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Question re alternative view of status of the fetus

Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

I have a question that has come up in private conversation with people close to me and I'd like to ask it here.

We have mostly accepted, politically and philosophically that a fetus is nothing until it is born. Conservatives are going after this as always-- last year the proposal was to increase the penalty of harming a pregnant woman-- slippery slope arguments most obvious. But also obvious is that a woman who is pregnant and wants to have a baby does not consider the fetus to be nothing. That is the point that was raised to me in a conversation and what got me thinking.

My first and strongest reaction of course was that the government is doing nothing about violence against women and it should place its priorities there. But as rare as it may be there is an example that perhaps did deserve a response-- what of harm to a fetus that a mother wanted to have born? My first thought would be it is an assault on the pregnant woman just like any other assault on her person. But I was not sure if that was all.

I thought of an alternative definition of when/why/how the fetus could have some status and wondered if I could hear from others about the merits or risks of such a definition.

We all agree that once born and independently breathing the fetus is a person. That definition is without dispute.

We also agree that a fetus is a potential that is not only dependent on the pregnant woman's choice but also at all times, until independently breathing conditional, on that choice (which could change). But we have avoided much talk of what happens once a choice exists to have a baby, even when personal, philosophical and social values seem to be at odds. Our reason is not to give ANY excuse to those who want to question a woman's choice. I thought about this because while it has been presented as a problem the Conservatives are trying to exploit, I don't think there needs to be a conflict there at all.

What if the definition was the choice itself? So we recognize that a fetus is not a person until born; we recognize that a fetus is nothing more than bio-matter without the woman's choice that it be different. Therefore we recognize that in terms of person-hood nothing happens at conception, nor at any point until birth based on calendar days. But could we/should we recognize that something has happened at the moment the pregnant woman has made a choice that she wants the fetus to be born? If so, of course this is not a moment it is an ongoing choice so:

A fetus has some status of value, less than that of a person but more than nothing so long as a pregnant woman wants the fetus to be born. Further, the fetus should not be considered dependent (which implies rights separate from the woman) but conditional, as having only the rights the pregnant woman conveys to it under the conditions determined by the mother.

I realize the above is more complicated-- however it would recognize the obvious issue of someone seeking to harm a fetus that a woman wants to have born without opening a potential for such status to be used against the mother.

Again none of this seeks to ignore the context of the reality that violence against women is something the Conservatives are ignoring. The point I am making is that while the Conservatives have raised this question -- seeking to transfer some obvious value a fetus that is wanted by a pregnant woman to a fetus that is not wanted by a pregnant woman, any reasonable definition of that value would make it impossible to do so.

I raised this argument with a person who was seeking to make a claim that because some women valued a fetus it must have some status-- it was a short distance for me to say its only status was that value placed on it by the pregnant mother which is what got me thinking here.

I trust that people will understand that I am not trying to create a slippery slope argument so much as a fire-break argument that by definition can't let the argument go beyond a woman's choice.

Anyway, I hoped some of the women who have written eloquently in this forum could let me know how they would respond to this question and if the conditional value I raised works for them. Thanks in advance.

 

 

 


Comments

Ghislaine
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Joined: Feb 15 2008

Sean, I think it is still a slippery slope that could be used against the mother. A mother's choice could change throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Ie, it is a wanted pregnancy and then she gets ultrasound results at 20 weeks that indicate a disability and she decides to terminate. So, in this case, giving the fetus value based on "her" choice would be problematic if her choice changes. 

The laws already allows for "aggravating factor" (I think that is the correct terminology) and that is where pregnancy would fall. I am pregnant right now, so if I were to be in a car accident where I was hit by a drunk driver and that caused me to miscarrry that would be something the judge could consider that as a factor in sentencing. 

I think that your argument also results in a slippery slope as you will be talking of two biologically similar fetuses, but having the state confer value on one and not the other? It is the same situation as pro-lifers who support abortion in rape and incest. You are setting up a situation where the state has to make decisions over a woman's body. Due ot the nature of pregnancy and all of the variables that can occur over 9 months, it is not so simple as to defer to the woman's choice. Her choice may change, it may not have been made known to everyone, her relationship with the father may end, etc., etc., etc. 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

The important question is not whether a fetus is biologically a person or just tissue, it is whether it is a person under the law. Those are two very different things. 

There are plenty of people who think that people have consciousness and are living beings before birth; I lean toward some of that myself, and that is all well and good. The problem is that you cannot give that fetus legal status as a person without limiting the legal rights of the mother, and that is unacceptable, regardless of the situations that fall under that which might seem unfair.

Anything other that the status quo - that mother and child are the same person until birth - just leads to some of the horrible judicial miscarriages we see in some countries. It is an old rule and a hard one, but it is still the best one there is.

 

 


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

Thanks for your responces-- I do want to clarify that when I said conditional this means ongoing condition of the woman's choice to want the fetus not some precondition that once made would no longer be made.

I was trying to find a way to strengthen rather than weaken choice-- of course there are two chocie to have the fetus become a baby or not to. And where the choice is made to have a baby then perhaps with that condition the mother could be offered protection under the law.And thi is not to say the fetus is a person at that point but a new, special and extension of the mother with specific value to the mother.

Anyway I find the responses interesting-- but can someone, if you have time, explain how the slippery slope argument could be made if the condition itself is the woman's ongoing choice? I think that is starkly different from any other status argument. Also I don't see a status conditional on the mother's ongoing choice as something that can conflict with that chocie or be used against the mother-- I hope someone can explain.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

I don't see how we could possibly have it both ways. If a fetus is a person then it is a person, whether the woman carrying it says so or not. If she were to decide one way could she change her mind, and what would that imply? It cannot be conditional, any more than you can say one person is a person, and another is property.

That's why we have a woman charged with murder in the states because she miscarried after a failed suicide. And it is also why here in Canada, even though the law as it is might not seem fair in all cases, that it is the only way that ensures at least some protection for women. It's under threat enough as it is.

 


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Sean, this is exactly the conclusion I came to when I was two weeks pregnant and absolutely considered my fetus to be my baby, even though he was tinier than a microscopic salad shrimp at the time! :)  I also struggled with the question, having been pro-choice all my life, about how I could consider MY fetus to be a baby, and reconcile that with other women's unwanted fetuses not being babies.

It took a while for me to think it through, but eventually I came to the point (especially after taking some philosophy courses in university!) that there doesn't have to be an "objective truth" about what the fetus "is".  To me, with my very much wanted and planned for child, it was a baby, and I felt a deep emotional attachment to the fetus even at two weeks gestation.  To someone else who doesn't want to be pregnant, the fetus is not a baby.  I don't feel like I have to force my understanding and emotions around what was happening in my body then on someone who doesn't feel the same way about the same thing happening in her body.

So, I am fine with a fetus having no legal status at all as a person.  Even though I felt my fetus at that place and time was "my baby", that doesn't mean I need that to be recognized legally, when I know that there are circumstances where other women do not consider their unwanted fetuses to be "babies". 

You raise an interesting question about what happens if a pregnant woman who is bonding with a very much wanted fetus and thinks of the fetus as her baby ends up losing the fetus as a result of violence against her.  Should there be an extra penalty for forcing a woman to miscarry against her will due to violence against her, beyond simply being charged with assaulting the woman?  I'm not sure, but I think it could be possible to recognize the extra harm without giving the fetus personhood or calling it an "unborn victim of crime" or such slippery slope crap.  As long as it's recognized that the extra harm has been done to THE WOMAN, as opposed to the fetus, and no language gives the fetus any status as a person, then yes, I think they could probably come up with some sort of name for the crime.  It should all hinge on whether the woman's CHOICE to bear a child has been taken away from her, not whether the fetus's supposed "right" to "life" has been taken away.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

My partner and I (well, ultimately it was her body and her decision) decided not to terminate, not knowing whether our child would be healthy, because we felt it was a living being.

Neither of us feel we were traitors to the principle of choice because we based our decision on that. After all, we were able to exercise our choice.

 


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

I hope it was clear that whatever status I was suggesting it was not person hood (which has rights separate from the mother) nor the unborn victim. I was thinking of an acknowledgement of value to the pregnant woman that would have some weight but by definition something that would have it's status determined only by the ongoing choice of another person (the pregnant woman) cannot be a person. It is a fetus. A fetus that a woman does not want has no value -- one that the pregnant woman wants -- would have some value I would think until it is born and then it becomes a person at that time. I hope it was clear that was what I was raising as a question. I would never advocate person hood to something that has an existence that is conditional on another's choice. 


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

Again I want to thank you for replying and considering the question.


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

Yes, I totally got that, Sean. :)  No worries!


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

Sean, I don't think a fetus or embryo is ever "nothing".  Whether wanted or not, it exists and is a factor in the health and wellbeing of the woman carrying it.  Then again, so is a tumor. 

I don't think whether a woman values a fetus she is carrying or not is really material to the status of the fetus, except that her decisions about what to do or not do are dependent on her feelings about it.  Ultimately, the fetus is part of the woman until it is delivered and is a breathing, seperate person.  I really don't think it's practicable to finely slice status in the legal sense along the lines of valued/not valued.


Michelle
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Joined: May 10 2001

I think you're probably right, Timebandit.  I guess I was just saying that if they ever did do something like that, it would have to be completely focused on the "extra" harm done to the woman, not to the fetus.

But really, I think this is probably one of those things that should be left well enough alone.  The law is fine as it is now.


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

I agree.

This is, in essence, similar to that private member's bill that came up last year. In terms of the issue, I get it, just like I get the issue of terminating pregnancies because the fetus is female. Both are real problems. Thing is, the way to fight them is not by playing into an anti-choice wedge (and I think it is clear to all that is not Sean's intent).

Really, any judge looking at a case where miscarriage was a result is going to take that into account. But really, the loss we are talking about is to the woman carrying that child, and the law as it is (especially if we believe in rehabilitation rather than punishment) is broad enough to take that into account without opening a Pandora's box.

 

 


Timebandit
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Joined: Sep 25 2001

I think it makes more sense to look at "extra harm" from a different perspective.  If, for example, a pregnant woman is assaulted and her pregnancy makes her more vulnerable, we should look at the vulnerability rather than how she feels about the pregnancy.  We already do this, to some extent - an attack on someone weaker or disabled is viewed differently than an attack on someone who is more a match for the attacker will often receive a stiffer sentence, as will a particularly vicious assault or a particularly vicious motivation.  

ETA:  Which is to say, I agree with you, Michelle.  And I missed Smith's post - yes, agree with you, too!


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

Wow thanks so much again. Lots to think about. It is obviously possible to have this discussion here at least in a respectful, positive way.

I think we all agree that the government's attempts to redefine a status for a fetus were nothing about what we have been talking about here. Regardless of each point that has been made you can see a different direction that would never lead to any proposal like what the government produced. Practically, I too don't have trouble with the law as it stands. That said if a discussion were to go to defining something then it need not need to go to personhood, seperation from the pregnant woman. Specifically if any additional charges were made available along the lines that the government pretended to go down those could be based on the status of the mother rather than any independent status of a fetus. This discussion while it did not lead to somethign specific (you don't always need to do that) it did show that you can have a conversation about the pregnant status of a woman that is not inconflict with her choice, cannot be used against her and does not elevate a fetus to personhood. That alone exposes the rationale of the government for what it was. As it was clear that they had a "prescription" seeking an appropriate problem rather than an approach to a moral question which is the direction taken here. Part of my objective here was to show that and even without stating that objective in advance we can see the result.


fortunate
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Joined: Oct 29 2009

I am not sure how this sort of thing factors in to your discussion, but it is a concern when governments policies can go too far in one direction and away from even basic common sense.   I first learned of this actually in a Mexican drama telenovela, and thought it was just part of the fictional story until I google that this actually takes place in Mexico today.

http://e-feminist.com/home/2012/8/10/the-legal-persecution-of-indigenous...

 

I don't think it is just indigeous women as the title suggests, but that any woman could face this situation

 

One link I couldn't access when I searched for this one was a reference to the governor of Utah instituting a similar law regarding miscarriages.   

 


fortunate
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Joined: Oct 29 2009

I am not sure how this sort of thing factors in to your discussion, but it is a concern when governments policies can go too far in one direction and away from even basic common sense.   I first learned of this actually in a Mexican drama telenovela, and thought it was just part of the fictional story until I google that this actually takes place in Mexico today.

http://e-feminist.com/home/2012/8/10/the-legal-persecution-of-indigenous...

 

I don't think it is just indigeous women as the title suggests, but that any woman could face this situation

 

One link here is a reference to the governor of Utah instituting a similar law regarding miscarriages.   

 

http://www.alternet.org/story/145956/utah_governor_signs_controversial_l...


Mr.Tea
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Joined: Jul 9 2011

This is a very interesting topic. I was just thinking about this today after reading about a tragic story.

There was a young couple in Brooklyn. The wife was around 6 months pregnant. They were in a taxi which got hit by a reckless (possibly drunk) driver, who fled the scene. It was a terrible accident and the couple were both killed on impact.

The emergency crew were able to get the woman to a hospital quickly and doctors were able to deliver the baby. A few days later, the baby died.

So, in this case, how do we look at things? When the crime occured, you were dealing with a "fetus" (one the couple wanted to have born). Of course, after the accident and the baby was delivered, it was clearly a "person", not a "fetus". It was a person who died but they died from something done to them when they were "not yet a person". So, if the guy is caught, how is he charged? Two deaths for the parents or three deaths for the parents and baby? 

I don't know. It's a very interesting question and opens up a lot of possible consequences.


MegB
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Joined: Nov 28 2001

Not knowing a whole lot about NY State law, I would venture that the child was born alive, making it a person, which would mean three counts of vehicular manslaughter. Whether the injuries were sustained in utero  or not shouldn't have any bearing on the fact that the driver caused the death of a person.


Ghislaine
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Joined: Feb 15 2008

Rebecca West wrote:

Not knowing a whole lot about NY State law, I would venture that the child was born alive, making it a person, which would mean three counts of vehicular manslaughter. Whether the injuries were sustained in utero  or not shouldn't have any bearing on the fact that the driver caused the death of a person.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005
Oh FFS, nice way to reopen the debate on when the foetus becomes a person.

6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

I guess no conversation like this is really complete without the voice of condemnation.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005
Rebecca, I'm struggling with your post. Didn't we all participate in a huge campaign to defeat Bill C-484, which would have done precisely what you just said? There were two living persons at the moment of the hit and run - not 3 - so there can't be 3 charges of homicide under Canadian law.

6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

It's a hard question, Unionist.

On the one hand you are probably right about the law.

On the other hand, a strict reading of that would seem to imply that no one could face criminal charges for something which caused congenital birth defects either. It really is a question for a lawyer... or ten.

And I think if women's right to reproductive choice was not something which is under constant assault there might be a bit more freedom to consider the points Sean raised. Because while I agree with the need for a hard line on the principle, it's not like these other concerns aren't real either.

In that sense, I'm not struggling with Rebecca's post, because I assume we can discuss the issue among friends without taking it as an assault on the principle.

 


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

Winston. I stated my opinion on an issue. You have now, in two successive posts, stated your opinion about me and my style. Thanks for caring. But I think I'll bow out now.

 


Fidel
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Joined: Apr 29 2004

6079_Smith_W wrote:

There are plenty of people who think that people have consciousness and are living beings before birth; I lean toward some of that myself, and that is all well and good.

Remember the Berkeley study on what makes conservatives tick. This is another of those black and white issues for them on both the left and right.

For the 'conservative-minded" in general, there can be no debate about this and other issues which either science or governments simply do not understand and, for whatever reasons, refuse to invest much time or effort in discovering truth at the heart of these black and white issues which are really grey areas of human understanding at this point in time.


Sean in Ottawa
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Joined: Jun 3 2003

Indeed they are grey. Not so grey is the fact that they are being hijacked by Conservatives to fuel radical agendas.

Sometimes when an argument is absurd the best strategy is to avoid the discussion and at other times it may be to engage and prove the contention wrong. I am not a believer that the same strategy works all the time which is why I raised this question.

The argument being advanced by conservatives handled fairly would be defeated either way. But there is so much at stake and nothing they are involved in is handled either fairly or honestly which is why I understand all the responses here.

Sometimes trying to shout down a discussion being held by people who are screaming louder than you won't work and then you have to answer it even if it was designed as a trap. I was trying to see if there was a logical way out of that trap.

I do think that there is no need to get angry with each other here though because I think we all have the same basic objective.


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

Sean in Ottawa wrote:

I do think that there is no need to get angry with each other here though because I think we all have the same basic objective.

Whatever would that be? I can count several different objectives when reading through this thread. What would you say is the principal one, shared by all?

 


6079_Smith_W
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Joined: Jun 10 2010

A woman's freedom of choice and access to abortion. Seems to me, anyway.

 


Summer
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Joined: Apr 21 2006

Unionist wrote:
Oh FFS, nice way to reopen the debate on when the foetus becomes a person.

I'm a woman and vehemently (some would say militantly) pro choice.   My body, my choice. 

That said, I agree with Rebecca.  Legally, there is a distinction between a a car accident that causes a woman to miscarry and a car accident that induces early pregnancy and results in the death of a baby.   This first situation involves a foetus and the second involves a baby.   This result is consistent with the pro choice view that personhood starts at birth.  I don't see it as reopening any debate.  The fact that someone who is anti-choice may conflate the two situations to argue that personhood starts sometime before birth is a separate issue. 

 

 


Unionist
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Joined: Dec 11 2005

So Summer, do you think that if a hit-and-run driver or an assailant causes a pregnant woman to miscarry, they should be charged with homicide of some type (manslaughter, murder, etc.)? Or only if the foetus is born live and then dies? Just want to understand your viewpoint.

 


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