Abortion and freedom from natureMonday, 10 August, 2009
I’ve been skulking around various blogs on bioethical issues recently, and I came across this geme from the Christian blog ‘Of Virtue and Life’:
What I am arguing […] is that pregnancy is natural and by saying abortion helps in the liberation of women, it is essentially saying that abortion helps liberate women from nature – which is completely off the wall.
The bottom line for the entire situation is that abortion really doesn’t help in women’s liberation. Having a child doesn’t lower a woman or make her subservient to a man – it is simply a natural process. How is it liberating to go against what is natural? (emphasis mine)
It is that final question that I italicised that I wish to discuss in this post, as in my opinion it can be very, very liberating to go against what is natural. It is exceedingly liberating to be free from nature, and being free from natural limitations on our body and mind. Humans are more liberated now that death does not come so early in life, and we would be most liberated if in the future death existed only as a choice and was never forced upon us by natural causes. Other examples of natural things from which we may want to be liberated include the natural human tendency to put on weight or the natural human limitations on memory or even the fact that humans are not naturally born with wings. But many other natural aspects of everyday life are not entirely pleasant, such as pregnancy and childbirth.
But first I wish to reinforce the fact that there is nothing inherently good about what is natural. To think so would be the fallacy of ‘appeal to nature’, which is essentially wishful thinking in reverse (wishful thinking is where you think what should be is what will be, and the ‘appeal to nature’ fallacy is where you think what is is also what ought to be). You cannot switch between an is and an ought, as the former is a statement of fact and the latter is a statement of value.
Even from a Christian perspective, I cannot see how one could assume what is natural is also what is good. While it is the Christian belief that the nature of reality was created by a benevolent God, apparently the free will of a couple of humans brought sin which corrupted the world, and therefore not everything we see in nature can be assumed to be good (though God clearly let sin corrupt the world and therefore such corruption was obliviously not against the will of a benevolent God, which brings too many theodical issues for this post).
But getting back to the topic, this means we cannot assume that pregnancy and childbirth are good simply because they are natural.
Furthermore, I think there is good arguments to suggest that many, albeit natural, aspects of pregnancy and childbirth are very bad. Very few women choose a natural childbirth because the options of drug-assistance or surgical deliveries provide much more appealing unnatural childbirths. Many women dislike the effects pregnancy has on their body, both during pregnancy and after childbirth, and are eager to return to their pre-pregnancy figures. And even after childbirth, many things about children are not particularly desirable, such as incessant crying and the cost of raising them. While a strong maternal desire and love of children drives many women to endure these distasteful aspects of pregnancy, I think it stands to reason that the process could be much improved by liberating women from the natural downsides to having children.
In addition to the above-mentioned natural but undesirable aspects of pregnancy, the most important natural aspect from which we try to liberate ourselves is the choice to go through the whole pregnancy process at all. It’s natural that heterosexual sex between fertile humans can result in pregnancy, but the vast majority of humans (in the first world, at least) take measures to avoid this natural consequence of sex, though most contraceptives are not foolproof. Because of this (and because of the unfortunate – and likely natural – occurrence of rape) pregnancy is not always consensual, a woman can only have complete control over whether she goes through pregnancy and childbirth if she can opt out of the process at any time. So the most liberating scenario for a woman is total and unrestricted access to abortion regardless of her stage of pregnancy.
So I think we can conclude that women are indeed liberated by having the option to abort. And men too can be liberated by abortion, as couples who do not wish to have children are therefore able to ensure they remain childless. That pregnancy and childbirth are natural does nothing to change this, as the freedom to liberate ourselves from nature is freedom nonetheless. Nobody is truly free if they are a slave to nature.