Saturday, March 17, 2007

Choice or Justice? Abortion Rights and Retail Eugenics

Having recently spoken well of Lindsay Beyerstein, I think it is interesting to note how two of her recent posts show the tension between strong pro-choice commitments and the left's support for the traditionally marginalized and oppressed. Beyerstein is nothing if not logical, and so the dialectic plays out very quickly. But I think it has broader implications, some of which Russell Arben Fox has blogged about.

In the post I originally linked to, Beyerstein indicated her disgust with an Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who apparently supports the idea of screening pre-natally for same sex sexual orientation, followed by "treatment", should these things become scientifically possible. Mr. Mohler doubtless would not approve, but the most likely "treatment" will be abortion.

More immediately, inferential statistics show that sex selection through abortion is widespread. And of course, there are very few Down syndrome kids anymore.

Not surprisingly, as a progressive pundit, Beyerstein initially showed disapproval of Mr. Mohler's homophobic stance.

Beyerstein was taken to task for inconsistency by libertarian Julian Sanchez. A fetus is not a person, and therefore, he claims, has no legal or moral rights. So there can be nothing legally or morally wrong with killing or modifying it, even if the parent's preference is a morally arbitrary one.

Beyerstein -- to the credit of her consistency, if not of her premises -- posted again, essentially agreeing with Sanchez. When I asked her to clarify whether she was just saying that women shoudl have the legal right to use abortion to select for sex or sexual orientation, but that it was still morally wrong, she said such abortions were morally indifferent, although they reveal a character flaw of discriminatory attitudes.

I agree that a fetus is not a person with equal legal and moral rights to the born. I think that view is fanatical -- no well-constituted person would leave a child to die to save any number of blastocysts. But the Sanchez position -- that any abortion for any reason is morally indifferent -- seems equally fanatical to me. When the left embraces such a position, especially in relation to disadvantaged and marginalized groups, it abandons its core commitments, the ones that give it a right to exist.

One problem is imposing a discrete framework of person/nonperson on what is a continuous process. Another problem is the quintessentially liberal assumption that all our duties derive out of the rights of other persons.

Perhaps we should start from the recognition that abortion is an act of violence. Not all violence is wrong. Some is necessary; some is justified; some is excusable. If we aren't strict vegetarians, we eat as a result of violence. It is violence (against people) that sustains borders internationally and law domestically. Requiring someone to give birth against her will would also be an act of violence. But it is perhaps just a little too easy to declare violence -- especially violence we are accustomed to -- necessary. And it is even easier -- but worse -- to decide we don't need to find it necessary because it isn't violence at all.

We have already passed the point where parents can -- and do -- decide their children's sex prenatally. Soon, it will be sexual orientation, and IQ, and personality profiles. A mature parent is one who realizes how little his or her "preferences" matter to what a child is going to be, who accepts the dread that comes in knowing how wide a variety of futures there are, and how little -- in the final anlaysis -- our planning can do about that. At the same time, the pressure for more detailed planning, for better control, grows. I see a grim future in all this choice and technology.

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