Arguments for Abortion Bad and Good

From my Facebook feed three years ago

I am in complete support of women’s access to abortion services, but what difference does it make to somebody who believes abortion is murder whether the fetus is the product of incest or rape over against other pregnancy causes? We don’t kill children because their parents are related or because the father is a rapist. You don’t punish children for the crimes of others. The fetus is a child in the eyes of those who believe abortion is murder. The only reasonable exception given this premise is life of the mother, since then killing the fetus is analogous to self-defense.

Kathy Barnette’s campaign ad

Complaints from those who support women’s access to abortion services over arguments that conceptualize life as beginning at the moment of conception of fertilization as well as the question of viability are also ineffective in this debate. Really, if one is being honest, one must grant that life at conception. Fertilization is the conception of a new human life. That’s biology. As for viability, suppose the fetus is viable at fifteen weeks, are authorities going to ask the woman seeking an abortion to undergo surgery to safely remove the fetus so it can grow in some other incubator artificial or living?

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, November 2005.

The only viable argument for abortion is from liberty—appeal to the rights to bodily autonomy, personal sovereignty, and medical privacy. The woman doesn’t want to have the fetus inside her. That is the only criterion that matters. She needs no justification except that it is her body and therefore her choice. She can have something living in her body removed if she wants. To stop her from removing a fetus is to deprive her of fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property. That’s tyranny. Her choice is none of your business. Stop being such a busybody.

“But doesn’t the fetus have those rights, too?” Does the person breaking into my house? Does the person trying to enslave me? Each have their rights inviolate until they violate the rights of others. My rights supersede theirs because they have no right to break into my house or enslave me (police with warrants and the judge who sentences me to hard labor have neither broken into my house nor enslaved me). Likewise, nobody has the right to use my body to sustain the life of another. It is an unjust interference with my liberty. You cannot have my kidney. It’s mine. I will decide what happens to it. This is true for every other part of my body.

How can it be, then, that the state can force her to sustain with her body the life of another person? A woman has the same rights that I have as a man. You cannot use her uterus to sustain the life of another person any more than you can use my kidney for this purpose (or any other). This would make women uniquely subjects of the state. It’s not only tyranny but discrimination on the basis of sex.

Currently, some 800,000 people have end-stage kidney disease, requiring either dialysis or a kidney transplant for survival. There are more than 50 thousands deaths every year from nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis, making kidney disease the tenth leading cause of death in America. Think of the lives saved if the state were to commandeer the healthy kidneys of Americans, most of whom have two healthy kidneys yet only need one. That most Americans would register outraged if the state were to announce such a life-saving program, yet many cannot muster the same outrage when it comes to the bodily autonomy of women, reveals a deep-seated patriarchal reflex. The desire in action reduces women to second-class status, making women objects of other people’s designs and purposes. It represents the supreme objectification of women.

I don’t want to hear conservatives talk about individual liberty if they’re not prepared to defend the clearest instantiation of it. If you support restricting abortion, then your liberty talk is in bad faith. Spare us your hypocrisy.

* * *

Afternoon note (same day): Protests at the homes of Supreme Court justices is profoundly authoritarian. I hear the incitement to violence against the judges—“If abortions aren’t safe, then neither are you.” An independent judiciary is one of the pillars of a free and rational society. It’s an expression of proto-fascistic mentality to attempt to intimidate judges into voting your politics or sharing your argument.

There is a vast difference between protesting the White House, Congress, or the Supreme Court and showing up at the homes of politicians and judges in a threatening manner. Every person has a right to be secure from the mob and to live a quiet, private existence. A judge’s home is not a legitimate site of protest any more than a woman’s body is a legitimate site of state control.

Where is the Biden Administration on this outrage? Jen Psaki says the president “strongly believes in the Constitutional right to protest. But that should never include violence, threats, or vandalism. Judges perform an incredibly important function in our society, and they must be able to do their jobs without concern for their personal safety.” Words are not enough—especially not these words: “I think the president’s view is that there’s a lot of passion, a lot of fear, a lot of sadness from many, many people across this country about what they saw in that leaked document. We obviously want people’s privacy to be respected. We want people to protest peacefully if they want to protest. That is certainly what the president’s view would be.” Sounds more like encouragement and sympathy that condemnation.

Perhaps the national guard should be deployed around the homes of justices and the mob physically removed by police from these neighborhoods. Public safety suggests it. For sure this is stupid politics. Democratic strategist Paul Begala nails it when he says, “This is wrong, stupid, potentially dangerous, and politically counterproductive.” Exactly.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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