How many mass murderers do we want?

While I have discussed RU-486 (mifepristone, or "miffy") in previous posts, my thoughts turned to the drug again in light of this statistic:

A medical abortion is a type of non-surgical abortion in which an abortifacient is used to induce voluntary miscarriage. Safe and effective abortifacients for use in the first trimester became available in the 1970s.[1] The most widely used medication are mifepristone or methotrexate either alone or in combination with a prostaglandin.[1] Medical abortions accounted for 9.9% of abortions in the United States in 2005, 35% of abortions in England and Wales in 2007, 46% of abortions in France in 2006, 61.8% of abortions in Scotland in 2007, and 64.2% of abortions in Sweden in 2008.[2]
The huge difference between Sweden and the U.S. surprised me greatly, as it seems puzzling that American women who seek to terminate their pregnancies would prefer a surgical procedure to taking pills. Perhaps it's because the abortifacient pill has to be taken within the first 63 days, and Swedish women are more attentive to spotting their own pregnancies. But that doesn't make much sense either.

The only reason I can see which would explain the much higher percentage of medical abortions in Sweden (and in the rest of Europe) is the length of time mifepristone has been available.

Worldwide over 30 million women have used mifepristone and a prostaglandin analog to terminate pregnancy with impressive safety and efficacy. In France, Sweden, and Great Britain, where mifepristone has been available for more than 15 years, there has been an increase in the proportion of abortions performed at earlier gestation [2].
The drug was approved in European countries beginning in 1988, but the FDA didn't approve it in the United States until 2000. Furthermore,
mifepristone is only authorized in the United States during the first 49 days (as opposed to 63 in Sweden) and it is not allowed to be sold in pharmacies:
It is a prescription drug, but it is not available to the public through pharmacies; its distribution is restricted to specially qualified licensed physicians, sold by Danco Laboratories under the tradename Mifeprex.
Despite these restrictions, its use in the United States has increased steadily:
Medical abortions as a percentage of total abortions in the United States have increased every year since the approval of mifepristone: 1.0% in 2000, 2.9% in 2001, 5.2% in 2002, 7.9% in 2003, 9.3% in 2004, 9.9% in 2005 (15.1% of those at less than 9 weeks gestation); although data is limited by ten states not reporting statistics to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (including California where an estimated >23% of total U.S. abortions were performed in 1997).[34]
More interestingly, even though mifepristone is effective as an emergency contraceptive, it is not approved for that purpose.

I realize that to the anti-abortion people, mifepristone is morally no different than surgical abortion, and the main reason I disagree with that is because I think that earlier abortions are less immoral than later abortions, and to the extent this drug encourages earlier abortions, I would consider it to be ultimately less of a social evil than the previous methods.

But what fascinates me the most is the change it will ultimately have on the dynamics of activism. Americans (myself included) have long been accustomed to seeing an abortion as a procedure done by a doctor using instruments. This has caused the anti-abortion activists to view such doctors as murderers and demonstrate in front of clinics of known abortion providers. By allowing any doctor to provide pills, the whole process becomes much more anonymous -- almost impossible to detect or protest. (I'm sure that's a major reason the activists hate these drugs.)

Through a strange process the logic of which I cannot comprehend, women who have abortions tend to be seen by the activists as victims of doctors, with the doctor as the greater villain than the woman. Which doesn't make sense, for even if we assume abortion is murder (which I don't), by going to a clinic and paying a doctor for an abortion, the woman has quite knowingly hired a hit man to kill her baby -- just as much as if she went to the Mob and took out a contract on her son or husband. Since when is someone who hires a killer less guilty than the killer?

But when a woman takes pills to kill the fetus, unless they are pushed down her throat she becomes the actual killer, and it is much harder to visualize a prescribing doctor as a murderer. I think that's a good result, because I have long believed that women who terminate their pregnancies are the ones who are responsible for their actions. And just as I get sick of people calling doctors murderers, I get even more sick of people who say that "we" as Americans are murderers. Call me callused, but I do not consider myself responsible for the conduct of others, whether they terminate their pregnancies, take fatal overdoses of drugs, or eat themselves to death. I realize that the immorality of a doctor who wields his pen to write a prescription is the same as the one who wields a scalpel, but ordinary people will not see it that way. Mifepristone will be seen as less ugly, and therefore less culpable.

To continue with the responsibility argument, if in fact the providing doctor or nurse is guilty of murder, then why wouldn't the pharmaceutical distributor be guilty? How about the manufacturer? Right now, mifepristone is only approved as an abortifacient, but it appears to have a number of other possible uses:

Other medical applications of mifepristone that have been studied in Phase II clinical trials include regular long-term use as an oral contraceptive, and treatment of: uterine fibroids, endometriosis, major depression with psychotic features, glaucoma, meningiomas, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer. Mifepristone has been used to treat Cushing's syndrome with treatment durations being as long as 10 years without noticeable adverse effect[10].

Mifepristone has been studied as an antiretroviral for its in vivo interference with the HIV regulatory protein vpr. It showed no detectable anti-HIV activity in clinical trials.[11] [12][13][14] It is currently being studied as a treatment for chronic multisymptom illness.[15] Mifepristone has not been approved by the FDA for any of these uses.

Mifepristone has shown significant effectiveness[16] in psychotic major depression, a form of depression resistant to normal treatment. The effect was rapid and the study was double-blinded, but it was limited by small study group and limited treatment duration.

Once it becomes approved for any of those other uses, seeing the manufacturer as a murderer would become even more difficult. Plus, if it can prevent breast cancer or inhibit ovarian cancer and could be legally prescribed as a treatment, pharmaceutical suppliers would have no way of knowing the intended use of the product. (It would also make it infinitely harder to prevent the drug's use as an abortifacient, so I would expect anti-abortion activists to oppose the testing or approval of mifepristone as a treatment for disease. According to this article, they already have.)

I am also fascinated by the way emergency contraception (the so-called "morning-after pill") is being discussed. Now sold over the counter, the way these drugs work is by preventing implantation of the fertilized egg. As abortion is defined as the termination of pregnancy, whether or not emergency contraception is abortion depends on how pregnancy is defined. I realize that many activists and the Catholic Church maintain that life begins at conception. But does pregnancy begin at conception? If it does, then the existing abortion statistics are understating the number of abortions by a substantial, possibly huge, number. That's because countless women take contraceptives which not only prevent ovulation and fertilization, but also prevent implantation of any egg which does get fertilized.

One of the forms of contraception which prevents implantation is the IUD, which is so effective in preventing pregnancy that not only will it work as normally worn, but it will work even if inserted within five days after intercourse.

An alternative to emergency contraceptive pills is the copper-T intrauterine device (IUD) which can be used up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy. Insertion of an IUD is more effective than use of Emergency Contraceptive Pills - pregnancy rates when used as emergency contraception are the same as with normal IUD use. IUDs may be left in place following the subsequent menstruation to provide ongoing contraception (3-10 years depending upon type).[42]
Is that the prevention of pregnancy? Or is it an abortion?

I realize this sounds a hair-splitting distinction (and at 145 microns, the human egg is only slightly wider than a human hair), but a lot of people care. I was also told by a doctor that about half of all fertilized eggs never make it to the implantation stage, and if they were all people who had a right to life, in theory we could be talking about a lot of murders. The reasons for the failure of implantation are varied (and most of them are natural causes -- which means that God might be the world's biggest abortionist), but if a woman was taking a drug known to prevent implantation, and if preventing implantation is murder, then there may be millions and millions of mass murderesses walking among us.

Whether they're guilty of murder or not, I think they are responsible for their actions, not "us."

posted by Eric on 02.09.10 at 03:02 PM


While I do not speak for anybody else but myself, I do wish to have some clarification on the terms used in this particular debate.

At its broadest, abortion is homicide. Not necessarily (though most of the time it is) first-degree murder. There is a difference.

Human beings die. Many of them from unknown and unknowable causes. Some of them die unknown to others until much later after the fact. This fact does not make God or anybody else a murderer.

If I, through no fault and *no choice* of my own, find myself hooked up to a life support system only you can control, completely unable to function without it, and you decide to pull the plug simply because my presence is inconvenient to you, then yes, I believe this morally constitutes premeditated murder. If you didn't know I was there, then that's a different story (negligent homicide maybe?), and yet again if you didn't intentionally kill power to the system but undertook activities that interrupted power supply, then yet again is a different story.

People call a miscarriage a natural abortion, but that depends very much on how broadly you define the term. If abortion carried the implication of intent, then one could make the case that it is indeed murder, I suppose. But that would narrow down the list of what constituted 'abortions'... and that includes a large proportion of the actions you now call out in your posts in this matter.

Gregory   ·  February 9, 2010 8:05 PM

Thank You for posting this! I really like your blog!!

Common Cents

ps. Link Exchange??

Steve   ·  February 9, 2010 10:49 PM

Interesting post. I don't think I've ever seen an abortion post that didn't have huge potential to be a 500 comment anger-fest.

I waited to see how the comments went, I wasn't expecting the usual abortion post (think, "Allahpundit doing a religion post").
but when the word "abortion" comes up, weird things happen.

Veeshir   ·  February 10, 2010 12:37 PM


As long as you want to keep paying for the operation of your life support system no one should cut the switch.

But I'll tell you what. If the GOVERNMENT is going to outlaw abortion I think said government should pony up $30K a year per child to make sure that the government realizes that actions have costs.

M. Simon   ·  February 10, 2010 12:57 PM

M. Simon: Oh, and if the government wanted to outlaw speeding on public roads and highways it should spend $30K per driver to create a public racetrack? First time I've heard you advocate *more* direct government action after the fact.

Although, free money (coming from John Q Public) just because my baby mommas got 10 kids sounds like a damn good deal to me. Can you throw in another $100K/kid one-off for college?

And how would one distinguish between someone who wanted the kid and someone who didn't? Does it *really* take $30K/kid/year to bring said kid up? Who would police the scheme to ensure the money was spent on the kid rather than on a flatscreen and a PS3?

As for the life support system... here's the thing. Let's assume that it's through *your* actions, I have come to be dependent on said systems. *I* had no volition, no culpability, and in fact if it were not for *you*, I won't even need to be hooked up on the life support system. And yet, you are the only one with the master controls.

Still think I should pay for it? Okay, you extortionist, I want to live... but I currently have no way of communicating that. What now? I'm perfectly willing to work out a schedule of payment once I'm capable of paying you back... would you accept that arrangement?

Almost everyone does not dispute right-to-life for those who have been born. But somehow, something as arbitrary as birth changes your rights? (Arbitrary in the sense that it is just another stage in human development, like puberty, and like puberty, cannot be predetermined for any individual)

As arbitrary, in fact, as the government permitting certain recreational drugs and banning others.

Gregory   ·  February 10, 2010 7:52 PM

A potential is not an actual, and to treat IT as one is irrational - that is unless you're into voodoo, witch doctors, and superstition.
The primitive basis of religion rears it's ugly head every time an abortion doctor is murdered, a clinic is firebombed, or a rape victim is made to feel guilty that she terminated the thing festering inside her.
To not recognize the right of a woman to have an abortion, is to admit that you don't have any respect for the individual rights of women, that they are indeed still chattel.
Muslim men carry this view to its logical, absurd, and grotesque extreme, by forcing clitorectomies on their victims, and by treating them as totally without any INDIVIDUAL worth by practicing polygamy.

Frank   ·  February 10, 2010 11:10 PM

It's possible women are unwilling to have even a "medically"-induced abortion unless an authority figure gives permission. That explains why the pro-"choice" side (motto: If it's not pregnant, regulate it.) is so insistent that druggists must be forced to provide so-called emergency contraception. They can't deal with anybody saying "no" even if it's somebody powerless.

Joseph Hertzlinger   ·  February 10, 2010 11:39 PM

Let's assume that it's through *your* actions, I have come to be dependent on said systems.
- - - - - - - - -
Not accurate - this implies that you once were independent.

And for the first month (at least) we are talking about a cluster of cells about as large, organized, and self-aware as mushroom spawn or primitive moss colonies.

There is NO will - and no action - other than that of the mother.

Ben-David   ·  February 11, 2010 2:42 PM

Frank: Ah, and now we come to the crux of the matter, don't we?

"she terminated the thing festering inside her"

That *thing*, sir, is a *human life* and a *human existence*, and women are designed (or evolved, take your pick) to nurture several of them for approximately 9 months.

"To not recognize the right of a woman to have an abortion"

No, sir, I do *not* recognise the right of *anybody* to take a human life, save (a) in self-defence or defence of others or (b) after due process of law, in a generally fair and just judicial system.


"Not accurate - this implies that you once were independent."

Uh, no. It does not matter. I make a chair from MDF. It is through my actions that the chair had come to be in my living room. Implies no need for independence on the chair's part - the origin of the chair remains with me, its maker. Cause and effect, kapisch?

"we are talking about a cluster of cells about as large, organized, and self-aware as mushroom spawn or primitive moss colonies."

Yeah, and so? We are still talking about a *human being*, a *human life*, and a *human existence*. We've already established that "Ontology recapitulates philology" is a load of hogwash, and therefore at *no* time during a human being's lifetime is said human being *not* human.

Or would you like to be killed once you lapse into a coma (or when asleep), simply because you are not self-aware during that course of time?

Gregory   ·  February 11, 2010 7:47 PM

I don't think women need to ask your recognition, or permission to have an abortion, that is unless you place yourself directly in control, or the power of the state in situ of your authority, over them.
As you imply, the crux of the matter is when exactly does human life begin. Is it at conception, somewhere between conception and birth, or at birth?
Your answer, if I read you correctly, is at conception, and therefore a homicide occurs, when anytime after that a woman chooses to terminate what you say is the new human growing inside her. And if you are consistent with your belief (and I would emphasize belief) then abortion is murder after the first cell division.

To those of us schooled in the physical sciences (my father was a doctor, and I was pre-med) this is simply hogwash. There may be some justification for laws governing late term abortions, since the fetus - child - at that point is most likely capable of surviving outside the womb. But to deny women any control over the process of creation inside them, is to deny them their individual rights. It is to treat them as nothing more than incubators.

What would drive someone in an age of science to postulate this other than religious belief I can't fathom.

Come clean now, Gregory, by showing us your justification for this. Do you believe that a soul is created at the instant of conception?

Frank   ·  February 11, 2010 10:22 PM

You state: at no time during a human being's lifetime is said human being not human
Well, nothing like stating the redundant obvious.
But you still haven't answered the question at what point does a collection of cells inside a woman's uterus become a human being.
I can't help but think you are like Plato in the Allegory of the Cave - you think that we reality bound lessor mortals only see the shadows on the walls and think the fetus is just a collection of cells, and YOU in your wisdom and philosophical insight must enlighten us as to the true nature of what we are perceiving. To you reality is conceived in your mind, and we are only seeing ephemeros. Or like Lord Berkeley, nothing exists except as your mind defines it.
Well, reality exists apart from what you think. A tree still makes a sound, and still does fall in the woods, even if you are not there to witness it. A is A as Aristotle said.
A collection of a few cells is not a human being, and sucking them out of a woman's uterus is not murder.

Frank   ·  February 12, 2010 12:54 AM

Frank: Again, sir, you misunderstand me. Why don't *you*, a fellow human being, tell me when you think *your* life began? Maybe you believe that "life begins at 40"? In which case anybody below that age should be killable?

Nor do I believe that Chief Kilumbem-bungabunga of the Eatemall tribe needs my permission to cook and roast atheists before eating them. That does not mean I recognise that he has a right to do so. Or vice versa, I suppose.

I can tell you with complete certitude, to the best of scientific knowledge, that a new and unique organism of the species Homo sapiens is created upon conception. And that said organism continues to develop and grow until it dies, and at no stage during its lifetime is it ever not human.

As for myself, my life started when I was conceived. So even before the zygote performs its first cell division, in fact.

Again, abortion (as depicted on this blog, at least) is homicide; further details are required before making the determination of *what kind* of homicide.

Now, as to my religious beliefs, I make no apology for my being an evangelical Christian. I owe no one any such apology or defence, and certainly not to you.

But why you would choose to denigrate me based on this I cannot understand.

As to the soul, I believe that the moment a unique individual is formed, there too forms the soul. How this works wrt n-tuplets I do not know; I freely admit that is not within the realm of science.

As if science was all there is to the world, anyway.

But why are we turning this into a standard argument on abortion? I simply wish to point out that it is homicide, and not necessarily murder.

And I must take exception to your description of the zygote/embryo/foetus as 'A collection of a few cells'. While technically true, it is exceedingly misleading. An amoeba is an organism unto itself, comprising only ONE cell. Lichen are symbiotic organisms that form a single organism made of a collection of a few cells. During the life cycle of an individual Homo sapiens organism, there will exist a time when he/she is unicellular, and then multicellular. So yes, even a single cell zygote is a human being.

Unless your definition of a human being is other than "an individual member of the species Homo sapiens". In which case, you can go to Hell and stay there, or do whatever the hell you want, but you stay away from me and mine, you eugenist.

Your call.

Gregory   ·  February 12, 2010 2:32 AM

Thank you for the clarification.
We have nothing in common.
You are a religious fanatic who if pushed into a corner would act no differently than an Imam who believes he is appointed by God to lead the faithful and smite the Infidel.

And Eric: This is what we are supposed to make common ground with?

Frank   ·  February 12, 2010 6:45 AM

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