induction leading to abortion qualms
This is the product of late-night thinking, and my ideas tend to be even more crack-pot in that context. So fair warning.
Those who have read me for some time know that I am a staunch advocate for abortion rights. I do not believe that the state has any business denying the right of any woman to terminate a pregnancy, regardless of her reasons or how advanced the pregnancy is. This belief is founded on the notion that a fetus does not possess human rights, and thus there is no conflict with the rights of another that outweighs the rights to privacy and self-determination that empower women to have abortions. I know that many people believe in abortion rights even as they believe in personhood or humanity for the fetus, but I find this horrific; people/humans have rights, and while the rights of the woman might be in conflict with the rights of the fetus, surely the right to exist is the most basic one that must be defended by government. I am not in conflict on this issue, however, because I don’t believe a fetus possesses those rights. For this reason I oppose abortion restrictions, including waiting periods and parental notification laws.
(Ramesh Ponnuru mocked me in the past for my confusion regarding the terms “human” or “person”. It’s actually pretty simple, operatively– my point is that I don’t believe a fetus possesses human rights. Whether the correct term of art is to deny that a fetus is a person or a human I find to be a matter of pure nomenclature.)
But as for my quiet moments– it occurs to me, often, as I think about this issue, that the arc of human history has led consistently to extending rights of personhood to more beings, not less. This is an admittedly crude analysis. But I believe it is essentially correct to say that, as human history has proceeded, we have extended human rights on a wider scale than we previously did. So beings that previously were not extended the appelation “human” or “person” were gradually admitted into those ranks, and with the terminology came (again gradually) enfranchisement into the rights and privileges of being a person. This enfranchisement, sadly, is still not complete or untroubled. But as time has gone on, the Irish, the Romanische, Jews, black people, women, the physically disabled, the mentally retarded, homosexuals– all of these groups have been at one time or another regarded as not truly or completely human, and have come to be seen (with incomplete success, I’m sorry to say) as fully human and fully deserving of basic rights. I know that some would say that these are all self-evidently groups of people, and so this progression is natural in a way that isn’t the case for the fetus, or animals, for that matter, another group that we have trouble categorizing in our attempts at liberal democracy. But to say “of course the mentally retarded have gained human rights, they are people” is to assume a modern context that distorts our perception of the question. They have most certainly not always been regarded as worthy of the name or status of human, as many others have not, and that continuing status is by no means assured.
If I am asked about how I feel history progresses, in terms of human rights, I would say that it progresses towards extending these rights to more, not fewer, and when it comes to abortion, this troubles me.
Worse still for me, it is not merely the arc of humanity that seemingly increases those who deserve the protection of human rights, but the arc of liberalism, and I think that a not entirely useless definition of American liberalism is the project of more fully, equitably and charitably ensuring these rights. This would be challenge enough if I thought that liberalism were merely a collection of useful ideas, but in fact I think that liberalism is a lattice of logically consistent assumptions and ideas that strengthen and compliment each other. If this is the case, there is a bit more to this question of where liberal thought might proceed regarding the question of abortion.
Look, ultimately this kind of indirect philosophizing isn’t worth much, as I’m sure everyone reading this has already said to themselves. It’s not a logically compelling argument, and, indeed, I am not compelled. I remain staunchly in favor of abortion rights. I worry, though. I worry constantly. I think, a lot, about what ideological zeal and devotion to ideas really mean. I’m going to argue passionately and loudly for abortion rights, because I think that guaranteeing women control of their own reproductive systems is a duty of government, provided I remain convinced that a fetus does not possess human rights. And I believe, strongly, that a fetus does not possess those rights, that considering the beginning of life to occur at birth is a sane, pragmatic and humane philosophical stance, and that the best way forward for a pragmatic and moral society is to maintain a woman’s right to choose. To say that my zeal indicates a lack of deeply troubling doubts, however, would simply be a lie. There is very little chance that I will change my stance on abortion. But I wonder. And I worry.