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Pro-life: It’s Not About Contraception!

It seems that many individuals who are pro-choice have no idea why pro-lifers are pro-life. At least that’s the only explanation I can find for this article, where the author assumes that the “Religious Right” will be against a new form of male birth control. They even point out that Hobby Lobby’s health insurance still covers vasectomies and then assume that they’ve made some kind of point, as if they’ve caught Hobby Lobby in some kind of hypocrisy. That doesn’t make any sense at all: unless, of course, the person writing the article has no idea why Hobby Lobby refuses to offer certain contraceptives. Asking why Hobby Lobby opposes certain kinds of women’s birth control but doesn’t oppose vasectomies is like asking why someone who is opposed to drowning puppies isn’t opposed to neutering dogs.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe you, like the author of this article, doesn’t understand why Hobby Lobby made their lawsuit in the first place. Maybe you too work under the mistaken idea that everyone who is pro-life is pro-life because they oppose contraception. Maybe you think that pro-lifers just want there to be more kids in the world, and thus oppose anything that keeps people from having kids. If you’re under this assumption I simply want to let you know that you are mistaken. While some pro-lifers do oppose contraception (notably Catholics) opposition to contraception has nothing to do with being pro-life. Being pro-life is about being against abortion. I’m pro-life and I’m highly in favor of effective and cheap contraception. Fewer unexpected pregnancies means fewer abortions. I can assure whoever wrote that article that Hobby Lobby would likely be extremely enthusiastic about this new form of male birth control because it will prevent pregnancy without causing an abortion. That’s why they only refused to pay for four out of twenty different forms of contraception. Did you ever wonder why Hobby Lobby singled out those specific four kinds of contraception? It’s because they come with the possible risk of preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg: in other words, a kind of abortion. Now you can argue that preventing the implantation of an egg is not the same as aborting a fetus, or you could make the even stronger argument that those particular contraceptives do not actually prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, but the fact remains that Hobby Lobby chose to single out those contraceptives because they believe they can cause abortions. You can’t say is that they are opposed to contraception: they are perfectly fine with 16 other forms of contraceptive. What they are opposed to is abortion.

I think a lot of people don’t understand the pro-life position, and many pro-lifers assume that the pro-choicers do which leads to miscommunication like this. So that we can better understand each other, let me lay out the pro-life position at its most basic level. Those who are pro-life believe four things:

  1. All human beings have a right to life.
  2. This right (alternatively, identifying human beings) is not based on anything (intelligence, level of development, ability to feel pain, race, gender, etc) other than the fact that the individual in question is a human.
  3. Zygotes and fetuses are human.
  4. Thus, human induced abortion violates a human beings right to life and is thus not morally permissible.

There are qualifiers to those three beliefs: some, for instance would add that a human’s right to life can be taken away through due process of the law (that is, a legal execution is not morally wrong). Still, this is the basic logical underpinning of the pro-life position. Male birth control does not end the life of a human and would thus be completely acceptable, even encouraged, by pro-lifers just as a person opposed to euthanizing puppies would likely be enthusiastic in insuring that dogs are spayed and neutered.

Now most pro-choice individuals disagree with one of the four points above. The vast, vast majority do not disagree with point 1 (All human beings have a right to life), but rather disagree with point 2. They believe that a human does not have rights until it can be considered a person, and that zygotes and fetuses are not developed enough to be considered persons and thus have no rights. From this point of view a fetus is human, but not a human being. A few disagree with point 3, but in doing so they go against what science has to show us. Zygotes and fetuses are not some kind of half-human half something else: they are human. They have the human genome, they are examples of the human species, and no scientist in their right mind would say that zygotes and fetuses belong to some other, non-human, species until the moment of their birth. The zygote is the first stage of human development, and is just as human as an old man on his death-bed. This being understood, the weight of the disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice falls on point number 2.

To put all of it even more simply, pro-lifers think that abortion means killing a human being. If a controceptive doesn’t result in an abortion then there is no conflict there.

It is sad that there are many who don’t understand why individuals hold the position they hold on abortion. Pro-choice individuals writing about how pro-lifers will be opposed to male contraception because they want to control people’s bodies is like pro-life individuals writing that pro-choicers are opposed to marriage because they just want to have wild and consequence free sex. Both statements show a huge amount of ignorance about what the other side actually believes. I think that we can all agree that we would have a better world if everyone actually examined the arguments of those who are politically opposed to them instead of relying on hearsay and caricature.

Bodily Autonomy and Abortion: A Strong Argument that Falls Short

Ultrasound, First Trimester

Ultrasound, First Trimester

 

There has been a subject that has been heavy on my heart for a long time. It was something that I’ve always wanted to talk to people about, and one of my vague goals for this blog was that it could be an outlet for that. Yet somehow, after almost two years of blogging, I’ve never devoted a post to it. I’m not sure why this is the case; it just never felt like the right time. I know what I want to say, but I never got around to saying it.

Part of the problem is that the subject in question is highly controversial, and not easily settled. But another part of it is that this subject causes me some grief to talk about. I rarely feel less powerful or less capable then when it comes to this issue. The current state of affairs is so troubling and my own inability to change it is so undeniable that I prefer not to think about it. Naturally this adds a sense of guilt to the whole subject whenever something does remind me of it.

However yesterday I saw a random post by a stranger (on a funny pictures website of all places) that got me thinking about it again. And the more I thought about it the more I wish I could talk to the person who wrote it. And the more I thought about what I would say to them the more I realized that I should share it here, on the only platform I have.

The subject is abortion. Part of the reason I feel so incapable of talking about it is the simple fact that I’m a man. I think about abortion in philosophical and ethical terms, but I will never be faced with having to bear a child that I do not want. Not to say that abortion does not affect men, because it does: but how many women would be willing to listen to what a man has to say about the rightness or wrongness of abortion? And honestly, how much right do I have to ask something of women that I’ll never have to deal with myself? Yet I feel that I can’t keep my thoughts inside for much longer. If you are a woman, please understand that I am aware of my privilege as a man in this area. I’m just going to say what I believe is true, but I understand my position.

I also understand my strengths and my fields of interest, which are logic, rhetoric, and ethics. An argument prompted me to write this, one that I hadn’t heard fully articulated before, and it is this argument that I want to discuss today. The post I saw began by giving a hypothetical scenario: your brother has a certain medical condition that requires a blood transfusion in order to save his life. As it turns out, your blood is the only blood that will work (for the sake of this scenario lets ignore whether or not this could actually happen but take it at face value). Now in this situation, even though your brother will die if he doesn’t get that transfusion, the fact is that nobody can force you to donate the blood needed to save him. That’s because you have the right of bodily autonomy: you get to choose how your body is used. Nobody can make you give your blood to another person.

The poster went on to point out that the same is true of organs. Nobody can force you to donate an organ: even after you are dead nobody can take your organs without your prior permission. Bodily autonomy is that powerful.

The argument ended by pointing out that if this is the case then nobody should be able to force someone to carry a child to term. They pointed out that this is especially the case since the ethical status of human fetuses are debatable.

The reason this argument caught my attention is because it is both a very strong argument, and at the same time an argument that seems to miss the point. What this comes down to is an argument about what is legal. As far as that goes the argument is fairly solid: it is true that nobody can legally force you to give blood to your dying brother or to carry your child to term. However I think just about everyone can agree that someone in the hypothetical situation as outlined would be wrong to not save his brother. In this case we have a situation where someone’s brother is dying, they have the power to save them through a very simple operation that will cause no permanent damage to themselves, and they refuse to do so. It’s true that I can’t force you to, but I will tell you that to refrain from giving blood in this case is unambiguously evil. To let your own brother die when it is easily in your power to save them is wrong. Imagine if the brother was not sick but instead was dangling from the edge of a cliff. Wouldn’t it be wrong to just stand there and let your brother fall to his death? I can’t make you take his hand and pull him to safety, any more than I can make you do any number of good things. That doesn’t change a fact that refusing to act in this case is wrong.

Now in this case the hypothetical person doesn’t do anything to cause his brother’s death. Letting his brother die is an evil act, but it is an act of omission and not commission. It would be another thing entirely if he was actively trying to kill his brother. If he came at his brother with a knife and tried to stab him to death, or attempted to inject him with a highly toxic substance, we wouldn’t say that we can’t force him not to. In actual fact we would be encouraged and often legally required to stop him if we were capable of doing so. Yet isn’t this the case with abortion? A hypothetical mother who does not want their child cannot simply stop providing sustenance to him or her. In order to stop sharing her body with her child she must take actions to kill that child. The child must be cut out, dismembered, injected with toxic solutions, or forced out of the body to die of exposure. Isn’t this sufficiently different than simply refusing to donate blood or organs?

Let’s look at a less ambiguous case to get perspective, a situation where the mother doesn’t have to actively pursue their child’s death but instead can simply refuse to offer aid, just as the individual in the hypothetical situation that was offered. A mother of a newborn child is in just such a situation. If she, or another individual, does not care for that child then the child will die. The child is dependent on others and that point and for many years to come. If the mother did not want to raise the child she could simply abandon it under a bush, or in a trash can, and walk away. Time will do the rest. However what’s notable is that when a mother abandons a child it is not legal. Our society understands that a mother has a responsibility to their child, to either care for it herself or give it to others who will care for it in her place. If no-one else is willing or capable of raising the child (which would not be the case in reality, but this is a hypothetical) then the mother would be forced to raise her child. This would be both legal and ethical: who among us doesn’t recognize the wrongness of a mother who abandons her child to certain death?

Finally, the post did make the claim that the ethical status of the fetus is in doubt. I have many things to say about that doubt, but I’ll save that for a later post. Instead I’d like to point out that doubt should not encourage us to act but discourage us from acting rashly. In any other situation if there is doubt whether our actions might put a human in danger the proper thing to do is refrain from acting. If a hunter hears something rustling in the bushes and has reason to believe that it might, just might, be a human and not an animal then he must not shoot until he can confirm either way. If a junkyard worker believes that there is any chance that there might be a human in the trash compacter instead of scrap metal then he must check before starting the machine. If a logger believes that there might be a person standing where he is planning on felling a tree then he must check before he cuts the tree down. If we are unsure whether or not the fetus has the same rights or ethical status as other human beings then shouldn’t we refrain from killing them as long as that remains in doubt? And we’re not talking about a 1% doubt here: there is significant doubt as far as the rights of fetuses are concerned. The country is split on the issue.

All of this boils down to the following: yes, the right of bodily autonomy is powerful, but that does not excuse us from our ethical responsibilities to other humans, especially where our close relatives are concerned. You cannot force me to save my brother, or even my child, from falling off a cliff: but how does that make the fact that I let them fall to their deaths okay?