I am irate. Look, I realise that I am in a position of privilege, and I realise that I’m not angry about this all the time because I’m male and that this is something that I have the privilege of simply not-concerning-myself-about for the vast bulk of my life.
I rationalise this as that I pay attention only insofar as harm is brought to my attention. And Ireland has ever-so-slowly been moving towards legalising abortion since 1992. Oh, that’s right, you didn’t know that abortion was illegal in Ireland. My bad. Did you know that it was actually illegal for doctors to tell patients about their abortion options in other countries? And that it was illegal for people to travel to another country for an abortion? No? Well, anyway, we were focused on my privilege, so let’s keep on topic.
This week, a woman died because of this bullshit. And writing this blog post is really the only alternative I have to giving up my Irish citizenship (which hurts me far more than it makes a statement).
While I’m sure that, generally speaking, readers of this blog understand, I want to make this absolutely clear: there are no grounds for denying the right to abortion. There is no bullshit about whether the foetus is a person, or is not a person: that completely misses the point. That is an irrelevant argument, and if you’re arguing that point then please offer your interlocutor some congratulations, as they have effectively derailed you. You have been sidelined into a completely tangential argument that has no relevance to the right to access to abortion.
I am not going to offer you a new argument. I am going to offer you an argument that was made in 1971, by Judith Jarvis Thompson . Up until I read this argument, I thought that a case could be made for either side (not equal, of course, but still valid). Subsequently: no. There is one, and only one, valid conclusion regarding abortion: that it is the choice of the pregnant woman alone to make. How so?
Judith Jarvis Thompson wrote her paper (“A Defense of Abortion”) in 1971. Just so we’re clear: anyone who is arguing about abortion for any other reason is 40 years behind the times. Clear? Good.
In fairness, her argument is a little odd. There are details that seem overly-detailed and, as such, detract from the rhetorical power of her argument. But I think it’s likely that most folk are unaware of her argument. To dive in:
A person is in desperate need of [insert medical attention of choice], which is not available (dialysis is an example that fits the argument). They will die without it. The only solution is to connect them to you, for your body to keep them alive, as you are the only medically compatible person available.
The strongest possible case (i.e. to make disconnection as objectionable as possible) is: you consented prior to the tubes being connected to being connected. You are going to be connected for 9 months, and you know (and knew, prior to consent) that some health complications are likely to occur. The person you are connected to is a fully autonomous, intelligent, thinking human being, above the age of majority (of whatever age that may be). They are (to make the extreme case) a genius in their line of work, and it would genuinely be a loss to the world for this person to die ‘prematurely’, so to speak.
Are you ethically compelled to maintain a connection throughout the 9 months? It happens to be the case that there are no alternative people to whom this person can be connected: it’s you, or they die (and their death is guaranteed). Do you have an ethical obligation to remain connected?
Ultimately: no, you do not. Your autonomy includes the right to change your mind. While it is certainly unethical to break a contract, autonomy is a gold-standard, it’s foundational: society may punish you regarding your breach of contract (by refusing to offer you contracts in the future), but society cannot prevent you from breaching a contract here and now. (Clearly, “the government” cannot ethically dictate that you may not become pregnant in the future, and this would be a ridiculous extension to make; but it would be well within the rights of a future partner to decline creating a baby with the woman for whatever reason they chose, including “you had an abortion in the past”)
So if I cannot be forced to maintain my (freely entered into) ethical obligations to a fully autonomous, fully grown and mature human being, I (likewise) cannot be forced to maintain the life of a non-autonomous, immature clump of cells.
If rape is on the table? The pregnancy was not ‘freely entered into’? What’s less than “cannot be forced to maintain a pregnancy”? Oh, right, there’s nothing.
So even in the strongest case against abortion, Thompson’s argument blows it out of the water. All other weaker cases necessarily fail.
The end. Thank you and good night.
Ireland: get it together. Like now.
[This was originally posted on The Crommunist Manifesto]