Abortion and Autonomy


a baby at 24 weeks, the latest stage at which we permit abortion in the U.S.


Envision the following scenario.  a man abducts another person and confines  them to a basement or attic within his own home.  Now rather than providing  his new unwilling house guest with food from his pantry, he allows them to go unfed indefinitely.  Eventually the person starves to death. The police discover the incident, arrest the man, and charge him with kidnapping and murder.  The man accepts the first charge but vocally objects to the second charge. “On what grounds do  you charge  me with murder?” he demands, “all I did was kidnap”.  “No”, the police argue,  “You killed someone”.  “Exactly how did I kill  anyone?” the man asks. “You  allowed them to starve to death“,  the police answer.  ”And how is this murder he asks?  Is the food in my pantry not my own rightful property? If it is, I may do with it as I will.”    You may charge me with kidnapping if you desire, but I am no murderer.

Now Is the man in this illustration correct? He is obviously incorrect, and the reason for it is quite simple. Every person indeed has power over that which is rightfully their own, but if any person acts in a manner that involuntarily renders  the life of another human being wholly dependent upon the things within their power, then their right to those things is no longer exclusive. This is why the claim of the kidnapper is incorrect, and it is why the argument for the right  of abortion on the basis of  bodily autonomy is invalid.  “But”, someone will say, “there is a difference between this case and abortion. The kidnapper apparently desires the presence of his hostage whereas the presence of the child was not desired by the mother”.

In law, responsibility is not simply determined by the presence or absence of a desire for a particular outcome.  For example, various acts are classified in the law as “negligent”  meaning that there is a probability of a particular outcome for which an individual is accountable regardless of their intentions. In the case of sexual intercourse the mechanics of the very act itself consist of the fertilization of an egg for pregnancy.

If I act in a manner that involuntarily renders the life of another dependent upon a thing which I possess, I may not use my right of possession to withdraw that thing. If I do, then I am accountable for that life.

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