The Right to Kill

In a piece titled “Yes, Abortion is Killing–But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior acknowledges that abortion takes a unique human life. But, as her choice of title implies, she then argues that such killing is warranted, indeed demanded, in order to serve the greater good of women’s independence:

But you cannot separate women’s rights from their right to fertility control. The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology. Abortion would have been legal for millennia had it been men whose prospects and careers were put on sudden hold by an unexpected pregnancy. The mystery pondered on many a girls’ night out is how on earth men, bless them, managed to hang on to political and cultural hegemony for so long. The only answer is that they are not in hock to their biology as much as we are. Look at a map of the world and the right to abortion on request correlates pretty exactly with the expectation of a life unburdened by misogyny.

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

Her position may initially seem mystifying (not to mention sickening). After all, if you admit that a fetus is a person, doesn’t a political philosophy predicated on individual rights and liberties require that we respect the fetus’ rights by not killing her?

Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium vitae, addressed this very sort of contradiction:

In this way, and with tragic consequences, a long historical process is reaching a turning-point. The process which once led to discovering the idea of “human rights”-rights inherent in every person and prior to any Constitution and State legislation-is today marked by a surprising contradiction. Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death. . . .

We can find them in an overall assessment of a cultural and moral nature, beginning with the mentality which carries the concept of subjectivity to an extreme and even distorts it, and recognizes as a subject of rights only the person who enjoys full or at least incipient autonomy and who emerges from a state of total dependence on others. . . . We must also mention the mentality which tends to equate personal dignity with the capacity for verbal and explicit, or at least perceptible, communication. It is clear that on the basis of these presuppositions there is no place in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak element in the social structure, or for anyone who appears completely at the mercy of others and radically dependent on them, and can only communicate through the silent language of a profound sharing of affection.

Our society’s Lockean view of human rights grounds them in personal autonomy. Man is granted rights because of “his mind’s power to have an idea, a vision, and shape the future to it,” as Betty Friedan wrote. But what becomes of a person who is radically dependent, who is incapable of shaping the future for himself? What becomes of a woman who is profoundly brain-damaged due to a tragic accident, or to a fetus who is literally, physically dependent on another person? In our liberal feminist paradise, not only do these people fail to deserve protection, but they must be eliminated in order to facilitate the independence of others.

Antonia Senior may be unusual for her honesty, but there is nothing unusual in her contempt for the weak–or in her willingness to sacrifice them so that others can “follow their bliss.”

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