Podcast #313: Debate on Rights in Pregnancy

 Posted by on 27 October 2014 at 8:00 am  Podcasts
Oct 272014

On Sunday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I answered questions on abortion and rights in pregnancy, and more. The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Whole Podcast: 26 October 2014

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Podcast Segments: 26 October 2014

You can download or listen to my answers to individual questions from this episode below.


My News of the Week: I’ve been on vacation in Southern California visiting family, and I just drove my new “toterhome” from Ohio to Colorado in a day and a half.

Question 1: Abortion and Rights in Pregnancy

Question: When do rights begin? You – Greg Perkins and Diana Hsieh – agree on the basics of abortion rights. However, you disagree on when the fetus becomes a person with rights. Diana argues that rights don’t apply until birth, when the fetus becomes a biologically separate infant. Greg argues that the fetus has rights during the later stages of pregnancy, when it becomes an “essentially formed human being.” Can you flesh out and defend these views?

My Answer, In Brief: Greg and I still disagree on the start of rights, but we explained our views and our objections to each other’s views well in this friendly debate.

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To comment on this question or my answer, visit its comment thread.


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  • Start Time: 1:35:42

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  • Adam Acuo

    The debate on pregnancy rights seemed over complicated to me. From a rights perspective I would think that a woman has the absolute right over her own body, including the right to terminate a pregnancy at any time… up to and including the day of birth. She also has the right to amputate her arm or to commit suicide! On the other side of the equation, no doctor or hospital or medical practioner can be compelled through the use of force to perform an abortion (or a needless amputation or a suicide). Medical practioners are also bound by the principles of their profession to preserve and protect life. In practice, if a woman wants a late stage pregnancy and the baby is viable, then post birth a viable prematurely born baby has rights, it should be protected and the cost should be born by the mother. This is the practice in Canada at present – there is no abortion law – but late stage pregnancies are nonexistent since the privately run medical society will not allow a doctor to perform it.

  • http://merryandfree.tumblr.com/ Evrim Sen

    This podcast was easily one of the most interesting and exciting ones so far. I would have loved to have listened to it live (alas, I live in Australia). But the amount of passion and thoughtfulness that both Greg and you put forward your positions was fantastic. Generally speaking, my position has always been a tad in between both of you; but in the end I think I still agree with Diana. She states at the start that it would be questionable to terminate a pregnancy very far into it. However, in the end I too believe that the woman’s ultimate right to autonomy over her body is what’s important, at least the law should recognise that. I would love for both you and Greg to do similar a style debate in the future, this was a joy and defiantly one of the most thrilling podcasts to listen to. I’ve already listened to it three times, and every time I pick up on something new that I didn’t think about before. Well done guys, it was amazing! And listening you both debate about philosophy in an intelligent and respectful was so refreshing.

    • https://philosophyinaction.com/ Diana Hsieh

      Thanks so much!! I’m so glad that you enjoyed it!

  • http://www.salesprocessengineering.net/ Justin Roff-Marsh

    Here’s a thought experiment that — I hope — gets to the essence of Diana’s argument.

    Imagine that a mother were to offer her (mature) son the ability to participate in a bizarre form of tourism where he could climb inside her womb and re-live his original birth experience.

    The question, in this case, is would there be a difference in rights between the original birth and the voluntary (for both parties) tourism case?

    If Greg agrees there’s a difference, I think this takes care of the coma and immersion chamber arguments.

    The remaining question, then, is at what point does the fetus acquire its rights? I agree with Diana that it is impossible to assign rights to the fetus prior to birth without causing a conflict of rights.

    And, in the case of such a conflict, the obvious (and inevitable) remedy would be for the state to appoint a proxy to represent the rights of the fetus.

    Imagine, then a case where a surgeon has to make an emergency decision. The mother’s wishes are unknown (she is unconscious), as are the state’s. This pits the unknown wishes of the mother against the unknown wishes of the state!

    Is this not an unconscionable outcome?

    • Jack

      Re Justin’s Comment. Perhaps it can be made less unconscionable with something like in other emergencies where no conscious party with clear decision-rights can be located. Ideally the woman would have pre-documented her desires/wishes in something analogous to a living will. Maybe take it a step further: the mother and state-appointed proxy entered into a contract, as soon as the pregnancy is discovered, defining some emergency contingency decision tree that each/both agree on, ahead of time?

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