Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Why We Have Laws

As graphic photos of aborted babies have become less common over the years at the March For Life and large number of simple, black "I Regret My Abortion" signs have become one of the most common and moving features of pro-life demonstrations, members of the pro-abortion commentariat have been forced to find a new gloss to replace the old "pro-lifers are bitter old men who hate women and love fetuses" meme of years gone by. (Though that doesn't stop some people from continuing to parrot it.)

One theme I read several times from pro-choice authors this year was, "Where do these women who had abortions get off demanding that the law take that right away from other women? Sure, maybe they regret it, but shouldn't every other woman have the same choice that they had?"

This seems to me to exhibit a serious misunderstanding of why we have laws about these kind of things. On the one hand, a law may be put in place to prevent people from doing something which they genuinely desire to do. One example of this might be the drinking age. It is illegal for a 20-year-old to buy a drink. This is, at least in theory, to the advantage of the common good. But for the 20-year-old, it denies him the ability to do something which he might otherwise wish to do. However, other restrictive laws also have the purpose of freeing the restricted person from being forced into an undesirable action. An example of this might be laws that prevent twelve year old girls from marrying. It may be some some 12-year-olds genuinely wish to be married, however the premise of the law seems to be at least partly that few 12-year-old really want to be married, and thus the law fees them from being given in marriage before their time.

Groups like Feminists For Life employ similar logic in regards to abortion. By their way of thinking, an abortion is not something which most women (all other things being equal) genuinely desire. Rather, its availability allows others to force a woman into having an abortion that she does not truly desire. The fact that abortion is available allows a boyfriend to say, "I didn't want us to get pregnant. I'm willing to pay for the abortion, but I'm definitely not interested in helping you raise a child."

In this sense, the availability of abortion as a valid (or at least legal) option actually decreases the freedom of women in certain situations because it presents an undesired and yet possible alternative into which they can be pushed. If abortions were unavailable or less available, it would give a woman more legal and financial bargaining power, since the law currently acknowledges (at least in theory, though not always very well in practice) that a man has a level of financial responsibility for any child he fathers, whether in or out of wedlock.

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