Like any compassionate American, I was overjoyed by the news that New York had legalized abortion through every stage of pregnancy. My eyes welled with tears as the World Trade Center shone pink in celebration of the momentous occasion. How appropriate that a building erected in defiance of Islamic terrorism would now stand in defiance of fetal terrorism.
But as I thought more deeply about the issue, I began to see that this law is not quite the victory for freedom and autonomy that I first imagined. It is a good start, but there is much more work to be done. The law allows for a fetus to be terminated at any stage so long as the procedure is needed to protect the life or health of the mother. This qualification is in itself problematic because it puts someone else — likely a man — in the position of judging whether a woman’s reason for procuring an abortion is “acceptable.” No person other than the woman herself can make such a determination.
Perhaps this is a minor problem. Indeed, “health” can mean anything whatsoever. Emotional health, physical health, psychological health, financial health, spiritual health. An abortion is always a matter of preserving health in some form. The authors of the bill obviously wrote it intending that the “restrictions” would restrict no one. It is an admirable effort, yet there is something else to consider.
If a woman decides to end her pregnancy in the third trimester, she is still (sadly) going to have to deal with labor and delivery. The fetus is treated with a fatal dose of medication administered by an injection into its skull and then, after a few days, the woman gives birth to the now terminated fetus. But how is it in the best interest of the woman to administer this dose to the fetus while it is still inside her? Isn’t it a further infringement on her autonomy that she be forced to go through such a procedure? And doesn’t it needlessly put her at risk? Wouldn’t it be more consistent with the pro-choice ethic to evacuate the fetus and then administer the treatment? How do we help and respect the woman by arbitrarily subjecting her to such a physically and emotionally taxing process?
It will be objected that a fetus prior to birth is inside the woman while the fetus after birth is outside. Yes, and so? We have already established that the fetus has no rights of its own. Only the mother’s wellbeing matters here, and her wellbeing would be better served by a post-birth procedure. Let us remember, again, why abortion is good and necessary in the first place:
(1)The woman’s autonomy must be respected.
(2) The fetus is dependent on his mother and thus not a person.
(3) If the fetus is not aborted, it will just become an unwanted child, and we already have enough of those to deal with.
This is essentially the whole argument. And it is a good argument. But every single point applies just as much — perhaps more — to post-birth procedures.
Now you may ask: if we allow post-birth abortions, where do we draw the line? Well, it is not up to us to draw lines, first of all. Abortion is a decision between a woman and her doctor. Nobody is forcing you to get one. The matter should be of no concern to you at all. But if we must speak of “drawing lines,” there clearly is no good reason to draw it right at birth. We cannot draw it in the moments after birth, either. If a woman decides to keep her post-birth fetus for a while, she will still discover that it is an enormous strain on her body, her time, her energy, and her life. In fact, it is much more of an imposition on her autonomy than it was while it was still in her uterus. What if she comes to the conclusion after, say, 2 months or 6 months that motherhood is not the best decision for her? Or what if she gets a major job offer and discovers that the infant fetus makes it difficult to thrive in her new position? Or what if a thousand other scenarios? It’s none of our business in any case. The point is that arguments (1), (2), and (3) all still hold. The infant fetus interferes with her autonomy, it is completely dependent, and it is unwanted. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to consult with a licensed physician and make a decision that is best for her? Besides, post-birth abortions will happen regardless of the law. Isn’t it better that a safe and sanitary facility be provided? Would you prefer that she do it herself in a back alley or a bathtub?
Of course, we cannot draw the line in infancy, either. Toddler fetuses and adolescent fetuses continue to make demands on a woman’s autonomy. They, also, are wholly dependent, and thus not people in the strictest sense. What is a woman supposed to do if she discovers that motherhood is the wrong choice when her fetus turns four or six or just enters middle school? If we do not draw the line anywhere during a fetus’ utero development, why draw lines post-utero? And on what basis?
Am I suggesting that a woman should be able to abort her fetus at any age? No, don’t be silly. Once the fetus has graduated high school and reached the age of emancipation, able to provide for itself, then certainly full personhood is a possibility. But just a possibility. We have already agreed that personhood is based on a fetus’ ability to care for itself. What about, for example, a 23-year-old disabled fetus? What about an adult fetus on welfare? What about homeless fetuses? What about sick and elderly fetuses? What about fetuses who physically develop but never reach the intellectual maturity that could rightly afford them a claim to absolute personhood?
Clearly we cannot, in good conscience, continue to consider all of the fetuses in these categories “people.” Arguments (1), (2), and (3) apply just as well to all of them. Even if they are no longer in the care of their mothers, they still infringe on the autonomy of whoever is forced to provide for them and meet their needs. I would not suggest a mass abortion for all of these creatures — we simply don’t have the facility for such an operation at this point. I think it would be efficient, for the time being, to mark them somehow. Perhaps with a badge or an armband. Something that distinguishes them from real people. Eventually we would plan to move all of these fetuses into one location until a treatment plan can be devised and initiated.
There are other options, too. Until it came under attack by anti-choice radicals, Planned Parenthood had the wonderfully humane policy of using discarded fetuses for medical research. Post-natal fetuses could be put to similar use. It is frankly outrageous and immoral that so many clumps of cells are allowed to hog organs all to themselves while real people living real human lives might need them. Why should one real person be forced to die from organ failure when there are homeless and disabled fetuses with perfectly functional livers and hearts? An eminent humanitarian once proposed harvesting the unwanteds as food. We ought to take this proposal into consideration as well, though it may not be in keeping with the principles of veganism.
I must stress again that all of this will be handled with great professionalism by certified medical practitioners. Under our outmoded and draconian laws, it is not even possible to abort a welfare fetus or a low IQ fetus except through methods that are rather grotesque and filthy — and severely traumatic to the person performing the abortion. I heard about an awful case recently where a woman was seeking to abort her husband (who, she found out only after marriage, was severely underdeveloped intellectually and emotionally) but was forced to hire a mob hitman to handle the task. Anti-choice radicals may wag their fingers at the extremely personal and intimate choice this woman made, but the finger wagging doesn’t change anything. She got the abortion anyway. Our tyrannical, theocratic laws only ensured that the already difficult situation would be even more difficult for all parties concerned.
There are, of course, political concerns to take into account if my plan is adopted. For instance, what do we do about the fact that all of these cellular masses masquerading as people still get to vote? Obviously, since personhood is dependent on physical development and personal self-sufficiency, and only people can vote, we must take voting rights away from the millions of post-birth fetuses who currently and erroneously possess them. Perhaps if some of the non-people are claimed by a real person, and even, let’s say, put to useful work on farms and in factories, then we might be able to count them as, I don’t know, maybe 3/5 of a person. This is just a ballpark estimate.
Anyway, we can get into the particulars later. For now, let’s just agree that the arguments for abortion — compelling and irrefutable as they are — do not pertain only to pre-born fetuses. They can be taken entirely intact and applied to many groups of already-born faux-people. We have confined our arguments to the womb in an effort to appease anti-choice militants, but it is clear that they cannot be appeased. They will not rest until every fetus is given a chance to live. We must show a similar resolve and consistency in the other direction.