Ten Bad Arguments for Abortion
As I prepare to join my local Walk for Life this morning, I came across an article by Dr. David Hershenov, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buffalo entitled "Ten (Bad, But Popular) Arguments for Abortion." As someone who teaches college level courses in Political Science, I found that Dr. Hershenov is confronting the same arguments that I deal with when teaching on the Right to Privacy, which extended to include a Right to Abortion, as allegedly found in the United States Constitution.
While I enjoyed the entire article, the arguments that I want to emphasize are arguments 3 (The inability of men to become pregnant) and 4 (The burdens of pregnancy and childrearing are not equally distributed). Let me take them one at a time.
The inability of men to become pregnant
Dr. Hershenov states the basic argument this way:
Some students sincerely suggest that since men cannot get pregnant, they shouldn’t enter the abortion debate. Since their bodies won’t be subject to any laws enacted, they have no right to weigh in on the matter.Dr. Hershenov gives an excellent response to this objection which is to think about the broader ramifications of such a position:
My students seeking to restrict the abortion debate to those who can bear children seem not to have considered the consequences of the principle here. If debate about a policy can only be pursued by those harmed by the policy, then budding eco-feminists don’t get to speak out about the evils of meat-eating—unless they fear becoming a meal of our factory-farming patriarchy. Further, sterile and postmenopausal women, such as Cecile Richards, Gloria Steinem, and Hillary Clinton, who are, like me, unable to become pregnant, will also have to take their seats on the sidelines. True, earlier in their lives abortion policy might have affected them—but the same is true of every man who is alive today only because his parents did not abort him.I would add (as Dr. Hershenov does earlier) that there are many pro-life women out there. In fact, when I went by the Walk for Life event, almost all of the people setting up for the walk and seated at the sign-in tables were women. So, it is not correct to argue that this is somehow a male versus female argument. It is an debate between people who all have the ability to apply moral, scientific and philosophical reasoning to a debate.
The burdens of pregnancy and childrearing are not equally distributed
What about the argument that women are the ones who disproportionately suffer the consequences of carrying and raising a child? The man doesn't suffer physically at all when the wife becomes pregnant - in fact, he can bail out of the picture all together and leave the woman alone to bear the entire cost of the pregnancy. Dr. Hershenov puts the argument this way:
Men are free from the physical burdens and dangers of pregnancy, not to mention the threats to employment, education, and social standing posed by unwanted pregnancy and childrearing. Since only women can become pregnant, they suffer inequalities on account of biology. If women cannot avoid by choice a pregnancy that men avoid by nature, then they are permanently relegated to second-class citizenship.Dr. Hershenov has an excellent answer to this challenge as well:
The logic behind this inequality argument, if sound, would even justify infanticide. Imagine a woman giving birth in an isolated community where there isn’t any formula, and there are no breast pumps, wet nurses, or other substitutes for her nursing. She must breast-feed around the clock, with attendant social, educational, and professional costs relative to the child’s father. Despite the unequal distribution of burdens, the mother surely can’t bring about the death of the nursing child. Similarly, an unequal distribution of burdens doesn’t justify killing the child prior to birth.This is the pro-life tactic of trotting out the toddler which Dr. Hershenov uses with great effect.
I encourage everyone who cares about the abortion issue to read and ponder Dr. Herschenov's arguments. They are good and, in my view, quite compelling.