Roe v. Wade Day #33

This post is part of Blog for Choice Day: January 22, 2006.

Today is the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which took the boots of the State from off the necks of millions of women across the United States. There’s a lot not to like about the specifics of the reasoning, and it’s sometimes frustrating that Roe is the ruling that we’ve got to celebrate, or at least defend. But January 22 is a jubilee day, the capstone victory of a remarkable, explosive struggle — which took place over the course of just under 4 years, from the decisive beginning of the pro-choice movement among radical feminists in early 1969, to the decision in January 1973. (There was a small, barely effectual abortion law reform movement before 1969; but February and March 1969 marked the beginning of the abortion law repeal movement, and also the beginning of the pro-choice argument — that is, early 1969 is when the argument shifted from feeling sorry for the poor girl in dire circumstances, to women demanding that they had a right to the determine how their own bodies will or will not be used.

Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!

Like most anniversaries, this one is partly about remembering and honoring. Today there are three things that I want you to remember, or to learn.

First, you should know all about two months that made all the difference. This is from Susan Brownmiller’s In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution:

February 1969 was an important month in the abortion struggle. Larry Lader, a biographer of Margaret Sanger, summoned a handful of professionals in law and medicine to the Drake Hotel in Chicago for the organizing conference of NARAL, the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws. (NARAL became the National Abortion Rights Action League in 1974.) The conferees targeted specific states where they believed the repressive codes could be knocked down. New York, with its liberal constituency, was a top priority. Bills ranging from modest reforms (in cases of rape and incest) to outright repeal of all criminal penalties were already in the legislative hopper.

Betty Friedan, one of the main speakers at the Chicago NARAL meeting, reflected the changing political climate. At NOW’s founding convention in 1966, she had bowed to a clique that insisted that abortion rights were too divisive, too sexual, and too controversial for the fledgling organization, but since then a groundswell of younger members had stiffened her spine. NOW was being inundated by kids, one member observed. The kids from New York, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and elsewhere pushed through an abortion plank at NOW’s 1967 convention.

And the kids were forging ahead with their own tactics. On the same wintry day in mid-February when NARAL’s founders were traveling to Chicago for their first conference six state legislators held a public hearing in Manhattan on some proposed liberalizing amendments to the New York law. Typical of the times, the six legislators were men, and the spekaers invited to present expert testimony were fourteen men and a Catholic nun.

On the morning of the February 13 hearing, a dozen infiltrators camouflaged in dresses and stockings entered the hearing room and spaced themselves around the chamber. Some called themselves Redstockings, and some, like Joyce Ravitz, wre free-floating radicals who were practiced hands at political disruptions. Ravitz, in fact, had been on her way to another demonstration when she’d run into the Redstockings women, who convinced her to join them.

As a retired judge opined that abortion might be countenanced as a remedy after a woman had fulfilled her biological service to the community by bearing four children, Kathie Amatniek leaped to her feet and shouted, Let’s hear from the real experts—women! Taking her cue, Joyce Ravitz began to declaim an impassioned oration. Ellen Willis jumped in. More women rose to their feet.

Men don’t get pregnant, men don’t bear children. Men just make laws, a demonstrator bellowed.

Why are you refusing to admit we exist? cried another.

Girls, girls, you’ve made your point. Sit down. I’m on your side, a legislator urged, raising the temperature a notch higher.

Don’t call us girls, came the unified response. We are women!

The hearing dissolved in confusion. When the chairman attempted to reconvene it behind closed doors, the women sat down in the corridor, refusing to budge.

Stories appeared the next day in the Times (Women Break Up Abortion Hearing), the New York Post (Abortion Law Protesters Disrupt Panel), and the Daily News. Ellen Willis slipped out of her activist guise to do a report for Talk of the Town in The New Yorker. Nanette Rainone filed for WBAI radio and the Pacfica network. Barely a month old, Redstockings, with an assist from the radical floaters, had successfully dramatized the need for woman as expert in the abortion debate.

Five weeks later, on March 21, 1969, Redstockings staged a public speak-out, Abortion: Tell It Like It Is, at the Washington Square Methodist Church, a hub of antiwar activism in Greenwich Village. For some Women’s Liberation founders, the speak-out was the movement’s finest hour. Astounding, is the way Irene Peslikis puts it. It showed the power of consciousness-raising, how theory comes from deep inside a person’s life, and how it leads directly to action.

Peslikis had organized the panel and coached the women who were willing to speak. The idea, she says, was to get examples of different kinds of experiences—women who’d had the babies that were taken away, women who went to the hospital for a therapeutic abortion, women who’d gone the illegal route, the different kinds of illegal routes.

Three hundred women and a few men filled the church that evening as Helen Kritzler, Barbara Kaminsky, Rosalyn Baxandall, Anne Forer, and a few other brave souls passed a small microphone back and forth. Baxandall broke the ice with a touch of humor. I thought I was sophisticated, she joked into the mike. My boyfriend told me if he came a second time, the sperm would wash away, and I believed him.

Another woman recounted, So there I was in West New York, New Jersey, and the doctor had these crucifixes and holy pictures on the wall, and all he wanted was nine hundred dollars. I took out a vacation loan and I’m still paying it off.

Judy Gabree hurtled forward. I went to eleven hospitals searching for a therapeutic abortion. At the tenth, they offered me a deal. They’d do it if I agreed to get sterilized. I was twenty years old. I had to pretend I was crazy and suicidal, but having the abortion was the sanest thing I’d done.

More women added their personal testimony. I was one of those who kept quiet. Irene Peslikis had asked me to be one of the speakers, but I chose an easier path and played Village Voice reporter. My front-page story, Everywoman’s Abortions: The Oppressor Is Man, was the only substantive coverage the landmark speak-out received. Some retyped it in Chicago for the newsletter, which carried the news to activists around the country.

Another journalist, in aviator glasses and a miniskirt, was taking notes in the church that evening. She hovered near Jane Everhart, a NOW member, and whispered What’s going on?

Everhart whispered back, Sit down and listen!

Gloria Steinem was a friend of Women’s Liberation in 1969, but she had not yet thrown in her lot with the movement. Her plate was already overflowing with causes. Gloria spoke out against the war in Vietnam on late-night talk shows, raised money for liberal Democrats and Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers, and wrote earnest pieces on all of her issues for the popular magazines. Genetically endowed with the rangy limbs and sculpted features of a fashion model, Steinem glided through the rarefied world of radical chic expertly building her political connections. Beneath the exterior of the celebrity journalist was a woman who yearned to save the world.

Steinem received a shock of recognition when a Redstocking quipped, I bet every woman here has had an abortion. Hers had been done by a Harley Street practitioner in London during the late fifties after she’d graduated from Smith. Later she would say that the speak-out was her feminist revelation, the moment that redirected her public path. That night, however, she was working on a tight deadline. She threw together a hasty paragraph for the political diary she wrote for New York magazine. Nobody wants to reform the abortion laws, she explained in print. They want to repeal them. Completely.

The Redstockings abortion speak-out was an emblematic event for Women’s Liberation. Speak-outs based on the New York women’s model were organized in other cities within the year, and subsequent campaigns to change public opinion in the following decade would utilize first-person testimony in a full range of issues from rape and battery to child abuse and sexual harassment. The importance of personal testimony in a public setting, which overthrew the received wisdom of the experts, cannot be overestimated. It was an original technique and a powerful ideological tool. Ultimately, of course, first-person discourse on a dizzying variety of intimate subjects would become a gimmicky staple of the afternoon television talk shows, where the confessional style was utilized for its voyeuristic shock value. Back then, personal testimony was a political act of great courage.

— Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, pp. 106—109

Second, you should know why they were out there, putting themselves on the line for this, and why doing that had such a remarkable impact in so short of a time. I think we can find some of the reasons in Lucinda Cisler’s wonderful, hauntingly prescient Abortion law repeal (sort of): a warning to women (1969).

… The most important thing feminists have done and have to keep doing is to insist that the basic reason for repealing the laws and making abortions available is justice: women’s right to abortion.

… Until just a couple of years ago the abortion movement was a tiny handful of good people who were still having to concentrate just on getting the taboo lifted from public discussions of the topic. They dared not even think about any proposals for legal change beyond reform (in which abortion is grudgingly parceled out by hospital committee fiat to the few women who can prove they’ve been raped, or who are crazy, or are in danger of bearing a defective baby). They spent a lot of time debating with priests about When Life Begins, and Which Abortions Are Justified. They were mostly doctors, lawyers, social workers, clergymen, professors, writers, and a few were just plain women—usually not particularly feminist.

Part of the reason the reform movement was very small was that it appealed mostly to altruism and very little to people’s self-interest: the circumstances covered by reform are tragic but they affect very few women’s lives, whereas repeal is compelling because most women know the fear of unwanted pregnancy and in fact get abortions for that reason.

… These people do deserve a lot of credit for their lonely and dogged insistence on raising the issue when everybody else wanted to pretend it didn’t exist. But because they invested so much energy earlier in working for reform (and got it in ten states), they have an important stake in believing that their position is the realistic one—that one must accept the small, so-called steps in the right direction that can be wrested from reluctant politicians, that it isn’t quite dignified to demonstrate or shout what you want, that raising the women’s rights issue will alienate politicians, and so on.

Because of course, it is the women’s movement whose demand for repeal—rather than reform—of the abortion laws has spurred the general acceleration in the abortion movement and its influence. Unfortunately, and ironically, the very rapidity of the change for which we are responsible is threatening to bring us to the point where we are offered something so close to what we want that our demands for radical change may never be achieved.

—Lucinda Cisler, Abortion law repeal (sort of): a warning to women, ¶¶ 2–10

Cisler goes on to review four different restrictions or limitations on abortion-law repeal that she thinks could make for just this sort of roadblock. One of the best sections in the essay is her discussion a restriction with which we are all too familiar in the post-Roe world:

3: Abortions may not be performed beyond a certain time in pregnancy, unless the woman’s life is at stake. Significantly enough, the magic time limit varies from bill to bill, from court decision to court decision, but this kind of restriction essentially says two things to women: (a) at a certain stage, your body suddenly belongs to the state and it can force you to have a child, whatever your own reasons for wanting an abortion late in pregnancy; (b) because late abortion entails more risk to you than early abortion, the state must protect you even if your considered decision is that you want to run that risk and your doctor is willing to help you. This restriction insults women in the same way the present preservation-of-life laws do: it assumes that we must be in a state of tutelage and cannot assume responsibility for our own acts. Even many women’s liberation writers are guilty of repeating the paternalistic explanation given to excuse the original passage of U.S. laws against abortion: in the nineteenth century abortion was more dangerous than childbirth, and women had to be protected against it. Was it somehow less dangerous in the eighteenth century? Were other kinds of surgery safe then? And, most important, weren’t women wanting and getting abortions, even though they knew how much they were risking? Protection has often turned out to be but another means of control over the protected; labor law offers many examples. When childbirth becomes as safe as it should be, perhaps it will be safer than abortion: will we put back our abortion laws, to protect women?

… There are many reasons why a woman might seek a late abortion, and she should be able to find one legally if she wants it. She may suddenly discover that she had German measles in early pregnancy and that her fetus is deformed; she may have had a sudden mental breakdown; or some calamity may have changed the circumstances of her life: whatever her reasons, she belongs to herself and not to the state.

—Lucinda Cisler, Abortion law repeal (sort of): a warning to women, ¶¶ 19, 21

Third, you should know what the women of Jane did in Chicago to help make their sisters’ ownership of their own bodies a reality, without the blessing of the male experts and in defiance of the male State. Here’s Brownmiller, again:

Radical women in Chicago poured their energy into Jane, an abortion referral service initiated by Heather Booth, who had been a one-woman grapevine for her college classmates. In 1971, after Booth’s departure, some of the women took matters into their own hands and secretly began to perform the abortions themselves. Safe, compassionate terminations for a modest fee became their high calling—a model, as they saw it, for women’s empowerment after the revolution.

Leaflets appeared in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the University of Chicago bearing a simple message: Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane at 643-3844. The number rang at the home of one of the activists who volunteered to be Jane. As word spread and the volume of calls increased, the service acquired its own phone line and an answering machine, a cumbersome reel-to-reel device that was one of the first on the market. Volunteers, known inside the service as call-back Janes, visited the abortion seekers to elicit crucial medical details (most important was lmp, the number of weeks since the last menstrual period), then another level of volunteers scheduled an appointment with one of the abortionists on the group’s list.

At first the service relied on Mike in Cicero, who was fast, efficient, and willing to lower his price to five hundred dollars as the volume increased. Mike gradually let down his guard with Jody Parsons, his principal Jane contact, an artisan who sold her beaded jewelry and ceramics at street fairs and was a survivor of Hodgkin’s disease. The clandestine abortionist and the hippy artisan struck up a bond. When Mike confessed that he was not in fact a real doctor but merely a trained technician, she cajoled him into teaching her his skills. Jody’s rapid success in learning to maneuver the dilating clamps, curettes, and forceps demystified the forbidden procedures for another half dozen women in Jane. If he can do it, then we can do it became their motto.

Madeline Schwenk, a banker’s daughter who had married at twenty, six months pregnant with no clue whatsoever about how to get an abortion, moved from counseling to vacuum aspiration after Harvey Karman, the controversial director of a California clinic, came to Chicago to demonstrate his technique. Madeline was one of the few women in Jane who was active in NOW, and who stayed affiliated with the Chicago chapter during the year she wielded her cannula and curette for the service. I’d get up in the morning, make breakfast for my three kids, go off to do the abortions, then go home to make dinner, she reminisces. Pretty ourageous behavior when you think about it. But exciting.

Jane’s abortion practitioners and their assistants were able to handle a total of thirty cases a day at affordable fees—under one hundred dollars. A doctor and a pharmacist among the women’s contacts kept them supplied with antibiotics.

Fear of police surveillance in radical circles had its match among clandestine abortionists who relied on a complicated rigamarole of blindfolds and middlemen. Jane straddled both worlds. Abortion seekers gathered every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at a front apartment, usually the home of a Jane member or friend, and were escorted by Jane drivers to the Place, a rented apartment where the abortions were performed. The fronts and the Place changed on a regular basis. New volunteers, brought into the group by counselors and drivers, went through a probation period before they were told that women in Jane were doing the abortions. The news did not sit well with everyone. Turnover was high, from fear and from burnout, although the service usually maintained its regular complement of thirty members.

Jane lost most of its middle-class clientele after the New York law [repealing the state’s abortion ban] went into effect. Increasingly it began to service South Side women, poor and black, who did not have the money to travel out of state, and whose health problems, from high blood pressure to obesity, were daunting. Pressure on the providers intensified. Audaciously they added second-trimester abortionsby induced miscarriage to their skills.

On May 3, 1972, near the conclusion of a busy work day in an eleventh-floor apartment on South Shore Drive overlooking Lake Michigan, Jane got busted. Seven women, including Madeline Schwenk, were arrested and bailed out the following day. The Chicago Daily News blared Women Seized in Cut-Rate Clinic in a front-page banner. The Tribune buried Lib Groups Linked to Abortions on an inside page. Six weeks later the service was back in buinsess. Wisely, the women facing criminal charges selected a defense attorney who was clued in to and optimistic about the national picture. She advised them to hang tight—some interesting developments were taking place in Washington that could help their case. (After the January 1973 Roe decision, all outstanding charges against the seven were dropped.)

The activists of Jane believe they performed more than ten thousand abortions. It’s a ballpark figure based on the number of procedures they remember doing in a given week. For security reasons they did not keep records.

— Susan Brownmiller, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution, pp. 123—125

It’s important to remember that, although the occasion for celebrating January 22 is a Supreme Court decision, the repeal of abortion laws wasn’t a gift handed down out of benevolence by a gang of old men in robes. It was struggled for, and won, by women in our own times. Women who stood up for themselves, who challenged the authority of self-appointed male experts and law-makers, who spoke truth to power. Radical women who took things into their own hands and helped their sisters, in defiance of the law, because they knew that they had a right to do it. Radical feminists who built a movement for their own freedom over a matter of months and decisively changed the world in less than five years. It’s not just that we owe Kathie Sarachild, Joyce Ravitz, Ellen Willis, Lucinda Cisler, Heather Booth, Jody Parsons, Madeline Schwenk, and so many others our praise. They do deserve our cheers, but they also deserve our study and our emulation. They did amazing things, and we — feminists, leftists, anti-statists — owe it not only to them, but to ourselves, to honor them by trying to learn from their example.

Today

The other thing that anniversaries are good for is to renew commitments and lead us forward. What’s going on today, and what can we do?

(These are links I caught throughout the day of January 22. Most of them came from Feminist Blogs or from NARAL’s Blog for Choice Day round-up.)

18 replies to Roe v. Wade Day #33 Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Sergio Méndez

    (a) at a certain stage, your body suddenly belongs to the state and it can force you to have a child, whatever your own reasons for wanting an abortion late in pregnancy;

    Charles, I will agree certainly that the vast mayority of those who support anti abortion laws or banning abortion are or 1) religious nuts 2) Male with deep mysogenist convictions. But I have to say that I support abortion only until a point of pregnancy. But if it is true that:

    1- Nobody has the right to kill other human persons, except on self defense. 2- The fetus turns into human person on some point of the pregnancy.

    Does the woman have the right to kill the fetus, at least on some point of the pregancy?

    I believe 1 and 2, but if you don’t, don’t you think those premises deserve a debate? Or does the women has the right to kill the fetus (in the point the fetus is a Human person) just cause the fetus happens to be inside the belly of the woman?

  2. Lady Aster

    “…just cause the fetus happens to be inside the belly of the woman?”

    JUST happens to be inside the body of a woman? JUST!!???! What kind of belief in human dignity or individual rights treats one’s own body as a “just”!!??

    IS the woman of individual or is HER OWN BODY hostage to the needs of others or the needs of the species? What could be more misogynist than treating a fetus as a ‘human person’ in an abstract lack of context, while treating a woman with a life of her own as some kind of accidental, inert vessel???

  3. Rad Geek

    Sergio:

    I believe 1 and 2, but if you don’t, don’t you think those premises deserve a debate? Or does the women has the right to kill the fetus (in the point the fetus is a Human person) just cause the fetus happens to be inside the belly of the woman?

    The woman has a natural and inalienable human right to control the use of her own body — including her own internal organs — including her own reproductive organs. That right entails that even a fully human person who depended on the use of her womb to survive could be evicted, by force if necessary. (That’s what it means to say that her body belongs to her, and not to the State.) So I don’t know, and don’t actually care, whether or when fetuses become rights-bearing persons prior to birth. Abortion, if it is violence against a person, is justifiable violence in self-defense. If it’s not, then of course the issue doesn’t arise in the first place.

    I think it’s important to notice how this kind of argument only gets trotted out when it comes to women’s wombs. I have two healthy kidneys; and it might turn out to be the case some day that somebody needs one of them to survive (suppose that they’re suffering acute renal failure, can’t wait for an out-of-town transplant, and I’m the only likely match in town). Now, it’s an open question whether I’d be cruel or selfish not to go under the knife and give him or her one of my kidneys. But if I do refuse, even if that does make me a rotten person, I don’t think that there’s any question at all that he or she hasn’t got a right to tie me down, knock me out, and cut out one of my kidneys against my will. That’s treating me as a slave; indeed, it is a worse invasion of my body than most slaves endured.

    One of the things we have to remember on Roe v. Wade Day is how important it was that the radical feminist movement won the fight for abortion law repeal, precisely because they stopped acting as if the male State and male medical and religious experts ought to make women’s decisions about childbearing for them, stopped trying to show them that it really was in the authorities’ interests, after all, to allow a bit of abortion here and there, and started demanding respect, as women, to make their own decisions about their own bodies, and the compelling interests of the authorities be damned. When women were making this argument forcefully, it simply cut the knot of the endless dickering over When Life Begins and Which Abortions Were justified (as Cisler puts it), and left the decision where it belongs: with the individual woman who finds herself pregnant. (I think, incidentally, that the effect that radical feminism had on the movement against abortion laws, incidentally, is one of the best examples of how 20th century radical feminism ought to be an essential touchstone for 21st century libertarian feminism.)

    In any case, for more in-depth discussion of the line of argument here, see GT 2004-05-30: Why We Marched. For a similar line of argument, see Judith Jarvis Thomson (1971): A Defense of Abortion.

  4. Alex Gregory

    Hi there,

    Some cantankerous questions:

    “The woman has a natural and inalienable human right to control the use of her own body”

    What supports the difference between this right of control over my own body and the right of control that entitles me to swing an axe at your head? (obviously appealing to ‘the fetus is a mere vegetable’ is to agree that Thomsonian arguments don’t really cut it)

    “I think it’s important to notice how this kind of argument only gets trotted out when it comes to women’s wombs. I have two healthy kidneys; and it might turn out to be the case some day that somebody needs one of them to survive (suppose that they’re suffering acute renal failure, can’t wait for an out-of-town transplant, and I’m the only likely match in town). Now, it’s an open question whether I’d be cruel or selfish not to go under the knife and give him or her one of my kidneys. But if I do refuse, even if that does make me a rotten person, I don’t think that there’s any question at all that he or she hasn’t got a right to tie me down, knock me out, and cut out one of my kidneys against my will. That’s treating me as a slave; indeed, it is a worse invasion of my body than most slaves endured.”

    Rape cases aside (which are obviously incredibly important, but I’m guessing not the paradigm case), isn’t there a very different issue of culpability in your example here? You didn’t choose to create the dependent in the first place (imagine you poison her first which creates the need for the kidney: it then starts to get a bit more murky).

  5. Sergio Méndez

    Lady:

    IS the woman of individual or is HER OWN BODY hostage to the needs of others or the needs of the species?

    I fully agree that the women is the owner of her own body. But the question I am trying to pose is if owning something gives me the right to kill another human being just cause it happens to be in my property. Suppose that a plane crashes on my property and there are survivors…do I have the right to take them out and put them to die on the road just cause I don’t want them on my property? Of course this example is not exactly the same, cause we are talking about the women body and not a piece of land, but I think it is the same principle. I personally support abortion until the first trimester (and for all the pregnancy for cases of rape and when the women life is treatned), cause I think that 1) The women is the owner of her own body AND 2) There is no living human person inside her. But while 1 remains valid during all times, I am not sure we can say that of 2.

  6. Sergio Méndez

    I have two healthy kidneys; and it might turn out to be the case some day that somebody needs one of them to survive (suppose that they’re suffering acute renal failure, can’t wait for an out-of-town transplant, and I’m the only likely match in town). Now, it’s an open question whether I’d be cruel or selfish not to go under the knife and give him or her one of my kidneys. But if I do refuse, even if that does make me a rotten person, I don’t think that there’s any question at all that he or she hasn’t got a right to tie me down, knock me out, and cut out one of my kidneys against my will. That’s treating me as a slave; indeed, it is a worse invasion of my body than most slaves endured.

    That is an interesting example, but I am not sure if it is equivalent to the case of abortion. Cause when you refuse to donate your kidneys, you are not directly killing the person that is sick. That personn is dying of an afliction you had nothing to do with it. And even maybe that person will have another chance to find a donor to save his or her life. In the case of abortion, the practize imply that the fetus is killed as a result of the the action of aborting. The fetus does not has any other chance to survive.

  7. Otto Kerner

    Well, do parents have a responsibility to care for a child after it’s born?

  8. Lady Aster

    Sergio-

    She’s not the owner of her body; she is her body. Forced pregnancy is not a property crime but a violation of her being. To talk about a woman’s existence in her body in terms of property, but to talk about a fetus as a “human person”, is to blank out a woman as a first-person existence.

    As a post-transgender woman, I’m sterile, so I can neither concieve nor have an abortion. But the point remains- if you proposed to take up residence in my body for nine, six, or three months, regardless of my will, do you think I would hesitate for a moment to get rid of you by any means necessary, even if it meant your death?

    I second everything RadGeek said on this particular matter, and feel no particular reason to be polite about it.

  9. Rad Geek

    Alex:

    What supports the difference between this right of control over my own body and the right of control that entitles me to swing an axe at your head?

    You do have a right to swing an axe at my head defensively, i.e. if I’m assaulting you and the axe-swing is a necessary and proportional response to my aggression.

    Broadly speaking, the right to control your own body involves your freedom to exercise control over your own body consistent with the rights of others. But while other people do have a right not to have their heads chopped off without reason, they don’t have a right to demand the use of your internal organs against your will. And I think lethal force is clearly a legitimate, proportional defense against the non-conensual use of your reproductive organs (let alone the use of them for 9 months in a way that may lead to any number of health complications). So if a fetus isn’t a person, then there’s no moral issue (no more than there would be in excising a tumor); and if a fetus is a person, you’ve still got a right to evict it from your body, even if that inevitably means that it will die in the process.

    Alex:

    Rape cases aside (which are obviously incredibly important, but I’m guessing not the paradigm case), isn’t there a very different issue of culpability in your example here? You didn’t choose to create the dependent in the first place (imagine you poison her first which creates the need for the kidney: it then starts to get a bit more murky).

    This only makes a difference if a woman does something, in the course of becoming pregnant, to cede her presumptive right to control over her own uterus for the duration of the 9 months. I don’t think she does, or even that she could; for further discussion see section 4 in Thomson and the closing paragraphs in Why We Marched. Thomson thinks that the argument is dubious but leaves the question open for further discussion; I think the argument is obviously wrong.

    Sergio:

    That is an interesting example, but I am not sure if it is equivalent to the case of abortion. Cause when you refuse to donate your kidneys, you are not directly killing the person that is sick. That person is dying of an affliction you had nothing to do with it.

    I think this is a distinction without a moral difference in the case at hand. If someone comes after you with restraints and a scalpel to take one of your kidneys, that’s an act of aggression against you, and you have the right to resist it, violently if necessary, up to and including killing your attacker if she or he won’t back down. If there is no way to evict a fetus from your uterus without killing it, or no way to do so that doesn’t involve a substantially greater risk your well-being, then you have a right to do that.

    (If there is some method of expelling a fetus that isn’t significantly more dangerous than the equivalent method that involves killing it, and the fetus has the moral standing of a person, then it might be morally obligatory to use the non-killing method and letting the fetus die — or survive, if it is viable — rather than using the method that involves directly killing. But the number of cases in which any kind of consideration like that could come up is, at present, nil.)

    Otto:

    Well, do parents have a responsibility to care for a child after it’s born?

    I don’t know; I’m sure it depends on what you mean by “responsibility” and “care for”, among other things. Children’s rights, parents’ rights, and the scope and limits of parental obligations are very difficult and complicated issues for libertarian theory. I think I can say pretty confidently, though, that parents don’t have an enforceable obligation to turn the use of their own internal organs over to their children against their own wishes. (Again, supposing your child is suffering from renal failure, you’ve got the only kidneys that are likely to match, the doctor gets out the restraints and the scalpel…)

  10. Alex Gregory

    I may reply in more depth later, but I thought I’d note the following.

    If there is some method of expelling a fetus that isn’t significantly more dangerous than the equivalent method that involves killing it, and the fetus has the moral standing of a person, then it might be morally obligatory to use the non-killing method and letting the fetus die — or survive, if it is viable — rather than using the method that involves directly killing. But the number of cases in which any kind of consideration like that could come up is, at present, nil.

    Perhaps the following:

    Hysterectomy. A pregnant woman’s uterus is cancerous and must be removed to save her life. This will cause the fetus to die. (If the operation is not performed, the mother will die after having given birth to a healthy baby)

    Craniotomy. A pregnant woman will die unless the head of the fetus she is trying to deliver is crushed. (But a healthy baby will be born if the woman is allowed to die).

    I seem to recall that in the Catholic Church, and perhaps in some instances of law also, hysterectomys are permissible, craniotomy not.

    Of course, in each case the outcome is the same: either a dead child and a living mother, or a living child and a dead mother. As a consequentialist, I’ve always found the intending/foreseeing distinction to be incredibly dubious precisely because of this kind of case.

  11. Sergio Méndez

    She’s not the owner of her body; she is her body. Forced pregnancy is not a property crime but a violation of her being. To talk about a woman’s existence in her body in terms of property, but to talk about a fetus as a human person, is to blank out a woman as a first-person existence.

    As a post-transgender woman, I’m sterile, so I can neither concieve nor have an abortion. But the point remains— if you proposed to take up residence in my body for nine, six, or three months, regardless of my will, do you think I would hesitate for a moment to get rid of you by any means necessary, even if it meant your death?

    Well, I agree more indeed. I think usually we use the term owner for means of legal understanding, but you are right, she is indeed her body. But then the difference between the example you post and pregnancy is that in pregancy the fetus did not ask or consciously tried to get into the woman’s body. The fetus is, to return to an earlier example I used, like the man who has an accident and ends up into other person property. If I came, by my own will, to your house uninvited and decided to stay against your will, you certainly have the right to kick me out using force. But If I had an accident and ended up in your house or property, do you have the right to kick me out to the road and let me die? Like the person who suffers such an accident, the fetus does not has an option to leave voluntarely.

  12. Otto Kerner

    Well I would argue that parents do have a responsibility — if not a legally enforceably one, then at least a strong moral one — to care of their children after they’re born. I don’t know exactly how far that extends, but I think it would extend at least as far as the use of internal organs if that can be accomplished without causing serious harm to the parent. After all, you can’t really do anything without using your internal organs, so anything you do for anybody else constitutes using them on someone else’s behalf.

  13. Otto Kerner

    By the way,

    She’s not the owner of her body; she is her body.

    I will agree that the phrasing I own my body is kind of an odd way of putting it, and not entirely correct. However, it’s a lot better than the claim, I am my body, which is false in most people’s estimation. One could make a plausible case for, I am my mind.

  14. Roderick T. Long

    For what it’s worth, I have an article titled “Abortion, Abandonment, and Positive Rights” in the Winter 1993 issue of Social Philosophy & Policy, in which I try to defend the claim that there’s a right to abort an unborn child but no right to abandon it once it’s born. It’s not yet available online but I recently got permission to place it online so it’ll be available soon.

· February 2006 ·

  1. FFLt. K.C.S-Y

    In medical terms, a fetus is considered a human being once it can sustain life on its own outside the womb.

    There is a considerable difference between a woman exercising her right to have a theraputic abortion performed on her for whatever reasons she deems necessary and some horses backside commenting that its the same as them exercising their right to swing an axe at a persons head, a theraputic abortion performed before 18 weeks is legal and is done when the fetus is not considered viable by medical standards, swinging an axe at a person’s head is attempted MURDER…whoever came up with that comparisson really should go out and seek therapy. As to the parents obligation to care for a child after its born, I would think the staggering numbers of adoptions would give everyone an idea just how many people are exercising that obligation towards their born children. And in finishing, to say the Catholic church has rendered what is acceptable and what is not in relation to terminating an unwanted pregnancy is ludicris, you are talking about the very same religious entity who owns the patent on the Birth Control Pill…so much for the be fruitful and multiply theory they preach…you can be fruitful and multiply like rabbits unless of course you are a customer who uses the Pill, in which case you are benefitting their coffers with your contributions via purchasing their product.

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-01-22 – Roe v. Wade Day #34:

    […] Today is the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. In honor of the day there is a lot I want to say about abortion rights, and also an important announcement I want to make about a new project. But the dialectic and the announcement will both have to wait until the next couple days thanks to the demands of work; for now, I will mostly be repeating what I said last year. […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-01-22 – Roe v. Wade Day #35:

    […] —Redstockings demonstrator, at a New York legislative hearing on abortion laws, 13 February 1969 […]

— 2009 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-01-22 – Roe v. Wade Day #36:

    […] GT 2006-01-22: Roe v. Wade Day #33 […]

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