Feminist Sophie Lewis has a series of videos promoting her new book, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, and this clip caught my eye (video below):
We’re facing a really terrifying attack on abortion—in the U.S., where I live, in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere.
In the past, the strategies that our side has tended to use have included a kind of ceding of ground to our enemies. We tend to say that abortion is “indeed, very bad, but…,” or we say, “Luckily, it’s not killing; luckily it’s just a healthcare right.”
We have very little to lose at the moment when it comes to abortion, and I’m interested in winning radically. And I wonder if we could think about defending abortion as a right to stop doing gestational work.
Abortion is, in my opinion—and I recognize how controversial this is—a form of killing. It is a form of killing that we need to be able to defend.
I am not interested in where a human life starts to exist. I see the forms of making and unmaking each other as, sort of, continuous processes. The other end of the spectrum is the process of learning how to die well, and hold each other, and let each other go at the end of our lives as well as at the beginning.
But looking at the biology of this kind of hemochorial placentation helps me think about the violence that, innocently, a fetus metes out vis-à-vis a gestator. And that violence is an unacceptable violence for someone who doesn’t want to do gestational work. The violence that that gestator metes out to essentially go on strike or exit that workplace is an acceptable violence.
As pro-lifers have increased the strength of their case that abortion kills innocent human beings, we’ve seen pro-choicers engage in less and less hiding from this truth and more and more convoluted and desperate justifications of abortion: Okay, so it’s killing, but we need to defend this kind of killing because it’s “a life worth sacrificing.” So a human organism exists at conception; can we really say it’s alive, considering that the forms of making and unmaking each other are continuous processes (whatever that means)? Yes, abortion is violence against the innocent, but they were violent first!
So now, according to Lewis, an unborn child, created by his mother and father through an act that is designed to create new human beings, is committing violence against his mother merely by being right where he’s meant to be, growing inside of her—something he’s doing not because something went wrong, but because his parents’ reproductive systems were working exactly the way they are supposed to work.
Lewis’s illustration and justification fail. “Exiting the workplace” is simply not a good analogy here. Firstly, because we don’t allow employees to kill their employers as a solution to undesired working conditions, and secondly, because the parent-child relationship is not analogous to an employer-employee relationship (or any other kind of relationship, really). It is unique and carries with it unique obligations. (See here for an illustration to help you understand and explain this.)
We don’t allow parents to kill their children simply because they don’t want the work of parenthood. On the contrary, parents (not random strangers) are bound by law to protect and nurture their children. This is precisely because of the natural bond that ties them together—a bond that our law recognizes in numerous ways.
I still hear people deny the unborn are human beings, but not nearly as often as in the past; we’ve made our scientific case well. Our moral case continues from our scientific claim that the unborn are human beings: Every human being is equally intrinsically valuable, regardless of his or her characteristics (age, race, sex, current abilities, etc.), and it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings; therefore, since the unborn are innocent human beings, it’s wrong to intentionally kill them (as the laws of most states recognize in cases other than abortion).
Now that the biology is undeniable, the arguments have shifted to reasons why killing these particular human beings is justified, so expect to see many more arguments like Lewis’s. When you do, ask if the justification being offered would rightly apply to a parent killing her born child. (Can she kill her child if she’s in poverty? If the child is causing hardships? If she’d prefer a different sex? If she doesn’t want to be a parent?) If the answer is no for one human being, the answer is no for every human being.