Abortion: the endgame. [part 1/2]

There is a pragmatic approach used by the pro-choice position that makes a lot of intuitive sense. Women, they say, will have abortions or make children no matter what the laws say, and so passing laws is pretty futile and only gets in the way.

At one level, I agree completely. Women will do whatever they want to do regardless of what the laws say. At another level, it’s completely irrelevant, because we can say the same of any crime. We don’t consider it futile to have laws against murder (private murder, anyway) even though people still kill each other. The same is true for mandates: the fact that we are mandated to pay our taxes doesn’t mean everyone will pay them.

The pragmatic objection is based on a misunderstanding of what laws are for. Laws do not serve the purpose of stopping a category of actions, and in no way can making a law itself stop anyone from doing anything. The intended effect, at least rationally, is to make it harder for people to commit these actions, and to stop those who have committed them; for actions which we consider dangerous to others, we seek to isolate those individuals from society as a whole.

As such, the purpose of a law for or against abortion is not to nullify the concept of “choice,” which doesn’t exist anyway. The purpose is to make it harder for people to have an abortion, or to have a child, and to punish those who have done so. Obviously the standard to establish this is higher than the standard to establish that something is unethical; one can believe that something is unethical without believing that we need laws against it (for instance, some of the particularly nasty things people do to each other in relationships).

I think we can expect laws against childbirth to be far more effective than laws against abortion, simply because childbirth and child-raising requires a lot more resources and a lot more social interactions than abortions. Unsafe abortions can be performed easily: it is known that certain foods or physical activities can bring this about, as well as, famously, sharp implements such as coat-hangers or sticks. Obviously, safe abortions require more equipment and know-how, but still far less resources than what is necessary to give birth and raise a child in our modern societies (barring the cases of depraved child rapists who imprison their children, but one can hardly call such slavery “raising a child”).

Unless there is a severe breakdown in civilized society, in which case children may be held effectively as slaves like they were in our feudal past, there is much greater disincentive for women to have a child in a pro-abortion context than for women to have an abortion in an anti-abortion context. So there is good reason to believe that pro-abortion laws would be considerably more effective than anti-abortion laws were.

I think the debate has been muddled because abortions are relatively easy to bring about, at the physical level. So there is sort of an illusion that choice is the natural default, and that law has little to do with it. But this obviously does not equally apply to child-raising, so pragmatic reasoning can only take us as far as saying that the anti-abortion position is relatively futile, but not that the pro-abortion position is relatively futile.

I am only addressing pragmatism insofar as it is part of the abortion debate. Generally speaking, I consider pragmatism to be entirely irrelevant to any serious debate. All that matters to me is whether positions can be backed by some logical argument or empirical evidence. If the answer is affirmative, then those positions deserve to be rationally considered and weighted, even if they are counter-intuitive or even repulsive. If the answer is negative, then those positions do not deserve to be rationally considered, no matter how popular or comforting they are.

Throughout this series, I have used logic to try to defeat pro-choice and anti-abortion arguments, and have used logic to propose arguments of my own. This entry, however, is not about logical arguments, but about something which is ultimately fallacious: the appeal to consequences.

Now, the appeal to consequences is used regularly against unpopular opinions in order to scare people against them. As such, it is a fallacy: the hypothetical consequences of an ideology do not prove that the belief itself is right or wrong. To borrow the example from the page I linked to, arguing that belief in evolution leads to immorality may lead us to conclude that teaching evolution is wrong, but not that evolution itself is false. There is no logical relation between the fact that all life can be traced back to common ancestors and the rate of shootings in American schools.

Likewise, some people may argue that forced abortions are too evil and that they therefore cannot accept my arguments, or that a pro-abortion position would, over time, lead to evil results. But these points, however valid, are not relevant to whether the pro-abortion position is true or not. They may be relevant to the issue of whether one should believe in it or implement it, but that’s a different issue; one can admit the validity of something without believing in it or wanting to implement it (both of which are active commitments).

Given that I’ve made a solid case (or at least a credible case) as to why the pro-abortion position is valid, can I also demonstrate that the pro-abortion position entails better consequences than the other two positions? Because of most people’s innate revulsion towards any procreation-unfriendly position, this at first seems like a tall order.

I’ve asked you to answer a question in order to post comments during this series. I did not do so in order to vex or frustrate you. My main objective was to get you to engage the topic at some level before you start arguing the same standard arguments and concepts. My other objective was to engage the consequentialist issue and keep it in your mind while I was going through the logical arguments, that behind all the pro-choice and anti-abortion logic lies very real suffering. It’s easy to forget that while keeping the discussion in the abstract, as I have done.

So, let’s review the two questions I’ve posed to you:

What maximum number of women dead from botched back alley abortions per year do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent all abortions that would happen under a pro-abortion scheme?

What maximum number of children afflicted with spina bifita/Tay-Sachs/leukemia/cancer/Downs Syndrome/etc a year do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent the distress of women who would not be allowed to have a child under a pro-abortion scheme?

Of course, my answers to both questions is a loud and clear zero. This may seem counter-intuitive to natalists. After all, women dead from illegal abortions and children born with degenerative diseases are just part of the collateral damage of bringing people into the world; without it, there would be no people at all, and that’s obviously worse. That some girls may grow up to become women who die from illegal abortions, or that some children may grow up to be diseased, is of no concern to them.

But this reasoning begs the question of whether a world without people is obviously worse. The trouble with such evaluations is that there can be no such evaluation without observers. A world without people is neither good nor bad; it just is.

But more importantly, consider that non-existing people cannot suffer and are not deprived of pleasures, and a world without people can’t be such a bad thing after all. So when I talk about deaths and horrible deformities being the price to pay for starting new human lives, what we’re actually talking about is a price to pay for an action which can never bring about a better state of affairs. No pleasure we experience is a net positive because non-existing people cannot be deprived of them, and the suffering we experience is a net negative because it cannot be experienced by non-existing people.

So saying that suffering is the collateral damage of starting new human lives is like saying that it is okay for an army to massacre civilians because it’s a collateral damage of conquest. Conquest is not a useful or productive goal for anyone but the elite doing the conquering. Likewise, procreation is not a useful or productive goal for anyone but the elite benefiting from the future exploitation of the new human lives. I know I’m not gonna get a lot of agreement on this but that’s the naked truth of it. If you’re not willing to accept this right now, then look for yourself; who benefits from population growth, who would suffer most from population degrowth, who is pushing and subsidizing population growth, and why are they doing so?

Go to part 2.

2 thoughts on “Abortion: the endgame. [part 1/2]

  1. Gomi April 21, 2012 at 21:35

    I think this is a pivotal point of logical disagreement:
    “No pleasure we experience is a net positive because non-existing people cannot be deprived of them, and the suffering we experience is a net negative because it cannot be experienced by non-existing people.”

    This isn’t balanced, it seems to me. The state of nothing, the world of non-people, has no ups and no downs. It just is, as you say.

    As such, any negative we experience or introduce in the world is a net negative, compared to that state of no-people. I agree with this.

    But any positive we experience is a net positive, because the state of no-people has no positives. So any positive we experience or introduce is inherently a greater positive than that.

    You’ve structured your argument around the idea that negatives always matter and positives don’t, but I think that, compared to non-existing people, the negatives and positives always matter, because both constitute an absolute increase over the status of no-people. More negatives and more positives.

    At which point the discussion becomes whether the negatives of further population outweigh the potential positives. Rather than the negative inherently outweighing any and all positives. And it might well be that the negatives outweigh the positives, but that calculation has to happen to come to the conclusion you do.

    • Francois Tremblay April 22, 2012 at 00:06

      Nope, sorry. No non-existing person can be deprived of any pleasure.

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