About consent and pregnancy
By Hendrik van der Breggen
Here is a popular pro-choice argument on the abortion issue:
An impregnated female has the right to consent to having sex without consenting to becoming pregnant.
This argument doesn’t seem to make sense. This argument requires believing that it’s meaningful to give consent to the beginning of a causal chain of events and do so without consenting to the causal effects—the risks of which one admits and knows are real and yet goes on to risk.
It’s like saying I have a right to consent to lighting a match in a room full of gasoline without consenting to the room catching on fire. Or I have a right to consent to smoking without consenting to getting cancer. That’s odd, surely.
And this oddness counts against this pro-choice argument.
The point is this: If you consent to action X and X has known consequences (or a known high risk of consequences) then basically you are consenting to accepting responsibility for those (risked) consequences. As in gambling at Las Vegas, when you decide to gamble you risk your money and are responsible for your possible losses, so too in initiating a causal chain of events you risk the outcome of the causal consequences—and are responsible for them even if you hoped they wouldn’t occur. Again: Claiming one isn’t consenting to the consequences is odd—and this oddness counts against the above argument.
One may not want to get pregnant and one may take precautions against getting pregnant, but because no precaution is foolproof—and we know this—by engaging in sexual intercourse one takes the risk of pregnancy for which one is responsible.
If the outcome is a person with the right to life, then killing that person via abortion is not morally permissible.
For further thought:
Jen Westmoreland and Josh Brahm, Is Consent to Sex Consent to Pregnancy?, Equal Rights Institute, June 14, 2022 (54 minute video).
Hendrik van der Breggen, Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments: Critical Thinking About Abortion (Amazon/KDP, 2020).
Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is a retired philosophy professor, formerly at Providence University College, Manitoba, Canada.