Why universal suffrage means abortion

November 13, 2012 § 33 Comments

In modern liberal democracies we extend the franchise as widely as possible, to insure that each person has the opportunity to freely exercise equal political power. Women’s suffrage is viewed as a basic requirement of justice: if women were denied the franchise we would be treating women as subordinate to men rather than as having equal rights.

Treating female suffrage as a basic human right teaches us that it is a fundamental violation of justice for women to be treated unequally to
men. It follows that a law which criminalizes something that only a woman can do is a basic violation of justice. Therefore laws which criminalize abortion – something only a woman can freely choose, because of accident of birth – are inherently unjust.

A society which treats female suffrage as a basic human right therefore inevitably, over time, will dehumanize the unborn and embrace abortion as a fundamental human right.

How many millions of unborn children must be sacrificed on the altar of universal suffrage democracy conceived as a basic human right? If you are offended at the idea of a restricted franchise – say to only men with at least one legitimate child, married to his first wife or a widower, who pays a poll tax – how many unborn children are you willing to sacrifice on the altar of the perverse notion of defining justice as equal rights?

§ 33 Responses to Why universal suffrage means abortion

  • Isn’t the basic difference that voting in and of itself isn’t necessarily evil and therefore could be extended to women in addition to men, whereas abortion is always evil and therefore cannot be permitted regardless of who it happens to offend?

    You could go down the list of other things as well: property rights come to mind, that could -in theory- lead to the same cancerous situation we have today, namely, abortion on demand. But with that logic you could deny women everything, save for their lives, in an effort to curb the evil of abortion. Where exactly does one draw the line?

    To my mind, it seems better to just fight the intrinsic evil full on and try to curb other evils that may arise from acts that are (normally) morally neutral (voting in this case).

    By the way, I just found out you switched your blog to wordpress. Great to know that you’re back Zippy!

  • Zippy says:

    Hello, 박태민 마태오!

    Isn’t the basic difference that voting in and of itself isn’t necessarily evil and therefore could be extended to women in addition to men, whereas abortion is always evil and therefore cannot be permitted regardless of who it happens to offend?

    You are right that I am not making a claim that female suffrage is per se wrong. My claim is with respect to a “a society which treats female suffrage as a basic human right“.

    Where exactly does one draw the line?

    I think that in order to genuinely stay out of trouble you have to draw the line at political equality: equality which (for example) includes women in the body of citizens who are proposed to be absolute equals politically will inevitably lead to a right to abortion. The kind of society – the men and women in that society, the culture of that society – which believes in universal equality is the kind of society which will produce a “right to abortion”. The post 1920 franchise is the concrete civic ritual in which we make our personal commitment to absolute equality, which is why it is implicated. The concept of property is not inherently connected to equality in the same way that the universal franchise is connected.

  • johnmcg says:

    I certainly hope that closing flourish was a parody of the type of consequentialist arguments we heard during the torture debates.

    Because it sounds quite like, “How many cities are you willing to let burn to the ground to preserve your moral spotlessness on torture?”

    Yes, denying suffrage to women is not identified by the Church as intrinsically immoral, so the it is not a clean comparison. But to many people, especially those raised in this culture, it is. What you are in essence asking your readers to do is act in a way contrary to their conscience in order to achieve some other good. Do evil so that good may come of it.

    Now, I realize that by grounding my insights on being raised in this culture, I am begging the question. But it seems to me that universal suffrage is either wrong or it isn’t, not based on what policies it leads to. That it leads to undesirable policies, or even policies as terrible as the abortion license, is not the only question

    While I myself have written that the abortion license flows from a skewed notion of equality, I disagree that the path from universal suffrage to inequality is inevitable, that the slope is necessarily that slippery. It seems that we could have a notion of equality that includes the unborn (and the prisoner, and the old and infirm). It’s just that we don’t, and have work to do to get there. The past had its share of injustices as well.

    If we are being “practical” about it, we have to acknowledge that the chances of repealing the 19th Amendment are about as remote as a single vote changing the result of the illection.

    So what are the primary effects of linking the pro-life movement to opposition to abortion?

    It seems that, in people’s minds it would like the pro-life movement to moving backward in history and keeping women down, which would intensify opposition to pro-life policies, and turn individual women off to pro-life entreaties to save their pregnancies.

    In terms of ruminating on a closed-circle blog, the consequences probably aren’t so great. But that could change if this argument gains prominence.

    How many unborn children are you willing to have slaughtered so that you can carry on your lost cause against universal suffrage?

  • Zippy says:

    What you are in essence asking your readers to do is act in a way contrary to their conscience in order to achieve some other good. Do evil so that good may come of it.

    No, I am asking them to properly conform their consciences to the truth. Denying women the franchise is not intrinsically immoral. You admit that most modern people in effect think that it is.

    But it seems to me that universal suffrage is either wrong or it isn’t, not based on what policies it leads to.

    Wrong. If it isn’t intrinsically immoral, then its consequences are precisely what we are required to evaluate.

  • Zippy says:

    How many unborn children are you willing to have slaughtered so that you can carry on your lost cause against universal suffrage?

    I actually don’t have a cause against universal suffrage, nor is anything I do (absent divine intervention) going to change anything at all on some large scale.

    Nature on the other hand will reassert herself in the end, whether with a bang or a whimper. All I can do in my little way is help some very small number of people see what is true, and gird themselves for it.

  • Michaelus says:

    Why not then make it a felony for any man to induce or force any woman to abort her child? If the Republicans were actually pro-life this would have been a law in 1973….

  • [...] believe politicians have mandates, some guy named “Zippy Catholic” decides that women’s suffrage and abortion rights are inseparable (and therefore women’s suffrage must go!,) Laura Flanders and Eve Ensler have never talked to [...]

  • Cane Caldo says:

    It seems that, in people’s minds it would like the pro-life movement to moving backward

    I’m always baffled when Christians argue for “progress”. One could be forgiven for not realizing that repentance is at the heart of our beliefs…if one believed in forgiveness for going astray.

  • don123 says:

    One flaw in your argument:

    Criminalizing abortion is not deemed unjust because it criminalizes something that only one class of persons can do, and is therefore a violation of equality. The issue is whether persons have autonomy over their own bodies, up to and including the decision to procreate, and whether they enjoy a right to privacy that protects their decisions in that regard. That is a principle that applies to all persons, male or female regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with it. The principle of equality before the law and equality in rights does not enter into it at all.

    It is notable that women’s suffrage was granted by Constitutional amendment and that Roe v. Wade was decided by appeal to a right to privacy; neither were based on the 14th Amendment’s right to equal protection.

    Thus, you do not need to deny women equality before the law or the franchise in order to prevent abortion. For example, abortion remains illegal in the Republic of Ireland, a polity which nonetheless extends suffrage to women.

    Do you presume that only women would vote in favor of abortion rights, and thus denying the franchise to women would result in the recriminalization of abortion?

  • EMS says:

    The original feminists from the 19th and early 20th centuries believed that extending the franchise to women would end horrors such as abortion, war and the like. The problem isn’t in extending the vote. The real problem is that, probably due to the sexual revolution of the 60s IMO, the leading feminists in the 70s began thinking they needed to be proto-men instead of women. And children were an obstacle to becoming men.

  • Zippy says:

    don123:
    That is a principle that applies to all persons, male or female regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with it. The principle of equality before the law and equality in rights does not enter into it at all.

    I don’t think the fact that the putative right in question is equally possessed by all persons in all circumstances constitutes evidence that the principle of equal rights is not doing the heavy lifting here.

    Do you presume that only women would vote in favor of abortion rights, and thus denying the franchise to women would result in the recriminalization of abortion?

    No. For all I know a female-only franchise might produce better results overall than a universal franchise. My contention is not that women are bad or unjust decision makers. It is that a society which views the female franchise as a basic human right will also come to view abortion as a basic human right.

  • don123 says:

    You have not demonstrated how this is so. You asserted that abortion is legalized because to criminalize an action that can only be performed by one sex would violate the principle of equality. The premise does not lead to the conclusion.

    On what grounds would then argue that women are not and should not be equal in rights and before the law to men?

  • jamie says:

    Zippy: I have no vested interest in the overall argument. I’ve perfect happy to limit suffrage, though I admit I don’t really see the connection you’ve drawn here. I am puzzled by the inherent logic in your argument, though.

    You say: Treating female suffrage as a basic human right teaches us that it is a fundamental violation of justice for women to be treated unequally to men. It follows that a law which criminalizes something that only a woman can do is a basic violation of justice. Therefore laws which criminalize abortion – something only a woman can freely choose, because of accident of birth – are inherently unjust.

    I don’t see that as a logical argument at all.

    The first premise uses the equivocal term ‘unequal’, which is seemingly parsed to mean ‘identical’. I see no reason, however, why men and women might not enjoy equal rights to suffrage, and yet have different rights under the law. Men over 18 can be drafted; women or men under 18 cannot; persons over 35 can run for president; persons under 35 cannot. These are different rights for different persons, yet they do not require strict _inequality_ under law. Justice (=equality?) simply holds that every person receive was is due him. One could, in theory, hold that men and women might equally enjoy suffrage, and yet be due different rights, couldn’t one?

    This bleeds into the second premise, which suggests that different treatment under the law amounts to a violation of justice. I do not think it is unjust that for-profit corporations pay tax and non-profit charities do not. Certain laws do criminalize behaviors that only certain classes of persons are capable of: under-age drinking (only those under 21), freedom of speech, conduct unbecoming a military officer (only members of the military), failure to comply with a military draft (only men over 18): yet this need not imply strict injustice, since neither necessarily denies a right to someone who deserves the right.

    If I were a classic liberal, which I am not, I might defend universal suffrage while also defending the perfect legitimacy of criminalizing a behavior which would only apply to one class of citizens.

  • Zippy says:

    don123:
    There is all sorts of stuff about problems with the concept of equal rights here. Just as a fairly recent example, this introduces the reader to why, and most of the links in this post drill down into other material on the subject.

    Criminalizing an act for women but not for men is inherently discriminatory. Asserting a law that by its nature passes over men and restricts only women is inherently discriminatory. To a culture fermented in equality (in part through its civic rituals) this is like criminalizing skin color; or, say, gender.

  • I think I’d more support removing universal sufferage from men and women alike, and replace the government with a monarchy, than just remove sufferage from women.

    Though I am now, seeing how modern democracies abuse freedom, coming very close to seeing freedom itself as being evil. Monarchies were often nasty- but at least if you had a bad king, you could resort to assassination to remove him. Instead of merely having to settle for the lesser evil.

  • Zippy says:

    jamie:
    If you were a classical liberal and made those arguments, I would suggest that what you are doing is making unprincipled exceptions to your liberalism. Unprincipled exceptions to liberalism are always unstable in a liberal polity. That is why the next liberal innovation always overwhelms objections based on common sense, tradition, and just general stick-in-the-mud conservatism.

  • Zippy says:

    Theodore M. Seeber:

    I’m not making any particular suggestions as to what to do about the situation. If lots of people agreed that female suffrage leads to abortion rights then we could get together as a group and have that conversation. Right now I’m just getting an analytical handle on the situation we are actually in. What to do about it is a different question entirely.

    FWIW, I do think freedom and equal rights as the governing principles of politics, principles capable of trumping other principles, are definitely problematic. See the links I posted in reply to don123.

    That doesn’t mean that freedom and equality (understood a certain way) emerging from good governance isn’t a limited good. It is a limited good. But it is something which emerges from good governance, it isn’t something that can act as a principle of good governance.

  • jamie says:

    Zippy: hold on. Your post seems to imply that treating universal suffrage as a right of natural justice leads logically to abortion. I simply pointed out that, logically, it does not need to, so long as one maintained a strict concept of what ‘justice’ entails. If your point is that treating universal suffrage as a right of natural justice, _in a modern liberal democracy with no understanding of natural law_ will inevitably lead to abortion, I think that’s quite accurate. But I think that, in a modern liberal democracy with no understanding of natural law, abortion will happen inevitably anyway, and I don’t think it has too much to do with universal suffrage.

  • Zippy says:

    Jamie:
    Treating universal suffrage as a right of natural justice is an error, no matter what the context.

    However, it isn’t my contention that universal suffrage leads logically to abortion rights, that is, out of some sort of proven logical necessity as a construction of syllogisms. It is my contention that a society which (falsely) views universal suffrage as a fundamental matter of justice will naturally end up asserting abortion rights.

    An acorn doesn’t logically lead to an oak tree; it naturally leads to an oak tree.

  • jamie says:

    OK, no argument there. The original post used the language of inherent logical connection (‘it follows that…’, ‘therefore…’), which I didn’t see. But if you only mean that a society which misunderstands the notion of justice in one area will probably misunderstand it in another, yes that’s likely true, although it’s also likely only one of many convergent causes (rampant individualism, breakdown of family, loss of ethical framework, removal of religion from public realm of discourse, etc.).

  • Zippy says:

    It is a complex situation, no doubt. Universal suffrage considered as a mandate of equal rights (Susan B Anthony’s organization was called the “American Equal Rights Association”) was a root on the sapling; abortion rights are a main branch on the tree.

  • james R says:

    Men and women can perform abortions. Male and female children are victims of abortion. There’s no logical or natural connection between equality of the sexes and abortion; otherwise, abortion would follow from Genesis chapter 1. A law criminalizing abortion doesn’t violate any notion of equality.

    Also, I don’t even understand how universal suffrage is a human right. Felons, children, and foreigners can’t vote. They’re all human. If suffrage were conceived of as a human right, rather than a civil right, then felons, children, and foreigns could vote.

    Even worse, I don’t understand what you’re advocating in exchange for universal suffrage. Are you arguing that women shouldn’t have equal rights to men? Is this some sort of parody site about how feminists think Catholics think? You are kidding right?

  • Zippy says:

    James R:
    There’s no logical or natural connection between equality of the sexes and abortion

    Abortion rights advocates disagree with you.

    Even worse, I don’t understand what you’re advocating

    I am advocating understanding our situation clearly. Beyond that I have made no recommendations.

  • southernman1985 says:

    And they’re wrong. A law criminalizing abortion would punish male and female abortionists the same. It would protect male and female victims of abortion the same. There’s no natural connection between equality and abortion. There’s no legal connection either. Roe v wade relies on a right to privacy implied in the fourteenth amendment, rather than on women’s suffrage or the equal protection clause.

    Frankly, unless I’m somehow missing the satire, you’re just a chauvinist who should probably disclaim the catholicity of your blog. The idea that women’s equality is responsible for abortion, as a prolife argument, is at best asinine and sloppy and at worst chauvinistic.

  • Zippy says:

    I think abortion rights advocates are telling us what in fact motivates their advocacy.

    Your other concerns are noted.

  • southernman1985 says:

    So you’re saying abortion advocates are right?

    Why should abortion advocates be presumed to be correct? They’re advocates. They’ll make whatever argument they think will win. They’ll argue compassion if the subject is the rape exception, privacy if they’re in the Supreme Court, equality to others, and that the fetus is just a parasite to still others.

    Abortion victimizes women at least as much as men. It certainly – and a colorable argument can be made even outside pro life circles – victimizes women more than it helps them ( by killing more women than men and by lowering women’s value in the market like world of dating and marriage). That is, a strong pro life argument can be made that starts with equality. Moreover, inequality doesn’t support banning abortion. It supports taking the choice away from women. All other things being equal, there’s no additional reason not to abort a baby in an unequal woman’s womb.

    So, I’m still holding out hope that this is some sort of joke.

  • Zippy says:

    I am saying that abortion rights advocates have not hidden their motives.

  • KJJ says:

    Women’s suffrage has not yet led to legal abortion in Ireland.

    Abortion did not become an issue in the US until 40 years after Women’s Suffrage.

    Suffrage was often advocated in the context of doubling the voting power of married households, as in western states like Wyoming or Utah where the establishment was suspicious of giving lone men (vagrant workers, immigrants) political power. It was not a wholly individualistic, egalitarian movement like post-war feminism often was.

    I believe the most proximate cause connecting women’s rights to abortion would be the actual anti-discrimination movements that started getting real power in the 1960s.

    Abortion rights advocates often depict abortion as necessary for the advancement of women in the workplace, politics, etc. Yet there was no strong movement to advance women until after World War II.

    Unless you can connect the dots between women’s suffrage and the 1960s movements that preceded the legalization of abortion, you’re going to leave a lot of people scratching their heads,

  • southernman1985 says:

    Your initial argument is that giving women equal human rights (sic, since we’re talking about a civil right) leads to abortion. You’re now arguing that because abortion advocates purport to believe in a connection between equality and abortion, that that link exists, and rather than arguing that link, you’d rather just go straight to saying women should lack equal human and civil rights. Which is absurd, since there’s no necessary or sufficient connection from equality and abortion.

    You’re a parody, whether intentional or not. This is how some feminists think Catholics talk. Until unfortunately clicking the link from mark Shea’s blog to here, I assumed that feminists accusing Catholics of misogyny were arguing in bad faith. I was wrong.

    [The fact that you are incapable of accurate paraphrase is a strong indication that you haven't grasped the point. - Z]

  • Zippy says:

    KJJ:

    Undersand the what the argument is and is not though.

    The argument isn’t that women’s suffrage causes the emergence of abortion rights.

    The argument is that the kind of society which treats women’s suffrage as a basic human right is the kind of society which will ultimately assert a right to abortion.

    It isn’t a reductive argument, so it doesn’t stand as contrary to (say) the notion that abortion rights emerged in the US from the 60′s antidiscrimination movements.

    Treating women’s suffrage as if it were a basic human right is a symptom of being the kind of society that is going to end up asserting abortion rights. So if we don’t want to be the kind of society that asserts abortion rights we have to become the kind of society that doesn’t think women’s suffrage is a basic human right.

    We definitely are that kind of society right now: the quick way to take the temperature is to suggest that maybe women’s suffrage isn’t such a great idea and see what sort of reaction you get.

    And give Ireland some more time.

  • [...] no doubt arises from my own personal limitations as a thinker and a writer.   My recent post on the relationship between women’s suffrage and abortion is a case in point, so let me approach the subject from a different [...]

  • Kristen inDallas says:

    “Therefore laws which criminalize abortion – something only a woman
    can freely choose…”

    This is the biggest flaw in your argument. Either sex is capable for killing a child in the womb. The problem is not is trying to achieve equal protection under the law… the problem is due to an UNEQUAL protection under the law. If a man beats up a pregnant woman and the child dies… the man is guilty of murder. I don’t see this law changing anytime soon. If we were really striving for equality (which I believe we ought to be) the woman who commits abortion and/or the doctor who she consents to perform it would be equally criminalized. The problem is not equality, it’s persistent, perverted and disguised inequality. Roe v Wade is about holding women to a lower standard. Imagine the reaction if the man described above tried to claim that the beating of his wife was a consentual bedroom activity and tried to argue right to privacy protected him from further inquiry…?

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