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States Pass Rights-Violating Abortion Restrictions

“We are seeing an incredible acceleration in the speed and in the breadth of the restrictions on abortion that are passing” at the state level, says Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights and a supporter of abortion rights.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, among recently passed abortion restrictions in the states, Arkansas outlawed most abortions after 12 weeks pregnancy, while North Dakota “banned the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy,” depending on the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

And the Huffington Post reports that Kansas passed a law that (among other things) mandates what doctors must tell their patients regarding abortion. The Kansas law also declares that life begins at fertilization—an odd legal declaration given that no one contests that a zygote is alive. The language is, of course, a nod to the “personhood” movement, which seeks to establish that a zygote is not only alive but also a person with all the legal rights of a born infant.

But neither the life nor the heartbeat of an embryo or fetus gives rise to rights. As Diana Hsieh and I show in our TOS article, “The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties”:

Rights are factual requirements of human survival and flourishing in society. They apply only to human beings living and acting as individuals in a social context—not to embryos or fetuses in the womb.

(See the article for our full argument.)

When the government creates ersatz “rights” for embryos and fetuses, it necessarily violates the genuine rights of pregnant women and their doctors. Laws that outlaw abortion violate a woman’s right to control her own body and to decide her own future, declaring her a criminal and subjecting her to legal action if she seeks an abortion. The Kansas law (and similar laws in other states) violates doctors’ rights to practice medicine by their own judgment, and it violates the rights of doctors and patients to negotiate health services as they see fit.

Embryos and fetuses do not and logically cannot have rights. By pretending otherwise, governments violate the rights of actual people. States should repeal all such rights-violating laws—and rights-respecting Americans morally must demand that they do.

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