Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Why I changed my position on abortion

I'm going to lay out what convinced me to change my view on the legality of abortion this past year or two, both for my own clarity and the interest of others.
First, I'll do what most abortion rights advocates don't do: concede that the fetus and the mother have equal rights to autonomy. I don't believe this, but for the sake of my point, I'll let that go. However, the fetus' own autonomy is dependent upon the mother relinquishing hers, so we now have two equal, competing autonomies. What tips the balance against legal abortions, opponents would say, is that the stakes lean very far in one direction. Time-wise, the mother loses 9 months, and the fetus loses the *potential* for an entire lifetime.
To explore this, I'm going to use some analogies, or "intuition pumps" that are somewhat similar to allow our own intuition to clarify some of the murkiness of the issue. No analogy is perfect since pregnancy is unique with its mix of involuntary actions the body does, and voluntary actions that people do, but I think it clarifies nonetheless.
Suppose a man is dying, and the only way he can survive is if someone else is hooked up to him intravenously for 9 months; he must have an I.V. connect him to someone else and use their circulatory system to filter his blood. Would it be nice if someone volunteered to do this? Definitely. Does the government, another person, or even the sick man himself have the right to force someone else to relinquish their autonomy to do this? I don't think so.
Let's take it a step further and suppose that a man volunteered to be connected, but later reneges on the offer and wants to disconnect. Should the man be forced to continue being connected; abstaining from things like alcohol so his liver can filter enough for the both of them? Does he still have the right to his autonomy? Should he still have the choice to disconnect at his choosing? Yes.
I think this clarifies what many people already believe: In cases such as rape, incest, or medical peril for the mother, there should be the right to abort. I think it also points out that if abortion is legal, it should be legal at any point in the pregnancy.
Now what about the women who could have prevented this situation entirely? Let's use another analogy. Suppose a woman has a child with a rare kidney disease. Suppose the woman knew before her pregnancy that she had these genes and knew there was a decent probability the child would get it. Now at 10 years old, the doctors say the only way the child can possibly survive another year is if the mother gives up one of her kidneys.
Would a mother that deeply cares about her child do this? Of course.
But on the off chance the mother doesn't care enough to undergo the operation, should the mother be legally forced to give up one of her kidneys? No. Whether she knew this might happen years ago or just didn't think about it, her autonomy is her own just as the child has their own.
So even if a woman becomes pregnant through her own volition or carelessness, she does not concede her legal autonomy. I may, considering the details of individual cases, consider her to be morally lacking. I may be able to cite numerous reasons for an abortion to be immoral, but I can't cite a single reason to legally require someone to maintain a pregnancy.
The morality of the situation and legal responsibility of the individual are separate issues.
Remember that in a free society, we begin with all rights and freedoms, and then limit each right only when there is due cause to restrict them.
I could go on since the more I read, the more reasons I find to support abortion rights, but I think I'll stop there because that addresses the main issue I see coming from the other side.

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