Why we are all worse than Roman Polanski

Speaking of considerations related to crime and punishment, I sometimes wonder whether (in some minds, at least) abortion is becoming a sort of moral reductionist trump card that can be used to trivialize concerns about nearly anything else.

It's a version of the slippery slope argument, and I first heard it a few years ago on a talk radio show discussion of a girl who had killed her newborn baby. Anti-abortion callers were insisting not only that infanticide was the logical culmination of abortion, and of course that there was no moral difference between abortion and infanticide.

Today the argument is often made that because abortion is murder, there is no moral difference between the killing of a fetus and the killing of an adult. Actually, some argue that abortion is morally worse than the killing of an adult, because the unborn are truly innocent, while living humans are by definition sinners, and therefore less worthy to God.

Anyway, when I first heard the argument it would be hypocritical to punish the girl who killed her baby because "we" routinely allow doctors to "murder millions of innocent babies," I was horrified. But it's now so routine that I just consider it standard fare in the abortion debate.

Not long ago, I read a comment to a post about the Christian-Newsom murder trial which applied the same moral equivalency argument (yes, that's what it is) to the torture and murder of two young people. The snarky commenter questioned why anyone should be fussing over the torture murder of only two people when millions of babies are tortured to death each year.

If you see things that way, then no one has a right to raise a fuss over anything.

In a more famous recent example, the abortion-as-a-moral-leveler argument was raised by Ann Coulter in a discussion of the murder of an abortion doctor on Bill O'Reilly's show:

Never one to shy away from controversy, Coulter offered the following ethical assessment of the crime:
"I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester."
When pressed by O'Reilly on this statement, Coulter replied,
"I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others."
They have the video clip over there for people who find this sort of thing entertaining. I guess she was being funny; isn't that what entertainment is all about?

What's sometimes forgotten is that in the old days when abortion used to be a crime, it wasn't considered murder because the baby wasn't born, but never mind that. It is not my purpose here to debate the relative degrees of immorality of various types of conduct so much as it is to examine the logical consequences of abortion as a trump card that dwarfs almost all illegal and immoral conduct. Because if in fact abortion is murder (and torture murder at that), then it is worse than anything that goes on except maybe other torture murders, like the Christian-Newsom case.

What this means is that not only are murders no worse than abortion, but other illegal or immoral conduct -- no matter how awful, disgusting, or egregious -- must pale by comparison.

And if any outrage less than torture murder pales in comparison to abortion, then certainly that would include sexual outrages, like the Roman Polanski case. That's because the rape of a child is not as evil as the torture murder of a child, and therefore because Polanski did not murder his victim, he is less culpable than any abortionist. Moreover, he and all other child molesters are by definition less culpable than those who use and dispense today's moral equivalent of Zyklon B, the abortificient drug RU-486. Because we tolerate this Himmler behavior, we have no right to condemn Polanski.

Please bear in mind that while this is not what I think, it is apparently what many other people think.

But is it conservatism? I don't know, but I don't think it will ever play well in middle America.

MORE:Commenter Mike Foster takes issue with me below, and says this:

Forgive me for saying so, but... aren't you being a bit obtuse? It is a simple reductio ad absurdum argument. And very effective, I might add. Morally, what is the difference between a mother killing an unborn child (because of its "inconvenience") and a newborn child (because of its "inconvenience") or any other child in a state of ("inconvenient") dependence upon that mother? Also, perhaps I am being obtuse, but I don't see how the Polanski Incident relates to this issue?
As I explained below, if abortion is in fact torture/murder (and I am not saying it is), then it is in fact worse than what Polanski did. The Polanski example is intended to illustrate where the logic of the "not as bad as abortion" argument leads, and why I get tired of hearing it used over and over again.

But don't take my word for it. My reductio ad Polanski argument is in fact the official position of at least one major religion. According to a Vatican ruling in March, the rape of a nine-year old girl (that's four years younger than Polanski's victim) was specifically held to be not as heinous as abortion:

A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil after allegedly being raped by her stepfather.

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Catholic church's Congregation for Bishops, told the daily La Stampa on Saturday that the twins the girl had been carrying had a right to live.

"It is a sad case but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated," he said.

Re, who also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, added: "Life must always be protected, the attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified."

The row was triggered by the termination on Wednesday of twin fetuses carried by a nine-year-old allegedly raped by her stepfather in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco.

The regional archbishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, pronounced excommunication for the mother for authorising the operation and doctors who carried it out for fear that the slim girl would not survive carrying the fetuses to term.

"God's law is above any human law. So when a human law ... is contrary to God's law, this human law has no value," Cardoso had said.

He also said the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the church. Although the man allegedly committed "a heinous crime ... the abortion - the elimination of an innocent life - was more serious".

(Emphasis supplied.)

So, if abortion is worse than the rape of a nine year old girl (which many seem to believe), then it is of course worse than Roman Polanski's crime.

Again, I don't agree with this thinking, nor do I believe in collective guilt. But if a major religion does, I think my point is well taken.

Nor do I see this issue as likely to go away.

One last thing. I hate to be argumentative, but why did I have to do extra work and come up with a specific religious rulings to illustrate what I thought was a relatively simple point?

posted by Eric on 10.10.09 at 11:23 AM










Comments

Eric,

Forgive me for saying so, but... aren't you being a bit obtuse? It is a simple reductio ad absurdum argument. And very effective, I might add. Morally, what is the difference between a mother killing an unborn child (because of its "inconvenience") and a newborn child (because of its "inconvenience") or any other child in a state of ("inconvenient") dependence upon that mother? Also, perhaps I am being obtuse, but I don't see how the Polanski Incident relates to this issue?

Best Regards,
Mike Foster

Mike Foster   ·  October 10, 2009 2:10 PM

My judgment too is that it can be a useful rhetorical technique (although one that will obviously not be persuasive in many cases)--but that most serious anti-abortion campaigners would welcome a legislative regime (well, probably 50 regimes) wherein procured abortion is criminalised as some degree of manslaughter (or whatever; am not a lawyer). This is, after all, what probably would have happened had not the august solons of the Supreme Court removed the matter from legislative jurisdiction.

Marc Puckett   ·  October 10, 2009 4:49 PM

IMHO the actual number of people who actually see no difference between abortion and murder is small. What happens in the uncivil debate over abortion is the rhetorical bombs like Coulter's cited above.

But Coulter's facetious retort is effective because the majority of Americans do not buy the alternate argument that an abortion is no different then having a boil lanced or a mole removed.

Darleen   ·  October 10, 2009 8:10 PM

Abortion is murder, but if your a liberal, it's just population control.

Which brings up a slightly off topic story I just read.

"Walk Fast"

Which makes me wish that population control by using contraception or having parents, preferably two, and having them raise their kids up so as to have a sense of personal responsibility and a sense of shame...never mind, its gone too far for that.

Way too far.

Papa Ray
Central Texas

Papa Ray   ·  October 11, 2009 1:31 AM

Contraception by non-implantation is murder.

It appears that The Maker is the biggest murderer of all.

If the Maker is such a big fan of murder how bad can it be?

I think I have reductioed into total absurdum.

M. Simon   ·  October 11, 2009 5:41 AM

Senor Simon,

Not only have you reductioed into total absurdum, but engaged in a logical fallacy to boot. In a true reductio argument, your only REQUIRED premise is that put forth by your OPPONENT (i.e. abortion is not immoral; call this Statement A). This is then taken (by logical progression) to its absurd conclusion. You cannot include any assertions of your own making in the progression. However, you say "It appears that The Maker is the biggest murderer of all". This presumes that you believe in a Universe where God controls everything on a molecular or quantum level. If you truly believe this to be the case, then there surely can be no rational reason to have a blog, since free will does not exist? And if free will does not exist, then God is running your blog. But God also runs blogs on the Daily Kos, which have wildly differing opinions that those expressed on this blog. Therefore God is Dazed and Confused. Therefore he clearly cannot be competent enough to run things on a molecular level (Universe would have imploded by now). Therefore He is not responsible for the Implantation Fiasco. Therefore He is not a Murderer...

Best Regards,
Mike Foster

Mike Foster   ·  October 11, 2009 11:21 AM

Simon, an MD who's a fertility specialist told me that about half of all fertilized eggs are naturally aborted for one reason or another. In terms of annual numbers, we are talking about a lot of carnage (if fertilized eggs are human beings).

Mike, if abortion is in fact torture/murder (and I am not saying it is), then it is worse than what Polanski did.

It's simply intended to illustrate where the logic of the "not as bad as abortion" argument leads (and why I get tired of hearing it).

Eric Scheie   ·  October 11, 2009 11:37 AM

Eric,

But the people who are using the reductio ad absurdum argument (for instance to equate, morally, Tiller's murder with the abortions he performed) cannot be the same people who argue that since Polanski's Pitfalls are not as bad as abortion, that he should escape punishment or censure? The two arguments seem to be inconsistent to me.

Best Regards,
Mike Foster

Mike Foster   ·  October 11, 2009 12:16 PM

More to the point;

Okay, abortion is murder. Let's say that's true. Therefore, since rape is less 'potent' than abortion, logically it should be punished with a lighter sentence.

Logically, therefore, Roman Polanski should be punished for his rape with a sentence lighter than those premeditated murderers get.

Guess what? Conservatives are asking for exactly that - that he returns and faces the music for (a) rape and (b) flight. Nobody's asking for the chair or the needle for Roman Polanski - at least, not seriously, I would hope.

What pro-lifers want is for 'no-fault' abortion to be criminalised and for the legal punishments to approach those for manslaughter, at least.

Pregnancy is a dangerous undertaking for the zygote. Lots of potentially fatal things can happen and we know that. All the mother-to-be can do is do her best.

But surely you see the difference between a miscarriage that the mother knew nothing about (maybe she didn't even know she was pregnant!) and deliberately, premeditatedly going to kill her unborn child? Surely you see the difference between a mother not taking *every* precaution to protect her child and one who sets out to flush it down the drain?

Your position is here beyond illogical and I would like to call you out on it. We condemn other actions as murder - including euthanasia, which is also a sore point of contention - and nobody has a problem with condemning rape or any other lesser offence - such as theft - as criminal acts, although of lower 'weight'. What then is so special about abortion that it that condemning it as murder suddenly means we can't condemn any other action as criminal? You're talking arrant nonsense! And I hope you realise it.

You say that "It is not my purpose here to debate the relative degrees of immorality of various types of conduct so much as it is to examine the logical consequences of abortion as a trump card that dwarfs almost all illegal and immoral conduct."

But in fact, that's what you're doing. Because the libertarians or liberals who decry the Christian-Newsom case also decry Roman Polansky as a rapist. I don't see anyone using the C-N case to trivialise Polanski... but if the perpetrator of C-N got off scot-free, if in fact there were no statues or any relevant section of criminal law that would criminalise that action, I certainly would think there would be a whole lot of activism going on to make it criminal.

Gregory   ·  October 11, 2009 9:18 PM

Surely you see the difference between a mother not taking *every* precaution to protect her child and one who sets out to flush it down the drain?

Yes, but RU486 (the morning after pill) does not fit either category, as in many cases, the woman has no idea whether she is pregnant. RU486 thus can induce "a miscarriage that the mother knew nothing about (maybe she didn't even know she was pregnant!)"

What then is so special about abortion that it that condemning it as murder suddenly means we can't condemn any other action as criminal?

Where did I ever say that anyone can't condemn whatever criminality they choose? My argument is that maintaining abortion is worse than rape or child molestating tends to trivialize these things, in much the same way that comparing RU486 to Zyklon B trivilializes the Holocaust.

The animal rights group PETA similarly trivilialized the Holocaust by comparing the slaughter of animals to the slaughter of Jews, as well as the torture and enslavement of black people. What I said about that applies again:

http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/2008/08/the_peta_princi.html

***QUOTE***

Once again, they are driven away by what I might as well call the "PETA Principle." You want to oppose late-term abortion, you'll soon find that the people and organizations who dominate the playing field see their issues the way PETA sees theirs. Just as PETA thinks "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy," those who dominate the anti-abortion debate think a morula is a blastocyst is a baby is a Supreme Court justice. And they also believe that RU-486 is just like Zyklon-B, and pharmacists who dispense it are little Himmlers. Ditto border control. The people who want draconian measures (or who believe in a vast North American Union conspiracy) will alienate ordinary people, and thus prevent the majority consensus goal of basic border control from ever being achieved.

***END QUOTE***

Now, don't get me wrong. The PETA people have every right to condemn the Holocaust, or murder, just as all who believe that women who take RU486 are worse than Polanski nonetheless have every right to condemn Polanski.

I just think that the argument that taking a pill is worse than raping a child trivializes the serious crime of child rape. It is not going to win over many people, and I have heard such "abortion is worse" thinking voiced so repeatedly that I have grown tired of hearing it. Hence this post.

If you think that taking RU486 is worse than raping a child, you are of course perfectly entitled to condemn Polanski. I didn't mean to imply that you weren't, and I condemn him too.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 12, 2009 6:05 PM

But Eric, blast it all, you need to be comparing like with like, don't you?

Okay, so suppose I liken abortion (i.e. going to the doctor, and having him reach in, turn your baby into mush and then pulling it back out) to premeditated murder. I liken taking abortifacents to poisoning another human.

That doesn't mean I liken RU486 to the same level. If anything, this is more like culpable (or criminal) negligence or something. You know that your action of fucking is likely to cause a baby, but you're taking a drug that will prevent that baby (fine, zygote) from surviving (fine, implanting). I don't care about motive at this stage; it's actions that count. Something like you know you're drunk and can't walk straight, but you go ahead and drive anyway. Are you going to kill somebody? Maybe, but then again, maybe not. Who knows? In neither case do we have the means to determine, but society (or Big Government) has decided drunk driving should be pre-empted. There's room to argue or quibble, and I say maybe we should. Argue and quibble.

And as to your last statement, where you say I'm perfectly entitled to condemn Polanski?

Ahem.

"Because we tolerate this Himmler behavior, we have no right to condemn Polanski."

You were saying? :)

And I don't even think I'm quoting out of context. Were you just using hyperbole here? Congratulations, now you have mastered Ann Coulter's favourite rhetoric trick. And I am simply taking you at your word, as you have taken Ann at hers.

But here's what it boils down to. Whether you like it or not, you have already prioritised illegal and immoral acts. When you say 'trivialise a serious crime', what you're actually saying is that you think child rape is a crime of heavy weight, and that elevating abortion above that crime makes it of 'lesser' priority. However, if you thought that abortion was of higher priority, then obviously the fact the law does not recognise that would irk you.

Same thing with drug legaslisation. Drug legalisers believe drug usage, possession and distribution should be penalised way less - or not penalised at all. Anxious parents and people like me believe otherwise, and possibly grow tired of hearing it.

By the way, which drug legalisers have every right to believe and expound on. But I don't think that position is going to win over many people either.

Point is, that's what you're doing. You're saying that in your opinion, abortion is not homicide and people who treat it as such lower the bar on other crimes you think are more serious. Which is an implicit statement on the relative immorality of various conduct. Which the War on Drugs issue is also.

Which may be a tu quoque argument, but it is central to your thesis.

Gregory   ·  October 12, 2009 8:56 PM

Of course these are all opinions on the relative immorality of whatever the favorite cause of the activists happens to be (abortion, animal rights, drugs). That they're expressed as extreme hyperbole only serves to alienate non-activists, and disinclines them to trust the activists.

As you probably realize, I can't stand the activist mentality. It simply turns people off. You're right that I think drug laws are immoral and should not be there. But I've long since accepted the reality that my view will not prevail, and I don't expect politicians to conform to my views. This is called compromise.

Here's what I said:

"Because we tolerate this Himmler behavior, we have no right to condemn Polanski.

"Please bear in mind that while this is not what I think, it is apparently what many other people think."

We means me (those of us who tolerate this Himmler behavior), not you! I think it was pretty obvious that I was being sarcastically characterizing the mindset I've heard people express. I don't like abortion, but I think these arguments are overwrought.

You're saying that in your opinion, abortion is not homicide and people who treat it as such lower the bar on other crimes you think are more serious.

No, I didn't say that abortion is not homicide. (Self defense, BTW, is homicide.) I have said repeatedly that I'm against abortion, but I would have a problem imprisoning women for it.

Once again, what I don't like is the argument -- which I have heard made repeatedly -- that abortion (including the morning after pill) is the torture/murder of innocent human beings, that it is like Nazi genocide, etc.

I really don't mean to quibble or get into an extended argument with you here, but I think that if this sort of shrill hyperbole is repeated enough, and if the bloody fetus placards are waved at enough people -- it will simply help the GOP lose middle American voters who might otherwise be inclined to reject Obama and the Democrats.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 13, 2009 12:06 AM

I guess I really don't understand this "worse than abortion" argument or what type of person would use it.

Somebody, please provide to me Statement Y (any Statement Y) in the below:

"Since abortion is worse than what Roman Polansi did, then 'Y'"

Thanks,
Mike "Obtuse" Foster

Mike Foster   ·  October 13, 2009 12:32 AM

Sorry, I should have said "not as bad as abortion" above.

Mike Foster

Mike Foster   ·  October 13, 2009 12:34 AM

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