I read a Huffington Post article recently on abortion, and what it entails, and I feel the point is worth reiterating. The author noted that he used to be pro-life, until his pro-choice friend asked him this simple question:
“If your girlfriend got pregnant, what would you do?”
The author naturally responded: “well, it’d be up to her…” before realizing what that entailed. If she genuinely had the capability to make her own choice about the pregnancy, how could he maintain his pro-life stance?
The point is simple: if you answer anything other than “I would force my girlfriend to carry the fetus to term and give birth to my child, regardless of what she wanted/needed to do” then you are not, in fact, pro-life. The pro-life stance is, depending on its degree, a refusal to allow women to make their own choice about their own pregnancy. Some pro-lifers allow for exceptions in the cases of rape or incest, some allow for exceptions when the woman’s life is at risk, but no pro-lifers would allow for exceptions in the standard case of a girl getting pregnant from her boyfriend, regardless of her age or position in life.
So, the question to the pro-life men out there: would you force your girlfriend, regardless of her own opinions or needs, to carry your baby to term? If not, how do you feel justified in forcing other women out there, who you have no relationship with, to carry their babies to term regardless of their opinions or needs?
There’s been some news, though not quite enough, of the hypocrisy of many pro-life women. The phrase “The only moral abortion is my abortion” sums it up nicely, as do the stories told by doctors here: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/anti-tales.html
Now obviously not all, or even a majority, of pro-life women are like this. I would guess that the majority of pro-life women never need an abortion, as I would guess the majority of pro-choice women don’t need one either. So I’m not trying to make a blanket statement about what all pro-life women have done, or even what they would do.
Instead, I want to focus on the question above: what would you do, if your girlfriend or daughter got pregnant? How many pro-lifers would be callous enough to force their girlfriend or daughter to carry an unwanted baby to term? I’m not talking about just saying “it would be morally right to carry the fetus to term”. I’m talking about physically forcing the woman/girl to carry the fetus to term, by threatening her with punishments if she decides to get an abortion (like threatening women with jail time).
So, unless pro-lifers out there genuinely believe they would feel justified in making decisions for their girlfriends/daughters, then I fail to see how the pro-life stance is anything but rampant hypocrisy. It’s just a socially accepted version of “my problems matter, but yours don’t”, where abortions are an acceptable solution for my, or my family’s, problems, but not an acceptable solution for anyone else’s.
Finally, I must comment on the myth that pro-choice advocates are somehow for abortions. I have never met a single pro-choice person, whether in person or online, who celebrated an abortion in any case for the sake of abortion (the only celebrated fact is that, in some cases, the woman’s life was saved). Rather, it is time people collectively realize that the pro-choice stance is the only one that doesn’t try to force real women to make certain decisions about their body with legal sanctions and punishments. The pro-choice stance is the only one that doesn’t say “you have to have this baby, you don’t have any choice in the matter” to all pregnant women. Unless you are willing to force people in your own life (whether it be your mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend, etc.) to make decisions that you agree with, then you can’t intelligibly try to force strangers to make those same decisions.
There are a lot of issues brought up for abortion, but I want to focus in on what I believe is the central issue: when, if ever, does the fetus’ right to life outweigh the woman’s right to body?
There are clear points at which the fetus has a right to life, namely after birth. At this point, it is clear that the mother has an obligation to keep the baby alive. On the other hand, before conception, the egg clearly does not have a right to life. So what I want to focus on is at what point the fetus has a right to life.
If you’ve read my post on value utilitarianism, my idea of “rights” will be somewhat clearer. Basically though, if someone has a right to life, it outweighs an individual’s right to body (there are distinctions between “right to life” and “right to remain alive” that explain my stance on the Violinist case). So, if a fetus has a right to life, an abortion on the grounds of a woman’s right to body would be immoral. If the fetus does not have a right to life, then the abortion is not immoral.
There are several points during pregnancy that people use as the “beginning” of a person that deserves rights. These include: moment of conception, when the baby is self-aware, when the baby can survive outside of the womb, and at birth. For the last three, there are clear stages during pregnancy at which abortion would be morally permissible. Only if you believe the fetus has rights at the moment of conception does abortion become immoral at all times. Therefore, to justify that abortion is not always immoral, I want to prove that a newly fertilized egg does not have a right to life.
An important thing to note is that the reason for abortion does not matter, with only one reasonable exception: when the mother’s life is at danger. If the mother’s life is at danger, then her right to life will cancel out the fetus’ right to life (if it has it). In all other cases, if the fetus has a right to life, then there are no feasible reasons that would justify an abortion (even in cases of rape, incest, and so forth). If the fetus does not have the right to life, an abortion is morally permissible on any grounds the mother sees necessary. These may be controversial claims to some, but for the sake of simplicity I want to move on with this assumption (though I can defend it in the comments if anyone thinks I’m wrong).
So the question is: does a fetus have a right to life right after conception? To prove that it does not, consider a case I call “Rachel’s Frozen Embryo”.
Rachel is a single woman in her mid-20′s. She wants children in her future but is not ready to have them yet, so she decides to have her eggs frozen in case she wants to have children later in her life. Her frozen eggs are stored at a local clinic. Now imagine that a crazed man who works at the clinic is desperate to have children. He decides to fertilize Rachel’s eggs with his sperm in the clinic.
Rachel now gets a call from the clinic: they tell her that her eggs have been fertilized by the crazed man. They tell her that, if she wants, they can implant the frozen embryo in her body and she can have a baby.
The question that this case is meant to bring up: is Rachel morally obligated to have the frozen embryo implanted in her body? Intuition, and any form of reasoning, clearly says that Rachel is not morally obligated to have the frozen embryo implanted in her. Why should she have to give up her body to support an embryo that she did not want?
If Rachel is not morally obligated to have the frozen embryo implanted in her, then the embryo does not have a right to life that overrides her right to body. If the embryo does not have a right to life, then the moment of conception is not the point at which a fetus gains the right to life. Therefore, abortion is not immoral at all stages of pregnancy.
- If you feel that this argument doesn’t work, please argue in the comments. My main premises (which would be the parts to attack) are that: 1. A right to life overrides a right to body. 2. Outside factors (such as conception by rape, incest, or economic situation) do not affect whether or not the fetus has a right to life. 3. If a fetus does not have a right to life, then the woman’s right to body override any reasonable outside factors. 4. Rachel shouldn’t have to implant the frozen embryo in her body.
Those are the four general premises that I believe guarantee the truth of my conclusion. If you accept all four premises, then I believe you would have to accept that abortion, at least in some stages of pregnancy, is not immoral.
One of the biggest debates about abortion concerns when a fetus can be defined as a human life. Pro-life advocates often claim that it is at the moment of conception, while pro-choice advocates often claim that it is when the baby can survive outside of the womb. A general consensus among many people is that abortion is okay when the fetus is not considered to be a human life, but not okay afterwards. According to this principle, I believe the transition is made when the fetus becomes self-aware.
However, there is a compelling argument against this called the case of the Violinist. This case can have several variances, but I’m going to use the original version:
Imagine you wake up in bed in a strange room. You look around and realize that you are being connected to another man through a series of tubes and medical equipment. This man is in a coma and lying on a bed like you are. Another man is sitting between you and you ask him what has happened. He explains that you were kidnapped in the middle of the night and hooked up to this man by the International Music Society. The man you are being connected to is a world famous violinist who is dying, and it was determined that you were the only person who could save the man’s life. If you stay in bed and stay connected to the violinist, he will wake up in approximately nine months and live. If you disconnect from him at any point before then, he will die.
The point of this thought experiment is: would you be morally obligated to stay connected to the violinist for nine months? It would certainly be respectable if you chose to sacrifice to save the violinist’s life, but it is very difficult to claim that you would be morally obligated to do so. It seems fairly obvious that you would have every right to disconnect and move on with your life, even if it means that the violinist would end up dying.
The case of the violinist is meant to draw an obvious parallel with pregnancy. The violinist is the fetus, and the case is supposed to prove that the pregnant mother is not morally obligated to keep the fetus even if the fetus is considered a human life. In this way the woman’s right to her own body can surpass the fetus’s right to sustained life.
If you were to make the comparisons exact, the woman would be pregnant from a rape (similar to the unwanted kidnapping the violinist case). So the case directly implies that it is okay for a woman to abort a fetus when pregnant from rape. However, I believe the same holds true in almost all other cases. If the woman volunteered to hook up to the violinist (similar to a woman trying to get pregnant), it would then be harder to justify killing the violinist or aborting the baby. However, most cases revolve around a woman who did not want to become pregnant and became so accidentally. The closest comparison would be if a woman was involved with the International Music Society, and wanted to help the violinist, but was unaware of what she was committing to when she hooked up. In this case, it would be very difficult to condemn the woman for disconnecting from the violinist.
The most common objection to this case cites the difference between positive and negative moral rights. Negative moral rights involve the rights against being acted upon, such as the right not to be killed. Positive moral rights are the rights for action, such as the right to be saved when drowning. The objection states that the violinist has a positive right to be helped, but the fetus has a negative right not to be killed. Since negative rights hold much greater weight than positive rights, the objection states that the woman still cannot kill the fetus.
This objection makes a false distinction. The fetus does have a negative right not to be killed. However, since the fetus cannot survive outside the womb, this is equal to the fetus’s positive right to be sustained. I find it hard to believe that aborting the fetus is morally worse than removing the fetus from the womb and letting the fetus die (which is directly comparable to the violinist’s case). Due to this, I believe that abortion is morally permissible even if you consider the fetus a person.
- I’m going to post the paper I wrote on Drug Prohibition tomorrow. It’s a long read but I’m really proud of it and it more thoroughly describes the argument against Drug prohibition.
- My upcoming posts will be on utilitarianism and what I consider to be its flaws. I’m developing my own general moral theory and will explain more on it in the post.