This started off as a reply to a comment on an article* about a protest I went to on Saturday. I think it should be here too. It’s addressed to the original commenter, but the points are not specific.
“Nobody can claim to be truly liberal unless they also respect the rights of pre-born people. Life starts with a big bang and shuts down at death. No other cataclysmic event occurs in our lifetimes. This is THE inconvenient fact for many pro-choicers.”
I disagree, and I’d like to explain why.
You say that ‘life starts with a big bang’. However, all available evidence disagrees with this. Life doesn’t start with a big bang- it starts gradually, in bits and pieces, it puts itself together. Of course, it depends on how you define ‘life’. If you define it as ‘a genetically new thing’, then yes, it does start at fertilisation. However, if you do that you rapidly end up in some logical oddities- particularly since that fertilised egg could turn into more than one individual. Considering that, what is the difference (bar location) between that fertilised egg and the many, many stem cells in my body and yours? They each have the potential to become a separate human being, given a certain set of future events.
If the stem cells in my body and yours aren’t independent human beings, then neither are fertilised ova.
In that case, though, what are they? They are, as I stated above, something which has the potential, in the future, to become people. The process of becoming a person is a gradual one. The ability to think and to feel does not ‘switch on’ in an instant- there is no precise moment where there is a person where there was not one before. There is, instead, a massive grey area. We ‘wake up’ to our lives slowly, not suddenly. On one side of this grey area is that fertilised ovum, and on the other is a baby.
With regards abortion, there are therefore two major questions. The first relates to the personhood of the fetus. The second to situations where the (perceived) interests of the fetus are at odds with the (stated) interests of the pregnant woman.
When it comes to the first question, I look to what we know about fetal development. We know that in the first trimesters, the fetus simply has not developed the ability to feel or to think- it has not yet become a conscious being. The ability to feel, to think, to be conscious, does not arise until later in pregnancy. The personhood of the fetus, therefore, is a thing which in the first trimester has certainly not yet developed, which has in the third trimester begun to coalesce, and in the second trimester- well, it depends on when you’re talking about. Three months is a long time, and I’m no biologist.
Here, however, is where we come to the second question. In a case where the perceived interests of the fetus are at odds with the stated interests of the woman, what should we do? On this, I have two major points to make:
We have a situation where a definite person- someone who can think, who can feel, who can deliberate consequences and make decisions regarding her future- is at odds with a fetus who has yet to develop those abilities. It is obvious to me that here, consideration should be given to the one who is a person now, as opposed to the person who does not fully exist yet.
There is also the issue of bodily integrity. It’s not that the woman simply has to do things for another in order to bring it into existence. She has to give up her sovereign right to her own body for months on end. There is no other situation where a person is forced to give up their body for the life of another. We may think that, say, blood and organ donation are good and moral things to do- I certainly do- but we do not force people to do them. We encourage them, we support them, and we respect people’s wishes regarding them. There is no other situation where we force a person to give another the use of their organs- of their entire body- for months on end.
*That’s me, by the way, on the left, with the bubbles and the sign 🙂