THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 167, April 1, 2002
Eel Douche, Eh?
Freedom to Abort? YES!
by William Westmiller
Exclusive to TLE
Coerced pregnancy is nothing less than womb slavery. A woman's freedom to terminate her pregnancy follows from her natural right to her own body. A fetus is not a person, it is a fetus. It has no right, no justifiable claim, to any person's body.
We all know the difference between a person and a dog, a tree or a rock. But modern technology has shown us pictures of the fetus in utero and it looks very much like a person. A human fetus is certainly human and a living fetus is certainly living. But that's not enough to make it a person. It's important to understand why.
A fetus, like any other cell of our bodies, is human. In fact, modern genetics inform us that every cell contains human DNA with all the potential required to develop into a complete person. Even a dead skin cell, like a dandruff flake, has all the genetic potential, given the proper environment, to become a person. So, "human" and "living" are necessary, but not defining characteristics of a person. There is only one characteristic that is unique to human beings and distinguishes them from every other living thing. That is the capacity to reason.
In the known universe, only a person has the capacity to form abstract concepts from complex perceptions, apply logic to those concepts, test them against the memory of other concepts, form unique and creative ideas, and communicate those ideas to others.
"Consider what person stands for; which, I think, is a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection." -- John Locke
A potential is the total absence of an essential attribute. A fetus in utero is a "potential" person because it has not yet become a person. Capacity is a real ability, while potential is the mere possibility. Every cell of our bodies is *both* a potential person and a potential corpse. We cannot base individual rights on the premise that a zygote, embryo or fetus has the potential to become something different. It is not an "unborn baby" or a "preborn child", it is what it is.
Human birth is a seminal event: everything changes. The potential for distinctly human acts is realized and the fetus gains the independent capacity for rational thought, becoming an individual. Only at birth does a fetus gain the physical capacity for independent survival; it is no longer a "parasitic" part of the mother. The newborn child begins to acquire the raw sensory materials for integration, abstraction and formation of concepts. The manipulation of these concepts -- reason -- is now within its mental capacity. The potential for human personhood only becomes reality at birth.
"Man is a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights and with an innate sense of justice." -- Thomas Jefferson
All rights are individual rights because every person is an individual. There are no such thing as "group rights" or "state rights" that conflict with individual rights. Nor is there any such thing as "fetal rights" that conflict with any real person's rights
Rights do not conflict. They are always complementary expressions of the proper claims of every individual. Natural rights are inextricably -- inalienably -- vested in the human being who possesses them. A human "going to be" is not a person. It has no proper claim to anything.
Even if we were to grant -- beyond all reason -- the right of a fetus to life, we could not deny or infringe the self-evident right of a woman to her own life and complete control over her own body. Nevertheless, that is what "pro-life" proponents require. They all grant the state a right to conscript the woman's body on behalf of an embryo or fetus that barely has the potential to become a person. They all lead to preposterous legal contradictions and perilous consequences for every woman.
Unless we are prepared to grant rights to dandruff, bacteria, monkeys and trees; unless we are willing to execute women for the capital crime of killing a fetus; unless we wish to abandon the very foundation of rights; we must abandon the proposition that a fetus has any claim to a person's body. The fetus is a part of the woman until birth and every woman has every right to terminate her own pregnancy whenever she pleases. That choice should be thoughtfully considered, in the absence of any government subsidy or penalty.
My preference is that every human child be wanted, nurtured, loved and cherished. Birth control and abortion are perfectly ethical and frequently wise choices toward that objective. Those choices belong to the pregnant woman, not to any other person or potential person. Banning abortion would constitute the reinstatement of slavery in America: the subjugation of every pregnant woman to a master nanny state.
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