an After abortion

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Monday, April 19, 2004

Good Monday morning to all. A little later today I will be posting a long entry on a remarkable article in the May edition of Elle about a woman's reaction to her abortion.

I notice that there's a post below with over 100 comments. It's about feminism and abortion. I haven't read the comments--I've been in and out of the hospital visiting my dad and spending time with out-of-town relatives who came in because of his surgery.

Some people who advocate feminism feel very strongly that abortion is the bedrock on which rests any chance that women have of living a meaningful life. Without abortion, women would be a permanent underclass.

Other feminists, including those at Feminists for Life, think that abortion itself is an instrument that is used to further oppress women. As these pro-life feminists see it, instead of correcting the institutional arrangements and societal pressures that cause some pregnancies to be viewed with hostility and horror, as something that must immediately be got rid of or everyone's life will go to hell in a handbasket, abortion provides the easy--but not the honorable--way out. Abortion removes any pressure to make meaningful changes to institutions and patterns in our society that are such that some pregnancies are regarded with disdain and fear.

One feminist idea that ought to be dismissed out-of-hand is the idea that because a pregnancy occurs inside a woman's body, that means that without further discussion it is clearly morally permissible for a woman to do whatever she wants with that pregnancy.

If a pregnancy was a body part like a fingernail or an arm, that might be true. (Although I imagine that if human beings occasionally went through periods of emotional duress under which it temporarily seemed like a good idea to have their arm amputated, people might think that doctors who took advantage of these temporary feelings were morally depraved.)

However, the question of whether we can do whatever we wish with our bodies is secondary to the question of the moral status of fetuses. Contrary to the oft-used slogan, "It's my body and I'll do whatever I want with it," women in fact can't use their bodies any old which way under the law.

I'm not allowed to use my body to pour arsenic into the coffee someone is about to drink. I'm not allowed to use my body to push your body over a cliff. Generally speaking, the rights of one person end where the rights of another person begin. So, the question has to be whether the fetus is a person. If it is, then the fact that it is temporarily inside a woman's body doesn't give her the right to do whatever she wishes with it.

There are lots of different secular arguments about whether a fetus is or isn't a person. I'm not going to get into that. My point is that slogans that start and end with rhetoric along the lines of "keep your laws off my body" ignore the fact that quite apart from abortion, the law already seriously constrains what we can and can't do with our bodies, and don't even begin to get into questions about the moral status of fetuses.

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