Pregnancy and Slavery, by Stephanie Gray

After my presentation on abortion for the series "Talks at Google," I received an e-mail from someone who identified as pro-choice.  He wanted to outline his position on abortion and hear my thoughts.  What follows is my reply to him, as it provides a teaching tool for how to explain the pro-life position to someone who argues that when a woman does not wish to be pregnant, to force her to continue is like slavery.

     I am encouraged that you acknowledge that "a fetus is a human being with equal right to any other, and that killing it is immoral."  Given that, if you consider maintaining pregnancy/giving birth to be a type of slavery (if the pregnancy/birth are against the woman's will), then couldn't the same could be said about caring for a born child if doing so is against a woman's will?  In other words, if no one was able to care for a woman's infant for 6 weeks, would that give her grounds to refuse to feed the infant, to directly kill the infant, on the basis that she does not give permission to be "enslaved" to the infant?  Bear in mind that a born child is 100% dependent on another human to use their body (mind, arms, chest) to feed, burp, change, and shelter him or her.  Without total care from another human's body, the infant will die.

     Remember, I'm working with your admission that a fetus is just as human as an infant, and your admission that killing is immoral.  If dependency of one human on another is considered slavery, and it justifies deadly force to cease said relationship, then logically you would need to carry that over to born children.  Is that a position you're willing to take?

     Assuming you aren't willing to take that position, then I think what is reasonable to deduce is this:

     Whereas slavery involves one person treating another person as property, pre-born (and born) children are not doing this. In fact, the opposite of your position could be said: That embracing abortion is analogous to embracing slavery.  Whereas the latter (slavery) says of another human, "That's my property" (which isn't true), the former (abortion) says of another human, "That's my body" (which isn't true).

     Furthermore, slave owners are the strong party who dominate vulnerable people.  How can pre-born children be analogous to that when it's their parents who are the strong party and the pre-born who are the vulnerable one?

     You claim that "women...can consent to having sex without consenting to pregnancy."  Really?  Consider this:

     Is it reasonable to say a person can consent to playing baseball without consenting to the ball going through, and breaking, a neighbor's window?  Would it be reasonable to say to the neighbor, "I consented to playing the game but not to it causing property damage so I won't fix your window"?  Or, is it reasonable for a man to say he consented to having sex without consenting to paying child support?  Would it be reasonable to say to a judge, "I consented to having sex but not to creating the child my partner birthed so I won't provide ongoing financial support to the child"?

     In either example, the consequence of a window being broken or of a child needing support are just that--consequences, results, which flow from an action.  A person cannot "consent" to such consequences; they must merely accept them.  By engaging in actions (playing baseball, having sex) that have consequences tied to them, a person must accept what comes.  If that's true for the broken window or child support scenarios, it's also true for a pregnancy scenario.

      Moreover, with pregnancy and parenthood we are not speaking of a stranger-to-stranger relationship, but rather of a parent-to-child relationship.  Consider, for example, if someone is starving in your city: Will you be charged with neglect for not feeding them?  No.  While it would be nice of you to feed the poor, you do not have a legal duty to do so.  What if your child is starving in your home: Will you be charged with neglect for not feeding her?  Yes.  Why?  Parents have a responsibility to meet the basic needs of their children.  Requiring parents of born children to meet their childrens' basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter, is the same as requiring a mother to meet her pre-born child's basic needs of food and shelter.

     You said, "I see pregnancy as an immoral imposition on the woman against her will imposed by biology/nature/god, like slavery."  Even if that's how you see it, the child is not the one responsible for this imposition.  Moreover, as pointed out previously, the "imposition" doesn't end at birth.  So if the imposition of "nature" is grounds to kill the innocent pre-born child, it's also grounds to kill the innocent born child, and that's a position civil societies just don't take. 

     Consider this statement from the UN's Declaration on the Rights of the Child: "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth."

      You said, "A common criticism of [the claim about a woman's right to choose is] if people have the right to do whatever they want with their bodies they have the right to wave a sword around wherever they want, so why is it immoral to cut people who happen to get in the way? You can’t do whatever you want in public space which is owned by everyone, however inside of your body isn’t public space. If someone invaded your home/body (knowingly or not) against your will, then you are fully in your rights to swing your sword even if it hits them, or at the very least evict them out post haste so you can go back to swinging your sword in peace."

      Actually, if you found a baby in your home you wouldn't be able to justify swinging your sword or leaving the child in the cold.  Yet here's how pregnancy is different even from that: The pre-born child has not invaded the mom's body. She is there by "invitation" of her parents.  Moreover, she is in the only place she should be in.  That point cannot be minimized: Where else should the pre-born be except for the mom's body?  The child in the womb is a sign something has gone right, rather than wrong.

      Moreover, who does the uterus primarily exist for?  A woman can live without her uterus; her offspring cannot.  In fact, every single month the uterus is getting ready for someone else's body.  While it exists in the mom's body it is a unique organ in that it exists more for one's offspring than for oneself; hence, the argument can be made that the pre-born child has a right to be there.

      You said, "If you were a slave and your owner tasked you with taking care of a child for nine months after which you would be free. Also considering the fact that if you refused the child would die, are you obligated to being a slave and taking care of the child or are you justified in escaping slavery even at the cost of the child’s life?"

     I would point out that because the baby is not an independent adult who can try to fend for herself, that I think the woman should care for the slave baby too.  Having said that, the scenario you've described is not like pregnancy.  Pregnancy is a parent-child relationship.  So let me make the right course of action clearer with a thought experiment that is more parallel to pregnancy [working with a concept from my friends over at Justice for All]:

     Imagine a woman gives birth but doesn't want to use her body to breastfeed her baby.  She has formula and bottles all ready to provide nourishment for the child that way.  But suddenly, she and her newborn are kidnapped and locked in a cabin in the woods. There is solid food for her to eat but no bottles or formula for the baby.  Would she be obligated to breastfeed her child or could she justify letting the baby starve because she didn't want to use her body to help her child?

     Clearly she still has a duty to meet the needs of her born child even when circumstances beyond her control prevent her from following her original plan.  The same is true for the pre-born who you acknowledged to be human and with equal rights.