I wrote this essay a couple of years ago but am re-sharing here on Medium because it’s a much better platform than my old one at Blogspot and, frankly, because reproductive rights are under serious attack right now, I just felt the urgency.
Over the years, I’ve gotten occasional questions about how I reconcile being a vegan and being someone who is pro-choice. After all, isn’t veganism about protecting innocent and vulnerable lives? To me, there is no reconciliation needed because I don’t feel my passionately pro-choice position contradicts my vegan values in the slightest.
Here is how I look at it from a vegan perspective: Let’s take the example of a pregnant cow and her fetus. To have this conversation, we need to agree on the single basic premise that animals other than humans have the drive to act in and protect their own best interests. I’m not even saying that they have right for it, though I certainly believe that they do and for much more: I am saying simply the drive. Again, for the sake of this conversation, we need to simply agree that animals have the drive to act in and protect their own best interests.
With me so far?
Given society’s hierarchies, a cow on her own cannot protect her interests because she has the legal status of property; she is chattel. [Etymologically, from Old French chatel, meaning cattle, derived from catel, meaning property.] Those who “own” her make decisions about her body, including her reproduction, based primarily on financial considerations.
Her drive to act in accordance with her best interests is observably demonstrable by her capacity to suffer when circumstances that are not advantageous are introduced, like severe weather conditions, for example, or mastitis. The calf inside her, though, is a potential life. The cow is here. She is physically present and, though people may agree or disagree on the conclusions, we can observe that the pregnant cow can both thrive and suffer, to the best that we understand it, in different circumstances. The sentience of the fetus, however, is far murkier and less verifiable.
Even given that there is an area of dispute about when in development sentience in a fetus can be observed and what degree of feeling may be available via that putative sentience, it’s still highly speculative. There is much we don’t know and I will admit that this works either way. The fact is, though, that we do know that the pregnant cow can suffer and does have sentience. There is nothing speculative about that. Given that, I stand for the rights of the mother cow, whose capacity to suffer and thrive are recognizable given our measures of observation and understanding.
If I were able to make a decision on behalf of a cow who would suffer if a fetus came to term, I would fight to protect her best interests over those of the potential life inside her. It is the same for those who have uteruses of the human race. To me, our right to pursue our best interests eclipses that of a potential life. I should say that I also stand by anyone’s right to carry their fetus to term as they desire just as ardently as I do her right to end a pregnancy.
We have empirical needs for our best interests — for wellness, safety, self-agency — and I will fight for those rights. Fetuses, however, do not thrive or suffer in provable ways that are equivalent to autonomous people. To our understanding, a fetus is without experiences, aspirations and a provable capacity to suffer, thus a fetus does not deserve an equivalent consideration of those who may be carrying a fetus. This is a longwinded way to say that you don’t need to prove to me that people here on earth can thrive and suffer because we know that to be a fact; because we cannot say the same about fetuses, I conclude that they don’t get the same weight of consideration.
Is this harsh? It doesn’t feel that way to me. I am guessing that if men got pregnant instead of those who have uteruses, this wouldn’t be a conversation at all.
Is it possible to be a pro-choice vegan? I am living proof that it is and I have zero inner-conflict about it.