Thursday, December 19, 2002

IN RESPONSE TO MY post below, Matt Evans attempts to defend the rape exception to the Republican pro-life position. Evans's argument, however, does not stand up to scrutiny.

Evans starts by arguing from analogy: imagine a putative father who had semen extracted by force and, as a result, fathered a child. Surely no one would insist that this father pay child support for his unwanted child? Ergo, no one would insist that a mother support a pregnancy incurred by force.

There are two problems with this analogy. First, it's unclear that the premise is correct. The hypothetical is so outlandish that there is no precedent directly on point (a problem with some pro-choice analogies, as well, such as Judith Jarvis Thomson's violinist example). But unlike the Thomson case, there are cases parallel to the Evans analogy. Men have been ordered to pay child support even when they have no biological connection to the child. The only cases to the contrary--cases involving custody of frozen in vitro embryos after divorce--justify the refusal to force the ex-husband to be an unwanted father on the precedent of Roe v. Wade. If Roe v. Wade disappears, then so does the rationale for not allowing ex-wives to implant frozen embryos without the fathers' consent, and the state would very likely enforce child support requirements in such a circumstance.

Second, failure to pay child support just isn't the same thing as abortion. A father without the ability to pay ends up without legal obligation. The existing state of child support laws just does not map onto the world where abortion is illegal; an impoverished pregnant woman would still be required to carry her child to term in such a world, even if she would suffer undue financial hardship because of her pregnancy.

Evans's concluding rationalization is "a woman becomes a mother she assumes affirmative duties to protect her child from harm; women who become mothers through force should be exempted from these legal duties." (We'll ignore for purposes of this post Evans's misleading use of "child" to refer to a zygote or embryo.) The fallacy in this statement is obvious: Evans surely is not claiming that a rape victim can carry an unwanted child to term, deliver the baby, and then let it starve without legal consequence. The conclusion therefore has to be modified: "women who become mothers through force should be granted the right to an exerciseable option to either terminate the pregnancy or assuming the affirmative legal duties of parenthood." But once Evans and pro-life politicos make this concession, he acknowledges one of the two underlying principles of the pro-choice position: abortion is not infanticide, and there is an appropriate moral distinction between the two. And the politically acceptable pro-life position is once again forced into an untenable contradiction.