Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
The debate on abortion is one of the most burning ethical disputes of our times. The contenders are, on the one side, the pro-life movement, opposing abortion in all its forms, and the pro-choice movement, open to the possibility of opting for abortion.
As far as I am concerned, I strongly advocate the pro-choice position for very specific reasons. Drawing from feminism, I do believe that the body of a woman should ideally be under her “unconditioned control”, and if she considers the possibility of aborting, her choice must be taken very seriously.
In the real world, however, the choice is constrained by many more conditions. Socio-economic factors as well as medical protocols play a crucial role, not to talk about culture, and patriarchy – which, as far as I can imagine, could have pretty much contaminated medicine as well.
This is for me a reason to stop inquiring further into the general topic of abortion and leave it to the experts. What I can do is to consider a specific example which might already challenge the pro-choice view I adopt.
Consider a dramatic case in which the medical doctors can only save either the life of the mother or the child in her womb. Saving a life means also that no complications or negative side-effects are expected to occur. Who is going to be saved, is going to enjoy perfect health.
Now, say that the woman who is having the baby is a hardcore pro-life, who would prefer to die rather than “murder” her creature. What can a defender of the pro-choice position say in this case? Shall we save the woman against her will or save the child, even if it means that the person who is supposed to make the choice dies?
From a merely utilitarian perspective, even if the one who is saved were to enjoy a perfect state of health and, say, good socio-economic and affective conditions, it is clear that the mother would still pay costs that the baby wouldn’t have to pay, if she survived. The loss of a child could be indeed psychologically debilitating and I just find implausible to add the condition to our example that the saved mother just “doesn’t mind about the death of her child”, especially if she is a pro-life. Saving the child would mean indeed avoiding the greatest pain overall.
However, I don’t think that a pro-choice can truly reason this way. The mother is the source of the final judgment about aborting and the possibility that she dies potentially jeopardizes her authority over the matter. What comes first? The words of the woman or the woman herself? Her choice or her being a choice-maker?
I take this to be a paradox, for respecting the choice means in this case, opting for the death of the choice-maker, hence we can go back and question the validity of the choice in the first place.
My present intuition might probably be wrong, but I think that in such a case the woman as a choice-maker shall be given priority as a full-blown person, capable of intersubjective and linguistic interactions.
If the death of her child is not annihilating her as a person afterwards, she can find a meaning to it with her subsequent pain, with her aversion to how things have gone and potentially by making out of her even a stronger defender of the pro-life movement.
If, on the other hand, she falls in irreversible depression or she kills herself afterwards, the decision to save her will have proven to be a failure.
An easy objection to the view I have just presented is to argue that the once-grown-up-child would just as well make sense of the death of his mother. Actually, he will give it a heroic meaning: his mother has sacrificed her life for him to exist. Isn’t that another very good reason to opt for the death of the mother?
I don’t have a convincing answer to this objection. I just think that meaning can’t be as arbitrary as that. I don’t believe that there is anything heroic in saving the life of something that is not yet capable of minimal intersubjective interactions – apart from vegetative ones, nor that giving birth is such a mystic event.
The mother would die for a huge question mark, not for anyone in particular. She doesn’t have any clue about what kind of human being she is going to give birth to. And love isn’t as easy as loving an unborn: you truly love someone only when you come to appreciate the independence of a person from your ideas and expectations about him.
The more I talk, the less I am convinced. Better leave these questions for further speculations…