To anyone who is capable of compassion and objectivity, the abortion controversy represents a classic ethics conflict: two ethically defensible positions based upon undeniable ethical principles that are in opposition. Both factions have their absolutist wings which would deny the other side’s interests, holding that either the life of the unborn ( abortion opponents) or a woman’s autonomy (abortion advocates) is such a societal priority that nothing should be permitted to compromise its primacy in any way. Yet the best solution to most ethics conflicts, if possible, is balancing, resulting in acceptance of a reasonable middle position that acknowledges the validity of both interests.
Recent comments from prominent pro-abortion advocates are ethically troubling, because they suggest a complete denial that any valid interests on the other side exist at all. This signals a retreat from reason and fairness into zealotry and fanaticism, and it makes balancing not merely more difficult, but unimaginable.
In an interview on the cable station Fusion, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards had this revealing exchange (video above):
JORGE RAMOS (interviewer): Can I ask you a philosophical question?CECILE RICHARDS: Sure.RAMOS: So for you, when does life start? When does a human being become a human being?RICHARDS: This is a question, I think, that will be debated through the centuries, and people come down to very different views on that.RAMOS: But for you, what’s the point?RICHARDS: It is not something that I feel like is really part of this conversation. I mean, to me, we work with women – I guess the way I’d really like to I think every woman has to make her own decision. What we do at Planned Parenthood is make sure that women have all their options for health care, and they have the option to have a healthy pregnancy, they have the option to put a child up for adoption if they decide to carry the pregnancy to term, or they have the right to make a decision to terminate a pregnancy…For me, life (of her children) began when I delivered them.
The translation of this moral relativism is that Richards doesn’t care when life begins for the unborn, even though her organization may have a critical role in ending the lives, indeed millions of lives, of such human beings. Her final statement is fascinating: “for her,” the lives of her children began when they were delivered. “For her?” The issue of when life begins is critical for the alive-or-not unborn themselves, first and foremost. But abortion, in the mind of zealots like Richards, see it differently: facts can be customized to need, even if it means denying humanity and the right to exits to the most vulnerable human beings imaginable. This has always been the ethical Achilles heel of abortion advocacy, the myth that the beginnings of life and rights can be altered to fit the needs and wants of the mother, rather than dictated by science, observation, objective analysis and fact. “I want my unborn child to be a non-living, non-human object right up to the point where I choose to abort it, sparing me accountability, pangs of conscience, sacrifice, or the requirement of ethical balancing. Therefore, it is so.”That’s Richards, and her organization, presumably. Not only is this an unethical set of mind, it is a corrupting one. This is the ultimate rationalization, applied to a decision that must be approached without rationalizations, lest it lack ethical legitimacy.More evidence of ethics rot was on display in the pages of the New York Times, where columnist Gail Collins asked, “The gay rights movement has been having some remarkable success lately. Why do abortion rights keep losing ground?” It is a jaw-dropping, brain-free question that ought to disqualify any pundit from future publicized opinion on the grounds of ideologically induced ethics dementia. The question itself presumes that all difficult policy questions are inseparably linked together like a string of paper dolls, and if you take one, you must take them all (and indeed, this is how lazy partisans and ideologues think). Moreover, the issues of abortion and gay rights are different in important ways, notably that the gay rights movement is seeking fair and equitable treatment and rights for a group of human beings, while the abortion movement is seeking to deny life…and its attendant rights…to what many reasonable and rational people believe are also a class of human beings. Collins, apparently, has been incapacitated by abortion fanaticism so thoroughly that he only sees the similarities: both gay rights and abortion are opposed by many on religious grounds—-that is, morality. She doesn’t even see ethics any more, the considerations of right and wrong.Collins’ answers to her own ethically-clueless question support the diagnosis. Here first explanation for why gay rights are winning hearts and minds while abortion rights still cause discomfort is this howler:
“Obviously, abortion is an issue that only relates to one gender, at one particular stage in their lives.”
If it isn’t obvious to a reader what is the matter with the logic and ethics of this statement, then that reader is suffering from Collins’ perceptual malady. It assumes the “facts” necessary to the conclusion! An abortion doesn’t involve a living offspring of the father, but just some inhuman other, so the father has no material interest in the abortion at all…except that isn’t true. “Obviously?” I would say, in contrast, that if a potential human offspring of two people, if left alone, will develop into a human child carrying on the genetic line of both parents and being able to experience the unique benefits of a life that will also affect in myriad ways the lives of both parents, and many others, the father obviously relates to the proposed elimination of that potential offspring in powerful ways. How can Collins think this, write this, and submit it to be published in the Times? Collins’s statement is smoking gun evidence of ethics blindness.Then she offers this:
“The biggest difference between the fortunes of gay rights and abortion rights, however, is that politicians who vote to limit women’s rights to control their own bodies know that, for the most part, they’re only hurting poor people.”
Here is blogger-law professor Ann Althouse’s reaction to that: “The biggest difference?! Aw, come on. The biggest difference is that abortion — to those who oppose it — involves killing a baby. But Collins trips happily toward the end of her column, talking class politics.”Of course she does. Baby? What baby? Problem? What problem? Ethics?In a related story, it appears that Planned Parenthood of Northern New England has decided that its mission includes promoting bondage and sado-masochism as safe sexual practices for teens. You see, once you reject the validity of morality, and yet refuse to engage in the essential, objective business of ethical analysis, the ethics alarms might just stop ringing at all.