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said that the law (which only permits abortion upto the 20th week of pregnancy or if the mother’s life is in danger) is out of date and needs to change with medical advances.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.
I have a more detailed post on this topic here.