Thursday, April 02, 2009

Does that really explain the outrage?

Cornell law professor Sherry Colb attempts to explain why someone in favor of legal abortion would be “outraged” by the killing of Sycloria Williams’ baby girl Shanice (whom Colb repeatedly calls a “fetus”) after she gave birth while waiting for the child to be aborted.

It’s really quite interesting to read as Colb uses the bodily autonomy argument to explain why putting a born child in a biohazard bag and throwing her in the garbage is worthy of outrage while dismembering that same child at the same level of development but in a different location is merely “morally complicated.”
One might argue, as some pro-life advocates have, that there is no meaningful difference between what Gonzalez did and what an abortion provider does, because in both cases, a fetus is killed. This argument, however, ignores one of the main premises of the right to abortion – the bodily-integrity interest of the pregnant woman. Particularly at the later stages of pregnancy, the right to abortion does not protect an interest in killing a fetus as such. What it protects instead is the woman's interest in not being physically, internally occupied by another creature against her will, the same interest that explains the right to use deadly force, if necessary, to stop a rapist. Though the fetus is innocent of any intentional wrongdoing and the rapist is not, the woman's interest in repelling an unwanted physical intrusion is quite similar.

Once the fetus is no longer inside the woman's body, though, killing it is not necessary to preserving the woman's bodily integrity.

The problem with this argument is it really doesn’t get to the reason behind the emotional revulsion and outrage people feel when they hear about what abortion clinic owner Belkis Gonzalez allegedly did.

Is it really possible to emotionally react to the killing of this child by saying or thinking, “How could Gonzalez do that? Didn’t she know the child was no longer an intruder/creature/rapist occupying Sycloria’s body without consent?”

People are outraged at Gonzalez’s alleged actions because she intentionally killed a tiny, helpless human being, not because she killed a human being who recently ceased to be an “intruder.”

As she continues, Colb’s thoughts about what Gonzalez might have been thinking are truly bizarre. The reason Gonzalez acted as she did seems quite obvious (she was attempting to cover up a botched abortion at her shady abortion clinic - duh!) and it certainly wasn’t because Gonzalez thought “she was fulfilling the patient's wishes” or because she “believed that an abortion truly consists of two distinct, equally essential acts – the act of killing the fetus and the act of removing the fetus and the pregnancy from the woman's body.”

Another bizarre moment occurs when Colb argues that women should be allowed to abort their viable unborn children (instead of attempting to remove them without killing them) because “the woman has an interest in accomplishing expulsion in a manner that does not itself threaten her with physical injury.”

Yes, because that’s why women have elective, late-term abortions. It’s not because they want to get rid of their child, it’s because they want the child removed in a way that doesn’t threaten them with physical injury (as if late-term abortions were magical surgical procedures which never injured women).

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