April 17, 2005

Bitch. Ph.D.: Do you trust women?

There's a long and involved discussion on abortion over at Bitch. Ph.D. I recommend it if you have some free time this afternoon -- note that that's a big if, there are 95 comments as I'm writing this.
I'll try to summarize the issue with some cut-and-paste.

The bottom line about abortion is this. Do you trust women to make their own moral judgments? If you are anti-abortion, then no. You do not. You have an absolute moral position that you don't trust anyone to question, and therefore you think that abortion should be illegal. But the second you start making exceptions for rape or incest, you are indicating that your moral position is not absolute. That moral judgment is involved. And that right there is where I start to get angry and frustrated, because unless you have an absolute position that all human life ... [is] equally valuable ... , then there is no ground whatsoever for saying that there should be laws or limitations on abortion other than that you do not trust women. ...

If you're pro-choice, you have to give up the right to have a "say" in someone else's choice. If you're pro-feminist, you have to give up the right to expect your personal feelings to be more important than women's public rights--including the right to be unpleasant, if, in her judgement, unpleasantness is called for.

Translated into more practical terms: there can be no qualifications on a pro-choice position along the lines of 'I'm pro-choice, but restrictions on third trimester abortions are okay' or 'I'm pro-choice, but parental consent laws for minor women are okay' or 'I'm pro-choice, but outlawing dilation and extraction ("partial-birth abortion") is okay'. If you make these kinds of qualifications, this argument goes, you are not, in fact, pro-choice; and in particular, you do not respect the rights of women to make their own decisions about their bodies. It's a line of thought I recently came to on my own, reflecting on Kantian pro-choice arguments; and I defend this point of view in the comments.


MosBen said...

Now, I'm working through my own thoughts as I write this, so don't necessarily take anything I say to be my personal beliefs, because currently I don't have any. That said...

If people willing to restrict some aspects of abortion are not "pro-choice" per se, would it be fair to call them "limited-choice"? How is this different from various other activities which we allow, but only to a point. You can drink and drive, but only if you are under a certain level of B.A.C. We trust people to do certain activities, but only so far and in specific circumstances. Why is this a problem from a moral perspctive?

Drew said...

I agree with MosBen. There's nothing morally or philosophically inconsistent about favoring the legality of abortion, but only within a given regulatory framework. This is the kind of sloppy thinking that has led the NRA to oppose even the most rational public-safety oriented forms of gun control. It's not all or nothing.

Now, I happen to oppose the so-called partial-birth abortion ban, and I favor much less regulation of abortion than is currently in place in many states, but there's still wrong with favoring some form of regulated abortion, and it doesn't make you any less pro-choice.

Noumena said...

I suppose 'limited choice' is an acceptable label, but you have to accept the full implications of that: that you don't think pregnant women can make these sorts of decisions themselves, that they are not capable of deciding for themselves what is right or wrong in a given situation which effects only themselves directly. Instead, it is *your* evaluation of the situation that should take precedence. You explicity deny women reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity outside of the limited range of situations you proscribe.

Unless you declare every foetus across the board to be a person -- in which case, you should forbid all abortions except those where the woman will die if the pregnancy is not terminated -- the only person directly involved in a pregnancy is the pregnant woman herself. The comparison to gun controls or drinking + driving is ill-formed because the gun owner or drunk driver can potentially harm other people; an unborn foetus only has personhood and rights to the extent that its mother chooses to recognize it as a person with rights.

MosBen said...

First, and I may very well have addressed this above in the comments, but I'm not going to check, so ha!

I think the argument would be, though I don't necessarily take it for my own, that society trusts *no one* to make choices like this and that it's an unfortunate quirk of biology that has made the woman's body the battle ground for a more general moral question. This doesn't *only* effect the woman's body in the way that cutting her hair does, or in the way that men choosing to get in better shape through exercise does.

The specific classification is arguable, but this is about the termination of a living thing, not merely of altering some aspect of the female human mechanical body. And though I know I posted this above, there's nothing unique about the physical reality of a pregnancy that grants any metaphysical insight into the nature of the life or the rights it should have that men don't possess as well.

But I think we're looking for a bright line rule where there isn't one. The life in the womb is *neither* human or non-human. It's quasi human, or potentially human to the conservatives, and therefore I think the situation has a unique morality. The quasi human nature of the life means, to me, that generally, we should encourage its survival but it does not rise to the level of requiring either categorical imperitive, which is why some kind of system where some abortions are allowed and others not is acceptable morally. It may seem like a miss mash of a system, but I think the murkiness of the system reflects the murkiness of the morality.

sparrow said...

Hello, I hopped over here from Paula's blog. A pleasure to meet u.

"...respect the rights of women to make their own decisions about their bodies."

I agree with this statement.

"the only person directly involved in a pregnancy is the pregnant woman herself."

I disagree with this statement.

If women have the right to their own bodies so do everyone else, including the baby they may be carrying.

An unborn child...

1. may have a totally different blood type.

2. may be of a different gender.

3. can grow their own umbilical cord and placenta

4. can receive surgery while still in the womb

5. has his/her own unique DNA

6. has it's own unique set of fingerprints

A child has a right to it's own body as well as the mother.

Paula said...

Hello Friend,

Just thought I'd share my beliefs on this matter. I believe (of course based on my belief in the Bible) that all life is precious in God's eyes. For me it's not so much about the rights of the mother as it is about the rights of the unborn child. Who'll protect the unborn children? You are so right, you've got to be one way or the other. I guess you can call me pro-unborn child! Hope all is well with you friend.