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The Fetus as Property
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Not long ago I was discussing abortion with a pregnant woman, and I was making the point that both the father and the state have some interest (though not as much as the mother) in the well-being of a fetus. Her reply?

"Possession is 9/10ths of the law."

Tomorrow there will be a march for abortion rights (the first large-scale rally of its kind for 12 years), and I wonder how much the above opinion prevails, and how useful it is to the endless and contentious debate on abortion.

Roe v. Wade, which I support, actually seems like a very prudent ruling. It distinguishes between the developmental stages of the unborn along the lines of trimesters, and grants states the right to restrict abortion based upon this distinction. This makes sense. Not making a legal distinction between a microscopic 4-cell structure and a 9-month-old organism with well-developed respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems, that could easily live outside the womb is just an absurd, indefensible position.

Roe v. Wade recognizes the sliding scale of rights that should be conferred upon a developing human fetus, and does so in a sensible way. And yet, neither side in this debate want to give an inch. Too many pro-lifers want a blastocyte to be granted citizenship, while pro-choicers want to be able to consider a child the day before delivery a rightless hunk of meat, akin to a tumor, but confer it full-human status if it is delivered at the will of the mother.

Both extremes are problematic, but both sides have staked them out for fear that any minor concession will lead to the opposite of their views becoming law. Grant that a third-trimester fetus has slightly more rights than a second-trimester one, and before you know it all abortion will be outlawed and women will be killing themselves with Clorox and coathangers. Grant that a blastocyte may be used for stem cell research and pretty soon the government will be kicking in your door and stealing your children to perform experiments on.

And on this one I'm somewhere in the middle. Believe it or not, I'm sympathetic to both sides. Unwanted pregnancies are tragic, and I believe a woman should have the right to opt out of one, granted the decision is made reasonably early. I also understand the position that holds that a fetus deserves some rights and protection under the law.

If the fetus had absolutely no rights until it was outside the mother, than technically a malevolent obstetrician could reach inside the mother to deliver the child and choke it to death instead, with no penalty under the law. It's still inside the mother, but the doctor hasn't harmed the mother at all. If the fetus is considered simply property, then would you just sue such a doctor for property damages?

And if possession really is 9/10ths of the law, then if a baby is born premature, and the hospital keeps it in one of their incubators, do they own the baby? Therefore, can they do as they will with it? The baby, after all, is dependent on the machine, as much as it was on the mother.

So then, there are obvious problems with such extreme positions, though I have no doubt that most people who drop by here probably fall in one of the extreme camps. After all, if you give just an inch, pretty soon your entire position will be destroyed by the opposition.

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