For years, North America has been struggling with the issue of abortion on demand. Feminists have claimed that this right is essential for women to achieve full liberation, and that anything less than complete control over their reproductive rights is a form of patriarchal control. For the most part, this argument has been completely successful, and women across Canada and throughout the United States now have the "right" to abortion on demand. But the feminist position rests on a number of asssertions and assumptions which will not stand the test of rigorous scrutinty.
One of the key arguments made by feminists is that everyone has an absolute right to control his or her own body. Abortion means controlling one's own body. Therefore abortion is a right.
This syllogism is perfectly valid, and would be sufficient to carry the day. There are two problems with the argument, however. The first is that the right to control one's body is not absolute. We do not let people use heroin, or choose euthanasia. The right to control one's own body is not therefore an absolute one, but one that is qualified already in other situations. This right cannot therefore be used a premise in the argument.
One might argue, however, that the right to control one's body ought to be an absolute right, and that people ought to be able to do any drug of his/her choosing, and to request euthanasia. This would be logical, and would be the extension of the principle into other areas. This is in fact a perfectly legitimate position to take, as the onus ought to be on the state to demonstrate why the individual's right to control his/her body ought to be restricted, not on the individual to demonstrate why the right ought to be universal.
On those grounds, abortion on demand would be a right that ought to be extended to women, except that it is a misrepresentation of the situation to argue that abortion only involves the body of the woman. The fetus also ought to have the same right, and for exactly the same reason. If so, then the right of the woman to control her own body must be shown to supercede the right of the fetus to live. We must weigh in the scale a woman's right to be free from pregnancy for 9 months against the entire lifetime of her unborn child. On such a weighing, surely a potential of 75 or more years of life must be of greater moral value than 9 months of discomfort?
It is because of the cogency of this objection that it is claimed by feminist groups that the fetus is not really alive, that it is merely an extension of the woman's body, that it is dependent upon her, and/or that it is not human, but merely a "fetus". Each of these objections, however, is mistaken.
If the fetus is not alive, how then does it continue to grow in the mother's womb? Inanimate or dead things do not demonstrate all the signs of life, such as a heartbeat, a pulse, cell division and so on. It is often argued that since no one knows when life begins, that this is merely a matter of opinion, and that therefore the woman is entitled to impose her own view, and terminate her pregnancy at will. But this argument defeats itself. If we are not sure when life begins (although most scientists are of the view that life begins at conception), we are not therefore morally entitled to terminate the fetus.Rather, if we are not sure, we are under a special duty of care towards what therefore might be a living thing. If I am not sure whether you are dead or alive if I find you injured at the side of the road, and I entitled to shoot you on the grounds that your condition is not certain? Of course not, nor am I entitled to abort a fetus on the grounds that I am not sure whether it is alive or dead.
Knowing full well that the "argument from ignorance" concerning the condition of the fetus is insufficient as an argument, feminists then advance the claim that if the fetus is alive, it is merely an extension of the woman's body, and that she ought to be able to terminate it as she would remove an appendix. There are two problems with this argument. First, the fetus is clearly not simply an extension of the woman's body: it has its own DNA. It is therefore a separate person, not merely an appendage. Secondly, no doctor would cut out a healthy appendix just because a woman requested that he/she do so. The analogy with an organ fails both logically and factually.
As this argument will also not suffice, it is then argued that since the fetus is dependent upon the mother, she therefore has the right to terminate it at her will. This is what is known as a "non sequitur", that is, an argument in which the conclusion has no relationship to the premises. There is no moral principle that asserts the right of individuals to kill others because they are dependent; rather, we are obliged to care for others who are dependent upon us. If someone is on a respirator in a hospital, does it follow that because he is dependent, we have the right to terminate him? In fact, that duty of care is central to most moral systems (see Kant). Only Nietscheze might agree with feminist logic in this case, but he is hardly considered to be a paradigmn of moral reasoning.
The argument that is perhaps the most chilling of all is that the fetus is not human, but merely a "fetus", and therefore we owe no special duty to it, nor can it participate human rights until it emerges from the womb. Why separation from the uterus is deigned to confer humanity upon the fetus has never been made clear; this seems to be a kind of magical thinking on the part of feminists, who apparently equate the passage down the birth canal to a mystical journey at the end of which is life. The objection, however, is that since no one can say when one becomes human, it therefore follows that depriving the fetus of its life is not a moral problem. Biologists, however, are very capable of determining what it means to be human. If you have 23 chromosomes and a 99.9% preponderance of human DNA, you are human. Any other definition is unscientific, and smacks of the kind of word games played by the Nazis in determining that the Jews were not human. That kind of thinking led to the death camps, and it is the underlying assumption behind what goes on in abortion clinics as well. No one, not the state, and not the individual, has the right to grant or deny humanity to others. To do so is to take the first step down the Nazi road of ends- justify -the- means reasoning. Historically, one of the first things that the Nazis did when they took power was to make abortion legal, as did the Communists in Russia. For the totalitarian psyche, dispensing with other people's lives comes easily.
Another curious fact is that although feminists deny that a fetus has any rights, they were up in arms over the fact that some women are using ultrasound technology to determine the sex of the fetus, then having the fetus aborted if it is female. It is claimed that this is an infringement upon the rights of women, although it is not clear exactly which woman's rights are being violated. If the fetus has no rights, then surely it makes no difference whether it is a male or female that is being aborted? If the woman choosing to use ultrasound for this purpose wishes to have an abortion, isn't she just asserting her right to control her own body? Don't feminists support this right? Apparently not if the fetus is of the wrong gender. One wonders if there would be the same outcry if the aborted fetuses were male. Well, actually, one doesn't wonder.
There are, of course, other arguments that are often made in support of abortion on demand. One of the least convincing is that a woman ought not to have to suffer the pain of giving away her child for adoption once it is born, so she therefore should abort it to save herself the agony of that separation. But where is it written that women are never to suffer any emotional pain? How can one compare the death of an unborn child to the anguish of separation? By the same logic, we should kill our relatives at the airport rather than saying goodbye.
Another bad argument is that if the child is born and is unwanted, it may be abused by its mother. There is some truth to this. Single mothers are responsible for approximately 70% of child abuse cases, and the pressure of raising a child on one's own can certainly create emotional stress, especially on an immature woman who was not able to restrain herself sexually, and so found herself pregnant without a husband. But there are many cases where unwanted fetuses become wanted children, and aborting every child because he/she may be abused later seems a ludicrous over reaction, especially when the child could be put up for adoption in any case. Further, this seems a better argument for providing more services for these single mothers, or for encouraging the use of birth control and sex-ed classes, not for killing unwanted children.
One of the real, although unstated reasons for supporting abortion on demand is the fact that raising children can interfere with a woman's career choice. But this seems a very self-centered, cold-blooded rationalization, and is therefore rarely used to excuse abortion. Once again, the same arguments apply. A woman's convenience cannot be weighed against the life of another human being. And if it be argued that women's full equality is limited until they have the same reproductive choices as men, all one can do is respond that nature has ordained that the female of the species must carry the next generation, not men. Perhaps society ought to take that into consideration by granting women better leave for child rearing, but it cannot by advanced as a reason for what amounts to murder.
Anotherl argument for abortion on demand is that if the state does not provide a safe, clean environment for abortions, we will go back to the days of the back- street abortionist, and thousands of women will die as a consequence. But that particular practice occurred because of a social attitude towards pregnancy that no longer exists. Women are not now castigated for being pregnant out of wedlock, and we are unlikely to see hordes of women fleeing to back-street butchers for a dangerous operation when a few months of discomfort will relieve them of their unwanted child which they can then put up for adoption. If they choose to keep the child, the social welfare net can support them if the fathers do not, although the law ought to take a firm hand in ensuring that they do. (As an aside, why do we demand of fathers that they support their children, although the men may not want them, while making no demands upon the mother at all? Those who speak of gender equality ought to consider that men should have an equal right to dispose of their children; if not, then women ought to have an equal obligation. That seems fair, but when was the last time that feminism concerned itself with fairness? Just asking).
One very bad argument is that women who get pregnant should not have to bear a child if they did not choose to engage in sexual activity for procreation. Their birth control may have failed, and so why should they have to bear the responsibility for something that they did not choose? But if a woman chooses to have sex, she asumes the burden of risk if something should go wrong, just as the man does if he gets her pregnant. No one ever asks the father if he wishes to support the child; why do we ask her if she wishes to bear it? They both knew the risks, and chose to have sex anyway.
It is sometimes argued that women should be allowed to have abortions when they have been raped, or if they are under age, or when they have engaged in incestuous behavior, with or without their consent. Why should these women have to carry the burden of the memory of the rape or incest with them, and be forced to have the child as well, it is asked. And this is a fairly persuasive argument, as it asks for compassion for someone who has not made a choice to have sex, and then is being asked to bear the consequences of her decision. Instead, we have the case of a woman who finds herself emotionally unable to bear the burden of a situation she did not choose. In such cases, if the woman is clearly in danger of losing her mental health over the situation, then abortion ought to be considered as a possibility. Remember that it is abortion on demand to which I am objecting, not abortion under any circumstances. If a panel of doctors agrees that she is in serious medical jeopardy, then a case could certainly be made for an abortion, knowing that as we do so, we are choosing between two moral wrongs.
This same logic, of course, also applies when the mother's life is at risk. No one ought to be obliged to sacrifice either her mental health or her life for another, and a woman has a right to self-defense as does any other person. But that is not a decision that can be left up to her alone, because the state- and the father- have a legitimate interest in balancing the rights of the woman and the child. But society has to allow for such cases, so that the law itself does not become a cause of needless pain and suffering.
Almost as an act of desperation, it is often argued that whether abortion is right or wrong morally is simply irrelevant, because moral choice is a matter of individual conscience, and that it is, in the end, up to each individual woman to decide for herself whether she wishes to abort or not.
For many people, this argument has great appeal, for several reasons. In the first place, it seems to be in keeping with the '60's notion that moral choice is a matter of individual preference. This notion arose because of the understanding that morality cannot be imposed by the state or the church and remain moral choice. This is fundamentally an existential position which asserts, as Camus claimed, the primacy of the individual and his/her conscience in every moral decision.
The problem with this argument, however, is that it confuses the requirement that individuals make moral choices with the notion that the act of choosing makes the choice a moral one. It is also possible for people to make incorrect moral choices; in other words, a choice is not moral merely because the individual made it.
This confusion is at the core of moral relativism, which claims that choices are right or wrong depending upon the particular circumstances of the individual; therefore, it is claimed, only the individual himself/herself can know if the choice is moral or not. And there is some truth to this notion. Without the power to choose, I cannot be held accountable for my behaviour. But moral reasoning also involves the idea of universal principle; in other words, morality is fundamentally egalitarian in nature, requiring of each of us that we weigh the components in each moral choice, and to freely make the decision to behave in a moral fashion. Feminism itself claims to be based on such notions of equal rights and responsibilities, even though it does not appear to follow that principle in practice. Feminists can hardly maintain that equality is a universal moral principle while denying that such principles exist when arguing for the primacy of individual choice in abortion. Further, I cannot maintain that I have a right to choose for another, as this violates the very premise of the argument; when women chose to abort, they choose for the child as well as themselves. They cannot have it both ways: if moral choices must be individual, then the unborn child must have the right to choose as well, and who would choose death?
Another reason why people are willing to accept the idea that a woman alone can choose abortion whether it is moral or not is that it removes from them the onus of taking a moral position on the issue. It is much easier, when one is not directly involved, to leave the choice up to the individual, rationalizing one's lack of concern as a matter of conscience; in other words, indifference to a moral wrong is disguised as the operation of a "higher" morality.
But consider the position of most of the left on matters such as the Holocaust, apartheid, women's rights... in these cases, not taking a moral position is itself considered to be immoral. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Each citizen ought to have more than a right, but a responsibility to take a clear position on important moral questions, and to be willing to debate those positions with others. Those who advocate for silence on abortion are not advocating for a higher morality, but for a cynical amorality.
Along the same lines, it has been argued that men have no right to have a postion on abortion, or to expound it, as they themselves will not be faced with this choice. This is not only sexist, of course, but also irrational. Taken to its logical conclusion, we would have to accept that women past child bearing age also have no right to a position on abortion, or those who are sterile, or those who choose never to have children...This is just silly. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that men are more likely to support the "right" of abortion on demand, than women are. If that is the case, feminists would be well advised to claim that women have no right to sepak on this issue, but that is unlikely to happen. It also seems highly curious that those who demand equality so vociferously should also be so quick to deny fundamental rights to others: the right of free speech to men, the right to life to unborn children. This hardly seems to recommend their position as one of moral rectitude.
Having examined all of the main arguments for abortion on demand, then, it becomes clear that the case made so fervently by feminists for so many years simply cannot stand a rigorous examination. It is time to put the "politically correct" viewpoint to one side, and to re-examine our position as a society. As we have evolved morally, we have brought more and more beings under the definition of humanity, so that they can enjoy full rights, including minorities and women. Now it is time to apply the same blanket of ethical security to unborn children.
Until we do, we cannot call ourselves truly moral.
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