There's a curious strain of contradictory thought in this country, that posits that, on the one hand, a parent should have absolute control over their child (what they eat, what they wear, what they learn, what healthcare they do -- or don't -- receive [up to and including deprivation of life-saving medicine], etc.); and, on the other, that a woman should not have the right to make choices regarding her pregnancy -- and should even be held responsible for choices made during pregnancy that might inadvertently impact the fetus involved. So a Christian Scientist refusing to treat his child for a treatable ailment, resulting in a wholly preventable death, is a perfectly healthy manifestation of "freedom of religion", but a woman terminating a nine week old fetus is the epitome of evil. A parent having the power to pull the plug on a child on life support is absolutely appropriate, but a woman pulling the plug on an unwanted pregnancy is MURDER!!!!
Now, to be clear, I'm not suggesting that all pro-life people think that parents should have the right to dictate every detail of their child's life, up to and including things that cause intense mental trauma and even death; or that only pro-life people believe that. But the observable overlap of people who believe those two ostensibly mutually exclusive concepts is fairly substantial. It's the right-wing, as part of their anti-choice efforts, that continually promotes "parental consent" laws -- that ultimately dictate that a minor's parents can decide how she will or will not use her reproductive organs (even if it costs her her life in the process). It's the almost exclusively anti-choice right-wing that embraces concepts meant to empower parents to have absolute control over their children. This is a cornerstone of right-wing fundamentalist belief: children are to submit, absolutely, to the authority of their parents. "Rebellion is akin to witchcraft", and in some strains it must be driven out with "the rod and staff", or the belt, or whatever instrument is deemed useful.
But it is not only among fundamentalists and hardcore right-wingers that we see this mindset flourishing, that a parent's control over healthcare, even life and death decisions, is appropriate outside of the womb, but not inside. Many persons of moderate persuasion still have a marked hesitance, or outright opposition, to a woman exercising her right to choose (even if they support the legal existence of that right). Why? Why is it more objectionable for a parent to choose to pull the plug on a comatose child than to terminate a non-sentient fetus?
There is potential in both scenarios for a healthy child to emerge, and parents have the legal right to make both decisions. Depending on the scenario, there might be a higher, even considerably higher, likelihood that the fetus will eventually become a sentient human being. Is that, then, the difference? The potential, the high likelihood that the pregnancy (barring some misfortune) will result in a healthy child?
To moderate people, I believe so: the averted potential is regarded as being unfortunate, even worthy of being mourned. But I don't think that is the cause among the religious right. In fact, I believe I can demonstrate conclusively that it is not; and that it should not be to others.
It is true that the average pregnancy, uninterrupted, will lead to a healthy child. But so what? In a world in which children starve to death, are murdered, and linger waiting for adoptive parents every day, the promise of eventually delivering another unwanted child is not a great selling point. Our species is hardly in danger of extinction through lack of numbers, so a "greater good" argument falls short as well. Ultimately, if you support a parent's rights to dictate the fate of, choose the medicine for, and so heavily impact the future of an actual child, you don't have much room to complain about what happens to a pre-child. Indeed, there's a much stronger argument for limiting the rights of parents when it comes to medical care and other such life and health-impacting choices for their actual children than there is for limiting the rights of women to make decisions regarding could-be children. The state recognizes the existence and interests of sentient beings, and has a duty to protect those. It does not recognize nor have a duty toward non-sentient pre-persons. Therefore it is in the state's interests to punish parents who knowingly withhold life saving care from a child dying of a preventable condition (and look at how long that journey has been going on, necessitating multiple children dying within the same family before a court finally did something -- in the one instance), but not to concern itself with a person's decision to continue, or not, the development of a fetus. At such time as the fetus becomes a sentient, born human being, the state has a duty toward it; before, well, I've yet to see a convincing argument as to why it should -- or one that adequately (or remotely) addresses the utter trampling of the rights of sentient human beings that such a decision would necessarily entail.
To some anti-choicers, whose focus seems to extend only to foisting forced births of perfect little cherubs on unwilling mothers (and subsequently letting the little moochers and their harlot mothers starve in the hedgerows, as Conservative Jesus intended -- Amen!), the unwanted nature is irrelevant, though. While a parent should have absolute say over what happens to their child, because children are to obey their parents, a woman should have no say over whether or not she continues her pregnancy, because "the babies!!" In the pro-life world, a fertilized egg is an embryo is a fetus is a Super Person, whose rights, even to life, trump its mother's. So the potential child is more important than the actual woman, and its interests trump hers. Considering the misogynistic, fundamentalist religious roots of the movement, the continuous focus on "punishing" sexually active women, etc. this is perhaps not surprising. Disgusting, but not surprising. The pro-life movement is not a pro-woman movement, whatever duplicitous pretenses to the contrary it might muster. Where this gets really dicey, though, is that the potential child has more rights than the actual child. "Personhood" and other pro-life legislation around the nation has not only elevated the fertilized human egg to the same status as the human child, but it attempts to confer upon it special privileges. A child can be subjected to intense physical and emotional trauma by parents (and, in many red states, even teachers); a child can be denied necessary healthcare, to the child's extreme detriment (and even death); and that is right and just exercise of godly authority over offspring. But if a Super Person is harmed as a result of its mother's drug addiction -- she is to be prosecuted, harshly. A human child without brain function can be removed from life support at its parents' direction. But the non-sentient pre-child, the Super Person, must remain in utero at all costs -- even its mother's life. Again, one assumes -- the only kindly way to interpret this fetus-obsession -- that this is due to the fetus' potential life: that the extraordinary privilege granted the fetus is granted because it carries the potential for a full and God-ordained life if birthed.
This is, demonstrably, an unjustified and incorrect assumption, however. Pro-lifers do not accord unmatched rights to a fetus because it is a child or potential child, a precious egg baby being robbed of its future; and we can easily determine this, in two ways.
First, potential children-making activities, and the lives that would result, are hotly, vehemently opposed by "pro-lifers". The same anti-choicers who will complain about the potential life lost through abortion for a child who "might have cured cancer" are very often the ones who seek to ban fertility treatments (because cancer cured by a rape-conceived or unwanted child is cancer well cured; cancer cured by a child both wanted and conceived with medical assistance is Nazism). It's the same crowd that fervently worries that using the Pill will prevent the conception of the child who might grow to cure cancer that spends a great deal of time, energy and thought on convincing people that sex is evil, no good, very bad and wholly disgusting (unless engaged in by heterosexual married people: one subservient, submissive, always sexually available but chaste, modest, and demure wife, and her dominant, God-fearing, head of the household husband). Again, cancer cured by the birth control-thwarted egg-baby is to be mourned; cancer cured by the out-of-wedlock baby isn't a concern.
There's an even stronger indicator, however, that it isn't the life or potential life of the fetus, the Super Person, that worries pro-lifers. This is the legislation and rules, and the reasons proffered for these, enacted by pro-lifers. Consider, for instance, Terry England, and his infamous push to force women to carry to term dead fetuses -- because he had "had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive" and "[d]elivering pigs, dead or alive", and, dangnabbit, if it's good enough for a cow or a swine to carry dead offspring to term, it's good enough for women! Consider the Catholic hospitals that force women to carry dying fetuses, at significant determinant (up to and including death) to themselves. The potential, in these cases, is already nullified. These are dead or dying fetuses; and yet pro-lifers would force women to continue carrying these dead or dying Super Persons. To what end? A dead fetus has no potential -- other than to sicken or kill its mother. The anti-choice crowd does not -- cannot -- oppose abortion, then, because of the fetal "potential": because it is perfectly willing to force a woman to carry a fetus with no potential (even if it destroys or ends her potential-filled life), which means that potential is not a relevant factor.
The "you can't play God!" nonsense is often thrown up at this point, as if that isn't precisely what medicine does: saves, extends & improves lives when they are imperiled or harmed. This is simply a non sequitur. Dead bodies and human tissue are disposed of as quickly and in as sanitary a fashion as possible. Forcing a woman to keep a dead body or dead fetal tissue inside her is as barbaric as it is disgusting and unsafe. It is decidedly non-medically minded, and has no more to do with "playing God" than any other medical procedure with the potential to save lives. Or, for that matter, disposing of corpses that exist outside of the body.
When really pressed, the anti-choice crowd will often throw in a little something else to their arguments. Sometimes it boils down to innocence: the fetus is innocent! Or the anti-"convenience"/selfishness argument. Or punishment for the mother. Or some amalgamation of these arguments. "Well, she chose to have sex, so why should the innocent child suffer for her selfish convenience?!"
I've addressed this before, so I'll touch on it only briefly. Child-bearing isn't "retribution" for failing some puritanical strictures about sex (and this argument is itself nullified by the large body of anti-choicers who would force rape victims [who have no say in having sex] to carry to term fetuses). Child bearing is a choice, and one that should be made with the fullest intent to do right by the child. Choosing not to a bring a child into the world when you know you are not ready, willing or able to be a good parent is not being selfish. It is the only responsible thing to do. And, indeed, none of this is relevant in regards to the actual child, so none of it is relevant to the Super Person: parents aren't compelled to keep a child on life support because, "Well, you should have thought of that before you opened your legs!" Parents are not forced by the state to provide scientifically sound medical care if they choose to pray instead or rely on homeopathy (despite the demonstrable evidence of human suffering that results from its absence -- evidence that does not exist in the case of the Super Person) because they chose to have intercourse, or even chose to make a baby. If choosing to have sex, much less actively seeking to conceive, is irrelevant to a parent's life altering and even ending parenting choices outside of the womb, it's a poor substitute for an argument when the fetus remains in the womb. It becomes an excuse in lieu of an argument, not a legitimate reason why.
And, finally, the fetus' innocence is irrelevant. A fetus is not, cannot be, substantially more or less innocent than an average two week old, two year old, six year old, or twelve year old. A parent's decision-making power is not granted or revoked based on the innocence of the person or fetus involved. A mother has as much right to decide when and if to pull the plug on a saintly six year old as a tantrum throwing terror, when to refuse significant and even life saving care for the best of five year old's as for the worst. Good behavior, bad behavior, "innocence" and guilt are immaterial. If we are a society that grants life altering, even ending, powers to parents of actual children, whose capacity for thinking, feeling and suffering is certain and undisputed (unlike the fetus, who for much of its existence is incapable of thought or feeling); and since this is largely fueled by the right wing's obsession with "God-given" parental rights over children; it is patently absurd to suggest that granting the same powers to women over non-sentient pre-children is somehow a monstrous miscarriage of justice.