In a move that has surprised many across the political spectrum, North Carolina House Republicans led by Rep. Keith Kidwell have proposed a bill banning abortion at conception — the so-called Human Life Protection Act of 2023. This comes at a time when North Carolina serves as one of the last states to provide abortion access in the Southeast. However, Republicans’ stances on abortion are antithetical to the philosophies they claim to ascribe to.
Abortion bans often come with a variety of what-ifs and what-abouts that pick them apart. The more restrictive the ban, the more pressing the questions become. Bans at conception come to the critical point that develops the central question in any abortion debate: is the right to bodily autonomy more important than a fetus’s right to life?
As is evident by the common name for Republican positions, pro-life, their philosophies rely heavily on Lockean philosophy. That is, every human being has a right to life, an unalienable right granted by their creator, or in Locke’s argument, the Christian God. This is found in the Declaration of Independence and in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.
However, Locke never claims that the right to life is unequivocal. It is the right to property that establishes value for all things, including human life. So it would make sense that the right to bodily autonomy automatically supersedes all other rights. To explain, I’ll provide a thought experiment.
If an intruder comes into your home, does their right to life supersede your right to property? The Republican response is an emphatic no, a stance showcased primarily by their strong views on gun rights and stand-your-ground laws. Why does an individual have the right to end someone else’s life if they merely enter their house?
The basis of Locke’s theories on unalienable rights is centrally found in a person’s right to solely own the contents of their body. This is why we are paid for the work we do, why parents have dominion over their children and why slavery is inhumane — it should be mentioned that one of Locke’s greatest moral failings was his faulty defense of slavery.
Just as people have the right to defend their property, pregnant individuals should have the right to maintain control over their bodily autonomy. In essence, the right to maintain control over one’s body supersedes a person’s right to life, especially if that person’s life is entirely dependent on the bodily products of another.
Such a position on Lockean theory suggests a point at which the life of a fetus could feasibly be preserved while maintaining the mother’s bodily autonomy, which is why partial abortion bans are not as unequivocally taboo as outright bans.
Kidwell is pushing his party to the fringe. Realistically, multiple polls show there is very little support for such a broadly applied ban. Abortion bans, as much as I may disagree with them, can feasibly be passed with majority support up to a certain point. It is exactly why Roe v. Wade was so broadly supported by the American public — it found a healthy middle ground.
Roe v. Wade made such a distinction between the right of the people to their autonomy and the right of a fetus to its life: viability. Planned Parenthood v. Casey refined the Roe ruling on viability to more accurately fit modern medical standards rather than an arbitrary trimester cutoff.
Americans generally agree that abortion should be legal in some cases. Pew Research suggests that 61% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. More conservative estimates from Breitbart and Fox News say that 54% of Americans support a ban at 15 weeks; for reference, most abortions occur before this period to begin with.
In the grand scheme of statistical legitimacy, I’m inclined to believe Pew Research for a myriad of reasons, including the consistency of their reporting in comparison to Fox’s. But the Fox poll does provide some insight as to where Americans truly lie on the debate: somewhere in the middle.
Fox’s estimation of Americans who think abortions should be legal most of the time or illegal most of the time is 60%. With how similar and close those two options are to each other, it seems many Americans are open to the idea of limited restrictions on abortion but are skeptical of absolutist legislation. Kidwell and his colleagues are putting the Republicans in a precarious position.
Bolstered by the anti-intellectual extremes of their party, Republicans are enabling their truly radical members to be extreme on abortion. Under the guise of the Lockean theory on human rights that is foundational to the United States, they’ve incorrectly argued that such a ban at conception is legitimate and reasonable. In reality, their position is nothing short of idiotic, unscientific and uninformed zealotry disguised as enlightened intellectualism.
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