Abortion and Personhood

Reframing the Question of Personhood

The question of personhood rightly lies at the centre of debates over the issue of abortion. However, the way that this question is posed is seldom either helpful or illuminating. The concept of personhood that is operative within the question is one that is generally heavily freighted with problematic assumptions, on both sides of the debate. Within this post I want to suggest the possibility that we could press the question in a very different and more enlightening direction.

The question of personhood is habitually framed purely in the form of the question ‘is the fetus a person?’ By examining the characteristics of the unborn infant we are expected to reach some determination of whether it matches up to our standard of personhood.

A crucial underlying assumption here seems to be that personhood is an intrinsic property of a being. Yet such an assumption is by no means necessary and, as I believe we can recognize upon closer reflection upon the actual ways and contexts in which we ascribe personhood, by no means the most natural way of regarding matters.

An alternative starting point, one with far more to commend it, could begin with the recognition that personhood cannot truly be understood apart from relationship (the following thoughts owe much to John Zizioulas). While personhood can often be treated as if it were just another generic property of the human being, personhood is that which renders me unique and irreplaceable. It runs deeper than all of our individual properties as distinct human beings, and even deeper than our ‘personalities’. At its heart, personhood concerns itself with the who question, over the what questions. My personhood is not merely some property of my biological constitution, but a unique place that I occupy in relationship with others, that which exalts me above generic and interchangeable properties, and makes me irreducible to bare qualities or types. Abstract me from all relationship and reduce me to mere properties, and I am depersonalized.

If this is the case, then we are all partially constitutive of each other’s personhood. This truth can be demonstrated in innumerable ways. It is through relationship that we attain to identity, language, freedom, self-awareness, self-expression, and self-transcendence. Were it not for relationship, we would be little more than naked, feeble, and inarticulate beasts, prisoners of appetite and instinct. Our personhood cannot truly be conceived apart from relationship and to the extent that we deny relationship, we lose the ability to perceive personhood and dehumanize ourselves. Once this has been recognized, we should appreciate that any starting point that seeks to assess the personhood of the unborn infant in abstraction from relationship is fundamentally flawed.

Taking the relational character of personhood seriously from the outset, different ways of framing the personhood question present themselves. For instance, instead of analysing the unborn infant and seeing whether it has the intrinsic character of a person, perhaps it would be more worthwhile to ask questions such as ‘under which conditions if any can we make it possible for ourselves to cease to regard, or begin to regard, unborn infants as persons?’

People can and do view the unborn as persons all of the time. This ascription of personhood is not some conclusion arrived at only at the end of an involved philosophical argument, but is a natural and instinctive relationship to the child. What is more, this ascription of personhood is habitually performed under general conditions, not merely by pro-life campaigners, but by people across the spectrum, even many of those who would characterize themselves as firmly pro-choice, or have had or performed abortions. The same doctor who disposes of one woman’s child as a thing of little value can treat another woman’s child as a being of inestimable worth. The same woman who can feel and practice a profound and personalizing attachment to an unborn infant in one case, can seek to abort her unborn infant in another.

What accounts for the stark difference here? We could look in vain for some intrinsic difference between the unborn infants. The difference lies in the relationships with the infant. More particularly, the difference concerns the manner in which the persons relating to the infant view it, not the infant itself.

This form of ascription of personhood is not dependent upon holding that the unborn child has a certain level of mental, affective, or sensory capacities, and can happily acknowledge that the unborn infant exists in a penumbral state of being, where lots of things remain unclear, and the status of the post-natal individual is not yet enjoyed. The crispness of the conventional binary divisions between personhood and non-personhood as they touch upon the status of the unborn infant need not be as clearly defined under this approach, as our ascription of personhood is not contingent upon the intrinsic properties of the unborn infant to the same degree.

The Breakdown of our Perception of Personhood

Where this perception of personhood within the bonds of relationship exists, abortion is virtually unthinkable (although some might countenance it under the most extreme of situations, such as when the life of the mother is in jeopardy, when it will be regarded as an unspeakable tragedy). For abortion to occur, the sense of personhood needs to be numbed. The anaesthetizing of our sense of the unborn infant’s personhood is achieved through such means as linguistic sleight of hand: for instance, speaking of ‘the fetus’ rather than ‘your baby’ is a primary surgical incision of the abortion procedure. By such moves the bond between the infant and the mother, a bond far more important than any umbilical cord, is cut.

While such an ascription of personhood is generally strong, under certain conditions, such as rape pregnancy, it begins to lose hold. One does not have to look far to find people who, although asserting that the unborn infant is a person, are prepared to make an exception for abortion in the case of rape pregnancy. In such contexts, people find it quite possible to view the unborn in completely depersonalized and dehumanized ways.

My suggestion is that we need to focus the abortion debate more explicitly on those factors that make the difference, and upon which our ascription of personhood depends. As we have already observed, the factors that make the difference often tell us virtually nothing about the unborn infant itself, but they do tell us a lot about the person who holds the perceptions. The issue here is not whether the unborn infant is a person, but how our perceptions of personhood are formed, how we are able to see the unborn as persons, and what needs to be the case for us to lose our capacity to see them as such. Abortion is a symptom of a society’s person-blindness, and taking such an approach permits us to address it as such.

Phenomenologizing the question of the personhood of the unborn in such a manner makes it a question about ourselves, far more than it is a question about the unborn. It becomes a question about such things as the factors that shape our perception of personhood, about the practices, institutions, and realities that frame our experience and ascription of personhood, about our duties to welcome the gift of the other’s existence, and our duties to be co-creators of each other’s being.

I believe that the reframing of this question can point us in the direction of fertile areas of exploration. In particular, it draws our attention to the various factors that are shaping and altering our phenomenology of the child and the unborn. In the process it reveals the degree to which the question of abortion relates to a raft of other issues, issues that are usually considered quite distinct from it.

The phenomenology of the child and the unborn in today’s society is experiencing change from a number of different quarters. New understandings of the family are changing our perception of the child. The family has been sentimentalized, and its relationships are gradually being whittled down to mere close emotional attachments. As this occurs, children and our bonds to them are sentimentalized also. Where such sentiment is absent, the family and its relationships lose their rationale. The child who doesn’t have parents who feel sentimental about it has hardly any reason to exist and to be expected to bear a child that one does not love is wrong (much as being expecting to remain married to someone that one doesn’t love is completely unreasonable).

The relationships of the family are also being given a voluntaristic cast: marriage is now a lifestyle choice with the romantic choices of adults at its centre, rather than a vocation naturally ordered towards the procreation and raising of children. Hence the question of the ‘unwanted child’ often impacts upon the question of abortion.

Where marriage is regarded as a child-oriented vocation, marriage becomes a matter of creating a hospitable space where children can be welcomed into the world, with a place in society and its loving relationships secured for them. Where marriage is in decline, and illegitimacy is seen as having little significance, children increasingly enter the world as strangers, with no place prepared for them, and without the same clear claim upon our loyalties. When sexual relationships in general and even the institution of marriage are no longer ordered at their heart to the needs and interests of children, no openness to relationship with the unborn infant can be presumed upon and the unexpected child can come to be perceived as an intruder. Without this foundational openness to relationship, the unborn child is easily abstracted and depersonalized.

Our understanding of the child is radically impacted by other relationships. Whatever we may believe about the capacities of the unborn child, for Christians the fact that we know that God views it with love and concern shapes the way that we relate to it. We can’t depersonalize something that is loved by God in this manner.

Abortion is also far harder to countenance in the context of a loving and committed married relationship and a large immediate and extended family. Within such a context, the child is seen as a physical expression of the love between two persons, and as one who belongs in relationship with many others beyond the couple. The unborn child is a grandson, a sister, a nephew, a cousin. All of these relationships give the unborn child value as a person, and make it difficult for us to depersonalize the unborn child in our perception. They also make it harder for us to think that we can unilaterally determine the unborn infant’s fate.

Our present cultural understanding of the family is narrowly fixated on the sentimental snapshot of the small nuclear family, with two smiling parents and one or two kids. However, the family is a project that stretches across multiple generations, in which identity and culture are preserved, enriched, and passed on. Divorce and illegitimacy are extremely serious in this conception. Illegitimacy deprives a child of his patrimony. Divorce represents a loss and dissolution of the family’s social, relational, and financial capital, and the unravelling of the threads of our origins. When the life of the family is regarded as something that transcends us and places constraints, expectations, and duties upon us we begin to perceive both ourselves and our offspring very differently. We are no longer autonomous, but must recognize that the interest that many other parties have in us. Abortion in such a framework is far harder to countenance.

When sex is depersonalized, the conceived child is depersonalized too. A culture accustomed to casual sex will sleep far more easily with abortion. If sex is not naturally connected with procreation, with the expectation that before initiating a sexual relationship one must take responsibility for and make provision for its potential procreative consequences, conception does not have the same aspect. If you haven’t engaged in sex as a responsible act that might entail procreative consequences for which you must prepare ourselves, you will be far more likely to reject your unborn child as an unwanted and dispensable by-product. If you have meaningless sex with a person who means nothing to you, you will view the child conceived from such intercourse very differently from the manner in which the married couple who have pledged their bodies and entire lives to each other in a lifelong and exclusive personal one flesh union will view a child conceived from theirs.

Procreation has also been depersonalized. No longer limited to the context of the loving communication of pledged bodies sealing a comprehensive gift of selves in a one flesh lifelong exclusive union, the use of reproductive technology has become mainstream. More significantly, reproductive technology has shaped our perception of children and the unborn in general. Reproductive technology abstracts procreation from the personal gift of bodies in the marital act, operating in terms of the autonomy of bodies (a position advanced ideologically by the feminist movement, for instance).

The belief in the autonomy of bodies denies and resists the ways in which our bodies are naturally connected and ordered to those of others. In the autonomy of bodies the ordering of male and female bodies to each other is no longer treated as a natural aspect of their phenomenology. The same is the case with the relationship between the unborn infant and its mother. The natural connection can be presented as if it were one of violent alien invasion, or parasitic attachment. The surrogate mother probably has no lasting attachment to the child that she bears. Her body is merely a host for a being that, although attached, bears no real relationship. Bonds of flesh and blood and shared bodies are denied their natural meaning.

Not only can bodies be detached from other bodies, they can also be depersonalized and detached from persons. Bodies are atomized: one person provides sperm, another a womb, another an egg. Procreation is no longer limited to the realm of aneconomic bodily gift in marriage, but is mediated by technology and the marketplace, the atomized body and its parts and materials being bought and sold. If you are dealing only with an anonymous sperm donor and concerned solely with the quality of his genetic material, your attitude to the conceived child will be rather different to someone who conceived the child with her husband and a father-to-be. No prizes for guessing which child is more likely to be regarded in a depersonalized manner.

As bodily ties are denied with the rise of the atomized, depersonalized, and autonomous body, the meaning of the unborn child’s existence is no longer assured by the personal ties created by shared bodies, but becomes contingent upon some parent choosing in their favour. Parenthood ceases to have any real meaning. Where the bonds between bodies and between bodies and persons are recognized, a given-ness of the relationship between the parents and their unborn child is ensured. Where this no longer exists, relationship can only be a voluntaristic choice that the parents may or may not make in the child’s favour. While the choice remains unmade, the child exists in a sort of ontological limbo, its status as a person hanging in the balance.

All of this is mixed up with a liberal view of the person as the autonomous and rational right-bearing agent, and the reconfiguration of the unruly reality of the family around this. For liberal thought, with the autonomous and undifferentiated right-bearing individual as the primary unit of explanation, the realities represented by the family and children in particular pose immense problems and cannot easily be processed. A ‘one flesh’ union that expresses sexual difference, the ordering of male and female bodies to each other, and has the natural capacity to produce a new public reality, imposing an identity onto persons born into a ground level aneconomic order of gift that both precedes and transcends the political, just breaks too many of liberalism’s rules.

Why Resistance to Same-Sex Marriage is a Pro-Life Position

Not a few Christians believe that the Church should take a stand on the ‘pro-life’ issue of abortion, but are embarrassed when the Church takes an equally principled stand against same-sex marriage. Thinking about the subject of same-sex marriage a while back, I was struck by just how much our struggle for a Christian phenomenology of the child presses us to fight against same-sex marriage. The argument above demonstrates that taking a stand against same-sex marriage is essentially a pro-life matter.

One could in fact argue that the paradigmatic family of liberal ideology is the same-sex couple with adopted children or children born through reproductive technology, a family of purely volitional attachments (every child is chosen) between undifferentiated individual sexual agents for whom gender need not be stipulated, creating a privatized realm of sentimental bonds, where bodies are clearly autonomous and all relationships boil down to romantic or emotional attachment adumbrated by contract.

The same-sex marriage debate isn’t a debate about whether certain individuals can get married, so much as it is a debate about the meaning of marriage itself. As such, the same-sex marriage debate has bearing upon the way that our entire society conceives of and practices marriage.

Same-sex marriage leads us to deny or undermine the ordering of the institution of marriage towards children. Children become a secondary storey that may or may not be added to the relationship. It presents sex as a univocal reality, no longer ordered towards procreation. It denies or undermines the privileged and unique character of the sexual relationship between men and women as it relates to procreation and parenthood. It treats the parental roles of mother and father as interchangeable or dispensable. It downplays the significance of the marital ideal of children being conceived out of the loving intercourse of the pledged bodies of their parents. It relativizes the importance of the bonds of blood that connect us to our offspring and to or wider families. It hastens the voluntarization of the concept of parenthood. And, let’s not fool ourselves: it is in connection with the same-sex family that the widespread use of reproductive technology to circumvent any need to procreate naturally will become normalized, and come to be regarded as the right of the individual sexual agent.

Same-sex marriage is the epitome of the new liberal conception of marriage in general. While our battle against this conception is far broader than one against same-sex marriage – these notions are widely held by people within conventional marriages – it is at this point that the antitheses come to their clearest expression.

This new doctrine of marriage has massive implications for our phenomenology of the child. One by one, it snips the personalizing bonds of relationship that shape our perception of children in general, and the unborn in particular. Once normalized, these concepts will be free to infect our entire society’s perception of such matters.

Avenues for Theological Reflection on the Unborn

The Scriptures present us with a set of beliefs and practices that enable us to perceive the unborn as persons, and to welcome them into the world. The state of pre-birth is seen as one of loving preparation and anticipation of what is yet to be, and is illustrative of our pre-eschatological existence. Because God is a hospitable God, he has opened his future to us, and on account of this future, our present unformed state gains considerable value and significance. Our current existence is not regarded according to some dubious intrinsic worth, but according to the promise of what we will become in Christ.

God’s regarding us in our unformed state, not assessing our being according to its intrinsic merits, but in accordance with his loving imputation of righteousness, and in light of what he will one day form us to be in Christ is essentially the truth of justification. We are loved as the Father relates to us in terms of his relationship with his Son in the communion of the Spirit. We are loved as God has prepared a future for us, and consequently can view us in terms of what we can one day become, rather than just what we presently are. We are loved as our creation is regarded as a personal act, in which God is lovingly invested. We are loved as we are bound up in the Spiritual communion of the saints through our relationships with faithful parents and relations.

In these analogies, we are the unborn, still awaiting what we will one day be. Our unborn children are prophetic gifts to us, in which God allows us to participate in something of the reality of the relationship that he bears to us in the present. God’s hospitality, tenderness, compassion, love, regard for, and personalizing dealings with us in our present unformed state afford us a pattern for our own relationships with the unborn.

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15 Responses to Abortion and Personhood

  1. Steve Cruver says:

    Great post! I’m going to pass it along. Have you read T.F. Torrance’s ‘The Being and Nature of the Unborn Child’? Here is a great quote: “…he
    became a human being for us, in the womb of the Virgin
    Mary, lived and died on the Cross and rose again for our
    redemption, so, I believe, we must think of its importance
    for our understanding of and regard for the unborn child,
    everyone of whom has been brothered by the Lord Jesus.
    In becoming a human being for us, he also became an
    embryo for the sake of all embryos, and for our Christian
    understanding of the being, nature and status in God’s
    eyes of the unborn child in his/her body and soul. To take
    no thought or proper thought for the unborn child is to
    have no proper thought of Jesus himself as our Lord and
    Savior or to appreciate his relation as the incarnate
    Creator to every human being.”
    Check it out here: http://www.theologymatters.com/JulAug00.PDF

  2. Hannah says:

    Very interesting and from a perspective many of us do not take the time to reflect upon. “Personhood” is the wrong question to ask. The fact that a developing child, regardless if it is one day from conception or 2 weeks from it’s due date, is human and living – two indisputable facts – and should put an end to all debate. It is extremely significant to state that abortion is questioning the perceived value to those involved rather than a child’s intrinsic value. Our cultures perceived value is so terribly flawed. And you are absolutely correct, resistance to homosexuality is a pro-life position.

    There is one thing I would like to ask you: do you think your portrayal of adoption could also use some theological reflection? We are adopted by God as his sons, it is not an “emotional attachment adumbrated by contract” – it is our salvation and places us as His heirs. I have two adopted brothers and their place in our family is far beyond simply emotion and paperwork, it is their name, their identity and a life long promise – like a marriage. I am fully opposed to adoption by unmarried and especially homosexual couples, but adoption into a family is truly a reflection of God in every sense of it’s meaning.

    Perhaps something to think about :-) Again, thank you for this article and the time you put into it.

    • Hannah,

      Thanks for your comment and the helpful and important questions that you raise. It is a few hours past midnight here and I have an early start tomorrow, so I will have to keep this brief.

      At the outset, I want to express my complete agreement with your claim: adoption into a family is truly a reflection of God in every sense of its meaning.

      Some barely connected thoughts on adoption:

      1. Adoption presupposes the existence of a broken or unsatisfactory situation. For this reason, though it is a huge blessing for those who need it, and a reflection of God’s grace towards us, we do not want it to become either the normal nor the ideal situation. In an ideal world, no one would need to be adopted.

      2. Biblically, adoption needs to be held in relation to other doctrines such as new birth, and the sonship of Christ. Our adoption involves both a sort of new birth, and a participation in the ‘natural’ sonship of Christ, so there are some important differences alongside the similarities.

      3. Your parallel between adoption and marriage is an important one. Biblically, adoption is one of the basic aspects of marriage.

      4. The Bible poses its own sort of challenge to the bonds of blood (who is my mother? who are my brothers?), and elevates a form of fictive kinship within the Church, for instance. The bonds of blood are important in their place, but they are nowhere near as important as some people make them.

      5. Marriage seeks to protect and promote the ideal of children being raised by their two biological parents. It seeks to keep the the origins of children as simple as possible. While it is wonderful when married couples adopt, the institution of marriage exists in part to decrease the number of adoptions needed. Same sex marriage undermines the institution of marriage in several respects in this area. It deprives children of their right to parents of both sexes. It normalizes the disconnect between sex and procreation, and the use of reproductive technology. Significantly, in relation to adoption, it also normalizes the situation where children have complicated origins: every child in a same-sex household has at least three parents. What ought to be regarded as an exceptional situation comes to be seen as perfectly normal.

      6. Adoption and use of reproductive technology by homosexual couples is consistently framed as a ‘right’. What nature denies can be demanded from society. This represents a huge moral inversion, as the rights of adults to have what they want on their own terms, circumventing the natural sacrificial vocation of child-oriented marriage, begin to take priority over the rights of the child (for instance, the right of the child to a father and a mother). Where the notion of sacrificial vocation is clearly maintained, adoption is much more than mere emotional ties and contracts. However, as adoption becomes a means to avoid the form of marital vocation, and have things on your own terms, this is what it becomes.

      • Hannah says:

        I completely agree with all your points. Adoption, both earthly and spiritually, is necessary because things are not as they were meant to be – very saddening fact but true. I am thankful we are on the same page. You are fantastically coherent for writing in the wee hours! Thank you for responding.

  3. Some interesting points there, although I’m not sure about your first one about the normal/ideal situation. Do you mean in the sense that it’s tragic for children to be born/grow up without the support they need from their natural parents due to death or other reasons? In that sense I would agree with you, and would say that it is hugely important to work at making adoption less necessary. Unfortunately here in China it’s a big issue, in part due to the one child policy and the kind of pressure families are under to succeed – a disabled child is too much of a liability along the way. How would you go about ensuring that it isn’t the normal or ideal situation, and what kind of ideal world are you talking about where adoption would be unnecessary?

    Also, you made a rookie grammar error in your second paragraph. Did you really think I wouldn’t spot the misplaced apostrophe in “its”, even from the other side of the world?

    (It’s after midnight here too, so Muphry’s Law probably applies).

    • Jonathan,

      Sorry about the delay in this response. I was back in Stoke for the weekend, and didn’t bring my computer, so am only just catching up on comments and correspondence.

      As to your question: yes, that was the sense that I meant it in. For children to need to be adopted, something has generally gone wrong somewhere along the way and the ideal has not been achieved. While the ideal for the orphaned or abandoned child is adoption, ideally we want to work towards a world in which no child is orphaned or abandoned. Adoption is a good thing, but when it presupposes the prior occurrence of some bad thing, it cannot be an absolute good.

      I think that the Chinese one child policy creates a whole raft of problems and a highly unideal situation. The norm that results within such a situation should not be presumed to be ‘normal’.

      The ideal world I am talking about is not something that is ever going to be realizable. However, the ideal provides a very clear direction for our efforts, prioritizing a certain set of goods that we can work towards, most particularly the lifelong loving commitment of the parents through whom the child was conceived to their upbringing and socialization, and the passing on of a family cultural and material legacy by this means. Where at all possible, we should throw our weight into realizing this goal. Where it is not possible, we should be prepared to adopt, for instance.

      Yeah, my spelling and grammar tends to deteriorate at 3am. :/

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  7. I was recently engaging some pro-abortion people & they kept trying to nail me down on this question. If abortion was illegal & a woman was caught violating that law, what should happen to her? Should she receive the same punishment as the murderer? Like to know your thoughts on this …

    • Very important question. Short answer: no, I don’t think that she should.

      In more depth:

      One key area where those in favour of abortion are more typically right and those opposed more typically wrong is that it is the woman’s body and not the jurisdiction of the state. In the case of a miscarriage, we don’t order an inquest. We need to reckon with the fact that, until birth, the relationship between the unborn child and its mother is such that it cannot be simply rendered distinct from her. The child is a person, but not yet a legal person. Rather, its personhood is bound up with hers.

      Both those opposed to and in favour of abortion tend to appeal to an individualistic logic. For many of those in favour of abortion, the woman is typically regarded as an autonomous individual and her unborn child a non-person (unless it is ‘wanted’), leaving her free to dispose of it as she wills. For those opposed to abortion, both mother and unborn child are spoken of as if discrete individuals. In reality, neither position is correct.

      The relationship between the mother and the unborn child is a relationship between two human beings, making the abortion-favouring position morally untenable. However, it is quite unlike the sort of relationship that frames many pro-life treatments: a relationship between two discrete individuals. Rather, the mother and the unborn child form a unit.

      Consequently, when speaking about the legal treatment of abortion, we should recognize the connection between the bodily integrity of the mother and that of her unborn infant. Abortionists, as discrete persons acting upon another discrete person, violating the bodily integrity that she shares with her unborn child, should be the chief parties prosecuted here. Women who attempt to abort their unborn children should be treated in a manner more analogous to persons who seek to self-harm or to commit suicide, even though important differences remain, given the fact that another human being (though not yet a legal person in the state’s jurisdiction) has been directly harmed. Violating one’s own bodily integrity – even the integrity of the relationship with one’s unborn child – is different from violating that of another, as it occurs within one’s own jurisdiction.

      • So if a person who has an abortion is violating themselves (& the person within) have they committed a crime & if so before who? I think you’re saying before God & not men. So if the state were to make abortion illegal what is the appropriate punishment in your opinion for violating such a law? That’s what the pro-abortionists are asking me to answer as a Theist. Seems to be a very tricky path to navigate because I really think they’re trying to get me to say the woman ought to be charged with murder because pro-lifers say abortion is murder.

      • I think that it is important to distinguish between the different parties involved in an abortion. The mother of the unborn child is bonded to the party being harmed and is being harmed herself, however she might perceive it. The law should provide some means to restrain people from such actions of serious harm inflicted on their own bodies, much as it restrains people from suicide. However, the standard of proof in such cases must be very, very high. The woman’s body is her own and, even though there is another human being within her, the state must recognize that that human being is not yet within its direct jurisdiction and must legislate in a manner that honours this and proceeds with great caution.

        The abortionist, however, is the main party responsible and should face the weight of the criminal consequences, much like the doctor who assists suicide. The mother’s sin, while it may face some criminal consequences, is primarily before God. The abortionist is more directly a criminal.

        One of the problems that we are dealing with here is that abortion questions are typically framed around the choice of the woman and the right to life of the unborn child. I am suggesting that our focus should be upon abortionists instead and those other parties that facilitate or push abortion (male partners, for instance), and that abortion should be recognized as a form of violence against women. The abortionists should face the greatest criminal consequences. And part of our duty to protect women from violence to their appropriate bodily autonomy and integrity must involve a resistance to legislation in which the state claims jurisdiction over women’s bodies, demanding incredibly high standards of proof before we would restrict or dictate women’s actions. There are analogies to be drawn here with the way in which well-intentioned legislation designed to secure children’s welfare and safety can actually undermine the prerogatives of the family, denying it its right to privacy and self-determination.

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