on finding yourself in a state of nature: a kantian account of abortion and voluntary motherhood

Feminist Philosophy Quarterly 5 (3) (2019)
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In this essay, I draw on Kant’s legal philosophy in order to defend the right to voluntary motherhood by way of abortion at any stage of pregnancy as an essential feature of women’s basic rights. By developing the distinction between innate and acquired right in Kant’s legal philosophy, I argue that the viability standard in US law (as established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey) misunderstands the nature of embodied right. Our body is the site of innate right; it is the means through which we can set and pursue ends in the world. The law, therefore, cannot adjudicate the relationship between the will and the body: it cannot require us to allow our bodies to be used against our will. By comparing unwanted pregnancy to sexual assault, I problematize the notion that consent to pregnancy, like consent to sex, can ever be conclusive. I examine Kant’s own account of unwanted pregnancy, in which he describes mother and child finding themselves “in a state of nature” in order to rethink the status of the fetus in law, and I argue that we should understand the fetus’s right to life as provisional, rather than as enforceable by law.

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Jordan Pascoe
Manhattan College


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