Abortion Rights

Views_of_a_Foetus_in_the_Womb_detailIn an earlier article I have argued for a woman’s absolute right to abort her embryo or foetus. This was based on the fundamental principle that the origin of rights is not a human shape or a human genome, but the possession of a thinking mind. The same reasoning implies that a newborn also has no rights – but except in special circumstances the mother no longer has the right to end its life.

Recent discussions indicate a need to clarify what this actually means in practice.

A critical point is that we must distinguish between rights and morality. It is important to properly identify where rights lie, because that defines what laws are proper: where it is proper to use force to stop or impose certain actions. Since rights stem from a thinking mind and a foetus doesn’t have one, there should be no law limiting a woman’s right to abort, even late term. However her rights after birth extend only so far as abandonment (giving up the right to look after the baby). But that means giving up all rights re the baby: so she then has no right to stop another person from taking over its care. The one exception is where ending its life is actually good for it (mercy killing): in other words, the mother has the right to do what is best for her baby – or give it up. Obviously such cases would have to be subject to objective medical advice.

Many people react emotionally to such ideas, but a little thought indicates how little a problem it actually is. The very fact that they would recoil from allowing an infant to die from neglect just because its mother doesn’t want it shows that there are plenty of people around to take over its care: including them (I will leave it to you to consider the morality of someone who wishes to force someone else to do what they are unwilling to do themselves; or the wisdom of trying to force a mother to look after a child she would prefer to be dead!).

In practice, in our technological society most births are prevented by contraception, and the great majority of abortions are early term. The few which are late term are generally medical in nature.

As for the rest: again, that is the mother’s right. However note that there is an extra dimension here. Somebody has to perform the abortion, and in a free society that can only be by voluntary agreement. If I were a doctor and a woman asked me for a late term abortion without any good reason, I would instead advise her to have the child and give it up for adoption; in fact I would refuse to perform an abortion under those circumstances. The reason is that any healthy human life is a value to me, and to plenty of others (it can be very hard to find a child to adopt): therefore if a mother doesn’t want her baby and it makes no medical difference to her whether it is aborted or adopted, I would opt for adoption.

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