Listening to Tom Ashbrook’s program on abortion tonight was a truly frustrating experience. I was shaking my head the whole time. When it comes to the public abortion debate, the actual issue – and there is really is only one issue – never comes up. It’s as if there is a conspiracy of silence. Is all the bullshit engineered to keep this debate going for some political use?
First, Ashbrook wanted to keep after the anti-abortion speakers on the question of incest and rape. But how can the manner in which the child is conceived have anything to do with an argument that holds fast to the idea that the fetus is a life that should not be taken? The fetus is an innocent life. You can’t punish the fetus for the crimes of the father. The pro-abortion side needs to understand that anti-abortion activists hold a consistent position here and, while you can shame many of them into rhetorically allowing for exceptions, the real issue is whether there should be restrictions on abortion at all. The argument isn’t about the fetus. It’s about the freedom of women to choose how their bodies will be used (if used at all). The emotional impact or rape and incest is not a substitute for reason.
Second, these arguments about abortion causing a reduction in crime or demanding that conservatives pony up the money to feed, clothe, house, doctor all the unwanted children, and so forth, are all irrelevant points. The question of whether it is right or wrong for the state to force women to have babies (or not to have babies) is the only issue. It is a matter of fundamental individual right – the most important right of them all. You can’t determine whether we should or shouldn’t have rights on the grounds that we will have higher crime rates or too many people and so forth. These arguments shouldn’t be dignified in a debate on the question of reproductive freedom.
Third, there is no such thing as “states rights.” Goddammit can you finally get this through your skulls? States don’t have rights. Persons have rights (you know, persons like women?). It is a tyrannical notion to suppose that the state has rights over us. States have powers. And only when the state’s power rests on the consent of the government can state actors claim authority (as Max Weber defines it: legitimate power). Otherwise, we do not live in a free state. So it is to misspeak to say that a state has a right to determine what happens to a fetus. It may claim the power to do so, but it has no “right” to do so.
Fourth, the viability standard is an impossible and ridiculous standard. In practice, viability can only be theoretical. The idea behind viability is that there is a point when the fetus can live outside the body. Does this mean that for the woman who no longer wants to be pregnant the state will remove the fetus from the womb at the moment of viability in order to incubate the fetus artificially (or maybe transplant it into another womb)? My god, such a situation wouldn’t be simply tyranny but a nightmare. How could anybody claim to live in a free and morally decent society where women were forced to submit to a surgical procedures they did not consent to. Either way, the state commandeers the woman’s body for its interests – or, more accurately, the interests of those who seek to control reproduction – over against the interests of the woman in preserving her right to personal autonomy. This is the most naked form of tyranny. It is wicked notion. The fetus is viable when it is expelled from the womb. At that point the state can intervene, but not before.
Fifth, the argument that the right to life is more important than the right to privacy doesn’t even pass the smell test. Hypocrites. Do any of you really believe that conservatives would allow you or me to come into their home and eat their food or use their toilet without permission unmolested? Really? They would shoot us in the face. But my right to life is more important than their right to be secure in their private castles, no? To shoot me would be to violate my right to life, the most important thing in all the world, no? Are you kidding? I’m with conservatives on this one: your right to life ends where my freedom to be secure in my house ends. If you live it is only because I believed there was a way to get you out of my house without killing you first.
The right to life is not absolute. Almost everybody agrees there is no absolute right to life. We take life in self defense. We take a life to throw off tyranny. Nobody has an obligation to be slave and the fact that the slave masters is a person gives him no absolute right to live. When all is said and done there is only one real motivation for advocating for the power of states to control the womb: the submission of women. It’s okay. You don’t actually have to be aware of the real motivation behind your desires, so you needn’t be defensive. Your motive is revealed by the nature of the intended target. This isn’t really a debate. It’s a self-evident truth. If a woman does not have the right to her own body, she is a slave.
The question of the permissibility of abortion is not about the status fetus but the right of a woman (or any person) to determine what purposes her body is used for, presuming she is not a slave (and if she it, she must be liberated). Once the fetus has been expelled from the body and becomes an infant, then the state can take control of the infant’s life. Taking care of the infant no longer involves commandeering the woman’s body by the state, so there is no moral objection. You can’t force a person who has given birth to take care of the infant, just as you can’t force a person who is pregnant to take care of the fetus. The difference is that only in the former can the state act to preserve the life without oppressing the woman. Personal autonomy is the first right – every person must be free from oppression. Life can be and often is sacrificed to preserve this right. If a woman cannot determine how her body is used, she is not free. It’s that basic.