Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Abortion and Naturalness

We have all heard the standard arguments on both sides of the abortion issue: the claim of the privacy interest in one's own body versus the plea for the life of a pure innocent. Once you get an abortion proponent to admit that there is no difference between a fully-developed fetus prior to labor and a fetus just born, and once you get them to admit that, given changing technology, viability is not a defensible reference for determining the moral value of an innocent human life, potential or in being, they turn to the famous 'violinist.' Yes, abortion may be the taking of innocent human life, but it is justified: it is like self defense. Imagine, they say, a violinist that is dying and is hooked up to a person during the night, staying alive by relying on that person's organs and bodily functions. Come the morning, the victim could disconnect the violinist even though he is innocent of the crime as one cannot demand the co-option of another's body for any purpose.

Brilliant, right? Not really. Besides being a ludicrous, unreal hypothetical, there are key differences between it and a pregnancy. First, the woman chooses to undertake the risk of becoming pregnant whereas the sleeping person in the example certainly did not go to bed understanding the risk of being hooked up to a dying violinist during the night. That difference is crucial and distinguishes the violinist example from any pregnancy save one resulting from rape. Second, the example overlooks the naturalness of the process of pregnancy and childbearing. The woman's body is not designed to be hooked up to a dying violinist. It is designed, however, to bear offspring. To this a pro-choice advocate no doubt will reply, as Laurence Tribe has, that what is natural is irrelevant; it cannot be an excuse for 'co-opting' a woman's body for nine months and inflicting hardships upon her only because she happens to be female and thus is saddled unequally vis-a-vis men with the risks involved in sexual intercourse. Such a response, besides being derogatory of one of the highest human functions and of the Creator's design, contradicts itself. The no doubt liberal abortion proponent that makes this response is arguing that because something is 'natural,' it is not therefore 'moral' or 'choiceworthy.' To conclude thusly is arbitrary, says the pro-choice proponent. Rather, it is 'unfair' to so saddle woman unequally. So the abortion proponent is arguing from a point of fairness and equality. But where does one get such a starting point for argument? Every argument, once the many layers are removed, comes down to a point of belief or faith, just as does every law. A speed limit law boils down to a concern for the sanctity of human life. One cannot prove that human life is sacred, and one cannot prove that 'fairness' is choiceworthy. Instead, these bases for argument are taken on faith and more importantly are generally derived from our natural human inclinations -- the laws written on our hearts. We seek fairness for no other reason (unless for a purely religious reason) than we naturally feel that we should seek to be fair. So an argument from fairness and equality is also an argument from that which is natural, and to use the concept of fairness to declare 'naturalness' (fairness's own root) arbitrary is paradoxical. It is like the total skeptic affirming the truth of the unknowability of things. If fairness is choiceworthy, so is anything else written into the design of the human being, including the function of childbirth.

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