Letters to the Editors

Dainton responds

Dear Editors,

Much like the wily unicorn, it certainly seems that a coherent Pro-choice argument is hard to come by these days. Anyone who doubts this need look no further than last Friday's edition of The Journal.

Stephanie Earp argues that restrictions on abortion would leave a generation of children with thousands of bitter, resentful parents who lack the urge to properly care for them. Perhaps Ms. Earp has conveniently forgotten the hundreds of thousands of would-be Canadian parents who are eagerly awaiting their chance at an adoption. Or, better still, maybe she is suggesting that the millions of neglected children already living on this continent should each be summarily executed in the name of expediency — simply because they happen to be "unwanted." After a brief awkward phase, this would be even more fun than the Passover. Clearly, mass genocide can always be justified if its victims would be better off dead, as Stephanie seems to be suggesting.

Darrell LeHouillier, on the other hand, seems to be too busy chasing his own tail to formulate a legitimate defense of the Pro-choice religion. Looking back on the controversial Roe v. Wade decision that spurred a remarkable increase in infanticide, Mr. LeHouillier develops a fascinating theory: if infanticides were rare when abortion was illegal, and ubiquitous now that abortion is far more accessible, then surely the government could eliminate infanticide completely by further spreading safe access to every mountain peak and valley in the continent. And then, as if retreating from the sheer idiocy of his own logic, Darrell clamps his hands over his ears and says "it makes no sense that… abortions should increase the incidence of infanticide by 50 percent."

Dear Chelsea Rocklein: your letter almost made me cry. That someone could have such a shallow understanding of the issue as to label herself both Pro-choice and Pro-life in, of all places, an academic institution is truly sad. I wonder how you would react to the following statement: I'm personally opposed to murder, but no one gave me the right to judge others and their decisions. Until you feel an uncontrollable rage run down your spine, Chelsea, I suggest you leave the choice up to the killers.

Enough said. One of these days, though, I'll face up to the fact that trying to reason with a pro-abortionist is rather like trying to teach an elephant calligraphy.

Chris Dainton
Sci ’03

Subtleties bypass Dainton

Dear Editors,

While I echo Mr. Dainton’s concern for the lack of debate regarding issues like abortion, he fails to offer any reasons for his position that could possibly inform a meaningful dialogue on this important issue.

Without attempting to mount a wholesale defense of the Pro-choice position, here are a few reasons why I feel Mr. Dainton’s piece fails.

First, over half of Mr. Dainton’s article is premised on an alleged link between infanticide and Pro-choice legal climates. Typical of many Pro-life “arguments,” Mr. Dainton’s case is more reliant on unpleasant imagery than rational discourse, describing in detail various cases of infanticide. But what connects these to any given case of a woman freely choosing to have an abortion?

Mr. Dainton has two extremely weak arguments for this. First, he contends that in the U.S., “the number of infanticides has increased by almost fifty per cent” since Roe v. Wade. While this may well be true, he offers virtually no evidence to connect the two: the simple fact that one variable increases when another is present does not mean that another variable, or variables, are responsible. The lone evidence he offers to demonstrate this link is Stockwell Day’s assertion that if you allow the killing of a child in the womb, people will fail to see “what’s wrong with knocking it around a bit once it’s outside.” Before relying on this highly speculative statement and turning to attack thinkers like Peter Singer, Mr. Dainton might first, as an aside, want to reconsider some of Mr. Day’s other statements about human rights (ex. gay rights) in “his more candid moments.” Drawing a parallel to the highly disanalogous case of civil rights for blacks only further weakens Mr. Dainton’s case. Here he takes Mary Ann Warren’s statement that “some human beings are not people” entirely out of context, suggesting that the same line of thinking is evident in the racism of the original U.S. Constitution. Yet Warren’s position does not prevent a race, or any other trait for that matter, from having personhood —this is a status that is withheld equally from all in terms of the development or removal of the capacity of self-awareness.

Returning to the issue at hand, theorists like Peter Singer have a point in emphasizing self-awareness that is captured in the title of the pro-choice movement: we value our ability to choose, so much so that we protect and enhance it with the rights Mr. Dainton wants to extend to the unborn. Yet we must ground this choice somewhere, and against the pro-life position (assuming one can be generalized as such), it is not to be found at the moment of conception. To name one source, the Canadian Medical Association, we can locate the basic capacity for self-awareness, a requirement for free choice, at approximately twenty weeks gestation.

Before proceeding, it is important to note that this could be compatible with fetal rights at stages of the pregnancy later than 20 weeks. Whether these trump those of the mother is not an issue I will discuss here. However, I clearly need to offer a more convincing reason as to why the evil academics hiding in “back alleys” and moral issues textbooks are correct to hold self-awareness in such high esteem.

Instead of thinking of the developmental case of birth, think of death in similar terms. Here, instead of the development first of life, then sapient capacity, we may have a case of life existing long after sapient capacity has been permanently destroyed. Courts in Canada have recognized since Regina v. Kitching and Adams that a permanently brain-dead individual can be considered legally dead, and not a person, despite the fact that they may be biologically alive. For this reason, ceasing artificial life support, or harvesting organs is not seen as murder.

In drawing this analogy, I do not hold that there are no relevant differences to consider. (Consult “The Status of the Human Fetus” by the C.M.A. Committee on Ethics.) However, I feel it highlights the point that it is not the fact that we are alive, or the fact that we are humans, that is the foundation of the respect that rights both protect and enhance. It is that unique capacity of self-awareness that grounds our rational projects.

I hope this offers at least some reasons why the position that Mr. Dainton clearly wishes to distance himself from is grounded in a valuation of human projects. The fact that it does not do so through reliance on life itself appears, in my “back alley” view, justifiable, and clearly cannot, from what Mr. Dainton has shown us, be demonstrably linked to the devaluation of humanity that occurs in cases of infanticide.

Kyle Anstey
MA ‘01

More on Dainton

Dear Editors,

Chris Dainton makes a very strong case that the Pro-choice movement has succeeded to an extent which is inconsistent with compassion and respect for human life. The idea of permitting the murder of a baby is abhorrent, and despite some examples to the contrary there must be general judicial and popular consensus on this point. It should in fairness be noted that the Pro-choice side does not have a monopoly on absolutist positions in the abortion debate. The Vatican is famous for its opposition to all forms of artificial birth control, and it seems likely that this position is justified not by the "personhood of the unborn" but rather by the idea that it is God and not women who ought to have control over their own bodies. The frequent murder attempts on abortion doctors also demonstrates the violent extremism of some opponents of abortion. In a political system based upon compromise such as ours in Canada, how can we account for the violent and radical stands which characterize the abortion debate?

A clue may be found in the words of Steven Pinker, who was quoted in Mr. Dainton's article advocating leniency for mothers who murder their newborns: "birth is as arbitrary a milestone as any other." As a justification for murder, this seems ridiculous. And yet Pinker has merely followed the principle of freedom of choice to its logical conclusion—it is ultimately an arbitrary decision that the act of exiting the womb makes an infant a human being.

Suppose, however, we assume the validity of a Pro-life stance: abortion of, for example, a 7-month-old fetus is murder. What about a 6-month pregnancy? There is no "biological milestone" between the sixth and seventh month which makes a fetus a human being, or between the fifth and sixth months for that matter. Why, indeed, should we allow the murder of innocent zygotes? "To a biologist," Steven Pinker's alter-ego might write, "implantation of the fertilized cell in the uterus is as arbitrary a milestone as any other." Oral birth control, of course, operates by interrupting exactly this function. So much for the Pill.

This sounds preposterous, but, just like the opposite extreme the only counter to it is that it seems too extreme. This may contribute to the rareness of moderate positions on abortion. Any stance between the two ends of the spectrum will tend to rest on philosophically shaky ground. Allowing the murder of infants or banning the Pill offers at least the feeling of philosophic certainty.

So how can we forge a sensible policy towards abortion? The first step is to recognize that any position one adopts on this question will necessarily be emotional and to a certain extent irrational. Moral philosophy seems unhelpful for the reason described above, and judicial reasoning on abortion is also suspect. The "lack of debate" about abortion which bothers Mr. Dainton is not surprising, because it is so difficult for the two sides even to find common philosophic ground to debate upon.

Stockwell Day has publicly suggested that a national referendum be held on the issue of abortion. Although widely interpreted in central Canada as an attempt to impose his Pro-life views, this idea in fact has great merit. Abortion is exactly the type of issue about which the will of the people should be closely followed. Unlike taxation or defense policy where skilled bureaucratic knowledge is needed, there is no special knowledge involved in deciding whether a five month fetus is a human being or not. Supreme court justices who make abortion decisions are almost inevitably cloaking their own preexisting beliefs in the garb of legal reasoning. Positions on abortion are by definition a matter of subjective moral judgment. In a democratic polity such as ours, there is no justification for abrogating the authority on such questions of conscience from where it belongs — the will of the people.

Noel Semple
ArtSci ’03

Pro-life support

Dear Editors,

In his letter concerning Chris Dainton's article regarding unborn rights, Darrell LeHouillier suggested that if "cognizance" defines "personhood," then people in comas are not people. I disagree on the basis that their lack of cognizance is a temporary condition, much like the situation of a preborn child.

He then pointed out that it is acceptable to kill human beings under certain circumstances. I will only add that it must then also be acceptable under those same (and even more) circumstances to ignore another's right to end a pregnancy.

Mr. LeHouillier then blames the fact that most doctors will not do abortions on fear of the "violent pro-life activists." Yet, doctors themselves who have previously done abortions tell quite a different story. "I began to feel like a paid assassin" (Dr. Anthony Levatino) or "Standing at that sink, I guess I just started seeing these bodies for the first time," (Dr. Beverly McMillan) or "I did not feel right about doing abortions," (Dr. McArthur Hill) hardly sounds like fear of Pro-life violence. Indeed, if personal safety was my only concern, I would much rather work at an abortion clinic than a convenience store.

Chelsea Rocklein argued that no one "can tell a woman what to do with her body," and I heartily agree. Each one of us owns the right to our own body, that is ours by nature, and it is because I feel very strongly that I do not have the rights to another person's body that I am anti-abortion. She stated that "no one gave me the right to judge others." We just need to agree on which others that includes.

Ms. Earp's solution to the "thousands of unwanted children" that exist today inside many women's wombs is to eliminate them. I propose eliminating problems, rather than people. Perhaps we should be working towards preparing mothers emotionally and financially rather than granting them the (liberating?) choice to kill their child. Perhaps if abortion became illegal, society would be forced to offer women real solutions to the inequalities we, as women, face. Should we be forced, for example, to choose between sacrificing our career or our child? Should pregnant women be at a disadvantage in the work market? Giving her the choice to end her pregnancy also gives us the excuse we need to justify ignoring her situation.

Sindi Sabourin
Math Ph.D 3

Using Coke dollars

Dear Editors,

I am writing to make the campus community aware of the process for accessing funding arising from the cold beverage contract with Coca-Cola.

As I reported last January, $1-million, representing approximately 20 percent of the new monies, will be allocated for special projects with the intention of benefiting the greatest number of students. Of this amount, a minimum of $300,000 would be allocated to projects within the library system. The remaining 80 percent (approximately $4-million) of the funds will be directed toward the new student life facilities.

The special project monies will be allocated in equal amounts annually over the next ten years. Any monies not allocated in one year will be carried forward to the following year.

The document outlining the process for applying for the funds is now available from the Office of Residence, Food & Beverage Services in Victoria Hall, Room D015.

Bruce Griffiths
Director, Food & Beverage Services
On behalf of the Cold Beverage Steering Committee

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