“Arguments from Bodily Rights: A Critical Analysis” Francis J. Beckwith
Argument 1Personal Autonomy Argument The personal autonomy argument is based on the idea that a woman has a right to her own body. 1) A person has an absolute right to control and do with their body what they wish, as long as they do not harm others. 2) A fetus is part of a pregnant woman’s body. 3) Therefore, a pregnant woman has absolute control and autonomy over whether or not to terminate the fetus.
Personal Autonomy Argument • Beckwith rejects premise (2) and argues that a fetus is a completely separate and distinct entityfrom the pregnant woman. • First, the fetus has its own genetic code, blood type, organs, etc. • Second, we know that a fetus can be conceived outside the woman and implanted intoany woman. • Third, immunologic studies have shown that when the fetus implants itself in the uterus,awoman’s body detects a foreign object and produces more white blood cells in order to get rid of it.
Personal Autonomy Argument • A Second Objection • Beckwith argues that the personal autonomy arguments commits the fallacy of special pleading. • Basically it omits counter evidence and only uses the evidence that support its conclusion.
Smoking Analogy • For example, it is analogous to a smoker’s personal autonomy argument: I should be able to smoke because it is my body and if I want to fill it with nicotine that is my business. • This argument ignores the counter argument that there might be others around the smoker who do not want to fill themselves up with nicotine and are affected by the secondary smoke produced by the smoker.
Abortion • Beckwith argues that the personal autonomy arguments ignores the rights of the fetus. • Abortion-rights advocates argue that a woman can do as she pleases with her body, but omit the part that the fetus is also a person and is gravely affected by the woman’s decision to terminate it.
Argument 2Abortion is Safer 1) If one has to choose between two acts, one is not morally obligated to choose the one that can endanger one’s life 2) Childbirth is more life threatening than having an abortion 3) Therefore, one is not morally obligated to carry the fetus to term. 4) Therefore, an abortion is morally permissible.
This argument seems ridiculous • It might be true that one is not morally obligated to perform an act that threatens one’s life but this is not the same as saying that between 2 actions it is always morally permissible to choose the action that is less risky, especially when neither represents a serious threat to one’s life. • In addition to this logical flaw, Beckwith raises problems with the statistical facts that conclude that early abortions are .008 % less risky than childbirth.
Argument 3Thomson’s Argument “The argument from unplugging the violinist” ETHICAL PROBLEMS 1) Thomson assumes volunteerism 2) Thomson’s argument is fatal to family morality 3) The unborn does have a prima facie right to the mother’s body 4) Abortion is killing and not the withholding of treatment
Critique of Thomson’s Argument LEGAL PROBLEMS 5) Thomson’s argument ignores tort law. 6) Thomson’s argument ignores family law
Critique of Thomson’s Argument IDEALOGICAL PROBLEMS 7) Inconsistent use of the burden of pregnancy. 8) Libertarian principles are inconsistent with radical feminism. 9) Thomson’s view implies a macho view of bodily control, a view inconsistent with genuine feminism.
1. Thomson assumes volunteerism • Thomson assumes that for there to be any kind of special relationship that would create moral obligations one must first have consented to such a relationship. • Beckwith argues that this is not the case. • His primary example is a father who engages in sexual intercourse but does NOT consent to having an offspring. • If the woman gets pregnant and has the child, the law will require the father to pay child support, regardless of the fathers initial intentions and his lack of consent to father the child.
2. Thomson’s argument is fatal to family morality • Thomson argues that absent of any implicit or explicit consent to enter into a special obligation, there is no “special” familial relationship that binds two people differently than two strangers. • This view undermines the most fundamental beliefs about family relationships, namely, that there are special rights and obligations among family members that arise naturally and solely based on the relationship and not dependent on the will, intention or consent of the individuals. • Thomson’s view goes contrary to the above principle that is fundamental to family morality and is a commonly held view in Western society and culture.
3. The unborn does have a prima facie right to the mother’s body • If we accept that there is a special filial obligation, then there are good reasons to further belief that the unborn has a prima facie right to the mother’s body. (a) Unlike the violinist, the fetus’ dependence on the mother arises from a natural process. (b) Unlike the violinist, the time in the womb is a natural process of human beings’ development. Thus the unborn has a prima facie natural claim on her mother’s body. (c) At birth a child has a prima facie right to its parents’ care, whether or not the parent desires, consents or intends to care for it. If a parent abandons the child, he or she will be prosecuted for child abuse. Therefore, if at conception the fetus is a person (as Thomson is willing to grant), it would also follow that the fetus has a prima facie right to expect the mother to care for it, within the natural process of human development.
Absolute vs. Prima facie • Beckwith argues that the unborn fetus has a natural prima facie right to its mother’s body not an absolute right.
4. Abortion is killing and not the withholding of treatment • Supererogatory acts are acts that go above and beyond the call of duty. For instance, to donate a kidney to stranger or to risk one’s life to save a stranger are actions that are not moral obligations or duties but rather that go above and beyond what is morally demanded of anyone. • Beckwith argues that the violinist case is a supererogatory act but a mother’s decision not to have an abortion is not.
Killing vs. withholding treatment • If a mother were to bring a new born home and not feed it, the baby would die. Could the mother argue that it did not kill the baby, she simply did not feed it? • The answer is no. The baby’s survival is completely dependent on the mother to feed it, and the baby was not dying or suffering from an ailment or defect (as in the case of the violinist). • Beckwith argues that abortion is more like the case of not feeding a new born than like detaching oneself from a violinist.
Another way of seeing the distinction • There is a difference between “a duty not to take someone’s life” and “a duty to save someone’s life” • The duty to save someone’s life (the violinist example) does not have the same moral force as the “duty not to take another person’s life” (the abortion case). • Based on this distinction, it cannot be justified for a woman in order to gain control of her body to take the life of the fetus, if the fetus is a person.
LEGAL PROBLEMS 5) Thomson’s argument ignores tort law. There are laws that makes members of a community responsible for other members of a community when they “understand and appreciate the condition of the other.” 6) Thomson’s argument ignores family law If the fetus is a person at the moment of conception, then parental obligations and responsibilities parents have to their born children would apply from the moment of conception. If this is the case, the mother has a direct responsibility to protect and care for the well being of the fetus, and if she fails to do so it should be considered child abuse.
IDEALOGICAL PROBLEMS 7) Inconsistent use of the burden of pregnancy. Pregnancy is painted as a horrific state to be in when dealing with the abortion issue, yet these same feminists paint pregnancy as not an ailment or a handicap when arguing for women’s rights in the workplace. This double standard presents a conflictive picture about the state of pregnancy. 8) Libertarian principles are inconsistent with radical feminism. The feminist abortion right advocates argue for a libertarian view when they argue for non-intervention of government in the personal lives. However, they also argue for non-libertarian view when they argue for government intervention in the workforce to protect women’s rights (e.g. quotas, pay scales, maternity leave, etc.)
IDEALOGICAL PROBLEMS 9) Thomson’s view implies a macho view of bodily control, a view inconsistent with genuine feminism. The idea of taking control one one’s body through the use of violence and power, has been criticized by feminist movements as a masculine paradigm of oppression. However, this is precisely the paradigm being advanced by the abortion-rights advocates, when they argue that woman have a right to kill another human being to take control of their bodies.