Magazine article Free Inquiry

In Support of the Right to Choose

Magazine article Free Inquiry

In Support of the Right to Choose

Article excerpt

We own our bodies and we usually assume that a thinking, responsible being has the right to decide what is done to that body. If you suppose, for the sake of argument, that when a woman is pregnant you have the unique circumstance of two living beings in the same body, still, one is thinking and choosing and one is not. The options you have are, do you still allow the thinking being to decide, or is the matter decided by a third party (the state) purporting to represent the nonthinking being as well as the society at large?

This reasoning may seem clear when one is speaking of the "right to abortion." But the right to choose implies an equal right not to have an abortion. In terms of the reproductive right of the woman to control her own body, forced abortion is the flip side of forbidding abortion. If one says one's ideal is a society in which a woman has the right to control her own body, but whether or not she has children is contingent upon the larger aims of the society, either in terms of population control or of religious belief - that's not a right. You're saying she has the right only if she goes along with the general consensus. Some right!

On a panel at the 1990 FREE INQUIRY conference in Boston, I spoke approvingly of a National Abortion Rights and Action League (NARAL) resolution submitted in New Hampshire: "The state shall not compel any woman to complete or to terminate a pregnancy," because it linked both sides of the right to choice. I was then asked disapproving questions involving the right to have a child, implying that it was conditional, whereas the right to abortion was not. Wasn't present-day China right to limit births? Did a woman have an intrinsic right to have any number of children regardless of the effect that it might have on society? And what about "the problem of overpopulation?"

Why are such questions taken seriously by people discussing rights? …

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