Challenge Response: Abortion Permissible – Nobody Has the Right to Use My Body

Posted: February 24, 2011 by Alan Shlemon in Do the Right Thing, Weekly Challenge

Here’s my response to this week’s challenge:

  1. Ryan says:

    So your premises against it are:

    1) The arguments don’t parallel, because one situation is natural (fetus) and the other artificial (violinist) in purpose.
    Response: This distinction is dogmatic. Why does the purpose of something matter if it can be used for another? Simply because a fire was created to heat does not mean it would be a different substance, or what you seem to imply, morally incorrect, simply because you use it to cook instead. Likewise, simply because something is natural or artificial doesn’t determine what it can be used to do, and what is its best purpose. This distinction is purely arbitrary.
    – The major problem with this premise is that, from your logic, it seems to assume a ‘natural order to things’ that is predefined, and is morally correct to follow. This cannot be proven true. It cannot even be proven true that ‘artificial’ items are anything more than a combination of natural items either.

    2) Mothers have a special obligation to their children.
    Response: Socially, it is perceived mothers have an obligation to their children. Coincidentally, the human race wouldn’t get very far if we didn’t have this social standard. I agree with this to an extent – and if it is assumed that a child is human at inception, then this seems correct. But there is a problem: If we also accept human rights in general, then that child should have a freedom to self-determination simply by being human, something that is not given until they are of 18 years of age. On the opposite side of things, children could find them self claiming this right over their parents until they are of extremely high age – becoming unproductive members of society who mooch off their parents.
    – I agree with this distinction, but it seems necessary to find a common boundary between Human Rights (Which includes the liberty to be self-determining, as in relying on ones self) and age. It is also necessary to distinguish if, when established, this boundary can be anything more than dogmatic.

    3) Most pregnancies are caused by consensual behavior.
    Reponse: True. This argument was only used as an example for abortion after rape in the article itself.
    – This isn’t a premise against the morality of abortion though; it’s simply a statistical fact.

    * * *

    Your quote, “In what situation can you, after having been victimized yourself, turn around and victimize another completely different person”, seems to raise some questions – but you do present this in a rather biased way. At this point, it was not consensual that the mother “attached the violinist/fetus” to her body, but it was against her will. Therefore, under premise 2 (Your only premise that seems to have possible truth and merit in this argument), having not chosen in favor of the dependency she has not committed to the child/violinist, and is under no obligation to follow through at the expense of her body and time.

    Likewise, I realize you didn’t say the rapist should be killed for raping, but if it is you seem to concede some premises used to defend abortion – which is contradictory:
    1) Human life beings at conception. (Conceded in this argument; although I don’t agree, and the author, based on the ending of the article, may not as well)
    2) All humans have a right to life.
    – If this right is shared equally, like all rights, how can one deprive another of it, despite their actions? The only possible moral situation in forbidding this right would be to save one more innocent than another. In a case where one must choose between the life of the fetus and the rapist, the fetus is seemingly more deserving of life.
    – If we were to say that the punishment for rape should be death, or rather, the punishment for anything should be death, it would completely ignore this premise – and thus, it would seem abortion would be okay. (This seems odd, as Conservative leaning politicians typically support the death penalty and deny abortion, when Liberal leaning politicians do the opposite)
    – Although the punishment for rape is a completely different argument, if we were to punish it with the death penalty, it would seem we are saying that the “Woman’s Right to Her Body is stronger than Rapists Right to His Life”. This could entail another future blog, perhaps?

    * * *

    As for your case of Reductio Ad Absurdum, have you even read the article? Everything was debatable up until here, but Thomson addresses this point in Part 7:

    “Surely we do not have any such “special responsibility” for a person unless we have assumed it, explicitly or implicitly. If a set of parents do not try to prevent pregnancy, do not obtain an abortion, but rather take it home with them, then they have assumed responsibility for it, they have given it rights, and they cannot now withdraw support from it at the cost of its life because they now find it difficult to go on providing for it. But if they have taken all reasonable precautions against having a child, they do not simply by virtue of their biological relationship to the child who comes into existence have a special responsibility for it. They may wish to assume responsibility for it, or they may not wish to. And I am suggesting that if assuming responsibility for it would require large sacrifices, then they may refuse. A Good Samaritan would not refuse–or anyway, a Splendid Samaritan, if the sacrifices that had to be made were enormous. But then so would a Good Samaritan assume responsibility for that violinist; so would Henry Fonda, if he is a Good Samaritan, fly in from the West Coast and assume responsibility for me.”

    I’m somewhere between both your and Thomsons opinion on this matter. It seems like a line must be drawn between the parents obligations based on past decisions and the success of the human race; rights of the parents to not support the child with their own resources must be revoked at a point.

    This seems why we have protection, in different layers:
    1) Contraceptives.
    2) Abortion.
    3) Adoption.
    4) Taking the child home.
    The question of where to establish this ‘obligatory line’, where the parent is obligated to care for the child, seems a good question indeed (And another area worthy of a blog). Surely the mother and parents must be obligated if they take the young child home. But should the mother be obligated after the mere failure of a contraceptive, despite her efforts? It almost seems unfair to say that she must endure 9 months of hardship for the life of another – as the article says, it would be nice if she did so, but she’s hardly obligated, as she did try to stop it. Of course, in a case of rape it seems the violinist argument is still just (as your 1st premise is completely arbitrary) as comparison.

    • Amy Hall says:

      It seems like a line must be drawn between the parents obligations based on past decisions and the success of the human race

      As soon as the treatment of humans starts to be determined by "the success of the human race"–or the success of any one race or group–rather than by individual rights, people become expendable, so I would caution you, based on history, that this is a dangerous way to determine how to treat the weak and helpless among us. If we believe the only good is the success of the human race, and that is how we start to measure our actions, I guarantee that many individuals will suffer.

      The proper question to be asking here is not about the success of the race but about the rights of the individual whose life is at stake.

      And to say that it’s only a “social perception” that mothers have a responsibility to their children, but they do not actually have any real, provable responsibility, is disturbing to say the least. The responsibility of a mother toward her child doesn’t exist merely as a survival mechanism. It’s actually a moral good. And I think that despite your reasoning to the contrary, you would be highly repulsed by a mother who threw her child into a garbage can. But why shouldn’t she? We have plenty of people already in this country. The country doesn’t depend in the slightest on that one child living. And yet, we all know it’s really and truly wrong, unnatural, and grotesque for a mother to dispassionately kill rather than nurture her own children. And our reaction to this kind of behavior has nothing to do with whether or not the mother intended to get pregnant.

  2. BOB says:

    ”The question of where to establish this ‘obligatory line’, where the parent is obligated to care for the child, seems a good question indeed”

    Although abortion is the topic being debated here the impact of alcohol consumption during pregnancy should also be considered when the question of parental obligation to the unborn is brought up.

  3. Ryan says:

    @ Amy –

    When we’re speaking Philosophically, rights MUST be questioned, as anything else should be. Despite this, you will find few people who champion Human Rights as strongly as I do in my Political opinions.

    The reality is, the obligation mothers have to there children is only made up of social mores and natural instinct. In the same way you can’t prove causality, you can’t prove an obligation. This isn’t ‘disturbing’, it’s a philosophical axiom. Despite this, I agree that the responsibility she has is a moral good and even necessary. However, a pacifist approach to ‘not responding to the child’s needs’ can be seen as morally neutral. I disagree, but only after a standard of ‘taking responsibility’ has been adopted. Without responsibility, or retribution, we would be unable to point any fingers at anybody, and people would be responsible for actions that are not their own, even if it meant the improvement of society. This is why we have human rights, and in the case of abortion, the mothers is important.

    As for your case of how we react to child abuse, it seems true. However, in your example it seems the mother did not set the child for adoption or try to abort it, and thus, seems to have ‘allowed the situation to grow in to a responsibility’ by taking the child home. Simply ‘not wanting to have a child’ and doing nothing to prevent it is the equivalent of not wanting to die, but jumping out of a plane.

    However, your first example of society vs. the individual intrigues me. Would you kill one innocent to save a thousand innocents? Would you consider the action good? What about the results?

  4. Matt says:

    this does not add to the discussion at all, but i found it hilarious that he giggled right after he said “sex”