What Constitutes A Right? - A Nuanced Take on The Topic of Abortion


Disclaimer: The following is an opinion piece. It reflects solely the views of the author, and not the views of the Liberalist International Association as a whole.

The act of abortion is immoral — At least by most modern standards of morality, and yet it is legal almost everywhere in the West. I shall endeavor not to waste your time with what is otherwise a tired argument, and seek to get to the conclusion of my own understanding of why this is as quickly as possible. To do so, we must start by first addressing the stark realities of the topic in question.

Firstly, to terminate a zygote or a fetus is to end what would, if left undeterred, quite likely become a human life.

Simply put, to terminate a pregnancy is, in almost all cases, to kill a person that would exist, in order to benefit a person or people that do already exist. This is where the fundamental immorality of the action comes from; the act of taking another life to benefit your own. The point of contention and moral grandstanding done over the action is usually over where the life in question begins.

For those who are of a particularly fundamentalist religious bent, some believe that such termination, even after the very moment of insemination, is murder. In which case, the 80% of viable zygotes that never result in pregnancies from failing to attach to the uterine wall would mean that whatever God these people deemed is the creator of humanity, is surely the most bloodthirsty being in all of existence, but that is neither here nor there.

From the initial decision of Roe V. Wade to proclaim that personhood is gained as a fetus matures, to various bills suggesting a heartbeat is the moment that a human exists, or that when a fetus feels pain is the most appropriate time to draw the line, there are various nuanced takes on what defines personhood and where the line ought to be drawn. Unfortunately, most of these positions seem to be based around either idealism or moralizing, most of which tends to be largely based on emotional arguments. These offer no conclusive answers on the matter.

Second, we must address the right to agency, for a person to determine their own life, their own circumstances, and therefore, their own autonomy, both of action and of thought. With women being individuals who have autonomy, and who have ownership of themselves, the most fundamental right that we uphold (self-ownership) must be called into question, for if we do not own ourselves, are we ever truly free?

Many scoff at the idea of the “It’s her body” argument, but I would posit that is likely because few articulate it from a point of it being the right of a person to own themselves. Ultimately, however, this usually winds up in a recursive loop of “Doesn’t the baby have a right to their self?” to which the answer varies depending on how pragmatic you are about the situation, versus how dogmatic you are about rights.

Lastly, we come to the outcomes, which is what most of the real argument stems around; what the reality of the situation is, absent the moralizing. One way or another you are discussing lives, and making a distinction as to the value not only of those lives, but of responsibilities you wish to force upon those people. If you are strictly anti-abortion, you are saying that a woman should be forced to bear the child of her rapist, or else potentially die from complications of the birth. If you are strictly pro-whenever up-to-birth abortion, you are complicit in harming living breathing human beings that would survive perfectly well outside of the womb.

The point I am attempting to make clear is that there is no good side to this argument. No matter how you cut the cake on the issue of abortion, somebody winds up worse off for it. Everybody loses, and in the end, we all have our personal reasons to draw the line where we choose to draw it. I personally fall on the side of the pain principle, which is what informs most of my moral justifications. I would not personally be party to an abortion after 12 weeks unless the mother’s life was in danger from carrying it to term, or the woman in question was physically trapped against her will and forced to carry the child past that deadline.

I choose 12 weeks because that is when the fetus develops a nervous system and is capable of feeling pain. It is largely an arbitrary choice, based on several factors, most of which are caveats that I find reasonable for the awful moral situations we often find ourselves in. I find myself weighing sins, and trying to sort out which is the more heinous, and this is where I, personally, have landed.

And that is the point. I alone have made this deliberation. I am sure you, the reader, will have made your own. Be that more relaxed than I, be that more strict than I, that is your decision to make, and I leave that in your hands, as I think most of these decisions should be left. I am not your keeper, and I do not consider it my moral duty to arbitrate your decisions as though I know what is best for you and your life, which is also why I believe we need to leave the choice of abortion in the hands of those who can choose it.

Abortion, as a practice, is an evil used to counteract a greater evil. Some would say a necessary evil to prevent worse things from arising as a result. Of course there are consequences, but the answer is not to ban the practice, because the practice itself is a solution to a complex and troubling problem that we do not have an answer for; how do we control for human nature and all of the circumstances it produces? Surely the answer cannot come from punishing rape victims and forcing countless other young children to grow up in an over-crowded and underfunded foster care system?

In an ideal world, no pregnancy would be unwanted or suffer from complications. No rape would happen, and no abortions would be necessary, but we do not live in that world, and we probably never will. As such, I must (much to my own chagrin) quote former President Bill Clinton on this topic: “Abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.”

The best middle ground we can strike on this is to try to make sure that people have the information to make informed decisions about their sexual behaviors, and to remind people that abortion is not something to be celebrated, as some misanthropes seem to enjoy doing. It is a choice we allow because we must; because the alternative is abject poverty, squalor, pain, suffering, misery and potentially death for others as well. Each potential that is snuffed out is a solemn and regrettable occurrence, and we should do everything we can to find better alternative solutions to it if we really care about the moral outcomes underlying each situation that resulted in that choice being made.