The French Abortion Strike – What Right To Abortion?

1
588

This is an interesting cat amongst the pigeons, one of the French gynecologists’ unions is threatening to stop performing abortions in a dispute they’re having with the government. The complaint itself is that the government doesn’t provide sufficient insurance funds to defend – or perhaps pay the damages of those convicted – doctors against medical negligence claims.

The whole idea having three interesting corollaries and it’s the third which is by far the most important.

The first being, well, start from the basic left position. Yes, of course the workers have the right to withdraw their labour (sorry). But, also, of course women have a right to an abortion. So, which right wins here? What’s the victimhood pyramid which determines who gets to prevail? Those withdrawing their services or those in demand of said services? Why, for example, should those who desire to abort their child have greater rights over the work of others than does any other victim of a strike? Or, indeed, why should those who require medical treatment be subjected to delay or inaccessibility because of the working rights of others?

A French gynaecologists’ union has threatened to halt pregnancy terminations in an attempt to force the country’s health minister to meet disgruntled doctors. The Syngof union wrote to its 1,600 members calling them to be prepared to stop carrying out abortions to “make ourselves heard” and force the government’s hand. Syngof, which represents about a quarter of France’s gynaecologists and obstetricians, published the letter as a protest over what it claims is a lack of insurance funds for colleagues convicted of medical errors.

The second is that, well, imagine that this does in fact go ahead. And that it’s serious. Some women who would have had abortions now do not have them. The child comes to term and then what?

What we’d have is a lovely natural experiment. What does happen in life to those who would have been aborted but weren’t? Perhaps the Catholic view that all are God’s creatures, all will be loved and the average outcome will be much like that of the general population will be true. Perhaps the warnings of the more vociferous on the other side will arrive, if a child would have been aborted then that’s obvious evidence that it would have a disaster of a life anyway – who does start well if not wanted?

I know, my own views on abortion are well to that Catholic side for entirely non-religious reasons and I’m well, well, out of step with society. But the above isn’t about either what should be nor what I think the outcome would be. Rather, that this is just the sort of natural experiment from which science can be done. What does happen in the forced absence of abortion?

And then there’s the third which is a much, much, more important point:

The joint president of the Family Planning Association, Caroline Rebhi, said it was a “backwards step … but not entirely a surprise”. She said Syngof had a habit of “going too far in this way”. “This new incident shows us that even if the right to abortion is written in the law, it cannot yet be taken for granted,” Rebhi said.

The correct reading of what is a “right” is something that is akin to a public good. It’s non-rivalrous at least. We can indeed exclude people from it but it costs us nothing to extend it. Free speech say. We don’t have to actively go around and aid people in doing it, we just have to lift restrictions.

Then there’re a lot of what the modern world tries to call rights but which aren’t. As here – this right to abortion does require that someone else come and do the abortion. In the extreme, if no one wishes to do so – there are areas of the United States where no one does so wish – then what are we to do? It’s always been accepted in the NHS that those opposed to abortion don’t have to perform nor partake in them. Until very recently that is at least. Which is the problem with these positive rights. Someone has to do something, actively, for them to exist. And what about the rights of those to not perform that act?

We can indeed say that these are rights but we’ve still got to distinguish between the negative rights – allow people to do stuff – and positive rights – force people to do something nice for other people.

Quite the most entertaining part of this is going to be observing that first conflict if the abortionists go on strike. How many knots are people and logic going to be tied into trying to parse those conflicting rights to the withdrawal of labour and the avoidance of it altogether?