Next Steps for the Pro-Life Feminist Movement

Secular Pro-Life has published an article co-authored by Kelsey Hazzard of SPL, and me.


Some further thoughts on the ideas of the article (these thoughts are mine and may or may not be thoughts of the co-author):


We wrote: those who are not pregnant . . . will have to give up time, energy, and money to share the load of children . . .

What would be the economic mechanisms to ensure that sharing? The following is a comment I once posted under Sean Cahill’s “I am equal, not the same”:


Thanks, Sean Cahill, for providing a lot of clarity for me. I think some questions still remain, however:

“We are not liberated until both sexes are fully accepted as they are.”

As vehicles for the full acceptance of women as they are, in another guest post you listed the following things that Roe did NOT provide:

1. children born outside of marriage and their mothers are de-stigmatized

2. ensure women are able to earn a living wage

3. ensure proper maternity benefits

4. demand accommodations for parenting students and employees at colleges and workplaces

5. demand men act responsibly.

Can women as they are (i.e., without abortion) attain equality through these vehicles? The problem I see is this: Under capitalism as we know it, people win economic independence for themselves only when they get compensated for producing marketable goods or services. Child-carrying and child-rearing are not presently marketable goods or services, so if some of a woman’s time and energy goes into child-carrying and child-rearing, she will be hindered in winning economic independence unless child-carrying and child-rearing become marketable services. Handouts from those who ARE getting compensated for producing marketable goods or services do not have as much potential to add up to real money as do the direct compensations that go to the real (real in capitalistic terms) producers. And your points 2-4 above are, in a capitalistic framework, handouts.

So why not begin to treat child-carrying and child-rearing as marketable services? The answer revolves around demand. Under some neo-capitalistic system, they could indeed be marketable services, and under a socialistic system also, they could be services deserving of compensation. The level of the fee or the compensation would depend on the level of a given society’s demand for population, but in every society there is always a demand for at least some level of replacement of population. So your points 2-4 above would be upgraded from handouts to earned compensation.

Even if child-carrying and child-rearing were treated in this way, however, there would not be full equality of opportunity if these activities were to continue to be seen, as at present, as relatively menial occupations. The quip about “brood-mares of the state” would be quite appropriate. Considering the importance of upbringing in relation to whether a child grows up to be an asset to society or a liability, good child-rearing should rather be seen as a prized and highly-compensated set of skills (the most important skill being a hard one to learn — true motherly love).

But even with that “fix” in our framework, skilled mothers might not be as highly valued as top scientists, artists, entertainers and athletes. And still more importantly, pregnant women and mothers would not be equal in a society — either a capitalistic society or a socialistic society — where the demand for population was low.

All the above was probably clarified a long time ago by some feminist writer or other. Where I would differ from pro-choice feminists might be this: I don’t see any of these problems as quite adding up to justification for killing babies.

Both capitalism and socialism are materialistic. I think that pregnant women and mothers will win equality only when their contribution is recognized in a sense that is not materialistic, and when they are compensated, if not by economic independence and opportunity, then by some kind of clout in society that is as good or better. In order for this to happen, society has to recognize that the contribution made by pregnant women and mothers is at least as valuable as the contribution of top scientists, artists, entertainers and athletes. Pregnant women and mothers contribute even if their children are not needed by society in a utilitarian way. Yet their contribution will not always be recognized as long as the calculus is a materialistic one. Their contribution is to give life.



We wrote:The full value of this uniquely female contribution cannot be understood as long as the calculus is a purely materialistic one. . . . Thus women’s true equality, including the equality of women with unplanned pregnancies, requires a deep sensitivity to the value of life and the damage done to us all when already-existing life is devalued . . .

Will this day ever come? Please see “What’s in It for the Born?”



Here is a comment I recently posted under Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa’s “Can you imagine a world without abortion?”:


Recently someone said to me, in relation to pro-life feminist thinking, “Strange to see someone argue that giving people more sovereignty over their own bodies is [patriarchal].”

But “sovereignty” of course means a right to kill their offspring, and it turns out that when you give someone that right, whatever happens next is their own problem — they are on their own. If they decide against abortion and opt to carry the pregnancy to term, then to the father of the baby, and to society, it will seem that they brought the burdens of pregnancy on themselves. And if they decide to raise the child, then it is a much bigger problem yet that they “brought on themselves.” Whereas if they decide to abort, no one will suffer any negative physical or psychological consequences as much as they will (though they undeniable stand to gain something as well).

Can we at least agree on this — that, though it may be paradoxical, pregnant women who DON’T want to abort will be better off in a society where abortion is not a legal option — where they DON’T have legal “sovereignty over their own bodies” ?

So they will be better off, whereas women who do want to abort, assuming they win the small physical gamble they take when they get the legal abortion, would be better off in a society where abortion is legal — better off, that is, in terms of their materialistic situation and ambitions.

Assuming that “better off in terms of their materialistic situation and ambitions” is really better off, in net, for that group of women, then we see that a society where abortion is not a legal option will be better for one group of women and worse for another group of women, and whether it is better for women overall might just depend on how many there are in each group.

And IS “better off in terms of their materialistic situation and ambitions” in fact better off for women who want to abort? A very deep question.

An academic paper, by a woman named Sidney Callahan, on what is lost by women where abortion is legal, is “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda: A Case for Pro-Life Feminism”. It concludes:

“Another and different round of feminist consciousness raising is needed in which all of women’s potential is accorded respect. This time, instead of humbly buying entrée by conforming to male lifestyles, women will demand that society accommodate itself to them.

“New feminist efforts to rethink the meaning of sexuality, femininity, and reproduction are all the more vital as new techniques for artificial reproduction, surrogate motherhood, and the like present a whole new set of dilemmas. In the long run, the very long run, the abortion debate may be merely the opening round in a series of far-reaching struggles over the role of human sexuality and the ethics of reproduction. Significant changes in the culture, both positive and negative in outcome, may begin as local storms of controversy. We may be at one of those vaguely realized thresholds when we had best come to full attention. What kind of people are we going to be? Prolife feminists pursue a vision for their sisters, daughters, and grand-daughters. Will their great-grand-daughters be grateful?”


Further thoughts” may be continued later.


You may leave a reply, if you wish, without giving your name or email address. If you do give your email address, it will not be published. Back up your work as you type, in case of accidents.

Some future posts:

Life Panels

Evolution, and the Humanizing and Uplifting Effect on Society of a Commitment to the Unborn

A Trade-Off of a Sensitive Nature

Unborn Child-Protection Legislation, the Moral Health of Society, and the Role of the American Democratic Party

The Motivations of Aborting Parents

Why Remorse Comes Too Late

The Kitchen-Ingredients Week-After Pill

Unwanted Babies and Overpopulation

The Woman as Slave?

Abortion and the Map of the World

Dismantling the Bodily-Rights Argument without Using the Responsibility Argument


Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute was kind enough to read the semi-final draft of this post and provide a brief but insightful critique. This does not mean that he necessarily endorses any of the final contents. However, I wish to take this opportunity to thank him.


The strongest argument for abortion rights is usually considered to be the bodily-rights argument. Perhaps the most effective variation of it that I have seen appeared in a (negative) comment under Kristine Kruszelnicki’s March 11, 2014 guest post on the Friendly Atheist blog:

They [both mother and unborn child] are entitled to their own bodily rights. So exactly how does a fetus have the right to co-opt another person’s body without consent?

Let’s say for example medical science has progressed to the point of being able to transplant a fetus into another human being. In an accident a pregnant woman is injured to the point of immanent [sic] death, does that fetus have the *right* to be implanted into the next viable candidate without consent?

The commenter was arguing, in other words, “A woman who is a candidate to be made pregnant in that futuristic way would have a right to refuse to let her body be so used – everyone would agree. Therefore, why should a woman who has become pregnant in a more usual way not also have a right to refuse to continue the pregnancy?”

In the context of the abortion debate (and, significantly, in hardly any other context), the term “bodily rights” comes up often. Synonyms still more commonly used are “bodily integrity” and “bodily autonomy,” but I will say “rights” because it is rights that have practical consequences. If anything can help determine the practical outcome “Woman goes through with abortion,” it is a right, not an abstract “integrity” or “autonomy.”

The above fetus-implantation version or any version of the bodily-rights argument could be rebutted by pointing out that most pregnant women voluntarily engaged in a sex act that caused the pregnancy in the first place, and therefore have a responsibility for the child (the “responsibility argument”); but this rebuttal does not work in cases of rape, and is not convincing to some people in any situation – for reasons which I need not discuss here but will refer to in an appendix. Thus the argument remains logically strong. But is it logic alone that makes an argument strong or weak? I would like to approach this from the perspective that an argument is an instrument for changing some of another person’s brain circuitry, and the ideas that correlate with that circuitry, to resemble part of one’s own circuitry and ideas, and that some value-related circuitry and ideas are better for us as individuals and as a species than others. I will contend that though logical demonstrations (such as the above thought experiment) and their rebuttals have an important place in the debate about bodily rights, there is no clear logical resolution to the debate one way or the other; that in seemingly logical demonstrations there are psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical, and that those factors sway us from our normal intuitions; and that those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.

I would like to see people question where their convictions come from, because I think that the more they examine where they come from, the more they will move toward better convictions.

I would like to proceed according to the following outline:

1. Morality and moral principles, including our moral principles about when morality should be backed by legislation and when it should not, derive ultimately from intuition.

2. The intuitions of many people, particularly of most pro-lifers, say that the unborn children of pregnant women should be legally protected against abortion in some (not all) situations.

3. The intuitions of most pro-choicers differ from ours in the first place and say that the unborn children of pregnant women should not be afforded any legal protection.

4. There are some people who are, in terms of moral intuitions, “on the fence,” undecided.

5. Some people’s moral intuitions are better than those of others; in this particular area of moral investigation, the intuitions of pro-lifers are better. (Keep reading!)

I think that just as “there is no clear logical resolution to the (overall) debate one way or the other,” the correctness or incorrectness of any moral intuition cannot be logically proved, but that logic can nudge us toward correct moral intuitions, that is, help us find the correct moral intuitions within us. Under this point 5 below I will include a long section analyzing logically the concept of bodily rights. It is designed to nudge us toward more correct moral intuitions about the importance of bodily rights.

6. Though the intuitions of most pro-lifers say that unborn children should in many cases be legally protected against abortion, the intuitions of many pro-lifers also agree with pro-choicers (as do the intuitions of many undecideds) that a woman who is not pregnant (as in the above thought experiment) should not be legally subject to the forcible implantation in her of a child she did not conceive, even to save the child’s life. (And our intuitions also usually say that a violinist to whom we are hooked up should not be given legal protection from unhooking; and our intuitions also agree with various other pro-choice thought experiments designed to reject, in certain situations, legislative enforcement of a broad right to life.)

7. Human logical powers are limited, and therefore a particular situation, situation A, may seem parallel to another situation, situation B, in all the important morally-relevant ways that the human mind can think of, without the two situations necessarily being morally equivalent.

8a. The situation depicted by a thought experiment always includes some imagery of greater or lesser vividness, and some emotional content. If to our logical minds (momentarily or over a longer term) some outrageous situation, A, depicted by a pro-choice thought experiment, does seem parallel to situation B – a legal prohibition on abortion in a normal pregnancy – then the imagery and emotions of situation A get temporarily transferred to situation B. Let’s call this a process of “outrage transfer.” (Below I will touch on the search for an understanding of how events such as outrage transfer might actually work neurologically.)

b. Moreover, if we are subject to an over-fascination with logic, which many people are, then our consciences/intuitions will work with wrong information (the belief that logic can completely prove or disprove the moral equivalence of two situations) and may tell us that if there seem to be strong parallels between the situation of a pro-choice thought experiment that militates against legal protection of some living being, and the situation of pregnancy, then we should discard legal protection of the unborn in pregnancy – in spite of our earlier intuition supporting such legal protection.

8a and 8b are what I had earlier called “psychological factors at play apart from factors which are purely logical.” I had said that those psychological factors “sway us from our normal intuitions” and I had gone on to say, “those factors can be neutralized by understanding them and by other techniques.”

9a. The effects of outrage transfer will fade over time. Moreover, the outrage transfer of a pro-choice thought experiment can be offset or more than offset by pro-life thought experiments such as those involving the separation of conjoined twins, or the “Cabin in the Blizzard” thought experiment of Stephen Wagner et. al. (It can be “more than offset” if only because our minds are impressionable and are always most strongly affected by the imagery and emotional triggers that stimulated them most recently.)

b. Though human logical powers are not sufficient to tell us conclusively about the moral equivalence or otherwise of two situations (as mentioned in 7 above), they are sufficient to convince us of said insufficiency, and thereby to free us from an over-fascination with logic and restore our original trust in our intuition that the unborn deserve legal protection.


Someone will say that I am discarding logic and that moreover I am saying that a pro-life position can only be defended by discarding logic. But that is not what I am doing. We should always apply logic to the fullest extent possible, and there are good logical rebuttals to the forcible-implantation and other pro-choice thought experiments, and I will discuss them in brief; but we should not think that logic, even on a base of intuition, can give us final answers to all moral questions, specifically the question of whether a right to life overrides bodily rights in the case of pregnancy.

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If we are to pinpoint the moment of beginning of personhood that has the best scientific grounding, out of all the moments that are candidates, that will certainly be the beginning of the single-cell stage. A minute before, there were two spatially-separated haploid cells, each with insufficient genetic information ever to become anything resembing a full-grown person; a minute after, there is a single definable organism with the exact genetic information that it will carry throughout life, at 1 month of gestation, at 4 years, at 60 years.

Here Dr. Maureen L. Condic writes:

Structures capable of new functions are formed throughout embryogenesis. For example, grasping becomes possible once hands have formed. But the fundamental process of development proceeds continuously, both prior to and after hand formation, and the onset of this function reflects an ongoing developmental process. Given the continuous nature of development, to argue that embryos and fetuses become humans once some anatomical or functional landmark such as “consciousness” has been achieved is to assert some kind of magical transformation; i.e., that at some ill-defined point, a non-human entity spontaneously transmogrifies into a human being, without any change whatsoever in its behavior, its molecular composition, or any other observable feature.

I reject this argument. For something actually to transform into a different kind of thing, a change must take place in its composition or in its pattern of biological activity. For example, sperm and egg are two specific human cell types that fuse to produce a distinct cell (the zygote) with unique molecular composition and with a pattern of organismal behavior that is distinct from the behavior of either sperm or egg. A clear, non-magical, scientifically observable transformation from one kind of entity (two human cells) to another kind of entity (a distinct human organism) has occurred. . . .

Building the complex architecture of the brain is a continuous process that is initiated at sperm-egg fusion and proceeds through orderly steps under the direction of a ‘builder,’ that is, a human organism that is present from the beginning. The presence of an agent capable of constructing the mature body, including the brain, is the only sustainable definition of a human being. This agency should not be misconstrued as some kind of mystical or spiritual element that is merely attributed to an embryo or fetus based on personal or religious belief. The fact that the embryo acts as an agent is entirely a matter of empirical observation; embryos construct themselves. . . .

. . . science does not dictate that citizens have a right to equal protection under the law, but. . . . science has clearly determined when human life commences, and this determination legitimately dictates that equal protection under the law must extend to human beings at embryonic and fetal stages of development.

For more scientific sources attesting to the personhood of the zygote, see Appendix 1.

Though the beginning of the single-cell stage has the best scientific grounding among all the moments that are candidates for the beginning of personhood, some will debate against defining “personhood” in this way. And “personhood” or “person” is not the only word that can be debated. While some will maintain that a zygote is “a human being, but not a person,” others, since they can’t deny that it belongs to the species Homo sapiens, will insist, with an equally straight face, that it is “human, but not a human being.”
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