"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, February 4, 2019

Abortion, Marx, And Women’s Rights

The issue of reproductive rights has always been a contentious one.  Progressive activists have insisted that abortion be guaranteed while conservatives have refused.  A fetus, they argued, has rights from conception, separate and distinct from its mother.  Its only reproductive right is to be born.  Progressive women decided long ago that life does not begin at conception but at birth; and therefore there are no additional rights to consider.  If the fetus is a non-entity and a non-being, then it has no place at the table.  Seats are reserved for those female human beings viable and independent outside the womb.

As an extension of this progressive argument, activists have stated that once the reproductive rights of the mother have been established and confirmed (i.e. she has deliberated abortion but decided to bring the pregnancy to term) ,  these rights automatically convey to the infant.  Girls need all the help they can get in our patriarchal society, and looking out for their interests must begin early.  It is the fetus which has no rights.

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Yet what if life begins at conception?  It is certainly not unreasonable to consider the fact that an embryo which grows, differentiates, and ultimately prospers in the womb, is in fact a being.

There are many arguments and counter-arguments surrounding the issue.  Many pro-choice activists consider the fetus no more than insensate flesh and blood.  Until it is born and helped to breathe and cry, it has been never been alive; and in moral and ethical terms has been worth no more than an appendix or a gall bladder.  What is the most defining feature of a human being, they ask? Intelligence, sensibility, reason, and thought.  Since a fetus has none of the above attributes, so is not yet human.

Ah, say those who oppose abortion.  What about potentiality?  Is there not an ethical and moral issue here?  Even if a fetus only realizes its intellectual potential after birth, how can one justify the negation of that possibility.  Forget about future Einsteins or Bachs, the fetus might become a being even more important and relevant than genius– a compassionate soul; a spiritual seer; a preacher of values; a worker of secular miracles.  Doesn’t even a secular society have  stake in the preservation of potential life?

No, say progressive pro-choice advocates who look to Marx for whom potentiality had no meaning. Human beings are born and are from the moment of birth influenced by the socio-cultural and economic forces around them.  There is nothing special or God-given about a newborn child; and his development will depend on the nature of the society into which he comes.  Any newborn is equal to any other; and subject to either the progressive, socialist societies which will nurture him and encourage his contribution according to his abilities but more importantly according to society’s needs; or subject to anti-historical, retrograde capitalism.

The difference in viewpoints could not be more stark. On the one hand, religious conservatives believe that from the moment of conception, God has conferred life; and any of God’s creations have a moral destiny and a potential rendezvous in Heaven. Progressives believe that fertilization, conception, and birth are matters of human fertility, no more no less.  Life indeed begins at birth when the newborn takes his place in the society of men and no sooner.

Yet despite these profound philosophical differences, why should those women advocating a pro-life position be excluded from the discussions on women’s rights?  Women who decide against abortion and choose to give birth to a child should have equal social rights to those who do not.  Child care, easy adoption procedures, counseling should be as much a part of women’s rights as the right to terminate a pregnancy. Women who opt for having children and who demand a more family-friendly work environment should be in lockstep with all women who have no children but who want equal pay for equal work – a sisterhood of common interests.

Yet pro-life women are excluded from Women’s Marches, colloquia, and debate.  For those who are pro-choice, a woman’s unique and sovereign control of her own body is undeniable, absolute, and permanent.  Any discussion about fetal rights, the rights of the father, or a woman’s right to choose birth is tabled.  It is settled science, philosophy, morality, and principle.  Worse, it is exclusionary, elitist, and self-defeating.

The reason why the reproductive rights door has been so firmly closed has nothing to do with these rights, abortion, or child care.  It has to do with doctrinal purity, political solidarity, and the incorrigibility of principle.  The progressive canon has been explicated, promoted, and disseminated widely.  There are those who buy in, support, and defend it; and those who do not.  But the ranks have long ago closed.  Membership in the progressive club requires certain credentials, and pro-choice is one of them.

It is of no consequence that women who choose to bring their babies to term have rights that have been either ignored, abrogated, or dismissed.  It matters not that pro-life women have legitimate moral, ethical, and spiritual claims.  It matter least that these women have espoused a moral principle as valid as that of their pro-choice sisters if not more.

The recent Women’s Marches were organized not so much as protests for women’s rights as to promote and demand fulfillment of a particular progressive political agenda.  Abortion rights, it is argued, are no different from other women’s rights – equal opportunity, freedom from sexual abuse and intimidation, and freedom to choose from a variety of gender alternatives.  Abortion rights and women’s rights are smaller parts of a larger vision – one of inclusivity and identity with related causes.  Those who understand and promote women’s rights naturally turn to gay rights, environmental rights, and human rights.  Taken at its broadest, this political vision has as its foundation anti-capitalism, a socio-economic system which favors only the few, the privileged, and the fortunate.  It is no wonder, then, that conservative groups are excluded.  Marx again rears his head.

This is all understandable.  All social groups need cohesion, solidarity, and philosophical purity.  Marches always are exclusive and tend to marginalize those who do not espouse their principles and purpose.  Marchers want the same solidarity, the same camaraderie, and the same sisterhood. Marching is always done less for political purpose than for social coherence.

More than most issues facing the American electorate, abortion is the most divisive.  Deciding it must necessarily include considerations of science, morality, ethics, justice, civil and individual rights, and religion – and since people rarely agree on any one of these factors, agreeing on all of them is almost impossible.  And given the nature of abortion – or more aptly put, the nature of life – compromise comes with difficulty if at all.

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