I hate to write about abortion again – people might mistakenly think it’s a “Big Issue” for me – but this objection brought itself forward in my mind, and I have to get it out.
There are two premises that I cannot seem to find good reason to deny:
- Abortion deprives a distinct and biologically human organism* of a vital future right.
- In any scenario involving two human organisms, one of which is fundamentally dependent on the other, where there is a conflict of rights between the two, prudence demands that, ceteris paribus, the autonomous party allow her rights to be abrogated (especially when they are of lesser importance) in order that the dependent party’s rights are satisfied.
The first premise is merely a definition which I think is quite defensible. The second, on the other hand, is a matter of prudence: if we have to choose which human gets to have her rights validated when there is a conflict (given the above situation), the non-autonomous individual’s rights trump the autonomous party’s.
The evidence I have for this matter of prudence is largely that which I feel as a parent: if my children, who depend on me for their survival, require something (time, resources, etc.) that will deny me something in return (as is very common in parenthood), then I am obligated as a parent to make the sacrifice. It would take an extreme case to bring about any potential counterexamples: for instance, if one’s child is standing in front of an oncoming train, I might have a hard time saying that it is obligatory for any given parent to put herself in front of the train in order to save the child (although I am of the personal conviction that I would feel obligated given those circumstances). There are, as such, many cases where such an action would be supererogatory: it would be a great personal sacrifice that would befit a parent’s general responsibility to protect his or her child as much as is humanly possible but not necessarily immoral if not performed. (Indeed, if a parent did not make this choice, then they are likely deserving of compassion rather than condemnation.)
If I am right and this premise holds, then it is equally applicable to the type of parenthood that obtains upon conception (the genesis of a biological child). This would seem to demolish many pro-abortion arguments, especially the notion that the mother’s right to bodily autonomy supersedes any rights of the fetus since the mother’s autonomy (which the fetus lacks) is precisely the reason why the mother should make the sacrifice in the vast majority of circumstances (see here for some more circumstantial considerations). In the act of procreation, the woman assumes a responsibility as a mother to her child that demands obligation. Abortion is thus an outright violation of that responsibility – not mere negligence, but willful violation.
Thus, I come to the following syllogism (Pind = ‘independent party’; Pdep = ‘dependent party’):
- For any action A performed by Pind, it will be immoral if the net shift in rights from Pind to Pdep results in an outcome beneficial for Pind and detrimental to Pdep.
- The deprivation of a fundamental right to Pdep in order to secure another for Pind results in a positive net shift to Pind.
- Therefore, any such A will be immoral.
Since this class of actions seems directly relevant to abortion, it would appear to be both valid and sound.
Have I missed something? This seems a reasonable objection to abortion along grounds that are not religious.
*This is true even in the cases of identical twins and chimaeras: there is at least one biologically human organism which is genetically distinct from its parents.