I’m interested in why the lawful/unlawful distinction should matter in our determination of whether an act is justifiable. True, many laws are founded upon moral principles, but that doesn’t mean that something that’s lawful is necessarily justifiable. We don’t need to retreat to the atrocities of totalitarian states to see why that’s the case. It’s lawful in parts of my own country for the state to force someone into years of unpaid labor for possessing a plant, and to subsequently deprive them of the right to vote, own a gun and hold public office. It’s lawful when the state does it, but is it justifiable? I certainly don’t believe so.
“If rights aren’t absolute, they’re not rights; if they can be taken away, they’re wrongly named.”
If we accept a conceptualization of rights as absolute, then I’d find it very difficult to think of a single right that fits it. Every right that’s recognized internationally is limited to the extent that they don’t conflict with others’ fundamental rights. For example, let’s look at this statement on religious freedom in the ICCPR: “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” If putting my religious beliefs into practice involves using force to convert people to my religion, then my right to religious freedom is not absolute. If it it were, I would be free to deprive others of their own religious freedom, and what good would recognizing the right do, then?
We might think the right to life is exceptional because it’s often seen as binary: you’re either alive, or you’re not. It’s not like liberty, which we can more easily adapt to a spectrum. That said, I think it’d be fruitful to imagine what it would mean to protect a right to life that encompasses more than bare existence. Perhaps this binary conception degrades the social significance of our lives — especially if we also believe in the supremacy of the right to life above all other rights.
I question how the term “elective abortion” so often connotes diminished seriousness or importance. The experience of unwanted pregnancy can be horrific and traumatizing even in the absence of any of those experiences that might render an abortion “non-elective.” Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy, and it makes no difference that a fetus has no concept of consent. People with severe psychopathy also have no such concept, but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to access to others’ bodies. I would rather be forced to have sex with someone than be forced to carry to term a pregnancy that resulted from consensual sex. As a survivor of sexual violence, who is well-acquainted with its traumatizing effects, I am by no means making this statement flippantly. And yet, if I were to get an abortion for an otherwise “normal” unwanted pregnancy, it would still be classified as elective, and thereby not very important.
Should we encourage people to have sex responsibly, and equip them with the knowledge and resources needed to minimize unwanted consequences? Definitely, though not by limiting abortion access. That would be like restricting treatment for addiction to encourage people to use drugs more responsibly. Sorry for the endless analogies, but I feel that they’re an especially useful way to reveal the faulty logic in many arguments for restricting abortion. Sexual liberation should not be about divorcing sex from ethics; I would join you in criticizing anyone who tries to divorce them to the end of “liberating” themselves. Rather, it’s about empowering people to enjoy sex with others, or to abstain from it, in all of its diverse expressions. And anything we do with others entails an ethical responsibility to others, which we can never renounce in the interest of some hyper-individualized concept of liberation.