In the wake of a ‘Pro-Life Society’ being ratified at the University of York, there’s been a lot of debate on the subject and anger directed at them before they’ve even done anything/
If you genuinely believe that a foetus has full personhood at such-and-such a level of development at which abortion remains permissible, then the number of ‘people’ who die before they are born is horrifying. It must be a difficult belief to live with, analogous to vegetarians who see sentient creatures industrially slaughtered, and are treated as if participation in this mass murder is a personal choice that must be respected.
Government action is not the answer to every human tragedy. As a liberal, I believe in personal freedom, and ultimately, this is worth more than human life. We have rights over our own bodies.
I’ve signed up to the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register, and would happily give my bone marrow to save someone’s life. But if I changed my mind, this wouldn’t be illegal, even if it led to the death of someone that only I could save.
If I decide that I never want to give blood, I wouldn’t go to prison for it, even if it’s barely an inconvenience and could save someone’s life.
If I were to remove myself from the organ donor register, that decision would be respected, even though in death I have no need for my organs whatsoever.
If I decide my bones and my blood are not for anybody else, this might make me uncaring, selfish, maybe immoral, but that’s not a reason for the government to decide for me.
If a pregnant person doesn’t want something growing inside of their body, at significant physical and emotional cost, they shouldn’t have to go through a pregnancy, and nobody should be able to force them.
People who say, “What about the rights of the foetus?” are missing something here. The right to life is not a right to whatever one needs to live, as Robert Nozick said. The right to life does not entitle you to someone else’s body, and a moral obligation to protect a life does not justify the imposition of a legal obligation.
Women’s bodies are not a commodity that one may be entitled to. I say ‘women’ because this is a gendered issue, in cause if not in effect, and this is why pro-life campaigners face so much opposition from feminists. While women are not the only people who may want to have abortions, for pro-life campaigners this is often about women: selfish women, women who refuse to be mothers, women who need to have their choices made for them. That familiar refrain, ‘She shouldn’t have had sex if she didn’t want a child,’ shifts the emphasis from the rights of the foetus to life to the duty of women to have children, if they are to be selfish enough to have sex. The idea that women don’t have to be maidens or mothers shouldn’t be radical.
For those who are really pro-life, the priority should be to help people feel able to have children. Discrimination against mothers in the workplace, the stigmatisation of single mothers, the shaming of young parents, poverty, lack of compulsory sex education: these are the problems which are causing abortions, not the fact that medical care is freely available to those who need it. There are all sorts of actions pro-life campaigners can take that would reduce the incidence of abortion without harming personal autonomy: why not give them the benefit of the doubt?
We have seen nothing about the views of the Pro-Life Society at York, and we shouldn’t fling abuse at them because they happen to share a moral view with those who would justify it on misogynistic grounds. Maybe they will campaign for more free hours of childcare for infants, for higher child benefit for single parents who choose to parent full-time, or to narrow the gender pay gap. Maybe they will campaign for compulsory blood, marrow and organ donation, which though unpleasant would at least be consistent. Maybe they will genuinely be pro-life, and not just pro-birth.
It’s perfectly possible to believe abortion is morally wrong, while accepting that people have rights over their own bodies, and that the government shouldn’t be making reproductive decisions for us. It’s possible to be pro-life without being anti-choice or anti-women.