On Unchosen Responsibility
[Today’s guest post by Perri is part of our paid blogging program.]
A common argument made by pro-choice advocates is that women who did not choose to get pregnant or to have unprotected sex should not have to carry a child to term because they did not choose to take on the responsibility of motherhood. It’s just not fair! But this idea is problematic because it implies that parenthood is a responsibility only when it is chosen. In reality, the fetus and the mother have an inextricable bond which is formed at conception and which exists independently of the mother’s actions or intentions.
At the moment of conception, the zygote comes into existence as a human creature living in and living from their mother’s body. Throughout development, a fetus is 100% dependent on their mother for their survival and health. Everything the mother does affects the fetus. Since the fetus is dependent on the mother to survive in this unique and inimitable way, it is her responsibility to protect the fetus—at least until birth, at which point she can transfer that responsibility to another individual through adoption. But does this responsibility still hold when the mother did not invite the fetus into her care?
Yes. Responsibility exists independently of the actions one has taken. In many situations, it can be created by circumstance. For example, let’s say your neighbor is a dog owner. You are spending time at your neighbor’s house one day and he says “I’ll be right back. I’m going to pick up some snacks for us.” You never agreed to dog sit or to take on any responsibility for the dog. While your neighbor is gone, you step outside and notice that the dog has gotten its head trapped between two slats of a fence. Don’t you have a moral obligation to help the dog? You are the only person who can help it survive. You never volunteered to be responsible for this dog’s life, yet here we are. If you do not rise to the occasion and take responsibility to help the dog, you are acting immorally. You can’t just shrug it off and say “that’s not my responsibility.”
Thus, a woman who used a contraceptive that failed and even a woman who was raped still has responsibility to keep her child safe (there are additional issues to consider in the case of rape and many cogent arguments to be made in favor of right to abortion for rape survivors, but responsibility is not one of them). This woman is now in a situation in which another human being relies on her for survival. It doesn’t matter whether she chose to be in that situation or not. Here we are. She can make one choice that leads to the child’s death, or make another that allows it to continue life. She must rise to the occasion and accept the responsibility that she now has to this child.
Responsibility is not necessarily a burden that one can choose to take on. Often, life circumstances hoist responsibility upon an individual. Pregnancy is one of the these circumstances, creating a situation in which a woman is responsible to protect the life growing inside her.
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