“What Gives You the Right…?”

There have been some interesting discussions taking place recently in the comments section of a few posts here on the GFL Blog. In one discussion thread on Elizabeth’s recent post on Pro-Lifers and the Death Penalty, one commenter, Rebecca, wrote the following in the context of arguing the “pro-choice” position:

You have your belief and I have mine. There is nothing which makes one more valid than the other. Therefore, if I don’t intend to force anyone to have an abortion, what gives you the right to force someone not to?

I told Rebecca that I intended to respond to this comment in a post of its own (that’s this one), primarily because the question she asks is one that’s commonly thrown at pro-lifers. I first want to point out that “There is nothing which makes one [belief about abortion] more valid than the other” is an odd thing to say, since it seems obvious that Rebecca doesn’t actually believe this. If someone really thought that the belief that abortion is not morally wrong was no more valid than the belief that abortion is morally wrong, what would be the point of trying to persuade pro-lifers to change their minds? But on to Rebecca’s question: “Therefore, if I don’t intend to force anyone to have an abortion, what gives you the right to force someone not to?” First, as far as I know, no one in the comments section on the GFL blog has accused Rebecca of intending to force anyone to have an abortion. Although, since she brought it up, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that professional abortionists occasionally do exactly that: But as for Rebecca’s actual question: “Therefore, if I don’t intend to force anyone to have an abortion, what gives you the right to force someone not to?” Notice that Rebecca is assuming pro-lifers want to actually force women not to have abortions. But do we? I can understand how someone would think that trying to get abortion clinics shut down, or working to get legal protection for the right to life of unborn children would amount to “forcing” some pregnant women to carry their supposedly “unwanted” child to term. But let’s back up and take a look at that word “force,” because it seems that the real violation of a woman’s body is something else. Looking at just the physical act directed at her body, abortion is a violation. It is the act of abortion (whether chemical or surgical) that literally forces a woman’s body to abort a pregnancy. Whatever her attitude towards being pregnant might be, a woman’s body is so strongly directed towards carrying that pregnancy to term that extraordinary means have to be used to stop her body from doing so. Rebecca (and the “pro-choice” movement generally) says that pro-lifers want to “force” a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy, but it ‘s actually her own body which is forcing this on her. It’s hard to see how it’s a violation of a woman’s body to actually prevent the use of force to cause her body to abort. If a woman really had the kind of control over her own body the way the “pro-choice” movement declares, she would simply will herself not to be pregnant — or, better yet, will herself not to become pregnant in the first place. But nobody really has “control” over his or her body in any absolute sense. That being said, the truth is that pro-lifers cannot force a woman to choose life for her baby. Abortion is legal, but even if it weren’t, illegal abortion would still be an option. That is why we seek instead to inform pregnant women about the consequences of abortion and to do what we can to help them choose life for their unborn children.

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