About Texas or, Why the Vote Wasn’t About Women’s Rights


Photo from the Christian Science Monitor

Photo from the Christian Science Monitor

The Texas legislature may or may not have passed a bill that restricted abortions (they actually didn’t pass it), but regardless of how you feel on the situation, we must remember that abortion is not about women’s rights. At least, abortion is no more about women’s rights than slavery was about property ownership. Prior to the emancipation of slaves in the United States, owners made multiple arguments that they had a right to property. Thus, they were able to frame the debate away from the humanity of the slaves and onto their own rights as property owners. And no one would or could argue that property owners have a right to do with their property as they wish; but that right doesn’t extend to another person because a person cannot be property.

Likewise, with abortion, no one would argue that women can’t do what they want to their bodies. This is why we don’t have lawmakers attempting to pass laws against women wearing make up, getting tattoos, wearing pants, and so on. While there may be some who hold onto vestiges of patriarchy, the core issue for the pro-life movement isn’t trying to place restrictions on women, it’s trying to protect human life. Thus, Wendy Davis is not a hero, she wasn’t “brave” in what she did (“brave” is highly overused; how is it brave to stand with the majority or to stand when there are literally no consequences to your stance?). Rather than seeking to protect human life, she instead focused on protecting property rights and laying claim to another human as property.

At the same time, we shouldn’t celebrate the legislature that brought forth the bill because the bill itself failed to truly be pro-life. While I am all for restricting abortions, I do think we have an obligation as a society to offer up alternatives to mothers who seek an abortion. The child being born has no choice in the welfare of his mother or what she can or cannot provide. As the child is an innocent member of our society from the moment of conception, we owe it to the child to protect her. This means that any bill that seeks to restrict abortions should also increase funding for pre-natal care and post-natal care. I would go so far as to say that we should provide daycare to mothers who choose not to adopt, but need a job or need to go back to school. Being pro-life means more than being against abortion, it means actually valuing the dignity of life. It makes no sense to respect human dignity on one hand and call for an end to abortion, but then adopt some type of Ayn Rand belief that we’re all on our own and only the strongest will survive. Restricting abortions and then restricting aid isn’t pro-life because it looks to inhibit life.

To quote something I wrote a while back:

I would argue that people on both sides of the abortion debate tend to unnecessarily complicate the issue, adding in aspects that, while emotionally relevant, are morally irrelevant. For instance, that some women may face psychological trauma from having an abortion is tragic, but it’s not an argument against the immorality of abortion. Likewise, that the outlawing of abortions of a non-emergency nature may lead some women to seek back alley abortions does not change whether or not abortion is morally right or wrong. Both objections tug at the emotions of the person rather than the intellect; but being human means we reason through our intellect and seek to suppress our emotions, especially in difficult matters.

With the above in mind, the abortion issue isn’t actually all that complicated; rather, it boils down to a few simple issue.

First, is the fetus a human being (i.e. can we give the scientific classification of homo sapien to the fetus)? If not, then what objection is there to abortion? If so, then we must move on to another set of questions. I would argue that scientifically we have no reason not to classify the fetus as a homo sapien: The fetus (really, the zygote) has a unique genetic code, is independent of the mother (the fetus relies on the mother, but is not a part of the mother in the same way a toe or an arm is a part of the mother), is already an individual, has an autonomous body, and so on. From a scientific perspective there’s little ground to say that a fetus is not a member of the human race (not to mention how problematic it is to say that a fetus becomes a human, as though humans could produce something that is non-human, yet autonomous and living).

Thus, if a fetus is a human, we move onto the second part of the issue, which is whether or not humans have innate value or if value is earned. If value is earned then we must establish a certain criteria for what it means to have value (that is, what it is to have rights, specifically the right to live). Of course, such a criteria must be non-arbitrary, lest we say that those with freckles are not humans of value or something similar. Thus, the criteria would have to be universally applicable. I would contend that such a criteria can only be universally applicable when it states that value is innate to human nature and not something earned. To argue otherwise always borders on special pleading and generally creates an arbitrary standard for what it means to be a person of value.

With the second point in mind, we are left with a third issue to face; if the fetus is a human being who has rights, do those rights (specifically the right to life) hold sway over the mother’s right to her body, which the fetus is using? That seems to be the main issue concerning the philosophical debate surrounding abortion. The question really is, “Does our location determine our rights, specifically if that location hinders or inhibits another human being?” If our location does matter, then we must see if that can be applied to the abortion debate. If our location has no correlation to our rights, then where is the argument for abortion?

When we sit down and think about it, the abortion debate really boils down to those three issues. While there might be some complexities within those issues, the abortion issue itself is not “complex.” It’s really a matter of answering three questions. Furthermore, answering those three questions goes beyond one-liners and slogans that are better suited for protest rallies, but requires deep thinking; after all, this is a very important issue. If abortion is morally wrong, meaning it is the taking of an innocent human life, then our government is allowing a moral atrocity by allowing abortion. If, on the other hand, there is nothing morally wrong with abortion, then those who speak out against it are unwittingly attempting to rob women of their rights.

What is going on in Texas isn’t about women’s rights. It’s about what rights do human beings have. If the fetus is not a human or if we do not have innate human rights, then by all means, a woman has every right to an abortion. But if a fetus is a human being and humans do have innate rights (primarily the right to life), then a woman (or a man) does not have the right to willfully terminate an innocent human being.

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4 thoughts on “About Texas or, Why the Vote Wasn’t About Women’s Rights

  1. The property rights argument is an interesting one. But the slavery example doesn’t really fit because slaves CAN be freed from slave owners, whereas a two week old foetus cannot. A foetus is also part of the mother’s body, particularly in early pregnancy. A foetus starts off as an egg which 100% belongs to the mother. It takes 9 months for that egg to become a separate (although still dependent) entity at birth.

    We would all probably argue that a foetus not long from birth is indistinguishable from a newborn baby – in both cases they are very distinct as ‘people’ in their own right, even if one is still inside the womb. By the same logic we might argue that a foetus not long after conception is indistinguishable from the mother’s egg / body which is hers by right. It’s the same basic argument.

    As for the issue of the ‘ownership of people’, it needs to be pointed out that to enforce laws forbidding abortion is to claim the right to ‘own’ a woman’s body. A ‘law’ just means the willingness to initiate force against someone – or to take ‘ownership’ of them (example: slavery). Anyone who supports a ban on abortion is, by definition, willing to initiate force against a woman (and/ or her doctors) to prevent her from having an abortion. That’s precisely what a law against abortion MEANS: you are willing to initiate force against her to prevent her from having an abortion.

    When you initiate force against a someone (such as kidnapping them by force and putting them in a cage) you are acting as if you have a greater claim on their body than they have. And so if imposing a claim of ownership on people is wrong then how can that argument be used to advocate imposing ownership of a pregnant woman?

    For me this question is the crux of the issue: Would I be willing to personally initiate force against a woman (and/ or her doctors) to prevent her from having an abortion?

    It’s no good glossing over this question just because we know we’ll never be put in that situation *personally*. To judge the morality of ANY law we must imagine ourselves personally enforcing that law (even in a hypothetical scenario). For example, we could not *honestly* support a law which would have all redheads rounded up and imprisoned if we were not prepared (in a moral sense at least) to kidnap a redhead and put them in a cage ourselves.

    Would I be prepared to taser, or shoot an crazed axe murderer who was on the rampage and then lock them up in a cage to keep society safe? Yes.

    Would I be prepared to wrestle a woman to the ground outside a hospital, and perhaps put her in a cage (or treat her doctors in that same way) to prevent her from having an abortion? No, I would not, nor would I ever choose to fund thugs to do this on my behalf, nor would I ever choose to fund the cage to keep her in.

    Focussing on abortion is to focus on the symptom. By the time a woman is pregnant due to rape, accident, incompetence, ignorance, recklessness or whatever it is *already too late*. We need to focus on the root cause(s) of unwanted pregnancies instead if we are to find any kind of solution.

    Focusing on root causes of ANY issue in society does not incite as mush passion (and anger) in the general public, and so it’s not something which is ever advocated by politicians looking for votes – or distractions from more important subjects such as genocidal wars which needlessly slaughter innocent human life by the million.

    1. Thank you for the reply. A few things:

      First, a fetus is not an egg. An egg will never develop into a human being, nor does an egg have its own unique DNA. Simply put, the egg belongs to the mother as an extension of the mother’s body. A fetus, however, begins as a fertilized egg, but this holds all the difference. A zygote (or fetus) has its own unique genetic structure, will develop into a human, and is ontologically separate from the mother. Thus, the fetus is not a part of the mother, but resides in the mother. Being inside is not equivalent to being a part of; a 2×4 is a part of a house, but the child in the house is not a part of the house, he is simply inside the house.

      With that in mind, would you initiate force to stop a man from stabbing a child? The answer, of course, is yes; but that force would only be enough to subdue the man without harming the child. So too is it with the mother seeking an abortion. Ideally, no force would be needed as preventing doctors from performing at-will abortions would deter the action. In the real world, of course, there would need to be some deterrence. But if abortion is murder, then why not stop it?

      1. What I’m noticing is that you have equated aborting a bundle of cells with stabbing a child. But I don’t see any ‘pro-lifers’ ever campaigning fro the rights of frog spawn or tadpoles or even baby frogs (or any other creature more accurately comparable to a zygote/ foetus)

        Also I don’t see any ‘pro-lifers’ refusing to fund the genocidal wars which plague the planet and murder millions of children (and adults) or campaigning to stop depleted uranium WMD’s being used in the middle east which have led to horrific birth deformities and still births by the thousand amongst the local population, as well as affecting the babies of returning soldiers who’s sperm is also now mutated. I don’t remember seeing any ‘pro lifers’ trying to stop the US led sanctions against Iraq in the 90’s which led directly to the deaths of 500,000 children under the age of five according to UN inspectors. I don’t see any ‘pro-lifers’ campaigning against the billion dollar land mine industry which blows their arms and legs off children all over the world every day.

        I don’t see any ‘pro lifers’ trying to stop predatory banks from lending to corrupt tin pot dictators who allow their country to be enslaved with debt, ensuring the population remains locked in poverty, the resources are pillaged (to pay back the loans) and the environment is destroyed – ensuring babies in that country continue to die of starvation, disease, war, crime etc.

        What I *do* see is ‘pro-lifers’ picking on the most vulnerable people in society – pregnant women – who are likely to have been raped, abused, deceived or coerced into having sex …. or badly educated, brought up in broken homes and dysfunctional environments … or just unlucky enough to have had a contraceptive failure at the wrong time of the month. And I see ‘pro lifers’ going to the government and asking them to prevent these unfortunate women from having an abortion by threatening them with violence.

        “…Ideally, no force would be needed as preventing doctors from performing at-will abortions would deter the action. …”

        Preventing doctors from performing abortions IS force. It means taking away their license at the very least, which means if they turn up for work at the hospital the next day they’ll get arrested for trespassing on hospital grounds, and that means armed thugs will arrive to drag them away and put them in a cage.

        All ‘laws’ are the threat of force/ violence. Acquiescing to the violence implied by a law does not mean no force is used. If a rapist threatens someone with violence and the victim acquiesces to that threat and allows themselves to be raped (to avoid being beaten up) that is still the initiation of force, even though no actual violence was inflicted.

        Threatening to put a woman (or her doctors) in a cage is the same as actually putting them in a cage. The fact that they obey your demands and don’t end up in a cage is irrelevant. Obviously on a *practical level* with an outright ban on abortions the most desperate women would just end up getting backstreet abortions anyway, or attempting to trigger an abortion themselves (with drink, drugs, inserted implements or concussion), or else they might just commit suicide.

        But don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with people advocating for the rights of zygotes/ foetuses, I just don’t think getting the state to threaten violence against these women is any kind of solution.

        Let’s not forget that no other group in society murders more human beings than governments (democide over the last century has been calculated at 250,000,000 deaths – and that’s NOT including government wars).

        There are children literally being stabbed (and worse) every day all over the world – a significant proportion of them by governments. Why are ‘pro-lifers’ not trying to stop this? To stop the genocide and violent assault of children all over the world would only harm the profits of military industrial corporations. So why do ‘pro-lifers’ ignore these helpless victims and focus all their attention instead on unfortunate and desperate women in the early stages of pregnancy?

        Perhaps a more revealing question is this: why do POLITICIANS and the MEDIA focus the public’s attention on the issue of abortion, rather than the issue of children and babies being murdered by the million by governments in wars which create massive profits for the military industrial complex and the banks (who ‘donate’ and lobby governments as well as owning or controlling of the five main media corporations)?

        I think that question kind of answers itself doesn’t it!

        When you break it down ‘pro-lifers’ are basically campaigning to protect human life, but ONLY with respect to zygotes/ foetuses in women who have been raped or had a contraceptive failure or some other disaster.

        This could be likened to a ‘vegetarian’ campaigning for a ban on animal slaughter, but only for chickens and only for people who have nothing else to eat except chickens and are desperate for food.

        If we are pro the ethical treatment of animals surely we’d try to stop outright abuses of animals first, then cruel intensive farming, then farming livestock in general, leaving the most desperate (ie starving) farmers until last, and not interfering until we’d solved their food crisis.

        And likewise if we are ‘pro life’ shouldn’t we first try to stop the senseless and barbaric mass-slaughter of human life in wars of terror, then move on to individual acts of violence and murder, and then (when society is relatively murder / violence free) start to tackle the issue of unwanted pregnancies due to rape, contraceptive failure or ignorance through peaceful means (education etc) first?

        That would seem the most sensible approach to me. This makes me wonder what the true agenda of ‘pro lifers’ (and the politicians and media who fixate on this issue) really is.

      2. Again, a few things:

        1) A fetus is no more a “bunch of cells” than we are a bunch of cells. The only difference is we have more cells than they do. A newborn has between 430 billion to 4 trillion cells whereas an adult has close to 100 trillion cells. What moral significance does this hold between an adult and a newborn? How does the number of cells one possesses dictate what is and is not human? What is the cell threshold for someone to be human?

        No offense, but I’ve always found this argument to be particularly horrid. Saying that a fetus is nothing more than cells is, quite honestly, scientifically ignorant. Every human is really nothing more than a bunch of cells.

        2) You go on and point out the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement. While I could show you how many people have started great charities that help pregnant women, I’d rather look at this logically. Thus, my answer is this: So what? Who cares? That people who support a fetus’ right to life are hypocritical in other areas holds exactly what moral impact on the debate? I suggest you look into ad hominem tu quoque, because that’s all you’re accomplishing. Basically, you said a lot without saying anything at all. I know that sounds rude, but let’s look at your thought process:

        A) Pro-lifers say we should protect innocent human life, including zygotes/fetuses
        B) Pro-lifers (allegedly) don’t speak out against other atrocities
        C) Therefore, let’s kill zygotes/fetuses

        That literally makes no sense. You’re engaging in a red herring and non sequitur thinking. That’s not going to get you far in a discussion here.

        3) My own post talked about how we need to help women who are pregnant. If you look elsewhere on this site, you’ll see how we’ve spoken against human trafficking, genocide, treatment of immigrants, and a whole litany of human rights issues. Your arguments hold absolutely no weight here and, to be honest, are simply lazy in their scope and presentation. I can name numerous pro-life adherents who also do everything they can to help in other areas of life.

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