Obama on Abortion

Judith Jarvis Thomson, near the end of her well-known article “A Defense of Abortion,” writes,

… while I am arguing for the permissibility of abortion in
some cases, I am not arguing for the right to secure the death of the
unborn child. It is easy to confuse these two things in that up to a
certain point in the life of the fetus it is not able to survive outside
the mother’s body; hence removing it from her body guarantees its
death. But they are importantly different. I have argued that you are
not morally required to spend nine months in bed, sustaining the life
of that violinist; but to say this is by no means to say that if, when you
unplug yourself, there is a miracle and he survives, you then have a
right to turn round and slit his throat. You may detach yourself even
if this costs him his life; you have no right to be guaranteed his death,
by some other means, if unplugging yourself does not kill him.

Now Barack Obama, it seems, disagrees with Thomson. He thinks that a fetus who survives an abortion attempt and emerges from the mother’s body alive has no right to life and may be allowed to die. At any rate, that’s how he’s voted in the past, no matter how much that fact causes him to wriggle now. Thomson explains why someone might hold Obama’s position:

There are some people who will feel dissatisfied by this feature of my argument. A woman may be utterly devastated by the thought of a child, a bit of herself, put out for adoption and never seen or heard of again. She may therefore want not merely that the child be detached from her, but more, that it die. Some opponents of abortion are inclined to regard this as beneath contempt-thereby showing insensitivity to what is surely a powerful source of despair. All the same, I agree that the desire for the child’s death is not one which anybody may gratify, should it turn out to be possible to detach the child alive.

I’m one of those who considers a desire that the child die to be beneath contempt, a sign of such astounding selfishness that you would prefer your own child to die rather than to live apart from you.

How long, anyway, does a mother have to make this decision? A few minutes? A few hours? A few years? How does letting a child die on that table differ from later child abuse or infanticide?

In any case, favoring infanticide, if only in this kind of case, puts Obama on the extreme fringes of the pro-choice side of the abortion debate.

2 thoughts on “Obama on Abortion

  1. My worry is that what is now fringe opinion will one day soon be mainstream opinion. I remember many years ago, when abortion first really became a hot-button issue, most pro-‘choice’ people I spoke to about the issue were adamant that the fetus was *not* a human being.

    I was recently talking with a group of young women, all pro-‘choice’, and they had quite a different view. They all conceded that the fetus was a human being (some of them insisted it wasn’t a human *person* however, but I don’t think they had any philosophically technical distinction in mind) but thought nonetheless that unwanted pregnancy was something no woman should endure for anyone’s sake, human or not.

    How long will it be before people like Stephen Pinker, who argue for the right to what would unambiguously be infanticide, hold the majority view?

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