Coda to: This woman’s work

15 09 2008

I noted in the previous post my, mm, strong opinions on the legality of abortion. But I didn’t say anything about the morality of abortion.

Is abortion moral? Yeah, I think it is. But I also have a lot more sympathy for the position that it is not moral than I do for the position that it shouldn’t be legal.

I think it’s moral because of the status of the woman. When unexpectedly pregnant, a woman has to decide whether to end or to continue the pregnancy (and if she continues with it, to keep the baby or give her up for adoption). It is a real dilemma, one which requires some hard thinking about her own life, her relationship to the man involved, her relationships to other people in her life, and her understanding of the fetus. Is it a baby? A person? Or just a conceptus, a potential person, but not one yet? It requires moral work to make one’s way through these questions, and to consider how to act amidst uncertainty.

Yeah, I know, there are girls and women who act unthinkingly in terminating their pregnancies, but arguably just as many act unthinkingly in continuing them. That some women (and the people around them) don’t do the moral work doesn’t mean it’s not there to be done.

But what of the fetus? Absent a miscarriage or abortion, it will someday push itself out of the woman to enter the world as a baby. Even in its embryonic stage it is arguably human—if only human tissue rather than human being. What about its. . . rights isn’t the right word. . . what about its status? What of the possibility that it is already a human being?

Judith Thompson had one reply to this question, in her famous example of the violinist whose life would end were he not attached to another person. (It’s been a long time since I read the piece—sorry I can’t remember the particulars. And I’ll see if I can find a link to the piece online.) She concluded that even if the violinist would die if you detached him from you, you still had the right to do so.

It’s an interesting piece, but I don’t know that it gets at all the complexities of abortion. Hm. What I mean is, I don’t think that all those who talk about a ‘right to life’ are really into rights talk. I think it’s about something deeper, or at least other, than rights. I think, for many, it is about a protectiveness toward the fetus/baby, and about a belief that one ought to sacrifice oneself on behalf of another vulnerable being.

These are not unworthy sentiments (and I’ll skip for the moment any legislative ramifications—we’re talking about morality, not politics—as well as those worms who are afraid of and want to control or punish women’s sexuality), and ought not be dismissed without deeper consideration.

Abortion is a moral issue. Those of us who believe such a choice ought to be left to the woman need to do a better job of articulating that morality.


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