ifeminists.com: A central gathering place and information center for individualist feminists.   -- explore the new feminism --
introduction | interaction | information

ifeminists.com > introduction > editorials

From the Forum: Partial-Birth Abortion
June 10, 2003

A friend asks what I think about the partial-birth abortion ban passed by Congress last week. A fair question and a reminder of the necessity to write about abortion once more even tho' the issue has become more complex and difficult for me to enunciate.

I remain http://www.zetetics.com/mac/abort.htm pro-choice on the grounds of "a woman's body, a woman's right" and I argue the legal issues along natural rights lines that *basically* follow Rothbard's sketching of the argument. (By "legal" I mean that an act does not violate natural rights and should not be prohibited by law.) My moral take on the issue, especially re: partial-birth abortion, has changed dramatically. My moral response is rooted in the fact that I place a high value on all human life. Logically and as a practical reality, this means I place a value on the potential for life (the fetus) -- the closer the potential comes to actualization, the higher the value. This is a different analysis than I rendered years ago when I considered the fetus to be merely a body part to be maintained or discarded as such, particularly in the earliest stages of pregnancy. I still argue that the woman must have autonomy and ultimate control over the decision to continue or to abort a pregnancy, but I no longer consider discarding a fetus to be a trivial matter. It is a profoundly serious one with moral implications. I could no longer bring myself to have an abortion. I would try to talk girlfriends out of undergoing the procedure...the further along the pregnancy was, the more assiduous would be my attempt. But I would picket for their right to make their own decision at their own cost. {Yes, I am aware of the "responsibility argument" and I've countered it a few times, including in the article linked above.)

To explain the conflict between the legal and the moral on the issue of abortion from another angle.... My response to circumstances such as war or other violence is not merely an analysis of why that circumstance is illegal (by which I mean it violates natural rights); it is also a deep emotional and moral repugnance. It is rare for my analysis of the legality of a circumstance to sharply conflict with my moral reaction to it. One such issue is the torture of animals. I do not subscribe to any theory of animal rights and, so, I do not see how injury to an animal is illegal. Nevertheless, were I to witness the torture of a dog, I would be filled with such horror and outrage that I might well intercede to keep the owner from proceeding. I would acknowledge that the intercession was a violation of the dog owner's "property rights" in the animal and I would be willing to pay the ensuing fine or penalty. In many ways, abortion is not comparable...I use the example only to illustrate a situation in which I feel emotional and moral repugnance over an entirely legal practice. Late term -- or "partial-birth" abortion -- fills me with a similar revulsion. Yet I do not see how the law can rightfully demand a woman to sustain the life of another being at the expenses of her circulatory system, the breath that goes into her chest, the food she ingests. If a woman cannot say touch her skin and say, "this is my body...everything under this skin belongs to *me,*" then there is no basis for natural rights, individual rights. There is no basis for libertarianism. After all, libertarian theory is based on a harmony of interests between rights-bearing individuals not a Hobbesian state of nature, it is based on the universalizability of rights...

As to the specifics of the ban passed by Congress, it is clearly another attempt to prohibit abortion per se by attacking its weakest links. (The other most popular method has become "law through the backdoor" -- that is, law established by courts, specifically the court decisions in those cases re: fetuses harmed by 3rd parties being legal entities who deserve legal status separate from the injured pregnant woman. But even on pro-life terms, the Congressional ban may be bad law. I agree, in part, with the criticisms offered to Congress by http://www.lewrockwell.com/paul/paul98.html Rep. Ron Paul who is pro-life and voted *for.* I reject his belief that abortion is infanticide, of course, but I think the ban -- to the extent that it depends upon Roe v. Wade -- does not directly address the issue of abortion rights and leaves open a tangled maze of contradictions. Although Roe v. Wade had a salutary effect on access to abortion, it also muddied the debate considerably, making a woman's right to her own body dependent upon technicalities -- that is, privacy and state rights. So... that's all the time I have today to share my thoughts on what is becoming *the* most important issue for women.

Originally posted on the ifeminists.com discussion forum, June 7, 2003.

ifeminists.com > home | introduction | interaction | information | about

ifeminists.com is edited by Wendy McElroy; it is made possible by support from The Independent Institute and members like you.