Why, the little lady can think!

18 05 2009

Enough with the constant bitching about male pronunciamentos on abortion. Not that they can’t have their say, but, really, enough with their privilege.

So can I bitch about a woman’s pronunciamentos on abortion. . . ?

Let me rephrase that: I take issue with Amy Welborn’s take on abortion, specifically, with her quick dismissal of the question of the status of the [pregnant] woman. In her commentary on President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, she notes

And a subissue – if this is not even an issue for you, if you do not see the unborn as a group in need of legal protection, and if you resonate with Obama’s call for reduced numbers of abortion…why? If Obama goes too far with this, he will run up against what Hilary Clinton ran up against a couple of years ago when she attempted to allude to a moral dimension to abortion. Boy, she had to backtrack, and fast.  The fundamental issue, you see, is trusting women as moral agents.

Why yes, that is the fundamental issue: trusting women as moral agents. Are we able to make decisions about our lives, or not?

I noted in a previous post that I didn’t think that rights language was sufficient to address the moral difficulties and passions of abortion. I still don’t. As much as rights are necessary to procure legal protections, without a sufficient moral and political argument behind those rights the reason for those protections are obscured, and the protections themselves at risk of a hollowing out.

The moral argument may begin at its basic level: survival. If I am to exist as a full human being in this world, then I cannot allow anyone else literal control over my life—whether that anyone else is a member of Congress, a judge, a boyfriend, or the fetus itself.

This is not as simple as it sounds, not least because we do live interdependently, and, in so doing, cede some measure of control to others. Yet even in society we are allowed to defend ourselves—our lives—even at the cost of another’s life.

There is nothing easy or automatic about that allowance, that decision to, perhaps, kill, and some of us are unable or unwilling to choose our own lives over those who threaten us. It is a fraught circumstance, difficult to determine in advance how one would react. My life or yours? I can guess, but I can’t know what I would choose.

But is abortion self-defense? I think it is, albeit of a different sort than that against a ‘outside’ attacker. First, it is an assertion against authority who might seek to prevent me from defending myself—the assertion of a right. Second, it is a self-recognition of a woman’s own worth as a human being, as being morally capable of determining whether to continue or end a pregnancy. It is an assertion of her own life.

But what of the good question Welborn does ask: If I don’t think fetuses as a class are in need of protection, then why bother with reducing the number of abortions?

The immediate response is that, as in other cases of self-defense, it is a fraught circumstance.

To recognize this is to recognize that the fetus, especially as it develops, is itself developing into a being deserving of its own recognition. To end the pregnancy is to end its development, its potential. And while I tend to accord personhood rather late in the pregnancy, the accordance itself is rather ad hoc; I’m not at all certain about fetal status.

Which means that I support abortion even if it could be killing another person.

This is not a politically happy conclusion. But if I am to assert the primacy of a woman’s moral capacity to choose her life over another’s, then I also have to allow that she is, in fact, choosing her life over another’s. It is entirely possible that terminating a pregnancy means killing a person—and if I defend the right to terminate, then I ought at least recognize this possibility. To make a moral decision is not to shirk consequences.

Pro-life advocates often argue that the status of the fetus as a person trumps all other claims, a position which I, obviously, reject. But what of the subsidiary claim of the innocence of the fetus? The Catholic Church, for example, argues that however grievous sexual assault, aborting a pregnancy resulting from rape is nonetheless forbidden, insofar as the fetus is itself innocent of any crime.

True, the fetus may lack malevolent intent, or any intent, for that matter. Yet however innocent the fetus, it still threatens; it is not about intent, but the effect itself. That said, I can still recognize the fetus is simply doing what fetuses do, capturing resources from a woman’s body so that it may develop. Whether this is innocence or simply the fetal condition, there is nothing personal in the fetus’s slow takeover of its immediate environment.

The problem, of course, that its immediate environment is, in fact, a(nother) person’s body.

This, finally, is where one may locate the core of the response to Welborn: When a woman does not want to continue a pregnancy, she sees herself at odds with the fetus, views it as an intruder, even; she aborts it to save herself. She kills to save.

Thus, the fraught circumstance, the one I believe most of us would rather avoid. I would prefer to reduce the number of abortions because even the morally defensible position to abort allows for the possibility of killing a person, and I would prefer less rather than more killing.

This hardly comprises a comprehensive defense of abortion, reproductive rights, and sexual expression; indeed, there are any number of pro-life advocates who consider pregnancy a just punishment for sex. But the position of those who seek to defend the life of the fetus is a morally serious one in a way that misogynistic screeds against women’s sexual personality is not, and, as such, deserves a similarly serious response.

It is not a nice response, and, I imagine, it’s bluntness might offend even some on the pro-choice side. But it is necessary to admit to what one defends, however unpleasant that defense may be.

Nobody ever said moral agency was easy.

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3 responses

31 05 2009
Turnabout, fair play, etc. « AbsurdBeats

[…] It was a fair question. (My reply, here.) […]

15 08 2010
I’ll jar these mountains till they fall « AbsurdBeats

[…] remain legal, so I should have been able to let it be, right? After all, I do believe abortion is morally fraught, which means I ought to allow for those who agree with me on the legality of abortion to think […]

23 08 2012
People who need people « AbsurdBeats

[…] have also argued for the morality of abortion, that is, that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is, by default, a moral one, albeit of the […]

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