As shown in Approaching Veganism Part 1, a strong case can indeed be made for a consistent pro-life Vegan ethic. On the other hand, however, there are also certain aspects of Veganism that appear more compatible with pro-choice views. This second article now identifies a major area of contention but points out the false underlying narrative from which it stems.
The main obstacle to pro-life Veganism is that apart from the Hardliners discussed in Part 1, many people who choose not to eat animal products do so out of a desire to protect innocent sentient life, not life overall. Otherwise, Vegans could not eat plants in addition to animal products, a restriction no sub-group has ever proposed. With this guiding principle, a Vegan may condone abortion at least in the early stages of pregnancy before the fetus has developed the “conscious awareness” to process feelings of pain.
One of the most well-known modern utilitarian philosophers Peter Singer exemplifies this view. A prominent animal-rights activist, he is also an extreme abortion supporter, going so far as to support the killing of severely disabled newborn babies and elderly, since they too are deemed lacking in self-awareness. Singer’s position might seem radical, but in reality is only consistent with the logic of pro-choice Vegans; if a being must have the cognitive capacity to hold a preference for life to be worthy of keeping it, no eugenic elimination of people with questionable “sentience” would be off limits.
However, very few people (Vegans included) agree with Singer in carrying the sentience argument all the way to its eugenic conclusion. This reluctance is telling, as it hints that humans are aware on a deep level that there is more wrong with ending innocent lives than just causing pain. For Vegans, this awareness extends to the lives of non-human animals as well.
For instance, suppose cattle farmers found a completely painless way to kill cows. Would Veganism become obsolete? The prospect is unlikely. Most Vegans would still be uncomfortable with the idea of humans taking it upon themselves to end the lives of these animals. Does it matter that the cows, unlike a fetus, had conscious preferences to keep their life before they were killed? To say “yes” brings us right back to Peter Singer’s philosophy, and the endorsement of infanticide which it logically entails.
In this way, Singer’s argument actually highlights why being pro-choice for the sake of consistently avoiding causing harm to sentient creatures is a fallacy. It comes from a flawed understanding of human rights which attempts to establish alternate qualifications for deserving them, other than being both alive and human. Once this misconception is resolved, Veganism’s inherently life-affirming principles shine through.