Let this essay begin with four statements so obviously true that they would be accepted “with judicial notice” in most courts of law; and a conclusion which informs the connection between abortion and other involuntary deaths.
One could argue with the same logic, that a human embryo is a human life. That argument is important in the debate over embryonic-stem-cell research. Apparently, stem cells can now be “cultivated” from other sources than embryos; and the research can be done without raising the philosophical issue of “destroying human lives”; but mentioning this further argument is of value because the process of development from zygote to embryo to foetus is continuous.
A foetus has some hope of independent survival if taken from the womb where it is growing. The continuum from embryo to foetus to baby is just that?a continuum?it is not a set of discrete categories. Somewhere along that continuum, “spontaneous abortion” becomes premature birth and “induced abortion” becomes infanticide. No point where that change happens can be specified. Mathematically, and thus logically, the point is indeterminate?the “termination” of an “intrauterine” life becomes gradually more murderous as the zygote becomes an embryo and then a foetus and finally a baby?all of which categories are merely words for portions of the continuum from the merger of a human ovum and a human sperm, to the full readiness of a baby to be born?and which portions not only have no identifiable beginning and end-points, they overlap.
Modern Canadian law allows a woman to direct a medical practitioner to terminate her pregnancy and kill the [embryo or foetus]. It denies that power to a father (and here it should be noted in qualification and elaboration that in many cases, there is no way to know short of genetic assessment of foetal tissue, who is the sire); and it denies that power to the State. In past human societies, States and fathers have been given that power. One could say that Canadian pregnant women have life-and-death power over the lives they “carry”, but those lives have priority over the State's and sires's interests; while in some previous societies the priority ordering put State or sire first and foetus or woman, last.
Many Christian churches would put foetus first, as an innocent and vulnerable human life.
Some past societies, (and imaginably some societies extant today) permit[ted] infanticide in its 19th Century meaning of killing a baby after viable live birth. Though birth is a discrete event, there are important ways in which this acceptance of infanticide constitutes an extension along the continuum of development, “past parturition”, of social permission to kill a human being . A society that permits induced abortion to any pregnant woman who demands it, is but a short logical step away from accepting infanticide.
“Societies” in the form of “States ”, also claim and sometimes exercise the power to put young adults to death, (and other than as punishment for crime.) Some modern societies permit the “conscription” of young people into military service for which they would not freely volunteer, and which military service includes the risk of death. Seldom are soldiers ordered to accept certain death; but very often, they are ordered to do things which will bring death to some unknown fraction of their number, which individuals cannot be named in advance. In the conscription case, the State is given priority over the lives of young men (but very rarely over the lives of young women).
Prohibition of “child soldiering” brings into the conscription problem, a continuum-issue similar to the embryo-foetus-baby continuum, with the reverse consequence that a boy is protected [a foetus is not] but when deemed a young man, that boy becomes subject to involuntary mortal risk [while in Canadian law at least, a newborn is not]. Conscription brings not the certain death of “induced abortion”, but a risk too great to be trivial .
Soldiering and conscription entail another distinction in human value: Gender. Prime Ministers, especially of the Liberal Party, and many other political leaders at various levels, have said in various English and French phrasings that violence against women is intolerable. (Anathema would be the analogous term in religious doctrine.) I do not believe i have ever heard any political leader say that violence against men is intolerable. Men are in some cases legitimate targets of violence, and not just in war1; women, never? Conscription laws are consistent with this conclusion, except in a very few States of which Israel is the best known, which conscript women2.
If we were to go further and ponder the end of the ordinary human lifespan, questions of “extreme measures to delay death”, “palliative care”, dementia, and whether someone well into retirement age should have drastic and costly surgery to treat a condition which might shorten her or his life by a few years or perhaps, only a few months, we might encounter still further issues about the value of human life; but they are qualitatively different from questions about the first half of the mortal human lifespan. Suffice here, to say that if human life is eternal (or even indefinitely long) that eternality differs miraculously from the mortality of the natural human body ; and for the purposes of any practical decisions about human life protection, a mortal body with a normal span of 70-100 years should be the context. In that context, the survival or death of a foetus, a baby, or a young adult is a larger concern than the extension of a life in decline.
So have we come to a juncture in Canadian legal philosophy, where the innocent child is sacred, and her mother, provided her mother decide to let her be born, nearly as sacred, or perhaps more so? But yet, if that expectant mother decide not to allow her foetus to be born, the same human life that would be a sacred baby and then little girl, has neither rights nor value?
Such a distinction is too heavy for an arbitrary set of categories imposed on a continuum, to carry.
Then there is the problem that, if the child be born, but a boy, he is a legitimate target of violence in some circumstances, but if she be a girl, never! Never! The gender distinction in allowable violence fits well enough with social conditions in which women and girls live mostly in the protection of a household while men and boys go out into the world to take risks and bring home the meat course for dinner. Such was the gender division of labour in hunting-gathering societies; and in fishing, herding, horticultural, and agricultural societies,
Conscription and the Dziekanski death are two examples of a man's life being less valued than a woman's. Are we at a point in Canadian social philosophy, where a woman's life is sacred and a man's is not? If so, this latter is not so new as the lack of foetal rights. For a long time, women have been better protected than men, and in two years and a few months, we will commemorate the sinking of the Titanic, in which tragedy the lifeboats were loaded according to a principle used in many other emergencies, and made the title of a book by one Michelle Landsberg: Women and Children First.
If men have no countervailing privileges, then the privileges granted women add up to gender inequality. If women have life-or-death say over the unborn but genetically and anatomically competent members of our species, to the point where the unborn have no value until “Mother Says” they do, and father has no standing nor much existence except perhaps as a source of money; then Feminism is not about liberation but about take-over, about the next generation being neither egalitarian nor patriarchal but matriarchal, and about the power of Mother being at least as arbitrary and potentially cruel as Father's ever was.
“Some leading Feminist” wrote, quite a few years ago now, “we have become the men we wanted to marry”. Perhaps some Feminists have gone beyond that, to become the men they condemned, whose children prudently fear their wrath and whose spouses, should they have any, stifle themselves and do what they are told.
1 Note, for example, the use of the so-called "Battered Women's Syndrome" to partially excuse women's murderous violence against men. Society also tends to treat women's violence against men as humorous or inconsequential (editor).
A few References
Davis, Elizabeth Gould, 1971 The First Sex. NY: Putnam, 1971; Penguin, 1976
Hrdy, Sarah B. 1981 The Woman that Never Evolved. Harvard Univ. Press.
Lloyd, Barbara, and John Archer, eds., 1976 Exploring Sex Differences. London and New York: Academic Press.
Archer's concluding chapter notes some differences: energy or activity, 259; aggression, spatial, language, 256 citing Gray and Buffery but argues, as do Seward- Seward, that these do not provide a basis for role differentiation. Note his assertion that small groups of hunter-gatherers were the evolutionary environment.
Morgan, Elaine 1973 The Descent of Woman. NY: Bantam.
Seward, John P., and Georgene H. Seward 1980 Sex Differences: Mental and Temperamental. Toronto and Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books.
Stannard, Una 1970 "Adam's Rib, or the Woman Within" Trans-Action 8:24-25
Tavris, Carol, and Carole Offir 1977 The Longest War: Sex Differences in Perspective. NYC: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch
Tinbergen, Niko 1968 "On war and peace in animals and man" Science 160: 1411-1418