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What do pro-aborts mean by “choice”?
For many years I’ve recognized that “freedom of choice” is simply a catchphrase aimed at taking the moral high ground. More options = good, less options = bad, and if you force someone to do something they don’t want to do — like raise a child they didn’t plan on conceiving — then you, sir/madam/small child, are a fascist.
So I find myself amused whenever a pro-abort argues, “Women are gonna do it anyway.” Besides the inherent meaninglessness of the argument, a dreary statement of the obvious that leads to no intelligent moral principle, it contradicts the very premiss of calling the pro-abortion faction “right to choose”. If women are “gonna do it anyway,” then in what way do laws against abortion take away their ability to choose?
What’s really being argued for here is a right to choose without legal consequence. But remove legal penalties and you haven’t removed all consequences. In truth, the last thirty-nine years of legal abortion has seen the gathering of evidence that shows abortion — even so-called “safe abortion” — has physical, emotional and social consequences that compound the inherent horror and injustice of taking an innocent human life. More to the point, though, is that there are some choices that should never be tolerated, let alone celebrated as a “right”.
Since we’re dealing with choices, let’s confine ourselves for the sake of this discussion to women who conceive as a result of consensual sex —the vast majority of women who abort. At issue, supposedly, is the bodily autonomy of women: pregnancy forces women to take certain risks and measures for a period of nine months to ensure the healthy delivery of the unborn child. As Erika Bachioichi phrased it:
… [Despite] the gains pro-lifers have made in this regard, pro-choice feminists still adhere to another set of arguments entirely, arguments that resound in a popular slogan: “get your hands off my body.” In this view, because women, rather than men, get pregnant, a pregnancy forced by abortion restrictions signifies a basic gender inequality that no practical, pro-life social supports can alleviate, no matter what the medical data (which they still consider questionable) say about abortion’s aftermath. Indeed, “forced” pregnancy, for the most radical of pro-choice scholars and jurists, amounts to something akin to military conscription. As Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in his opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey[*] nearly twenty years ago, “[Abortion restrictions] conscript women’s bodies into [the service of the State], forcing women to continue their pregnancies, suffer the pains of childbirth, and … provide years of material care.”
The classic argument in this regard is Judith Jarvis Thompson’s “famous violinist” rationale, which relies on the idea that, by hosting the unborn in her body, the mother is merely being a Good Samaritan. From the perspective of English common law, people aren’t required to take undue risks to their own lives, health or finances for the sake of others. If the mother chooses to maintain the child’s life, it’s morally praiseworthy; if not, she can’t be condemned.
There are two inherent weaknesses to this argument. First, the “famous violinist” argument presupposes no moral difference between refusing to save someone who’s drowning and holding his head underwater, between just unhooking yourself from the famous violinist and shooting him in the head. Even if common law required a “good Samaritan” act from an innocent bystander, the most a refusal to do so could garner is negligent homicide, if not a civil claim of wrongful death; deliberately destroying another person is first-degree murder.
The more fundamental weakness is that the mother can’t be considered an “innocent bystander” in the “good Samaritan” sense. Indeed, this is a glaring hole in the argument, one that just begs us to ask, “Where do they think babies come from?”
The premiss of the “famous violinist” argument is that the violinist contracts his disease without any effort on the part of the person upon whom he must impose for his cure. But women don’t “catch” conception as they catch viral infections; rather, conception requires a positive act: sexual intercourse. Pregnancy is not incidental to sex; it’s the precise biological end the body is attempting to accomplish through sex. Contraceptives don’t change the reproductive nature of sex so much as they try to frustrate it.
So the mother who consents to sex, whether or not she contracepts, is not in the position of a person who, while walking alongside a pool or canal, comes across somebody drowning. Rather, she’s in the position of a person who pushed the other person into the pool or canal, whether deliberately or by accident.
This fact changes her level of responsibility: it’s literally both her and her partner’s fault that the child is alive. It rules out exculpation by ignorance and by precautions — conception is a built-in risk of sex that not even the most effective of contraceptive devices completely removes.
In the father’s case, physical autonomy does not translate out to a moral autonomy: because he is equally responsible for bringing the child into existence, he is responsible for bringing that child to adulthood. A significant chunk of common law and case law has been devoted to reinforcing that fact, and in giving women legal recourse to force men to assume their responsibilities as fathers.
It’s no wonder, then, that in every poll taken on the issue more men than women say they’re pro-choice. And it’s no wonder many women, suffering from grief and from post-abortion syndrome (PAS), report they were emotionally coerced into abortion by the fathers of their children (among others).
Saying “no” to sex is a choice, too. “No” is an empowering word. If a woman really wants to exercise control over her body, her sexuality and her reproductive ability, then learning how to say “no” when the time isn’t right and the partner is an irresponsible lout is much healthier and much more an exercise of freedom than are pills and abortion.