Ayn Rand’s Philosophy vs. Abortion Bans: Why a Fetus Doesn’t Have Rights

Fetal rights and abortion meme. A fetus and a doll both look like babies. Pro-choice is pro-life. Embryos don't have rights.

I hope none of my readers operate on this intellectual level when it comes to the issue of abortion and fetal rights.

[Note: I consider the basic ideas used in this essay to be Ayn Rand’s, but the content of the entire essay is mine. Also, a summary follows this essay.]

The author and philosopher of Objectivism, Ayn Rand, was a champion of capitalism and a staunch advocate for the principle of individual rights. Yet, unlike most of today’s conservatives and Tea Party supporters, Ayn Rand supported the right of a woman to abortion. (She was “pro-choice.”) This post will argue that Rand was right about abortion, and that any conservative who wants to be reasonable in his or her advocacy of human rights should advocate for the right to abort a pregnancy.

Should it be illegal to slaughter cattle for meat? Do the emotions of sympathy that some activists have for animals mean that cattle have rights, and thereby mean that killing cattle for food should be illegal? If someone shows you a picture of a freshly slaughtered cow, and you say “Oh, how awful,” does that mean the cow’s killer should be given a jail term?

No, sympathetic emotions and graphic pictures are not enough to establish that animals have rights, the violation of which should be punished by the government. So it is with human beings, fetuses, embryos and human kidneys. Our emotional reactions are not enough to establish that any of these entities has rights. We must look at what the entity is and identify facts about it to establish whether or not it has rights that should be protected by the government. If, instead of going through this process, I claimed that Zeus told me through my emotions that trees have a right to life, you would have good reason to say that I was being irrational.

If a doctor performs surgery on you, will he find a body part called a “right to life”? If someone analyzes your DNA, will he find a gene that encodes for human rights? Obviously not.

Does a right to life serve as a physical barrier to harm? If you tell a ravening tiger or a Nazi soldier that you have a right to life, will that stop him from killing you? No?

What about the Bible? Are rights violations the criteria by which Christ separates the righteous from the wicked? That’s not what I remember Jesus saying about salvation. What about the Old Testament? Do rights come from the Commandments? Well, the Israelites practice slavery and participate in a tremendous amount of non-defensive killing, with the Old-Testament God’s approval, after the Commandments are given. (See: Ex. 32:27-29, Lev. 24:10-23, 1 Sam. 15:2-11, Jos. 6:1-21.) Further, Yahweh’s laws for the Israelites violate the US Founding Fathers’ notion of individual rights in countless ways. (No freedom of religious speech; no right to a fair trial, etc.) In the New Testament, Jesus, Paul and Peter encourage followers not to defend their rights against others, or exercise their personal property rights. (See: Mt. 5:38-42, Mt. 16:23-25Mt. 19:21, Acts 2:42-451 Cor. 4:10-13, 1 Pet. 2:18-25.)

In fact, the “rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” on which the US was founded are not mentioned once in the entire Bible. What then are “rights” and where do they come from?

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Student suspended for questioning CT Governor on Gun Legislation

First, government officials come after your Second Amendment rights. Then, when you peacefully question them about it and tell them that they’re destroying your business, government officials violate your First Amendment rights to shut you up! (Note that Asnuntuck Community College is a public/government institution.) All hail the coming police state!

Two Heads are Better Than One


Shut up

If you’re one of the many folks upset about Connecticut’s new gun laws, that state’s governor has a message for you: Shut Up.

Courtesy of the Daily Caller:

“…student Nicholas Saucier tried to get (Democratic Governor Dannel ) Malloy to answer questions about his support for gun control legislation, which has put Saucier’s ammunition manufacturing business in jeopardy. Saucier followed Malloy to his car after the governor finished speaking at a public forum at Asnuntuck Community College.

The exchange took place in October of last year, and was captured on video…” 

Sounds relatively harmless so far, right?

Now here’s the video:

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Capitalism: Individual Rights vs. “The Common Good” — Full Version

Note: This is an expanded version of my entry for the “What is Capitalism?” essay contest on Ayn Rand Institute Campus. The essay prompt was: “Why does Ayn Rand argue that the moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the claim that it is the best way to achieve the ‘common good’?” The maximum length for the essay was a mere 800 words, so I had to heavily edit my original draft for submission, (already brief at just over 1,000 words.) Here, I’m able post the essay without that length constraint. For the 799-word version, click here.

adamsmith

Adam Smith

Ever since the Enlightenment, there have been many attempts to justify capitalism–or a quasi-capitalist mixed economy—on the basis of its being the best way to achieve “the common good,” or “the public good.” For example, Adam Smith wrote that “By pursuing his own interest [a man] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.” Thus he implied that the public good is a valid concept and consideration. (1) According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Jeremy Bentham thought that “[Rights] ought to be made because of their conduciveness to ‘the general mass of felicity,’ and correlatively, when their abolition would be to the advantage of society, rights ought to be abolished.”

More common among modern conservatives and the moderate left, is the statement that regulated quasi-capitalism is “practical.” This statement is generally made without answers to the question: Practical for whom and to what end? The implied answer seems to be: For everyone and to any end. So this claim of practicality can be taken as an implied appeal to “the common good” as justification.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

But Ayn Rand justified pure, laissez-faire capitalism on different grounds. She rejected “the common good” as an invalid, collectivist notion, and instead held that capitalism rests upon the principle of individual rights. This principle, in turn, rests upon the morality of rational egoism, which rests on the nature of man. Thus, the justification for capitalism as the proper governmental system for man starts with the nature of man as a living organism.

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Capitalism: Individual Rights vs. “The Common Good” — Short Version

Note: This is my entry for the “What is Capitalism?” essay contest on Ayn Rand Institute Campus. The essay prompt was: “Why does Ayn Rand argue that the moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the claim that it is the best way to achieve the ‘common good’?” The maximum length for the essay was a mere 800 words, so I had to heavily edit my original draft (already brief at just over 1,000 words.) For the longer version, without the heavy editing, click here.

Ever since the Enlightenment, there have been many attempts to justify capitalism–or rather, a quasi-capitalist mixed economy—on the basis of its being the best way to achieve “the common good.”

But Ayn Rand justified capitalism on different grounds. She rejected “the common good” as an invalid, collectivist notion, and instead held that capitalism rests upon the principle of individual rights. This principle ultimately rests on the nature of man. Thus, the justification for capitalism as the proper governmental system for man starts with the nature of man as a living organism.

Living organisms must support their own lives by their own actions. Whether plant or animal, microbe or man. It is this self-sustaining, self-generated action of life that gives rise to values: the things that living organisms pursue to keep themselves alive. It is only in reference to the maintenance of an organism’s life, as the ultimate basis, that anything can be evaluated.

Thus, it is only in reference to the maintenance of human life that a human governmental system can ultimately be evaluated. But in order to evaluate the effectiveness of any governmental system in the promotion of human life, we need to know the fundamental means by which man survives.

Man’s mind, unlike other animals, operates conceptually and non-automatically. He has no instincts to guide him throughout his life.

Man cannot survive by simply adapting himself to his environment, but must adapt his environment to himself. He lacks the physical prowess of the other animals, but he can use his mind to make tools, shelter, clothing, to grow food and domesticate animals.
Man’s mind—his process of thinking—is his basic means of survival, and it must be performed independently by individuals.

So the fundamental unit of human life is the individual. If human beings are to live, rather than die—to flourish, rather than stagnate—they need to use their own minds to support their own lives.

In order to do this, they need to be free from the initiation of physical compulsion by others. Among chosen human actions, it is only physical force that can stop, paralyze, or nullify the thought of an individual. A man’s thought (and life) is stopped if he is killed; his thought is stopped if his brain is destroyed by a club; his thought is paralyzed if the government prohibits his ideas from being expressed; his thought is nullified to the extent that he is prevented from acting on his own judgment.

The principle required to objectively implement the non-initiation of force in a societal context is the principle of individual rights. A right is, in Ayn Rand’s words, “a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” It is the rights to life, liberty and property that enable man to thrive in a society. This is because the enforcement of these rights protects man’s freedom of judgment and action in the pursuit of his own life. The protection of rights ensures that man has the free use of the fundamental tools of survival and happiness: his mind, his body and his property.
Under capitalism, the government only has three basic functions: to provide the police, the military and the courts. The only laws that the government enforces are those that help protect individual rights. The government does not provide welfare, health insurance, or retirement payments. Nor does it regulate business activity, (beyond protecting rights, prosecuting fraud and enforcing contracts.) Nor does it regulate interest rates, enforce an official currency, regulate rents.

Capitalism is a system designed to let those who produce valuable things benefit from their own production. They are as free to benefit from their own productivity as they would be on a large island by themselves. Capitalism is not designed to let some people force others to pay for their lifestyle. Capitalism, just like a deserted island, is not good for people who are determined to leech off of others, when they could be productive.

If the woozy notion of “the common good” is translated into “the good of everyone in the country, irrespective of his goals,” then capitalism does not promote the common good. It enables those whose goal is the maintenance and betterment of their own lives, to actually sustain and improve their own lives. In this process, capitalism enables people who are willing, to donate to charities for those who are genuinely unable to sustain themselves. The abundance of created wealth allows for larger donations, without self-sacrifice on the part of the donors.

Thus, capitalism, by enshrining and protecting individual rights, would provide great potential benefits to mankind. But it is only the portion of mankind that is (or would be) willing to use their minds and produce values that would actually benefit from the system.

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Related Posts:

How to Show That Taxation is Robbery

Wealth is Created by Action Based on Rational Thought

QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual

Why Healthcare in the US is So Expensive, and What Can Be Done About It

An Objectivist Refutation of Anarcho-Capitalism (Market Anarchy)

A Facebook Debate on the Right to Abortion

The following exchange is taken from the comments on a post on the Objectivism for Intellectuals Facebook page. Rather than using the name of my interlocutor here, I will refer to her as “Her.” Irrelevant portions of the debate have been omitted.

Her:  So, being against abortion is irrational? I had no idea murder was a faith-only immorality.

Me:  It’s not murder if an embryo or fetus doesn’t have rights as an actual, independent human being. The religious “basis” for considering embryos to have rights is that they have already received a “soul.” This “soul” is a mystical construct with no basis in reality. There is no rational basis for a soul that can be separated from a developed and functioning brain. The mother is an actual, independent human with rights. The embryo is not.  Continue reading