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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