The New South Wales state parliament recently considered and rejected in the Upper House a bill seeking to legalize abortion. This leaves the current arrangement in which abortion is illegal except where the (i) physical and/or (2) psychological health of the mother is at issue, (3) where the child in utero suffers some form of disability, or (4) where there are economic implications for the mother, in effect. Given the obvious liberality of the exceptions, bills seeking to legalize abortion in such jurisdictions are not concerned less with its availability but with (1) normalizing the practice of abortion and (2) denying the dignity of the person at their most vulnerable stage of development.
This can be demonstrated in two recent responses to the bills defeat. The first appears in a facebook post by Clementine Ford. In it she recounts the usual abortion tropes: (1) that an abortion is a medical procedure; (2) that it’s safe and saves lives; (3) that it’s normal; (4) that abortion is simply a form of contraception; (5) that any denial of access to an abortion ‘forces’ parenthood on women; and (6) keeping abortion a crime increases the risks to women determined to kill their child in utero. Before I briefly respond to each trope, what is glaringly obvious is the attempt to simply deny the dignity of the child in utero by focusing solely on the interests of the mother. At no moment does Ford pause to consider the dignity of the child, of the child enjoying any moral status, of having any interests at all, let alone a moral status or interests equal to that of the mother. This is typical of almost all feminist proponents of abortion. They are simply unconcerned and uninterested in the claim that the child in utero has any moral status or interests that could legitimately call for the protection of the law. To return to the tropes.
Firstly, the claim that abortion constitutes a medical procedure would imply that pregnancy is a disease, that the reproductive organs were misidentified, and so on. It involves an Orwellian contempt for language and its relation to reality.
Secondly, that having an abortion is safer than pregnancy and saves lives is neither here nor there given the extremely low maternal mortality rate that Australia enjoys, which is no thanks, either, to the ready availability of abortion given that Ireland, which has a relatively restrictive abortion regime, also enjoys a very similar low maternal mortality rate. This effectively demolishes any nexus between a restrictive abortion regime and high maternal mortality. If anything, it is delaying motherhood that is far more dangerous to women attempting to have a child. However, to return to the particular matter under discussion, what this trope ignores, again, is the child. An abortion destroys the child. It is not safe for the child. Further, the doctor has to meticulously remove every piece of the dismembered child in order to prevent any possibility of infection occurring in the mother, post-abortion.
Thirdly, the claim that abortion is ‘normal’ begs the question. It would be more accurate and less question-begging to say that the figures suggest that it is relatively widespread and yet it is something that only a third of mothers ever procure, so we should not overstate the breadth of its acceptance or approval. Still, feminists argue that domestic violence and sexual assault, including rape, are similarly widespread, but I very much doubt that they would then conclude from this that domestic violence and sexual assault are a normal and thereby acceptable part of modern life.
Fourthly, the assertion that abortion is ‘a form of contraception’ is just too silly for words and is another Orwellian affront to language and reality. You can only destroy via an abortion what has already been conceived.
Fifthly, no, women are rational creatures that are capable of understanding the potential consequences of their actions, whether or not these consequences are intended. Not intending a child but nevertheless deliberately engaging in an activity that may give rise to one does not void the obligations that inhere if a child is thereby created.
And, lastly, no, the risks associated with abortion as a crime are very largely overstated, given that most illegal abortions prior to the great liberalizations that occurred in the 1960s and 70s across the Western world were nevertheless still performed by physicians, and the same would be true today if those liberalizations were reversed. The image of a desperate mother using a coat hanger are largely a myth propagated by abortion propagandists.
I want to briefly turn now to the second article by Lauren Ingram. She repeats a number of the same tropes but she introduces an element of moral solipsism that is only implicit in Ford’s article:
I’m 27 now. I could have a four year old child, and I am beyond grateful that I do not. If I did my life, my career, my relationships, would not resemble what they do now. I got to become who I am because of my abortion,…
There is something callous in her judgment here, as well as a poverty of imagination. Not only does the ‘life, career, or relationships’ that was revoked from her child count for nothing, she assumes that her child that would now be four, could have provided little to nothing meaningful to ‘her [own] life, career, or relationships’ had it been allowed to live. This is an absolutely extraordinary assumption but it is discloses to us the sentiments of many women (and men) in contemporary culture. Further, by eliding the moral status of the child in utero, one could similarly make the same argument when a child is in its first year after birth; in fact, there is no limit to such an argument so long as the child is under their care and custody. In fact, this is analogous to the calculation that is entertained by Singer regarding the replacability of new born infants and infanticide in Practical Ethics:
Prenatal diagnosis, followed by abortion in selected cases, is common practice in countries with liberal abortion laws and advanced medical techniques. I think this is as it should be. As the arguments of Chapter 6 indicate, I believe that abortion can be justified. Note, however, that neither haemophilia nor Down’s syndrome is so crippling as to make life not worth living, from the inner perspective of the person with the condition. To abort a fetus with one of these disabilities, intending to have another child who will not be disabled, is to treat fetuses as interchangeable or replaceable. If the mother has previously decided to have a certain number of children, say two, then what she is doing, in effect, is rejecting one potential child in favour of another. She could, in defence of her actions, say: the loss of life of the aborted fetus is outweighed by the gain of a better life for the normal child who will be conceived only if the disabled one dies.
When death occurs before birth, replaceability does not conflict with generally accepted moral convictions. That a fetus is known to be disabled is widely accepted as a ground for abortion. Yet in discussing abortion, we saw that birth does not mark a morally significant dividing line. I cannot see how one could defend the view that fetuses may be ‘replaced’ before birth, but newborn infants may not be. Nor is there any other point, such as viability, that does a better job of dividing the fetus from the infant. Self-consciousness, which could provide a basis for holding that it is wrong to kill one being and replace it with another, is not to be found in either the fetus or the newborn infant. Neither the fetus nor the newborn infant is an individual capable of regarding itself as a distinct entity with a life of its own to lead, and it is only for newborn infants, or for still earlier stages of human life, that replaceability should be considered to be an ethically acceptable option.
This is precisely the moral abyss we descend into when we deny the moral status of human beings during their early stages of development, and pay no heed to our premises from the outset. Every denial must be opposed, and we must ask our interlocutors to identify their premises and to justify each in turn.