Kingma and Woollard on Pregnancy and State Interference

Philosophers Eliselijn Kingma and Fiona Woollard have responded to a Dutch proposal to increase government powers with respect to pregnant women smoking.

It is very sad when an early life is set back before it is even born. But it is also dreadful that one in four women is the victim of domestic abuse, and that in 30% of cases that abuse begins during pregnancy. Nonetheless the state does not place webcams in our homes, or chips in expectant fathers. Why? Because a just state needs to balance (1) the protection of individuals against each other, and (2) the protection of individuals against the state. In pregnant women, we are too often inclined to lose sight of that latter demand. The physical unity of fetus and pregnant woman means that intervening on the latter in the name of protecting the former is necessarily a profound violation of the mother’s personal freedom, privacy and civil rights. The fetus cannot be forcefully separated from the mother without, literally, cutting her open. And controlling what she inhales and ingests – let alone forced treatment or deprivation of liberty – is a profound interference by the state of her most intimate and basic human freedoms, and a far-reaching abuse of the powers of the state.

Full translation is here.

3 thoughts on “Kingma and Woollard on Pregnancy and State Interference

  1. Thank you Sally! Yes, I know how dire the situation is in the USA. What is worrying and weird about the Dutch situation is that it is NOT EVEN motivated by some hidden anti-abortion agenda – which I think in the USA often motivates a lot of this stuff. These proposals are pushed by people who, as far as I can judge, have no interest in overturning our abortion laws (quite permissive) at all – but want to put serious constraints on pregnant women’t autonomy nonetheless.

  2. Come to think of it – that should be more nuanced. People who want to restrict pregnant women’s autonomy AND overturn abortion are more worrying than people who just want to do the former. So maybe it is not so much super-worrying – but surprising and a bit weird. It means that in many ways the debate and the background of the players in it is a bit different from how the debate in the US is motivated I think….

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