Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Abortion as a Moral Right

My friend Nick Provenzo has stirred up quite the controversy at his blog The Rule of Reason. Nick has written a perfectly reasonable, thoughtful article about the Palin's decision to give birth to a Down syndrome baby. For that he is now being unjustly insulted on the comments to the blog which number 115 as I'm writing this. Nick points out that:
Given that Palin's decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.
I think this is the crucial issue which hinges on the more fundamental right to abortion, a derivative right which is derived from two principles: The woman's right to her own life and therefore her right to control what happens within her own body, and the fact that individual rights belong to separate actual individuals, not embedded potential ones.

Therefore, it is the woman's right to have an abortion as part of the right to her own life -- yes, contrary to what the anti-abortionists would have you believe, abortion is pro-life, pro-the life of the only actual individual involved -- the woman.

With respect to Down syndrome, I also agree with Nick here: is completely legitimate for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is not an obligation that she can accept. After all, the choice to have a child is a profoundly selfish choice; that is, a choice that is an expression of the parent's personal desire to create new life.
This is what the opponents of abortion will never understand since they take the morality of sacrifice as a given and apply it to parenting. In accordance with altruism, devoting your life to a being that will always lead a somewhat stunted existence would be considered highly virtuous. But I think it is profoundly wrong to view parenting as a sacrifice. As Ayn Rand pointed out:
“Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less “selfish,” than help to those one loves). The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values, and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one.
But your children, if you love them, can be your highest values, therefore what you do for them need not be considered a sacrifice but rather an instance of the virtue of integrity, of standing in action by the values you hold dear. It is true that if you love your children you will deal with the inevitable illnesses and the like but why should it be highly moral to give birth to what amounts to a kind of permanently ill child. If one had a choice, and fortunately we still do, one would make the perfectly moral choice and prefer to have a healthy child, at least so far as one knows.


Paul Hsieh said...

Thanks, Gideon. Nick's piece has been misrepresented and attacked all over the blogosphere. I've left the following comment on as many hostile blogs and discussion boards as I could find. -- PSH


First, Nick Provenzo has responded to the many misrepresentations of his views in a followup post at:

Second, I'm going to speak up to support Nick Provenzo's *moral* defense of the 90% of women who have learned that their fetus has DS and who eventually chose to abort.

If a woman takes a serious look at the consequences for her life of having an abortion vs. raising that child, and she decides that an abortion would best foster her happiness in the full context of her life, then that is her legal right. And more importantly, she would also be making the *morally* right choice for herself.

Of course, if a woman chooses to have the DS child, that is her right and I genuinely hope that things work out as well as possible for the child and the family.

But to uphold the 10% women who choose to have the DS child as automatically morally superior to the 90% who choose to abort is wrong.

Those women who have made the difficult decision to abort do not deserve to be tarred with the label "murderer" for choosing their own happiness. And anyone who would attempt to saddle those women with an unearned guilt should be ashamed of themselves.

Renee Katz said...

I'm amazed at the vileness of the responses to that post. Truly confused people.