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?