Friday, October 23, 2020

What are rights? What's the "right" to abortion?

Many people are concerned about the right to abortion. Some people and lawmakers want to take it away, but others declare "They can't take that right away!"

Can that right be taken away? In general, can we lose rights?

It depends on what you mean by "rights." What do you mean, "rights"?  

There are at least two types of rights: 

  • legal rights.
  • moral or natural rights.
Legal rights are, roughly, what the law allows: you can't get arrested or sent to prison for doing what you have a legal right to do. 

So, to say that there's a legal right to abortion is to say that the law allows abortion: abortion is not a crime. (Other legal rights aren't merely about allowing actions, but impose requirements).

Legal rights, however, can come and go, depending on what the government does. For example, in the US (and many other parts of the world) some people had the legal right to enslave other people, to have full and complete control over them. And many people lacked the legal right to vote. 

The laws, however, changed and these legal rights (to own other people, to prevent people from voting) were thankfully lost. 

What if these laws had never changed though? Would slavery and denying the vote to most people still be wrong? Would people's rights still be violated if slavery was legal?

Yes, because this would violate people's moral or natural rights

People have a moral or natural right to not be enslaved. They have a moral or natural right to freedom. And at least in societies where people vote, every person has the moral or natural right to vote. 

(These rights would often be considered "negative rights": it's a right to be allowed to do something, to not be interfered with. "Positive rights," on the other hand, are rights to some kind of benefit to some kind of assistance: e.g., the right to health care would impose an obligation that others provide health care services for other people. So, there are the concepts of both negative and positive moral rights, and negative and positive legal rights. The initial legal examples above were of negative legal rights.)  

People have these (negative) moral or natural rights even if the law doesn't recognize them. When laws don't recognize or disrespect moral or natural rights, those are unjust laws: granting someone the legal right to violate someone's natural rights, say the legal right to enslave someone else, is unjust. 

So, could people lose the right to abortion?

They could lose the legal right to abortion: that's for sure. 

But if people have the moral or natural right to abortion, then they couldn't lose that right: this type of rights just can't be lost. 

Do people have that moral or natural right to abortion? Why would they have that right, if they have it? Why might they not have that right, according to people who deny there is such a right?

These are important questions, and some of the most important answers are reviewed and evaluated in Thinking Critically About Abortion. If you don't know how these questions would be answered, please read it! That's your legal and moral or natural right*!

* Note: there's a lot more to say about rights; this post is a major simplification. For more, see here

All other blog posts are available here

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