The whole Rush Limbaugh “slut” incident has brought to the forefront the issue of “reproductive rights.” The woman whom Rush called a slut was speaking at a congressional event. Rush later apologized. She called for the Catholic university Georgetown, where she is a law student, to pay for her birth control. She considers this one of her “reproductive rights.”
When somebody says they have a “right” to something, I think it behooves all people to consider what a right is and a right isn’t. Is there such a thing as “reproductive rights?”
The answer is yes and no.
The first step should be to define “reproductive rights.” If we go to Wikipedia, we find the following:
Reproductive rights may include some or all of the following: the right to legal or safe abortion, the right to birth control, the right to access quality reproductive healthcare, and the right to education and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices. Reproductive rights may also include the right to receive education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, and freedom from coerced sterilization, abortion, and contraception, and protection from gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital mutilation (MGM).
As I say, some of these truly are rights, and others are not. I will get to that distinction in a second, but first let’s discuss what a right is and isn’t. When I discuss these rights, I would like to mention that I think these are natural rights that should apply to all societies at all times. Obviously we live in a fallen world where these rights often do not apply. But the purpose of this post is to point out what rights we should and should not have.
You have three natural rights: life, liberty and property. These are rights that are given to you because of your basic humanity. These rights are mentioned twice in the Constitution and are also mentioned in D&C 134:2. The rights in the Bill of Rights flow from these rights. So, for example, you have a right to free speech because you have a right to liberty. You have a right to bear arms because you have a right to liberty, a right to protect your life from aggression and a right to your own property. You have a right to protection from unjust “searches and seizures” because you have a right to liberty and a right to property. From a religious perspective, we have a right to belong to a minority religion such as the LDS church because we have a right to liberty. And so on.
There are certain things that you don’t have a right to. You do not have a right to your neighbor’s car, no matter how rich and evil you think your neighbor is. In fact, if you go confiscate your neighbor’s car, the police will likely throw you in jail, and with good reason. Anarchy is a state where people go around saying they have a “right” to other peoples’ stuff (this is essentially looting).
So, to sum up, you have a right to things that do not infringe on other peoples’ rights. Your rights to life, liberty and property do not harm other people. As a free person born into this world, you have the right to do what you like with your life as long as you do not harm other people.
It is also key to understand that you have a right to your own body. You should be able to treat your body as you will as long as you do not harm others.
You do not, however, have a right to insist that other people give you things (through force) or that other peoples’ money should be spent on your body. As I say, you can do what you please to your body, and we may make very different decisions about how we treat our own bodies, but if you insist that somebody else, through force, give you money so that you can do what you want to your body you are infringing on that other person’s rights.
So, for example, forcing somebody else to pay for your birth control is a violation of the other person’s rights. That person may want to spend his or her own money (property) on something else. You do not have the right to take money from another person for your own needs. This is no different than going over and confiscating your neighbor’s car. It is also worth mentioning that the person from whom you are confiscating money may have religious and/or moral objections to your using their money for birth control. You do not have the right to use another person’s money to do things to which they object morally. This is a double violation of rights.
So, let’s look at the different “reproductive rights” mentioned above.
Do you have a right to a legal or safe abortion? Yes and no. As I discuss in this post, we do not know when a human being becomes a human being. Logic dictates that it happens sometime after conception and sometime before the baby is a 2-4 month-old fetus. So, you should have a right to an abortion immediately after conception, and perhaps even up to 2-3 months after conception. But clearly you should not have a right to an abortion (except in the cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother) if the baby is eight months old. An eight-month-old baby is clearly viable, and killing it is harming another human being, which you do not have a right to do. Do you have the right to insist that other people pay for your abortion? No, you do not. Do you have the right to insist that a doctor give you an abortion if he has moral objections? No, you do not.
Do you have a right to birth control? You have a right to do what you will with your own body, but you do not have a right to force other people to pay for your birth control.
Do you have a right to access quality reproductive healthcare? You have a right to access any care you can, but you do not have a right to force other people to pay for your healthcare.
Do you have a right to education and access in order to make free and informed reproductive choices? You should have the freedom to study whatever you want, but you do not have the right to force other people to pay for your education.
Do you have a right to freedom from coerced sterilization, abortion, and contraception, and protection from gender-based practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and male genital mutilation (MGM) Definitely. Any coercion is a violation of your natural rights and should be condemned by all people.
I would like to add in another right that is not usually considered in terms of reproductive rights. This is the right to reproduce, meaning the right to have as many babies as you want. This right is regularly violated in some countries, but this truly is a reproductive right.
The basic principle here should be clear: you cannot coerce other people to do things for you against their will, and they cannot coerce you to do anything against your will. This principle of nonaggression should be the basis of all societal interactions. Is the world like this? Definitely not. People will always find reasons to justify coercion against others. But this does not make it right.
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