Monday, January 24, 2011
38 Years After Roe vs. Wade: Abortion Still Flunks Morality 101
Last Saturday marked the 38th anniversary of the infamous Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States. Since that ruling, an astounding 52 million children have been killed and there seems to be little on the horizon to suggest even a small reduction in the ever-growing number. The arguments about abortion are admittedly tired and there seems to be little that one can say that has not been said. Nevertheless, in the face of such great evil, it is necessary to review once more why abortion violates basic morality and human rights.
The proponents of abortion, when they are not making exaggerated claims about women’s health and the need to rid the world of disabled persons, have consistently made one simple assertion—that women have a right to control their bodies and that they should not be forced to use their bodies in ways that they would rather not. There is an undeniable logic in this argument; as a lover of liberty, I am persuaded that each individual is the sole owner of her body and that a law that infringes upon that ownership by restricting how a person uses her body violates a basic tenet of justice.
But nature makes the bodily ownership of a woman complicated because there are times in which a woman’s body is the necessary sanctuary for another human being and she cannot exercise unfettered use of her body without doing harm to another and if she does not wish to be a host for that life, she must kill.
Abortion rights advocates have tried to wiggle around this ugly reality of killing by setting arbitrary dates for when an unborn person can rightfully be deemed a person. The most radical pro-choicers have set birth as the moment when a fetus makes the magical transition into personhood. This is absurd. Is there anything substantially different between the being which was previously within the woman’s body and now, outside of it? What is this metaphysical transformation that now renders what was previously a non-person a person with human rights?
Recognizing that this is nonsense, some abortion rights advocates have set viability as the reasonable cut off point for when a fetus become a human person. They argue that prior to viability, the fetus is a non-person because the fetus depends wholly on the woman for survival. But this logic makes independence, the standard upon which human rights depend. This is a dangerous position for human beings who are often partially if not wholly dependent at various points of their existences, most especially at the beginning and the end of life.
Human babies are dependent on their mothers long after birth. No human infant can survive without the constant care and nourishment that their mothers provide. In fact, once a child is born, the infant’s incessant demands on the mother are even more taxing. New mothers find they are actually more restricted by the care required by their new infants than when they were pregnant. Babies require both material resources like clothing and shelter and bodily resources such as breast milk and being held. The new infant’s dependency is so extensive that if the pro-abortionist were actually consistent in his position, he would have to concede that a mother must also have a right to infanticide. Some ethicists, like Peter Singer, are at least intellectually consistent enough to admit this.
For those who are honest enough to admit that abortion is indeed killing a unique human person no different than an infant, some still maintain that the rights of women to control their body trump the need of the infant to receive sustenance from the mother. Where the needs of the child conflict the right of the mother, they claim that it is the mother’s rights that ought to prevail. In short, that child has no rights.
The primary flaw in this argument is failure to realize that rights are often relational. A person can make claims upon another based on the relationship that that person has with the other. The relationship between mother and child makes these otherwise unreasonable demands, just obligations. There is a natural contract between the child and mother—a contract imposed by nature—that women are morally bound to recognize. Claims can be imposed upon a woman by her child which she is obligated to respond to by virtue of the fact that the child is her offspring. The sound of a crying baby might naturally move all of us to compassion or at the very least curiosity, but that very same sound to the ear of a mother constitutes a command.
Children do not ask to be placed into the world and sometimes, women do not even ask that they be placed in their wombs, but nevertheless, here they are, making their claims. The perpetuation of the human race depends upon this natural process in which claims are made upon the bodies of women by other human beings. The only way to silence their demanding voices is to kill them.
And surely, it is wrong to kill another human being who has not used violent aggression against you. There is nothing religious about this claim. One does need to be a Catholic to acknowledge this basic fact of life. All cultures have recognized that it is wrong to kill another human being. The only way to grant a woman unlimited autonomy in her body is to grant her a license to kill. In other words, the woman must be granted the right to transgress against the most basic right of another human being. She must become herself an aggressor.
Only women are asked to offer up their bodies so that another might live; only in a woman’s body does a soul become flesh. Some feminists have described the fetus as a parasite, a leech. So be it. Leeches we all once were. On what grounds do we look down our noses upon a new generation of leeches? Since it is through this parasitic system that human life depends, then let us stand in awe of it. For although our bodies are indeed our own, they are undeserved gifts and how rarely are we granted the opportunity to offer gratitude for this unmerited favor.