Thursday, February 23, 2006

Just Askin'...

Just read this over at Tbogg; what caught my eye was not the discussion (this whole SD thing is a travesty, I'm pretty sure of that) but rather his closing comment:
I want to be blunt about how I feel about abortion: I don't care about your discomfort or moral objection with regard to abortion. Unless you are the one who is pregnant, it is none of your fucking business.
I agree with that statement for the most part, but I'm really kind of intrigued to know how he arrived at that conclusion; its unusual to find something speaking so absolutely on the issue. I tried Googling his site, which turns up a bunch of hits for "abortion", but I couldn't find anything where he elaborated on the above theme. I get the sense though, especially in conjunction with this post, that he's making the argument based on sovereignity of the body. This is where I have to disagree with his absolutist stance. I agree that sovereignity of the body is absolute as long as it doesn't infringe on others. But the neat thing about personal liberty is that you can voluntarily waive a right if you so wish. I'm going to get tarred and feathered here, but I think there's a limited set of circumstances where a woman who is pregnant (or seeks to become pregnant) waives her right to bodily sovereignity. Consider the case a single mother who conceives via artificial insemination and intends to carry the resulting foetus to term. This is a simple, but very "real life", scenario with minimal entanglement. The gent who donated the sperm can't reasonably claim to have any vested interest in the child; its just the woman and her developing foetus. Now, normally I'd support this woman's right to be a crack whore1. To paraphrase TLC, she can be a freak and sell it on the weekend, its none of my business. But the situation is different if she's pregnant and intends to carry the foetus to term. Smoking crack interferes with fetal development; when the child is born it will suffer harm from the mother having smoked crack. Does the mother, then, have the right to smoke crack? Were the woman to decide to abort the foetus this would be a non-issue, essentially a case of "no harm, no foul". But at some point (lets be Talmudic and put it at when the baby draws its first breath) the foetus ceased to be a foetus and became a person. When a woman intends to carry a baby to term and then smokes crack, she commits an act which is reasonably likely to cause harm to another person, in this case her future child. I think I'm on firm ground when I say that her sovereignity is limited in this case because her exercise thereof infringes on the rights of another person. And here's where it gets ugly. Oh god, I can't believe I'm saying this, but whose job is it to protect the rights of the unborn child? If you agree that a pregnant woman who smokes crack is not acting in the best interests of her future child does it not seem reasonable for the state to step in, in loco parentis, and tell that woman that she can't smoke crack? The preceding discussion differs from TBogg's statement above in that it postulates a foetus carried to term rather than an abortion, so the results aren't directly applicable. But it does seem to establish two facts: 1) There are instances where a pregnant woman waives her right to bodily sovereignity and 2) that there are circumstances where it is proper for an outside party to regulate a woman's behavior. What remains to be investigated is how this changes when we're discussing abortion rather than pregnancy. Consider the case of a woman and her partner who sit down and, after mature and thoughtful discussion, decide to have a baby. Further stipulate that when the woman conceives the foetus is normal, that carrying the foetus to term represents no threat to the mother's health, and that the couple have adequate resources with which to raise a child. Again, I think this particular set of circumstances accurately reflects a non-trivial subset of all pregnancies. Here's where I'm going to get tarred and feathered. I'd argue at this point that the woman has no grounds to have an abortion. Her health is not in danger, nor is there any reason to be concerned about the foetus' current or future well-being. The traditional argument at this point seems to be that a woman doesn't need a reason to have an abortion; she's sovereign over her body. I'll counter that, in making a mutual decision with her partner to carry a child to term, she's voluntarily limited her sovereignity in this area. Once she has discussed the issue with her partner, and they've come to the a mutual agreement to have a child, she has committed herself to carrying the child to term once she becomes pregnant (absent ill health or other problem as outlined above). Unless she explicitly reserves the right to terminate the pregnancy her partner has a reasonable expectation that the foetus will be carried to term. I'd like to point out that the above argument doesn't rely on biological parentage, or child support, or the sex of the woman's partner, or any other of the myriad, complicated rationales that I've seen put forward with regards to this subject. Quite simply, the woman has made an agreement and is bound by the terms of that agreement. There seems to be at least one good counter to this argument. You can assert that women implicitly reserve the right to at-will abortion, and that their partners never have a reasonable expectation that a foetus will be carried to term. But this conflicts with the reality on the ground, that abortion is the exception rather than the rule, and that the vast majority of pregnancies are carried to term. In Western culture there isn't a tradition of, I don't know, "capricious abortion"; women don't just randomly abort their foetuses without reason. So I have a hard time swallowing the argument about implicit reservation. Anyway, that's all. Mr. Bogg, if you're watching, I'd love to hear your $0.02.
1 I'm well aware that single mothers aren't generally crack whores; permit me some leeway for the sake of argument.

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