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Today in the “Liberals are the real x” Gambit


Ross Douthat tries out the routine so beloved by conservative bloggers the world over:

The biggest difficulty [with the Judith Jarvis Thomson argument you might remember from high school forensics], though, is that most women considering an abortion were not kidnapped and impregnated against their will. They freely chose the act that brought the fetus into being, and analogizing their situation to a kidnap victim implies a peculiar, almost infantilizing attitude toward female moral agency.

How precious! Alas, the “people who believe that women should be coerced by teh state to carry their pregnancy to term are the real proponents of gender quality” fails. First of all, the example only implies an “infantilizing attitude toward female moral agency” if you accept anti-choice premises and/or are Julian Assange’s defense attorneys. To the rest of us, it is quite obvious that consenting to sexual relations does not necessarily entail consenting to carrying a pregnancy to term, and there’s nothing “infantilizing” about this view. (Douthat may want to consider that women, as free moral agents, may even realize that a safe medical procedure to terminate pregnancies exist!) And the second problem is that few pro-choicers would justify equal access to safe abortions using Thomson’s argument, because Thomson’s argument* starts from the underlying premise that a fetus is equivalent to a legal person. I reject this premise, as do most pro-choicers, which makes sense since most “pro-lifers” also don’t accept this premise (or at least are not willing to support policies that are even minimally consistent with such a view.)

So there’s nothing about the pro-choice position that denies the agency of women. The Republican platform, conversely, is soaking in the denial of women as rational moral agents. The recent non-gaffes of Republican politicians just underline this fact. While Douthat would like to pretend otherwise, the fact that support for criminalizing abortion in practice almost always comes bundled in with ugly and reactionary assumptions about gender and sexuality isn’t a coincidence.

*As commenters note, I should say “the Thomson argument Douthat cites”; Thomson does not accept the personhood of the fetus but points out that even if one accepts it it’s difficult to justify bans on abortion.

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