Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A father's right to abortion?

The story below about a young man who tricked his pregnant girlfriend into taking an abortion-inducing drug raises a question. As I understand the orthodox "pro-choice" position, it is that the "right" to abortion is a right not to be a mother—the right to order the death of the fetus (a Latin word for “new offspring” or "young one"), not merely a right to evict the fetus from the body. (The unorthodox pro-choice position—famously defended by the philosopher Judith Thomson—conceives the abortion "right" as a right to evict, a right that disappears with fetal viability and could disappear altogether with the creation of the artificial womb.) But if a woman has the right to order the death of the fetus in order not to be a mother against her will, does it not follow that a man has a right to order the death of the fetus in order not to be a father against his will? (For my own part, I don't think anyone has the right to order the death of the fetus, since the fetus is a living human being with inherent dignity and a right to life. So I have no horse in this race.)

Of course, someone holding the orthodox pro-choice position who opposes a father’s right to abortion might say that the father cannot have a right to order the death of the fetus, because that would require that a woman be subjected against her will to a surgical procedure or, at least, to the administration of an abortion-inducing drug. But a defender of a father's right to abortion might respond by saying that he then ought to be able to exercise his right by ordering the killing of the fetus as soon as it is born, or by ordering the killing of the fetus by the Intact Dilation and Extraction (IDX or “partial-birth”) abortion technique, without acting on the woman's body. (The technique, which is used by late-term abortionists such as Martin Haskell with the support of groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL and pro-choice politicians such as Barack Obama who opposed its prohibition, involves inserting scissor’s into the base of the skull while the remainder of the head is still inside the woman’s body, opening the scissors, and using a suction device to vacuum out the brain matter.)

For organizations and individuals who support late-term abortion, it's not obvious on what ground they could reasonably oppose a father's right to abortion. I've often heard pro-choice men say that they ought not to be required to pay child support where a woman has refused the father of the child's request that she abort. They regard the woman's refusal to abort as compulsory fatherhood, just as pro-choice people claim that laws prohibiting abortion impose compulsory motherhood.



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