Abortion and Animals Rights: The Connection
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Abortion and Animals Rights: The Connection
Comments by Vasu Murti - 6 May 2007


Dear Al,

Thanks for posting this! The animal rights movement is divided on the issue of abortion. This was made clear by Ingrid Newkirk of PETA in a 1992 interview with conservative talk show host Dennis Prager. In 1998, the Animals' Agenda ran a cover story about the debate within the animal rights movement over abortion. And in 2003, on the Democrats-For-Life e-list, Maria Krasinski mentioned a poll which found animal activists evenly divided over abortion.

Pro-lifers like to mislead the public into thinking the animal rights movement is officially pro-choice, but the truth is we're divided, and this WILL change IF pro-lifers get involved in the struggle for animal rights. I won't lie and paint a rosy picture that everyone in the animal rights movement is pro-life. There are pro-choice SERV members, and you were wise to say you're not trying to cause a debate on abortion on this e-list.

I think it may have been Gary Francione who said back in 1988, "I'm sure there's some way we can keep abortion legal," and though I'm sick of hearing pro-lifers use this single quote as an excuse not to support animal rights, there is a ring of truth to it. If sentience, rather than membership in the human race, is the criterion for personhood, then "there's some way we can keep abortion legal."

I mentioned this to Rachel MacNair, past president of Feminists For Life, a Quaker pacifist, vegan, and psychology professor, in 2004. It didn't faze her. "Only in the very early stages of pregnancy," would abortion be legal, she replied. A 1981 article by UC Berkeley law professor John T. Noonan, Jr. entitled "The Experience of Pain by the Unborn," similarly observes:

"...we may conclude that as soon as a pain mechanism is present in the fetus--possibly as early as day 56--the (abortion) methods used will cause pain. The pain is more substantial and lasts longer the later the abortion is."

Carol Crossed, who is now president of Democrats For Life, and who wrote the forward to my own book, The Liberal Case Against Abortion, noted approvingly that even with sentience, rather than membership in the human race, as the criterion for personhood, day 56 as the threshold for pain means most abortions would have to be outlawed.

If we start with the premise that sentience, and not species membership, is the criterion for personhood, the burden of proof is now upon pro-lifers to demonstrate why we should protect the member of a sentient species even at an insentient stage of development.

This is a point I make in The Liberal Case Against Abortion: the pro-life movement will need to become completely secular as it attempts to convince the courts, the legislature, universities, philosophers, ethicists, etc., that human zygotes and embryos should be regarded as legal persons. Conversely, the animal rights movement is secular and nonsectarian, but will need the inspiration, blessings, and support of organized religion to help end injustices towards animals. This is where groups like SERV come in!

Best wishes!


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