Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Balance

There are many important factors in the abortion debate. I try to weigh all factors in forming my perspective. I am pro-life, but I don't pick the side lightly. It seems the only options are restricting a woman's control over her body or allowing the unrestricted killing of human fetuses. I take both outcomes seriously; something is sacrificed no matter which side you choose, and I think a lot of people recognize that.

But not everyone. A lot of people insist the issue is black and white, that their own view is the only obvious view. I think this happens because--out of the many factors that play into abortion--people decide which factor they think is the most important...and then they refuse to consider anything else.

For example, I've seen pro-choicers say that whether the fetus is a person is irrelevant because no person has the right to use your body against your will. I'd depict their perspective like this:

Similarly, I've seen pro-lifers say that it makes no sense to grant a rape exception because the fetus is a human being no matter how he or she was conceived. I'd depict their perspective like this:

I disagree with both of the above perspectives. I think both the humanity of the fetus and the woman's bodily rights matter. In my opinion, the scale should look more like this:

One factor may still outweigh another, but it won't outweigh by as much as if there were no other factors to consider. We can certainly argue over which factor has more weight, why it has more weight, and how much more weight it has. But those are very different arguments than asserting that only one factor matters at all.

When considering only bodily autonomy and humanity, I believe one person's bodily autonomy does outweigh another person's humanity. After all, we don't require people to donate blood even if it means other people will die without blood donations. We don't do this because your bodily autonomy--your right to decide whether or not to donate blood--is considered more important than the life of a man who will die without a blood transfusion. The dying man still has his humanity--no one is saying he's not a human being--but his humanity doesn't somehow mean you can be forced to donate blood. 

Some people say this does make the dying man's humanity irrelevant. After all, whether he is human or not, you still don't have to donate blood, right? Who cares whether bodily autonomy outweighs humanity a little or a lot--in the end it still outweighs, so why even talk about humanity?

Because humanity and bodily autonomy still aren't the only factors to consider. Other factors must be added to one side of the balance or the other, and the accumulation of multiple factors may tip the scales. For example, what if the man is dying because of you? What if you consented to some action you knew risked putting his life in danger? Maybe then the scale would look more like this:

Take away any one of the factors on the left, and bodily autonomy wins out again. But the combination of factors on the left is another story.

Now, there are actually many, many more factors to consider on both sides of the scale. My point in this post is not to give an exhaustive argument for why I think most abortions should be illegal. My point is simply to say that there are a lot of factors in the abortion debate, and while some of them weigh more than others, they all weigh something. Keep that in mind.

[Re-posted at Secular Pro-Life]


  1. I can appreciate the article but it should be noted that passively neglecting to give blood to save a human, is quite different than actively acting to terminate a human.

    1. True. Passive vs. active killing is another factor I would add to the balance, but as a separate consideration from bodily autonomy.