Human rights for the unborn


BRENDAN MALONE: So today's topic: abortion and human rights. What I want to do in this session is I want to unpack and give a reason defence for the pro-life position. I want to respond to the pro-choice, the very common pro-choice arguments that you hear. And hopefully by the end of it you will be equipped with some excellent ... I don't just want to stop at rhetoric, but you will be able to actually respond well, intelligently, and compassionately to engage with people who might have strongly held views in the other direction.

Before I start and do that though. First thing I should say is, three important points is I think it's always important to understand that, and I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, really, but from a pro-life perspective that our approach always is one of compassion on this issue.

The reality is that there are a lot of women who have been affected, a lot of men, a lot of couples who have been affected by this issues. And I think even though today I'm going to be focusing in on the ethical questions around abortion this obviously is an issue that impacts a lot of people in a very detrimental way.

And I certainly don't want to shh or intend to try and cast or pass judgement on people for situations they may have experienced previously, particularly those who have experienced the pain of abortion in their life. I say that as someone who in a former life, when I was making some decisions I'm not particularly proud of, I experienced the challenge of an unplanned pregnancy and the possibility of abortion in the relationship that I was in.

And I understand what it's like to be in that situation, and I know that from the best of valid research that we have that a large percentage of women who are choosing abortion are not really choosing at all. There's a lot of coercive factors that go into it.

The other thing I want to say here today too is that my time here is limited in this session so I can't cover everything, and I've tried to sort of focus in on what I think are the key arguments, and how to respond well to them.

This is a topic you could spend a whole day unpacking. In fact, those who have attended one of the pro-life internships that we run, so Provec here and others who are in the room have been here to the Australian ones, we've been running a New Zealand one for the last seven years now as well. Pushes a five-day intensive training course for 18 to 35 year olds. You will know that we spend most of one whole day actually focusing in and really unpacking some of these arguments.

The other thing I'll say too and I'll apologise in advance, I come from New Zealand so there's a bit of an accent. We speak the Queen's English so I apologise if there's any... Let me take that back, we speak broken English. So, I apologise if there's any confusion about anything I'm saying here. Please feel free to grab me afterwards and I'll give you the official dictionary.

Not a religious issue

First thing I want to start by saying is this, I think it's important to remind people of this is that this is actually not a religious issue. And a lot of people are surprised when I say that.

I've spoken at all sorts of environments and arenas. I remember once speaking at very hostile university crowd in Wellington, our capital city. And it was interesting, a lot of them were taken aback by this, because what they had expected was that there was going to be a whole lot of religious discussion about this issue.

The reason why - this is why we have, in the United States for example alone, and according to the latest census data they have more than six million secular, non-religious pro-lifers now.

So these are people who self-identify as atheist or agnostic, and who are also pro-life. This is why we have groups who are huge and growing like Secular Pro-Life started by some atheists. We have the Pro-Life Humanists. We have the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians. We have the new-wave feminists.

So, the fundamental point I think that we should take from this, and we should be reminding people of is that this is actually a human rights issue. This is about treatment of human persons. Because as I see it, and hopefully you will if you don't already will agree with me by the end of this presentation, we have an entire class of persons currently in our society, who are not being afforded their fundamental rights, and respects that they should be given.

And I would argue that's a problem. Which brings me to the most important question of all whenever this issue of abortion arises. It's funny, we talk a lot, certainly in my country, I don't think it's any exception around other parts of the world, whenever this issue arises people talk all around this issue.

What grows inside?

And lots of tangents are leaded into but often, well most of the time in fact I'd argue that the most important question of all is simply never asked, let alone properly explored. And that question is this: what is the entity which grows in the female womb during pregnancy? What is that?

It's a pretty simple question. Now, please understand that as I've already mentioned, obviously every situation of unplanned pregnancy, every pregnancy has it's own unique potential complications, and issues and challenges, but on the ethical question it does boil down to this one simple question. What is the entity growing in the female womb during pregnancy?

You see if the answer to that question is that it's nothing more than a blob of tissue or a clump of cells, which by the way is not an argument for abortion. Because you and I also happen to be a blob of tissue and a clump of cells. My wife might say I'm a little bit too much of a blob of tissue at the moment, but I am a blob of tissue.

I'm obviously a larger, well I've stopped growing hopefully and maybe shrinking one, but the point is that all you are doing there is telling me what that entity is made of. You're talking about its biological material. You're not telling me what it is or what rights it should be entitled to.

But this question here is so fundamentally important because if the answer to this question is that it's not human, it's not living, then, effectively, we're all wasting our time being here today. I've wasted the last 14 years of my life.

We may as well, in fact we're all a little bit crazy, we may as well be out there protesting the destruction of innocent human appendixes. We should form an anti-appendectomy group. Because, that's how logic their position is if the answer to that question is that it's just nothing more than a clump of cells, it's not human.

However, and this is the big, and very important part, if the answer to that question is that it's an innocent, living human being, then we've got a very serious problem on our hands, as a culture with abortion. Because abortion would be the gravest violation of human rights that we've ever perpetrated.

It's that simple, if the answer to that question is it's an innocent living human person.

Now, I was involved in a film at television school about 12 years ago in New Zealand. And they, this is where they train all the media staff for our media. And they set up these mock debates where you then have producers and directors, and they film it and bring in the studio audience, and it's all to train people in journalism and media skills and practical technical skills for who work in the media. And this particular session they decided they were going to tackle the issue of abortion in this mock debate.

So I was one of two panel members on the pro-life side. And I remember starting with this point, and then the debate carried on, we finished up, and as they were packing up for the day, one of the senior lecturers there, the lady who's in her 50s and very experienced in New Zealand media circles.

And she came up to me afterwards and she said "you know what", she said "I'm pro-choice so I disagree with the stance you have on this issue." But she said "I think you're right, that is the most important question."

And what she said next was very interesting. She said to me "you know what Brendan, if I'm honest I don't want to ask myself that question, because I think I already know what the answer is."

Now I don't think she's alone in that. Because every year in my country we keep pretty good abortion statistics. And whenever the abortion statistics come out, they just came out last Monday in my country. Another decrease, we're at a 25-year low now, which is awesome.

And whenever those statistics come out we get two responses from pro-choice people and groups. If there's been an increase in the abortion numbers, they say "we need to do something to reduce these numbers." "We need to implement more sex ed, or more morning after pill", or whatever it is they think that's going to fix the problem. If there's been a decrease they come out and they say "look, the sex ed and the morning after pill's working", despite research to the contrary.

But, the interesting thing I always have in response to that is, what does it matter how many abortions take place in New Zealand, or Australia for that matter? If there's nothing wrong with one abortion, what's the problem with 12,000, 18,000, 30,000 are done?

I think probably, realistically we can all in our minds, particularly if we are not particularly well-informed in this area we can rationalise away one abortion, we can think of someone we know in a difficult situation. I think people regularly do this.

And they sort of say "Ah, that would solve a problem", and they have a whole lot of rationalisations. But when you're confronted with the raw datas of the total number of abortions that take place in your country each year it's a bit harder to rationalise and justify that I think. And so a lot of people instinctively "no, there is actually a problem here, there is a" - I think we still have a conscience on this issue, even if we, like that lecturer, don't necessarily want to confront that.

So, let's explore the big question then. What is that entity? Now people say "It's foetus Brendan".

Great, you're right. Foetus is a Latin word; it means little one, little child. But what is it? What actually is it? I'm glad you asked, this lot. I think that we are dealing here with an innocent human person.

What makes a human person?

Why do I think that? Well first of all to answer that question we need to take a little step back and ask perhaps a much bigger question is what is a human person? What is it that makes you a human person? What is it that makes you, that we can look at something and we can say that is definitely a person, that's not a person, this is not a person, this is definitely a person? What are the unique characteristics and traits?

And it really boils down to two things. Rationality and free will.

If you have a rational intellect, if you have free will, then we know you're not and animal, we know you're not a computer, we know you're a human person. If you can think about thinking. We don't just think; we think about thinking. That's why we ask the big "why" questions. Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of my existence? Chickens don't wander around the chicken yard, pecking away, asking those big questions. "Why am I here"? "What is the meaning of my chicken existence"? "Where are my friends going in that big red and white truck with KFC on the side of it"? They don't ask the big "why" questions, right? That's why we eat them in restaurant.

Okay, and obviously a part of rationality is there's a whole lot of things. We do art. We seek out the divine. We engage in, we seek out transcendent experience, spirituality, religion, etcetera. You won't go home tonight and find that your cat has built a little altar and is now worshipping dog. They don't do that kind of thing.

We have free will. The ability to transcend, to rise above our urges and choose to do the good even when we might be tempted to do the exact opposite. Now these are the unique markers of what it is to be a person.

You didn't need to come here today to know that though, or to learn that. We all operate on this truth. It's what we call a self-evident truth. It is so self-evident that you don't need to be told. Our society operates according to this truth without even thinking about it.

Just, let me give you an example. Let's say that you came home one day, and found that your next door neighbor's dog had broken into your house. Destroyed your house, ripped up your favourite couch. Destroyed a whole lot of your personal property, and was sitting there chewing your favourite shoes, just destroying them, salivating all over them.

What's the first thing you'd do? Would you call the police and demand that this dog is arrested for breaking and entering? Perhaps they should be charged, go to court, appear before a magistrate, possibly go to jail for the criminal nuisance it's caused. Now, on my way out you notice, "oh, it's got a little cross hanging around its neck, it must be a religious dog, so perhaps it should get a christian minister to help sort out some of the issues in its life".

We don't do that do we? However, if you came home that same day and found you next door neighbour had broken into your house, and had done all those things, and had covered your walls in tin foil and was standing, covered in tin foil himself screaming maniacally at you. And let's pretend that he's sane, he's not mentally unwell. He just doesn't like you, and he's decided to do this. You would call the police. You would expect that he could be charged, that possibly he could go to jail for his crime, and that perhaps if he needed an intervention in his life from someone else, a counsellor or therapist or someone that he would get that, right?

The reason we don't put animals in jail or put them on trial is because they don't have an intellect and a will. It's self-evident. We live in the reality of that truth. So, rationality and free will are what make you a person. At which point some people respond and say "well, but hold on a minute Brendan, a foetus isn't doing anything rational, and it's not choosing to do anything", some philosophers will try and argue. But here's another important point. You don't have to be doing these things right now to be a human person.

Why? Well when you go to sleep at night you cease to do either of these two things. Your brain goes onto autopilot. You do not do anything rational. You do not act according to free will. You slip into a state of unconsciousness and you wake up eight hours later and you don't even know how much time has passed.

If you're knocked out on the sports field, like the great Richie McCaw. Oops, wrong name? Okay, the great John Eales. You're knocked out on a sports field somewhere, or you are in a medically-induced coma, or you're under anaesthetic waiting for an operation, you're not doing either of these two things, but it's not okay to end your life, is it? You're still a person, why? Because you have these two capacities within you waiting and potential to be exercised, to be realised. And so does a foetus, an unborn human being. It might not be doing these two things right now but it has these potentials within itself.

These two potentials are exclusive to human persons. Only human persons can have them. And if a foetus has them, how can it be anything other than a human person? It really is that simple.

Now, some people at this point will often say to me "Brendan, but, I've watched Monty Python, so are you suggesting that every sperm and every egg is a human person because don't they have these potentials as well"? Well no they don't.

Before the point of conception you obviously have the two gametes the sperm and the ovum. And then at the point of conception they fuse together. That's a child-friendly graphic (on screen). They fuse together and they form something new. A new substance that we call a new human life. And that new human life, that tiny developing embryo, is the one that has the potential within it of intellect and free will, rationality and free will.

Neither of these two do. They have to both merge and cease to exist, and then the entity which comes into existence at this point is what has rationality and free will within itself. And if we allow it to continue on its self-directed, which is important, growth trajectory, and don't interfere with it, guess what? We find that a few years later, it's rationalising, arguing with its parents, and trying to get it's own way.

Now, some people will say "we don't hardly know this, this is philosophy, who really knows"? We live in the age of scientism and empiricism. Who really knows? Well alright let's be sceptics, I can be sceptic with you, let's all be sceptics together. Because if we don't know what it is we definitely shouldn't be causing any harm to it. And to have ascertained that it's not human. Because there's a really strong case here that we're dealing with an innocent human being.

Principles of human ethics

The first and most important principle of human ethics is do no harm. Often referred to as the principle of non-maleficence. Closely related to it is the principle of beneficence: acting for the benefit of the subject.

The second most important principle in human ethics is what we might call the precautionary principle. And it goes like this: if you're not sure whether your actions are about to cause harm to an innocent human being or group of human beings, you shouldn't act until you're certain that you're not going to be causing harm.

The classic scenario where we see this played out is with the issue of hunting. Happens a lot in my country, we're a big hunting country. And, regularly, or recently in particular we have a spate of accidental shootings in the bush. And a lot of them involve hunters who hear a rustling off in the distance, and they unload their weapon, and then they pull back the foliage and discover they've killed an innocent person.

Now, if a hunter does that, then appears before the judge, he can't say to the judge "well look, your honour, animals rustle as well. I didn't know it was a human I just fired". "I really shouldn't be charged with anything". The judge would rightly say "no, you have and ethical obligation to identify your target first". That's the precautionary principle.

And the same is true in the abortion debate. If we haven't identified the target of abortion, then we're saying well we don't know what it is, then we shouldn't be acting until we've ascertained we're not actually causing harm.

Categories of argument

Now, at this point you get pro-choice people who will try and respond with four different main categories of argument, and I want to unpack those now. And these are the four main categories and by the way, I didn't come up with this acronym so please don't credit me with them. A guy called Scott Klusendorf in the States I believe is the first user, but it's been used by many people.

The acronym is SLED: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. And these are the four main categories of argument that people use to try and give some sort of ethical justification to abortion. I want to unpack each one of these now, and I'm going to unpack them slightly out of this particular order. I want to end with environment, because I want to talk about the bodily rights argument that you commonly hear people are using.

The size argument

So first of all arguments from size. Now, thankfully we don't hear a lot of these anymore. But it used to be common to hear people talking about the size of the unborn as if that somehow meant that they should have less rights than the rest of us. Thankfully, because of advances in science and medical technology it's a bit of a silly argument to be making now. You still get some people though who will sort of try and make a version of this argument with talk about "oh are you saying that a clump of cells should have the same rights as a fully grown person"? Okay, that's an argument around size.

What's important about this is that, to know and to respond whenever people bring these kinds of arguments up is that your size doesn't determine what you are, or what rights you are and are not entitled to. A small, one-foot high child, two-food high child, is no less human, has no less human rights than a seven-foot NBA basketball player, right? Your size does not determine what rights you get, and it doesn't determine what you actually are.

The dependency argument

The next argument you hear is the degree of dependency which is what? The viability argument. Is it viable? This is a very common argument people make. Now this is an interesting and I would say very problematic position to adopt because, viability is a real moving goalpost. Go back 150 years ago, a lot of people weren't viable even at childbirth. A lot of people died at childbirth. Our ability to save babies in utero, a lot younger, is slowly moving down, further and further into pregnancy than it's ever been before because of advances in medical technology and therapies that we have available to us.

The viability argument

And there's also that interesting issue of the fact that if you go from place to place you might find in one country viability might be 22, 23 weeks. If they have good technology, good access to good healthcare resources et cetera. But you get on a plane and travel to another country and it might be closer to 35 weeks because they don't have that same resourcing and technology. Which would present you with the interesting spectre of a pregnant woman say at, I don't know 34 weeks, who might be in New Zealand, with a child that's viable, and people are saying well yes, that makes the child a person. She gets on a plane and flies to, I don't know, the Nairobi desert or something where they don't have those kind of resources available, and they say well, no, not a person because it's not viable in that place, at that point. And she just gets back on a plane, flies back home again, and all of a sudden the child will become a person again.

Ultimately though a big problem with this argument is that what it's proposing is that unless you can live independently of an outside agent, you don't rely on an outside agent for your continued survival, then you're not a person, or you shouldn't get rights.

Now, I'm sure I don't need to explain to you why that's extremely problematic. Because there are actually adults, older children and adults who are not independently viable. That depend on others outside of them for their existence.

Obviously the most obvious example of this is if you accept this principle you also have to accept that infanticide was an ethically acceptable act. Because an infant cannot clothe, feed, shelter, hydrate, or care for itself. Ultimately too, if you think about it, all of us, every single one of us on this planet cannot live without the aid of an outside agent.

We actually rely on a very womb-like environment for our continued existence, and we absolutely depend on it. It's the atmosphere of this planet. It's almost amniotic what some might say. Nurtures us, protects us. If the atmosphere of this planet was to disappear, we would be dead in an instant, right? So we all depend on that outside agent, and we intimately depend on it. We can't live without it, it's just that simple.

The next type of arguments you hear are arguments around level of development. Now, the most common type of argument you hear people making here, I've already referred to as this idea of self-awareness or rational thought. They use that as a developmental milestone, and they say "well you're not a person until you're able to think rationally, or you're self-aware". Here's the big problem with that, using that as a developmental milestone.

The self awareness argument

First of all it doesn't actually happen until many months after birth. You're not self-aware in the womb, you're not self-aware even after birth. It happens many months later. I remember when it happened with our twins. Our twins used to come in every morning, and they would see themselves in the mirror, and Maddie would see her reflection in the mirror, and she would go, "Evie!" Cause she thought it was her twin she was looking at, and vice versa. I remember when they were about 15 months old, one day Maddie comes into the room, sees her reflection, looks at the reflections and goes "Maddie".

She realised, she'd become self-aware at some point and realised she was seeing herself. Quite a profound thing. So obviously, it's problematic if we're going to use self-awareness. And also, self-awareness isn't the highest level of brain development in that regard. There's another level called sapient thought. The ability to form abstract, objective thought. Right, that happens much later again.

So if we're going to say it's a graduated process, then aren't we possibly suggesting that people are not really fully persons until they have gone beyond just self-awareness and reached that level of sapience?

Now, obviously I've mentioned the problem of sleeping or being knocked unconscious, and how you don't have rational thought, you're not self-aware in that state. But we still don't allow people to kill you, because we say you are a person.

Now, some philosophers get quite clever, usually the utilitarian philosophers like Peter Singer, David Boonin, David Tooley. A lot of Australians. I don't know why that is. A lot of utilitarian philosophers from Australia who support infanticide based on something they call the desire interest argument. And what they say is that you're right, being knocked unconscious as a child or an adult that's been born is not the same thing. You don't loose your personhood in that situation, but they say you're a different type of thing.

And what they say is this: they say that what gives you your right to life is your interest to the right to life, and the way you get an interest in the right to life, is you have to develop desires. And you have to have developed the desire for life. And of course an unborn child growing in the womb doesn't have desires they would say so therefore it has no right to life because it hasn't developed the desire for life, so then it doesn't have a corresponding interest in the right to life.

What they're effectively saying here is that you have to be aware that you are entitled to something; the right to life, or have a conscious desire for that right to life, in order to be wronged by being denied that thing. But that's not true at all. That is simply not true at all.

Let's say you have someone - Francis Beckwith, the philosopher uses this example. Imagine you have someone who is raised their entire life in a cult, and they have been brainwashed to believe that human rights don't exist, they're not real. And they grow up believing that human rights are a tool of the government to try and control the population, and they genuinely believe that the only real right that there is is might makes right. Survival of the fittest. The strong get to decide what happens to the weak.

And let's say that this 18-year-old child decides to leave home and start out on their way, and start their own cult, I don't know whether you do when you've been in that situation, and on their merry way they go, and they're kidnapped six months later, and they're sold into slavery. Remember they don't believe in human rights. They don't have a desire for the right to freedom. They don't believe it's a real thing. Are they being wronged? Are they the victim? Of course they are. You don't have to have a desire for something, or even understand it.

Obviously this raises some very serious issues for certain people with certain intellectual disabilities who have no concept of what human rights are. But we wouldn't say "well it'll be okay to do horrible things to them" just because they don't understand that they're meant to desire these things, right? It's a terrible, terrible argument.

Another example might be, perhaps let's say you have an uncle who, you didn't realise this but had won the lotto, and had 40 million dollars squirrelled away no one knew about. And your Uncle gave you in the will that 40 million dollars, but he also had a bit of an unscrupulous and corrupt employee, who at the last minute changed the will, and forged a new one and gave it all to himself. Now you wouldn't hear it at a reading of the will because you weren't invited, your name wasn't on the list. But that 40 million dollars is given to the unjust, corrupt employee. You never knew the money existed, you had no desire for it.

Have you been the victim of something? Of course you have. Even though you had no desire for it, or even no knowledge of it. You have still been wronged by being denied that thing.

The location argument

And the last type of argument, this is the one I want to spend a bit of time on, is environment, from the environment. What's the environment of an unborn child?

[Audience] The womb.

MALONE: The womb, very good!

Now thankfully you don't get too many people making sort of simplistic arguments. Some people do, you know they say "we shouldn't treat you as a human being while you're in a womb". It's kind of a bizarre argument, because it's suggesting that where you are determines what you are. One of my favourite responses to that is "if I go and spend the rest of my life living at McDonalds I haven't become a Big Mac".

So it's not how we determine what a person is, you know, by where they currently happen to be living. Most people though use this argument around environment to try and give rights to what's known as the bodily rights argument. And that would say that because an unborn person is growing inside someone else's womb, that we should treat them differently because now you've got two competing sets of rights in close proximity to each other.

The lady that we have to thank primarily for this argument is this lady here, Judith Jarvis Thomson. In 1971 she published her very famous, some might say infamous essay, A Defence of Abortion. She's a philosopher. And this is still today the most widely re-published, and sought-after journal article. Still today.

This thing appears in all sorts of university settings, even that have got nothing to do with ethics. Judith Jarvis Thomson, particularly her violinist analogy, turns up all over the place.

The violinist analogy for bodily autonomy

And basically in her violinist analogy she says this. Imagine you wake up one morning and you find yourself back-to-back with an unconscious, world-famous violinist. You have been strapped to this violinist, and this violinist has a fatal kidney ailment, and the society of music lovers has kidnapped you, and attached you to the violinist. And attached hooked up some tubes, your kidneys are feeding his kidneys, and you're purifying his blood. And she says "don't worry, it's only for nine months". And after nine months he'll be fine, and you can go free. And then she goes on to say "well basically, just like that situation where no one has the right to force another person to be attached to a world-famous violinist for nine months, nor should a mother be forced to donate her organs to an unborn child for nine months without her consent.

So this idea of two competing sets of rights, who gets to win? What are the problems with this bodily rights argument? Well, I'm glad you asked, let's look at them quickly.

Number one, it always ignores the fact that there's actually two bodies involved, not one. So why is only one of the bodies given bodily rights? Especially if you consider the fact that the majority of abortions that take place are on unborn females.

[Audience Member] Good argument.

MALONE: Right? So if we're talking about female bodily rights, what about the bodily rights of unborn females?

A friend of mine is a doctor. He used to say "I totally support termination of pregnancy. Natural termination at birth". Suddenly people look back. And he said "until then, unless you get consent from the unborn, I'm not going to participate in it". And it's a good point there, right?

What about the two bodies here? It's not just one body.

The second thing is obviously the question around consent. The vast majority of pregnancies happen after consensual sexual intercourse. And, if you engage in the most effective act for making a new human being, a new vulnerable, dependent human being, and you make a new vulnerable dependent human being, congratulations it's worked by the way, it's not an accident. Oh I touched the phone after the pregnant lady and I got pregnant, that's not how it works, we all understand how this works.

If you engage in the most effective act for making new, vulnerable, dependent human beings, and you make a new, vulnerable, dependent human being, isn't there an ethical question about not actually owning that responsibility? Because that new, vulnerable, dependent human being didn't force itself upon us. That didn't say "here I am, you will care for me". It's not like the violinist at all. You haven't been kidnapped here.

Especially when you consider that the sexual act itself, the whole purpose of the sexual act, if you go strip out any philosophical arguments and go pure biology. The sexual act from before the actual sexual act has even begun to take place the body, both bodies are trying to achieve pregnancy as the outcome, right? It is the intended outcome of this act. It confuses unintended death and deliberate killer. Right?

If you unhook yourself from the violinist, and run away, the violinist will die, but did you kill the violinist? No you didn't, the fatal kidney ailment is what killed the violinist. But that's not what happens in an abortion. It's not simply an unplugging. A detaching. An abortionist goes in there and deliberately ends, so it's a direct and deliberate taking of an innocent human life. That's very different from someone unplugging themselves, and as an unintended, secondary effect, a death occurs that they didn't cause, and they had no intention of causing either.

Pregnancy is not an act of violation. Effectively the bodily rights argument sets up pregnancy as, from the starting point, of pregnancy as an act of violation that a woman will either consent to and that makes it okay. Or, if she doesn't consent, she's refusing a form of violation, right, that's how the argument is structured. That a pregnancy is something that's forced on a woman, and she should never be forced to carry through with it.

So what they're setting up is this idea that pregnancy from the get-go is not a good, but it's an act of violation. Well, it's not an act of violation. How do we know that?

Well let's imagine this scenario. Let's imagine a pregnant woman turns up at an A & E clinic after having a car accident, and she's unconscious. And no one knows she's pregnant, she doesn't even know she's pregnant. And while they're doing blood tests and other tests to try and determine what her injuries are, and what's wrong with her and how they can treat her, they discover she's pregnant. Not only do they discover she's pregnant, but her partner turns up, her friends turn up, her parents turn up, they even produce her diary, where she has written that morning: "we are not going to be having children for another two years, we're going overseas". Doesn't know she's pregnant, no desire for pregnancy.

If the bodily rights argument is true, that woman has currently been subjected to a violation. That she didn't consent to. So in theory, shouldn't the doctor go in there immediately and perform an abortion on that unconscious woman?

Now everyone rightly recoils in horror and says "no of course not"! You're right, because pregnancy's not an act of violation. That's why you don't treat it as one. However, if the music lovers' society turned up and started hooking up a violinist to that unconscious accident victim we would stop that. Because it's not the same thing. That is an act of violation. And because it's not an act of violation you can't claim as some people try and do that abortion is a form of self-defense. For there to be self-defense there also has to be an unjust aggressor.

The unborn child is not an unjust aggressor. In fact I'd argue they're probably the most innocent amongst us. Now, an unjust aggressor has to have intent to do harm. But remember the unborn child did not even ask to be brought into existence in this way. They are brought into existence by two other people, so you can't claim that this is an act of self-defense.

Two more to go.

Bodily autonomy rights vs parental rights

The bodily rights argument ignores this important and profound truth about parental obligations. As a parent I have obligations that are unique to my own children that I don't have to any other children. Now hopefully I'll care for what happens to my neighbor's kids, but I don't have to educate, clothe, and feed, and shelter them, right? If I see something going wrong hopefully I'll help out, and be part of the solution, but I'm not held legally accountable for my neighbor's kids. But I am for my own. And if I don't feed, clothe, shelter, and protect my own children and I cause them harm, then the courts will rightly come after me. I could even go to jail for that, if it's serious enough.

The bodily rights argument completely ignores the parental obligations that we have to our own offspring. And interestingly enough, which brings me to my last and final point.

The bodily rights argument also seems to completely fly in the face of the concept of child support. Men who pay child support for children, regardless of whether they want them or not. The court says, "sorry you can't just say, Mr. Joe Blogs, that you conceded to sex but you didn't want to use your bodily labours to pay for a baby". You never asked for a baby. You actually have to provide financial support from your own bodily labours, because why? Parental obligations, that that's your child.

A friend of mine who was a New Zealand ethics, and PhD, sorry, in abortion ethics wrote a very clever paper once, where he said "okay, let's use the bodily rights argument to justify me not having to pay child support". It's a position he couldn't accept. He absolutely believes men should pay child support. But it was interesting to see the response, particularly from some, well most of the feminist recorders who responded to that, and they had no, they were unflinching in their staunch response.

And he rightly put out but hold on a minute, let's walk back through this and look at how the same argument is being used to try and justify abortion. Why is it valid there, and not there? See, what the bodily rights argument does is it actually asks the wrong question at the starting point.

The question the bodily rights argument asks is this: does the foetus have the right to occupy the womb? And, in once sense there is actually no universal human right to occupy a womb. I can't ring my mother up and say "mum I had a really tough day in Brisbane, I'm coming back to the womb tomorrow". And she's probably saying "thank goodness".

But there universal, there are other ethicists, and I agree with this, would argue that because one of your other important human rights, after the right to life, is the right to never be deliberately deprived the essentials of life. And for a very young developing human being, the womb isn't just an environment, it is an essential for life for them. They rely on it for their continued existence, very fairly on in the pregnancy, and if it's always wrong to deliberately deny another person the essentials of life, then you can very clearly make an argument that it would be wrong to deliberately deny an unborn human person access to a womb.

But let's pretend that right doesn't exist. That question: does the foetus have a right to occupy the womb? Is still not the right question. The right question is this: even if a foetus doesn't have a right to occupy a womb, does that mean that we have the right to terminate and expel the foetus from the womb?

Now that, is a very different question. And that really gets to the heart of this ethical debate. And by the way, we would never, ever say yes to that outside of the womb, so why would we say yes to it inside a womb?

Let me give you an example, a very example close to home. Let's say a Syrian refugee turned up in this country, Australia, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee. And the Syrian refugee had destroyed her passport, and her documentation. She has smuggled herself into Australia aboard a ship. She has no passport, no documents, she cannot be sent back home. She has no legal right to be here in Australia. She will obviously use up healthcare resources. She will take someone's job, and income. And about six months after she lands here she's caught by the police on the streets on a totally unrelated matter, and they discover she has no legal right to be here in Australia. Does that mean that because she's got no right to be here, and you can't send her anywhere else, that the State of Australia, or the country of Australia, sorry, has the right to terminate her life, and then scatter her ashes in some hopeless grave?

Of course they don't. Why? Because we go all the way back to that first question. She's a human person. That's why that's the most fundamental question in this debate. See, the big problem with the bodily right argument is this. What it's trying to do is it's trying to promote a culture where we have rights without responsibilities. That's a problem because the very reason we need rights is because that our existence as human persons is communal. We exist, we live, we grow and develop in community.

And obviously there are going to be conflicts in a community. You have rights. One party or parties are going to butt up against another group. And so therefore you don't just talk about my rights and my autonomy, you talk about my rights and my autonomy in relation to the community. In all sorts of casual ethical this is very important. I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who once famously said "your right to do whatever you want to" with your body, "with you fist" sorry, "ends at the point in which my nose begins".

So this idea that you just do what you want without regard to the community is not an authentic and good way to approach, you certainly can't maintain civil society that way.

Secondly, what the bodily rights argument tries to do is it takes the most important human right of all, and treats it as secondary to a lesser human right. The most important human right of all is the right to life. The reason it's called your fundamental human right is because without the right to life, if you're not alive you cannot exercise any other human rights.

Every other human right that you have depends on the right to life. That's why it's called the cardinal, or the fundamental human right. And in the hierarchy of rights, its, that is the pivotal rights. It's at the very top.

Now your right to bodily autonomy is still an important right. No one should be able to take your body and use it against your will. However, it is secondary to the right to life, and what the bodily rights argument is trying to do is saying that you should take a secondary right, and make it more important than the most important human right of all.

And third, and finally, what the bodily rights argument is suggesting is that the strong should get to decide what human rights the vulnerable are given. See this is quite frightening because even Judith Jarvis Thomson says that, in her essay, she says she doesn't believe this, she's pro-choice. She doesn't believe that an unborn person is a person. But she says, even if a foetus is an unborn person, she says "I believe my bodily rights argument would still justify abortion".

Human vs sub-human

Now that's really frightening, because not even the slave traders or the Nazis tried that. What they did was they - they were wrong in what they did, and those former atrocities, but what they did was their reasoning was sound, their application was wrong. And just, and gravely wrong. But what their reasoning was was this: if you're a human person you get human rights. If you're not a human person you don't get human rights. So, in the issue of slavery there were people particularly when eugenics was at its popular height who tried to claim that people of non-aryan decent usually were not fully persons, so therefore they didn't get human rights.

The Nazis had a word, Utermensch, subhuman, right? If they're Jews or subhuman they don't get human rights. But what Judith Jarvis Thomson is saying is "even if you are a human and you are a person, I still think it would be okay to abort you". Now that's frightening, because now your personhood is no longer enough to guarantee you protection. And what that means is your entire framework of human rights is now meaningless.

It has totally become ‘might makes right’. The strong gets to decide what happens to the vulnerable. And that's truly, truly frightening. You can't continue to operate in society without that particular ideology really starting to make itself fail. And the other thing I'll say is that, when you stop and look at all of these arguments that people use to try and justify abortion almost all of them would also justify infanticide. Right? And, so if you are, now, sadly some people, they look at their situation and go "oh okay, well, I've adopted an ethical policy that's putting me on the bus to infanticide town, I'll just keep going there".

Thankfully they're in the minority. Most people rightly look at that and then will recoil a little bit and they start to think critically about what it is they are buying into. But I think it's an important point to raise with people, whenever this issue arises.

What I often do is, I take, I start people outside the womb, and then walk them back in, and I say "right, tell me at which point you think this is okay". Let's have that conversation. And you find it's a very effective way of actually getting the heart, because so many people throw up all sorts of reasons like "what about poverty? What about this? What about that?" And I always try and take them back to that fundamental question: what is it that's growing in that womb, and when do you think it's okay? Because, to be pro-choice, but what choice are you actually pro people choosing? Abortion. What is abortion? And I think it's fundamental that we talk people through that.

Pregnancy after rape

I just want to finish up with, if I can, one common thing I get asked is about the issue of what about pregnancy after rape? Doesn't that justify abortion? And in response to that I like to ask some questions.

First of all, people who bring this issue up, I would say: do you think that human beings conceived in rape have less dignity than people who are conceived in love or in other ways? Do you think? And most people would say "well no, of course not". Then why would we treat them differently in a womb?

Are you less of a human being if you are conceived in rape? Should you get the same respect and human rights as the rest of us? And, I don't have near to meet a person who says "no, you should be treated differently". So again, why would you treat them differently when they're in a womb?

Does abortion bring a rapist to justice, undo the crime of rape, bring healing to the victim of the terrible atrocity that is rape? No, it doesn't to any of those things. It simply creates another victim.

And lastly, do rape-conceived people want to come into existence this way, or are they also victims? Now, this for me has been a pivotal question, because a lot of people approach to this issue they think of the unborn as being a perpetrator, and aggressor. I often say to people why do you assume that the unborn child belongs to the father? Why is the unborn child not a part of the mother in this scenario, right?

Now this is a very important question. I heard Rebecca Keesling on CNN a couple years ago. Rebecca Keesling is a pro-life activist in the States. She was conceived by rape herself. She has special work that she does in this area. And she was on the Piers Morgan show which is particularly hostile, after Senator Todd Akin I think, made his poorly-thought-out comment about legitimate rape, whatever that comment was he made.

And she presented some research to congress and she said "look, in America approximately 50% of all unplanned consensual sex pregnancies end up in a Planned Parenthood or an abortion clinic. However, only 15 to 25% of rape-conceived pregnancies end up in an abortion clinic".

Now that's interesting because you often hear people using this argument as if it's the lived, real-world experience of women that the first thing they want is to be taken to an abortion clinic. Well, according to that data, in actual fact, that, we're talking 75 to 85% of rape-conceived pregnancies are carried to full term, right?

And this is again, when I say to people, well why would you treat a rape-conceived person differently when they're in a womb? You're getting back to this question.

I'll often say to people let's imagine this scenario. Let's imagine that a woman conceives a child after rape, the child is born, she wants to have the baby, six months after the child is born though she completely changes her mind. She says "oh I wasn't ready for this, I was just under a psychological black cloud. I made a wrong decision. I don't want this child anymore. I don't want to adopt it out either. I don't want to have a living, flesh-and-blood memorial of this horrific atrocity that was perpetrated against me. I want to smother this child in its crib to end my pain". Would that be okay?

I've yet to meet a person that says yes. Everyone says "well of course not". And then after I've said that I say well why not? Because it's a person. So let's start walking back through, into the womb and tell me at what point you think it's ceases to be a person. And why it would be okay, because it was conceived in that way, to treat it that way.

Quote from North Country

I want to finish this by giving you a great quote after to share with people from the movie North Country, which was directed by a Kiwi director, Niki Caro, who also directed Whale Rider, for those who've seen that. And, North Country stars Charlize Theron and it tells the true story of a group of women who worked in an open-cast mine in North Alaska, and he had to take the court case because of the treatment they were receiving.

Charlize Theron, the main character has a son who's about 12 or 13 years of age, and we discover halfway through the film that he's been conceived in rape. And this is what she says to him, and I think it's a profound annunciation of the pro life position on this issue. "I was a girl who was raped, and you were this thing that just kept reminding me of that. This one night I was lying in bed and you moved inside me like this tiny little butterfly just fluttering around in there. And all of a sudden I realised I just new. I knew you weren't his, you were mine. You were my baby, and we were going to be in it together, just the two of us. You had nothing to of with that ugliness you hear me, nothing".

And to me that beautifully and succinctly sums up the pro-life approach to this issue. Why care for one when we can care for both? Right? Isn't that the humane response? Not rushing someone off to an abortion clinic, and then putting them in a situation that, some of my friends who specialise in post-abortion care will tell you is creating a perfect psychological storm for even greater psychological trauma, which is sexual violation, and then adding the possibility of post-abortion trauma on top of that.

Why would we do that when we, and yes this is hard, this is difficult but guess what? That's the reality of humanity, in caring and self-giving. It takes effort, and you're required to make sacrifice to do that. But this is fundamental of what a humane society is supposed to look like. Thanks for listening, I think that's all I'm want to say in this session. Thank you.