Monday, 30 January 2012

Abortion, veganism and the death penalty: Why Santorum’s ‘all life is sacred’ stance is contradictory

Recently, Rick Santorum said in an interview with Piers Morganthat if his daughter were raped, he would forbid her from having an abortion. His fervent anti-choice stance deems any abortion an act of murder, no matter how a foetus is conceived, and instead pregnancy must be accepted as a gift from God to be cherished. There are many anti-choicers who would deem abortion excusable on the grounds of rape and incest, but one thing I will say for Santorum – he is at least consistent.
Or is he? In the same interview, Santorum was confronted with the contradiction in his beliefs that all life is sacred (therefore abortion is murder), but the state can choose to kill someone who has committed a crime. He answered, "I would say when there is certainty – and there are occasions when there is certainty – that's the case when capital punishment can be used." Life is sacred…unless you’ve definitely committed a crime, in which case, an eye for an eye.
It seems that rather than following an absolute belief – the sanctity of life – Santorum is simply offering up Republican™ views in order to appeal to voters, or because he doesn’t believe in the sanctity of life and hates women instead, which I tend to believe.
I am pro-choice, and oppose the death penalty, and am vegan. I have been accused of being as dogmatic in my views as Santorum – I am a Feminist™ therefore pro-choice, a Bleeding Heart Liberal™ therefore vegan – without considering that a vegan lifestyle which involves the avoidance of killing and suffering directly contradicts my acceptance of abortion. How can I wax indignant about people killing animals and supporting capital punishment when I would be quite happy to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy?
The answer is that I do not believe, as Santorum purports to, that all life is sacred. This is not the view underpinning my vegan lifestyle, or opposition to capital punishment. What underpins the former is the belief that killing for nothing other than greed or pleasure is morally wrong; what underpins the latter that killing in a system that defines murder as legally and morally wrong is contradictory, barbaric and shows a level of violence out of step with the values of our society.
So, can I apply these statements to abortion, and come out of it unscathed? People do not have abortions in order to feel pleasure or out of greed, in the way they kill animals in order to tantalise their tastebuds, and for no other reason. In fact, people have very good reasons for having abortions, such as mental health, financial constraints, emotional un-readiness for parenthood, health issues, or the desire to have bodily autonomy.
We punish those who murder because they cause a huge amount of suffering. A murder victim leaves behind distraught family and friends, because the person they killed has, in their life, established bonds and connections, engendered emotions, created art, made people laugh or simply improved someone else’s life just by existing. The same is true for victims of capital punishment.
An unwanted foetus, by contrast, has not made the same impact on others’ lives. It is not, in the fullest sense of the word, alive, or conscious. We ensure this by restricting abortions beyond the 24-week mark, where the line becomes very blurred. Ultimately, the life and well-being (bodily or emotional) of the fully-conscious and developed person whose body is being transformed to house a collection of cells which may, one day, become a baby, is the priority.
This is not to shy away from the facts. Although in the early stages of pregnancy a foetus is, as I have said, not truly a person with rights and hopes and dreams, an abortion cuts off a potential life, and many argue that the only way to look at this scenario is, if not murder, then killing. That’s fine. Because killing the foetus growing in my uterus, with no suffering on its part and minimal on mine (because abortion is proven to be much safer than childbirth), is preferable to being forced to give birth to a baby I don’t want (if you want proof of that, then here it is).
Therefore, relying on the maxim ‘all life is sacred’ provides a dangerous license to actually inflict suffering on people. Instead, why not try the maxim, ‘I’ll try to avoid killing and suffering when it is not necessary.’ This is, if anything, the belief underpinning my world view. Abortion is necessary, for a vast number of reasons. A plate of steak, for many of us, is not; nor is state-sanctioned murder. Nor is a country rules by Rick Santorum, for that matter.