ONE of the (many) errors in logic of the “Personhood” bills

14 Aug

This weekend, Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan is known primarily for his extreme fiscal conservativeness, yet there are many other problems to be found in his political agenda. A conservative Catholic, Ryan has spoken consistently against abortion, family planning and Planned Parenthood.

2 years ago, he published on opinion piece for the Heritage Foundation, outlining his support for recent severe anti-choice legislation known as “personhood” bills. http://paulryan.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=207539

At onset, Ryan declares his support of both “free market choice” and the “natural right to life,” opining that the use of the word “choice” has been woefully colonized by those found in the pro-abortion camp. According to Ryan, one chooses to buy or sell a car, wear or return a sweater; human beings cannot be trafficked in a similar way. It is the duty of the federal government to get out of the way when it comes to its citizenry’s choices; conversely, it is the duty of government to intercede when it comes to the protections of human rights.

For Ryan, it is the rights of the most vulnerable–the unborn– that remain the most in peril:

“I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect. I do know that we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.’ The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of ‘choice’ of one human being cannot trump the right to ‘life’ of another. How long can we sustain our commitment to freedom if we continue to deny the very foundation of freedom—life—for the most vulnerable human beings?”

Ryan consistently elides the differences between a not-yet-born nor even partially formed being and an out-of-the-womb fully grown woman. Further, he denies that the latter should be able to make choices (apparently against God and Thomas Jefferson: i.e. against both the church AND the state) that would in any way interfere with the potentiality of the former.  A hierarchical system is thus established, wherein the potentiality of the former must be held at highest regard and protection, and the potentiality and literal present of the latter must be kept in subservience.  

In his use of the term “human beings” Ryan also elides the specificity of sexual difference, rendering the argument about the rights of human beings solely. But any discussion of motherhood and/or abortion cannot ignore the sexual specificity of the equation. Only a female human being will be confronted with the happiness or impossibility that a pregnancy brings to her body and then her life. The being-that-is-not-yet-born is dependent on the female sexed body it is within, therefore it cannot legally, scientifically or even figuratively be considered a “human being” as such. The pregnant woman, however, is considered legally, scientifically and figuratively to be a “human being.”

“The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of ‘choice’ of one human being cannot trump the right to ‘life’ of another.” Because a fetus is not being given the chance to live, its freedom to choose is irrelevant; therefore a woman’s choice cannot decide the freedom of a fetus. Ryan’s logic is illogical: by rendering the concept of “choice” as an abstraction of which a fetus is being denied by being aborted, he then revokes the choices of the pregnant woman and her freedom to live–as she sees fit. In this construction he is attempting to equate the two parties, but because they are inherently unequal he inverts the paradigm:  rendering the fetus to be more deserving of equal protection under the law, which in turn has the effect of rendering the pregnant woman less deserving. The choices and freedoms a female human being has (or does not have) are not abstractions or flights of political fancy: they are not hypothetical. To speak of the fetus as possessor of the same choices and freedoms is to deal in conjecture and the imaginary.

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