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Wednesday, May 28, 2003



More attention paid to womb than to the woman herself.

That is Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman's take on the mentally disabled woman in Florida who is pregnant because she was raped.

Goodman is angry that this woman wasn't protected from rape and sees the ungainliness in a heightened interest in her that is due to her child and not to her. The fact that the government can't prevent rape, though, isn't a reason to suppose that it is therefore illicit for governments to protect 6-month-old fetuses.

Goodman quickly seques into her main concern:

"If an ''unborn child'' carries the same legal weight as the woman, so much for abortion rights. If someone can be convicted of murdering an ''unborn child,'' how long before a doctor can be so accused, or a woman?"

So much for abortion rights?

This reaction is fascinating. Everyone knows that states with fetal homicide laws specifically exempt abortions. They can hardly do otherwise.

So why this frantic concern that if states choose to resent the murder of unborn babies that their mothers have chosen to bear, pretty soon there'll be no more Roe v Wade?

The claim is that regardless of whether a mother believes that her unborn child is just as much of a person as she is, the state must never, ever agree with her.

In other words, the debate about abortion--as far as Ellen Goodman is concerned--simply IS a debate about the moral status of the fetus, and it is a debate where the state is obliged to affirmatively assert the non-personhood of the unborn.

That's pretty shaky ground, especially when many people are pro-choice not because they think unborn children aren't real people--they may be agnostic on that--but because they hesitate to force women who (rightly or wrongly) don't see an unborn child as a real human being to go through a pregnancy against her will.

See, for instance, Baude's recent response to Sara Butler's The Abortion Post to End All Abortion Posts, where he writes:

"I tentatively support some abortion for precisely the same reason that Sara doesn't--humility. I don't know if a fetus is a human being, and I can't subject unwilling women to hours of misery (years sometimes--it isn't fun to bring up a child one does not want, not for the mother nor for the child) for a creature I wasn't even sure was human."

(Creature? Creature?? Might it be a very small panda or perhaps an armadillo? But that's another post.)

See also what should now be referred to as the Cigar and Cucumber argument and if Blogger is continuing to defy permalinks, go to Summa Contra Mundum and scroll to The Socratic Dialogue from May 27.

To return briefly to the main focus of my own little blog, if we are all to agree that the personhood of the fetus is not completely straightforward in the way that the personhood of a two-week-old baby is completely straightfoward unless you are Peter Singer, think of how strange it is that anyone can maintain with a straight face that the only emotion women feel after abortion is relief.

Does anyone seriously believe that it is in the nature of womankind as we know it to have an abortion as a frightened 17-year-old and then to never henceforward have thoughts cross your mind about whether what you aborted was a real baby? If people who haven't personally aborted a child struggle with this question, as they do, and often with passion and distress--is it such a stretch to suppose that these same questions might cross in a considerably more tormenting way the minds of those who have chosen abortion?

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