Abortion, Agency and Conflicting Arguments

Declan Mansfield, in Abortion: The Pursuit of Common Ground recommends to us a “middle ground” in the abortion debate. To set the scene he represents the public reaction to the overturning of Rowe v Wade as an ill-informed racket emanating from “partisan fringe groups”, writing that the “decision does not do” what these groups claim. Whilst this is true of the (literally) screaming feminist left, and of their water-carriers in the mainstream media, it is clear that Mr Mansfield has not been listening carefully. 

No-one in the pro-life movement, as exhilarated as they were by the decision, was under any illusions about what it meant. Such groups immediately produced patchwork maps (above) of the the US states in which abortion immediately became illegal, those in which such legislation is pending or intended, and those in which abortion provisions are to be strengthened. A constant pro-life theme has been that, in many states, the hard work was just beginning.

Nonetheless, if one is to present one’s position as  “the middle course, the one most people like myself believe — advocates of the ‘golden mean’, as Aristotle said,” the distance at which the “extreme” positions must be pitched is more or less predetermined. And so, Mr Mansfield presents his two extreme opposing positions as “a woman’s right to choose” and “abortion is murder” respectively, and proceeds to criticise them.

“The first falls at the obvious objection: that in multiple situations individuals do not have the right to choose another person’s death,” he notes. Another criticism is that one line of feminist argument “treats women as if they are delicate, childish creatures with no agency…”. Mr Mansfield then pivots 180° the opposite extreme; to wit, that abortion is murder. I will quote the argument in its entirety, lest I be suspected misrepresentation by omission.

Murder requires intention and nobody with a shred of intelligence can believe that a young girl with her life ahead of her or an older woman struggling to raise her kids (except if there’s a financial inducement), would intentionally become pregnant. Human beings are sexual creatures and the idea that a mistake, or accident, stemming from a nature hardwired into our genetics, into our social life, and into our very being, should be punished with an unwanted child, and hence an unwanted life trajectory, is wicked. We cannot force women into a life they didn’t voluntarily choose.

The first clause is beyond reproach. But the “intention” is universally taken to mean the intention to take a human life, exclusive of judicial, policing or wartime exigencies. Not here. Mr Mansfield, to his credit, has already dismissed one of the standard absurdities of the pro-death crowd; that the unborn child is not a human person. “The unborn child … is also important, because of what the child will become, the life as yet unlived, and the pain that the child could experience when being aborted.” So the second condition of the definition–that a human life is taken–is met.

By constructing his other extremity around “abortion is murder,” Mr Mansfield has boxed himself in. To extricate himself, he points intention in a different direction. The emotional core of his argument is the supposed tragedy of the unintended consequences of an unintended pregnancy. His problem is that his laudable integrity, shown in his  refusing to dehumanise the unborn child, collides with his own definition of murder. A full stop after “Murder requires intention,” and his argument collapses, so he must plunge ahead and hope to invoke the sympathy of his readers for the “young girl,” who sounds for all the world like one of those “delicate, childish creatures with no agency.”

Again to his credit, My Mansfield does not rush to the pro-death gang’s first line of skirmish–cases of pregnancy arising from rape and incest. He stays close to the day-to-day reality of abortion. This is a world in which the connection between sex and pregnancy has been almost completely severed. Sex is part of “our social life.” It’s just part of the getting-to-know-you ritual for men and women who have expressed some level of interest in one another; on a par with delving into the other’s taste in politics or movies. In this world, an unplanned pregnancy is a system failure, a punishment, threatening an “unwanted life trajectory.”

It is not, though. It is the system working as designed, as everyone had known since the rise of human self-consciousness. The introduction of the most potent psychotropic drug ever to gain mass acceptance–The Pill–has in 60 years almost completely destroyed our understanding of what it is to be human; of what it is to be a man or a woman. However, that young girl does have agency. So does the mum for whom that new baby is financially or emotionally undesirable. They chose sex. Is their responsibility diminished by reason of insanity? Of invincible ignorance? Did they place losing bets on the spurious understanding that the odds of becoming pregnant were vanishingly small?

Only the baby has no agency, responsibility, or guilt in any of these circumstances. What crime has the baby committed that carries a death sentence? The only crime is being inconvenient to the mother, the father, or both.

Before even setting up his goalposts at opposite ends of the field, Mr Mansfield has laid his cards on the table. “[F]or people like myself who see clearly, I would like to believe, both sides of the subject…[a] live woman is more important than an unborn child.”

Were this statement on a par with, for example, “The Prime Minister is more important than I am,” it would still be false except on some utilitarian calculus. The comparison between the Prime Minister and me is understood to be specific in scope and limited in its implications. It is not a statement about our intrinsic worth. Mr Mansfield’s claim is universal; it applies to every pregnant woman and every baby in the womb. What is truly startling about this claim is that it is supposed to justify the intentional killing of the less important by the more important. Consider what wide applications such a useful principle might have. Consider how vital it would be to have friends of friends on the Importance Tribunal.

Back in the seventies, when abortion was first being legalised, it was hedged about with “safeguards.” Abortion was only to be available when there was a grievous threat to the mother’s health, it was only to be available early in the pregnancy, and so forth.  That initial opening led, with logical and psychological inevitability, to the very recent legislative barbarism in our State Parliaments. Perhaps Mr Mansfield is too young to remember, but his “middle course,” his “golden mean,” does not even take us back that far. The only reason needed to take this less important life is the desire to do so.

There is no way out of the logical quagmire of abortion, neither for the heavily pregnant woman who has written on her exposed belly, “NOT YET A HUMAN,” nor for Declan Mansfield, whose equivalent motto might be, “A less important human.” Ugly terms have been applied, in quite recent times, to less important humans in order to justify and to incite murder. But the sheer number of the abortion dead of the past 50 years–a triumph of modern medicine–puts all the Utopians of recent history to shame.

9 thoughts on “Abortion, Agency and Conflicting Arguments

  • rod.stuart says:

    Several of these arguments apply to the issue of euthanasia as well.

    How often is the advanced age of a person included in the consideration of whether or not medical intervention is “worth it”?
    Although our morals should prohibit a cost/benefit analysis in considering abortion OR euthanasia, it seems to me that it is precisely the logic that is misapplied in this era.

  • pbw says:

    Indeed, rod, they do apply.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    Abortion in cases of rape or incest – does that first require proof of rape by the rapist being successfully prosecuted in court? A second cosideration – many women have stated the birth of their child enterd the most wonderful turn-around in their life, turned their life from depression and misdirection, opened them to a love they didn’t know could exist. Why is it assumed that a birth from a rape can’t possiblly render this type of result. What has the child done to deserve to not be born?

  • pbw says:

    @Katzenjammer Proof? Obviously not; certainly in the case of rape. The accusation is enough. The charge can be dropped at a decent interval following the abortion. I suspect that accusations of incest are less likely to be made up for the occasion, but the mills of justice in both cases grind exceeding slow. At the risk to the baby inherent in amniocentesis, though, the genetic probabilities of putative incest could be determined early.
    All of that is irrelevant anyway. The question remains: for what crime is the baby to be executed?

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    One of the consequences of the latest SCOTUS decision is that the entrepreneurial class in the US, such as Messiers Bezos and Musk, are providing free transport and accommodation to women in their factories and distribution centres to bus to an abortion state.
    This is pitched as supporting women’s rights.
    On reflection, in a tight job market, it keeps women on the factory floor and the goods being delivered.
    A sort of business win win.
    Texas is the much vaunted abortion free state.
    This however lacks credibility.
    In Texas the ‘heartbeat law’ is applied.
    You cannot kill a child after ultrasound finds a foetal heartbeat.
    Before that, its legal.
    So the beat goes on.

  • lbloveday says:

    It’s a pity the photo of the woman with the home-spun t-shirt message in the Quadrant email I received a few minutes ago re this article is not included here – I’ve already forwarded it to friends.

  • christopher.coney says:

    I comment as someone opposed to abortion in principle, thus, in all cases.

    Pro-choice people seem to have a strong argument when they say that when the mother’s life is in danger she has the right to get an abortion to save her life.

    Obviously, there are problems that can develop at every stage of a pregnancy that threaten the mother’s health and even her life and nobody argues that the mother should not receive all the necessary treatment.

    But as far as I am aware, there are never cases where an abortion is required to save a mother’s life or to treat her for any illness arising from the pregnancy. With ectopic pregnancies, for example, both the mother and the foetus will die if the pregnancy is not terminated. A key point is that such a termination is not an abortion; it is taking action to save the mother’s life which requires the ending of a pregnancy that could never have been successful.
    Although it seems hard to foresee, there may come a time when the foetus in an ectopic pregnancy can be removed and it survives the removal. So be it, in such a case, the foetus is removed and it then becomes a person with all the rights of other human persons, including the right to life.
    The key point, as always in these debates, is the that point of an abortion is to kill the foetus. It is not to treat the mother or to save her life. As long as the point of the medical procedure is to kill the foetus then we have to call that procedure abortion, and every abortion is an abomination. When other procedures are carried out with the genuine goal of treating a pregnant woman including saving her life, and achieving that goal involves or entails the death of the foetus, this is obviously not to be called abortion.

    This difference is fundamental.

  • whitelaughter says:

    ‘abortion in cases of rape’?
    Rapists must love that – no consequences.
    We want to *prevent*, *stop*, *punish* rapes.
    A woman in danger of rape should consider a powerful tool in her arsenal; the threat of 18 years of child support payments. That’s actually a greater threat than the pitiful jail sentences handed down by the courts, and paternity is easily proved by a DNA test, unlike the incredibly difficult task of proving rape.

  • lbloveday says:

    whitelaughter ,
    What if the rapist paying child support takes action in the FCA for shared residency of the child? Appeals the decision? Lodges another application every year or 2?
    The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child includes:
    “Whenever possible, children should know their parents and be cared for by them” and:
    “Children whose parents don’t live together should stay in contact with both parents unless this might harm the child”.

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