Archive | November 6, 2007

Earrings, Abortions, and A Fortiori Arguments

Tonight on the news I heard this same old argument again: “If minors need parental permission to have their ears pierced, shouldn’t they have to get parental permission in order to have an abortion?”

foetus earrings? The assumption underlying this argument is clearly that if it’s okay to require parental permission in the case of something as relatively insignificant as ear piercing, it must be even more justified to require such permission in the case of abortion – as though the case for requiring parental consent were stronger for abortion than for ear piercing.

But surely the asymmetry goes precisely the other way. I don’t know what I think about requiring parental consent for ear-piercing – I haven’t given it much thought – but clearly no great harm is done to a child when parents refuse to allow ear-piercing, and so requiring parental consent in that instance, whether justified or not, is not especially burdensome to the child. But to force an underage girl to bring an unwanted pregnancy to term can ruin her life – to say nothing of the “merely” physical pain and danger involved. In brief: preventing one’s daughter from having an abortion counts as child abuse; preventing her from getting her ears pierced does not. Hence even if requiring paternal permission in the case of ear-piercing is legitimate, requiring parental permission in the case of abortion is not.

(Of course there’s the further nasty fact that in all too many instances the father of the pregnant girl is also the father, by incestuous rape, of her foetus, in which case requiring her to get her father’s consent is especially obscene. Anti-abortion websites dismiss this argument, trumpeting the statistic that incest results in pregnancy in only about one percent of cases. Some pro-choice websites list a much higher statistic, but suppose the lower figure is correct; it seems to show an astonishing callousness to dismiss that “one percent” as a small number. If one percent of all anti-abortion activists were being thrown off Beachy Head into the English Channel and then buried, I reckon it would seem like a large enough percentage then.)

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