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Arguing Abortion
Protect Unborn Babies From All Harms But Abortion

In our new moral order, unborn babies must be protected from all harms—except abortion. The Economist has two pieces in its latest issue (“Unequal Beginnings” and “Huffing and Puffing”) that make the case for public policy that reduces harm to unborn babies. “Unequal Beginnings” argues that new science has uncovered just how serious and lasting stress, pollution, or health harms to unborn babies can be to their later development. It then goes on to note that, for example, “Alaska is installing free pregnancy-test dispensers in bars in an attempt to cut the rate of fetal-alchohol syndrome.” In “Huffing and Puffing,” the authors report that in some countries, women still smoke “right through pregnancy”—including 18 percent of pregnant women in France. How to stop it?

One promising approach is paying women to quit. A recent trial in Scotland gave up to £400 ($590) in shopping vouchers for women who stayed off cigarettes until their babies were born, as well as the usual package of counselling and nicotine patches. The success rate rose from 9% to 23%. If further trials show similar results, the scheme may go nationwide. Even smaller amounts may help: the state of Maryland recently started giving pregnant women who call a smoking-cessation service up to $90 in shopping vouchers that can be used to buy items for the baby. To get the full amount they must keep calling after the baby is born. (Figures from many countries suggest that at least half those who quit during pregnancy start again soon after giving birth.)

The concern for the health and future development of unborn babies displayed here is admirable, of course. And this kind of mindset looks to be a new vanguard. When both The Economist and Cosmopolitan come out almost at the same time with pieces on how smoking harms unborn babies, you know a trend is afoot. But this mindset co-exists strangely with the left’s avowedly pro-choice politics. As Mollie Hemingway put it about Cosmo’s concerns about pregnant smoking mothers: “So they’re totally fine with offing a child in utero even in late-term abortion—but they don’t want that same child to have to deal with cigarette smoke?” Just how long can people keep walking that tightrope? If advocacy in favor of improving unborn babies’ health keeps increasing, perhaps not as long as some might hope.

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  • Kevin

    Does switching to nicotine patches or gum really help the fetus? The danger to the fetus is not primarily lung cancer more directly from nicotine.

  • Andrew Allison

    So Scotland, a country on the British dole, gave up to £400 ($590) in shopping vouchers to women who stayed off cigarettes until their babies were born. Although not directly comparable, http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/tobaccousepregnancy/ suggests than over half the women smokers who become pregnant quit voluntarily, so those in Scotland received a gift of $590. Of the rest, 23% or roughly one pregnant woman in eight were bribed to quit. Viewed differently, the cost per woman who was bribed to quit was close to $5,000. OPM at its finest.

  • vepxistqaosani

    You’re usually good at understand the other side’s arguments, but I think you’ve fallen short here.

    A fetus is simply like any other form of personal property; you may do whatsoever you wish with it — but if anyone else does anything with it without your permission, then they have committed a crime against you.

    You seem to think that a fetus, simply by its existence, has some moral weight that must be considered. Pro-choicers deny that categorically. No fetus has any importance, moral or otherwise, in any way at all — unless the person* carrying it imputes some importance or value to it. Any fetus-carrying person can do anything he or she wishes to the fetus until the moment of birth — and more advanced thinkers (e.g., Peter Singer) extend that period of complete freedom until well after birth.

    But smoking is evil in itself, so any means used to fight that evil is perfectly justified, whatever seeming contradictions might ensue. Giving birth is evil; smoking cigarettes is evil. If one can use one to fight the other, then, clearly, one should.

    *I almost wrote “woman”, which would have been grave sin. Eternal vigilance is the price of righteousness.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The sole flaw in your rather clever argument is that the groups making their arguments in this case were pointing to the effect of smoking ON THE FETUS as a unique evil in and of itself. If the fetus is nothing more than a thing, without agency and without rights, then the impact of smoking upon it has no more moral or ethical impact than splashing paint on a wall. Since they explicitly rejected that argument, then either they don’t believe their own case (that a fetus is a thing, not a person), or they are cynically using the video to manipulate their audience. Possibly both, n’est-ce pas?

      • vepxistqaosani

        Well, my tongue might have been ever so slightly embedded in my cheek …

        But, seriously, the bigger problem the abortion movement has is the recent (last 10 years or so) discussion of post-birth abortion. Singer et al. are quite correct that the reasoning used to support in-utero abortion applies equally strongly to the ex-utero variety. The problem is that the vast, vast majority of people — even those who enthusiastically support in-utero abortion — find the idea of infanticide emotionally and morally repugnant.

        Of course, the reaction of the philosophes is to say that feelings of disgust cannot carry any moral weight.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Absolutely so, and a very clever parody it was!
          Your point re: Singer and his ilk is dead on target, I often wonder where he would draw the line if forced. After all, he once said that even his own mother would be a good target for euthanasia.
          While I (with enormous reluctance) agree with the philosophes regarding disgust and its lack of moral weight, I often wonder if the disgust itself isn’t a good indicator that we should be looking at the problem more carefully…
          Cheers!

        • Dan

          WHEW… i am glad i kept reading, I started to get apoplectic when you called Singer an advanced thinker…

          a tip of the cap to you.

  • Josephbleau

    I see a certain logic in this, if you are going to kill, kill; if not then you assume the legal liability to protect. Like Chinese jurisprudence, if you save a man’s life you must feed him for the rest of it.

    • Boritz

      A pregnant woman might tell people who look down on her for smoking that she plans to abort so there is no “legal liability to protect” so their worries are misplaced.

      • Josephbleau

        And if she does abort, then she will be on firm legal footing, if not—.

  • Lee Dryden

    The pro choice logic here is pretty straight forward. If you intend to continue the pregnancy then you are obligated to it to protect it from known behavioral hazards. But pro choice is committed to the proposition that no woman is required to continue a pregnancy. Challenging the basic position is necessary. Doing so requires being open to the immense biological evidence of the continuity of the human being from conception to birth. It also requires a critical examination of the pro choice strategies for denying the moral implications of that continuity. Fortunately, since pro-choice leapt to the forefront of American thinking about abortion in the 1970’s, a large body of popular imagery and information has become commonplace. Films and books recounting the actual development of fetal life shock the sensibilities of pro choicers and pro lifers because they reveal the reality of what abortion is all about. This grounding of the debate in biological reality has gradual effects on public opinion, but it moves opinion in the right direction.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The first sentence of the third paragraph in this article was all that needed to be written after referencing the two pieces in The Economist.

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