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12.12.07

Pro-Choice, Anti-Meat

At the end of a post otherwise supportive of the right to an abortion, Hugo Schwyzer comments on his conflicted feelings:

I still have many good friends in the pro-life community, and I still feel the deep emotional pull of the arguments they make. My longing for the "seamless garment" approach to life is powerful: it’s at the root of my veganism, after all.


The implication here is that there's something potentially inconsistent between being a vegan and being pro-choice. But I think the two fit together quite comfortably.

The potential conflict only arises for people who are vegans for animal rights reasons. You can go vegan because of concerns about environmental impacts, your own health, or because it's more "natural." But none of those have any direct implications for the abortion question -- abortion isn't bad for the environment (it's debatably good in terms of keeping the population down), the health impacts of getting an abortion are balanced by the health impacts of carrying a child to term, and the concept of "natural" human behavior is so fundamentally confused that I can't properly understand the grounds for calling veganism natural, much less how to apply that standard to abortion.

Animal rights veganism is necessarily sentience-centric. That is, it grants (a higher level of) moral considerability to beings that are "subjects" capable of feeling that things are going better or worse for themselves. Moving in either direction from sentience-centrism -- to pure anthropocentrism, or to biocentrism/ecocentrism -- takes away the grounds for animal rights veganism, because it takes away the grounds for singling out animals (or some subset thereof -- jellyfish are almost certainly not sentient, though few people eat jellyfish) as deserving of protection.

Sentience-centrism can accept most abortions. There is no medical consensus as to exactly when a fetus has developed the necessary biological equipment to become sentient, in part because fetal development is gradual and "sentient" is a fuzzy s Nevertheless, the important developments seem to happen relatively late in the pregnancy.

Whatever rights the fetus may acquire by virtue of its emerging sentience have to be balanced against the interests of the mother, who clearly has a high level of sentience (however "addled, deceived, and confused" one might imagine she is). And it seems clear that the affected interests of a mother seeking an abortion grow more important. That is, someone who is getting an abortion because she just doesn't feel like raising a kid right now is likely to get the abortion very early in her pregnancy, before the fetus is able to care about being destroyed. Women who only decide to get an abortion late in their pregnancies are usually doing so because the pregnancy now threatens a very central interest that they have, such as their own lives or health -- interests which are strong enough to outweigh the level of sentience that the fetus has acquired by that point.

What's more, reducing the financial, institutional, and cultural barriers to abortion would allow women to get abortions earlier in their pregnancies, thus minimizing the likelihood that there would be a serious conflict between the interests of the mother and fetus because the fetus's sentience would be less developed, or absent, at the time of the abortion (as well as eliminating a great deal of harm to the mother). Reducing the financial, institutional, and cultural barriers to carrying and raising a child would minimize the likelihood that women will feel they have an interest that conflicts with other interests they have, or with the fetus's interests (as well as being good for both parties post-birth).

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