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Declaration of a Peaceful Revolution

Abortion & Feminism: Reproductive Autonomy & Consequence-Free Sex

Pro-choice activists at a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Memphis, Tenn., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Over at Public Discourse today, my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Carl Trueman and I have written an essay examining the philosophical anthropology undergirding the feminist argument for legal abortion. When we discuss personhood in the context of abortion, we most often focus on the personhood of the unborn human being, whose identity determines whether abortion is similar to getting a tooth pulled or is in fact a form of killing.

But the abortion question also intimately involves a second person: the unborn child’s mother. And it is the modern feminist movement’s view of the pregnant mother — of women — that leads to the demand for an unlimited right to abortion. Here’s more from our piece:

If we are to believe those who defend a right to abortion, it is nothing less than the power to end the life of her unborn child that guarantees a woman her humanity—that is, the autonomy befitting her status as man’s equal.

The morality of a society is part of a shared way of imagining the world, held in common by members of said society. For abortion to be plausible, let alone acceptable, a society must hold certain ideas intuitively. One is the idea that a woman must have control, specifically sexual and reproductive control, over her own body. Most legal-abortion proponents defend their position in the language of women’s rights, arguing that, without legal abortion, women would be unable to control their bodies. This argument indicates a deeper, often unstated assumption: that sexual activity is the normative way in which human beings find fulfillment. . . .

Defending legal abortion as a necessary means by which women can control their reproductive decisions requires assuming that unlimited, consequence-free sex is a prerequisite for human freedom and flourishing. Both contraception and abortion are necessary, in this view, because they enable women either to avoid or to destroy the natural consequences of sexual activity; controlling one’s reproduction by avoiding the act that leads to conception isn’t so much as considered. What is billed as “reproductive control” is in fact merely the ability to pursue sexual gratification and dispose of the consequences.

Defending legal abortion on the grounds of “reproductive autonomy” is close to impossible, and in fact makes no sense at all, unless you take as a premise that unlimited, consequence-free sex is something akin to a human right. Once you assume this to be true, the facts of female biology become nothing short of tyrannical, as second-wave feminist thinkers put it. It is in response to this  thinking that feminists began to demand contraception and abortion, technology that, in their view, enables women to participate in sex with the same “freedom” that men have. But as we point out, it’s a very impoverished freedom, indeed.

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