Philosophy please!
January 26, 2008 11:17 PM   Subscribe

Please help me find writings about the relationship between men's and women's reproductive rights.

This recent post reminded me that I'd been meaning to do some reading on the relationship between the reproductive rights of women, specifically the right for a woman to control her body and thus to choose to abort or not abort a fetus, and the rights of men and women to choose whether to reproduce and their responsibilities to their offspring. I accept the primacy of the rights of women to control their own bodies, but I don't feel that the argument that I follow to reach that conclusion is very strong and edge cases (such as the one in the FPP) tend to weaken my argument, so I'd like to do some reading.

Can you suggest books, articles, etc. that deal with this subject? I'm particularly interested in feminist or ethical perspectives; I'm not interested in religious perspectives.
posted by ssg to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Well ... back in the day there were two primary arguments regarding the constitutional right to abortion. One was privacy/bodily integrity, and the other was equal protection/ nondiscrimination. The idea as (I recall) was that without control over childbearing, women could not be equal. If you want to find out about this, you'll want to look at early 1970s law review articles. I think there's an article or amicus brief written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg from when she was with the ACLU which discusses the equality theory.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:25 PM on January 26, 2008

Here's an article that discusses RBG's thinking.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:32 PM on January 26, 2008

A key point I discussed when teaching my women's studies class about abortion law was the concept that the fetus cannot legally be considered a person, with the attending legal rights. (I am operating within a Canadian context here, but the philosophy behind the position can be extrapolated to other societies.)

This page, from the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, explains it well: "In Canada, women have guaranteed rights and equality under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Persons do not gain legal status and rights in our society until they have completely exited from the birth canal, alive (as per the Criminal Code). Also, the Supreme Court has ruled that a woman and her fetus are considered "physically one” person under the law (Dobson vs. Dobson). If we give any legal rights to a fetus, we must automatically remove some rights from women, because it’s impossible for two beings occupying the same body to enjoy full rights. If we try to 'balance' rights, it means the rights of one or both parties must be compromised, resulting in a loss of rights. Legally speaking, it would be very difficult to justify compromising women’s established rights in favour of the theoretical rights of fetuses."

The history of abortion and abortion law is fascinating. It has been regarded in different ways throughout time. Sometimes it was regarded as a necessity; sometimes as a sin. Many of my students were flabbergasted to learn that at some points in history, the Catholic Church considered abortion a venial rather than mortal sin. At some points, the moment a fetus was considered a person was NOT conception, but rather when it "quickened," i.e., when the mother could feel it moving inside her. Furthermore, it's surprising to many people to think of abortion as something that's always existed, rather than a modern invention.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:48 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

WRT parenting and parenting obligations, I think the custody battles (mostly in California and NY) between/among same-sex couples and sperm donors are really interesting. I like these cases because sometimes there's one parent, sometimes three contenders, different genders. So for me anyway it kind of strips away my preconceptions and lets me take a look at parenting and parenting obligations in a new light. See here, here, here. The NYT Magazine has done some pieces -- here, here, here.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:08 AM on January 27, 2008

Judith Jarvis Thomson gave one of the more famous arguments in support of a woman's right to abortion. I think her famous article can be seen in its entirety here. A lot has been written both in support of and objecting to her arguments. You can find out more about that just by googling her.

You also can get a lot of information by checking out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entry called Feminist Perspectives on Reproduction and the Family.
posted by Ms. Saint at 6:18 AM on January 27, 2008

AskPhilosophers is a good resource for these types of questions.
posted by puffin at 7:33 AM on January 27, 2008

Response by poster: I should probably clarify my question a bit: I'm asking more about the relationship between the rights and responsibilities of reproduction and parenthood (for both the genetic mother and the genetic father) and the rights and responsibilities of the woman who carries the fetus (who is generally, but not necessarily, the same person as the genetic mother). I'm taking as a given that abortion is morally and legally allowable. The arguments I am looking for are those that show why the rights of the woman carrying the fetus are primary to the rights of the genetic parents.

For example, supposing a woman agrees to carry a fertilized egg from another woman. Does that woman have a right to abort the fetus? I'd argue that she does, but I'm not sure I'd do it very well, so I'd like to read more. Do the genetic parents have any rights or responsibilities with respect to the fetus or do their responsibilities only start at birth?
posted by ssg at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2008

Tha's a really interesting questions and I'm guessing that the contracts for surrogacy cover it in exquisite detail so I'd suggest tracking one of those down. My guess is that if the surrogate chose to end a pregnancy for medical or personal reasons it would become a civil matter, breach of contract etc. Whether or not the biological parents pursued it would be another matter.
posted by fshgrl at 10:45 AM on January 27, 2008

Tha's a really interesting questions and I'm guessing that the contracts for surrogacy cover it in exquisite detail so I'd suggest tracking one of those down.
Someone who's actually a lawyer could speak to this better than I can, but I'm pretty sure that in U.S. law, there are actually some things that you can't do in a legally-binding contract. You can't sell yourself into slavery, for instance. The right to not be a slave trumps the right to make whatever contract you want, so if you sign a contract making yourself a slave and then change your mind, the contract isn't binding. I believe that, for the same reason, your employer can't force you to honor a labor contract. You can be sued for civil damages if you refuse to fulfill your employment contract, but you can't actually be forced to do the work. Being forced to work is tantamount to slavery, and it's only allowed in the U.S. under very limited circumstances. (The draft is the big one. I think even prison labor is officially voluntary.) I'm almost positive that the same would be true of a surrogacy contract. The right to bodily integrity is so basic that there is no contract that could supersede it. If you're a surrogate and you decide to abort, you could be sued, but you can't be prevented from aborting, because that would interfere with your right to control your own body.

That's not helpful to the OP, though, because I have no suggestions for things to read about this.
posted by craichead at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2008

so I'd like to read more

There are contracts with surrogates, with same-sex parents, with sperm donors, but what's interesting is when those contracts break down. In the US, of course, we look to the courts to sort it out. The most interesting battles are over parental custody rights and responsibilities (not so much the abortion part).

You could read the briefs and court opinions filed in cases in which a sperm donor and the birth parents are battling, in which the surrogate and the egg/sperm donors are battling, etc. If there's a second-parent adoption there can be three putative parents. Interesting stuff.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:57 PM on January 27, 2008

I think this book excerpt discusses the specific issue you're interested in (the right of the surrogate mother to abort). It's from the book Whose Body Is It Anyway?: Justice and the Integrity of the Person by Cecile Fabre. This excerpt contains a discussion of the legal rights of a surrogate mother to abort or not abort a fetus, or to choose to keep the child once it is born.

The book itself looks quite interesting; its theoretical framework is a "rights-based theory of justice." The author discusses the rights people have over their own and other people's bodies, in the contexts of surrogacy, prostitution, and organ donation.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:35 PM on January 27, 2008

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