Essay:Abortion and Freedom of Choice
Please note: The following essay is a rights-based account concerning abortion. Relatively brief and well-written, the final paragraph constitutes the most important section of the essay, asking for readers to defend abortion against rights-based morality. No effort should be taken to destroy my work, but to criticize it constructively. You are free to lambaste me--but remember, your primary objective is to defend abortion within the rights view--on the talk page of the present essay. I nevertheless encourage constructive criticism and productive debate. Thank you.
“It is about the freedom of choice.” A Response to the AHA upon the Matter of Freedom of Choice and Abortion:
I accede that abortion is indeed a matter of choice. But we may contend that any action an individual may choose to commit is a matter of choice, defended by the freedom thereof. But by which discriminants should determine whether a particular choice so construed is ethical or unethical? We may cite freedom of choice in the determination of whether a particular choice reflects the human capacity and desire for freewill, a starting point for a foundational, choice-driven ethics.
In such a system of ethics, where we consider maximum freedom the instantiation of the ideal, we must logically ask ourselves whether the choices one makes interfere with the freewill of others, as such an interference would compromise absolute freedom, which we shall define as the capacity to do anything. Absolute freedom therefore entails every action imaginable, from loving, hating, and frolicking, to rape, murder, and arson.
Such a system of absolute freedom, however, allows an individual to impinge on the rights and freedoms of others. The murderer violates his victim's right to life, provided this victim did not will to die, or will to do die in such manner; the rapist violates his victim's right to consent, provided the victim neither desires sex, nor desires sex by coercion. A world of absolute freedom therefore grants one the capacity to deprive another of his or her rights, and any such world, given the depredations of the human will, shall almost certainly exist as one of tyranny, wherein only the privileged few live truly free.
With no restrictions on freedom of choice, one may commit any action one chooses to commit. But since an individual may only commit an action within his or her capacity to commit such an action, in the absence of the supernatural, to maximize freedom of choice, we must maximize the capacity of an individual to commit any and every action. Wherein a world of infinite capacity, an individual shall possess not only the will, but also the agency to commit any and every action, and in possession of both the will and the agency to do all things, shall we deem these individuals gods.
But even the wills of gods shall clash. One god may rise, to subjugate the lesser angels, while from the ranks fall the dissenting Archangels, as Lucifer and his followers, cast from heaven. For this all-powerful god to enforce his reign, his capacities must truly exceed those of his enemies and compatriots alike, for absolute power must know no bounds; and even in a universe of equals, the will of one god may molest the will of another. Absolute freedom is therefore absolute power, and absolute power is absolute inequality. And from absolute inequality shall descend the iniquities of the world.
The maximization of freedom of choice neither ensures a free and just society, nor yet establishes an equitable world. Rather, the tyranny of one may exercise complete dominion over the will of others, and only he in absolute control shall live freely. But may yet we find a domain wherein freedom exists uncorrupted by tyranny?
Let us now define our conception of freedom as follows—freedom is the capacity to act as one wills without limiting, denying, or elsewise infringing upon the rights of others. Such a definition provides no immediate absolution, but at least remedies the inherent fault of the prior system, tyranny, for from this system follows practical limitations on freedom, which both preserve freedom and limit it—to therefore preserve freedom precisely by the limitations we impose upon it.
The impositions themselves, however, must respect the rights of everyone to the fullest extent, just short of tyranny, wherein the rights of one trammel upon the rights of another. In our country, we believe that the needs of the minority balance the will of the majority, in the great balancing act of democratic politics. And we moreover affirm the conventional wisdom of the aphorism that our right to swing our fists ends where the nose of another begins—that the rights of an individual end where the rights of another individual begin. Situations of ambiguous morality naturally arise, for certain rights belong to society, or elsewise divest themselves to multiple persons, but our maxim shall always guide us toward the most just resolution, consolidation, and repose.
As to the matter of abortion, we may extend our maxim, to the conclusion that the mother’s right to life ends where her child’s right to life begins, from the more general assertion that the one’s right to life ends where another’s right to life begins. Hereunto do readily we justify abortions wherein the pregnancy imminently endangers the mother’s life, wherefore she may die because of the growing child within her womb, or elsewhere implanted. And if our moral discriminant remains the equilibration of rights, then we shall weigh the probability that the fetus shall live against the probability that the mother shall die by her child, and account for other factors, until we may confidently decide whether the pregnancy shall cause more harm to mother, or the abortion shall cause more harm to her child.
We judge murder likewise. Do not we justify murder only in cases wherefore the rights of the aggressor violate the rights of the assailed, wherein the assailed may return the offense as a matter of self-defense, in order to preserve his life the aggressor exigently threatens to destroy? This analogy bears the similarity to our former debate in that, wherefore we find an individual’s life threatened, we may justify an act which negates the life of the aggressor, but only insofar as we may ascertain that such an action will result in lesser harm than the probable alternatives.
Though violence shall almost always inhere to such situations of life and death, we draw from extreme examples of human relations and childbearing. Certainly, the vast majority of human interactions proceed without murder as even a minor component, let alone as a central fixture. Ask yourself, of all your days upon this earth, conducting yourself about your quotidian affairs, how often have you been confronted by a murderer, a rapist, or an arsonist, in an exigent matter of life and death? Quite rarely, I would both hope and presume, perhaps on the order of one in a thousand interactions, if not at a substantially lower rate of incidence.
As to the matter of childbearing, however, mothers die at a rate 16.7 per 100,000 live births in the US, according to a 2010 CDC statistic (1). We derive the statistic thereby that only 1 in roughly 6,000 maternal pregnancies result in the death of the mother. The risk of dying as a result of childbirth is therefore very low. In the event of an ectopic pregnancy, with a roughly 1% occurrence rate (2), abortion is almost always medically necessary to protect the mother’s life (3).
But how shall we judge the majority of pregnancies wherein the infant poses no serious threat to the mother’s health? Is it moral to permit abortion in such cases? Thoroughly have we established the immorality of violating the rights of another. We have even explored the world of absolute freedom, leapfrogged to its logical conclusion, one of tyranny, of constant contestation, competition, and corruption. And we have even taken stride to preclude tyranny, and yet also maximize freedom of choice while reserving the rights of the individual, so long as these rights edify themselves as just, rather than intrusive, exploitative, and violate in their treatment of the rights of others.
In such pregnancies must we therefore consider abortion an immoral act, because the mother violates her child’s right to life. Would you object to this verdict, the reasoning behind it, yet still justify abortion? And if so, why? Moreover, would your objection hold traction within this ethical system of maximum freedom short of tyranny? And if not, how would you refine or even discard this ethical system to erect one more just, formulate an ethical system as self-consistent as the one I have advanced? How and why would it be more just and equitable? Precisely why should it supplant the ethical system heretofore advanced?
1. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/MaternalInfantHealth/PMSS.html 2. http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/ectopic-pregnancy-pro 3. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/pregnancy/ectopic-pregnancy