Aborting human rights

This type of movement is the antithesis of rational politics. Choice is precisely what an ideal political system maximizes, it is the basic unit of validity in politics. An anti-choice movement is much like a group of mathematicians calling itself anti-counting, or a cooking group that is anti-oven. It is the utmost degree of wrongness.

But of course some people justify fighting against abortion on less laughable grounds. They would contend, for example, that one should not be pro-choice as regards to murder, for example, since murder is a use of force, and frustrates our right of self-ownership. Murder is therefore not an agent of choice : it reduces the choices of the victim, in that it forces him to die. Therefore, to show that a choice should be invalidated, it must be shown that it forces people in such a manner. Which category of action does abortion belong to – more precisely, is abortion anything like murder ?

A strange murder

The people who take life as a barometer of whenever something is a murder or not make a superficial point at best. Of course, that is how we evaluate if a human being was murdered. However, the reason why murder is politically condemnable is not because it destroys life, but rather that it takes away a human being’s right to decide what to do to his body.

No one but the most ferocious eco-fascist would throw a hunter in prison for killing a deer, and that is understandable because other animals do not have rights. The same thing is true if we talk about artificial life – no one is starting an organisation against putting computers in the trash. When our computers start walking around and having comprehension skills rivaling human beings, we will have to start a new ethical discussion, but that is obviously not the case here.

To give another example which will hit closer to home, imagine the number of red globules that exist in a blood sample. Every single one of these globules are alive. Is taking a blood sample murder on a grand scale ? Should we fight for the right of red globules ? What about viruses or bacteria ? Such an idea is ridiculous indeed. Yet these things are a part of our body as much as a foetus is to a pregnant woman, if not more.

Rights are the provision of people living in society, so they may assemble in the most optimal way possible, not something we use to shun people who swat a mosquito. The argument about life is an easy misdirection away from the real issue – which is whenever a foetus has rights to the level that we can claim that abortion is murder.

A foetus is basically a human life in formation in the uterus of the mother. It is certainly not a human being as we understand it, but since it is human, we must examine the question more carefully. If we start from the premise that a right applies to one who can grasp it and use it, such as for children which have limited rights, then we must conclude that a foetus, being unable to grasp, even implicitly, any of the concepts related to life in society, does not have rights. The foetus cannot even live and develop independantly outside of the mother – it cannot regulate its very life.

One may counter this by saying that the foetus is a potential human, and that therefore rights apply to it also. But that is an unreasonable position. Children are potential adults, and yet we do not use that as an argument to take down legal age barriers. Of course the opposite would also be absurd : one cannot justify killing an adult on the grounds that he was a foetus. Similarily, we do not let critically mentally deranged people live their lives fully because they used to be allright.

Anyone who argues against abortion has removed himself from claims of freedom, because he is attacking its very basis : the right to self-ownership

The reason why the argument is misguided is because it confuses actuality with potentiality. Yes, it may happen that the foetus will develop in a human being. However, that has no bearing to the political status of the foetus itself. There is no such thing as a potential murder, such a concept is contradictory : either the foetus owns its own life, or it doesn’t. Its future status is irrelevant. To show how this confusion is caused by the emotional nature of abortion, imagine we declared a mass murderer non-guilty because we predicted he would become an honest citizen in the future. Such a judgment would be decried as a parody of justice – but we then feel free to judge a foetus according to its future attributes (which may or may not come to pass).

Owning the uterus

If there is a stage when foetuses come to be completely independant, it is at birth. However even if, by some magic, foetuses had rights at some stage before birth, an anti-choice position still has big logical problems. The most important one is that of trespassing.

If someone enters your home and squats there, you probably wouldn’t let him stay. You would tell him to leave. If the person refuses or simply cannot understand what you are saying, you might consider using force, or even calling the police. The judge, if he isn’t corrupt of course, wouldn’t accept his excuses as valid – he was there without your consent.

The situation here is much similar with the foetus and the mother, with the exception that the foetus was a product of the mother’s body. The foetus is trespassing, through no fault of its own, in the mother’s uterus. A political resolution of this problem is not in the foetus’ advantage. There is no way for an anti-choice proponent to shrug this problem off without denying self-ownership.

Of course, denying self-ownership is precisely what our society does today. Most people would claim that a woman’s uterus belongs to the state. We already believe that the very atoms of a person’s body does not belong to him, and so we ban cloning. A trifle such as a uterus should not be a big deal if we can gobble that much nonsense.

There is a last thing I fear I must make clear, because my discussions with anti-choice people have shown me that most do not understand this simple fact. The question of morality comes out often, as it does for any social issue. According to socialist reasoning, because taking drugs or having a gun or having an abortion is immoral, these things should be illegal.

However, to directly associate ethical precepts and political principles is misguided at best. A political system exists primarily to help people pursue their values in peace. However, that does not mean that we can take an invalid, absolute judgment about something and erect it as a political principle. Of course, the proposition that “abortion is evil” is nonsensical because ethical propositions cannot be absolute, but also because it has no direct bearing on whenever abortion should be illegal. As we have seen, the choice criteria and natural rights show that abortion is not a illegal action. Any consideration of morality at this point is futile, if we are to speak of lawfulness and societal responsability.

Of course the contrary is also true : abortion is not always the most desirable action to take. It may be argued that there are better ways to cope with a situation of unwanted pregnancy than abortion. I would more or less tend to agree with this position, but it is besides the point. Anyone who argues against abortion has removed himself from claims of freedom, because he is attacking its very basis : the right to self-ownership. As such, most libertarians do not rightly support anti-abortionist sentiments, precisely as they should.