Stoicism, Autonomy, and a Right to an Abortion

The Stoics believed in virtue and, in particular, the chief one among them, justice.  The Stoics also believed in preferred indifferents, for example, health, wealth, reputation, pleasure, and education.  What did they believe about autonomy though?

The Stoics believed that autonomy was something within our possession.  In fact, if we worked hard at it, we would achieve freedom from everything.  The only path to freedom was to focus on what was truly in our power:  virtue.

Honestly though, virtue is only freedom if you are truly virtuous.  Since none of us are truly free, like the Sage, we need a form of autonomy that is lesser in nobility but still carries some weight.  We need a life of self-determination.  We also need a life where we can pursue our preferred indifferents.  Our natural preferences for health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation are where we derive our rights.  We have a right to these preferred indifferents, so we ought to have a society that allows for that.  Where does the lesser form of autonomy fit into this?  The lesser form is being free to participate in health, wealth, education, pleasure, and reputation within reason.  We’re free when we can do this.  And these preferred indifferents give us a chance to find the true autonomy:  virtue.

Where does a woman’s right to an abortion fit into this?  She has autonomy over her own health.  She can determine what is best for herself, even if that means terminating a pregnancy.  People will debate this point because they feel “life” might begin at conception.  I presume these people are wrong because zygotes hardly represent a person in the way we can conceive of them.  In fact, babies hardly represent people.  But, nonetheless, we can maybe agree as a society that we can terminate pregnancies up to 9 months.  It’s kind of arbitrary to make this determination but we have some historical reasons for doing so.  Many of the ancients, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans seemed to believe that life began at first breath.  With this conception in mind, we have some historical precedent to base our determination on what distinguishes infanticide from a mere abortion.

Of course, as a society, if we really want to do away with abortion, one way is to make all forms of contraception free for everyone.  This also means educating people about sex and contraception as early as we can.

Not everyone can agree that abortion is a right but maybe we can all agree that contraception is a right.  One thing is for sure, contraception is certainly worth talking about as often as the taboo topic of abortion arises.

silhouette of pregnant standing on seashore during golden hour
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4 thoughts on “Stoicism, Autonomy, and a Right to an Abortion

  1. The problem is that it’s not just your own autonomy that’s in question. Whether you accept the fact or not, there’s another human life. Your beliefs, emotions or personal feelings and hardships do not change the physical make up of reality. It’s a human baby. It can be no other species. When you infringe upon the life and liberty of another person without their consent, that’s not any form of rational, civilized or virtuous life. It’s tyranny at best. When you’re talking about something like pregnancy, the mother and father have literally forced the child into existence. The child had no say whatsoever but to be there, inside the mother’s body, and now, the mother wishes to charge the child with trespassing. So let’s translate that into literal terms. I take you against your will, force you into my house, then charge you with trespassing. That’s not how rationale works. I have no right to take your life in that case. And even most people who are pro-choice would NOT agree that it’s ok to kill a 9 month old baby. That’s murder no matter how you look at it. If you killed that baby one minute outside the womb, you’d go to jail. There IS a point of pregnancy when a human life and a human body is clearly present, not just a fertilized egg, an embryo or a zygote. These are the stages of conception, not full development. My son was born far earlier than 9 months even, at 24 weeks. I promise you, that’s a baby. Go into his room right now at 8 years old and tell that laughing and jumping toddler that he’s not a human. I gather you haven’t spent much time in a NICU if you think human life doesn’t begin until 9 months.

    It’s also false that the ancient Greeks as a whole supported abortion and did not believe life began until birth. The original Hippocratic Oath states as follows, “I swear by Apollo the Physician, and Asklepios and Health and All-heal, and all the Gods and Goddesses, I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner, I will not give a woman an abortion. With purity and holiness, I will pass my life and practice my Art.” So clearly, they believed life began inside the womb. Body, heartbeat, brain activity, functioning organs, memory, reflexes and responses to stimuli all happen inside the womb. If that’s not a sign of life, I don’t know what is.

    I also challenge you to a bit of philosophical discussion yourself, and ask you, “When were you aborted?” The answer is that you weren’t, you lived. And if you could, I highly doubt you would go back inside your mother and let her kill you, to give up your own life and everything you have in it just to satisfy someone else’s personal desires and nothing else. I have said in the past that 0% of pro-choicers have been aborted, and 100% of them are pro-life when it comes to their own beating hearts.

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    1. With all due respect, while an embryo and fetus matters in terms of having some kind of dignity of being “life”. The life of the mother is infinitely more important than the life of the fetus. Her needs far outweigh its needs. Thanks.

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      1. If her life is actually in danger, then yes, you can justify abortion. But only 1% of abortions happen because of necessity. The other 99% are done for convenience. Even if there are late term complications, abortion is actually the riskiest thing to do, as any doctor will tell you. Because the farther along she is, the longer the abortion takes. If her life is in danger, she doesn’t have days to wait. The fastest thing is to deliver the baby and save them both. I know this because it happened to my own wife. At 24 weeks, she began experiencing complications. The doctors never even mentioned abortion. The best route was delivery, and they both lived. The real question to consider is this: is it a human baby or is it not? Is there a human life present, or is it not? My personal feelings don’t matter, yours don’t matter, and her’s don’t matter. What matters is the science. And since we’ve been able to actually observe pregnancy, we now know that a human life is indeed present.

        What always gets me is that the man has no rights in pregnancy whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if he can’t afford it, isn’t ready, doesn’t want to be a father, or didn’t intend to create the child. The law gives him no right whatsoever to end the pregnancy. If he does slip his woman an abortion pill, he goes to jail. And when the child is born, he will be forced to provide for the child for 18 years or also go to jail. That is literally forced parenthood, and no one blinks about it. So why is it alright to require a man to take parental responsibility for the children he creates, but not a woman?

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      2. You also gotta consider the risks to the mother after she has the kid and is in poor economic conditions. She might have difficulty making ends meet, the mother might be addicted to drugs, she might choose to keep the kid anyway because she’s become attached to it. You have to consider the danger a kid represents for the next 18 years of raising it. It’s a danger. The kid could even be a danger for society and end up in prison later on. Maybe end up in a gang.

        I don’t think a man deserves rights in terms of a woman’s pregnancy. All he does is deliver his DNA but the woman actually puts her blood, sweat, and tears into allowing the embryo to develop into a fetus and then she has to give painful birth to it.

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