Why a Woman's Right to Her Body Does Not Justify Abortion

G. Stolyarov II
Issue CLV - May 20, 2008
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Does a woman have a right to decide what happens with her body? Yes. Does that right justify abortion? A resounding “No!”

            We all have rights to our bodies; each of us owns his or her individual body and can specify that certain interventions against it are unjustified. Furthermore, we have the right to insist on just compensation for whatever interventions are committed.

            However, our right to our own bodies does not entitle us to violate other people’s rights to their own bodies. We can do what we will with our bodies – but at the instant that our actions infringe on anyone else’s right to the same, we have stepped outside our legitimate sphere of action and intruded on someone else’s. In order to be consistent or even coherent, the concept of individual rights must apply to every human being – for it is by virtue of our humanity that we have these rights. To apply rights to some humans and not others is simply an arbitrary declaration of preference that some people be protected while others with the same essential human attributes are not; doing so provides no basis for justifying why one’s own rights ought to be respected.

            If a human fetus is indeed a human being, as my arguments in “An Objectivist Condemnation of Abortion” claim, then the fetus has the right to life and the right to its own body. While the fetus’s mother certainly also has the right to her body, the two rights must be able to coexist mutually in order for either of them to be viable. This is not a matter of the convenience of either party – but rather one of properly delineating each party’s rights such that both can be consistently respected and protected.

            Thus, we define the right of the mother to her body as the right to do anything with her body that does not infringe on the right of any other human being—including human fetuses—to the same. If performing an abortion were simply a matter of evicting the fetus from the womb and having the fetus obtain the nourishment required for its survival elsewhere, then there would be no moral issue with performing an abortion. Indeed, it is my great hope that the abortion debate will be made moot in the future by technologies that enable abortions to simply transport the living fetus outside the mother’s womb and have it come to term in an artificial environment.

            But the grizzly reality of abortion today is that it involves the intentional, deliberate killing of the fetus. It is not just the case that the fetus is ”evicted” from the womb and left to fend for itself. Rather, the fetus is cut apart in a rather nasty fashion. Not only are no attempts made to render it viable outside the womb, it is not even left alone to face the elements! It is simply killed. No argument for evicting a fetus from another person’s body can justify actively killing that fetus.

            While the fetus’s in the womb of an unwilling mother may be a violation of her property rights, this does not entitle the mother to kill the fetus or even to evict it so that it becomes completely unviable outside the womb. The only appropriate penalty for violations of property rights is a penalty proportional to the violation, and the only appropriate exercise of the death penalty is as a response to murder, directed against actual murderers. Those who inflict disproportionate punishment against even real offenses are just as guilty of violating rights as the original offender.

            The fetus’s “offense” is nowhere close to murder. In fact, in most cases it is not an offense at all, as the mother’s own choices to engage in sexual intercourse – including the choice to use contraception with the risk that it might fail to function – led to the pregnancy. The only case where the mother did not choose to be pregnant is the case of rape, which I addressed in “Ethical Arguments Against Abortion: The Cases of Rape and Life Endangerment.” Even in that case, the fetus did not choose to inflict its dependency on the mother; rather, that choice was made by the rapist, who certainly deserves severe punishment. While it is possible to accidentally violate another person’s property rights, the legitimate penalty for doing so is reduced dramatically compared to intentional violations. Even accidental killing – manslaughter – is not punished by death in any civilized country. So why should accidentally appearing in a womb be?

            Consider this analogy to the fetus’s situation. A plane in which you are flying crashes on the lands of a vast estate owned by Person X – one of the richest men in the world. You are completely surrounded by this estate, and your legs have been broken, so you are unable to move. With your arms and the equipment from the plane that happened to land nearby, you did manage to put your legs in crude casts, so that the legs would heal on their own after nine months, without further intervention. Person X does not believe in modern transportation, so he only has an old slow mule on which you can be transported – and it would take nine months for either your legs to fully recover on their own or for you to be put on the back of the mule and for the mule to carry you out of Person X’s domain. Furthermore, Person X is either extremely busy or misanthropic, and having you on his land brings him considerable mental anguish.

            Thus, to save himself the trouble of either keeping you on his land to convalesce or sparing his precious mule, Person X decides to kill you. After all, you are violating his unquestionable property rights by accidentally trespassing on his land. Is Person X justified in making that decision? If he is not, then neither is abortion justified, for the fetus is a conceptually identical predicament of appearing on someone else’s property against its will. If it is given a mere nine months, it will remove itself from that property – with no damage done in most cases. But it takes time for this “trespass” to be corrected, just as it takes time for the old slow mule to take you out of Person X’s lands.

            Because all pregnancies either come to term or end in miscarriage, whatever violation of a woman’s property rights may be entailed by a pregnancy will inevitably be corrected anyway, and the fetus will not always be in the womb. The natural correction of this violation is the only one that is compatible with the fetus’s rights as a human being to its own body. When a woman’s body is inhabited by another human being, the proportional response is for that human being to ultimately leave – but in the real world, justice cannot and ought not be instantaneous. Indeed, court processes pertaining to civil or criminal justice often last for years, and with good reason. All the evidence needs to be weighed carefully, all the arguments need to be heard, and the judges and jury need to be sure at least beyond reasonable doubt that their decision is the just one. Compared to the length of many trials, the nine-month waiting period for a woman’s property right to her body to be fully and inevitably vindicated is small indeed. If a court passed an instantaneous verdict in any civil or criminal case, that verdict would be unjust by definition. Likewise, if a woman, in choosing to have an abortion, tries to pass an instantaneous verdict over the violation of her property rights, this cannot by definition be just – because justice was not given the time it needed to take its proper course.

            All individual natural rights are mutually consistent and compatible, and it is possible to enforce both a woman’s right to her own body and a fetus’s right to life. All that is needed in the short term is to allow time to take its course and bring about justice. In the future, it is desirable to develop technologies that can speed up this process for the benefit of all parties.

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre,  Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov's works have been published on GrasstopsUSA.com. He also posts his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. His most recent play is Implied Consent. You can also view his YouTube Videos. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com. 

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.

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