Fetal versus women's rights

News & Politics

As a follow-up to my anti-choice feminism entry, Ben Furman sent in this thoughtful response that pushes the debate in a new direction:

You state: "Sartwell confuses a personal, moral choice -- as in, I, Jane Roberts, will never have an abortion -- with the anti-choice position, which insists that all women make that same choice by making abortions illegal. Contrary to the caricatured image of pro-choice advocates, they include many women who are personally opposed to having an abortion. They just don't think that the state should make the choice for them."
In your preceding quote from Sartwell, I nevertheless read that: "To what extent and up to what point a fetus is part of a woman's body are difficult questions that trouble even as strong an advocate of abortion rights as my wife."
In this point, the assumption is not at all that the state should assert its dominance over an individual woman's choice. Rather, it is that the state might eventually recognize a conflicting "individual right" versus that of the mother. We have, up until now, endured many years of living in a society without a consensus for what exactly constitutes an individual. It is high time that we make such a legal distinction. For what it's worth, children now have lesser rights than full citizens, i.e. adults of "legal age." Fetal rights may be still less - even to the point that they do not pose a conflict at all.
Ethicists and policy makers and need to clarify this. We are coming to a point where we cannot ignore the questions (think embryonic stem cell research) anymore. Rather than fear a slippery slope of discriminatory practices, we should tackle the issue with clear thinking.
Ben's point makes a lot of sense to me because it points to the fact that the Supreme Court avoided addressing this trade-off directly by framing abortion as an issue of privacy. But it is embedded in the very decision, which makes a careful distinction between each of the three trimesters:
State criminal abortion laws, like those involved here, that except from criminality only a life-saving procedure on the mother's behalf without regard to the stage of her pregnancy and other interests involved violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman's qualified right to terminate her pregnancy. Though the State cannot override that right, it has legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman's health and the potentiality of human life, each of which interests grows and reaches a "compelling" point at various stages of the woman's approach to term.[LINK]
In other words, fetal rights are given increasing weight as the pregnancy progresses. Now some who commented on my last entry believe that this is inadequate because life begins at conception. I disagree -- absolutely and utterly. But as Ben suggests it might be time we had a national debate about where we stand on this as a society.

Even as I say that, I wonder about something that another reader RailroadStone wrote in response to the push to teach "intelligent design" in schools:
Do you ever get the idea that we're being played? There are no new arguments, but we keep on arguing.
Intelligent Design hasn't got anything new. It is still pure bunk, but you watch. We'll be back discussing it in another six months with a new and equally committed group of true believers. After that, all these new advances in abortion will necessitate a complete re-hash of that debate, then we can move back onto the complexities of gay marriage.
How can we avoid returning to discussions where we have nothing to gain? ... We need to stop arguing with wingnuts and start reminding them that we've already won this round. What do you think?
So what do you think?

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