Saturday, April 26, 2014

Decision Making and Pregnancy

Think that the Harper Government doesn't have an anti-woman agenda?  Think again.

From LifeSite:
Conservative MP Kyle Seeback openly admits that he was once “fairly comfortable” with the viewpoint that a pregnant woman should have the option to abort in the case of rape. He also says that even though he saw abortion as okay for rape and incest, he still thought of himself as “pro-life.” 
But all that changed one day when Seeback was invited by Campaign Life Coalition in 2006 to attend a talk by Rebecca Kiessling, a woman who was conceived in rape and adamantly defends the right to life for everyone conceived in rape. 
“It just resonated with me right away. I kept thinking: ‘Why would someone get to choose that she would not have a life.’ It didn’t make sense to me,” the MP from Brampton West told in an interview during Campaign Life Coalition’s National Pro-Life Conference in Toronto earlier this month.
What gets me about this position is that it presumes that once pregnant, a woman is incapable of reasonable, intelligent agency with respect to being pregnant.  More or less, the moment that you are pregnant, the so-called "Pro-Life" crowd seems to think that you have no further ability to be an intelligent agent and act in your own best interests, or to consider the best interests of the fetus developing in your body.

Mr. Seeback (who appears to be the successor to Saskatoon's Maurice Vellacott in Harper's "Pro-Life Caucus") conveniently overlooks this reality when he says "Why would someone get to choose that she would not have a life".

The argument that "a life is a life" overlooks a few key points that need to be carefully considered.

First, such a position ignores the very real issue of dependency.

Consider the following.  When a child is born, we assume that the child is entirely dependent on the parents.  As such, we bestow a very high degree of responsibility on the parents to provide for the child and to take personal responsibility for what the child does as if that child is in fact them.

For example, when that same child is a toddler, and they break something in a store, the parents are held responsible for the damages done.  There is no expectation that the child did the damage wilfully, or even if they did, that it still falls to the parent to take responsibility for what happened.

As the child grows and becomes more autonomous, we assign greater responsibility to the child.  In Canada, the parents are still responsible for providing for the child, but at a certain age, they can be held responsible for vandalizing the neighbour's fence with graffiti.

Once the child is sixteen, we legally recognize them as being responsible as adults, but we still constrain certain things, such as the right to vote until they are legally adults.

The degree of direct responsibility that the parents bear diminishes as the child develops a greater ability to be a reasonable agent in their actions.

So, how does this play into pregnancy?  It is very simple actually.  First of all, we have to recognize the woman's ability to be a reasonable intelligent agent with respect to the progress of pregnancy - it is after all her body.  Second, we must consider the ability of the fetus to act autonomously or as an intelligent agent.  It has no such ability.  In fact, it is entirely dependent upon the woman in all aspects.

An infant is capable of expressing basic needs independent of its mother.  It may require an adult to ensure that those needs are taken care of, but it can at least express some agency in that regard.  A fetus cannot even do that.  The dependency is absolute.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable that the decision making powers of the woman are similarly absolute with regards to the progress of the pregnancy.  This is neither inconsistent with our laws, nor with the fundamental principles of agency and responsibility that increase as the individual develops into a full adult human being.

Turning to the emotionally fraught issue of pregnancy resulting from rape for a moment, we have to once again assume that the woman is capable of being an intelligent agent in decision making.  Yes, she has been traumatized by the event, and that will influence the decision making process.  But then again, a cancer diagnosis is also traumatizing.  We do not assume that a cancer patient is incapable of making decisions, why would we assume that a pregnant woman is incapable of making reasonable decisions about the progress of a pregnancy, regardless of how it started?

The underlying point has to be that we must accept that women are intelligent agents capable of making reasonable decisions that weigh the pros and cons of their decisions regarding pregnancy.  To do anything less is to ignore the obvious issues that inverting the dependency relationship creates.  We are already seeing laws drafted in the United States which criminalize the actions of pregnant women in a variety of contexts.  On the surface, some of these laws almost seem reasonable (for example, the consequences of taking crack while pregnant), but they have broad consequences that are ultimately serious infringements on legitimate autonomy of women during pregnancy.  The problem with these kinds of laws is that they create a legal environment which would actually allow for "wrongful birth" suits similar to what happened in France, where the woman is held criminally and civilly responsible for what happened during a pregnancy, even where the decisions made were in fact reasonable given the available information.

The point of a pro-choice position in these matters is that a woman's ability to act as an intelligent agent is not impaired because of pregnancy, and further that because of the extraordinary degree of direct dependency of the fetus on the woman, there is an extraordinary degree of decision making authority available to the woman - including the right to end the pregnancy early.  That option must exist as a valid legal option, not just in cases involving rape or incest.

H/T:  BigCityLib

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