Mehta Couple’s Abortion Case

The Bombay High Court today dismissed the Mehta couple’s plea to permit an abortion of their 25 week old fetus diagnosed with heart problems. (More information here). This sad case has raised a debate about the law regarding termination of pregnancy. It has been said that the law (which only permits abortion upto the 20th week of pregnancy or if the mother’s life is in danger) is out of date and needs to change with medical advances. Yet the issue here is not the extent of advancement or reliability of medical procedures. The issue is whether a fetus has the right to life.

The concept of rights arises from the fact that man (by his nature) needs to act on his own independent judgement if he is to survive. Rights can only pertain to beings that have a purpose and the capacity to exercise judgement. The right to life is the right to act independently, free from physical force from other men. A fetus is not independent. It depends on the mother for its sustenance. It cannot exercise or even form judgement. It does not have a purpose. Judgement and purpose are concepts that depend on the capacity of choice. A fetus is incapable of choice. As Ayn Rand noted

“An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”

The current law regarding abortion (like most of India’s laws) protects no ones rights. Neither the rights of the mother to her own body (as illustrated by this case) nor the alleged right of the fetus (since its life can be terminated in the case of a risk to the life of the mother). Properly defined, there can be no conflict (such as the one implied by the law) between the rights of individuals. Every man has an inalienable and absolute right to life. These rights are not a gift from the state and it is not upto the state to arbitrarily try to balance them. Nor do laws that protect these rights need to change with the times or with advancements in technology if they are properly framed. What needs to change is the lack of understanding about the source of rights and the role of the state in protecting them.

Update:
I have a more detailed post on this topic here.

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7 Responses

  1. hmm I would like you to write further on your thoughts. I can see that you are going somewhere with it but I don’t quite see where. Would like to read more. Please write and I’ll be back to read.

  2. Roop,
    Thanks for your interest. I have put my thoughts more clearly here.
    Also compliments on your blog. It was refreshing to see some proper activism (though I do disagree with a few posts).

  3. Good post–and absolutely right. The fetus not only depends on sustenance from the mother, it cannot survive without it. This is different than a baby who has been born, and now can breath independently and live independently of the mother. Although infants are surely very dependent on adult human beings, they do have the beginnings of independent life when the first breath is taken and the forem ovule closes and fetal circulation gives way to “adult” circulation.

    By the way, I cannot resist a comment on your Mother Teresa quotation: Wouldn’t the world be far better off if the poor could eliminate their suffering and prosper?

  4. Elisheva,
    Good that you were bothered by the Mother Teresa quote. That was the intent of quoting it (along with the Arundhati Roy quotation). If the ‘selfless servants of humanity’ really wanted the poor to prosper, they would be looking for ways by which the poor could produce wealth rather than exhorting people to redistribute wealth. I intend to write more on this soon.

  5. Amazing Clarity of thought !

  6. Kamini,
    Thanks, but I owe that to Ayn Rand.

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