Saturday, March 19, 2005

The more you know

New photographic techniques showing that babies develop more quickly than was previously known have led UK Tory leader Micheal Howard to publically muse about lowering the number of weeks in which abortion would be permitted:
it was photographs taken by a new technique, showing foetuses younger than 24 weeks looking far more developed than had previously been accepted, which caused many to reconsider their previous support for late abortions. Among them was the scientist who took the scans, Professor Stuart Campbell of London’s Create Health Clinic. Campbell, keen to point out that he was not against abortion per se, said at the time: ‘‘I now think 24 weeks, if the baby is healthy, is too late. The world is a different place from 1967, when the abortion law was first passed, and science has moved on.’’ Last week, Campbell said he was astonished by the political impact of the photographs – taken for his parenting book Watch Me Grow. “I just wanted to educate couples about the development of a baby,” he said. “It never entered my head that these pictures would have this effect, engendering a national debate on abortion, but seeing an 11-week-old foetus doing quite sophisticated things opened my own eyes to the fact that we did not know how rapidly the foetus developed. “It doesn't seem unrealistic to think we could bring back the [abortion] limit.”
Not everyone agrees, however.
Ann Furedi, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Association, said last week that she believed the law “is best left alone. “It works reasonably well. You can focus on abortion as a political issue and forget about the very difficult circumstances women find themselves in. The real scandal is women cannot get late abortions because there are not enough appointments available.”
I suppose it "works reasonably well" if it doesn't happen to you. If it does, I guess Mrs. Furendi's position might be summed up as "sucks to be you." While the photos and improving techniques for sustaining early babies are useful in the political arena, logically they present problems, as does any attempt to find a moral basis for the law that is "based on science." For one thing, as technology improves the 'acceptable' period for abortion is likely to keep moving back. Our laws ought to encompass more than "current findings" so that technology is more of an aid and less of a destabilizing force. Using science like this also implies that the reason we protect some and not others is because we see in them something like ourselves. That's good, but a fully mature society also ought to recognize those who are not like us, just as we recognize other races as worthy of life and respect even though there are superficial differences between us. Abortion is not a question about science, in the end. It is a question about the value human life and this is a metaphysical question. If we think science holds the answer it is because we subscribe to two errors. The first is a separation of mind and body that can only rest on some sort of dualism or emergent property. Logically, the notion of emergent properties is pretty dubious. Dualism is unproven and if it were proven, it would raise the very serious problem of where mind or soul came from. The other problem is the ought / is conundrum - you can't get the first from the second. If we decide that human life has value, then we need to seek a way to balance the lives of mothers and children who are unplanned, and move on from the either or swamp we are mired in today.

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