We don’t have the right to force someone to stay pregnant

We don’t have the right to force someone to stay pregnant January 25, 2015

My previous post about abortion has sparked some interesting conversations in its comment box, on Facebook, and Twitter. One of the most common views expressed by those who hold a Pro-Choice position is “you don’t have the right to force a woman to be pregnant.” I know it will shock them to hear this, but they’re right.

I don’t  have the right to force someone to be pregnant. I don’t have the right to force someone to continue to be pregnant. I don’t have the right to force someone to become a mother against her will. I simply don’t.

And neither does anyone else.

To say that someone has been forced  either to do or not do do something implies that they are being compelled to perform an action which is against their will under threat of physical harm or reprisal. This is what it means when we accuse someone of forcing someone else to do something. When we use the verb to force as it is properly understood, then it becomes immediately clear that no one has the right to threaten a woman with any type of punishment until and unless she continues a pregnancy.

Nobody has the right to do that. Nobody. What we, as a society, do have the right to do is to require, and we do that all the time.

It is an accepted norm of human society that we require parents (this includes mothers) to care for their minor children. We do not accept conditions and exceptions to this rule. The age, sex, stage of development, and location of the child do not in any way preclude the obligation, the societal requirement, that the parents ensure that that child’s basic needs are met. This is true whether the child is living in the same residence as the parents or not. The obligation remains intact even if the minor child is away at boarding school, or living with relatives. Human society requires that the parents of each child be responsible and answerable for his/her health and safety.

In the event that the biological parents choose to pass the obligation for raising that child along to someone else (adoption), we still require that that happens in a way which is in the best interest of the child. This is precisely why a mother may leave her newborn in the safety of a hospital or other designated area (in Texas they can be left at fire or police stations as well as health facilities), but not in the dumpster, a field, or other unsafe place. Even in these extreme cases, our society requires that the parents of a  new baby take care to ensure its health and safety.

This is not a new and radical position. The social contract which exists between parent and child is ingrained within every culture on Earth. This basic understanding of the duty owed by parents to their offspring predates its being codified into written law. There has never been a human civilization which did not hold this expectation for parents.

What is new is the position we now hold. Western society has decided that in the unfortunate instances when the biological parents of a child are incapable of caring for their child, we as a society will step in as a safety net, and see to his/her health and safety collectively. We recognize and so value each life that we have made  the historically unprecedented decision to fulfill the parental obligation even in the absence of parental ability.

It is this basic human premise and recognition of human value which Pro-Life people call upon with regard to what is owed the child in the womb. We acknowledge the biological fact of the humanity of that developing human being, and require of its mother the same societal norm which exists for the well-being of all children. We expect that the parents of that child will meet and fulfill the basic needs of that child. In the event that they feel  incapable of caring for that child long term, we place upon them the same obligation which is already in place – that they transfer the care of that child to someone else in a manner which safeguards the health, safety, and well-being of that child.

When it comes to abortion, my Pro-Choice readers are right. We cannot force a woman to do anything which is against her will.  It is in light of the pre-existing societal obligation that we can and do require that she fulfill the duty which is already rightfully hers.


photo credit: Sean McGrath via Wikimedia Commons

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