Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The pro-abortion "forced organ donation" analogy

I heard this on NPR today:
Forcades is a frequent commentator on Spanish TV. That's where a few years ago, she voiced her support for abortion rights — on live TV. A letter of reprimand swiftly arrived from the Vatican. And Forcades wrote back, posing a philosophical question to the Vatican in response. 
"So let's imagine you have a father and the father has a compatible kidney, and you have a child, an innocent child, who needs the kidney. Is the church ready to force the father to give the kidney, to save the child's life?" she says, recounting her reply to the Vatican. "That the right to life of the child takes precedence over the right to self-determination to his own body, of the father? And that was my question I sent to Rome in 2009." 
She received no reply back. So for now, Sister Teresa remains very much part of the church — and proud to sometimes disagree with it.
I'm happy that the Vatican has enough sense to direct its limited resources to doing its job rather than entertaining long and fruitless arguments with individuals who are past persuading. Now I just wish that NPR would do its job, and report the news instead of cheerleading its side of the culture wars.

The "forced organ donation" analogy is relatively interesting because it's one of the few pro-abortion arguments that does not try to dispute that a fetus is a human being (with all of that statement's implications). For that reason alone, it's one of the few pro-abortion arguments that actually deserves some attention for not being preposterous.

Instead, the analogy relocates the center of the disagreement: from the ontological status of the fetus, to the bodily autonomy that every individual enjoys as a natural right. The fact that it also highlights an apparent sexism is just gravy. If a man, who can never be truly pregnant, can thus never be morally required to submit his body to medical trauma for the life of an innocent, then by what logic should the same ever be required of a woman?

And childbirth is traumatic. I've witnessed one. For many women, it's at least as traumatic as an organ donation. C-sections involve no fewer slicings, tuggings, and stitchings. So I can't fault the metaphor for exaggerating the difficulty of childbearing.

These concessions notwithstanding, the forced-organ-donation analogy is as a worthless comparison. When accepted on face value, it fosters no new knowledge--in fact, it induces forgetfulness.

Side-by-side, human gestation has as much in common with an organ transplant as the whole green Earth has in common with the ill-fated Biosphere 2. Arguing that the first is the moral equivalent of the second effectively obliterates every truth about childbearing apart from some medical procedures. It is an absurd reduction born out of a good intention: trying to help men put themselves into women's shoes. But the result is a twisted, shrunken mental parody of motherhood.

Now, Sister Forcades argues for bodily autonomy. Bodily autonomy is a natural right. That means that it's everybody's right, no matter what. Governments can't grant the right; they can only respect it or violate it, but the right is always there. That's the beauty of theories of natural rights.

The problem for the pro-abortion's application of the idea is that "natural rights" presuppose a thing called "human nature," i.e., the totality of our aggregate defining attributes which we neither invented, nor can we ultimately escape (without terrible consequences). All human rights are actually descriptions of human nature: things like freedom, intellectual curiosity, the need for companionship, ingenuity, emotion, and love. And it also includes things like our corporeality, our two sexes, our biological origins, and perhaps even our mortality. Not least of items on the list are maternity, gestation, and childbearing.

My point is that any alleged similarity between an organ donation to an innocent child, and the intricate forces comprising each of our entrance into life, is so superficial as to be a bad joke.

For a mother's natural right to bodily autonomy to trump a fetus's natural right to life, the pregnancy must be thought of in ridiculous terms: as a mere medical procedure, as something which is not a part of the humanity of both the mother and the child, as something with no inherent value except as a means to an end. I (and, I believe, the Catholic faith) reject that characterization.

Now, the unfairness of the situation is not lost on me. A wise person once wrote:
There is, as I understand it, a whole movement in the conservative legal arena to say that if someone's motives aren't biased, then it doesn't matter if the outcome is. Which works out really well for the discriminatory folks of this world b/c it's of course it's nearly impossible to prove that someone has discriminatory attitudes if they're claiming otherwise... 
The liberal legal preference (again, as I understand it) is that if the outcome is discriminatory then it doesn't matter if the intent isn't. Makes it much less likely that people can get away with rationalizing away their distaste for women who have non-procreative sex or black people who vote.
I categorically regard women to be in a singular, incomparable position: morally obligated to carry pregnancies to term. No analogy to that is possible for men. Therefore, I may be accused of hiding a bigotry behind the curtain of "nature." I won't bother trying to change minds that take comfort in that position.

And yet, the only alternative seems at least as repulsive to me: to regard our biology and corporeality as something alien to ourselves, as a patriarchal lord to be overthrown so that our body-irrelevant free consciousnesses can finally be truly equal. If it's a choice between loyalty to the human organism, and loyalty to the ideals of equality, I will choose the human organism every single time.

I am not without my egalitarianism, however. Each of us breathing right now, and every single one of our forebears, male and female, straight and gay, of every race, nationality, and ethnicity, has enjoyed the benefits of a complete gestation. The same cannot be said of an organ transplant. So let's not be choosy! Full term pregnancies for everyone. It is, after all, a part of who and what we are.


Anonymous said...

Cool! Don't YOU have an abortion then. Really happy you've figured out your argument why.

CB said...

Thanks for the thoughtful consideration of this philosophical line of argument. I'm not sure however that you have presented particularly strong objective reasoning to counter it. A view that ultimately all women are "morally obligated to carry pregnancies to term" is ultimately a subjective opinion - as is your expressed view that the analogy is a shrivelled version of what motherhood is.

If you accept the traumatic realities of childbirth, can you also not see yourself to recognising the extraordinary sacrifice that the 9 months of pregnancy entails?