Friday, May 18, 2007

The Illiberality of Abortion

Is the left rethinking its position on abortion? The Times on Sunday featured a thought-provoking review article questioning the morality of using prenatal genetic testing to select whether to abort an unborn child.1

The questions may only become murkier if testing extends to traits like homosexuality or intelligence.

But Kirsten Moore, president of the pro-choice Reproductive Health Technologies Project, said that when members of her staff recently discussed whether to recommend that any prenatal tests be banned, they found it impossible to draw a line — even at sex selection, which almost all found morally repugnant. “We all had our own zones of discomfort but still couldn’t quite bring ourselves to say, ‘Here’s the line, firm and clear’ because that is the core of the pro-choice philosophy,” she said. “You can never make that decision for someone else.”

The rhetoric of “choice,” however, can take on a more troubling resonance when it comes to selecting children with new reproductive technologies, disabilities rights advocates say. “It so buys into this consumer perspective on our children,” said Marsha Saxton, a senior researcher at the World Institute on Disability in Oakland, Calif., who is an abortion rights supporter.

The article concludes with an appropriate question:

“Some religious conservatives say that they trust God to give them the child that is meant to be,” wrote Ann Althouse, a law professor in Madison, Wis., who identifies herself as an abortion rights supporter on her legal blog. “But isn’t there something equivalent for social liberals? Shouldn’t they have moral standards about what reasons are acceptable for an abortion?”

It is sad that our ruling elites long ago moved our society across the line from being liberal and welcoming to being intolerant of those who don't meet certain powerful peoples' criteria. (In the case of abortion the powerful person is often a boyfriend or husband who wants to avoid the responsibility of a child.) A truly liberal society doesn't shut the weak and defenseless out in the darkness of non-being (even non-homosexuals). A truly liberal society doesn't pick and choose whom to include and whom to exclude.

The equality of dignity that we all bear and on which our social order is premised requires that we regard every person as worthy of full protection.2 The idea that we can somehow recapture (or regain) moral rectitude while allowing the barbarity of arbitrary killing of humans is wishful thinking.

The Times allowing the appearance of some questioning of abortion orthodoxy is a welcome development. But it is extremely unlikely that these midnight doubts will produce any concrete change in the policies of abortion advocates. The real problem is that once we allow abortion on demand, there is no real criterion for whom to allow to be born and whom to allow to be aborted. The hard-core abortion supporters ("aborters"?) realize this, which is why they automatically reject any limitations on abortion (often including common-sense medical measures to protect mothers' lives): they see clearly that it's all or nothing.

Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus distilled the politically correct principles from some previous Times stories, and his evaluation retains its salience:

To abort a child who might have Down syndrome is a social duty, and the ability to detect the problem early is hailed as a medical advance. To abort a child because of a hair lip or because she is a girl may be distasteful to some but is a constitutionally guaranteed right. To abort a child because he or she might have a genetic disposition to homosexuality, however, is an act of intolerable discrimination. If morality finally comes down to drawing a line, it would seem that the line with respect to abortion license is homosexuality. As Orwell observed, all human beings [sic] are equal but some are more equal than others.

At least there's one case that stimulates some reflection on the left. It's a shame that all the endangered unborn can't claim to be homosexuals until they've safely passed the birth canal.


1. Notice the reassurance at every turn that each of the people quoted support "reproductive choice" and "abortion rights"—to make clear to the readership that these people are sane and not rabid conservatives (!) or anything.

2. This Walker Percy selection explains the confluence of two conflicting worldviews behind this radical contradiction in our elites' thought. Darwinism, of course, is proof of philosophical materialism to many people's minds.

Amy Harmon, "Genetic Testing + Abortion = ???" New York Times (May 13, 2007).

Richard J. Neuhaus, "The Public Square," First Things (April 2007), 68-69.


Scott Hughes said...

I think it's fine to legally allow people to choose abortion for whatever reason they wish. However, I personally want to see less abortion, but that doesn't mean I want them to be illegal. And, as long as they are legal (which I want them to be) then it would be unfair to restrict the reasons why a person can get an abortion. Plus, parents need to have access to any available information about the baby's health and genetics so they can make an informed decision.

I don't want to see any abortion for any reason, including avoiding gay babies or such. However, I still want abortion to be legal for any reason.

BTW, did I tell you about yet?

David M. Smith said...

Great post, MJ.

It is too bad that so many Americans can’t get beyond “life” and to “liberty” and “happiness“.

Scott, do you feel the same way about slavery, drunk driving, and murder? Why should a procedure that involuntarily takes the life of another person remain legal?

c matt said...

I think Scott is a type of "spam" - I've seen him post on a couple of diffrent blogs with the same

"BTW, did I tell you about yet?" tag line. He should be treated as a late night infomercial.

Lawrence Gage said...

Thanks, David... and C Matt. Yes, the tag line is pretty inapt, but the linked site is of a piece with his comments. It's an interesting position, but inconsistent and thus unprincipled (what makes a baby about to be born any less worthy of protection than one born)... at best a political compromise.

I regret that I neglected to note in this post that it's a spin-off of the discussion with DL on the previous post ("The Darwinian Holocaust").