Now there’s nothing more wearisome than a discussion of “rights”; and having one on a Monday may be unforgivable. But I beg the reader’s indulgence as last Friday’s New York Times piece of the same name as this post (sans question mark) by lawyer Lynn M. Paltrow and sociologist Jeanne Flavin somehow “gained traction”. Best to see why.
“Rights” as these ladies use it is of course a synonym of “I want!” or “Gimme!” We post-Christians are nothing if not all deserving, and, dammit, somebody must give us what we want. It’s our right. New “rights” are being discovered faster than San Francisco (and now Westminster, Mass) can find things to ban.
“Briggs, you fool. You uttered a contradiction. You say post-Christians want to be given whatever they want. Yet you also claim they happily ban other citizens from having what they want. Get it straight.”
But I do have it straight: there is no contradiction. If I want that cheeseburger and you want that cheeseburger, only one of us will be satisfied. And because I am 6’2″, 210 pounds, and mean, I’ll get my “right” and you won’t. San Francisco bans because they believe they have the “right” to live apart from whatever it is they are banning this week.
“Rights” always clash. There is no resolution in any dispute where both sides only have “I want!” as an argument. Might makes rights is the only solution.
Let’s hear from Paltrow and Flavin:
WITH [sic] the success of Republicans in the midterm elections and the passage of Tennessee’s anti-abortion amendment, we can expect ongoing efforts to ban abortion and advance the “personhood” rights of fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.
Paltrow and Flavin demand the right to choose to kill and they recognize that their enemies want to take that “right” away. They correctly fret that since their enemies are now mightier, their enemies could have their “right” granted to them and that the “right” to choose to kill will go unsated. They exaggerate only to the extent that their perceived enemies really are enemies.
Talking solely or mostly about “rights” is why the abortion debate goes nowhere. It is why it can only be settled by might. And since the mighty are often fallen, it is why the predominate “right” changes.
If you’re unconvinced, read the rest of Paltrow and Flavin’s article. They side-step the one philosophical question of any interest right at the beginning, by putting scare quotes around “personhood”, and go on to describe the horrors which await pregnant women once the “right” to choose to kill is replaced by another right.
For example, “In Iowa, a pregnant woman who fell down a flight of stairs was reported to the police after seeking help at a hospital. She was arrested for ‘attempted fetal homicide.'” But this is only the scare-quoted “personhood” in other words. Another:
Anti-abortion reasoning has also provided the justification for arresting pregnant women who experience depression and have attempted suicide. A 22-year-old in South Carolina who was eight months pregnant attempted suicide by jumping out a window. She survived despite suffering severe injuries. Because she lost the pregnancy, she was arrested and jailed for the crime of homicide by child abuse.
This at least shows the enemies of Paltrow and Flavin recognize what the philosophical question is. It also proves Paltrow and Flavin know it but choose not to discuss it.
Is the living creature in the mother’s womb a human being? If so, killing it for the sake of convenience, because it is the wrong sex, because the woman has some shopping to do or a “career” to pursue (we really need more women in offices gazing lovingly at spreadsheets 60 hours a week) , or whatever is murder. End of story. There is no “right” to murder, even for hysterical women, or even for a feminist.
And, of course, the only answer consonant with biology—with Science itself!—is that, yes, the living creature is a human being. It isn’t a fish, nor a Buick, nor even a “lump” of tissue. Once people recognize that, the depressing talk of “rights” can cease and we can go on to better things.
Footnote: I am saddened to report that Flavin, author of Our Bodies, Our Crimes, is a sociology professor at Fordham University, a once Catholic university that found the cross it had to bear too burdensome.