Religious Tolerance logo

An essay donated by "C.B."

The rights of the pregnant woman vs. the the
rights of her pre-embryo, embryo or fetus

Sponsored link.

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 obligations
  • 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 them
  • 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 sexually-active females
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 crime?

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.

Site navigation:

Home page > Visitor essay > here

Originally posted: 2008-OCT-06
Latest update: 2008-OCT-06
Author: "C.B." who has requested to remain anonymous

line.gif (538 bytes)

Sponsored link

Go to the previous page, or the Visitor essay menu, or choose:

Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore page to English.