Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Abortion and Eugenics

The immensely popular conservative blog, Hot Air, put up a link that read, Objectivist writer: It’s very morally important to abort social burdens like Trig Palin. The link is to a post at Newsbusters criticizing this post by Nicholas Provenzo at Rule of Reason. I believe Lew Rockwell also linked to it.

The fur is flying in the comments section to Mr. Provenzo's post. I've read the post carefully twice to see what he wrote that is so controversial, but I can find nothing to disagree with. Despite Hot Air's mockery implying that Provenzo is a moron ("very morally"), the piece argues intelligently that it is rational and perfectly moral for a woman to abort a fetus she knows will be defective.

The post brings up a major argument by opponents of such abortions:

...the anti-abortion zealots try to attach a dirty little slur to these abortions, labeling them a form of eugenics. For example, in 2005, as he condemned those who opposed federal legislation that would have attempted to dissuade women carrying fetuses diagnosed with severe disabilities from having abortions, conservative pundit George Will wrote:

If it is not unobjectionable, let's identify the objectors, who probably favor the pernicious quest -- today's "respectable" eugenics -- for a disability-free society.

Eugenics is the opposite of a proper defense of a woman's right to abortion. Eugenics is collectivist. It is the idea that a race must be protected by weeding out the weak and making sure they do not breed. Eugenics holds that individuals must sacrifice for the good of the race.

A woman's right to an abortion has nothing to do with the good of any collective; it is only a matter of her individual rights. For her own selfish happiness, she has the right to abort a child that will be mentally retarded.

The comments to Provenzo's post, 108 comments long as I write, are mostly a cesspool of mysticism. The anti-abortionists assert, as they always do, that abortion is killing a baby. A fetus is not an actual baby, but a potential one, just as an acorn is not an actual oak tree. I believe it is the idea that God inserts a soul into the fetus at conception that confuses the believers.

I didn't notice any liberals attacking Provenzo, which figures, considering where the links came from, and considering that liberals are pro-choice. Those comments confirm my suspicion that America will never be destroyed by the nihilist left, but by conservatives and libertarians who pose as defenders of liberty but are in fact its enemies.


Anonymous said...

i "A woman's right to an abortion has nothing to do with the good of any collective; it is only a matter of her individual rights. For her own selfish happiness, she has the right to abort a child that will be mentally retarded."

I am in total agreement with this statement. Which is also why I remain extremely disturbed that too few Democrats and liberals who supposedly support abortion rights do not agree with or understand what you have written here. That support is founded on much more than just shaky ground. For them, abortion rights ARE collective rights belonging to the group "women". In addition, and most importantly, the very idea of "selfish happiness" is totally rejected by those on the political Left.

Incidentally, Eugenics, which you correctly identify as a collectivist notion, was/is, in fact, the political Left's baby. I always find it instructive to consider that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a great icon of the political Left, opposed abortion but wholeheartedly advocated for Eugenics -- and negative Eugenics at that.

Anonymous said...

I think what we are witnessing with this is the first big confrontation between Objectivism and Christianity (religion in general). Think about how hated we will be if Objectivism should become popular. The religious will see that Objectivism challenges their views the way secular liberalism (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris, Hitchens, etc) never could. Its inevitable. Objectivism is going to have to take on Christianity and that may very well get bloody.

John Kim

Myrhaf said...

No question, John. Neither the liberals nor the religious right quite understand yet that their greatest enemy is Objectivism. To the liberals we offer a practical AND a moral defense of capitalism, as no one else in the world does. To the religious, our reason is not undercut by moral relativism. We are every bit the moral absolutists the religious are, but even stronger in our morality because it is based in reality.

In other words, both the left and the right face in Objectivism an enemy that holds the moral high ground.

Yes, when Objectivism spreads and they begin to sense the danger, it will be the battle of the century. Can you imagine have both the left and the right smearing us? It will be like Sarah Palin cubed.

Anonymous said...

I meant to add that many liberals and Democrats generally support abortion for the same reasons that many conservatives and Republicans oppose it. Which is precisely why this issue is still before us.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, true consistent religionists oppose abortion because they believe it is the murder of a human being. But they also offer another more philosophical argument.

They will say that abortion is the product of a culture which has given itself over to sexual liberationism. And sexual liberation -- or moral liberation as they sometimes call it -- is an example of the moral relativism of "liberalism." To the traditionalist or religious conservative, if a society allows individuals to pursue their *own individual desires* then that society can not avoid moral relativism and decay. In essence, personal freedom *must* lead to subjectivism and cultural destruction. Only allegiance to a divine or "transcendent" morality can produce a strong morally healthy culture according to this view.

Of course, this is nothing more than the intrinsic / subjective false alternative. But it is important to remember that what motivates many of these Conservatives is their firm belief that personal freedom - which abortion represents - threatens not only their supernatural beliefs but morality as such.

Anonymous is right in that both Conservatives and Liberals view abortion in terms of collectivism. The only difference that separates the two is in the nature of the collectives. Liberals view abortion as a "women's rights" issue with the driving force being egalitarianism. Conservatives see the collective as "Christian society" with the driving force being mysticism and religious morality.

John Kim

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

"A fetus is not an actual baby, but a potential one, just as an acorn is not an actual oak tree."

Comparing a fetus (after the first six weeks) to an acorn is wrong (or dishonest or simply convenient?) An acorn is more like the first six weeks of the fertilized ovum. A fetus is more like an oak sapling - a baby tree.

I wonder, Myrhaf, have you had babies? Have you ever had to make a decision on an abortion or is this just as abstract and intellectual as everything else you seem to think is important?

Myrhaf said...

Why would using an analogy of an acorn be dishonest? As I recall, the example comes from Aristotle, who discovered the potential/actual difference. The point is that there is a real difference between a human and a fetus. Humans do not live with umbilical cords attached to their mother.

I've had a full life, Patrick, but I wouldn't go into whether or not I've impregnated a woman because that is private. My ideas are not rationalistically detached from reality. I see the principles animating McCain/Palin and there's a lot not to like.

Let's see what you think of McCain/Palin two or three years from now. If they have cut government spending and dismantled anything significant, I'll admit I didn't see that coming.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Okay then, Myrhaf. Have you ever grown an oak from an acorn? I have. The oak's roots are like an umbilical cord of a sort. So is a mother's tit. It's all a matter of development away from dependence and I've known a lot of old farts like me who were so dependent on their wives that they died soon after their wives died.

I very much doubt if Mac and Palin will "cut government spending and dismantled anything significant." They are both statists to the core but I thought we were talking about abortion and eugenics not economics.

Myrhaf said...

Look, an acorn is a potential oak tree. That's all we need to know. A match is potential fire, but it is not actual fire. A fetus is a potential human, but it is not an actual human. The anti-abortionists who say abortion is murder are wrong because killing a fetus is not killing an actual human.

I brought up economics to show that my ideas are not off in some cloud cuckooland, but are tied to reality. When I hear McCain say we need to sacrifice for something greater than self-interest, I see that this premise will lead in reality to bad things.

Galileo Blogs said...

I wanted to post a comment supporting Nick Provenzo's essay, but he has already shut down the comments section. Although some people posted good comments, given the quality of many, I can see why he did it. So, I say "thanks" to Nick for his post here.


Myrhaf, I agree with your argument. You make a clear distinction between abortion and eugenics. It is a package deal to equate such concepts. Eugenics is a collectivist, racist idea. Hitler employed it when he corralled German women to be his reproductive farm animals to propagate the "Aryan race."

Abortion, on the other hand, is a woman's exercise of her judgment over her own body. Her action is (or should be) motivated by her self-interest. It is a private, individual act.

Arguments attempting to equate abortion and eugenics or abortion and murder do not challenge the heart of a woman's right to choose an abortion. The root of that is her ownership over her own life.

The question is: Who does her life and body belong to? Does it belong to her, or to a government or a theocrat?

mike18xx said...

....Those comments confirm my suspicion that America will never be destroyed by the nihilist left, but by conservatives and libertarians who pose as defenders of liberty but are in fact its enemies.

-- What *political* success, in terms of favorable legislation passed, have these stone-head morons had in the many decades since Roe vs. Wade became law? Squadoosh. (Getting a supposedly conservative president elected doesn't count, because they've managed that five times since 1980.)

OTOH, what political successes had socialism enjoyed, in terms of legislation, during the same time? -- I think "just about all of it" is an accurate answer.

RyanTheEgoist said...

Three cheers for Nicholas. He did a bang up job, and I was even glad to see the Christian and anti-abortionists descend onto his blog. This is a clear picture of the most powerful enemy of a free society- Religious tyranny. You are quite right in saying that the Nihilist Left is limp compared to the fervor and anger of the Christian Right.

So, thanks to Hot Air and others for giving the Objectivist blogosphere such exposure. I can only hope we are all so lucky as to incur the anger of these men. :)

Good post, Myrhaf.

Mike said...

As an adoptee, I oppose abortion personally and would encourage adoption as a superior alternative, but my opinion is a religious/personal matter and none of the government's business. I do not tolerate governmental regulations prohibiting abortion any more than I would tolerate a law forcing my wife and daughter to wear the bur'qa. This point of view has made me something of a political pariah even among close family and friends who view the issue through the lens of spiritual belief. Unfortunately, as the bur'qa example clearly illustrates, that lens is only a safe haven when nobody of an opposing perspective is allowed to use it.

Anonymous said...

"Have you ever had to make a decision on an abortion or is this just as abstract and intellectual as everything else you seem to think is important?"

I wanted to comment on this because I think it is so very revealing of Conservative thinking.

Ever since the time of Burke, Conservatives have distrusted "ideology." Burke witnessed the French Revolution and saw that the ideas that motivated it were radical and that they lead to anarchy and total chaos. His conclusion was to distrust ideology as such and trust in "traditions" or the "repository of human experience" as he called it. Conservatives have defined themselves by this distrust of system building and the embrace of tradition for the last 200 years.

Today it is manifesting itself in a deliberate worshiping of anti-intellectuality. Witness Sarah Palin and the love she is receiving for being "small town" folk, for not being "ivory tower." Now I know alot of this has to do with the common man's distrust and even contempt for Leftist "intellectuals." But Conservative aversion to principle (on principle no less) is still alive and kicking and its increasing. This is one of the reasons Conservatives detest Rand, because she believed in absolute principles or as Jonah Goldberg says of her: "she thought she knew all the answers."

Patrick's statement reflects this. Myrhaf's post is just "abstract and intellectual" and not grounded in reality the way good ordinary folk think. This is yet another danger of Conservatism, their embrace of Pragmatism. Conservatism is a weird mix. On the one hand they by and large embrace religious mysticism and on the other they distrust all principled thought. I guess they're only comfortable with principles if they are "divine."

John Kim

Jason H. Bowden said...
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Jason H. Bowden said...
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Jason H. Bowden said...

I'm not a member of any religion. I oppose collectivism. I also support restrictions on abortion procedures. Mr. Provenzo forgets that a baby in a mother's womb is also an individual.

Myrhaf above makes it sounds like the baby is a lump of flesh until birth, and then POOF! magically it becomes a baby. In reality, the fetus itself can be viable as early as 24 weeks, and should at minimum be considered a locus of rights at that point.

There is no mysticism or anti-intellectualism involved in the above argument.

Joseph Kellard said...


No matter how much a fetus resembles an actual (born) baby, it is in fact still dependent on its host, the woman, who is the primary being that gives life to the living organism, the fetus. That does not yet make the fetus a human being, since it is still inside the woman’s body—a fetus is part of woman's body the way her liver, heart, lungs, spleen, etc. are too.

Once the fetus is born and separate from the mother, it becomes an individual human being with rights--and not a second before then.

Joseph Kellard

Myrhaf said...

Nothing magic happens at birth, Jason, but there is change in the nature of the entity being born. Before birth the entity lives inside the womb hooked by umbilical cord as a parasite on the mother. As such, the fetus is part of the mother's body and the mother has the right to destroy it if she so wills. At birth the fetus gains humanity and human rights.

Anonymous said...

Jason wrote: "Mr. Provenzo forgets that a baby in a mother's womb is also an individual."

"Individual" comes from latin and means "a separate entity", which a "baby in a womb" clearly is not. The fetus becomes an individual, a separate entity, when it is born, i.e. separated from the body of the mother.

Harald W.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Great post, Myrhaf!

Galileo Blogs wrote:

>Who does her life and body belong to? Does it belong to her, or to a government or a theocrat?

That is exactly the question our opponents are attempting to evade. Their position is that a woman is practicing Nazi-style eugenics if she of her own volition chooses to terminate an unwanted pregnancy if Down's syndrome is the driving factor. They claim to be the defenders of life, but the reality is they are willing to sacrifice a woman's life in the name of an unwanted, deeply disabled fetus.

Sick, isn't it?

Jim May said...

I think that the most interesting side story here is that Newsbusters focussed on Nick's post because he's an accomplished journalist with a rising profile. I bet they hope this publicity lessens his appeal as a commentator.

Yes, the comments to Nick's article are indeed a taste of what will happen as Objectivism's profile rises. Expect more and worse... As the conservatives like to say, keep your powder dry.

Regarding Burke and conservatism's genesis, it is correct that conservatism was born as a reaction in that fashion. But do not forget that the ones reacting were Christians looking for a way to rationalize their continued faith in the face of the Enlightenment. While Kant is no doubt the father of the Left, the target market for his undercutting of reason where those Christians like Burke who feared and resented the possibility of having the moral door closed forever to childhood emotionalism and wishing... of the sort on display in Nick's comments.

Anonymous said...


Would you include Burke as an Enlightenment figure? I'm really of mixed opinion on him. I know the Founders liked him, especially Madison as I recall, but he really was instrumental for the idea that ideology should be distrusted and that man's reason is ultimately limited. Just the other day George Will used him to make just this point and then to argue that traditions and experience are what are the base of freedoms, not reasoning. If Burke is the foundation of Conservatism, its no wonder we are in the position that we are in.

John Kim

Jason H. Bowden said...

Guys, believing that the baby in a mother's womb is not a separate entity stinks of doublethink. Given I qualified the domain of discourse to a *viable* fetus, umbilical cord or not, there is no reason for murder, given the fetus can survive independently at the point in question.

For example, when my sister was born in a galaxy far far away, she was born prematurely at seven months. Does that mean she magically became an individual at that point, while all other fetuses at the same age were just lumps of flesh? Parasites, perhaps? You're smarter than this; quit the blank-outs.

In short, not only are restrictions on abortion Constitutional, as I've argued in previous posts. They're moral.

Shran said...

Incisive reasoning, Jason. The assertion that a fetus is not an individual human being is a gigantic blank-out driven by the fervent wish that it was true.

Anonymous said...

"Guys, believing that the baby in a mother's womb is not a separate entity stinks of doublethink. Given I qualified the domain of discourse to a *viable* fetus, umbilical cord or not, there is no reason for murder, given the fetus can survive independently at the point in question."

You do not have the right to force anyone to support your life, even if you'd certainly die as a result of losing that support. How do you have such a right by the simple of fact of not having yet been born?

Anonymous said...

Some posters have posited that it is the total dependancy of the fetus on the mother which negates its status an a rights-bearing entity. The same argument could be put forth about a newborn infant,which, it coud be argued, is even more actively needy than a fetus and therefore even more parasitical.

Anonymous said...

I think that the Objectivist position on abortion needs to be better articulated. Ayn Rand herself even seemed somewhat vague on the third trimester.

Objectivists arguments I have heard are:

* the potential is not an actual
* personhood begins with separation and individuation
* So long as the fetus is within the mother's body, the woman is the only rights bearing entity, the only human being, and thus has absolute control and autonomy of her body
* With separation the infant becomes totally biologically independent and no longer needs the mother's biological systems for survival

While I agree with all of these, I do see that they can be subject to challenge, especially the "viability" challenge. For me, I still want a better argument for why a viable fetus in the third trimester which looks like a baby with all its features should not have rights. What I am looking for is the best possible argument grounded on the Objectivist theory of rights. I also wonder if this alone would be sufficient or if science has any role to play, ie facts pertaining to brain wave activity, fully developed biological systems, etc.. I can't stomach anti-abortionists but I do find myself thinking that Objectivist pro-abortion arguments need to be better formulated.

John Kim

Myrhaf said...

Viability is not an issue. The fetus lives within the mother's body and as such has no rights.

I believe scientists can now take a zygote from the womb and grow it in a test tube. In this respect, all fetuses are, you could say, test tube viable from day one.

As far as third-trimester abortions go, remember that having rights means have the right to be wrong. A person has the right to be stupid, irresponsible, and immoral with his property -- rights are absolute. Any rational, responsible woman would have aborted a fetus before the third trimester. There is no good reason to wait. But a fetus is still a fetus in the third trimester, and though it has a fully formed capacity to live outside the womb, it does not do so. Qua fetus, it has no human rights.

Furthermore, its senses have not begun operating and its brain is tabula rasa. As I have written, I suspect that much confusion comes from the idea that God gives a fetus a soul at conception. In reality, man is a being of self-made soul, which comes from knowledge gained through the senses. A fetus has not yet begun sensing the reality that will give it knowledge that will culminate in its soul.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you, but to play devil's advocate... Couldn't the anti-abortionist say that a developed fetus does have sensory equipment and does take in some sensory data? That when fully formed, it is starting the process of sense perception, even in the womb and therefore is already a human being?

I like the argument that a fetus belongs to a woman and that so long as it is part of her she has total control even if she acts immorally. To me this is necessary to uphold the sanctity of the woman's life and rights and therefore of the sanctity of all individual (man and female) rights in general. So its the act of separation that seems to me to be the most important point to this whole thing. But that being said, I still think that the argument is incomplete.

John Kim

Jim May said...

I have raised the issue of artifical wombs on Noodlefood in the past. Our current incubators are in effect crude artificial wombs, and the potential advancement of such devices to the point of bringing even a conceived zygote to term outside of any woman's womb lays radioactive waste to the notion of viability as a reference in determining the point of individuation. (so much for Bowden's "incisive" thinking.)

Rather, the idea of "individuation" is central to this issue (an advantage for Objectivists, who unlike the mainstream, are already grounded in the idea of individual sovereignty.) So long as the fetus exists in the woman's womb, it is a part of her body -- i.e. there is ONE individual under consideration, and that is the mother. While there remains uncertainty about when and where the fetus "individuates" from the mother, we already know for certain that the mother IS an individual in her own right throughout the process from conception to birth.

Let me reiterate this point, because it is evaded by all anti-abortionists to this very second: whatever the state of our knowledge about when a fetus becomes an individual, we KNOW FOR CERTAIN that a woman IS ALREADY AN INDIVIDUAL, and her rights and moral sovereignty in the matter are BEYOND QUESTION until and unless moral individuation occurs.

That is not to say that the issue is not important; far from it. We ARE indeed addressing the genesis of individual rights here. It is an important question for individualists to answer: where do individual rights begin? Where is the genesis of individual sovereignty?

My current understanding of this question is that *separation* of the fetus and the mother is a key part of individuation; the process is indeed a kind of "budding off" of a new human from an existing one.

But the possibility of artificial wombs keeps even that from being as clear as I'd like. A one-day-since-conception zygote in an artificial womb is "separate" from any mother; a fetus one day from a normal nine-month birth, is not. So does the zygote possess individual rights while the fetus does not?

So there remains a lot of thinking to be done on this topic. But I am certain, because of the potential "moving of the goalposts" due to techological innovations, that "viability" will not prove fruitful in this pursuit.

Anonymous said...

"So there remains a lot of thinking to be done on this topic."

Thanks for your response Jim and I am glad you said this. It mirrors my thinking.

John Kim