Thursday, February 10, 2011

Really Stepping Into It Now: Abortion

The subject of this post is abortion so go put on your protective gear. Just kidding. Really, no matter where you stand, I think you will agree that, as usual, Wendy McElroy has written an excellent piece, full of well reasoned arguments.

This article also made me wonder about something that I haven’t really thought much about before which you can read about at the end of this post. But first here’s an overview of her article, published in Issue 14, “What Does It Mean To Be An Individual?”

One of the first points Wendy hopes to make clear is the difference between “morality and rights, between the moral and the legal”:

Peaceful activities may be moral or immoral, but they never violate rights. Taking drugs, gambling, or lying to a friend may or may not be immoral, but they are not a violation of rights. In libertarianism, the purpose of law is to protect rights, not to enforce virtue as such; the law does not concern itself with the morality of an action but asks only if it is invasive.

Many people oppose abortion on moral grounds without considering it to be a violation of rights which should be addressed by law. I have no argument with this particular antiabortion position. My argument is with anti-abortionists who attempt to translate their personal moral convictions into laws restricting what I may do with my body. . . those who advocate mandatory motherhood.

Wendy takes the abortion issue down to the root of all rights issues, the concept of self-ownership. When do we actually become individuals? She points out that there are really only two objective possibilities: conception and birth.

She gives credit to the Libertarians for Life in that they don’t draw on the idea of a “potential” human being, but that an actual human being with individual rights occurs at conception.

However, Wendy draws her line at the other end and bases this on biological factors:

An essential characteristic — indeed, a prerequisite — of considering something to be an individual is that it be a discrete entity, a thing in and of itself. Until the point of birth, however, the fetus is not a separate entity; it is a biological aspect of the pregnant woman which possesses the capacity to become discreet. At birth, the fetus is biologically autonomous and is a self-owner with full individual rights. Although it cannot survive
without assistance, this does not affect its biological independence; it is simply the dependence that any helpless individual experiences.

Let's rephrase this argument; having a DNA encoding, which is all that is provably present at the point of conception when rights are assigned, is not sufficient grounds to claim individual rights.

What is missing? The missing piece is individuality...autonomy . . . a biologically discreet person. As long as the fetus is physically within the woman's body, nourished by the food she eats, sustained by the air she breathes, dependent upon her circulatory system, it cannot claim individual rights because it is not an individual. It is part of the woman's body and subject to her discretion.

Birth is the point at which the fetus becomes an actual human being. There is no point, other than conception, at which such a clear, objective change occurs in the status of the fetus. All other changes are a matter of degree rather than of kind and, thus are, inadequate for legal theory which demands a definable point of enforcement.

The enforcement aspect of any law against abortion, is another point she spends a lot of time on and you can read more about this for yourself. What I’d like to discuss now revolves around a trail my mind took when I read her phrase “mandatory motherhood.”

This made me think about the concept of “mandatory fatherhood” and how that does or does not play into the abortion debate. Nothing about fatherhood is addressed in this article. Should it be?

If the father wants an abortion and the woman refuses to have one, does the father have any responsibility once the baby is born? If so, then doesn’t that mean he is subject to “mandatory fatherhood” in such instances?

What about the reverse? If the father wants the baby but the woman wants an abortion, I guess he has no say at all since pregnancy requires the mother’s body, right? If I base this on the concept of self-ownership, I’d have to concede this because that would conflict with the self-ownership rights of the mother to her own body.

But I still can’t help but wonder whether the concept of parenthood is completely separate from the abortion issue. If Wendy uses “mandatory motherhood” in her piece, doesn’t that mean the concept of “mandatory fatherhood” also has to exist? And if so, doesn’t this affect the self-ownership of the man in instances where he wants the abortion but the woman doesn’t?

This article just made me think more about the distinct differences in the ability to become a father, a man must have the use of another person's body in order to become a father but to become a mother only requires a single sperm, not another individual's body.

I’m trying to figure out whether this is relevant and how it plays into the abortion discussion. What do you think?


Kent McManigal said...

Cute girl with the dirty feet. :) OK... moving right along...

Here is my abortion post, and a recent admission about the pro-life advocates I have run into.

Paul said...

I was 'pro-choice' until I heard Harry Browne discuss this issue and he changed my position to anti-abortion.
He said since we do not know when life begins, whether at conception or birth or at some point in between, that the only logical and moral thing to do is to err on the side of caution and assume life begins at conception.

I like to use a hunting analogy when discussing this issue. If I'm sitting in a tree stand on opening day of deer season and I hear and see movement in the bushes, do I blindly shoot into the bushes, assuming that there is a hidden deer behind the bushes or do I hold my fire until I have a clear target? Only a criminally careless moral moron would say to blindly shoot into the bush.

In matters of life and death, if we are uncertain, then the best action is nonaction. Not a popular position, but until I know with 100% certainty that a human being is NOT being killed during an abortion it is the only position I can take and live with.

Debbie H. said...

Kent, your abortion post was very good. I have also wondered how technology may eventually affect the abortion debate especially as I see premature babies surviving at younger and younger stages.

Paul, are you speaking only in terms of your decision on the moral issue or are you also proposing that we have laws against abortion? Like Wendy says in the article, there are many of us who have strong moral reasons for thinking abortion is wrong but the only time we would conflict with others in society is if we want to make a law telling other people what to do.

Paul said...

@Debbie - I am morally opposed to abortion and am wishy-washy on the legalities of same.
While I see abortion as malum in se
I am not ready to outlaw the act, but I certainly have no problem with doing away with all laws that make me subsidize any aspect of abortion. This is where much of the conflict comes from, not from laws allowing females to have legal abortions, but from laws forcing others to pay for them or to pay for any aspect of them.
One inconsistency in American law and America's views on abortion is that many states that allow abortion also have criminal statues against feticide or fetal homicide. So if during an assault a criminal causes a pregnant female to lose her unborn child, said criminal can be charged with the murder of the unborn child, but if that same woman had gone to a physician and aborted the fetus, then legally she was just disposing of some unwanted tissue, like a wart or some such thing.

Ned Netterville said...

At the moment--late--I'm less interested in abortion and more interested in the great photo. The feet suggest to me that you may have read BORN TO RUN, and like me, thrown away your Nikes. True?

Stateknowsbest said...

Do a search on Walter Block and abortion. He has some very thought provoking arguments.

Debbie H. said...

Hey, Paul thanks for clarifying. It is completely unjust for someone to be forced to pay for another person's abortion. As to your point about inconsistent laws, I wonder how people rationalize that inconsistency. My guess is that it has something to do with the fact that the woman wanted the baby in those instances. That does not change the inconsistency of course. But it does help us see that abortion will never cease to be an issue until everyone can agree on when some becomes a human endowed with separate individual right of self-ownership.

Debbie H. said...

No, I haven't read that book Ned, but I have heard about the move towards barefoot running.

I have very flat feet and running shoes have always felt so good to me but still I'm barefoot most of the time.

Anyway, now I'm a big bicyclist. I think I was born to bicycle!

Stateknowsbest thanks for the heads up on Walter Block's writings.