Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abortion and the Importance of Consent

Abortion is one of the most contentious issues that exists in the political sphere.  Very few other topics invite the sort of emotion that this one does.  So vital is the issue that former Texas governor Ann Richards famously opened her speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention by saying, "I'm Ann Richards, and I'm pro-choice." Though the economy dominates the discussion at this point, it is unlikely that we have heard the last great debates from pro-life and pro-choice camps.

The arguments that always surface in this debate are a neverending back-and-forth about the contrast of the woman's right to choose versus the taking of a life.  The Libertarian Party, and indeed, many other groups focused on civil liberties, see the issue as simply the choice for every woman regarding her body.  In this, I actually disagree with the largest and most mainstream body in American libertarianism.  The problem, as I can see it, is that we have not reached a point of scientific advancement that tells us definitively where life begins.

At some point in every pregnancy, the life of the fetus begins.  No side of the debate will argue otherwise.  However, the inconsistency about when that point is leaves a quandary regarding when the body in question is, in fact, not that of the woman herself, but of her unborn child.  My point-of-view is that rights and the need for consent attach at the moment life begins, whenever that is.

I err on the side of caution.  To me, it is far more egregious to run the risk of violating the fetus's rights (since he or she cannot consent at that point) than to simply grant that a woman may do as she pleases.  While parents are afforded the ability to consent for their children (quite rightly), I know no jurisdiction that would allow a claim that a child consents to its own destruction.  Therefore,  until the matter of when life begins is settled, I think that we should not allow abortions except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Those three exceptions do present a bit of a problem, though, because the same need for consent and the rights of the child attach here, too.  However, since the child was not a product of a consensual act, then the rights of the mother are, indeed, violated by the baby's existence.  I applaud any woman in this position who chooses to carry to term, but I think that she should be able to decide, since she couldn't decide about getting pregnant in the first place.


  1. " While parents are afforded the ability to consent for their children (quite rightly), I know no jurisdiction that would allow a claim that a child consents to its own destruction."

    This is most certainly true, and I agree with you on this point to a certain extent. However, consider the circumstance when the minor child is on life support and the parent has to make the decision to discontinue. Difficult though it may be, the decision to discontinue is due to the fact that the child will have a poor quality of life if allowed to live, and nobody questions it. Is not the decision to terminate a pregnancy often based on the same logic? How is it any different from the above situation? Both are cases where the parent has to make a life/death decision; in both cases, the child (or fetus) has no method to give consent.

  2. That's a very interesting point, and one I hadn't considered.

    I think the mitigating factor is "poor quality of life," because what constitutes a poor quality of life for the infant in your example would differ from many examples of abortion. If you're talking about a situation where tests have detected no abnormalities in the fetus, then I think that declaring that the baby will have a poor quality of life simply because it is unwanted is rather tenuous. Though an unwanted baby is a difficult situation, and I am certainly not championing the "ward of the state" system, I find it hard to swallow that there's an inherent prudence in such a decision.

    However, in a case where the fetus is displaying abnormalities and will require extraordinary care its whole life, there might be an argument like what you're saying. touch on a broader issue with libertarianism, which is the reconciliation of consent and rights in these situations. The world isn't black and white, and I'm not sure I have the answer for this one, exactly (at least, from a political point-of-view). I'll address the system's limitations in a very-soon-in-the-future post. Thanks for commenting.

  3. A poor quality of life can also be considered from a socio-economic standpoint, I think. If the parent(s) cannot afford to have a child and provide the care and support needed in order for said child to be healthy (food, shelter, supervision, etc.), then perhaps it may be better not to have the baby to begin with. Yes, the state theoretically can take care of the child, but think about the real world--no budget, overburdened system, lack of resources--it is just not feasible. The child will probably end up in just as dire a situation. I am by no means condoning the use of abortion as birth control, nor that it should be a fix for being irresponsible. But sometimes terminating a pregnancy may actually be the responsible decision.

  4. I'm afraid that I simply don't agree with you on this point. There are numerous examples of successful people who came from absolutely terrible socioeconomic conditions (like the kids in The Glass Castle). To deny them their opportunity (note: not their right) to make a place in this world is a perspective that I don't agree with politically or personally. I support helping people who seek to better themselves but who cannot because of external forces, and kids in this situation are certainly in that category. However, quite honestly, I don't think that's the parents' decision to make.

    Part of the major difference in your example is not only whether or not someone consents, but also whether or not they every COULD consent. Clearly, someone who is on life support or unable to think cognitively cannot ever consent. However, a normal child born into abject poverty does not surrender their eventual ability to discern their own course.