Thirty years after Roe V. Wade, no one defends the right to
abortion in fundamental, moral terms, which is why the pro-abortion
rights forces are on the defensive.
Abortion-rights advocates should not cede the terms “pro-life”
and “right to life” to the anti-abortionists. It is a woman’s
right to her life that gives her the right to terminate her
Nor should abortion-rights advocates keep hiding behind the
phrase “a woman’s right to choose.” Does she have the right
to choose murder? That’s what abortion would be, if the fetus
were a person.
The status of the embryo in the first trimester is the basic
issue that cannot be sidestepped. The embryo is clearly pre-human;
only the mystical notions of religious dogma treat this clump
of cells as constituting a person.
We must not confuse potentiality with actuality. An embryo
is a potential human being. It can, granted the woman’s choice,
develop into an infant. But what it actually is during the first
trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that
exist as a part of a woman’s body.
If we consider what it is rather than what it might become,
we must acknowledge that the embryo under three months is something
far more primitive than a frog or a fish. To compare it to an
infant is ludicrous.
If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the
actual and call the embryo an “unborn child,” we could, with
equal logic, call any adult an “undead corpse” and bury it alive
or vivisect it for the instruction of medical students.
That tiny growth, that mass of protoplasm, exists as a part
of a woman’s body. It is not an independently existing, biologically
formed organism, let alone a person. That which lives within
the body of another can claim no right against its host. Rights
belong only to individuals, not to collectives or to parts of
an individual. (“Independent” does not mean self-supporting—a
child who depends on its parents for food, shelter, and clothing,
has rights because it is an actual, separate human being.)
“Rights,” in Ayn Rand’s words, “do not pertain to a potential,
only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until
it is born.” It is only on this basis that we can support the
woman’s political right to do what she chooses in this issue.
No other person—not even her husband—has the right to dictate
what she may do with her own body. That is a fundamental principle
There are many legitimate reasons why a rational woman might
have an abortion—accidental pregnancy, rape, birth defects,
danger to her health. The issue here is the proper role for
government. If a pregnant woman acts wantonly or capriciously,
then she should be condemned morally—but not treated as a murderer.
f someone capriciously puts to death his cat or dog, that can
well be reprehensible, even immoral, but it is not the province
of the state to interfere. The same is true of an abortion which
puts to death a far less-developed growth in a woman’s body.
If anti-abortionists object that an embryo has the genetic equipment
of a human being, remember: so does every cell in the human
Abortions are private affairs and often involve painfully difficult
decisions with life-long consequences. But, tragically, the
lives of the parents are completely ignored by the anti-abortionists.
Yet that is the essential issue. In any conflict it’s the actual,
living persons who count, not the mere potential of the embryo.
Being a parent is a profound responsibility—financial, psychological,
moral—across decades. Raising a child demands time, effort,
thought, and money. It’s a full-time job for the first three
years, consuming thousands of hours after that—as caretaker,
supervisor, educator, and mentor. To a woman who does not want
it, is this liberty and the pursuit of your own happiness.???
Sentencing a woman to sacrifice her life to an embryo is not
upholding the “right-to-life.”
The anti-abortionists’ claim to being “pro-life” is a classic
Big Lie. You cannot be in favor of life and yet demand the sacrifice
of an actual, living individual to a clump of tissue. Anti-abortionists
are not lovers of life—lovers of tissue, maybe. But their stand
marks them as haters of real human beings.
Leonard Peikoff is chairman emeritus of the Ayn email@example.com