Thursday, February 22, 2007

Vegetarian and Pro-Choice?

Is there a conflict between vegetarianism and being pro-choice?

It sounds like a stupid question, but many people--particularly women--are both. They take a hard stand for the right to abort fetuses, and a hard stand against killing animals. If the logic for vegetarianism is that animals deserve to live even though they aren't as smart or developed as humans, then it is hard to tell where they draw the line on abortion.

Choice can't be the difference because neither animals nor fetuses choose to die, and, in fact, we choose to kill them.

The difference could be intent. I know my wife doesn't like the idea of raising animals just to kill them. That is, we purposely birth animals to slaughter and eat them. Abortions are not premeditated acts in this way. Women typically get pregnant "by mistake," never intending to "kill" a fetus, and then abort.

If the logic of intent is to prevail, however, then what about the intent implicit in engaging in sex? Or what about hunting? Shouldn't it be ok with pro-choicers to hunt? After all, we are killing for food and out of necessity in that case. Further, hunted animals were not raised to be hunted, they simply were shot by a hick one day.

Perhaps, however, the question has been phrased wrongly. Rather than asking why vegetarians aren't against abortions, perhaps I should be asking why meat eaters are against abortions. Or better, why those who are against abortions in humans are not against animal abortions?

I think that the point is this: most people draw a stark distinction between humans and animals. But, vegetarians seek to break down this distinction by rightfully saying that animals deserve to live just as much as any human. Then, why would they then also say that fetuses don't deserve to live under certain circumstances? Perhaps they believe that all fetuses--animal or human--should be treated as not alive, but all beings that have been born are alive. That would make some sense, though animals don't exactly choose when their young are aborted.

Under Jewish law, the life of the mother is held in higher regard than the life of the fetus, thus abortion is legal in Israel because a newborn should never enter the world after having taken his mother's life. Life has been extended to livelihood. After all, if having a baby destroys the mother's life by having her lose her job, friends, etc., then that newborn comes at too high a cost.

In America, abortion rights are not based on religion--in fact, the issue is framed in such a way as to make it a secular vs. religious issue. Abortion rights are based on individual rights. You have the right as a woman to choose to terminate your pregnancy. The state cannot force you to have a baby--at least in the first trimester or so of your pregnancy.

So how does vegetarianism jibe with this issue? People choose to be vegetarian, but they don't ask others to not eat meat. In a way, they are pro-food choice. They, however, would like to live in a world where meat was not an option and where animals were not raised for food. You could say this is an extreme position, but why else would you not eat meat on moral grounds? These people could also want to live in a world where abortions were unnecessary and view abortions as a necessary evil. That would be morally consistent.

But they may also view abortions as a right and view meat-eating as an unnecessary privilege. Raising an animal to maturity then murdering it and eating it is different than terminating its life before it is even born. If they are for animal abortions, then that is also morally consistent. An animal abortion is better than an animal murder, even though animals don't have choice in the matter.

The key is that vegetarians view people and animals as one category: animals. Since we can decipher what human animals tell us, we can tell what they choose to do and allow them to terminate pregnancies at certain intervals. However, we cannot decipher animal animals desires with the same precision and can't tell what an animal would choose to do with a pregnancy or whether or not they want their baby. After all, we force them to be pregnant to put a baby into the world that we intend on killing and eating. If the animal were given the choice, I would imagine that the mother would rather abort the fetus than have her young raised for slaughter. She probably would not want to be forced into pregnancy in the first place.

So we see that vegetarianism and pro-choice can be morally inconsistent if one believes that fetuses and animals are on par with one another. However, fetuses (and I speak strictly of first trimester fetuses) are the same whether animal or human to vegetarians. They are in a state where they are not fully formed or viable and can be killed to prevent harm to life (broadly defined) here on Earth. So, pro-choice vegetarians should believe that animals are all the same and fetuses all the same and that mothers of all species should have a choice to terminate pregnancies at certain intervals.

In my estimation, late-term abortions, then, should be in most cases looked down upon by vegetarians because in the late-term of pregnancy the fetus reaches a species-distinct state and viability here on Earth. Only in the case of the mother's life being in danger or in the case of medical problems with the fetus that would render their life overly difficult, should the choice be made to then terminate.

In conclusion, I take the Jewish approach. I keep kosher: thus respecting animal's rights to be treated in a "humane" manner and be killed painlessly, but I do not maintain vegetarianism. I believe that abortion should be legal but limited, basically agreeing with Jewish law and Roe v. Wade. Late-term abortions should be strictly limited (and they are), but abortions in the early term are not wrong and save a lot of grief for the already born.

The purpose of this blog was to see whether vegetarianism and abortion rights contradict. In my estimation, they could if and only if the vegetarian is vegetarian because she believes that all living things are equal regardless of their level of development. However, if she believes that animals simply should not be raised to be slaughtered (indeed, she could also believe that humans should not be raised to be slaughtered) or that abortions are ok in animals and humans, but not murders or that animals should be treated humanely and that since we cannot get at their "choices," we must assume that they don't want to be killed and we cannot abort their young--then the two values are not inconsistent.