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Interview on Defending Life with Ignatius Press

Ignatius Press just published an interview of me conducted by Carl Olson. The interview is about my new book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007). You can find the interview here. DefendingLife.jpg

Comments (6)

The actual URL is here.

I have not read Dr. Beckwith's book, but I just read his interview with Ignatius Press. If that is a rough summary of the important points in his book, then it appears he has misread and misunderstood the entire pro-choice argument.

It's not about fetuses and what they are - that question is ultimately irrelevant. It's about women's rights, autonomy, and dignity. Even if a fetus was deemed to be a legal person with full rights, women would still have the intrinsic right to abortion, based on the right to self-defense. That's because a fetus is not "innocent" as anti-abortionists claim. Although a fetus has no ill intent, it usurps a particular woman's body for its growth and survival (which distinguishes it from the rights of a born child, which can be cared for by other persons).

No-one is required by law to risk their life and health to save another. Pregnancy creates profound changes in a woman's body, psychology, and life. Any pregnancy poses risks to a woman, including the risk of death, disability, depression etc., and every pregnancy entails many unpleasant or debilitating side effects, including the pain of childbirth itself. Therefore, it must be a woman's free choice whether to accept those changes, risks, and side-effects. If she chooses not to, she has the right to defend her life and health by having an abortion. In other words, if a fetus is "equal" in status to her, the law would permit her to kill it in self-defense.

In reality of course, the personhood of a fetus is a subjective thing that can never be established by science, law, or theology. The question of "what is the unborn" is a matter of personal opinion that must be left solely up to the pregnant woman. A fetus becomes a person when the woman carrying it decides it does. For more information, see my article "The Fetus Focus Fallacy" at http://www.prochoiceactionnetwork-canada.org/articles/fetus-focus-fallacy.shtml

Dear Joyce:

Thank you for your interest in my work. The interview was not really a summary of the book, since I do indeed address the very concerns you raise in your post (in particular, chapter 7).

On another note, to say that "personhood" is a "subjective thing" is to claim that there are indeed subjects. But these subjects actually exist. So, the question is this: is a subject identical to herself throughout her existence? This, of course, can't be a "subjective thing," since these beings are the very rights-bearing entities that have the right to autonomy you defend.

BTW, congratulations on your weight loss. I learned alot by reading your piece on it: http://mypage.direct.ca/w/writer/dieting-tips.html


Dear Frank, thanks for your reply, and also for your congrats on my weight loss. I'm glad you found my account of it instructive! And I will try to check out your book sometime soon, at least Chapter 7.

"Subjective" means, according to my dictionary: "based on one's own feelings about an object thought of, and not objectively on the object itself." So I simply mean that the woman's feelings and emotions about her fetus, whatever they are, are the only worthy ones, in terms of guiding a decision on the pregnancy - regardless of the fact that the fetus is some kind of an "objective object", so to speak. My point is that it doesn't matter what the fetus is objectively. Everyone's response to it is subjective, e.g., anti-abortion restrictions are based on lawmakers' personal subjective beliefs about fetuses. To arrive at true justice, only the pregnant woman's subjective response should count for anything, as she's the one solely responsible for her fetus.

The answer to your question is of course No, since we undergo never-ending changes, both emotionally and physically. E.g., since our cells are renewing constantly, we are literally not the same physical beings at different stages of our life. In terms of a fetus, one could say the differences between it and its later born self are even more profound, since fetuses don't breathe, eat, excrete, see, make sounds, exhibit sentience, or many other things common to persons.

But the major difference is that the development and survival of a fetus depends on a particular woman's body in a parasitic relationship. This completely distinguishes it from a born infant whom anybody can take of. Therefore, a pregnant woman should have absolute rights over her fetus, regardless of how much subjective value others place on it - even including the pregnant woman herself sometimes. Because even women who have wanted pregnancies, or who are anti-abortion, or who think of their fetuses as persons, may still need or choose an abortion for various difficult reasons.

So the objective status of the fetus is irrelevant; its subjective status can never be agreed upon as it's a matter of opinion. Only the pregnant woman's opinion counts, and even then, her subjective opinion about her fetus does not have to be a factor in her decision to abort. After all, women have abortions NOT because they think the fetus is a meaningless "lump of tissue", but because they're not ready to be mothers, or can't care for another child right now, or to protect their life or health. That means the status of the fetus, objective or subjective, is really a side issue.

Therefore, a pregnant woman should have absolute rights over her fetus, regardless of how much subjective value others place on it - even including the pregnant woman herself sometimes.

But those are just your subjective feelings about women's rights. They can't be established objectively. The status of women's rights can never be agreed upon, threfore it's only a matter of opinion.

Thank you for taking the time to write about this issue. I truly appreciate it. I’ll post a link of this entry in my site.

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