Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fetus =/= Person

The proposed Unborn Victims of Violence bill is intended, ostensibly, to bring to justice people who commit the particularly unsavoury crime of killing a pregnant woman (and thus ending both her life and the life of the potential baby). However, it is also a very sneaky attempt to discredit the pro-choice position and probably even take steps towards recriminalizing abortion, through giving the fetus 'personhood' status.

Here's my take. When a pregnant woman is murdered, the fetus she is carrying also dies. So, it makes sense to ask for a heavier sentence, since the family loses the woman and the potential child. Correct? Well...not exactly. Because once again, wanted or not, only the woman has a say over the pregnancy, no matter how much emotional stake the family has in it. Her body, her choice - that's the law. It sucks, but the alternative sucks a lot more. Here's why.

When you give someone a heavier sentence for killing a pregnant woman than they would receive for killing a non-pregnant woman, it sends one of two messages: either that the fetus is in fact a legal person, and thus deserves a separate charge; or a pregnant woman's life is somehow more valuable than that of a non-pregnant woman. Both messages are problematic; the first for its undeniable implications in the abortion debate, and the second for its overt value judgement (a woman has more value as an incubator than as a human being).

So that's my problem with it. It's a blatant attempt to get 'personhood' rights for the fetus. There is a clause within the bill that assures us it cannot be used to criminalize abortions, but let's be realistic; muddying the waters around who is a 'person' and who is not is the beginning of a very slippery slope, and it ain't going the way we want to go.

If you are against this bill, there are a few things you can do.

1. Let your MP know how you feel. Go here to find your MP by entering your postal code, then call, email or write to them and let them know that this sneak attack on women's rights is not acceptable.

2. Blog about it!

3. Sign this petition to oppose the bill.

Rock on friends.


Anonymous said...

I would be willing to recognize the life of a pregnant woman as "more valuable" than that of a non-pregnant woman, although I agree it could reinforce sexism. But it might also recognize the hard work of pregnancy, and the sheer labour of gestation, which are largely ignored in western culture. Women's physical and intellectual constitution of their pregnancies are certainly dismissed by anti-abortionists who support forced pregnancy while implying that being pregnant and giving birth are either no big deal or simply "women's cross to bear." Truly valuing pregnancy is a pro-choice position. Please note: I am opposed to the irrational bill meant to declare that fetuses can be murder victims. I would support, however, a bill to increase the prison terms for those who murder pregnant women.

The Pedgehog said...

It's a good point that you bring up, and I certainly agree that pregnancy is difficult - and also that it has value. However, I disagree that one should serve more time or have a different charge for killing a pregnant woman (as opposed to a non-pregnant one).

I think that asserting (in law, especially) that a pregnant woman is somehow more valuable has dangerous implications (and not just sexist ones, although those are certainly important - after all, a man cannot be pregnant. Is he automatically less valuable?). Pregnancy is a stage in life, not a permanent state; so are some people more valuable in a certain stage of life? If you kill my grandma, should you get a lesser sentence than if you kill me? What about if you kill a woman who cannot get pregnant, or a man whose sperm count is low? Less prison time?

It just feels weird that you could get more prison time for killing a pregnant woman than you could if you waited until she gave birth and killed the same person. Why is she more valuable, pregnant? I think if you were going to make the law like this you would have to be careful to approach it from the other angle - ie. prison sentence based on motive. But that's a tricky thing to pin down.

Anyway, thanks for your input - definitely food for thought.

Anonymous said...

Earpiece Charlie said
Pregnancy is a stage in life,not a permanent state;so are some people more valuable in a certain stage of life. According to you yes they are.You have already made the statement that unborn children at a certain stage in life are not persons.So why not kill grandma?Your argument is lame, unless you are willing to move that line on the slippery slope you mentioned in your blog.

Her body,her choice that's the law.Another misleading statement.I don't believe Canada has an abortion law.The courts have decrimnalized abortion, but I don't believe they have written a law giving a women the rignt to kill her child.Correct me if I'am wrong.

Joyce Arthur, the director and spokesperson for Canada's Pro-choice Action Network writes under Abortion Availability the following.The reason that the Canadian Medical Association prefers that doctors do not peform abortion on request after 20 weeks,is because the fetus might be viable then. Viable (Capable of living or growing as an infant). If the Canadian Medical Association makes this claim who are we to argue.We all know that many abortions are performed well after 20 weeks, how could this be?

How silly of me The Genetic Abnormality clause.Now let's see Genetic Abnormality,Down's syn'drome ,Deafness,Blindness,maybe a tendency towards obesity,stunted growth,the list is seemingly endless.Eugenics is in vogue now according to you and your fellow advocates.But why stop with the unborn.Why not move on to born children after all they are just minites,days, or maybe even months ahead of the unborn in a certain stage of life.Yes indeed it is a very slippery slope that you radical feminist are on That is what most pro-choice women are is it not, Radical feminist.

The Pedgehog said...

You've asked a very good question, Charlie, about the unborn being at a certain stage in life. My response would be that even if we do consider the unborn to be "persons", abortion would STILL be acceptable. The reason being that every person has the right to bodily integrity. Thus, if someone needs to use my body or any part thereof to survive, I am allowed to deny them that, even if it means they will die.

So, even if you consider a fetus a person, that STILL does not give them the right to use my body to survive. A woman is allowed, through the right to bodily integrity, to refuse to be pregnant.

That is the law to which I am referring, when I say her body, her choice.

In regards to your assertions about why abortions happen after viability, I can tell you that because it is so difficult to get a doctor to performs such abortions in Canada, if you get one, it better be a damn good reason. My guess would be that most women who abort at that stage do so for reasons relating to their own health or the health of the fetus, but I can't back that up. I will say, however, that I support a woman's right to choose not to be pregnant at ANY stage of the pregnancy, and I believe that things like genetic selectivity are bigger problems, that come from certain societal attitudes, attitudes that will NOT go away if we criminalize abortion.

Please do not assume I am a radical feminist, as I am not. I believe that the majority of people in the pro-choice movement (and probably in the feminist movement in general) do not identify as "radical feminist". If you knew anything about feminist theory, you would know that this is a particular branch or subset of feminism, and not just "crazy" feminists as you seem to be using it.

Anonymous said...

If a pregnant woman is no more valuable than a non-pregnant one and grandma is no more valuable than junior, why do insurance companies make settlements in wrongful death cases based on these things? The death of a pregnant woman or child would be worth more in actuarial terms because the loss is considered to be greater to the beneficiary. If the penalty for killing a pregnant woman is the same as a non-pregnant one, why should the penalties be greater for cases considered to be hate crimes? It seems to me someone is drawing some arbitrary line in the sand that has no basis in any kind of fact or meaning. Just saying . . .

The Pedgehog said...

Because I think those examples have less to do with the "value" of the person in question and more to do with external factors; in the hate crime example, it's not about the victim so much as it is about motive. If you kill someone for no reason, that's different than if you kill them because of their race/religion/etc. Just like if you killed a pregnant woman BECAUSE she was pregnant, that it going to be taken into consideration.

Every person has equal value in the eyes of the law (I hope). But I think that there are circumstances where we dole out different punishments because of different motives the criminal had. If that makes sense.

Honestly, I'm not a legal expert by any stretch of the imagination, so really I'm just arguing by what seems right to me.

Anonymous said...

If an unborn child is a person, and every person deserves the right to bodily integrity, then is it not logical that the unborn should have that same right?Does not every person deserve the right to life or are we know sliding further down that slope? I belive killing someone that has the status of personhood is still recgonizied as murder.If you truly believe that a womens right to bodily integrity(I assume your implying the discomforts of pregnancy, excess weight,morning sickness,stretch marks)thrumps an unborn child's(person) right to life. How can I not assume that you are a radical feminist? The only thing more radical, would be advocating the castration of all male infants at birth, or better yet total elimination.Women could then use artifical womb's which I hear some of your friends in the field of bioethics are currently working on
Earpiece Charlie


The Pedgehog said...

You have misunderstood my argument. Bodily integrity is not just about the "discomfort" of pregnancy, it is about being able to refuse to have someone depend on your body for survival. For instance, if you need some kind of organ transplant, I am allowed to say no - even if I am fully capable of being a donor, and EVEN IF it means you will die. Because my own body is just that - my own. Likewise, a woman has the right to refuse to support a fetus with her own body, because it is HER body.

It has nothing to do with the fetus's rights. Any fetus's rights end where the mother's body begins.

Also, none of my friends are in bioethics, so I have no idea to what you are referring. And I have no interest in castrating men. I think you are confused about the meanings of the words "radical" and "feminist", and also enjoy making assumptions about my personal beliefs.

Anonymous said...

another thing i dislike about this proposed bill is that it ignores the *real* issue of violence against women. women are being attacked when they are pregnant, but the bill appears to assume that fetuses are the targets.

Anonymous said...


You should read up on your criminal code. Section 287 gives women the right to procure a medical abortion, pending approval of a medical panal. The courts have removed the approval requirement. So, for all intents and purposes, Canada has an "abortion law."


Anonymous said...

Ashley you are so right. Why are we blathering on about fetuses, when it is women who are being murdered? Women are forgotten in this debate yet again. If women were valued more in this culture, pregnant or not, then the seemingly commonplace stories of them being killed by male partners would diminish or disappear.

E said...

"The only thing more radical, would be advocating the castration of all male infants at birth, or better yet total elimination.Women could then use artifical womb's which I hear some of your friends in the field of bioethics are currently working on"

Woooooooooowwwww. The neuroses come out! Wanting to have an abortion is on a continuum with wanting to cut off men's penises. (Well, technically testicles, but work with me.) Foetus=penis. Interesting.

It appears that women who have abortions make Earpiece Charlie feel like someone is diluting his Manly Essence. Or maybe he gets that feeling from the knowledge that women are having sex with men who aren't him. Who even knows? The point is that women who have sex with men hate men and want them to die...no, the point is that we want to cut off their...no, the point...uh...

And apparently you can only ever grow female foetuses in artificial wombs. I did not know that.

E said...

P.S. I'm willing to identify as radical feminist -- by Charlie's lights I certainly am one, and I've read enough radical feminist literature to know what radical feminism actually is. It isn't crazy, nor does it have anything to do with wanting to hurt or eliminate men. As a general rule, I don't think it serves our interests as feminists to distance ourselves from feminists who "go too far." It just lends credence to the notion that these man-castrating, child-kicking, male-foetus-aborting, violent feminists actually exist beyond the odd isolated kook -- and they don't.

Charlie is obviously deeply angry at women for rejecting our "natural" role (hence the otherwise totally nonsensical artificial womb comment). I don't think there's a way to placate him.

Anonymous said...

"it sends one of two messages: either that the fetus is in fact a legal person, and thus deserves a separate charge; or a pregnant woman's life is somehow more valuable than that of a non-pregnant woman."

I don't see how this follows. Let's suppose a fetus isn't a legal person, but still has some value worth protecting, like a dog, or a car, or work of art. Killing a woman + her fetus might warrant two charges, just as killing me + my dog would warrant two charges.

intellectual pariah

The Pedgehog said...

That makes sense. Clearly, however, this isn't the approach intended by a bill called "Unborn Victims of Violence". Honestly I think the people behind this bill want to BOTH recognize the fetus as a person, AND assign more value to pregnant (as opposed to non-pregnant) women.

Also, if we were to take your approach, what value should we assign to the fetus? The examples you give are varied - obviously there is a different punishment for damaging a work of art than for hurting a dog. Where does the fetus fall on this spectrum of value?

E said...

The foetus is not physically separate from the woman carrying it and I think it's a problem to treat it as if it were. That's the distinction between a foetus and a dog or a work of art. A foetus is a part of a pregnant woman's body -- often a deeply loved and valued part that can one day become a separate person, but during pregnancy itself? It's part of the woman's body. Suggesting that pregnant women and foetuses can be treated as separate entities always plays into the hands of people who want to dehumanize and degrade women and radically curtail our freedoms.

This goes way beyond abortion. Think of attempts to treat all women of childbearing age as "pre-pregnant" and therefore advise us against drinking alcohol, working with toxic chemicals, etc. Think of the women who have been locked up for "child abuse" for being addicted to drugs while pregnant (in South Carolina). Think of attempted lawsuits against pregnant women who haven't eaten nutritious foods, who have got into car accidents. Think of women who have been forced to undergo Caesarean sections for the good of their foetuses.

Furthermore, judges can and do already take these sorts of factors into account when sentencing murderers. Mandating that they do so -- especially with language like "unborn victims" -- is an attempt to start giving foetuses separate legal personhood.

Anonymous said...

We have this law in some states and you are 100% correct. It's a back door way of declaring a fetus a person and quickly becomes a weapon in the arsenal of the forced pregnancy crowd.

Demirep said...


My two cents. ;)

Anonymous said...

a minor nit - if you want to asciify the "not equal" operator, the usual net.convention is to use "!=" - the operator defined in the C programming language some 25 years ago and since wandered into a large number of other programming languages as well.

Or dig out proper html for a real not equal operator.

The Pedgehog said...

You knew what I meant though, right? So it hardly matters. I don't know very much about the internet, and I hate that "!=" thing.

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight: If a woman is pregnant and wants to keep her baby, but somebody doesn't want her to have the baby, and they forcibly cause a mis-carriage under the guise of attacking the mother, the perpetrator should not be punished for killing the child she DID want.
So the perpetrator would be charged with assault (only if the mother survived), but to hell with taking away the mother's right to have her child that she wanted.

So Reproductive rights is about guarding the right not to reproduce, not about safeguarding one's right to reproduce