Trust women

This is my contribution to Blog for Choice Day.

Either women are autonomous, moral adults, or they are children. By ‘autonomous moral adult’, I mean someone who is capable of making her own decisions, of weighing up the issues, considering what matters to her, thinking about possible outcomes, thinking about what particular actions say about her character, and then, deciding what to do, and living with the consequences. She may seek advice from other people, she may look for factual information, she may discuss the matter very, very carefully with her partner, she may keep her reflections entirely to herself. But ultimately, she makes the decision. And if we do not allow women to make moral decisions for themselves, if we do not trust women, then we relegate them / ourselves to being subjects. And that is intolerable.

John Stuart Mill talked about why people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves, in his great text, On Liberty. In Chapter IV, “Of the Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual”, he gives three reasons for not interfering with the choices that individuals make: it gives governments too much power; the individual her or himself is the person best placed to make judgements about their own lives; to interfere is to refuse to allow the person to take responsibility for themselves, as adults must.

If society lets any considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences. Armed not only with all the powers of education, but with the ascendancy which the authority of a received opinion always exercises over the minds who are least fitted to judge for themselves; and aided by the natural penalties which cannot be prevented from falling on those who incur the distaste or the contempt of those who know them; let not society pretend that it needs, besides all this, the power to issue commands and enforce obedience in the personal concerns of individuals, in which, on all principles of justice and policy, the decision ought to rest with those who are to abide the consequences.

As I have argued before, no matter which way people twist and turn, the abortion decision is a moral decision. It can turn on all sorts of issues: some people argue that women have rights to their own bodies; others, including me, argue that a fetus is not a person and so is not a subject of moral concern (other than with respect to questions of pain and suffering); others argue that if abortion is not legal, then all sorts of horrors will result. Whatever the particular reasons that individuals rely on most, it’s clear that no matter what, this is a moral decision. As such, it is one that we must trust women to take.

And there is plenty of evidence that women take the abortion decision very seriously indeed. It’s not a matter of mere choice, a simple taste, like a preference for strawberry icecream rather than chocolate. When Carol Gilligan first explored the way that women approach issues of justice and morality, she used the abortion decision as a test case. Whether or not you think that the ethic of care that she identifies is descriptively valid, it is nevertheless clear that a decision about abortion is a serious one for women. Even though women, as adults, don’t need to justify that trust (we don’t require adults to justify the trust we place in them to make decisions for themselves at all), it is clear that women do treat abortion with the weight it deserves. To be sure, there may be some people who treat abortion casually, but I suspect they are very much in the minority. And even so, just because some women might treat abortion casually, that doesn’t mean that all women should be disbarred from making decisions for themselves.

When it comes to abortion, simply, we must trust women to make that decision themselves. That means we must be pro-choice. That may well mean that we still would not choose abortion for ourselves. But it does mean that we must not stand in the way of women when they make that decision for themselves.


You may also be interested in an earlier post I wrote that covers some of the same ground: Why feminists must be pro-choice.


More Blog for Choice Day posts that have come up in my feed reader:

Today is Blog for Choice Day by PhDork at The Pursuit of Harpyness
Blog for Choice Day News: Shooting Man in Head is Not News by ProfBigK at Feminist Philosophers
Blogging for Choice: On Trusting (and Not Trusting) Women by Jill, and Blog for Choice 2010 by Frau Sally Benz, both at Feministe
Reality Check by Mór Rígan at Morrigan Reborn
Blog for Choice 2010: Trust Women by Anji at Shut Up, Sit Down
Why I am Pro Choice: Blog for Choice Day by Undomestic Goddess at The Undomestic Goddess
Do you trust women? by bitchphd at Bitch Ph.D.
Trust Women by Spilt Milk at Spilt Milk
Blogging for Choice: Trusting Women by tigtog at Hoyden about Town
Do you REALLY trust women? by amandaw at FWD / Forward


8 responses to “Trust women

  1. Pingback: Blog For Choice 2010 – Trust Women « Shut Up, Sit Down

  2. Bravo, Deborah. I was also moved by the smart, succinct conclusion to the NY Times essay by the retired OB/GYN, which you linked to:

    It is important to remember that Roe v. Wade did not mean that abortions could be performed. They have always been done, dating from ancient Greek days.

    What Roe said was that ending a pregnancy could be carried out by medical personnel, in a medically accepted setting, thus conferring on women, finally, the full rights of first-class citizens — and freeing their doctors to treat them as such.

  3. As usual a wonderful blog. The events of last year have made me more pro-choice than ever..

  4. You’ve obviously thought about this very carefully: on what basis do you say a foetus is not a person ?
    Words are so important here. Surely abortion ends human life.
    To argue that this issue is about womens’ rights to their bodies is fair enough but only if you take your view that the foetus is not a human being with its own rights independent of its mother’s. I’m sure none of this will be new to you and your readers but would be interested in your response.

  5. I’ve written about it before: Speaking up for abortion. It’s a fairly standard position to take, ‘though not the only one, in the philosophical discussion of the ethics of abortion.

  6. Pingback: The Down Under Feminists Carnival is here! « The Radical Radish