Ethics backwards is “scihte.”
Scihte, or whatever you want to call it, is on full and vulnerable display in the recent New York Times special section “A Woman’s Rights,” which we already considered at here. There are many ethics issues raised in the series of eight essays, which are thought-provoking and informative. However, as has always been the case in the pro-abortion camp, the effort crashes on the reef of basic ethical reasoning repeatedly, none more messily than in Part 8, “The Future of Personhood”:
…What if, as many opponents of abortion hope, the court rules that the fetus has “personhood” rights under the Constitution? In that event, all abortions would be illegal — even in states that overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to choose. Wealthy women might travel to other countries for reproductive health care, but poorer women would be left behind.
And the changes to American life would go deeper than that. A society that embraces a legal concept of fetal personhood would necessarily compromise existing ideals of individual freedom. Americans — even many who oppose abortion — have not considered the startling implications of this idea, even as it has steadily gained strength in the law and in social norms. If a fetus is granted equal rights, women who become pregnant may find their most personal decisions coming under state control….
Would a woman who chooses to smoke cigarettes or drink wine during pregnancy be charged with a crime? What if a judge rules, or a police officer believes, she is risking the life of a fetus by, say, climbing a mountain, or riding a roller coaster, or undertaking a humanitarian mission in a war zone? Who will decide whether a pregnant woman diagnosed with cancer may undergo chemotherapy?…
With this, the Times and the pro-abortion movement reveals the intellectual dishonesty and ethical void in its whole approach to the topic. Forget, for now, about what the Court “might decide,” which is typical fearmongering via “future news.” The real question is this: what if, under sound bioethical criteria and based on valid scientific research, it is objectively determined that a fetus IS a person under legal definitions? Then what is the right and ethical policy? I guarantee that it would not mean that women would be forced to carry children to term in all cases, as the dystopian fiction suggested by the Times would require. Such a definitive determination would require a balancing of the rights of the mother, the fetus, and the needs of society, and determining that balance would be extremely difficult and contentious. However, society and the law engages in that balancing process in many areas, and frequently. It’s called government, and it isn’t easy.
Note the approach and orientation above, though. The Times doesn’t say that it will create many conflicts, dilemmas and public policy problems if it turns out that a fetus is a person. The Times says that we must not regard the fetus as a person because it will cause problems if we do. Reality, whatever it is, must be governed by the desired outcome. Fetuses aren’t persons because abortion advocates insist that they can’t be, because giving them rights would harm their interests.
This avoids the usual way serious and honest people, and their societies, approach ethical problems. The starting point is usually “What are the facts?” followed by,” In light of those facts, what is the right thing to do for all concerned?” With abortion, this process is routinely turned upside down and backwards. “What is the result we want?” is the starting point. “How should we frame the facts to justify those results?” is the next step. That’s advocacy, not ethics. That’s scihte.
The parallels between the arguments of pro-abortion advocates and slavery’s defenders before the American Civil War have often been pointed out, though the “Choice” camp hates it, and largely refuses to deal with it. Slavery was morally, ethically and intellectually untenable once blacks were admitted to be human beings no different from whites accept in trivial physical characteristics. Because that was teh case, the supporters of slavery embraced a false scientific narrative that the race was in fact a lesser, inferior sub-species unfit for equality and an exception to Jefferson’s “All men are created equal.” There were many scholarly essays that argued, in essence,
…What if, as many opponents of slavery hope, the court rules that the Negro has “personhood” rights under the Constitution? In that event,slavery would be illegal — even in states that overwhelmingly support a citizen’s rights to purchase and hold slaves. And the changes to American life would go deeper than that. A society that embraces a legal concept of Negro personhood would necessarily compromise existing ideals of individual freedom. Americans — even many who oppose slavery— have not considered the startling implications of this idea, even as it has steadily gained strength. If Negros are is granted equal rights, whites may find their most personal decisions governed by the opinions and decisions of blacks.
Will blacks be permitted to vote and run for office? Will they be able to marry and procreate with whites?
The obvious conclusion was, therefore, that blacks could not be determined to be fully and equally human because the consequences of that determination were too horrible to contemplate.
This same inside-out logic has always been part of the pro-abortion playbook, and abortion advocates are so inured to it that they no longer recognize its unethical nature. In debates here about abortion policy (here, for example), several commenters adopted the “fetuses aren’t persons because they are not self-aware and sentient” argument. They would respond to the obvious holes in this approach–sleepers? Adults in comas? Non-sentient infants?—by further refining the definitions of “sentience” and “self-awareness,” often using slices so thin that they could not be detected by the naked eye. It was painfully obvious—though not to the abortion defenders—that what was going on was the game “Let’s define persons so it won’t include the unborn and cause problems for women,” and not asking the question “What is a person?” to find an objective answer.
The Times’ intellectual dishonesty on behalf of the abortion movement is possible only because the current state of scientific knowledge makes substituting scihte for ethics simple. However, try this thought exercise. Imagine that technology is perfected that makes a fetus viable after at 12 weeks, and it is discovered that even at that early stage, a fetus has rudimentary awareness of itself and its environment. Would the abortion advocates then accept that fetuses were persons?
Of course not. They would just devise another definition of person that excluded them.