Thanks for joining me for Episode 32 where I am joined by Clinton Wilcox (of Life Training Institute and Justice for All) to talk about the issue of consent, whether abortion is self-defense or not, and the argument that the fetus is an invader or a little rapist because s/he violates the bodily autonomy of the woman against her will by implanting into her uterus.
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The argument can take many forms, but the general idea is that consenting to sex is not equivalent to consenting to pregnancy. It isn’t the act of sex that makes someone pregnant; sex merely creates the embryo. The embryo then invades the woman’s body and that is what causes her to become pregnant. While this may be technically correct, divorcing pregnancy and sex isn’t something that can be reasonably done without rapidly descending into incoherence. There is a direct causation here. Every act of pregnancy (barring artificial means) comes after an act of sex.
The reason the pregnancy occurs is because of the existence of the embryo, and sex causes the embryo to exist. There is a necessary chain of events. The small gap in time between sex and implantation of the embryo isn’t something anyone should consider to be morally relevant, especially given the biologically necessary chain of events that leads to pregnancy.
The next step in this line of argument comes from Eileen Mcdonagh’s book, Breaking the Abortion Deadlock: From Choice to Consent, as well as David Boonin’s A Defense of Abortion, and other sources. It essentially states that the conversation shouldn’t always be about the woman’s choice or fetal personhood, but about consent. The argument is that a woman must grant continual consent to the unborn child, and she has the right to revoke consent at any point throughout pregnancy, and when she does, she can expel the invader from her body. The analogy is often used to compare the fetus to an invader or a rapist who is using her body without her ongoing consent. On a related, important note… both Clinton and I are sympathetic to the idea that if a woman revokes consent mid-coitus, that anything other than the man stopping completely ought to be considered rape and should be condemned completely.
On the topic of consent, it’s important to make this point.
Consent itself is not what grounds the rightness or wrongness of an action. Consent is important because it can turn something from right into wrong (rape, for example), but you can’t argue that consent is the thing that makes an act moral, because that’s question begging.
It is possible not to have consent to something and it still be a perfectly moral (or potentially supererogatory) act. For example, Aladdin did not consent to being saved by the Genie in this scene, but our moral intuitions certainly side with the moral rightness of what the Genie did.
One very important thing to highlight is other areas where consent is important, but not the primary reason to behave in a certain way. Imagine if I invited a friend on to a free helicopter ride and it turned out that he was a Communist. Now, obviously I would have to throw the pinko commie out of my helicopter, and if consent was the only thing to consider, I would be justified in doing so. But given the fact that I consented to his coming on to my helicopter in the first place, and I am the reason he is dependent upon me, I cannot simply revoke consent, chuck him out of the helicopter, and say, “I didn’t kill him, it was his lack of viability outside of the helicopter at 10,000 feet up that killed him.” Obviously I would be guilty of murder in that case. The reasonable thing to do would be to wait until the helicopter lands, and then berate your friend for believing such foolishness.
In a similar fashion, if a woman knowingly consented to the action that causes a new human being to come into existence and to be 100% dependent upon her for survival, it is unreasonable to remove the child and say, “I didn’t kill him, it was his lack of viability outside of the womb that killed him.” The reasonable thing to do would be to wait until the end of pregnancy.
There is also an argument that says that abortion should be legally and morally permissible because some pregnancies are life threatening. While it certainly is the case that pregnancy can be life threatening, we cannot use the life threatening pregnancies to justify elective abortions in situations that are not life threatening. I am in favor of abortion when the pregnancy is, in fact, life threatening. That is a legitimate self-defense argument, but we have to be careful to apply it appropriately. Far too often we treat the unborn as if s/he isn’t morally equivalent to a living human being, but that’s just simple question begging and we need to be more careful to avoid that.
If you enjoyed this or thought it was absolutely terrible, let me know in the comments below, on the facebook page, private facebook group, twitter, or by email (FetalP[email protected]). Thanks so much for reading/listening!