Catalina and I argue a lot - in a good way. We enjoy bantering back and forth over all sorts of issues. We have discussed Traducianism, Calvinism, Baptism, the BLM movement, corporal punishment (for our kids), capital punishment (not for our kids), and all other sorts of societal and spiritual issues. We even have fun banters about issues like whether or not the phrase "oddly misshapen" is tautological. We enjoy debating with each other, as it is iron sharpening iron.
One of the topics we have broached frequently is that of abortion. Until a few years ago, the issue seemed very cut and dry to us. The SLED argument knocked the pro-choice arguments out of the water. If an embryo is a human, and human rights are intrinsic to humans, than the embryo - regardless of its size, level of development, environment, or degree of dependency - most certainly has the right to life. The main pro-choice argumentation - that an embryo was not a human - fell flat on its face.
However, a few years back, we encountered the Violinist Argument. Unlike the personhood argument, which seems absolutely arbitrary, vacuous, and leads to horrendous logical conclusions like after-birth abortions, the Violinist argument struck a chord in us. It is far more appealing than the personhood argument because human rights on this view don’t rely on fickle and fleeting degreed properties. The Violinist Argument gives an analogy of a famous violinist who is on life support, but this life support system is connected to you. You know the violinist will heal within a year, so long as you agree to maintain his connection to you. The argument concludes that while it would be wonderfully altruistic for one to maintain their connection to save the life of the violinist, it is absolutely intuitive to almost all that this connection should not be required. Nobody has the right to use my body without my consent. Were I to refuse this connection, I would not be guilty of murder. So it is with abortion - the refusal to maintain an altruistic, life supporting connection to a child. To deny the right to abort according to this line of reasoning, is essentially elevating the rights of the fetus while sacrificing the rights of the mother.
The Violinist Argument was intuitively wrong to me, but I could not formulate what I felt was an adequate response against it. Everything I could come up with ended up circling around to some basic assumptions that I held as a Christian, but which I couldn't expect non-Christians to believe. While Greg Kokul's response resonated strongly with me, he had to come back to some very fundamental conclusions about our intended nature, teleology, authority, relationships, obligation, etc. Though good, these arguments were based on certain worldview assumptions that I couldn’t expect the majority to share.
I ruminated over this issue for the past few years. Then an idea struck me. The argument I am going to lay out below is intended to be a reductio ad absurdum argument of sorts. I am going to take modern thought and run it through in an attempt to show that holding such ideas leads to intuitive and logical absurdities, or unpalatable actions if one is to remain consistent. For instance, the Violinist Argument which stems from the concept of bodily autonomy seems to protect a woman’s right to abort, but I will argue that it should dissolve the woman’s right to require a man to pay child support for a kid he doesn’t want. While this won't show that abortion is wrong, it will show that in order to argue abortion from a standpoint of bodily autonomy and be logically consistent, we would have to abandon some intuitive and important features that are currently in place regarding our current actions and longstanding legislation - features which the pro-choice side does not at all want to see disappear. I hope to show that by accepting the Violinist Argument, logical consistency would require too much for these adherents.
The Case Study:
A few years back I remember hearing about the case Phillips vs. Irons. In this case, the man, Phillips, sued his ex-girlfriend, Irons. When Phillips and Irons were dating, they never had sexual intercourse. Phillips said he did not want to have sex before marriage and made it very clear that he did not want children. However, both Phillips and Irons did consensually participate in oral sex. Unbeknownst to Phillips, during at least one of their sexual encounters, Irons harbored some of the semen in her mouth and used this to impregnate herself. The relationship did not last very long, and the two broke up. A few years later, Irons petitioned a very surprised Phillips for child support, which is when everything came to light. While the child Irons had was his, Phillips sued Irons for a misuse of his property (his semen). He had been very clear that he didn't want children, and Irons had acted deceitfully. While Phillips did successfully sue for emotional damages, the court ruled that Phillips was indeed required to pay child support since the child was his, and he had given up his sperm to Irons.
Property and Liability:
Initially, I sided with Phillips. We all recognize that there are many things we loan which we intend to get back, or which we intend to be used in a particular way. We may loan a shovel to our neighbor, expect that he won't use it to bury any bodies in his yard, and rightfully expect it back. We can even loan out semi-consumable items, like lawnmowers, to our neighbors. When my neighbor returns the lawnmower he borrowed, as he should, he may or may not have replaced the gas in the mower. But never do I intend for the destruction or misuse of loaned property. So why should a man be responsible for supporting a child he was clear he didn't want, especially considering the woman's extreme actions?
Suppose you loan a gun to your adult child. You know your child has just lost their job, they're recently divorced, struggling financially, and depressed. There is also a chance he is not taking some meds he should be taking and he's made some strange comments on social media. You figure that your son just wants to go shooting to blow off some much needed steam, and it should be a good way for them to release. Unfortunately, your son ends up using your gun to go on a shooting rampage. Are you in any way responsible? Depending on how much you knew, when you knew it, etc - you could be held liable for your actions despite your intent, at least for financial damages.
In other circumstances, one doesn’t even have to have knowledge of any imminent harm to be found responsible for harm. If I were to loan someone a faulty piece of equipment and they were to injure themselves, I could be found liable. The assumption is that the more potential harm something can do, even if the chance is miniscule, the more I will ensure that my property is protected and used appropriately. Liability often does not follow from intent or probability, and it does not always require the absence of ignorance.
Looking at second angle, suppose you hire out someone to put a new roof on your house but fail to check if they are insured. Should that individual fall and injure themselves, were they uninsured, then you may be liable for damages to them. While it is pretty clear that both you and the worker understood the risk of working on your roof, and while it is clear that they agreed to do the work and undertake the risk, you are still responsible for their well-being while on your property.
In a third example of culpability, we can take a look at a couple with joint bank accounts. Having agreed to join their accounts together, they both now have equal access to whatever funds are in the account. Were one of the parties to decide to take a nice chunk of money out of this account and go on a shopping spree (against the preference of their spouse), they would generally be legitimate in doing so. While the action may be unsavory, it is generally not illegal.
From all three examples, we can pull several important details about both property and damages. In the first example we can see that allowing others to use our property, even if only for a temporary amount of time, can bring consequences upon us. Whereas in the first example property was given out and used for a task that wasn't intended, the second example shows us that even if damages occur by someone we allow to use our property for a task we commission, we are still liable for damages. In the third example, we see that during the joining of property, both parties are free to use the resources as they wish, even if it hurts the other. Finally, regardless of intent, when one engages in an event relating their property (loaning property, allowing someone onto your property, and joining property), ramifications extend beyond this intent. The use of property almost always includes some sort of risk, even if that risk is a long shot.
Property Liability Applied to the Case at Hand:
As we look at Phillips vs. Irons, we see many of these principles come into play. Phillips allowed Irons to use his semen, in a sense. While he did not want a child, the handing over of his semen - if only for a time - resulted in Irons's misuse of it. That is a risk that follows from the use of such property, even if this was an extreme circumstance. Since a child resulted from the misuse of Phillips's property, Phillips is responsible for helping to ensure that no damage comes to the child from his avoidance to contribute financially as the father.
Secondly, Phillips allowed Irons onto his property (his body and his semen). While what Irons did may have been unsavory, we recognize that when we invite workers onto our property to do a job, we must vet them as best we can. If they end up injuring themselves, we are still liable for their injury, even if we couldn't have foreseen it. Likewise, Phillips, who commissioned Irons for a different sort of job, is responsible for the pregnancy and subsequent child rearing that followed.
Thirdly, we can see that Phillips consented to joining with Irons in a sexual act. The Bible uses the phrase "joining together" for sex, as you really can't get any closer physically. Though the act in question was oral, bodies were literally joined together. In such an act, what follows is a joint endeavor, even if the parties have different intents.
In conclusion, even if Phillips didn't intend or desire for his semen to undergo the biological process of conception, and even though the property he supplied may have been on loan and may not have been intended for use as it was, Phillips, in my opinion, was rightfully responsible for paying child support. It would be wrong to create a child - even if that child was unintended - and then not provide for it. We expect parents to take care of children who were unintended all the time. Sometimes one partner didn't want a child, and sometimes neither partner wanted the child - yet a child was conceived despite all sorts of precautions. But legally, once a child reaches a certain stage of development, a lack of intent can do nothing to save both parents from taking care of their child. Therefore, Phillips is rightfully responsible for the well-being of his child.
Unpacking the Double Standard:
If you end up coming to the same conclusion as I have, then you have to pursue this reasoning a bit further. We have only talked about the man's responsibility here, but I assume everyone would agree that the same principles apply to any woman. So let's take a look at a woman who ends up having an unwanted pregnancy.
Other than in cases of rape, a woman who gets pregnant has allowed her body to be used sexually. That is what sex acts are - a mutual giving and receiving. Certainly each party should be able to rescind their commitment at any point in the process, but during the act, each gives of themselves. During many sex acts, even some where one might not expect to get pregnant, pregnancy is possible – even if it’s a long shot. For a woman to allow the use of her vagina (or cloaca, in the above example), is to take on the risk of pregnancy. If the man chooses not to pull out, a condom breaks, birth control doesn't work, etc - it doesn't matter what a woman did to prevent her pregnancy. She is pregnant and faces the consequences of how she used her property (her body).
Most pro-choice advocates would agree at this point. There are potential consequences, and the woman faces those. She is pregnant and will either have bodily consequences from pregnancy, or physical consequences of undergoing the surgery of abortion. However, these advocates would argue that since the fetus remains in the woman's body, then this fetus is still under her autonomy. While the fetus is unarguably a human life, it is taking up residence and resources within the mother's body - a body that should remain under her control.
However, let's take a look back at the rationale we can glean from the Phillips vs. Irons case. The rationale for Phillips having to pay child support has nothing to do with the woman, Irons. He is not paying to support her or pay damages. If Phillips had an STD of which he had made Irons aware, and she contracted the disease, Phillips would not be responsible for damage to her since she knowingly took on the risk. Likewise, a man is not responsible for contributing towards abortion costs for a woman who is pregnant, as this deals with the mother's health. What Phillips was held responsible for was the well-being of the child, for which it was deemed he must provide some financial support.
With this understanding, we can see that upon conception, the man's right to his property dissipates, regardless of his intent to conceive (or not conceive) a child. He then becomes financially responsible for caring for any child conceived. However, we find a double standard for women. Regardless of intent to conceive, a woman, upon conception, has another human, a third party to consider. Where the man has contributed his sperm, and the woman has contributed her egg, and they have joined, new human life has unarguably been created. Since this life was created, the responsibility for care lies with those who initiated its creation. Just as the man is responsible to the child, so the woman is responsible for the child's life.
Our society, though, does not hold the woman responsible for bearing the child. Unlike the man, whose intent does not matter, the mother's intent can negate her obligation to another human being, namely the fetus. But she has used her body and incurred the risk of pregnancy. She has joined in this responsibility with another. Regardless of intent, she is co-responsible for this new life due to the choice she made in the use of her body. To disagree here is to overthrow notions of culpability in my three property examples above. The holding of property, use of property, and loaning of property all carry risks. Those risks are activated when action, negligence, or happenstance interfere with the well-being of another. While it is true that the woman, due to biology, carries the brunt of the physical burden in pregnancy, this by no means negates her responsibility to the newly created third party. Just as a business owner has different liabilities due to what he owns, so it is with men and women. I understand that these liabilities have been inherited by nature rather than selected by choice, but this does not negate obligation to a third-party.
Reductio ad Absurdum:
Unfortunately for pro-choice advocates and women's rights advocates, pushing back against these implications forces them into undesirable directions. The first issue arises in the form of a man's rights. If one wants to argue that the woman is not responsible to this new life because she did not consent to its use of her uterus, then it seems men should escape having to pay child support. A man who engages in sex knows that his semen can be used by another party (the woman) to conceive, which would produce a third party for whose sustenance his finances were required for a time. We likely all agree that a man's intent for his emissions doesn't justify financial omissions should a child be brought into the world. Likewise, the woman knows that engaging in sex has the potential to bring a third party into the equation for whose sustenance her uterus is required for a time in order to sustain. Certainly these are different costs, and likely not exactly equivalent, but the happenstance of biology does not negate obligation. If pro-choice advocates want to argue that the woman is not obligated based on her intent and the retaining of her property rights, the man's obligation should not be required either.
Second, even if one attempts to deny that an obligation arises when the third party child comes into play, throwing off the concepts discussed in this article seems to relieve a man of his obligation to paying child support. If we want to believe in complete bodily autonomy regardless of obligation to another whom we brought into a particular situation, then the man should retain property rights over his semen. If a woman gets pregnant and doesn’t want to abort, that is on her. The man’s semen, as part of his body, should remain under his authority. As it stands, in some ways and in some cases, a dead body has more rights than a man, as it can retain all parts to itself – even those for which it no longer has any use.
Third, pushing back against these implications seems to fly in the face of legal precedent in regard to property. The bodily autonomy argument has gained traction in our society because everyone recognizes that the fetus is a living human being. Yet using property to justify the killing of another in this case seems to defy all common sense. We sequester land assets that pose a significant threat to the environment or endangered species - in order to preserve life, even the lives of animals - and unborn animals at that. Going even further, we would find it abhorrent if a mine owner were to blow up a shaft with workers stuck at the bottom or forego a rescue attempt for trapped workers. And if he gave reasons of finance and/or inconvenience as the reason, he would likely be held criminally responsible. Yet we use a property argument to justify the active killing of humans all the time in instances where the mother's life or extreme well-being are not in question. Even in cases where the property of our body is directly affected, we would not find it justifiable to actively pursue the death of another. We wouldn't allow the murder of one conjoined twin by another, the murder of an ebola infected toddler who could spread the illness to his mother, or the murder of one who is shackled to you. While these examples aren’t perfect, they are the closest thing we can get to a relationship that ties the bodily well-being of one human to another. The conjoined twin example is probably as close as we can get, as their situation comes naturally rather than through aggression, they influence each other's autonomy, and if it were possible - we would think it murder for one to kill the other for reasons of bodily autonomy. In all of the instances given here, we recognize that actively pursuing another’s death is illegitimate.
Fourth, the Violinist argument assumes that the individual on life support is the aggressor. They or their representatives are initiating the life-saving connection which infringes on another's autonomy. However, pregnancy is initiated by the pairing of two individuals – the mother and father. The life brought about has both its existence and circumstance imposed upon it by this act performed outside of itself, usually by two consenting individuals. Therefore, those responsible for the act of bringing the well-being of a third party into consideration are culpable for this new life. One might argue that in any of my main examples, nobody would ever be forced to maintain a physical connection to someone in order to support them. If a roofer fell off my roof, I wouldn’t be required to use my body to save his. While I think the uniqueness of pregnancy, known risks, etc. warrant exception, opponents maintain a major problem even if we assume their response. For in circumstances where my actions knowingly lead to the risk of putting another in harm's way (e.g. texting and driving, drinking and driving, discharging a firearm on New Years in a residential area, etc), their death by my hands at best leads to civil suits and financial repercussions, and at worst, it is grounds for charges of negligence, manslaughter, or even murder. Yet in our current system, there is no liability or recourse for a child’s life that is taken. I understand the reality of and sympathize with the predicament that many mothers are in. I know that coat hanger and back alley abortions happened before abortion’s legality. I know that the weight of such consequences would primarily fall on women. Those are hard truths. But the difficulty of these truths doesn’t mean we can throw off consistency to take the road that is more palatable in some ways. We need to act consistently and figure out how to love and provide for all parties. This point pains me the most, as I am ashamed that the church is not doing a good enough job here. But an answer that chooses which one to love – the woman or the child – is not the answer. We need to figure out how to love both.
Fifth, the Violinist Argument overplays the legitimacy of killing a trespasser. Both law and the intuition of most says that killing another is not justifiable on the defense of property, but rather only in cases where one's life is threatened. For example, we would think it unjust for someone to kill a man who was merely defacing another's property. The legitimacy of self-defense, then, comes only when we have a reasonable belief that our lives were in imminent danger. However, we do have a very clear idea of what a "trespassing" fetus will lead to for the mother. Unlike trespassers in our houses, fetuses are where they are supposed to be. And other than in relatively rare and extenuating circumstances, a fetus does not threaten the mother’s life. To actively seek out another human's death requires some serious justification. Our society is up in arms right now because police officers preemptively kill another, or because the force with which officers respond when assaulted is greater than their aggressor’s. Despite your views on the current events, most of us recognize that lethal force in an almost certainly non-lethal situation – even if there is potential for bodily injury - is unwarranted. You don’t use a gun to a fist fight.
Sixth, some might argue that others should have no say over what we do with our own bodies. Our bodily autonomy is far different than physical property. While I agree that bodily property is certainly different in a way, I think it is also very similar. I also believe I gave a number of examples where bodily autonomy is effected – namely the conjoined twin example. But to elaborate further, consider that we restrict bodily autonomy in individuals who seek suicide or self-harm, those who seek to use drugs, convicts and those being held for trial, very young children, older children and teenagers seeking body modification, etc. We recognize that for the well-being of an individual or others, we are free to restrict one’s autonomy at times. We generally do this in cases where extreme harm may come to self or others with the use of one’s autonomy, or where we feel an individual is not in a position to make a fully informed choice. Both of those cases seem to be fulfilled in pregnancy. The mother seeks the extreme harm of another party (a party for whose dire circumstance she is half responsible), and the other party whose death is sought is placed in a position of peril due to its ignorance and inability to relocate or choose otherwise. The mother does not have grounds to use lethal force on another human being, and there are not sufficient grounds to punish the fetus with such force for its “encroachment.”
Finally, if one pushes back against these implications I've laid out, it opens the door for even stronger advocacy for after-birth abortions. While after-birth abortions have largely stemmed from proponents of the "personhood" argument, I fail to see how the argument from bodily autonomy doesn't lend itself towards moving in that direction as well. I can tell you that having an infant and toddler both directly and indirectly affects my body. I sleep less, I get their illnesses, my back is hurt from picking them up and carrying them, Atticus is now at just the right height that when I pick him up - his kicking feet hit me right where I don't want to be kicked. Being a parent is physically demanding, yet the law currently tells me it is murder to kill any of my children because of its physical toll on me. I have an obligation to their life and well-being. While I don't have to dote on them or do my best, if I avoid sacrificing my body for them to a certain degree, I am culpable for their lives.
I now believe I can back my intuitions with some concrete substance. The Violinist Argument from bodily autonomy was compelling because it is right. I have no direct obligation to some random person who is hooked up to me. But the analogy is a false one, in that it fails to connect some of the major components to pregnancy. A child is not some random life, it is a life that my actions and the willful use of my body created. I have an obligation to sustain that life regardless of my intent in creating that life, the inconvenience that life brings me, etc. To argue otherwise is to throw off piles of legal precedent far preceding Roe v. Wade and even our own Constitution. To argue otherwise is to throw off notions of obligations that result from our actions and the mere act of possessing property - regardless of what type of property it is. To argue otherwise is to move the value of life from being intrinsic to humanity, to extrinsically based on our characteristics and position. And worst of all, to argue otherwise is to rationalize the active, non-punitive killing of another human life. The Violinist Argument falls short in its initially appealing analogy - throwing away the obligation choice brings, and making the analogous death of another one that occurs in passivity (not joining up to the life support as opposed to abortion actively seeking out and killing life).
The only way I see to avoid gender discrimination, the devaluation of life, and logical inconsistency is to embrace the Christian model of life. I believe that value follows one's humanity and obligation follows from our choices and position. Many in our society say they believe the same thing, yet fail to act consistently when it is inconvenient, and when the ones they oppress are voiceless. As Christians, we must continue to pursue this truth voraciously. With voracious love. Unfortunately, many Christians are pro-choice as well. We choose to take the road of comfort and ease. We are demagogues who berate others from the seat of our spiritual “aristocracy” rather than digging in the trenches with our fellow humans. We damn the damned, and in so doing, damn ourselves as well. For we are with all mankind and womankind waging the same war against oppression – pushing back against the curse in this world. But Christians forget that the curse they deplore is the very curse which resides within them. It is the curse of pride, of selfishness, of self-righteousness. It is the curse which blinds one to his or her own faults and need for repentance, while giving them telescopic vision into the lives of others who are “unworthy.” Pain is real. Choices are difficult. All are sinners. The best way for a Christian to pursue truth is through the love of reconciliation. As we dig into the trenches and advance the front lines, we’ll do so with brothers and sisters in arms. The lives that we live and die together daily will pave the way to a world where those in despair are freed to truly make a choice – a choice that they never thought they had. The choice we are telling everyone to make is one that isn’t possible to build with the infrastructure of words alone. Christianity is where both words and deeds should cross, and is best seen in the Word’s deed upon the cross, where he loved his enemies both with his life and through his death. So Christians, die to self so that others may live.