Abortion: A Principled Compromise

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The Supreme Court has just placed an abortion case on its calendar. The pro-life and pro-choice advocates are all in a tizzy.

There is much heat but little light shed in this debate between them. Perhaps it is time to sit back and take a more nuanced look at this burning question.

I shall attempt to be Solomon-like in my analysis. I will not be offering to cut any babies in half; instead, I will offer a principled compromise solution to this vexing challenge, which lies exactly half way between these two polar opposites.

If you say that 2+2=4, and I aver that 2+2=6, then the claim that 2+2=5 is indeed a compromise, but not a principled one. Why not? It cannot be deduced from any worthwhile major premise.

Similarly, in the debate at hand, one side says that abortions should be legally permitted at any stage of the pregnancy, and the other that the woman must bear the child for nine months. Splitting the difference at four and a half months, or at any other rough midpoint such as fetal heartbeat (Talmudic law), is a compromise, but not a principled one.

What, then, constitutes a principled compromise in this vale of tears? Well, the pro-life people say two things: the baby may not be removed from the womb until the nine-month period is reached, and certainly may not be killed at any time before that. In the view of the pro-choice position, the very opposite is the case: the fetus may be expelled from the woman’s body whenever she wishes, even if this spells the death of the infant.

The compromise position, evictionism, agrees with each, but only half way. It supports the pro-lifers in that the child should not ever be murdered, but not, also, that he may not be removed from the womb. Similarly, it takes the side of the pro-choicer to the extent that the fetus may be ejected from the woman’s body at any time during the pregnancy even if it means its death, but may not, in addition, killed at the woman’s discretion for any other reason.

Sometimes it is easier to better focus on an important distinction by means of a chart:

Remove? Kill?
Pro-choice Yes Yes
Pro-life No No
Compromise Yes No

The reader who has been following this will now ask, on the basis of what major premise could this stance possibly be deduced?

The answer is, private property rights.

Who owns the woman’s body? Why, it is she, of course. In John Lockean terms, she “homesteaded” it first. Thus, the unwanted fetus is in effect a trespasser. An innocent one, to be sure, but a trespasser nonetheless.

This is relatively easy to see in the case of rape. The woman is walking down the street. She is grabbed, kidnapped, raped and impregnated. There is then this very small person growing inside of her. (I posit that human life begins at the fertilized egg stage, so as to not make it easy on myself with a straw man argument, since the evictionist compromise allows the woman to expel the child at any stage of the pregnancy, even though he will die when separated from her womb during the first two trimesters). If that is not trespassing against her private property right in her own person, then there is no such thing as trespassing.

But this applies, too, to voluntary sexual intercourse.

The counter argument is that when this occurs, the woman in effect “invited” the baby to occupy her person, so his presence there cannot constitute trespass. But even if there was an invitation, it by no means follows it has to be for nine months. If it is, few people would ever invite anyone for dinner again, lest they be stuck with them for this duration.

However, no “invitation” was ever offered. For this to be true, there must be an invitee and an inviter. At the time of voluntary intercourse, there was not yet in existence the invitee. It takes some time for the sperm to reach and enter the egg, and there is no invitee until this takes place.

What are the implications if this compromise position is adopted? In the first six months, eviction spells the death of the infant. That is congruent with the pro-choice stance. But in the last trimester, while the woman may dislodge her baby, she is precluded from killing him, since that would be murder. She would have no right to insist that the child of that now hated man not be born alive. This aspect supports the pro-life side of the debate.

Neither of the polar opposite sides will be entirely happy with this compromise. The pro-choicer will insist that the woman has the right to kill the baby even though he would be viable outside of the womb in the third trimester. The pro-lifer will strenuously object to the baby dying during the first two trimesters.

But that is what compromise entails. Neither side gets the entire loaf. Rather, it is split.

However, this is the only just viewpoint. Victims of trespass have the right to evict innocents who occupy their territory, but certainly not to murder them. To opine they do not even have the right to do that is to support trespass, surely a crime against the property owner, the woman in this case.

In my heart of hearts, I am a pro-lifer. If I had to choose between these two polar opposites, I would select that position. All of my friends and family members are human beings. I’m pro-life for human beings, no matter how young they are. Right now, the pro-choicers are winning the legal battle. If the pro-lifers stick to their position (I am not one of them; I am an evictionist on this issue), they will possibly, likely, never win, if we can extrapolate from the past. But, if they adopt evictionism, eventually more and more pre-born babies will survive, as new medical technology pushes back the stage in the pregnancy at which the fetus is viable outside the womb.

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