Happy Blog for Choice Day! Today is the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and so a most appropriate day to consider why those of us who support abortion, do. Two of the best I’ve seen today are a defense of abortion even in non-drastic cases, and the most succinct statement I’ve seen of why the choice to abort is an essential right. I’d like to offer the following: a pro-choice vegetarian’s two cents.
I’ll cannibalize the first part of my statement from a comment I made almost two years ago: The reason I believe that a woman has the right to abort a pregnancy is that an embryo or fetus is part of a woman’s body. Its status is the same as that of all her other cells: biologically dependent on her. It’s nourished by her nutrients, and if she dies, it dies. It’s her responsibility, a responsibility that cannot be shared, and as such it’s her decision whether to sustain it or not. Yes, you can argue that a newborn infant is dependent on its mother, too, but that’s not true—if others step in, they can keep it alive and growing. But before it is born a fetus is a part of its mother.
Now, an animal, on the other hand, is an independent life form. It can find food, shelter, and other essentials with the help of its own damn mother, and then later on its own. It may not have sentience, but it is self-sufficient. (I’m aware that some animals have been so heavily bred as food that they are no longer self-sufficient; I recently learned that turkeys have been bred so fat that they cannot mate on their own. This is cheating. Farm animals were capable of being more than food before we bred those qualities out of them.) And like an infant, unlike an embryo, an animal feels pain. Given the choice, I try not to contribute to that pain.
So, abortion does not pose a moral problem for me; eating meat does. But I recognize that 1) the question of whether eating meat is good or bad is an intractably complex one, one that no one source can definitively settle, and 2) many people (those living in non-arable areas, for instance) do not have a reasonable choice in the matter. Therefore, I believe that it would be wrong for me to judge meat-eating, either in individuals or in groups, and I do not. And the idea of there being any laws restricting it at all is ludicrous. I expect the same from those who are against abortion: an acknowledgment that there is no definitively correct answer to the problem, and a refusal to attempt to settle the question with legislation. Believe it or not, I have met some abortion opponents who agree with these terms: they see their opposition to abortion as personal, and while they will argue with me about the morality of the abortion issue they do not expect or want the state to take sides in it. I respect their moral concerns, even if I don’t share them. As for the others, I have no interest in conducting any sort of debate with them, because I’ve seen those bumper stickers already.
Obviously I am not advocating moral relativism here. Slavery, child labor, the equality of all men and women—these are not difficult moral issues. The question of what’s alive, or what subhuman life we can use or take for our own ends, is. And as long as there is no clear moral solution, “do as thou wilt” must be the rule.