During a Q&A, a young woman stood up and said, “It seems you just want to control women’s bodies. You want control of women’s reproductive choices.” I hear this objection often, including from people lobbing it from a distance. The dichotomy offered is that one side represents freedom and choice while the other seeks control and dominance. This view is manifestly wrong.
The first problem is that it presupposes the choice in question is morally legitimate, but this is precisely the point of contention in the abortion debate. The same people who would claim that this is about choice carte blanche recognize there are other things they could conceivably choose to do that society reasonably restricts. They can’t choose to steal the possessions of others or physically abuse toddlers. Those are choices, but morally illegitimate choices.
The defender of abortion objects that those are different situations, but that is an assertion without argument. Why is it different? If they believe that the unborn aren’t human in the same way the victims of thievery and child abuse are then they need to argue for that point. They need to answer the objective question of what exactly the unborn is rather than simply assert what they subjectively believe the unborn isn’t.
Do they believe the unborn offspring’s location inside the mother or use of her body are the compelling factors even if the fetus is fully human? That the woman is allowed to kill a human being if it resides in her or makes unwanted use of her organs? If that is their point, then they need to understand this isn’t even seen as a clear justification to one of the most accomplished pro-choice writers. Kate Greasley, a pro-choice advocate and Oxford legal scholar, argues in her book Arguments About Abortion that if the fetus is fully human with a basic right to life then arguments for abortion rights amount to arguments for justifiable homicide. We rightly empathize with women and families facing unexpected pregnancies, but that doesn’t rise to the level of moral or legal justification for killing another human being. Greasley acknowledges the burdens of pregnancy while pointing out those obvious and serious burdens are not proportional to the other party, the fetal human, sacrificing her life. One of the foremost defenders of the pro-choice position recognizes that if the fetus is full member of human family then we are morally and legally justified restricting that choice just as we do other morally illegitimate choices. That means we all have to answer one single question, “What is the unborn?”
Another problem is in the claim that abortion choice necessarily empowers all women while the pro-life view seeks some weird moral hegemony. Consider the different views. The pro-life view is an inclusive view of human life. All human life ought to be treated with dignity and respect. The motivation behind pro-life efforts isn’t control. If someone warned me that I couldn’t kill my children when they were toddlers it would have been nonsensical to reply, “You want to control my household!” Of course, they didn’t. They wanted my behavior within my household reasonably morally restricted. I could do all sorts of things in my household, but that one choice violated the right to life of others. Among all the various choices I could make, this one choice was off the table. It is the same with abortion. The inclusive view of human value doesn’t seek dominance. It seeks respect. Respect for all human life including those human beings in the earliest stages of development.
Contrast that with the idea that choice trumps all. Once the decision has been made that the choice to contract a third party to help us kill our offspring before they are born is morally legitimate then the only thing left to decide is who gets to make the choice. The young woman in the audience clearly believes the choice resides with the woman. The Chinese government clearly believed the choice belonged to them when they forced women to get abortions against their will. I heard about a man whose adult daughter got pregnant. He relentlessly bullied his daughter and his wife to force the abortion even though his daughter wanted to give birth to his granddaughter. This man clearly believed his choice was the best. Another young woman fled across the country from a boyfriend who insisted day in and day out that his life had no place for an unwanted child. She had to get an abortion. He believed his choice mattered. I know from my time in pregnancy centers this type of pressure isn’t rare and can lead to women “choosing” abortion.
There are very few studies on how often women are coerced into choosing abortion in the United States. Those pro-choice advocates who oppose laws looking to expose and end coerced abortions see the problem of coerced abortions as a much smaller subset of a larger problem of partner abuse. Still, they don’t deny coerced abortion happens. Consider this excerpt from an article at Rewire News:
Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a medical doctor and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, has been researching domestic and sexual violence issues for more than 20 years. She told TAI that while her research has uncovered some evidence of coerced abortion, there is not enough data to show it being a pervasive problem.
What can we discern from that excerpt? Women are being coerced into aborting children they want to have, but I guess it is a small enough percentage that they are just taking one for the choice team? I really don’t understand the dismissive attitude some pro-choice advocates have for this issue. I’m not surprised by it, but I don’t get it.
The pro-life position is simple. No human being is free to destroy another human life without extreme justification. Once we embrace the idea that abortion is a morally legitimate choice, we open the door for all sorts of people to try to exercise their will on the matter. Women get to make their own choices except when they don’t. The greater point is that abortion choice hasn’t empowered all women. It has fully empowered one thing. The destruction of innocent human lives on an incomprehensible scale, and some women, along with their unborn offspring, have become its victims.