One’s position on abortion has to do with the ontological status of the fetus and the moral status of the fetus. Ontology refers to the theory and nature of being and existence – in other words, at what point do we consider the fetus a human? The moral status refers to the rights we assign to the fetus. Obviously, the two are related; we don’t assign rights to beings that we don’t believe are fully human.
On the other hand, assigning rights to the unborn child doesn’t automatically strip the mother of all her rights. It then becomes a matter of determining what to do when the rights of 2 people conflict with one another, just as can happen between any 2 people. This is why even some people who are against abortion in general may allow for it (for instance) if the mother’s life is in danger from the pregnancy.
The usual way that the abortion debate is framed is to weigh the rights of the child and the rights of the mother. If one believes that a fetus is not yet human, then it has no rights and the mother may do as she pleases. If the fetus is human from the moment of conception, then the mother has no right to end the life or may only do so in some extreme situation (such as when her own life is endangered by the pregnancy). Of course, as your book indicates, there are many middle-ground arguments as well.
These arguments are well-known and covered well in your book. So in this section, we move on to some ways to frame the abortion debate that perhaps you haven’t heard of. These two sections explore the claim that abortion may endanger equal rights to persons beyond just mother and child. These claims will be explored in two parts. We begin here with the claim that abortion is actually a betrayal of feminist goals – that allowing for abortion ultimately harms women’s rights issues. Since abortion rights are often seen as essential to feminist goals, this is a startling claim.
The Feminist Movement
Feminism is NOT a single movement. Therefore, people who consider themselves to be feminist use multiple approaches and appeals in their feminist goals. In general, feminism seeks to establish, promote, and defend equal opportunities and protections for women (as compared with men) – politically, economically, socially, academically, medically, etc. There have been different “waves” of feminist movements over time as the issues faced by women have changed.
Some examples of feminist concerns over the years would include things like the right to vote & own property (1st wave); equal pay for equal work; equal opportunities in classrooms, higher education, and sports; equal focus on women’s health issues; ending exploitation and objectification of women; and obtaining protection from forms of violence that target mostly women. Notice that in some instances, what feminists seek is something that is the SAME as what men have – like the right to vote or earn the same wage as men.
In other instances, what feminists want is DIFFERENT than men’s concerns. For instance, since women do not suffer the same diseases at the same rates as men, feminists want the medical community to focus on issues that affect women as much as they focus on issues that affect men. Likewise, victims of rape are generally women. Feminists have fought hard for tougher laws and better prosecution concerning rape – including establishing the concept of “marital rape” since it used to be assumed that any sex within marriage was okay by definition. Now the law recognizes that even married people are allowed to object to forced or unwanted sexual acts.
The most famous feminist organization is called the National Organization for Women (NOW). Most feminists consider the right to legal, safe, and affordable abortion on demand as fundamental to all other rights of women. A woman’s right to her own body and pursuit of her own goals in life are considered sacred in this point of view. Unwanted pregnancies pose enormous costs to a woman’s health, finances, etc. For this reason, the right to abort is one of the few things that nearly all feminists agree on. This is reflected in the following statement from NOW’s website (under the Abortion and Reproductive Rights tab):
NOW affirms that reproductive rights are issues of life and death for women, not mere matters of choice. NOW fully supports access to safe and legal abortion, to effective birth control and emergency contraception, to reproductive health services and education for all women. We oppose attempts to restrict these rights through legislation, regulation or Constitutional amendment.