Emily Albrecht responds to the pro-choice claim that consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy. As education about sexual consent becomes more prevalent, do these ideas apply to pregnancy as well?
Watch all the videos in ERI’s Quick Response series here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsN8Ay8poS-It-dWSmblq1ZufOH-MVj1L
In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in education about consent for sexual activities. Campus health centers especially seem to be hosting constant events about consent thanks to a snazzy new acronym from Planned Parenthood: FRIES.
Besides just handing out french fries to everyone walking by—which literally happened on my college campus several times—the FRIES educational event emphasizes that sexual consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific. I think we can all agree that education about what does and does not qualify as consent to sex is important in our culture today, but this emphasis on consent to sex is also being incorrectly applied to pregnancy.
Let me explain: one thing about consent that is being given particular attention is the R of “FRIES”—consent is reversible. In other words, consent to sex is ongoing, and a person has the right to say “no” at any time during sexual contact, at which point the interaction must immediatley end. That “no” must always be respected, regardless of what behaviors might have been occuring previously, because the individual can “reverse” or withdraw their consent whenever they wish. Pro-choice advocates have taken this idea and now started arguing that pregnancy, like sex, also requires ongoing consent which can be withdrawn at any time. Thus, a woman must have unobstructed access to abortion through all 9 months of pregnancy so that she can freely withdraw her consent to pregnancy at any time.
The problem with this line of thinking is that pregnancy is being talked about like it is an ACTION instead of an EFFECT. When we consent to an action, we are automatically consenting to that action’s effects. You don’t get to separately consent to EFFECTS of your actions—that’s just not how the world works.
If you don’t believe me, consider a casino. Let’s say that I’m going to a casino today, and I decide to play roulette. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, I place a bet on the table to indicate where I think a ball will land. If I place all my chips on a single number, I get a 35-to-1 payout on my bet amount if the ball lands there. But if the ball lands elsewhere, I lose my money. So, I decide to place all my chips on the number 8 to show that I consent to bet on that spin of the wheel. Then the house spins the wheel, and the ball lands on 12. I’m going to lose my money, about which I am obviously not thrilled. But wait! Imagine if I said “Hold on! I gave consent to bet my money, but I never gave consent to lose my money. Now that the wheel has been spun, I am withdrawing my consent. Give me my chips back!”
I’d probably get thrown out of the casino. But if the pit boss was patient enough to explain the situation, they might say something like, “You gave your consent to the bet, and you could have withdrawn that consent anytime before the bets were closed. You knew that the ball might land on your number and it might not; you knew that by playing the game you might win money and you might lose money—playing the game is the thing you consented to. You can’t just change the rules because you didn’t get the outcome you wanted.”
The same is true in sex. You consent to the act of sex, knowing what the possible outcomes are, and you could have reversed your consent at any point during the act. You can’t now refuse to consent to the outcome because it’s not what you wanted. Furthermore, it would clearly be wrong for me to kill someone at the casino in order to avoid the consequence of the bet I consented to. So if the outcome of the sex act you consented to is an inherently needy child, it would clearly be wrong to kill that human in order to avoid the consequences of the sex you consented to. You CAN consent to actions like sex, but pretending that you can withdraw consent from consequences of your actions, AND WITHDRAW YOUR CONSENT BY KILLING ANOTHER HUMAN, is just plain wrong.