A feminist Defense of Abortion Sally Markowitz
Feminism • Liberal Feminism • Socialist Feminism • Radical Feminism
1. Feminism and Abortion • The abortion issue has focused primarily on the personhood status of the fetus or on the rights of the pregnant woman as a person (the universal rights of an individual). • However, the issue of the rights of the pregnant woman as a female in modern society has not been addressed.
Failure of the Autonomy Argument First • Liberals and humanist who argue in support of the prochoice view do not consider or give special attention to the gender issue. • Autonomy and rights arguments treat all human individuals as equal (consider Thompson an English). • They do not consider the rights of individual women, in a society in which women are oppressed and there exists gender inequality.
Failure of the Autonomy Argument Second • The gender-neutral approach to rights (Women Liberation Approach) ignores the special cases and specific concerns of women. • Gender should be a relevant factor when discussing rights.
Failure of the Autonomy Argument Third • Autonomy argument is intricately connected to the capitalistic, individualistic ideology. • This ideology is male based, male biased, emphasizing male values. • Autonomy arguments should be contextualized.
The Male World View • We live in an androcentric world, a world dominated by males • Misogynist perspective: Females are incomplete males; the standard is the male. • Androgynous: having both male and female characteristics • Hermaphrodite: Having both make and female organs
Male and Females Perspectives Male Female • Autonomous • Individualistic • Violent • Dualistic • Caring • Responsible • Non-violent • Non-dualistic • Nurturing-(motherhood)
Traditional Arguments • Traditional arguments have not adopted a feminist perspective; instead, they have adopted a masculine perspective. • Traditional arguments have focused on the notion of individualistic autonomy. • We need a NEW perspective, one that is genuinely feminist.
2. Alison Jagger • Right to life: More than just the right to be born. Also the right to be cared for, fed, clothed and human companionship. • Personal Control Principle: The degree of control one has over a decision, should be proportional to the degree to which the decision will affect one. • Should you have control over the color of your spouses new car, or the kind of stereo, or other features of the vehicle?
Applying the Personal Control Principle to Abortion • The abortion issue should take under consider the contingent and social variables of woman, such as their primary role in reproduction, child rearing, home building, parenting, etc. • These social and contingent facts should be morally relevant when considering the ethics of abortion. • Jagger’s argument incorporates the liberal and feminist perspective.
3. Markowitz’s Argument • Crucial Question: “When, if ever, can people be required to sacrifice for the sake of others?” • How much, if any, can people be asked to sacrifice for others? • To sacrifice means to give up something one desires.
Answer • Feminist need to address this question not from the perspective of the right to personal autonomy (liberal view) but from the perspective that takes into account the social realities and power relations that exists between genders. • One way to do this is through the Sacrifice Principle.
Sacrifice • Does one have a moral duty to sacrifice for another, if what one desires has no value, and the result of the sacrifice for the other does ? • It seems that the question of sacrifice is much more complicated. • We have to consider the value of the sacrifice, how strong the desire is and the value that is lost, for the other(s).
Impermissible Sacrifice Principle • When one social group in a society is systematically oppressed by another, it is impermissible to require the oppressed group to make sacrifices that will exacerbate or perpetuate this oppression. • The oppressed group is exempt Not from all sacrifices but ONLY those that would directly affect their existing state of oppression.
Shift in Paradigm • Markowitz’s argument focuses on power relations among groups rather than individual rights. • Could we have different results when analyzed from a group perspective than from an individual perspective. • For women to use this argument, they also need to recognize other forms of group oppressions and create solidarity with other oppressed groups: minorities, undocumented workers, etc.
Feminist Proviso • Women are, as a group, sexually oppressed by men, and this oppression can neither be completely understood in terms of, nor otherwise reduced to, oppressions of other sorts.
Sexism • Women are seen as breeding machines; sexual and aesthetic objects; and nurturers who need no nurturance • Women are alienated from their bodies, sexuality, work, intellect, emotions and moral agency. • This form of oppression will manifest itself in different forms depending on the ethnicity, race and social class of women.
Argument • (Impermissible Sacrifice Principle) When one social group in a society is systematically oppressed by another, it is impermissible to require the oppressed group to make sacrifices that will exacerbate or perpetuate this oppression. • (Feminist Proviso) Women are systematically oppressed by men. • Restrictive abortion policies, such as making abortion illegal, would impose substantial sacrifices on women. • Restrictive abortion policies, such as making abortion illegal, would exacerbate or perpetuate the existing oppression of women in society. • Therefore, abortion should not be illegal.
Addresses the Challenges • Markowitz argues that her argument based on the impermissible sacrifice principle and the feminist proviso can reply to objections better than traditional prochoice arguments. • (1) Compensations: Some argue that women can be compensated to offset the balance of childbirth and child rearing. These compensations might be through financial, benefits, added services or increased opportunities. • Reply: The concept of compensation implies a pre-existing balance and equality and a stabilizing of that balance. But neither of these are true for women oppression, because there has never been a state of equality among men and woman and no compensation can eliminate sexism.
2. Only Rape (2) A second challenge is that the traditional arguments have no reply for cases in which a woman was not raped or in which a woman entered into sexual intercourse “voluntarily”. Reply: Feminist can present a more accurate picture of social reality in which what might seem like “voluntary” sex from a male perspective is in reality very different from a feminist perspective. The reality is that woman have very little control over the conditions under which they have sex. Male dominance might not be overt and violent but the power over woman in sexual relations is still real.
3. Inconsistent Principles (3) Anti-Abortionist argue that prochoice view is inconsistent because they seek non-governmental interference in the case of abortion (i.e. the freedom for woman to make their own choice) and yet they also seek government interference by seeking funds to finance state fun clinics that perform abortions. Reply: From a feminist perspective the goal is NOT the right of abortions perse but rather women liberation; therefore, the goal in seeking governmental interference in the case of financing abortion clinics for poor women and non-interference in the case of abortion are not inconsistent policies; both advance the feminist’s goal of woman liberation.
4. Abortion is a Selfish Choice (4) Anti-abortionist will argue that having an abortion is a selfish choice and lacks moral value; it is not an altruistic choice. Even Thompson argue that woman might have a right to have an abortion but their choice to do so, in some cases, can be considered as indecent and selfish. Reply: According to Markowitz, feminist do not frame the argument within this individualistic framework. She argues (I believe incorrectly, that this argument is an ad hominem fallacy). Instead, feminist frame the polemic of abortion as a political struggle of power relations between genders. Viewing it from a community based rather than an individually based moral problems skews the charge of selfishness.
A Final Objection • On final objection might be that fetuses still have a right to life and that the special rights resulting from the Impermissibility Sacrifice Principle and the Feminist Proviso do not override the fetuses right to life. • It might also be argued that fetuses are also an oppressed group and therefore they also can use the Impermissibility Sacrifice Principle and a Fetus Proviso” to argue that they have special rights that should protect their right to life.
Markowitz’s Response • First Markowitz argues that fetuses are not the kind of beings that can be oppressed because they lack the necessary social relations within society to be oppressed. They might be “disadvantaged” but not oppressed. • Second, Markowitz argues that the issue should not be framed as woman rights vs. fetuses rights (as groups rather than individuals). If we do this we are back to where we started off. • Instead, the issue should be either an egalitarian society without sexism vs. legal abortions. • Framing the issue this way addresses the feminist concerns of social justice and places the responsibility in the right place, with the men: if men want abortion to be illegal then they should work towards a more equal and fair society where woman are treated justly.