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Mutual Scorn Within the Abortion Debate: Some Parallels With Race Relations

Abstract

By emphasizing the parallels between both racial vilification and the vilification that takes place when we discuss abortion in our society, I hope to provide a new perspective on the way the United States converses about this divisive issue. This perspective, in turn, can help us see how we can move forward from the stagnate polemics that have permeated the abortion debate in the United States for the past 40 years.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Although many pro-life advocates do base their opposition to abortion on religious grounds, it is false that an anti-abortion position must be essentially religious. There are many secular philosophical arguments against the moral permissibility of abortion. See, for example: Don Marquis’ (1989) “Why Abortion Is Immoral.”

  2. 2.

    For example, Michael Tooley writes that “an organism possesses a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity” (1972, 44).

  3. 3.

    Many thanks to Ryan Ehrfurth for this wonderfully astute observation.

  4. 4.

    Spontaneous miscarriages also produce “tissue” of this sort. Would Poppema be equally critical of a woman who mourned her miscarriage and cried over the loss of her “organic material”? The 2009 Code of Practice issued by the Human Tissue Authority in the United Kingdom offers guidelines for the respectful disposal of fetal tissue in the aftermath of any kind of pregnancy loss, including abortion, before 24 weeks gestation. These disposal options include burial, cremation, or incineration (Human Tissue Authority 2009).

  5. 5.

    The most promising way to simultaneously believe both is to appeal to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s (1971) argument in her “A Defense of Abortion” that no one person’s right to life entails that another person has an obligation to surrender her body to sustain that life. Such a stance does not require one to assert that the fetus is not a person or that the fetus is devoid of moral rights or moral status. Rather, even if we grant the fetus every single right we would grant an extrauterine person, because no extrauterine person possesses the right to use another person’s body for the sustainment of life, the fetus would not possess this right, either. A pregnant woman, therefore, has a right to decide she does not want to use her body to sustain the fetus’ life, just like I have a right to decide whether I want to use my body to save your life via the donation of a nonvital organ or bodily fluids. Nevertheless, just because we maintain that persons do not have a right to instrumentalize others for sustenance, this does not mean we lack genuine appreciation for their moral status or concern for their welfare. Although I could never support a policy that would allow for compelled blood or bone marrow extraction from the healthy to benefit the sick, for example, I still feel that the lives of patients in need of those fluids are worthy of profound respect. Similarly, one can hold that fetal life is worthy of profound respect, even if one also ultimately believes that women cannot be forced to gestate. For more on striking this balance between being pro-choice and respecting fetal life, see my articles “Pro-choice Philosopher Has Baby: Reflections on Fetal Life” (Manninen 2011) and “The Value of Choice and the Choice to Value: Expanding the Discussion About Fetal Life Within Prochoice Advocacy” (Manninen 2013). Thomson’s argument, however, has been the subject of much criticism. See, for example: Beckwith 1992, Wilcox 1989, and Kaczor 2011, among many others.

  6. 6.

    Of course, it is logically possible to oppose abortion rights and also be a committed libertarian, thereby rejecting the view that social welfare has any place in society at all. However, there does seem to be tension between being against abortion choice and in favor of women keeping their children, but also be against the very programs designed to benefit those children, which, in turn, make it so much easier for their parents to care for them. The issue here is a pragmatic one: If you want to reduce abortion rates, you have to address the reasons why women abort in order to curb abortion at its foundations. Perhaps these reasons can serve as an occasion to rethink such staunch libertarianism, at least in regards to this particular issue.

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Correspondence to Bertha Alvarez Manninen.

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Manninen, B.A. Mutual Scorn Within the Abortion Debate: Some Parallels With Race Relations. Bioethical Inquiry 12, 295–311 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-015-9606-z

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Keywords

  • Abortion
  • Vilification
  • Dehumanization
  • Slander
  • “Us” vs. “Them” complex