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August 09, 2005

First Responses to "rights"

Well, the previous post has generated a little more interest than most usually do, so I've decided that, rather than comments, I would respond with another post (and perhaps further posts in the future). I will post part or the entirety of a response and comment a little about each.

I got a couple of very interesting responses. The first was from Elliot.
I think it's important that we're clear on the terminology here. There seem to be two different types of rights: Legal rights, and moral rights.

Legal rights are quite simply entitlements as defined -- and, importantly, as limited -- by law. Free speech is a good example, because many think of it as the most fundamental right in America. You have the right to free speech because the constitution, federal, state and local laws all affirm that the government will protect and ensure your right to say what you like. At the same time, you can't shout fire in a crowded movie theater, and you can't directly threaten bodily harm to someone. These are legal limitations on a legal right.
This is a very good point. Obviously, you can't do something that would put others at risk like shout bomb on an airplane, but this goes right back to my point about abortion. If we gave an unborn child the status of life, this would again hold; life is a moral right and trumps the legal rights. Also, Elliot makes a good point about some legal rights.
This is where you can debate things like WHETHER abortion should be legal, or WHETHER gay marriage should be allowed. But the law doesn't deal with "should," it deals with "can" and "cannot."
This is very much true. The government can allow these by law. However, I will note that I was mostly aiming this at those who held these views, not necessarily about the legal institution of abortion or gay unions. NARAL and other pro-abortion groups act as though abortion was a moral right, and homosexuals act similarly towards legalizing gay marriage. But these do hold as legal rights, and rely heavily on the viewpoints of the rest of the nation (as well as moral rights). While the level of support in the nation is arguable in either case, it is certain that neither holds overwhelming backing. Still, as usual, Elliot and I can agree on at least one point.
I agree with you, CR, that the word "right" is used far too flippantly these days...

The other response I got was a challenge to my view on abortion from Paul.
Hey - first of all, I enjoy your blog.

I wanted to respond to your post on "rights" with a question - it's a hypothetical and not something I agree with. But I want to hear your reaction.

You claim that fetuses should be given the rights of an american citizen. Ok. Let's take that as a given and move on from there:

If they have individual rights, then they must also be held responsible for their actions. And what are their actions? They're attacking the mother, feeding from her, stealing her nutrients, endangering her health and perhaps her life, and they're doing it without her consent (although she is free to consent and continue the pregnancy).

In a Liberal (big L) Democracy, the Government has a responsibility to protect it's citizens from bodily harm. In fact, that's probably the most important thing that a government can do (this is why even the most radical libertarians agree that we need a military)

Therefore, it follows that the government should not only allow abortion - they should provide funding for it! After all, a citizen of the US is under attack, and the only way to stop that attack from incurring bodily harm is to put an end to it.

Again, I don't really agree with this point of view - but I read it somewhere and always try to get conservatives' reactions to it. There are some subtle flaws to the logic, but I'll leave them for you to discover on your own. Don't fall into the trap of making the following argument:

"She chose to have a baby. Therefore, she already consented and the government shouldn't protect her." This argument is flawed. That's like saying that the government can pass a law that says that if I make some sort of mistake (let's say, jaywalking) then they can beat me with a baseball bat for 9 months straight.
First off, let me thank you Paul. I am always honored to find that someone enjoys my writings.

Now, let's get to it. You use the arguement that the mother didn't make a choice. Let's assume that in many cases, the mother has made that choice and was willing to live with the consequences; in that case, she would find no need for protection and this would be a moot point. So, that leaves those mothers who conceive against their wishes. Let's again throw those mothers who choose to carry the child to term with those who chose to have children (in both cases, let's assume that the mother chose to keep the child or give it up for adoption; either way, it is safe to assume that the mother felt either obligated or full will to keep the child alive).

So, that bascially leaves two groups of mothers: rape victims and "accidents". I'm sorry Paul, but there is certainly no such thing as an accident in children, as a potential result of sex is pregnancy. People are fully aware of this, and must take responsibility for their actions. Think of it like someone who gets into an automobile accident because they were speeding. By doing so, the driver put themselves at risk and is, at least in part, responsibile for the "bodily harm" inflicted. It may seem unfair to have nine months of a "baseball bat" beating, but if a woman wants to avoid such "pain", perhaps she should avoid troublemakers.

Rape victims are left. This does leave a large moral dilemma. In this case, the child is, undenaibly, not a choice. While I am strongly against abortion in all cases, this may be one of the hardest issues to deal with. On the one hand, the child holds a right to life. On the other hand, the child may remain a constant reminder of the rape for the mother, possibly hurting the mother and potentially isolating the child. The moral rights of two may both be wronged, so only one question can really remain; because the mother was harmed, is she allowed to harm another to relieve her own pain? I'd say no, but this question, more than any other, will always be classified as a legal right because of the heavy implications on both sides.

Then again, we could always go to the simple fact that children are not intentionally harming their mothers (and even that is a stretch as very few mothers die in childbirth anymore and the most ill mothers generally get is the regular morning sickness), but using your argument Paul, we should then jail the children at birth for assault and battery. Sounds a bit unreasonable, right? So does an essential war on fetuses. Going back to the automobile accident example, a speeder never gets the death penalty because the accidents and the harm inflicted from them are not intentional. The child is not trying to hurt the mother, just serve it's own "selfish" needs to survive.

Whew, my fingers have gotten quite a workout these last couple days (or I've sped up the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome). If I get anymore good responses, I'll try to respond, but for the next couple days, I'll move on to other subjects.