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A conflict of rights?

Posted by Chance on November 16, 2007

Sigrid Fry-Revere from the Cato-blog says the following:

I believe abortion is morally wrong, but I also believe that in a conflict between mother and fetus, a woman’s right must always take precedence. A human being’s rights under the law increase with maturity. That has been the tradition under Anglo-American law as well as world wide for most of history. To suggest that a fetus has the same rights as a mature adult individual borders on the perverse. A woman’s rights should never be placed second to the needs of her fetus. To do so is to treat women first and foremost as communally owned vessels for bringing forth life and only second as autonomous individuals.

I take a couple issues with this.

First of all, I disagree that age affects right to life. She rightly asserts that the rights of individuals, on the whole, increase with age. Adults can do more things, whether it be vote, make major purchases, drink, etc… Children’s lives can be essentially run by their parents. But the right to be free from harm should always be a constant. While parents can choose how they raise their kids and what philosophies to teach them, parents never have the right to harm their children. I understand that Fry-Revere does not believe a fetus qualifies as a human, but her argument concerning age and rights does not hold water here.

Secondly, one has to consider exactly what rights are being trumped. Many pro-lifers, such as myself, do agree that if the fetus poses an imminent risk to the mother, abortion is not immoral. However, Fry-Revere is weighing the right to life vs. the right not to be inconvenienced.

The author does say one statement I agree with, however. The idea of each state deciding whether abortion is legal or not does sound appealing, after all it is better than the current situation. But philosophically, I don’t know if it is that sound. She states

Abortion should no more be a question for local politics than slavery.

Unfortunately, she goes in the wrong direction from there.


3 Responses to “A conflict of rights?”

  1. Neil said

    “A human being’s rights under the law increase with maturity.”

    I think this is where the logic took a wrong turn. With abortion we are talking about the right to life, which doesn’t vary with age. In fact, we tend to look at the death of the young as being more of a tragedy, if anything.

    Strong moral societies provide more protection to the weak and defenseless, not less. They help the disabled, they don’t crush and dismember them in utero the way so many do when the unborn MIGHT have Downs or some other disability.

  2. theobromophile said

    A human being’s rights under the law increase with maturity. That has been the tradition under Anglo-American law as well as world wide for most of history.

    I agree with Neil.

    From a legal/philosophical perspective, there is a difference between the rights granted by the civitas (positive rights, in many ways), those protected by the civitas, and those given to others for safekeeping.

    We generally think of voting, for example, as a state-given right in a free society. The right itself is meaningless without the structure of a government. Those rights, logically, must change with age and status, as they are social rights.

    The rights which are protected by the state are those of non-aggression: right to life, bodily integrity, etc. There are also certain rights that we demand of the government – essentially, that the government not aggress against us. Those rights do not, and never have, changed with age.

    Finally, some rights are delegated temporarily to others; a person may designate a medical proxy, an attorney, or the like. The fact that such designations take place does not mean that the rights in question do not exist; it merely means that they are best realised when another person acts as a guardian. (In fact, such guardianship of rights underscores the idea that they are important: we don’t want to let people be stripped of them due to temporary inability to so exercise.)

    It is utterly asinine to suggest that the right to vote (which was once conditioned upon the right to own property, although you’ll never hear many liberals arguing for a return of that regime!) is akin to the right to life, or the right to be free from bodily assault. The fact that we strip felons of the right to vote but give them protections against bodily harm in prison illustrates this quite nicely.

  3. Thought you might find this interesting…


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