This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.
How should we regard a forced abortion of a pro-life woman’s fetus? This happens, of course, in China every day. It also happens occasionally in the United States–there have been several cases reported of husbands or boyfriends who in effect force a woman to have an abortion, either by coercing her to go to the clinic (these cases are perhaps not so rare), or by attacking her directly.
If the law concerning abortion should be designed so that “everyone can act in accordance with one’s own beliefs”, then presumably just as the law lets some people procure an abortion, because their beliefs allow it, so it should let the women in these cases, if they are pro-life, bring charges of murder, because their beliefs require it. So our view ought to be that, if a man were to force a pro- life woman to have an abortion, the man should be liable to prosecution for murder.
Again, this is a purely subjective argument, relying on beliefs to trump facts. Whether someone is pro-life or not has no relevance to evaluating an action as murder or not. The former is a belief and the latter is a fact. As an Anarchist, I am opposed to all laws, but if they are to exist, they should be held to the facts, not to beliefs about facts. So this question is a complete philosophical failure.
As such, I don’t know how Pakaluk leaps from “everyone can act in accordance with one’s own beliefs” to “one’s own beliefs determine the fact of whether an action is a crime or not.” Maybe this is a slippery slope argument and he’s trying to say that individualism inevitably leads to subjectivism. But if there is any evidence for that position, he does not provide it.
It is often claimed that the right to an abortion is a part of the right to control one’s own reproductive life. But then it seems that the decision to abort should be made jointly, by both the father and mother. If we say that the mother alone can decide to have an abortion, then we ought equally to grant that the husband alone can decide that the pregnancy should end in abortion — at least he should be able to decide that he “aborts” the child, in the sense that he would have chosen abortion (if the woman had agreed), and so he has no responsibility to care for the child.
So it seems that either we grant the father an equal role in the abortion decision, or we must conclude that fathers cannot be held responsible for their offspring. If total responsibility for abortion rests with the mother, then total responsibility for birth should rest with her also. (This question points to the connection between the practice of abortion and paternal irresponsibility.)
Again Pakaluk commits the error of asking a question to which he thinks he knows the answer. He assumes that we will necessarily be against paternal irresponsibility, and that therefore this is a dilemma. But there’s no reason why we must be against paternal irresponsibility. The case he makes here is a logical case. If we accept it, then we must support paternal irresponsibility (personally I am against paternal irresponsibility on the whole, because I think children’s rights have primacy over “parental rights”).
So what? What does this have to do with the validity of abortion? Does he seriously think that people who reject paternal irresponsibility must therefore logically be against abortion? But that’s absurd. There are plenty of justifications for such a combination. At any rate, I do not have to defend it, because I am not held to any view regarding paternal irresponsibility, so the question does not apply to me at all.
In fact, I don’t want to talk about parenting at all, because it is an absurd institution. The idea that only one or two people should be entirely responsible and in near-total control of another human life because they had PIV is an open insult to rationality. Furthermore, reliance on one or two people is criminally dangerous (one being much more dangerous than two, but both being dangerous) because the livelihood of the child depends critically on the health, available time, wages and good will of only one or two people.
Suppose a woman who wanted an abortion were first to observe her unborn child through ultrasound technology. In such images, the hands and feet of the child are typically discernible, and even within the first trimester, it is common to see the unborn child sucking his or her thumb. I ask the pro-choice person: why aren’t such images shown to woman, as part of informed consent preceding abortion?
You might respond that the images are not relevant, but how do you know whether they are relevant to her or not? I think, rather, your view is that such images are too relevant, that very few women who saw them would choose to have an abortion…
In general it is deceitful to withhold information from someone, if you know that, if you released it, the other person would act very differently.
Pakaluk here asks yet another question which is predicated upon subjectivity. How does the impact of the images on a woman’s views make it part of informed consent or not? Pakaluk has failed to present the case that it is. He has merely asserted that it is, based on some subjective criterion. So what? This is not an argument.
Pakaluk seems to believe that anything whatsoever that could influence a person’s decision-making process is part of informed consent. But this encompasses so many things that it is impossible to even imagine the scope of what informed consent would mean under Pakaluk’s laws. The woman’s entire genetic profile as well as her partner’s, with full explanations and images for every single gene, the personality of the doctor, testimonies from people who have had successful abortions and did or did not regret it, what her parents and friends think about abortion, all the different kinds of harm that could come about to the future person, with images and video testimonies from all sorts of people who have gone through them, all of these things may profoundly influence a person’s decision-making process as regards to having an abortion. So why not mandate these by law, too? Why not mandate omniscience to the people whose job it is to provide this “informed consent”? Because that’s what you’ll need when you’re done.
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law defines informed consent as:
Assent to permit an occurrence, such as surgery, that is based on a complete disclosure of facts needed to make the decision intelligently, such as knowledge of the risks entailed or alternatives.
The name for a fundamental principle of law that a physician has a duty to reveal what a reasonably prudent physician in the medical community employing reasonable care would reveal to a patient as to whatever reasonably foreseeable risks of harm might result from a proposed course of treatment. This disclosure must be afforded so that a patient—exercising ordinary care for his or her own welfare and confronted with a choice of undergoing the proposed treatment, alternative treatment, or none at all—can intelligently exercise judgment by reasonably balancing the probable risks against the probable benefits.
What part of this has anything to do with seeing an ultrasound of your fetus? Pakaluk can’t make any argument about it, so you tell me…
If you think abortion should be allowed, can you consistently maintain that there any human rights at all? Human rights are presumably rights that belong to us in virtue of our being human–that is why they are called “human” rights. They are prior to decision or convention, precisely because they depend upon our nature. We have them simply because we are human beings, not because of an acquired characteristic or accomplishment. But if the fetus has no rights, then there are no human rights, because the fetus is clearly a human being, and if there were rights that followed from simply being human, the fetus would have them.
And yet, at least in our society, this is clearly false, because the standard argument for jailing people is that they “surrender their rights” by committing a crime. It is absolute nonsense, as I’ve argued before, but if Pakaluk accepts throwing people in jail (to be fair, I do not know if he does or not, although he is a Christian and anti-abortion, so it seems safe to assume that he is a right-winger like most Americans), he must accept that rights are not innate.
It is also equally obvious, again in our society, that children have very few rights. Same goes for workers and work contracts. Since they are all human, why don’t they have the same rights as everyone else? Again, if Pakaluk accepts the common view, then his argument makes no sense.
Now that my first point is made, let me put it aside, since it is all based on assumptions, and continue to a more important point. From my perspective, rights are a construct that we use to make sense of the issue of which actions are justifiable and which are not. If person A punches person B, and person B punches person A in response, which action is justifiable and which isn’t? This is what rights are about. It doesn’t make sense to talk about the rights of a being that can’t act, that doesn’t participate in the greater society, such as a person in a coma, a fetus, or a person living in another distinct society. This is not to say that we should treat such beings badly (obviously we are bound to follow all other ethical rules regardless), but simply that they are not included within the framework of rights.
Now, as I have addressed when I talked about the Non-Identity Problem, it makes sense to speak of a fetus embodying rights, despite the fact that a fetus does not participate in society, as long as that fetus will develop into a human being that does have rights. We can say meaningfully that a pregnant woman who takes cocaine is attacking someone’s rights, even if that person is a future person. But abortion clearly is not part of this category. Since by definition an aborted fetus will not develop into a rights-bearing person, it does not embody any rights. So rights never enter the picture.
This is the question where Pakaluk really starts going off the deep end and starts comparing abortion with slavery.
“It is for women to decide … the moral and religious right of the abortion question for themselves within their own limits…. I repeat that the principle is the right of each woman to decide this abortion question for herself, to have an abortion or not, as she chooses, and it does not become a pro-lifer, or anybody else, to tell the her she has no conscience, that she is living in a state of iniquity… We have enough objects of charity at home, and it is our duty to take care of our own poor, and our own suffering, before we go abroad to intermeddle with other people’s business.”
I arrived at that quotation by taking one of Stephen Douglas’s defenses of slavery, and substituting “abortion” for “slavery”; “woman” for “state”; and “a pro-lifer” for “Mr. Lincoln.”
Again, same answer I’ve given before: what people believe or decide has nothing to do with the reality of the action itself. So this is not an adequate defense of abortion or of any other position. It is, at best, a defense of tolerating abortion (or in the original text, slavery).
But here the anti-abortionist has it all backwards, as is usual for Christians when they try to dip their toe into ethical waters. Slavery is an imposition of harm. Starting new lives is also an imposition of harm. Abortion means ending a possible imposition of harm. Therefore the analogy, at a basic level, should be between slavery and anti-abortionism, not between slavery and abortion. Furthermore, I have discussed in the past how natalism (the ideology that drives anti-abortionism) and slavery are connected. Both are about treating human beings as means to an end, as objectified tools, instead of treating them as human beings.
The argument Pakaluk uses in his analogy is basically a voluntaryist argument (although voluntaryists would recoil at the implications, mainly because they are ideological hypocrites). Voluntaryism is invalid. But since the pro-abortion case does not rely on voluntaryism, the accusation is irrelevant.
Does it raise in your mind any suspicions at all that you might just be on the wrong side?
What, because a comparison has been made between a purely subjectivist defense of slavery and a purely subjectivist defense of abortion? Why? You can use that tactic to compare slavery to any other logically voluntaryist position. So what? Voluntaryism is still bunk.