This is an entry in the Pro-Abortion series.
This blog is based on one simple premise called the Prime Directive, which states that we should not impose harm. This principle, if upheld consistently and universally, leads us to atheism, Anarchism and antinatalism. Based on the latter, it also leads to the pro-abortion position. If it is correct to say that starting a new life means imposing harm on that life (as I contend), a harm that is necessarily far beyond the harm that an abortion might being, then abortion must be the default.
Obviously, pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates disagree with that assessment. As I discussed in my entry on tyranny, they do not take as primary the desire to not impose harm. Pro-choice advocates believe in not imposing against people’s choices. Anti-abortion advocates believe in not imposing against God’s will. These different conceptual frameworks entail very different ideas about what policies are optimal, the kind of society we should live in, and so on.
In my previous entries in this series, I have demolished the individual arguments used by both sides to try to prove their position valid. In this one, like in the previous one, I want to take a broader perspective and criticize the fundamental premises of each position; in doing so, I want to demonstrate that, even if the pro-choice or anti-abortion position eventually comes out with new arguments, such arguments would still serve illogical and unethical goals.
The pro-choice position holds choice and bodily autonomy as its flagship values; both issues are connected, insofar as bodily autonomy entails total freedom of choice as regards to one’s own body, and choice implies some form of autonomy from others. Some will argue that in the absence of consensus on a social issue we should err on the side of choice. Others will argue that choice is a basic matter of freedom, that if a woman is not in control of her own body then she cannot claim to be free.
The “absence of consensus” rationale seems like a rather contingent justification for something that you hold as a core value. Most importantly, it is inconsistent with what most people actually believe. There will never be any consensus on even the most basic principles of society. For instance, some pacifists believe that all law enforcement is wrong because we should never use force. Their objections are reasonable and logical. Does that mean that we should err on the side of “choice” and allow criminals to get away scot-free on the basis of a lack of consensus?
The “absence of consensus” rationale also means that the power elite should get away with everything they do. For instance, many rich and powerful people contend that corporations should have the choice to delegate externalities (such as pollution, not providing health insurance, loss of employment, bad labor laws, etc) to the rest of society. If we adopt choice as our guiding value, we should conclude, from the “absence of consensus,” that we should let corporate persons choose whether to delegate their externalities to us or not. Yet this is clearly an unegalitarian position.
The problem with choice, and its liberal corollary of equality of opportunity, is that it doesn’t take into account ethical judgments. The fact that people disagree about any given social issue doesn’t mean that there is no right or wrong position. This is the case partially because many people take sides because of their religious or classist allegiances, not because of facts. Abortion is a good example of that, but it’s true of most issues.
Furthermore, it seems silly for pro-choice advocates to declare themselves mere arbiters of a lack of consensus when they are responsible for said lack of consensus (especially since they downright deny the existence of pro-abortion opposition).
Note that I am not saying that people who are pro-choice must also be in favor of eliminating the concept of crime or supporting corporations. All I am saying is that using the concept of choice as a core value is inconsistent with the values held by pro-choice people.
The “basic freedom” rationale is not much better. We do not have the “basic freedom” of punching someone, pissing on the sidewalk, or shouting fire in a crowded theater. Yet these activities all concern our body. As I pointed out in the entry on body ownership, the basic principle here is that your freedom ends where the other person’s begins. We can extend this reasoning to social institutions, like the mania of wanting anyone to be able to choose to take jobs that hurt other people (soldier, CEO, president, etc). That’s no “freedom” either, because it is predicated on attacking other people’s freedom.
Freedom represents the possibilities open to the individual. These possibilities are determined by the five dynamics: mental freedom, bodily freedom, relational freedom, social freedom, and human freedom. To claim that bodily freedom must be the absolute standard means to ignore the other four. To try to build social policy solely on bodily freedom entails an unbalanced society and ultimately an unfree society.
The anti-abortion position is founded on the core values of obedience to God and the sanctity of life. Many people have commented on how anti-abortion people tend to be for war, the death penalty, women dying in botched back alley abortions, and so on, and as such really do not value the sanctity of life. The anti-abortion response that they only value “innocent” life is entirely unconvincing, especially since Christianity is based on the premise that all humans are born guilty of the Original Sin; there’s also the demonstrable fact that a lot of executions and the vast majority of war casualties are imposed on innocent people (not to mention every single death due to botched abortions). So valuing the sanctity of life just doesn’t fly in this case. The same could be said about divine abortions which are supposed to be, like all of God’s actions, good, and yet kill innocent lives.
Invoking the value of obeying God’s commands doesn’t fare much better. For one thing, it’s a scientific fact, as measured by EEGs, that people always imagine God as believing the same things they do. Even putting that aside, it cannot be denied that “God’s will” must be interpreted from the Bible by each individual in order to be relevant in their lives, because the Bible can be used to validate any position. For example, the Bible clearly states repeatedly that life comes from the breath (“the breath of life”). This, coupled with the fact that God does not impose any prohibition against it, proves that abortion is biblically valid. But the opposition can point to dozens of verses which, starting from a different assumption, prove that abortion is biblically invalid.
Because people imagine God believing like they do, and because the Bible can be used to justify any position, people believe what they do on the basis of their parents’ political beliefs and those of the sect they belong to. Having closed the door to objective reality, their only real recourse is complete subjectivity.
I’m sure some anti-abortion advocates will resent my emphasis on Christianity, and will state that the anti-abortion position is not a religious position. This is highly implausible, both historically and theoretically. There is no intuitive reason why anyone should come to believe that the fetus is a person from conception onwards (or that it has a right to life, that it feels pain, etc), at least without a belief in the soul and “ensoulment” at conception. Of course there is such a thing as anti-abortion atheists, but they defend their position using the same Christianity-based arguments.
So these core values are all failures when we look at them in their entirety, but I don’t deny that there are good sides to them. However, I contend that the good sides of these core values can be entirely found in the Prime Directive, and that there is therefore no reason to hold to any other principle in this issue but the Prime Directive.
Pro-choice advocates value choice mainly because they oppose the harm of forcing a woman to have a child when she is not ready or capable of raising the child. This is perfectly in line with not imposing harm. On the other hand, choice is bad in the kind of situations I discussed (crimes, delegating externalities), where people are being harmed by the choice without their consent, which again agrees with the Prime Directive.
The value of bodily autonomy is pretty similar, in that it is only acceptable when no one else is harmed and is unacceptable when others are harmed, again in line with the Prime Directive.
The value of the sanctity of “innocent” life makes sense when it’s used to oppose murder, but it doesn’t make sense when it’s used to justify war, the death penalty, and other acts of killing. Again, the good side (being against murder) is perfectly in line with the Prime Directive.
Finally, the value of obeying God’s will doesn’t make sense when it’s used to justify subjective beliefs. There is no clear correlation here: some of the most harm-generating Christian beliefs are justified by the Bible (hatred of homosexuals, hatred of women and witches in particular, the death penalty, support of slavery) and some are not (hatred of the Jews, anti-abortion and anti-contraception beliefs, supporting capitalism, belief in Hell). So this may be the one exception to my principle; however, it does seem that those beliefs which harm people tend to fall away, while the few non-harmful beliefs are still believed (if not practiced).
Some may object that these little evaluations of the “good parts” of the values are circular. After all, I am the one recognizing which are good and which are bad. But my evaluations are based on logical consistency and what the advocates of those positions believe, not on my own beliefs. Of course there are some pro-choice people who believe it is fine to punch people or to allow corporate abuse, or that there are some anti-abortion people who believe we should hate Jews or witches, but I don’t think they would be considered representative.