The Corner

Abortion, Tv and Rescue

Instapundit took our discussion of abortion and TV and went interesting places with it:

I realize I’m not quite addressing Jonah’s argument here, but it’s not so shocking that a single decision like that might change, if not a person’s moral status, at least the constellation of duties that someone has in regard to them. A classic example (and one that I’ve always meant to write a law review article about, but never gotten around to) has to do with abortion and the duty to rescue.

At common law — and still, pretty much, the law generally — there’s no duty to rescue. The classic example, in fact, involves a man walking down the sidewalk and observing a baby drowning in a half-inch of water. Even if the man could rescue the baby with no risk and minimal inconvenience to himself, he’s under no duty to take any action at all, and can simply keep walking without facing any penalty beyond moral condemnation.

But if he decides to help, and takes action, then he becomes obligated to follow through and must exert all reasonable effort (short of risking death or serious bodily harm; inconvenience doesn’t generally count) to save the baby’s life and leave it in a position of reasonable safety. The analogy should be obvious here.

Now I’ve thought of this argument in a different context, as an explanation for why you could both support abortion rights (as, of course, I do) and also support holding pregnant women liable for engaging in behavior — like drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. — that might endanger the fetus. But I think it provides at least a partial answer to Jonah’s question.

Read the whole thing, as he would say.


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