“The right to life is held by the child, not the mother, nor the father, nor the rest of society”

On May 17, 2021, the US Supreme Court announced that it will review a case brought by the State of Mississippi, known as Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which seeks to ban abortion after week 15 of pregnancy.

Since the Supreme Court Ruling on Roe v Wade in 1973, abortion has been permitted up to week 24 of pregnancy and when the fetus is not viable, i.e., it cannot survive outside the mother’s womb.

Public statements have subsequently been made by professionals from different fields, both in favor of and against a judicial review. There is even a third position: those who disagree with both the Ruling and the possible future Law, since neither of them fully respects the right to life. Read HERE and HERE.

It is only natural that we have this type of debate on this issue because abortion has the typical bioethical characteristic, namely multidisciplinarity. The perspectives from which it is addressed are varied: medical, biological, social, bioethical, legal, political, religious, etc.

We forget, though, that this multidisciplinarity must be directed toward interdisciplinarity, if it is to be rigorously scientific.

For example, biologically and medically, there is a human life from conception; socially, there is life if such life is accepted by the mother (even by society).

But what about politically? And ethically?

This is at the heart of the debate. It occurs, however, because three disciplines are intertwined; these, of course, are related, but also have differences. And these differences are important. That is, what these disciplines do not have is identity; each has its own autonomy.

Why do we say this?

Sciences such as Law, Politics and Ethics are related, but not to such an extent that, in a context such as the one discussed herein (which is legal and judicial), political or moral interests prevail over or above legal ones.

And in the Roe v Wade Ruling they did prevail. A fundamental error.

We are aware that the Supreme Court’s decision could have implications for all US states on the issue of abortion.

Nevertheless, it remains true that perhaps this is the right time to make three legal reflections that could be very useful in the deliberation of the recently announced judicial review:

  1. Who has the right to decide who is a person and who is not?
  2.  Accordingly, who has the right to decide who lives and who does not?
  3. Because do not forget, the ownership of the right to life is held by the child, not the mother, nor the father, nor the rest of society.

In the latter respect, one can counterargue by saying that ownership is not the same as exercise, i.e., I have the right to housing, but I can exercise it if I want to or not; I have the right to work but I can exercise it if I want to or not.

But that argument can be invoked for all rights EXCEPT the right to life. As Professor Peces-Barba said, in the right to life, ownership and exercise coincide. And the child holds that ownership and exercise. No one else.


David Guillem-Tatay

Bioethics Observatory – Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia


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