With the murder of George Tiller over the weekend, abortion is no doubt a topic on the top of many minds. Dr. Tiller was one of three doctors in the U.S. who performed late-term abortions before being gunned down by Scott Roeder at his church in Wichita, Kansas (see my post about his murder and right-wing terrorism here). There is no question that Mr. Roeder’s action was a heinous and cowardly act of violence that should never be tolerated. More disputed is the right a woman has to an abortion.
In my previous post, I noted that abortion “is and should always be an inalienable right for women.” A commenter named Roark disputed this assertion. I had said, “So-called ‘pro lifers’ ignore the actual life involved: the mother’s.” Roark responded by saying, “Talking as if the womans life is the only ‘actual’ life involved is absurd” because “babies are not pieces of meat that should be arbitrarily destroyed.” But that is a strawman. I never made any such argument, and never would. But I would first like point out Roark’s use of the word “babies.” He also later stated, abortion is “destroying the life of a child.” This is an emotional ploy (fallacy) used by “pro lifers” because the word “baby” or “child” elicits more of a response than using words like “fetus,” “embryo,” or “zygote.” Babies and children are none of those. Babies and children are actual human beings, born and physiologically and physically independent of the mother. Having an abortion is not the same as killing an infant.
So now the argument becomes “fetuses, embryos, zygotes, etc. are all life and so have rights and cannot be aborted.” This is what, I think, Roark meant when he replied that a mother’s life is not “the only ‘actual’ life involved.” This is very true. I misspoke: a mother’s life is not the only “actual life involved,” but the only actual human being‘s life involved. Zygotes are a form of life, yes. But they are not human beings. That’s an important distinction that must be made. So, does the fact that fetuses (etc.) are alive mean they now have the same rights you and I have? The answer is no. Many things are alive: trees, squirrels, weeds, cattle, etc. are all just as alive as you and I. The fact that something is alive does not transfer it human rights. As we see, it is the quality of being a human being that transfers you these rights. And this is broadly consistent with the Constitution of the United States. A fetus (etc.) is not a human being and does not have the same rights you and I have. This is why Roark’s argument that we imprison people for violating others’ rights is a faulty one for arguing against abortion. The fetus has no right to exist in the woman against her permission. (Yes, fetuses are potential human beings, just as acorns are potential oak trees. No one argues, though, that acorns are oak trees.)
But let’s be generous and assume fetuses, zygotes, etc. are human beings that have the same rights you and I do. (If we make this assumption and still affirm a woman’s right to an abortion, then our argument becomes even stronger.) Even now, can we claim that a fetus has the right to exist inside the woman against her will? Again, the answer is no. There exists no right to live inside another human being. A woman cannot be said to be violating anyone’s rights by having an abortion because there is no right to live by the efforts of others, there exists no right to enslave. We can easily engage in a thought experiment to demonstrate the truth behind this statement: Let’s assume some future technology allows sick patients to be medically connected to healthy individuals, thus keeping the patient alive. Would it be legally acceptable, moral even, to connect these patients to unwilling individuals so that they may be kept alive? Here we are talking about saving the lives of actual human beings but at the sacrifice of the body rights of others. Can anyone legitimately defend this? I believe not. There exists no right to live inside another person, and so a woman has the absolute and inalienable right to an abortion.