig argument. Also, the argument loses all its steam once it runs into a vegan anti-abortionist.

The real point is whether or not we should be elevating a fetus’s potential ability to feel pain over an adult woman’s right to control her own body. Dawkins argues that the answer is yes:

He then characterizes his opponents as moral absolutists and people who are using emotion instead of logic:

Ultimately, that characterization is silly. We’re all human, and we’re all emotional (except for the sociopaths, I suppose), Dawkins included. One could just as easily argue that worrying over the pain of the fetus but not the pain of the woman it inhabits is an emotional argument, but that doesn’t get us anywhere. People will pretty much always attribute their own beliefs to logic and others’ beliefs to emotion.

Dawkins asks when a fetus begins to feel pain, which is a strange question for a biologist to ask Twitter for help on:

The question may have been rhetorical, but I’d hope in that case that he would help people by providing the answer, which is that there is no clear cut scientific opinion on the matter but there’s mounting evidence to suggest that they never feel pain at all, despite the fact that religious fundamentalists falsely claim fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and use that as a way to limit women’s access to reproductive health services.

Dawkins also seems to miss the point that most abortions occur prior to 9 weeks, before it’s even old enough to be considered a fetus. 98% of abortions occur prior to 20 weeks. Later abortions are not performed because women are loopy idiots who don’t want to be inconvenienced by a baby. They’re often performed because of severe fetal abnormalities, to protect the health of the mother, or because an abortion was made difficult to obtain earlier due to backwards laws and social stigma.

These facts were pointed out to Dawkins by many Tweeters who flooded Dawkins with links to peer-reviewed studies:

It appears that as of now, none of those facts have been addressed by Dawkins.

So to sum up: no, Dawkins doesn’t think that pigs and humans share a genome, but he does seem to buy into the Religious Rights’ dual arguments that fetuses can feel pain during some abortions and that that pain may be great enough to trump a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. Unfortunate.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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91 Comments

  1. Avatar of Improbable Joe
    March 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm —

    See, I was hoping that he was making my point. Dawkins eats pig. There’s good eating on a pig. I’ve been trying to make “there’s good eating on a fetus” a “thing” for years. I hoped that Dawkins was making the same point, that for the sake of consistency we should also eat fetuses. Too bad he was just being an asshole.

  2. Avatar of sprawl
    March 13, 2013 at 12:26 pm —

    To be fair his original argument doesn’t lose all steam when you run into a vegan anti-abortionist unless that vegan is actually proposing to make it illegal for anyone to eat any meat or animal products.

    This ‘pain’ argument quickly runs into trouble if you begin to consider pain of the mother or further evaluate any pain a fetus might be in due to growth abnormalities while in the womb or even the potential cumulative pain of a child that is allowed to be born when it is known that it will suffer from painful conditions after birth.

    Shall we bring to term and deliver a child that will meet a painful and certain end within hours only to save them from potential pain of abortion?

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson
      March 13, 2013 at 12:47 pm —

      “To be fair his original argument doesn’t lose all steam when you run into a vegan anti-abortionist unless that vegan is actually proposing to make it illegal for anyone to eat any meat or animal products.”

      Good point! I should have specified a “militant” vegan. Who takes a gun to a meat buffet.

      “Meat buffet” sounds wrong.

    • Avatar of donboc
      March 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm —

      There’s a lot that goes into being human besides feeling pain. In fact, feeling pain isn’t a particularly human characteristic — lots of (all?) vertebrates (and more?) feel pain. And I don’t think there’s any indication that the pain people feel is more severe than the pain a pig or cow or chicken or fish feels.

      What’s more relevant to being human is higher-level cognition, and other characteristics of humanity (kind of obvious … but think: in “humanities” classes, you’re not generally studying pain; you’re studying other things, like love, fear, etc.).

      I don’t know when a fetus becomes human enough to warrant protection by the law. Is it at the moment of birth? Maybe something magical happens then, but I think that most people would agree that killing a newborn infant is wrong and an abortion 1 hour before natural birth would have occurred is also wrong. What about 1 day before? 1 week? 1 month? 1 trimester?

      It seems to me that a relevant question is when the fetus is sufficiently developed to survive outside the mother. This has the unfortunately property of being technology-dependent — as technology improves, the time into pregnancy before which an abortion is “immoral” would become shorter — but maybe that’s fine.

      Personally, I feel very squicky (to use Savage’s term) about the idea of aborting a normal, healthy fetus significantly into the third trimester. I don’t feel at all squicky about aborting an embryo that’s developmentally similar to a tadpole. I mean, I don’t eat meat and I don’t love the idea of killing tadpoles, but if a tadpole takes up residence in someone’s house I think the person is entitled to remove it.

      • Avatar of Handbasketexpress
        March 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm —

        Say the fetus is a full fledged person. (It isn’t but let’s pretend.) That does not change a thing. The only relevant question is whether or not a woman wants to allow someone else to use her body.

        Your feelings have nothing to do with someone else’s right to their own body.

        How many women do you believe abort healthy 3rd trimester fetuses? You realize that doesn’t happen, right? Women don’t just wake up one day and flippantly decide to end their pregnancies for no reason.

        • Avatar of donboc
          March 13, 2013 at 1:46 pm —

          I didn’t say it happens often. I just think it shouldn’t happen at all. If it already doesn’t happen at all, that’s great!

          • Avatar of Handbasketexpress
            March 13, 2013 at 1:53 pm

            So just in case that might happen, women shouldn’t make their own choices because if it happened you might feel squicky?

          • Avatar of donboc
            March 13, 2013 at 2:05 pm

            I totally agree that my squicky feeling is irrelevant to the legal question. I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that word at all — it was a sloppy shorthand for thinking my comment through more carefully.

            But we all agree, I think, that some kinds of obligations are unobjectionable. Once you have kids, you can’t stop feeding them etc. I do recognize that when the fetus is still inside another person’s body, the degree of obligation on the part of the mother is much deeper — she is biologically connected with the fetus, her blood pressure and sleep schedule and hormones etc. are inextricably linked to the fetus in ways that don’t happen once the baby is born. I don’t want to be putting words in your mouth here, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I infer that, for you, 3rd timester abortions of healthy fetuses are morally unambiguous (or, even if they’re morally ambiguous, they should still be legally protected). I don’t feel the same way — they do seem morally ambiguous or problematic to me. But I appreciate the discussion.

          • Avatar of Displaced Northerner
            March 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm

            Once we are beyond the age of viability it’s no longer abortion- it’s preterm delivery of a viable infant. Custody rights can be terminated, heroic care can be withdrawn. What I’m saying is that a “late third trimester abortion” isn’t a thing. So you’re right, it doesn’t happen.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 13, 2013 at 7:55 pm

            I’m curious, what makes it more dangerous and is it significant? Is it dependent on the health of the mother, the fetus, etc.?

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 13, 2013 at 7:57 pm

            This should be a reply to another of your comments down-thread. :)

        • Avatar of eleusion
          March 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm —

          FWIW I completely agree with this. I don’t care if it’s the prince of whales or elmo in her uterus. It’s her body! But formal legality of course is just the start. It’s really about access and ideological climate–the shaming, the guilt and so on. Doesn’t matter if abortion is “legal” if it’s behind bureaucratic restrictions and 300-400 miles away (literally the case in many parts of the US) and women are pressured into hating themselves at the thought of a simple and often highly intelligent medical procedure.

      • Avatar of donboc
        March 13, 2013 at 1:28 pm —

        By the way, I recognize that one possible response to what I said is, “Who gives a shit what a man such as yourself finds squicky? The relevant question is: does a woman have a right to control what’s in her body?”

        My response is basically: yes, a woman should be able to remove what’s in her body. If removing the thing results in the thing dying, then that’s okay. But if it’s possible to remove the thing without it dying, then this option should be pursued. Just like if there’s an unwanted person in your house and it’s possible for you to get the person out without killing him/her, you’re obligated to remove the person without killing. I realize that it gets a bit dicier when the issue isn’t inside your house but rather inside your body, but I still think that if the fetus would survive fine outside the mother then aborting it is too similar to killing a newborn infant for my preference and the right outcome, if the woman really wants the nearly-full-term fetus outside her body, is for it to be removed via C-section and cared for in the neonatal ward.

        • Avatar of Handbasketexpress
          March 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm —

          In no way is my body like a house. My body is me. Forced birth by C-section (a dangerous surgery) is still forced birth. In no way do you have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body.
          Who do you think would pay for such a surgery? Who would pay for the care of the infant you would force this woman to birth? Are there any other surgeries people should be forced to have?
          Again, why do you imagine women just flippantly decide to abort in third term? Can you tell me when that has ever even happened?

          • Avatar of donboc
            March 13, 2013 at 1:57 pm

            No, I have no idea if it has ever happened.

            You make a good point that forced surgery is kind of creepy too. I hadn’t thought of that, and I appreciate your mentioning it. Isn’t 3rd trimester abortion pretty brutal too? Are C-sections less safe than 3rd-timester abortions? (Even if they aren’t, I agree that there’s still something kind of creepy about telling a woman which of several potential procedures she might have is the one she has to have. I still feel, though, that if a fetus is developmentally nearly equivalent to a newborn infant, its budding humanity and “personness” might need to be balanced against the rights of the woman to choose what happens to her own body. After all, we’re not allowed to choose whatever we want to happen to our bodies — taking illegal drugs, or prescription drugs sans prescription, isn’t allowed, for instance.)

            We might be discussing something of academic interest (at best), if 3rd trimester abortions of healthy fetuses don’t happen. The issue happens to interest me, because it’s the only morally ambiguous kind of abortion in my view, and I’m interested in talking through and thinking through the morality of it. Prior to the 3rd timester, it’s pretty clear to me that there’s nothing particularly morally thorny about abortion.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm

            Ah, yes, comparing a pregnant woman and her fetus to drug use.

            This is a very poor comparison. Pregnant women are not drug users and abortions are not drugs.

          • Avatar of Giliell
            March 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm

            I don’t think that ever happened, bit I know what has happened for real: forced C-sections and women being chrged because they didn’t agree to C-sections. Yes, women had their bellies sliced open against their will. That’s what you get with “fetal rights”

          • Avatar of donboc
            March 14, 2013 at 1:29 pm

            I wasn’t trying to make any strict analogy between drug laws and pregnancy-termination options. I was just noting that it’s not the case that a person is allowed to do whatever he/she wants with his/her body. Taking heroin isn’t allowed. One could imagine that saying that 9th-month abortions aren’t allowed either. Maybe this would be a shitty law. I’m not saying that simply because there are some restrictions on what a person may do with her body, any such restrictions are fine. And maybe restrictions on ability to terminate a pregnancy are just always unjustified. Thank you for the feedback, as I think these matters through.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 14, 2013 at 2:04 pm

            I was just noting that it’s not the case that a person is allowed to do whatever he/she wants with his/her body.

            You’re basing your shitty and dehumanizing analogy on the faulty and overly simplistic assumption that every drug that is illegal should remain illegal. Not to mention that not all drugs are illegal – like alcohol! (Note that regulations are not always the same thing as “illegal”.) Are you arguing that drugs should all be illegal always? Or are we JUST talking about heroin? I just want to be perfectly clear about your non-existent point!

            But seriously: Pregnant women and the topic of abortion have NOTHING AT ALL to do with drug use.

            I am so very tired of women being compared to shit like this. Any time a discussion about abortion comes up (or rape, for that matter), women start being compared to THINGS and OBJECTS and now something even more vague — drug use!

            Taking heroin isn’t allowed. One could imagine that saying that 9th-month abortions aren’t allowed either. Maybe this would be a shitty law.

            I have no idea what you’re even trying to say here.

            Lots of things aren’t allowed! That doesn’t mean it follows that 9th-month abortions are also not allowed. The reason things “aren’t allowed” (what specific language you’re using!) *should* be based of logic and scientific research (where appropriate), such as in the case of medical procedures (which abortion is — and a legal one at that!), and drugs, or anything else, really. Things shouldn’t be made illegal just because something completely unrelated to it is also illegal.

            So, no, it doesn’t fucking “follow” that because heroin is illegal that so should 9th-month abortions. Sure, heroin is illegal. And maybe 9 month abortions are in some places, but a lot of things are illegal and so are … a lot of other things. Imagine that. Some stuff is “not allowed” … or illegal … or whatever.

            Wow. Genius shit you have there, man.

            A woman having a 9th-month abortion*** is not a heroin user or in any way similar to a heroin user.

            ***WHICH NEVER FUCKING HAPPENS ANYWAY.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm

            And what the hell is even your point ,donboc? I don’t get it. You just keep using vague, shitty analogies. So shit is illegal. Okay? Great. What is your point?

            Lots of “I don’t know if it is” or “Maybe it would be a shitty law” (no “maybe” about it; it is a shitty law), and a lot of. Lots of “I don’t knows.” Lots of “maybes.”

            as I think these matters through.

            REALLY? This is what you call “thinking matters thorugh”? Yikes. You may want to put some more time and effort in. Perhaps doing some googling and researching.

            We might be discussing something of academic interest

            No, we wouldn’t. And this is about MUCH MORE than juts “academic interest” for me and every other woman in the entire world. Clearly you don’t have much interest outside of “academic” with this subject, but for me, it’s REAL LIFE.

            So these stupid analogies are a distraction to me. I DON’T CARE about your stupid analogies. I care about the facts, and the real-world implications of these laws.

            If you’re interested in this subject for more than just “academic interest”, then do some fucking leg work and stop spewing stupid bullshit.

        • Avatar of Handbasketexpress
          March 13, 2013 at 2:07 pm —

          “Are C-sections less safe than 3rd-timester abortions”

          Consent is the thing you are forgetting to consider here.
          Why am I not surprised?
          You are suggesting forcing a woman to have a surgery she does not want.
          Her consent matters.
          You know there are people dying right now who could be saved if you were forced to give them parts of your body. Should you be forced to donate organs, skin and marrow? They are people. Why don’t their needs outweigh your consent?

          • Avatar of daedalus2u
            March 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm

            It is my understanding that abortion is always safer than a C-section and likely always safer than carrying to term and giving birth.

            But if the major consideration is fetal pain, natural childbirth must be pretty painful for the fetus being born. Why don’t those who worry about fetal pain advocate for more C-sections to reduce fetal pain? Pretty obviously because fetal pain is not their real concern, controlling women is what they are after.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

            Well shoot, now you’re back on my good side, deadalus2u :P Thank you. Very clearly stated.

          • Avatar of Displaced Northerner
            March 13, 2013 at 6:50 pm

            As someone who performs both, a late termination is less safe than a primary c-section. I don’t think this changes the facts of consent or maternal will, but I do think accuracy is important.

        • Avatar of daedalus2u
          March 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm —

          Not in Florida and a number of other “stand your ground” states. In your own home, you don’t have to retreat. Funny how the states that allow a home owner to use deadly force to expel an unwanted intruder are the same states that tend to put the most restrictions on abortion.

        • Avatar of Giliell
          March 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm —

          You know how they call abortions of healthy 3rd trimester fetuses?
          Birth.
          Oh, and why do you desperatly want to cut a woman open?
          Do you think you need to inflict a bit of extra pain because you don’t agree with her decision?

      • Avatar of marilove
        March 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm —

        Oh, yes, “late-term” abortions. Those abortions which really don’t exist outside a VERY VERY VERY VERY few rare cases in which it is necessary for the mother. In which case the fetus is STILL not viable to live outside the woman’s uterus. When it is generally a required to save the mother. Almost EVERY single late-term abortion is not “wanted” but rather required to save the mother.

        This is a distraction, through and through.

        • Avatar of Displaced Northerner
          March 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm —

          Agreed! I always encourage medical students to participate in these late trimester terminations (if the woman allows) so that they can see that no one enjoys these- not the patient, nor the doctor, nor the staff. But we do it because it is necessary or important. I have found that it can really help relieve the stigma.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 13, 2013 at 7:54 pm

            Thank you, sincerely, for doing what you do.

  3. Avatar of Handbasketexpress
    March 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm —

    People with failing kidneys feel pain. I assume Dawkins believes they have the right to use his body, right?

    • Avatar of TonyInBatavia
      March 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm —

      Nicely said, Handbasketexpress.
      I really wish Dawkins would stay away from women’s issues; he simply has no light to shine on them. On these matters he just ends up being the “authority” others use in their appeals to authority.

  4. Avatar of Ophelia Benson
    March 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm —

    People will pretty much always attribute their own beliefs to logic and others’ beliefs to emotion.

    Fundamental attribution error! Ouch.

  5. Avatar of EllenBeth Wachs
    March 13, 2013 at 12:44 pm —

    Hmm, therefore if we find a way to anesthetize the fetus so it cannot feel pain (assuming it can) problem solved?

    • Avatar of Displaced Northerner
      March 13, 2013 at 6:59 pm —

      Granted, this is just me tumbling down the rabbit hole (again, I think the fetal pain nonsense is a non-point). But if people are really worried about abortion for pain reasons, they can rest easy: general anesthesia is used for nearly all terminations after the early first trimester. The anesthesia crosses the placenta- so they are definitely anesthetized.

  6. Avatar of demythify
    March 13, 2013 at 12:55 pm —

    ” I’m depressed by how many people jump clean over logic…”

    “Depressed” is a consequence of “emotion”, not “logic”, Prof Dawkins.

    • Avatar of daedalus2u
      March 13, 2013 at 2:43 pm —

      Depression is a consequence of physiology. If Dawkins needs to whinge about getting “depressed” because people reacted emotionally to his “logical” assertion that adult pigs are more worthy of survival than human fetuses, it is pretty clear that Dawkins doesn’t know what depression is, doesn’t understand emotions or logic and needs to STFU while adult human beings talk about serious matters, like who has standing to control a woman’s body.

      • Avatar of marilove
        March 13, 2013 at 2:49 pm —

        lol this comment is ironic and hilarious to me, considering ;) Once again, well said!

  7. Avatar of Blake Stacey
    March 13, 2013 at 12:58 pm —

    “The most important moral question in abortion debate is…” Thanks for the dicksplanation, Professor!

    • Avatar of Louis Doench
      March 13, 2013 at 1:10 pm —

      Ok, I would like to nominate “Dicksplain” to replace the term “Mansplain” in most cases. It conveys the sentiment much more clearly. ;)

      • Avatar of Blake Stacey
        March 13, 2013 at 1:15 pm —

        Ha! Indeed. :-) I like the phonetics of it a bit better, too, for whatever reason.

      • Avatar of Will
        March 13, 2013 at 1:39 pm —

        Veto!

        Not really digging the genital-based gender insults. Mansplain is perfectly fine as it is.

      • Avatar of Matthew Savage
        March 14, 2013 at 8:17 am —

        Was willing to make a new login name (turned out to be unnecessary as it allowed my Google stuff) to say how much I love this idea. brilliant. Yes. Very much yest.

        • Avatar of marilove
          March 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm —

          You took the time to make a new login name, but you didn’t take the time to read and understand the reasons why this is a BAD IDEA?

          Sigh.

  8. Avatar of Bjornar
    March 13, 2013 at 1:18 pm —

    As high arbiter of what is right and sensible I wish people would stop trying to _discuss_ serious topics on twitter. By all means tell the world your abbreviated opinion, but if people misinterpret or take offence please respond somewhere that allows more than 140 characters so you don’t look and sound like an idiot: “Can pig feel more?”

    • Avatar of GideonBanner
      March 13, 2013 at 3:40 pm —

      This! Never discuss anything issue of any merit on any forum with a tight character limit.

  9. Avatar of Handbasketexpress
    March 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm —

    @ Blake

    Funny how the woman’s bodily autonomy isn’t the most important moral question.

  10. Avatar of mrpopularsentiment
    March 13, 2013 at 1:26 pm —

    I’ve been pregnant. It was incredibly painful even if I don’t count labour.

    Or is it only the pain of fetuses that matters?

    • Avatar of Handbasketexpress
      March 13, 2013 at 1:38 pm —

      Apparently, considering a fetus’s possible pain is logic, but considering a woman’s actual pain is being emotional.
      He really couldn’t be more of an entitled, pompous ass.

  11. Avatar of Rei Malebario
    March 13, 2013 at 1:42 pm —

    To paraphrase the great philisopher Bartholomew Simpson: “What happened to you, Dawkins? You used to be cool.”

    • Avatar of marilove
      March 13, 2013 at 1:43 pm —

      Money. He doesn’t really have anything to lose anymore. He probably doesn’t care.

      • Avatar of Displaced Northerner
        March 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm —

        Comment to your upthread question re: safety (with the caveat that this only applies to first c-sections, especially at term). It’s also important to point out that I’m talking about serious complications- things like minor infections are comparable between the two groups. So I’m talking about things like systemic infections, hemorrhage, bowel, bladder, and major blood vessel injury.
        First, the c/s: it’s very routine and truthfully, it’s not a very technically difficult surgery. The bowel and bladder are remote from the delivery site and the whole thing can be done in a half hour or less. While the blood loss can be high (reported averages are anywhere from 600-1000 cc), most patients are young and healthy and compensate for this blood loss well.
        Now late second term terminations. I cannot emphasize this enough: they are EXTREMELY safe- proven safer than induction for termination. However, when you get to upwards of 18 weeks they are technically difficult surgeries. They are a demand both on the technical skill of the physician (which is why abortion can NEVER again be illegal) and on their physical strength. The blood loss increases with gestational age so I can’t quote a good average, suffice to say data ranges from 200-600cc (the studies likely differ by how many patients they have from earlier vs later gestations). The real difficulty comes from the fact that it is essentially a blind surgery. Ultrasound guidance can (and I think should) be used but it is an imperfect proxy for being able to see what you’re doing. Additionally, it is a bit of a luxury because it requires a skilled ultrasonographer. As such, although rare, uterine perforation (poking through the uterus) is more common with later pregnancy (the uterine wall is thinner, the cavity is larger, etc). And because of the tools used in later pregnancy, if perforation occurs, it is more likely to result in bowel injury and then require a large abdominal incision (first tri perf only needs laparoscopy).

        Tl;dr version: D&E are not to be taken lightly in the second trimester: make sure your provider has done plenty of second trimester terminations. First trimester terminations are much less complicated. By the numbers: uterine perforation rate before 13 weeks: 0.05%, after 13: 0.36%. So for the record, small, but still 7x greater. So it is still a safe procedure- safer than induction for termination in the second trimester.

        • Avatar of marilove
          March 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm —

          Thank you for the information. So basically it has risks just like any surgery but it’s nothing too shocking.

  12. Avatar of DataJack
    March 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm —

    Agreed, his argument doesn’t lose steam against a vegan anti-choicer unless that anti-choicer attempts to outlaw eating meat. And does so based on horrible stupid reasons. I all honesty, I think he is just philosophising on the nature of pain, and the role it takes in decisions made by people who considers themselves “moral consequentialists “, who feel that the reduction of suffering is both the ultimate moral goal, and something that can be (somewhat) objectively measured. I don’t, but I agree it is an interesting philosophy. But, oh how the tortured example anecdotes hurt my head :).

  13. Avatar of Penni Dretful
    March 13, 2013 at 2:23 pm —

    As with Professor Dawkins making university gender-apartheid about Islam, he is here just using women’s second-class status as the grounds for his own agenda. Sad to keep seeing this side of an otherwise brilliant mind.

  14. Avatar of victoriadashtwenty
    March 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm —

    I love it how we have this huge group of people that think that people should be required to have unwanted babies because of the potential for life, but we’re still an opt-in organ donation country. There’s not even any significant religious objections to it, it’s just not important.

  15. Avatar of Giliell
    March 13, 2013 at 3:07 pm —

    Dawkins erases the woman in the picture the way usually only veteran forced birthers do.
    Her ability to feel pain which has been proven beyond doubt is not even mentioned.
    Well, Hitchens needed to try waterboarding before he believed it was torture, can Dawkins please have himself strapped to that “labour simulation” device some dudes tried out?
    The argument about pain is one against pain, not abortion, but hey, you can show those pesky women that you’re not only their intellectual superior because look how they don’t grasp my superior logic and instead get all emotional just because you want to force them to remain pregnant against their will.
    Probably he’ll next tell us something about “Dear Chilena, you can’t even have an abortion at week 6 but those whiny US American (and European) bitches complain because I want to take away their rights at 20 weeks”

  16. Avatar of Giliell
    March 13, 2013 at 3:51 pm —

    Oh, and watching the video it’s always good to see two white guys talking about slavery to make their argument…

  17. Avatar of zylla
    March 13, 2013 at 6:45 pm —

    I think we all know the pig he’s talking about is… himself. Because “logically” the only emotions that matter to him are his own. I’m astonished at how he’s moving further towards the extreme.

  18. Avatar of Sean
    March 13, 2013 at 9:27 pm —

    I don’t understand how one of the biggest voices in atheism can come off like one of the zealots of a religion he is an opponent of.

    • Avatar of Will
      March 13, 2013 at 9:54 pm —

      Seems to me it’s pretty easy to understand. It stems from the whole “I’m not a delusional religious person therefore I see everything clearly so anyone who disagrees with me is illogical and emotional and delusional.” But yes, the irony is undoubtedly completely lost on him.

  19. Avatar of benjaminsa
    March 14, 2013 at 2:01 am —

    This is all slightly odd. Firstly Singer doesn’t argue in his books and articles anything like:

    “The most important moral question in abortion debate is “Can it feel pain?”

    Dawkins may have got some of this from a brief conversation with Singer, but it isn’t from reading his work on this. Singer is much more complex, and doesn’t simplify it down to only pain.

    “it is, rather, characteristics like rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness that make a difference.”

    So yeah oysters feel pain, but it is as a sensory input, in the same way they can feel heat or movement, it is in no way processed or causes suffering in the way a pig feels pain. Twitter is not a great medium for caveats, and so it is not clear what exactly Dawkins means by pain here. But the other odd thing is no mention of the bodily rights argument, which I assume he must have heard of, and which is independent of if the foetus feels pain, or is self-conscious.
    ps attempted to use blockquotes here, apologies if that doesn’t come out.

  20. Avatar of Nubbs
    March 14, 2013 at 4:06 am —

    Dawkins apparent disregard of the pregnant woman in this scenario is disturbing. I will admit now that I haven’t read all the comments posted so any discussion on his wording I may have missed it being covered. As a personal aside, I had an abortion years ago. It was not an easy choice but I don’t regret making it. I don’t think I am cold or callus by saying that I didn’t think of whether or not the embryo could feel or not. I was however concerned what the ramifications would be if I had carried a child to full term and dealing with being a parent when I was still a child myself. I dealt with the “what ifs” and “could have beens” long ago. I had the procedure done right at the height of the doctors being shot era. I was berated, assaulted and harassed by anti abortionists who seemed to momentarily be fixated on the embryo inside MY body. I persevered and stuck to my decision. I lost my family doctor shortly after my decision because she said I was evil (I was foolish to think she would be unbiased). I had to get an ultrasound to see the placement so that the doctor who would be performing the operation could see where the egg had attached. I had the pleasure of more vitriol from the woman performing the ultrasound because on my file it said something to the effect of termination. I tried asking her questions, I was scared. She shot me a look and said she had nothing to say to me especially because I was terminating a life so I obviously didn’t care about people( quite he leap in my opinion not to mention highly unprofessional). My only positive take away from this other than continuing on, was the doctors and nurses who helped make this as painless and non judgemental as possible. They were kind and helpful. They had huge risks in their everyday. The clinic was hidden in a remote area of the hospital and its only entry was through a guarded and pass coded door. Outdoor surveillance and 24 hour protection for all who entered and worked there while the anti aborionists picketed out on the street talking at passers by of the evils that lurked in hospital death. In closing, best decision I ever made. I realized that I made that choice for my future, the future of my then boyfriend, the future for the daughter i had many years later and for the embryo that never was.

    • Avatar of Giliell
      March 14, 2013 at 11:14 am —

      I’m sorry for what they made you go through and the shit people flung at you.

      I don’t think I am cold or callus by saying that I didn’t think of whether or not the embryo could feel or not. I was however concerned what the ramifications would be if I had carried a child to full term and dealing with being a parent when I was still a child myself.

      Yes, many people never understand that death isn’t actually the worst that can happen to you*.

      For a given value of “you” when talking about a zygote/embryo/fetus

    • Avatar of Otoki
      March 14, 2013 at 2:43 pm —

      Thank you for this post.

    • Avatar of panchoruiz
      March 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm —

      “I persevered and stuck to my decision. I lost my family doctor shortly after my decision because she said I was evil (I was foolish to think she would be unbiased). ”

      Oh this is awful. I mean the accepted standards are generally that even someone who is “evil” deserves medical care, so like some guy who ate a thousand babies and is going to be executed in a couple days is still given medical treatment in prison if he gets sick (or at least he’s supposed to be given it, the prison system is awful too). But somehow this kind of standard falls away when women are involved and people in the medical system feel like they have a right to start basing whether or women receive treatment on their life choices. It’s a pretty dangerous thing.

  21. Avatar of Jai Withani
    March 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm —

    he does seem to buy into the Religious Rights’ dual arguments

    Tangential to the issue at hand: The validity of an argument has nothing to do with who makes it. I, for example, buy into Hitler’s argument that the Earth is round.

  22. Avatar of marilove
    March 14, 2013 at 2:14 pm —

    Hey, people? Can we stop comparing women to houses and drug use and cars? That would be swell. Thanks!

    • Avatar of Giliell
      March 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm —

      Nonono, I’ve just been informed that I’m just too stupid to understand analogies (different blog). Because donating to charity is the same as carrying a fetus to term for the matter of the argument because they’re both costs. Don’t you understand? This is important! Stop being so emotionally upset to being reduced to a thing and start appreciating the value of an analogy! And because it might be legal though moraly wrong to shoot somebody who is in your house against your will that now is relevant for the discussion whether abortion should be legal or is moral!

      • Avatar of marilove
        March 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm —

        I really, really dislike when people use shitty analogies and then demand we take the seriously or demand we take them as relevant to the discussion all because they are analogies.

        Look, analogies can be useful but can we utilize other arguments for once? LIKE I DON’T KNOW, FACTS?!

        Anyway. I’m not a house. I’m a person!

        /rant haha <3

    • Avatar of punchdrunk
      March 14, 2013 at 6:19 pm —

      Arguing about our rights is just an interesting diversion for them. A hobby where they can show off their debate skills or score points in some imaginary game. It’s all just pie-in-the-sky mental masturbation and what-ifs. There’s no fear, their human rights, their right to their own body, isn’t up for discussion. There are no laws being proposed that would rob them of their ability to make medical decisions.
      It’s easy to be cavalier when there are no consequences.

      That’s leaving aside the misogynists who are just looking for a ‘civil’ way to demean and control women in any way possible. (I need to offer odds on how long it takes for steersman to win blog ban bingo over there, Giliell)

      • Avatar of marilove
        March 14, 2013 at 6:25 pm —

        Well, clearly don above needs some SERIOUS debate practice!

        • Avatar of punchdrunk
          March 14, 2013 at 6:38 pm —

          No imaginary points for donboc.
          Maybe he can try his luck with other topics. Like, ‘Should homosexuality be treated as a disease?’ or ‘Work Camps: Pros and Cons’.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm

            To be perfectly frank, I haven’t the faintest what don’s point is supposed to even be.

          • Avatar of marilove
            March 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm

            But, you know, heroin is illegal! So maybe we could imagine teh gay is illegal! i mean, heroin is illegal, so duh. that means maybe teh gay is too!

      • Avatar of Xanthë
        March 14, 2013 at 11:18 pm —

        But you have to admit, punchdrunk, that that thread about being a philosophy douchebro wasn’t really complete until someone like Steersy came along, to act (as is usual for him) like a condescending, patronising, sexist, disingenuous über philosophy dudebro sophist. He’s sort of proving the point of Jamie’s blog post for hir. I’m not prepared to engage in debate with crap like that, where the devil’s advocate has no limit imposed on how much bad faith they want to indulge in.

        • Avatar of Giliell
          March 15, 2013 at 2:12 am —

          Ahh, I see are you following the little fun we’re having over at the Crommunists place?
          That guy couldn’t argue his way out of a wet paper bag

          • Avatar of Handbasketexpress
            March 15, 2013 at 8:44 am

            As am I, Gillell. As always, you’re eloquent in making your points.

  23. Avatar of panchoruiz
    March 15, 2013 at 7:21 pm —

    I guess trigger warning for violence.

    Anyway I just wanted to weigh in that I don’t think the “feeling pain” distinction makes much sense anyway. I’m an autistic person and I’ve had people harass me, beat up on me, etc because I wasn’t reacting the way they expect someone to react when they are in pain. When I was a child there was one time that a couple older guys decided to take turns jumping on top of me. There’s kind of this thing of “Okay how far can we go?” and the answer is there maybe isn’t really a limit for someone with that kind of standard.

    Part of the reason I didn’t react the way they expected is because of how disabled people are socialized to not assert our boundaries, not to defend ourselves, etc. But another part was that I legitimately don’t have the same experiences with pain and physical sensation as most people who aren’t autistic. Certain stuff doesn’t bother me that bothers other people. But even if I’m not in a great deal of pain I still don’t want people to attack me or try to hurt me. I don’t want people to do things that demean me or impact my health and livelihood on the basis of how they perceive my biology.

    This isn’t to say something pro or anti abortion rights, just that I really don’t like the distinction being made.

  24. Avatar of animaseverem
    March 18, 2013 at 10:10 am —

    I’ve always found abortion a bit too thorny a field to step in because of just how much fur flies in a typical abortion debate. That, and hearing some of the crap spewed by anti-abortionists is one of the few politically-involved subjects that legitimately makes me angry. The way I see it, it’s futile to try to fight abortion. If a woman wants to get an abortion badly enough, no amount of legislation can stop her. You can talk until you’re blue in the face and it won’t stop her. Also, it really isn’t anyone’s business what she decides to do with her body.

    The one thing that bothers me is when someone would rather abort a fetus with Down’s Syndrome, autism, or a similar disorder. I’ve heard the sentiment that some women would rather abort a fetus with a developmental disorder than raise it. In the end it is a woman’s choice, but I can’t see this as a justifiable reason to terminate a pregnancy. Down’s and autism are not death sentences and can be managed with some training. Just because I support a woman’s right to choose doesn’t mean I always agree with her reasons for doing so.

    • Avatar of marilove
      March 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm —

      Her reasons are none of your business.

      You don’t have to agree or disagree. It’s none of your business.

      Ah, yes, with “some training” it is managable. That’s great. Who is going to provid the training? Support? Education for the parent(s) and child? Who is going to pay for the training? The health care? The extra needed education? Etc and so on?

      Ah, yes. You disagree. But you haven’t really told us WHY you disagree. Care to explain WHY, first, you find it a problem, and secondly, why you feel it is your business to agree or disagree in the first place?

    • Avatar of marilove
      March 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm —

      And lemme ask … since it clearly means so much to you, are you doing anything to help families with children of Downs children cope? Including financially?

      I guess another question that’s important: Are you even someone who can GET pregnant?

  25. Avatar of tracylords
    March 19, 2013 at 10:48 am —

    Abortion is never likely going to be an easy issue to solve, mainly because it addresses an issue after an event. There is a fertilized egg that can possibly grow into a human being. A woman has to carry that until its born. No two ways around it. I’ll bet that if for every unwanted pregnancy, the man involved had to have his testicles removed if he didn’t try to use birth control, abortion rates and unwanted pregnancies would plummet. I would pay to see legislation like that.

  26. Avatar of Edmund Martin
    March 20, 2013 at 7:08 am —

    It seems that Dawkins position differs from Singer’s though. Dawkins tweets appear to support a general utilitarian approach to things saying pain is the most important thing in the abortion debate. Singer however is a preference utilitarian and fetuses can be aborted due to the fact that they can have no preference but pigs and other sentient animals are capable of having preferences according to Singer. Feeling pain isn’t relevant to Singer unless the creature/person can have a preference (Singer is a preference utilitarian). So you have slightly misrepresented Singer’s position which differs in an important respect to Dawkins.

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