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"My body, my choice" is well known slogan from those who oppose laws that limit a woman's right to an abortion. Yet, the idea that a woman has a right to do what she wants to her body seems to have disturbing consequences. If a woman drinks too much alcohol or takes too many drugs then her baby will suffer the consequences. That child will then suffer many challenges in life because of his mothers supposed right to do what she wants with her body. Yet when I point this out to people they get angry and insist that I want to limit women's rights. In fact it makes me angry that anyone would disagree with the idea that a woman shouldn't be morally and legally responsible for the incalculable harm she can do to her baby by poisoning her fetus. I can grant that there are exceptions such as prescription medications but otherwise isn't the idea that women can't be held responsible for doing damage to a fetus that will then suffer after being born just a very extreme position even if its a popular belief? And I think men should be held responsible for the damage they do to their sperm by doing drugs or at least prevented from giving birth but then I guess that sound extreme as well.

January 31, 2013

Response from Stephen Maitzen on February 21, 2013
I'm no lawyer, but I believe that the courts in some U.S. jurisdictions allow a child to sue its mother for lasting harm she caused the child while it was in utero. (Here I'm assuming that the child is identical to something that was once in utero, an assumption not everyone will grant.) I don't know whether the plaintiff has ever prevailed in such a lawsuit. In any case, if someone can be assigned civil liability for causing such harm, then it's not a huge leap to hold her morally responsible for it as well. My sense as a non-expert is that the courts are still struggling with this legal issue, so it's an important time for philosophers to weigh in on the issue and thereby perhaps help the courts decide it wisely and justly.


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