In the last post I noted that the problem with abortion is weighing up the different interests: Most obviously, the right to life of the foetus and the right to autonomy and choice of the woman. While I put forward one way people use to weigh up the situation (pre-existing attitudes to sex) I suggested that this was a poor way to consider the situation. Now I will explain one of the main reasons that I am pro-choice.
Looking at the two major competing interests as stated above, it is easy to quickly conclude that the right to life must trump all else, as superior and more important. This is one reason people argue the pro-life viewpoint. Another is the idea that the woman is (in cases other than rape) at least in part to blame for the pregnancy while the foetus is blameless. Therefore the benefit of the moral doubt must go to the foetus. In a way this suggests that as a punishment for consenting for sex, the woman gives up some rights over her autonomy. She has no right to complain as she could have prevented the whole situation from coming about.
These arguments should be kept in mind as I present my analogy, and I will come back to them. For the record, when I became a fully fledged liberal and attempted to apply the idea that people should have autonomy over their bodies and choices to my beliefs, abortion was one of the three main sticking areas (along with prostitution and drugs) which caused me a lot of trouble. It was a long time before I was able to put myself on one side of the fence on the issue, and it was only when I came up with my analogy that I was able to see the issue clearly.
The Driving Analogy:
A couple enjoy driving around in their new sports car. They are not going anywhere in it, just taking it around the roads at reasonably high speeds, the wind in their hair. There is of course always a risk while driving, but they are competent drivers and only think of the feeling of being on the open road.
One day, something terrible happens. They do not see a pedestrian until it is too late, and although they swerve to avoid him they hit him and the car crashes, knocking them both out.
When the woman of the couple wakes up she is in a hospital. Around her are doctors trying to reassure her, and as she becomes more lucid she realises that something feels wrong. Looking down, she sees many tubes attached to all different parts of her body. All of them lead across to an adjacent table, and on it lies the pedestrian they had hit. Before she can struggle and rip the tubes out, the doctors hold her and soothe her, telling her to relax.
Once she is awake, they explain to her what happened. Paramedics arrived at the scene of the crash and took the three injured people to hospital. It quickly became clear that the pedestrian was in bad shape. His organs were damaged, unable to perform their functions to keep him alive. He was also losing a lot of blood.
However, they realised that there was a way to save him. Using all their skill and technology they were able to hook him up to the woman, whose blood type matched his. By using the sustaining power of her almost undamaged body, they were able to keep him alive, and he is slowly starting to recover, by leeching nutrients from the woman's blood and using her organs.
This disturbs the woman much, but she is glad that the man is at least alive. However, she is shocked to learn that estimates suggest that the man will need to be hooked up to her, unconscious, for nearly nine months before he will be able to survive alone (and even then he will need constant care for some time). The woman is horrified at the idea of having him hooked up to her in this way for such a long period of time.
As time goes on she feels worse and worse as she can constantly feel the way her life is being leeched for the man's purposes. Her emotions go beyond her control and what she can do is restricted. She also finds out that unhooking him so he can live on his own is likely to be a very painful, exhausting and embarrassing procedure.
She starts to consider the possibility of refusing to continue her existance like this, removing the tubes and so letting the man die. As she considers this, she recieves guidance from two sources. One side call themselves pro-life, and insist that it would be murder to do so. They tell her that it is her own fault that she is in this situation, so she is obliged to let the man continue to leech her life force and undergo the final operation. The other side is pro-choice, and tell her that she has autonomy over her body, and so it remains her choice as to whether she removes the tubes or allows the man to stay like that. They say that no-one has the right to force her to remain like that.
The question, of course, is which of the two sides would you agree was in the right? I will not patronise by going through the analogy explaining every line of it. Needless to say, the driving is sex, the crash is getting pregnant, and the pedestrian is the foetus growing in the womb. I would like to explain how this can help to shed some light on the issue of abortion.
Earlier I said that it can be easy to immediately conclude that the right to life is more important than anything else. I would say that the analogy might help to dispense with this particular gut feeling. While the right to life is important, I would argue that it is not enough to completely void the rights of others to autonomy and personal dignity. Other analogies could be given like this: A criminal threatens to kill a man unless his girlfriend allows him to have sex with her. While many would do it for their lovers, it would seem ludicrous to expect an absolute obligation to consent to sex to protect someone else's right to life. In the original analogy, the woman has to put up with much indignity and sacrifice some of her autonomy to keep the man alive - often pregnancy requires similar sacrifices. The point is that just because a life might be at stake, does not null and void all competing rights.
Secondly, it was suggested that some pro-lifers think the woman's choice should be nullified as punishment for partly causing the situation. If the response to this was not already clear, I would hope that the analogy would help to make it so. While it may be legitimate to associate blame with the act, the point is that the 'punishment' or consequences are wildly out of proportion with the infraction committed. It is like shoplifting in a country which executes theives. Even though the consequences might be foreseeable, it is not right to say that the consequences are fair because they are to blame. Our natural sense of justice (and empathy, I would hasten to add) requires that we only enforce consequences / punishment on people if it is proportional to the wrong done. In the analogy, while perhaps the driving was an unnecessary risk, the terrible consequences for the woman are out of proportion. Similarly the consequences of pregnancy on autonomy and dignity are far out of proportion to the 'wrong' of sex, particularly given the natural urges and societal pressures involved.
As such, it is argued that the analogy suggests that the decision must in the end be with the one whose dignity and autonomy is compromised. It is her sacrifice to make, not for someone else to force her to do so. The analogy made me firmly pro-choice, and remains my favourite way to explain my position.