Perhaps you’ve heard this feminist folly about a human embryo shrilly pronounced in defense of abortion: “It’s just a clump of cells!”
Well, I mean, so are you, dear feminist. If we assume a strictly materialistic and naturalistic account of human beings, each woman, whether pregnant or not, is also “just a clump of cells,” only bigger. Hence, why does a woman, as a clump of cells, have the right to terminate an embryo or a fetus, whom too are clumps of cells? Mere difference in size between “clumps” seems to be an arbitrary reason. For the naturalist and materialist advocate of abortion, the issue is not just how one gets the immaterial goodies of rights and value solely from the material cellular composition of bodies but also why only women-as-clumps (WAC) have them and the unborn-as-clumps (UAC) don’t, much to their lethal expense.
I will now consider some possible responses to these problems implicated by this “clump” theory:
A. WACs are rational beings; UACs are not.
Immanuel Kant famously held within one of his formulations of the categorical imperative that we ought never to treat rational beings only as means but as ends in themselves. So, in a Kantian deontological framework, the hurdle of human dignity and personhood must be overcome to justify abortion. Bifurcating between WAC as rational agents and UAC as non-rational agents accomplishes this as it allows the latter to be used solely as a means — in this sense, subjects to abortion — in service of the will of the former. Under this interpretation of Kant, UAC are not persons and thusly don’t possess rights, such as the universalizable right to life.
I see some troubles with this move:
- It fails to take into account the potential for rationality that inheres within a freshly formed, normal human zygote, that, as being a member of the sort of natural kind that it is, if left unabated in the womb would likely further develop, be born and actualize that potential for rationality over time. This actualization of latent rationality has been, as a matter of common experience, if not scientific observation, readily justified a posteriori. Following from this, it’s arguable (as Bill Vallicella does here) that this inherent potentiality for rationality, “confers a right to life”and thereby Kantian personhood. Thus, treading on this right, as abortion certainly does, given this case, is a moral evil and violates Kant’s categorical imperative.Moreover, Vallicella also notes another issue to which I find myself concurring: The “post-natal,” the newly born, can’t be considered as rational agents. They are utterly helpless and dependent on adults to make judgments on their behalf. Several years must pass before they become apt for rationality and develop the cognitive faculties for reasoning, moral decision-making and the like to the extent they incur the mantle of rational agent. Yet, they are ascribed as persons and possessors of the right to life before all this occurs. This fact seems problematic for the proponent of abortion, especially given any time during pregnancy, say even in midst of labor, the pre-natal baby is still a “clump of cells” with no rights — as per the official platform of the Democrats — but somehow a second after birth becomes a person, fully fledged in inviolable dignity. Both the uterine wall and vaginal canal seem to be very thin membranes constituting the special threshold between personhood and non-personhood. But how and why? Why does the act of being born result in a sudden transformation in ontological status for the fetus-clump?
- Secondly, it errs in that Kant is neither a naturalist nor a materialist. Hence, it’s not at all obvious as to how his ethics are compatible with “clump” theory. This all goes back to the first part of the issue — how naturalists and materialists get the immaterial out of the purely material. They would have to provide a compelling materialist basis for rationality as well as value and goodness. These are challenging metaphysical and metaethical quagmires that go far beyond the scope here, and in my opinion, typical attempts at solving them are rife with difficulties. But once again, addressing those attempted solutions is not within the purview of this post.
B. UACs are inside of WACs, violating the latter’s bodily freedom to control their own inner physiological processes, thereby threatening their greater autonomy.
I believe there’s two ideas here: (A) There’s a right to control one’s bodily processes, and prohibiting abortion limits said right; (B) Given the nine months of physical and psychological demands of pregnancy and the years of responsibility caring for a new human person, unwanted fetuses hamper women from actualizing their aspirations, goals, desires and otherwise curtail their abilities to achieve economic and cultural parity with men. In other words, their autonomy — which literally means self-legislation — is diminished…
- …Or so the narrative goes. Implicit within A, there’s the assumption that the UAC don’t have the right to life, which is the matter of contention, and begs the question against the Pro-Life movement. It’s undoubtedly uncontroversial that people, regardless of sex, have the right to do with their individual bodies as they please. It’s also true that most everybody accepts there are legal and moral limits with what one can do with one’s meat suit. For instance, murder often involves using your body, whether it’s enacted with hands bare or wielding weapons, but both morally and legally, murder is an impermissible use of one’s body. Furthermore, it’s evident that abortion terminates life, i.e kills. So, once again why does the UAC’s size and location inside women’s wombs make abortion permissible and not murderous? A woman’s rights trump a fetus’ (that is if it’s even recognized as a person)? But that changes nothing, as both are clumps with only relative location and size differentiating the unborn from the woman. Isn’t it arbitrary to favor the woman, especially in lieu of we often consider the innocent and defenseless — both of which the fetus instantiates — especially warranting special recognition and protection? Well, the fetus isn’t a person with rights. Yet, once more this begs the question against Pro-Lifers and takes us back to the post’s original dilemma about clumps.
- As for B, I don’t see how pregnancy impairs or — to borrow a currently infamous term — causes an “undue burden” on feminine autonomy. Women are CEOs, high-ranking government officials, academics, entertainers and all manner of active and successful contributors to society outside of the home. Taking away abortion as a last resort likely wouldn’t “relegate” the fairer sex to domestic servitude in the kitchens. With the mass accessibility of varieties of birth control, including abstinence, pregnancy can be forestalled, parenthood planned. Admittedly, everything doesn’t often occur as planned, but whose fault is that? If you play fast and loose and or gamble with the action that creates life, why should it be unjust that responsibility actually comes a’knocking to collect on that semen deposit with interest? Alas, this is the sort of moral dereliction and accompanying depravity that manifests when you sever freedom from personal responsibility.
- Lastly, how does A and B not violate Kant’s principle of universalizability? Is it not the case that aborting a fetus disrupts permanently its control of its bodily processes that grows more independent daily? Moreover, abortion doesn’t just ruin the UAC’s days. It rather definitively puts the kibosh on the greater future autonomy that belongs to the fetuses, many of whom are female. Thusly, A and B seem to be self-vitiating. There’s always the response UAC have no rights, but I hope it’s obvious now there’s a theme of begging the question and continual not moving past Go in such a such a retort.
See, abortion supporters who happen to be materialists and naturalists want morality and rights without invoking God, the supernatural or the transcendental. They love their Kantian dignity, autonomy and equality; that’s why I brought up der Alles-Zermalmer. Pity their precious social justice also faces pulverization but not from Kant. Their mores just are not very compliant to their preferred metaphysics. Atheism, let alone New Atheism, struggles to alchemize blood from this stone.
Clumps get in the way,