I have been thinking recently of a discussion on abortion and the term “pro-life” that I had with a friend and (at the time) fellow philosophy undergraduate. In a nutshell we both came to the agreement that, I as far-vegetarian (I don’t buy leather, eat gelatin, etc) and they a vegan, could potentially take a “pro-life” argument seriously if it was coming from a vegan or vegetarian.
While I can think of plenty of ways an argument could go about, the pro-life argument would probably be quite secular in nature, or at the very least not rooted in the typical context that those opposed to abortion operate in today. What this reveals however is that in the abortion debate that is seemingly unending (in the United States of America most obviously) is that those interested in animal rights end up losing no matter what.
Of course, it is safe to assume that the typical “pro-life” supporter and the typical “pro-choice” supporter both eat meat (this is a statistical fact) and do not think much of the topic of animal rights at least when discussing abortion but their positions both ultimately on the face of it support that animals do not have rights and the entire abortion debate is inherently quite anthropocentric. On the pro-choice side you will be hard pressed to find a supporter who at least would not call a fetus a potential human, and ultimately if a potential human can be terminated in an ethically defensible way then it stands to reason that animals do not mean much in the grand scheme of things. In other words, if a potential future member of your own species is not considered something inherently important and sacred so to speak, then members of other species probably do not have much importance.
Conversely, the pro-life side of the argument rests (most commonly) on a religiously founded form of anthropocentrism. Abortion is wrong in the eyes of the pro-life supporter because it is ending either a potential, or fully realized human life.
This seeming lose-lose situation for the animal rights supporter is somewhat remedied by dividing humans from animals, or by placing heavy importance on utilitarianism or the wishes of the mother. Of course an easy fix is by identifying abortion as a specific human problem, and any concerns of reproduction should be left to individual species to work out (be it through evolution, instinct, or what have you).
The issues for the animal rights supporter still remain. I will make the assumption (I could very well be wrong, but I would be surprised to find so) that most vegetarians and vegans are of the pro-choice camp when it comes to the abortion debate. Yet the heavy anthropocentrism still remains in that if humans are allowed to end potential human lives, the idea of ending other animal lives seems quite trivial. While the easy fix above gets around this for the animal rights supporter, it doesn’t solve the problem of how the abortion debate reinforces anthropocentrism quite heavily.
It would appear that aside from the easy fix, a form of utilitarianism could also rectify this, such as Peter Singer’s. Singer however remains a controversial figure on the topic of abortion, and even remains one within the realm of animal rights (the most damning and common critique of him would be his position as a “welfarist”). While I am personally drawn to Singer’s ethics, I do not think it be necessary on this topic. The animal rights supporter can easily rectify their beliefs with a pro-choice position if one views abortion as a human problem, and that generally concerns of reproduction should be left to individual species.
This however raises issues of activities that humans participate in, such as population control and encouraging breeding of endangered animals. An obvious answer to these issues is that of Singer’s utilitarianism or variations there of. Yet I would take my easy fix and apply it more generally, as in many cases population control and encouraged breeding are viewed as ways of fixing problems, problems caused by humans. So to take the easy step one step further, we should just leave animals to their own devices and stop interfering with them all together.
[Two examples that come to mind in terms of population control and encouraged breeding is that of white tailed dear and pandas respectively. White tail deer have had their populations culled due to them over-eating their sources of food and killings were done in order to avoid mass starvation, what is often not talked about however is that the reason the white tail deer population needs to be culled in the first place is because they lack natural predators, namely wolves which humans have effectively killed off. Giant pandas are endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, direct actions taken by humans. The general position I propose should not be taken as an abrupt abandoning of the help we lend to animals now, but rather a policy of non-interference in that similar problems that we experience now do not arise again in the future.]