Abortion is probably the single most divisive issue in American politics. Not even war has the ability to make otherwise rational people spin into a tizzy of vindictive hyperbole-laced rants the way abortion does. Whether you consider yourself "pro-life" or "pro-choice," abortion can quickly turn friends into foes.
Speaking of friends, Ted Lacksonen decided to jump into the abortion debate a couple days ago, and made what I thought was a good case for why a woman has an inalienable right to an abortion. What I found most interesting is that, he neither denies the humanity of the fetus, nor insists that the natural (inalienable) right to life rests on religious dogma. Instead, he frames the abortion debate as a clash between rights: "The right to life of the unborn fetus, and the right to physical autonomy of the pregnant woman."
I agree with Ted that the abortion debate is about a clash of rights. I also agree that both camps - "pro-choice" and "pro-life" - give little weight (if any) to each others genuine concerns. But I disagree with him that "a woman has an inalienable right to an abortion." Now, let's see if I can make my case as amiable as Ted made his.
Please read Ted's case first: What is the Abortion Debate About, Really?
When does life begin?
I'd like to start where we both agree - a fetus is a human being.
Let me make it simple: life begins at conception, and there is no serious debate about that point. All this “heartbeat,” “survival outside the womb,” and “blob of tissue” nonsense is just what I called it, nonsense.
The dispute over "when life begins" is really an argument over the question: "When does that fetus become a person endowed with the same natural rights as a developed human being?" But this is a philosophical and/or dare I say, religious issue. After all, science cannot prove the personhood of anyone. So, the question we should be asking is: "At what point does an individual physical human being come into existence?"
Science can and does answer this question. In brief: You were a human zygote, a human embryo, a human fetus, a human infant, a human child, and you're now a human adult. You are, and always have been, a human. A unique human at that. At no point, from conception to adulthood, were you anything other than a human being.
Killing another human being is the ultimate form of aggression. Especially a small, helpless fetus that is guilty of nothing more than waking up suddenly in a woman's womb. Since the use of lethal force is justified at times, let's stop pretending abortion is anything other than what it is, and deal with it accordingly.
As Camille Paglia says, "[T]he pro-life position, whether or not it is based on religious orthodoxy, is more ethically highly evolved than my own tenet of unconstrained access to abortion on demand ... I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder, the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion, which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps of insensate tissue."
While eager to point out that the Constitution protects the right to life—which it does—abortion foes give little weight to the right to the inalienable right to control one’s physical being, which I call the right to physical autonomy; the right to do what you wish with your body without interference from the government or any other person.
So yes, you heard me say it: A woman has an inalienable right to an abortion. (She also has an inalienable right to chop off her left hand, and both are manifestations of physical autonomy.) Imagine that our old friends Steve and Susie Citizen became stranded on an island. Susie has an inalienable right to her physical autonomy, and thus, can resist his amorous affections. If she succumbs and becomes pregnant, she has an inalienable right to resist his efforts to force her to carry it to term. The question is whether a state should protect the unborn fetus’s right to life at the expense of the pregnant woman’s right to physical autonomy.
Let's say our friend Susie decided to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. Having enjoyed smooth seas and solitude for days, she's startled when she hears loud noise behind her. When Susie turns around to investigate the noise, she finds a wet and disheveled man climbing onto her boat.
"My ship sank," he says, "I've been clinging to the mast for days. I'm so grateful you came along. I had almost given up."
In shock, Susie stares at him for a moment, then walks across the deck and shoves him back into the ocean. "He was a trespasser who infringed on my property and solitude," she consoles herself, "and the idea that I’m somehow compelled to accommodate him is ridiculous. What am I, his slave?"
In most people's view, Susie's justification is pathetic and she's guilty of murder. Even if we agree that indeed, the man was trespassing on Susie's boat. His death sentence remains unjust.
If Susie can't throw the man overboard, does this put her at his mercy?
No, she is not at his mercy. Susie doesn't have to go anywhere she wasn't already going before, and she isn't compelled to keep him aboard one second longer than necessary to bring him to safety either. Once she reaches a populated land, he's off the boat and her responsibility for him ends.
Let's take a look at abortion in light of this analogy. A woman may not have intended to carry the "passenger" she's confronted with, and may even find his presence inconvenient and annoying. However, it's certainly not the "passenger's" fault he finds himself there, and he has committed no wrongful act against her either. Therefore, deliberately killing the "passenger" is an unjust act of extreme aggression. In other words, abortion is murder.
Maybe you found that analogy rather unconvincing. Because as a sovereign individual, a woman's body is her own to do with as she pleases. A woman even has the "right to chop off her left hand" if she so desires. Her body is her own. Not only do I completely agree, but I suspect most readers of this blog accept the primacy of individual sovereignty too. But to cede to a woman the power of life and death over another life just because it's inside her body, limits the right of sovereignty to some but not all.
If individual sovereignty is to mean anything, then all individuals must be sovereign. And for an individual to be sovereign over herself at any point in life, she must be recognized as sovereign at all points in her life. So, just because a new life currently resides inside the woman's body, does not make it part of her body. Therefore, an abortion is not the same as chopping off one's hand. Abortion is the killing of another individual.
Furthermore, to say that just because this life happens to be inside a woman's body gives her sovereignty over it is to say that possessing the power of life and death gives her the right to exercise that power. At it's root, this is might makes right. Or as Camille Paglia bluntly says, "the extermination of the powerless by the powerful." If we allow this line of reasoning to be used, individual sovereignty is rendered meaningless altogether.
A Woman's Right to Choose
A woman cannot simply "choose," she must choose to do something. And in the abortion debate, her "choice" is whether or not to kill another human. As we discussed earlier, from conception right up through today, you have always been a human being. After all, humans to not give birth to cats, dogs, or lemurs. To say that women have the "right to choose" then, implies once again, that might makes right, so therefore they can kill another human for any reason they choose.
I realize this post creates more questions than it provides answers. I know there are "holes" in my arguments too. Abortion is a complicated (and touchy) subject that requires much more thought than I can offer in a single blog post. My goal here was simply to demonstrate that the abortion question isn't as simple as this:
Should a state, and to what extent, intrude on a woman’s inalienable right to physical autonomy and use its police powers to effectively occupy her womb and force her to carry a pregnancy to term in order to protect the inalienable right to life of the unborn living child who is defenseless to prevent an act of homicide.
Personally, I am against abortion. Not only do I believe the right to life is inherent in every human being, but that life is the very pith of all our rights. For without life, no other rights matter. Meaning life must be protected jealously.
As I said earlier, killing another human being is the ultimate form of aggression. Especially a small, helpless fetus that is guilty of nothing more than waking up suddenly in a woman's womb. It had no control over being there, but it's mother certainly did. Getting pregnant doesn't exactly happen by accident.
If an unborn child (the most helpless of us all) is not sovereign and entitled to protection of life, then to be consistent, no one is entitled to protection of life. It's the powerful vs. the powerless. Might makes right.