Are accidental pregnancies free?

Taking issue with Thomson’s notorious violinist thought-experiment, Douthat suggests so:

[M]ost women considering an abortion were not kidnapped and impregnated against their will. They freely chose the act that brought the fetus into being, and analogizing their situation to a kidnap victim implies a peculiar, almost infantilizing attitude toward female moral agency.

The point in drawing an analogy here is that when kidnapped and hooked up to the dying violinist, the woman is subjected to a situation she does not desire and she did not endorse. So she didn’t freely choose it. And Thomson thinks this is comparable to many pregnancies precisely because a woman may take all the precautions in the world and still end up with a life growing inside her. So there’s a definite sense in which an event does transpire against her will. Condoms may fail even if she always makes sure her man uses one. And, indeed, she may be raped by a man not wearing protection.

But Douthat seems to think that in freely choosing the act that brought the fetus into being, you freely choose to bring the fetus into being. This is, in one sense, true. But it’s a trivial sense. The woman obviously knows that in engaging in the act, a pregnancy may result. But if this is sufficient for us to say that she thereby also freely chooses the pregnancy, where does this principle take us? As Thomson also notes, this sort of logic could be used to make the repulsive case that in not having a hysterectomy a woman knows that there’s a chance she could be raped and get pregnant. Thus, in not having one, she ‘freely chooses’ any rape from a pregnancy that follows? After all, she freely chose to not have the hysterectomy, which paved the way for her being impregnated through rape. So none of it was against her will.

Douthat would have it that ‘consensual sex leading to a pregnancy against the woman’s will’ is a contradiction. By definition, the fact that act A is consensual and it leads to event B means that B is a consensual consequence. That doesn’t look like a fruitful thought. It might even be a fallacy.


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