Abortion and the animal rights movement

I’m writing this post in honour of one of President Obama’s first acts as president: today he will or has already overturned the “global gag rule” that banned federal funds from being used in foreign family planning organisations that either offer abortions or provide information or counselling about abortion.

It is known as the “global gag rule” because it denies US taxpayer dollars to clinics that even mention abortion to women with unplanned pregnancies.

The rule was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, overturned by Bill Clinton in 1993, and reinstated by Bush.

The gag rule was just another one of those candies, a “faith-based initiative”, that the Bush regime crafted to reward and invigorate a tightly organised mass of people that votes based on religious sentiment, particularly on a strong opposition to abortion, for their support that was instrumental in getting him elected twice, to the utter astonishment of the rest of the world.

Tightly organised as they are around the issue of abortion, I don’t think they realise that their movement was a contributing factor to the revival of the anti-vivisection and animal rights movements. Six influences on the rise of the animal rights movement were identified by Harlan B. Miller in Ethics and Animals (1983), described by Richard Ryder as:

– the momentum of liberation: anti-colonialism, anti-racismt logical step was anti-speciesism
– scientific evidence that nonhumans share intellectual and perceptual faculties in common with humankind
– the decline in dualistic views separating mind from body: acknowledging that nervous systems in humans and animals are the basis for mental life and consciousness; this factor also relates to a diminished influence of conventional Western or monotheistic religion in public philosophy and politics
– the development of behavioural sciences (sociobiology and ethology) that attempt to draw conclusions about human behaviour from observations of other animals (i.e. that homo sapiens is just another species, albeit a tool-making and book-writing one)
-the rise of environmental and ecological movements
– the ethical debate over abortion, particularly when it focuses on the “person” concept in ethics and law.

Of these six influences on the animal rights debate, I find the abortion one to be the least significant, practically speaking, though it may have lent some moral crusade sentiment to activists.

I work and live with many different species of animals, and I can’t really say whether officially defining them as persons would change much about the way I treat them – which is always with respect and care for their bodies and psyches (at least the ones I get to meet up close); most of the time with love and strong attachment; sometimes with exasperation. Too often, however, I treat them with disregard – I’m not proud of that, but I do have to be honest: I still eat meat (though I try not to), wear leather gloves and use a multitude of other animal-based products that I’m probably not even aware of half the time. And yet if I do wish to consider animals (which ones?) as “persons”, it would only be to improve their overall situation in our society. It seems quite obvious that depending on the species and the context, they share our capacity for suffering, self-awareness, anticipation, fear, pleasure and many other emotions that we think makes us special as humans.

In the same way, I have no quarrel with considering the zygote/embryo/fetus to be human. I don’t see what else they could be, given the DNA involved. But that doesn’t stop me from supporting abortion rights, and from thinking that Canada has taken a wise stance with regard to abortion, that of leaving it unlegislated. To me, this means that when problems of accessing safe abortions are taken care of, it’s a matter that concerns only the woman who inhabits the body where a pregnancy is developing. In general, human zygotes/embryos/fetuses are protected by protecting the health and safety of women, so there is no systematic discrimination against these fetuses, which is one of the more specious arguments of the anti-abortion movement.

Animals on the other hand, face a systematic lack of protection of their bodies and interests simply because they are animals; different species are afforded different kinds of protection according to their status as property or objects of affection. Even though I don’t always completely agree with the focus and direction of animals rights, I am indebted to many animal rights scholars and specialists for helping me understand the status of animals in society, and how we think about them when we do what we do to them in research and in the food industry.

As for the anti-abortion movement, it does not appear to me to have the same universal moral grounding and concern for life that the animal rights/environmentalist movement has. The sole focus is human life in the womb, from the time of conception (and possibly even before that). The big idea is: human life inside the womb has absolute rights, regardless of circumstances. That’s going one further than God, imho. I continue to marvel at the way anti-abortion activists in recent times have aligned themselves with regimes that have been enthusiastic about wars, pre-emptive strikes, environmental despoilment, torture of prisoners and over-zealous military protectionism. A person really has to wonder where they got the nerve to adopt the pro-life moniker.

I think I’ll stick to following what the animal rights’ scholars and environmentalists have to say in the coming years. I find their focus to be a lot less self-serving and chauvinistic than those who want humans to overrun the earth and drag us all into a culture of death by Armageddon.

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11 Comments on “Abortion and the animal rights movement”

  1. deBeauxOs Says:

    brebis noire said: “… the way anti-abortion activists in recent times have aligned themselves with regimes that have been enthusiastic about wars, pre-emptive strikes, environmental despoilment, torture of prisoners and over-zealous military protectionism. A person really has to wonder where they got the nerve to adopt the pro-life moniker.”

    Indeed. Especially since most of them, such as Blob Blogging Wingnut, are ready to hand over absolute and fundamental religious power to male figureheads, especially as it concerns the well-being and survival of infants and children.

  2. Beijing York Says:

    It’s sole focus is human life in the womb, from the time of conception (and possibly even before that).

    Yup, they have no compassion for humankind and are often filled with hatred for living people, especially gays, immigrants, non-Christians, environmentalists, etc. It’s about controlling and punishing women and imposing a world view where women’s primary function is to carry the fruit of her husband’s loins.

  3. brebisnoire Says:

    thanks Beijing – and thanks for inadvertently pointing out that typo. πŸ™‚ Fixed.

    I don’t find it a coincidence that anti-abortionists don’t speak out against war, and in fact all too often they explicitly or implicitly support (our) wars, as long as they take place somewhere else.

  4. mouthyorange Says:

    I love this post and I love the contrast you draw between the anti-abortion movement and the animal rights / environmentalist movement.

    When I was 12 in 1969 I paid a membership to a US-based anti-vivisection group which sent me hard-hitting informative mail β€” with photos β€” for the next couple of years. By the time I was 14, I knew more about what gets done to animals in the name of western medicine and for the benefit of the chemical industry and all its cosmetics and household cleaning products and gawd knows what else, than I find most of the people around me are aware of even today. I can no longer expose myself to the graphic details of such information because I frequently have intrusive images of animals being tortured and cannot cope with the knowledge that such things continue to go on all these supposedly enlightened years later. Even when laws here control lab conditions to some extent, based on things I’ve read and heard I suspect that the chemical industry simply sets up labs in third world countries where they can do things to animals such as autonomous dogs roaming the streets that they could not get away with here. Things are not okay. Something about major transnational pharmaceutical companies’ labs in Costa Rica or something trying out outrageously high doses of controversial chemotherapy drugs on dogs rounded up from the streets, no relief for the dogs’ agony β€” wish I could find this reference easily but I won’t have time for another few weeks to do that kind of research because I’m writing to a deadline on a book about holistic healthcare for pets, as it happens!

    Anyway, by the time I was 15 in 1972 and I was first exposed to the word feminist, I knew without any doubt that I was one and could not be anything else. To care deeply about animals’ experience, about the well-being of the environment we all depend upon for our lives and to support of a woman’s singular authority over what does or does not happen inside her own body β€” these thoughts and feelings all come from the same place in my heart. So the intellectual connections you draw here β€” so fresh, fantastic.

  5. Woody Pfister Says:

    If embryoes and fetuses are human, than they must have human right. Pro-Lifers are somply representing these humans who are incapable of asserting their rights.

    Surely, an individual human’s right to life outweighs every other right (save their own right to life) of the host human.

    Maybe, the victory of recognizing human rights in the womb will owe as much to the victory of the animal right movement, as the other way around.

  6. mouthyorange Says:

    I want to add that I regret posting quite as much detail as I did about the chemotherapy thing. It’s just that I have known so many more details than that about so much for so long that to me, what I posted was hardly graphic β€” yet I realize that to others it may well be very graphic, and I am sensitive enough to know better. So my apologies for not being perhaps a little more discreet.

  7. brebis noire Says:

    Woody, if the so-called pro-life movement was as consistent in their denunciation of wars, genocides, capital punishment and other abuses of human rights around the world, then they might have a leg to stand on. Curiously though, they have chosen to focus on the single issue of human life in the womb. Where, in the vast majority of cases, it is very well protected indeed – except in the notable case of abusive husbands/partners and…wars. genocides and famine.

    The so-called pro-life movement is thus a blinkered movement with a notable bias against the autonomy of individual women and non-procreative sexuality.

    The antivivisection and animal rights movement however, has historical and current ties with movements for peace, environmental concern and workers’ rights.

    Even God does not seem to think that every single fertilised egg should make it to birth, with a rough figure of 1/4 to 1/3 of conceptions not resulting in a viable pregnancy. The so-called pro-life movement tries to be more righteous than God, and that’s never a good idea.

  8. brebis noire Says:

    Don’t worry about it mouthyorange – on the contrary, I really appreciate it because I’ve done a lot of research and writing on the history of antivivisectionism, and what you say is totally unsurprising to me. But it’s important to say it because often it’s protocol-based abuse that is often modeled on concentration camp experiments on humans. I’d like to think that the worst of it is over, but as you say, much of it (like cheap labour) has simply moved offshore, to places where regulations don’t exist.

    Every time I read a toxicology statement on a pharmaceutical product and I come across the key words “phase I studies”, “murine model”, and lethal dose (LD50), I’m jolted into the world of vivisection, because I know pretty much exactly what’s involved in coming up with the statistics and “safety” margins. 😦

  9. mouthyorange Says:

    Thanks, brebis noire, for backing up my reference and for providing the terms to look for on labels that reveal that a product has been tested in these kinds of ways.

  10. Marion Delgado Says:

    This is very good.

    I am tired, sick and tired, of the bullshit that calls itself rationalism now. the new atheists, the same old crowd around pinker and dawkins and dennett (now including harris and hitchens) and so on. Still waging academic battles that are actually pretty partisan and not based on overwhelming success.

    Endless !@$## doctrinal decisions handed down from on high. Concern over GMOs? anti-scientific. Over nuclear power? anti-scientific. Over misuse of lab animals? Anti-scientific. Because self-proclaimed popes say it is, that’s why.

    The idea that imperialism and outright mass-killing and the overthrow of democratic and secular governments cause more problems in the third world than “Islam?” Also unscientific. But the doctrine that God was a realtor 2500 years ago is top-notch, Grade A science. As is the notion that an invisible man will use his invisible hand and “magic” to make everything better for everyone as long as no one contaminates our pure markets (which are everything we do) with a hint of regulation.

    Seriously. Who needs the fundies, the New Age movement, or postmodernists when you have this echo chamber, this bubble to inhabit from which you can launch salvos against the majority of the human world and end up shooting yourselves in the foot?

    It makes me more sympathetic to the anti-vaxxers, with whom I’ve been locked in combat for years, for instance. Not only did the pharmas lose all their idiosyncratic credit with the masses a generation or 2 ago, but the response the (misguidedly) concerned parents are getting is not easy to distinguish from what they get when they ask if it’s really a good thing to patent people’s DNA, patent animals, patent other people’s medicial remedies, and wipe out varieties of plants with GMOS that you then turn around and soak your victims for money over, etc.

    At some point, I’ll be unable to tell people when the self-proclaimed priests of “Science” are just telling the truth and when they’re just being opinionated assholes indulging in groupthink.

  11. AtoriaPar Says:

    Great – really great matter. I will blog about it as well.


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