Feminist Philosophers

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Menses is murder? October 29, 2009

Filed under: law,reproductive rights — hippocampa @ 10:06 pm

This would be, I think, the bizarre consequence of a ballot proposed by Colorado to define eggs as people (via Feminist Majority Foundation).

I am speechless.

 

22 Responses to “Menses is murder?”

  1. extendedlp Says:

    complete hysterectomy…? what about sperm? no more masturbation? (every sperm is sacred?!) what a silly proposal.

  2. J-Bro Says:

    At the risk of being pedantic even by the standards of a community of philosophers (which is a risk for us legal types) the proposal would only result in the classification of intentional menstruation as murder, because it doesn’t affect the intent requirements that are already in the law.

    You might manage an involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide conviction for menstruation if someone made the argument that women have a duty to stop their periods in order to save “lives,” but since most of the methods used to do that would themselves be barred under this law, I think it’s unlikely that they would go that route. I suppose starving yourself to reduce your body fat below the point where menstruation can occur could be seen as the duty of every Colorado woman of egg-generating age, but that also prevents reproduction so I doubt they’d advocate it.

    I probably shouldn’t post right after getting off a plane, because the legal implications of this are currently far more interesting to me than they should be.

  3. Ross Cameron Says:

    I know the intention is to define eggs as people, but given their wording, I don’t think they manage that. What they say is “the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being,” That’s not going to help clarify the issue, since concerns about what counts as a person are surely going to carry over into concerns about what counts as a human being. If it was controversial what a person was but uncontroversial what a human being was, defining the former in terms of the latter will settle some issues, but if it’s equally controversial either way, it won’t. And surely it is: I don’t think an egg is a human being.

    Of course, there’s an extra subtlety. They’re not saying that for all x, x is a person at time t iff x is a human being at time t. They appear to be saying: for all x, if x is a human being at time t then x is a person at every time up until the start of the biological development of x. But there are still going to be big philosophical problems in using this to decide on what is a person. If some egg at t is not a human being but will result in some human being, is the egg at t identical to the later human or merely something that will result in the generation of this new thing? And even *if* we hold that the egg is identical to the later human there’s still a big issue. Whether or not that egg results in a human being depends, one might naturally think, on what actions we take in the future. (I’m thinking of Liz Harman on abortion and the potentiality problem here.) If something we do makes it the case that the egg doesn’t result in a human being, then even the definition as it stands will tell us that the egg wasn’t a person, even if it would have been had we not did that.

    So I don’t think this amendement would even get them what they want. (No surprise that they’re not clever enough to be able to formulate their own view!)

    Still a very stupid move in any case, though. It reminds me of the joke: how many legs would a dog have if you called its tail a leg? Answer: four – calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it so. What’s permissible if you define an egg as a person? Answer: same as what’s permissible otherwise – calling it a person doesn’t make it so.

  4. Ross Cameron Says:

    Sorry, I didn’t mean: “for all x, if x is a human being at time t then x is a person at every time up until the start of the biological development of x”

    I meant: “for all x, if x is a human being at time t then x is a person at every time FROM the start of the biological development of x”

  5. extendedlp Says:

    j-bro: my fundie relatives would be perfectly happy to say that _not being pregnant_ counts as intentional menstruation, i’m sure! oh, and more!: even if they somehow didn’t menstruate, not being pregnant means those eggs will just go to rot in the ovaries. oooo that’s a perfect result! career women who don’t have children are *murderers*!

    ross: indeed, the ‘being’ bit works the way ‘person’ does in discourse. it’s a sort of slight of hand, linguistically, to throw in ‘being’. it gets you from the undeniable fact that an egg is human (any cell made by a human body is human) to the very deniable fact that the egg is a person (aka a human being).

    re potentiality: it is odd that anti-choicers don’t like harman’s move, what with god being omniscient and whatnot. you’d think the jesus types would be happy to say ‘god knows and doesn’t make it a person to begin with’. (not that they’re familiar with harman’s move. but they certainly don’t seem to like the idea that an embryo that isn’t gestated isn’t a person.)

  6. Albert Atkin Says:

    I take it that amongst the intentions behind defining eggs as persons is to make aborting a fetus an obvious case of murder. But (and my knowledge of fetal development is shaky so this may miss by a country mile) isn’t it also a consequence of this position that if you do abort a,say, 20 week female fetus (which will have a couple of million eggs in it’s fast developing ovaries) you’re a mass murderer of terrifying proportions? You’ve killed the 20 week “person” in the mother’s uterus and up to six million “persons” in the 20 week “person’s” ovaries. That’s pretty implausible. It also means if you abort a male you’re merely a murderer, but if you abort a female you rank alongside Stalin et.al in terms of homicidal scale.

    The obvious response, I supose, is to say that not all of “fetus person’s” “egg persons” will become humans, but then you’re in exactly the bind that Ross points out. What a thoroughly odd idea.

  7. amy Says:

    I’m not really getting why this bill amounts to calling eggs people, and I really don’t get why it would count only eggs as persons and not sperm. First, it’s not obvious that an egg or sperm cell is the beginning of the biological development of a human. An egg and a sperm cell each only contain half the chromosomes of a regular human cell, and they don’t develop into anything unless they get together. I read the law as saying that a *fertilized* egg would be a person, but not just an egg. Second, if an egg were to count as a person on this bill, sperm would have to as well (since the bill doesn’t specify eggs in particular), and male masturbation would be mass murder (though wet-dreams would only be accidental killings). Female masturbation would be perfectly fine, though! Anyway, the bill is terribly vague, but I wouldn’t interpret it as saying that eggs and only eggs are persons. It’s bad enough if it’s only saying fertilized eggs are persons.

  8. extendedlp Says:

    amy, in the newspaper article that feminist.org link to, it says that they’ve proposed this in order to count zygotes produced during cloning, etc, as persons. so, eggs that are in the process of becoming embryos but that are not technically fertilised. so, they do seem to want to say that an _un_fertilised egg is a person. and i suppose that, given what a bat-shit silly idea it is anyway, no point in quibbling over whether it makes sense to stipulate that an egg is a person, but not a sperm! (all the same, i can’t get monty python’s ‘every sperm is sacred’ song out of my head!)

  9. Captiver Says:

    Meanwhile, in Nevada, there’s a ballot initiative that would extend due process rights to “everyone possessing a human genome”. Gee, I wonder then if that would mean that terrorist suspects would finally get due process rights? Nah, I bet an exception would be made. It is all pretty strange, and surely the movement does itself no good with these initiatives, though rhrealitycheck.org had a great article recently about how much money anti-abortion advocates raise on the backs of these personhood amendments (a whole helluva lot). Some readers might remember the piece by Toby Ord, a philosopher no less, about the implications of personhood for fertilised eggs. i.e. he looked at the 50 to 60 percent that don’t make it from fertilisation to implantation and concluded that meant around 220 million deaths a year. He then wondered why there wasn’t a huge effort by personhood proponents to try to find ways to prevent these deaths, given they outnumber deaths by abortion many many many times over. Surprise surprise, not so much is made of this “scourge”. Ord also counters the expected objections, esp. the one that natural embryo loss is, well, natural while abortion, IUDs etc. aren’t. But, Ord argues, things like cancer and viruses are natural and we work hard to prevent deaths from them. You can find the article, which was published in the American Journal of Bioethics, at his web site:

    http://www.amirrorclear.net/academic/research-topics/ethics/embryo.html

    Personally, I find it very scary-making, the extent to which personhood proponents want to go in terms of absolute control of one’s body. Frightening to even think about them getting their way; how it would make you feel, as a woman, about your body. I *feel* that if I had to live under such a law, my body would feel to me like my enemy. Like something I had to be on guard against, since only some of its intimate aspects would be mine to control. As I said, this isn’t the thinking part, but the feeling part speaking. And the notion gives me the horrors.

  10. amy Says:

    Oh, I see. They want to count zygotes that have been produced by cloning, etc. as persons. That still need not include the eggs in a woman’s ovaries. It might only mean “cells with the full complement of human DNA that are developing into human beings.” Eggs that haven’t been fertilized or otherwise tampered with to give them a full set of chromosomes wouldn’t have to count as persons.

    I’m curious about what the legal prospects are for shooting down such a law. Obviously, its vagueness is a problem. But it could be made more precise. There are other instances in the law where we’ve just stipulated that entities (like corporations) are persons for certain purposes. And some have argued for stipulating that dolphins and great apes are persons. How could someone make a constitutional argument against such a law? Perhaps by showing that stipulating such a definition would unacceptably limit the rights of other persons? But such an argument could have been used for denying personhood status to slaves, and the natural counter-response is: but these entities are already persons and have a right to be recognized as such. What if someone really believes zygotes (or chimpanzees, for that matter) really are persons and are being denied their rights? I think this is something we really have to worry about, especially with the current Supreme Court.

  11. Randy Says:

    Holy Crap, that must be the shortest amendment to a state constitution ever proposed! Give ‘em points for getting to the point.

    However, I don’t get the philosophical confusion some of you are expressing- what they are proposing is very clear given the language they use. Setting immaculate conception and other very rare reproductive events aside for the moment, every human’s “biological development” starts when their first 2 cells come into being. That those 2 cells (ovum and sperm) happen to be originally housed in 2 other organisms doesn’t matter a whit- when those 2 cells come into existence, a person’s biological development has begun.

    The language in this proposal defines ova and sperm as people, period. And it’s a numbingly assinine thing to even mumble out loud, much less to try and codify into state law.

    The results of this vote will provide a perfectly clear picture of just what percentage of Colorado voters have had their brains excised.

  12. Ross Cameron Says:

    Randy, the language in the proposal simply doesn’t entail that ova and sperm are people. It says “the term ‘person’ shall apply to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being,” What does that mean? It means: for every human being, that human satisfies the term ‘person’ right from the start of their biological development. That is, to find out what are persons the proposal requires us to *first* find out what the human beings are – we then trace each of those human beings back to the beginning of their development and say it was a person throughout that history. In requiring us to first find out who the human beings are, the proposal thus introduces a point of controversy – any controversy about what is a human being will carry over, given this proposal, into what is a person.

    Here’s an example. I am a human being. So the proposal says that I have been a person ever since the start of my biological development. Suppose that entails that I was a person when I was a foetus. Now take a foetus that, as a matter of fact, will be aborted. Is that a person? The proposal is simply silent on this – it doesn’t entail it either way. It entails simply that if the foetus is a human being – or will be – then it is now a person. But those are philosophically substantive claims, and can be denied. (This is where the Harman point becomes relevant: she thinks that whether a thing is a person at t depends on what will happen to that thing in its history after t.) The proposal is simply silent as to whether this foetus is a person, and the fact that it entails (with some extra premises) that I was a person when I was a foetus doesn’t make any difference.

  13. Ross Cameron Says:

    Also, the immaculate conception was the conception of Mary without original sin, not as is often thought the virgin birth of Christ, so I don’t think the immaculate conception is really a reproductive event.

  14. extendedlp Says:

    captiver, thanks for mentioning the rhrealitycheck.org stuff. that’s a great blog, and it’s been far too long since i’ve had a look at it. and you’re right, it’s an excellent point about cancer, etc. (then again, people are always happy to preach against ‘playing god’ when and only when it suits them, eh?)

    amy, mary anne warren has argued that the fetus can’t be a person because its being a person is incompatible with the pregnant woman’s being a person. it’s different to using this sort of argument to deny the personhood of slaves, etc, because it involved the actual bodily integrity of the woman. that said, the only relevant court rulings i’ve heard have simply said (in a nutshell) ‘look, even if the fetus is a person, the pregnant woman can’t be compelled to (for example) undergo medical treatment on behalf of it, because the law doesn’t recognize any sense of personhood that would be so robust/primary as to compel any other person to undergo procedures to their body against their will’. so, even when they’ve come down in favour of a woman’s right to control her own body, they’ve still not considered this grounds to reject fetal personhood.

  15. extendedlp Says:

    (ross, mary was without original sin? i never heard that in all my years of fundie brainwashing. is that catholic doctrine?)

  16. Ross Cameron Says:

    Yeah, it’s Catholic doctrine – she was the only human born (after Adam and Eve) without original sin, and that was the immaculate conception. Interesting case of backwards causation, since presumably she lacked original sin because she was chosen to be Jesus’s mother.

  17. extendedlp Says:

    and yet god can’t anticipate an embryo being aborted. funny ole god.

  18. Ross Cameron Says:

    Interestingly, it’s only relatively recently that it’s become common for christians to believe that personhood begins at conception. Aquinas, I believe, thought it began 17 weeks after conception. (I don’t know if I’m remembering the number correctly, but it was something like that. I don’t think he had any argument for that!) Any religious justification I’ve ever heard for the claim relies on the passages in the Bible that say “before I [God] formed you in the womb I knew you” and “you knit me together in my mother’s womb”. The latter, of course, would at most entail only that personhood begins at some point before birth, not that it begins at conception. The former is widely open to interpretation, and it’s presumably only the recent trend for narrow face-value interpretations that leads to the anti-choicers’ favoured reading, but taken at face value it seems to suggest that personhood begins before conception. Not sure what the ethical implications of that one would be: that if two people are in fact going to conceive, it’s morally obligatory for them to have sex, since the being they will conceive is already a person? Alternatively, maybe it just means God has foreknowledge, and has no ethical implications whatsoever – but no, that would mean thinking about it too much.

  19. extendedlp Says:

    i seem to recall that aquinas’s 17 weeks (or whatever it was) was to do with quickening. it was thought that quickening (a) was actually the first movements of the fetus, and (b) signaled the soul entering the fetus’s body. and i also seem to recall that it was thought that quickening happened at 17 (or whatever) weeks for boys, but at 20 (or something like that) for girls. so, girl fetuses are non-persons for an extra 3(ish) weeks. just goes to show that the testimony of the pregnant woman has never been taken as evidence for anything, since surely a woman here or there must’ve mentioned feeling it move before 17 weeks. but i digress.

  20. hippocampa Says:

    Since Mary was 13 when she conceived of Jesus, it is assumed she hadn’t had time yet to commit any sins, hence the “immaculate”. The word that is translated as “virgin” can mean various things, including not having had menses yet. So, according to the Colorado peeps Mary hadn’t been committing any mass man slaughters yet (thanks, J-bro!) by not having had menarche… see, it all comes together :D
    As an agnostic protestant though, this entire thing about eggs being persons makes as much sense to me as the trinity, which is none, whatsoever.

  21. hippocampa Says:

    Meanwhile, in Mexico

  22. Xena Says:

    I don’t see anything about eggs in RC’s direct quote of the proposal. Many would argue that the “beginning of the biological development of a ‘human being'” begins with the development of a particular cognitive apparatus. About 4 weeks after the missed period?

    Blah blah blah…

    I feel another “I hate philosophy” rant coming on…


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