AR-FAQ - #24

#24 Is the AR movement against abortion? If not, isn't that hypocritical?

Attempts are frequently made to tie Animal Rights exponents to one side or the other of the abortion debate. Such attempts are misguided. Claims that adherence to the ethics of AR determine one's position on embryo rights are plainly counter-intuitive, unless one is also prepared to argue that being a defender of human rights compels one to a particular position on abortion. Is it the case that one cannot consistently despise torture, serfdom, and other barbaric practices without coming to a particular conclusion on abortion? AR defenders demand that the rights currently held by humans be extended to all creatures similar in morally relevant ways. For example, since society does not accept that mature, sentient human moral patients (refer to question #17 for a brief description of the distinction between patients and agents) may be routinely annihilated in the name of science, it logically follows that comparable nonhuman animals should be given the same protection. On the other hand, abortion is still a moot point. It is plainly illogical to expect the AR movement to reflect anything other than the full spectrum of opinion found in society at large on the abortion issue. Fundamentally, AR philosophers are content with submitting sufficient conditions for the attribution of rights to individuals, conditions that explain the noncontroversial protections afforded today to humans. They neither encourage nor discourage attempts to widen the circle of protection to fetuses. AECW

There is a range of views among AR supporters on the issue of abortion versus animal rights. Many people believe, as does AECW, that the issues of abortion and AR are unrelated, and that the question is irrelevant to the validity of AR. Others, such as myself, feel that abortion certainly is relevant to AR. After all, the granting of rights to animals (and humans) is based on their capacity to suffer and to be a subject-of-a-life. It seems clear that late-term fetuses can suffer from the abortion procedure. Certain physiological responses, such as elevated heart rates, and the existence of a functioning nervous system support this view. It also can be argued that the fetus is on a course to become a subject-of-a-life, and that by aborting the fetus we therefore harm it. Some counter this latter argument by claiming that the "potential" to become subject-of-a-life is an invalid grounds for assigning rights, but this is a fine philosophical point that is itself subject to attack. For example, suppose a person is in a coma that, given enough time, will dissipate--the person has the potential to be sentient again. Does the person lose his rights while in the coma? While the arguments adduced may show that abortion is not irrelevant to AR, they do not show that abortion is necessarily wrong. The reason is that it is possible to argue that the rights of the fetus are in conflict with the rights of the woman, and that the rights of the woman dominate. All may not agree with this trade-off, but it is a consistent, non-hypocritical stance that is not in conflict with AR philosophy. See question #04 for an analysis of hypocrisy arguments in general. DG