Big Questions: Pro-Life Edition

If pregnant women are obligated to carry a fetus to term to preserve an innocent human life, at personal cost to the woman, why aren’t all men and women required to donate their tissues and organs to save innocent lives?

I mean, what’s the difference between those two situations? In both the case of a fetus and a dying patient, one could argue that an entire innocent human life is at stake. Why is only the pregnant woman obligated to preserve the human life at cost to herself? And why are healthy people not obligated to do so when the opportunity arises?


10 thoughts on “Big Questions: Pro-Life Edition

  1. Although it is an interesting point, I don’t necessarily agree. I want to answer these questions as well as I can, and hopefully start a good discussion in the process. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to pull a Leroux and attack you).

    So I have a couple of differences between the two situations: 1. One is actively killing the fetus, while the other while one is taking a non-action that will possibly kill the other person. (While I’m not even a big fan of this argument, as one could consider both of these the same thing, it does depend on the situation).

    Quick question: What kind of tissue/organ donation are we talking about? I’m guessing ones that won’t guarantee death of the donor. If so, that brings me to my next difference: 2. It seems that the risk of death of the donor is greater that the risk of death to the pregnant woman (again, this will depend on the situation – exactly what is being donated, etc).

    Now the next difference: 3. The actions of the woman directly resulted in the pregnancy, but the some is not true for the person in need of the donation. Now, I realize that the pregnancy is not always intentional (yes, mistakes happen), and I also realize that it takes more than just a woman to make a baby (and you bet your ass that man needs to take responsibility in some way), that can’t be used as an excuse to just kill it. When somebody has sex, they know what can happen. They know that there is a chance of pregnancy, even if they take precautions, and even if they don’t want it to happen.

    And no, ignorance is not an excuse either. “But we didn’t know we could get pregnant if he pulled out.”,”What? You get pregnant by having sex?” Yes, one case more extreme than the other, but no matter how ignorant, actions have consequences. “But I didn’t know it was illegal to set this vacant building on fire.” Well you know what? You’re still going to jail. (Not you, Krista. That beeeeeyotch who set the building on fire is!) So that was my example for that. I know that the whole ignorance thing wasn’t part of your original argument, but it goes along with my third difference.

    And to continue with my third difference, lets say somebody is responsible for putting somebody in the hospital and needs organ replacement. Although they are not obligated to replace said organ, they are obligated to pay out the ass for being responsible. So yes, there will be a financial toll, but not a physical one.

    So I do think the pregnant woman has a responsibility to keep the baby alive (physical, financial, and career may suffer), but again, the consequences of sex are known. And yes, I do believe the man is fully responsible as well. Although the physical toll is super-duper-minimal (mental strain at the most), he needs to by at least financially and socially responsible for the baby. I know it’s not the same as what the woman is giving up, but there’s honestly nothing I can do about that. Nature made that decision.

    In answering the question about the differences, I also believed I answered your other questions in this post. Now my argument was based on my logic alone, and little on fact (as I don’t have any facts or numbers to present). But I also don’t believe facts are necessary when talking about an issue of responsibility or as you say, obligations.

    I also like the Obama quote, but here’s how I take it. He says he wouldn’t want them punished with a baby, not a pregnancy. The “punishment” of a baby can be avoided by adoption. I’m not sure if he worded it that way on purpose, but bottom line; If you’re going to have sex, you should be responsible for the “punishment” of a possible pregnancy.

    I look forward to your reply, as I believe this will be a pretty kick-ass discussion.

    • Stanford, I appreciate your thoughtful response. I love discussions!

      I hear you on all accounts. The first bit of logic you brought up is one of those ethics problems that people debate all the time. Are actions and inactions moral equivalents? You’re right – it’s a weak argument because of its ambiguity. And some countries have taken legal steps to say that inaction is as criminally reprehensible as action. I want to say Germany has laws mandating that certified citizens intervene when another citizen needs CPR or first aid. I know that our country has laws about mandated reporting in certain cases of child abuse or suicidal thoughts.

      For your quick question, I guess we can standardize and say that this would be a low-risk donation – as equally safe to the donor as the abortion procedure would be to the pregnant woman. Of course, I can’t tell you which procedures these would be but I’m sure blood and plasma donation would be up there.

      And your third difference, about the actions of the woman directly resulting in the pregnancy – that’s the crux of this issue. In fact, I’m glad you brought it up, because it really proves the point that the pro-life stance has really very little to do with protecting life. It has much more to do with controlling women’s actions.

      If the issue were simply about life, you wouldn’t have even brought it up. It would be inconsequential that the woman’s behavior was the cause, because who cares what the cause is? It’s LIFE. And by “you,” I don’t necessarily mean you, personally, but the persuasive forces on the pro-life side that create a culture of holding women – and ONLY women – accountable for their behavior.

      Now, you’ve acknowledged that men need to take the (financial) responsibility to take care of the resulting pregnancy as well. No rational person could argue that the man has no obligation in a situation like this – of course he does. In the ideal world, this would be a no-brainer. Of course, this is not the ideal world, and a man can easily walk his ass and wallet (if he even HAS a wallet) right out of the picture. Some men who impregnate women are abusive partners, date rapists, or generally people who you don’t want to have anything to do with your pregnancy. Some men tear condoms on purpose, are ashamed of you, or are already married and have no intention of outing themselves as a cheater. Whatever the problem is, it ultimately falls to the woman to make the final choice. She has no one else to rely on but herself.

      Besides, if we’re going to base this on the fact that the woman’s behavior caused the situation, then let me throw this out there: Only healthy people can donate organs/blood. What if I were to tell you that your behavior caused your organs and blood to be healthy? You work out, you eat right, and you practice safe sex to avoid blood-borne diseases. You took active steps to remain healthy, even though you KNEW that you were putting yourself at risk to be ordered to donate. You caused your blood to be donate-able.

      If you say that these actions are “different” than sexual actions, than you are putting a moral weight on sexual behavior as opposed to other kinds of behavior. And there are legal precedents in place already to say, specifically, that sexual behavior between consenting adults is not to be legally moralized. To do so would be an invasion of our right to privacy.

      • Alright! I’ve finally found the time to respond and I think I have my thoughts (mostly) in order. One thing I want to ask you right away (which has nothing to do with your original post): Do you really believe “…the pro-life stance has really very little to do with protecting life. It has much more to do with controlling women’s actions.”? This just makes no sense to me at all, and I am very interested in hearing why you feel this way.

        Now, when you say that, “If the issue were simply about life, you wouldn’t have even brought it up. It would be inconsequential that the woman’s behavior was the cause, because who cares what the cause is?” you need to remember what the original question is. This issue is not simply about life, as this is not a pro-life/pro-choice debate. The question was about the difference between the two situations you gave us in the beginning of your post. Causation is a big difference. Two people caused the pregnancy. Nobody caused the dying patient to be dying (unless they did cause it, in which case they are responsible). Basically, it’s a matter of taking responsability for things your responsible for and not being forced into taking resposability for things you are not resposible for.

        And yes, you could say that a healthy person’s actions caused their blood to be donate-able, but that still doesn’t make them resposible for the dying person.

        As to your last paragraph, about the moral weight of sexual behavior and what not, I completely agree, and was not headed in that direction, so we can consider it a moot point.

  2. The reason why I believe the pro-life stance has little to do with life and more to do with controlling women’s actions is because of the exact reason you just gave me about “taking responsibility for the things you are responsible for.”

    You are exactly right – the difference between donating organs and keeping an unwanted pregnancy is the matter of consequence-following-action. We’re not obligated to donate organs because we didn’t cause the life-threatening situation. However, according to the pro-life side, women ARE obligated to remain pregnant because they directly caused the situation.

    It follows, then, that this issue is not about life – it’s about a woman “taking responsibility” for her actions, and accepting the consequence of a pregnancy she never wanted. OR, it’s about communicating the message that women shouldn’t have sex unless they’re prepared to carry a fetus to term. Either way falls under the category of controlling women’s actions.

  3. If this is about responsibility couldn’t a sexist society where it is near impossible to have honest and open discussions about sexual health be the cause?

    We live in a culture that makes it next to impossible to have honest and open discussions about sexuality and sexual health. This results in a public that is drastically under-educated about reproductive health.

    Our culture is also sexist and disenfranchises women. Much of the anti choice debate is about controlling women’s bodies, not protecting life. It directly endangers the life of women and puts the life of a fetus over the life of the woman. Valuing the life of fetuses over the lives of women does not protect life, it is an attempt to punish “guilty” women for their actions.

    I guess my problem with this whole debate is that it doesn’t address that pregnancy, families and relationships are complicated. There are many reasons women need access to safe and legal abortions. I think debating about who is responsible is a waste of time. The real question is, how can we ensure women and families are safe, and also learn about the real stories of abortion and the people affected by abortion.

    1 in 3 women in the US will have an abortion. We need to have honest and safe spaces for women to discuss their experiences.


  4. Holy shit you’re right Krista. It is about controlling women’s actions. The way you said it didn’t click with me but I was just thinking about the subject in a whole new perspective and came to the same conclusion you did. I think it’s because you’re such an active feminist that I thought you meant it as a purely feminist argument, when it’s more about human rights and in this case, the human (in this case, a woman) has the right to make that choice!

  5. Whoaa… it hardly ever happens that someone totally concedes the point on this argument. I think that’s actually a really good point about feminist vs. human rights issues – personally, I would love to live in a world where I could just say I’m for human rights, rather than I’m a feminist, because all feminist issues fall under the category of human rights issues. But people don’t always think of them that way, which is why we have to specifically call attention to the fact that women need rights too, and sometimes it looks different than men because of the way our bodies work, but we’re still human.

    I’m really curious though… what was your train of thought that brought you to the conclusion?

  6. Ok, so there’s been a lot of talk about abortions and what not because of the election coming up, and some of it has made me think about this discussion. I have a couple of questions for you as well. What seems to be the consensus among the pro-choice community? Is the idea of abortion ok simply because they don’t consider the fetus a “life” yet? That’s what it seems like to me. I guess the other thought would be that they consider it a life, but one that is ok to kill (for whatever reason). I can’t see a lot of people thinking that way. Now if that’s the case, the core issue of the pro-life/pro-choice debate would be the issue of life. That seems to be the consensus among the pro-life side. “It is an innocent life and you shouldn’t be able to kill it no matter what.” Now, I originally wrote that line without “innocent,” but decided to add it in when I remembered that these are the same people who are pro-execution, pro-war, and pro-iwillkillyoufornotbelievingwhatibelieve.

    Now for the choicers, since life is a non-issue, it becomes an women’s rights issue. If they aren’t allowed to abort then their rights are being taken away.

    So since the core of the debate is life, we need to disregard the human rights aspect. Now I’m sure that the pro-choice community has a consensus on when it is wrong to abort, and I’m sure that time is well before birth. I’m guessing it would be at some point when they have a functioning nervous system. So we have the choicers who will abort further into the gestation period, the lifers, who firmly believe that life begins at conception and will not abort beyond that point, and the ultra-crazy rick santorum catholics who think it’s equally wrong to waste your seed if it is not being used to conceive a child (hence the whole contraceptives/masturbation/etc. is wrong).

    So how do we solve this? Proving when life officially begins? Is that even possible? I don’t think so. Since we can’t, there is no reason the lifers will ever budge on their position. (Although even though most of them will believe a lot of things even without any sort of proof or logical reasoning.) I understand their reasoning and I believe it is valid. I also understand the choicer reasoning, and I believe it is valid as well. As far as my belief? I like Bill Clinton’s view that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.

    I honestly think that this is going to be a dominating social issue for a long time. If a person honestly believes that abortion is murder, it’s going to be hard to convince them otherwise. It’s like trying to convince people it’s ok to kill your children. You could say, “Killing my child is my choice,” but society will agree that it is illegal to do so. Lifers won’t accept the same argument for a fetus because to them it is the same thing. You can’t expect someone to give you a choice if they think that way.

    It’s late so I hope at least most of that made sense.

    Also, I do want to answer your question about how I came to human rights conclusion. Basically I was thinking that since it is impossible to say for sure what constitutes a human life and at what point it becomes wrong to abort, it should be up to the woman to make that deeply personal decision herself. She should consider whether it’s right or wrong for herself, and not let others make the desision for her

    Ps. Looking back on the beginning of the discussion, I seem to have not realized the the pro-life stance typically includes all situations, including incest and rape, so the issue for them would be life and life alone. Now I think that anybody that excludes those situations isn’t completely pro-life, but pro-resposibility. Thats seems to be the issue we were debating before. And yes, that makes it more about controlling women’s actions, because it’s saying it’s ok to abort in some situations but not others. And yes, this is a terrible argument for the true pro-lifers.

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