The rights of the pregnant woman vs. the the
rights of her pre-embryo, embryo or fetus
Although "sanctity of life" is frequently cited as the underlying motivation of
those opposed to abortion, I notice a recurring theme
in the statements of pro-lifer's: the theme of the wanton, unrepentent, sexually
active woman who engages in "unprotected sex" and then
seeks to "avoid the consequences." This is an unexplored belief system which
warrants further examination.
If sanctity of life is the overriding consideration and worthy of even
Constitutional amendments, all sex should be illegal unless specifically
authorized by the state. After all, if sex leads to pregnancy and life is such
a sacred commodity, then nothing could be more important to legislate than the
means by which life is created. It would, in fact, be far MORE important to
control sexual behavior than the behavior of pregnant women because it avoids
the problem of unwanted pregnancy in the first place.
To claim that the state should merely "turn a blind eye" to sexual activity, but
then suddenly jump in and take control -- literally -- over a pregnant woman's
body, is disingenuous and falls along the lines of a "don't ask/don't tell"
policy. A true belief in the "sanctity of life" would, of necessity, be
accompanied by zealous oversight of the entire reproductive process.
If the state has any compelling interest whatsoever in protecting "life" from
the moment of conception, then every man and woman who engage in sex become
subject to the jurisdiction of the state from the very moment of sexual
penetration. If that's when a pregnancy can occur, then that's the very instant
the state's interests outweigh the privacy rights of any already-born
individual, whether consenting or non-consenting. The rape victim may have a
claim against the rapist for violation of her human or civil rights, but she
could have no claim on what happens to her body post-conception.
A belief in the superiority of fetal rights MUST be accompanied by the
acknowledgment of the inferiority of
female rights. The attempt to elevate fetal rights to a level playing field
with the rights of the already-born is a misnomer and mischaracterization of the
debate. There cannot be "equal" rights for the unborn.
Somebody's rights must take
precedence. The belief that the just-fertilized egg MUST be carried to term in
a woman's womb relegates her to an inferior status, that of a vessel for
producing babies -- regardless of whether that is against her will.
According to a "sanctity of life" philosophy, at the instant of fertilization
the zygote has all the rights of any living, breathing human being.
This raises the following considerations:
a fetus should be issued a name and social security number from the
moment it's existence is known
a fetus should have voting rights, by proxy
a miscarriage is the death of a viable human being, and should be
accompanied by a funeral
a fetus must have property and inheritance rights, with accompanying tax
fetuses must be covered by conventional life insurance, and each
miscarriage warrants policy payments
a person's "conception day" would have to be more important than their
actual "birth day" which is merely the day their mother labored to deliver
a person must be considered a legal resident of the state or country in
which they were conceived
the death penalty must be illegal in all
circumstances, for if "life is sacred" then it does not become
unsacred at any time, and life
certainly cannot fluctuate in value at the whim of the state
wars of any kind must be illegal, because to end life and cause death is
the ultimate crime
you could not kill an attacker or intruder, even if your life was in
danger -- Life could not be intentionally terminated by ANYONE at ANYTIME or
it would be a crime
rape of women would have to be not only a "crime against persons" but a
crime against the state, because the state would have authority over
If, on the other hand, the belief is that unwanted pregnancy is the result of
promiscuity, then forced-pregnancy could be seen as a form of punishment to
curtail undesirable behavior -- in women. Clearly, there are no consequences or
repercussions of any kind for men regardless of their sexual activity. Most
forced-pregnancy proponents are also opposed to birth control in any form. This
illuminates an underlying agenda of the "pro-life" movement -- to exercise
control over women's behavior and relegate them to the status of second-class
citizens who are defined by their reproductive capabilities. The desire to
eliminate funding for birth control providers is one of the surest ways to
guarantee increased pregnancies. And those who advocate for abstinence-only
education are likewise exposed in their desire to promote one social agenda
above another, the belief being that sexual abstinence is inherently superior to
sexual activity and that unwanted pregnancy can be used as a tool to punish the
immoral and disobedient.
Rather than cloak the debate in "sanctity of life" speech and open the door to
the massive social implications referenced above, forced-pregnancy supporters
should rephrase their opposition to abortion based on behavioral modification
grounds. That is, as many anti-abortionists state, if a woman gets pregnant as
a result of "carelessness" then she should be forced to endure the pregnancy and
preferably stripped of her rights to the baby in cases where she cannot afford
to support it. This serves both punitive and cautionary purposes.
Additionally, it provides babies for the enormous infertility market.
The problem with this approach, however, is that it runs squarely contradictory
to democratic or even humanitarian philosophy. It imposes the moral convictions
of one group of people upon a different group of people, and effectively turns a
pregnant woman from a citizen into a baby-producing factory and turns babies
into profitable commodities to be exchanged on the open market.
The landscape becomes even more muddled in cases of incest and rape, where the
victim can possibly be as young as ten or twelve and the prospect of forced
pregnancy is both physically and emotionally devastating. There is no "middle
ground" when the issue is sanctity of life. The fetus either trumps the rights
of the mother, or it does not. I recall a recent case in Florida where a gang
of 10 teenage boys broke into the home of a mother and her 12-year-old son,
raping and sodomizing her before forcing the son to rape his mother at
gunpoint. Does anyone truly want to be that person who forces their beliefs on
that mother, denies her information or access to emergency birth control at the
hospital, or forces her to endure a pregnancy as the result of such a heinous
As a society that would elevate the concept of "sanctity of life" above the
lives of the already-born who are actually experiencing that life, we must
grapple with these questions and have the courage to either face the answers or
carry our convictions to their logical conclusions.