On October 4th, UW-L English professor Bradley Butterfield had his guest view defending abortion in the name of ‘Women’s Rights’ and it was clear to me that this was really just a cover for his real agenda, which is population control. I don’t know him well enough to know if he is even aware of his real agenda or not. Anyway, here is his column. [archived]
Today, the La Crosse Tribune posted my response, which I have pasted below in its original format. (The Trib edited it somewhat. Not too badly, but some of my phraseology was intentional). But I wanted to speak to Butterfield’s overpopulation comment first.
After a bunch of hoopla about women’s rights, avoiding cruelty, and lauding Peter Singer, he writes:
Meanwhile, the planet already is overpopulated, with too many people vying for too few natural resources. Outlawing abortion will only swell the ranks of the needy while driving desperate women to seek dangerous illegal solutions.
Now, this is what you should really pay attention to.
I have addressed this Malthusian mindset often and frequently, and pointed out that it was intimately tied to most of the atrocities we can name in the last two centuries. Now, let me ask you a question. Does Mr. Butterfield care about abortion because it is a fundamental part of a woman’s ‘right to her own body’ or is he worried about depriving the planet of a mechanism for ‘swelling the ranks of the needy’? Butterfield, predictably, will say both, but there is no way this can be rational. If abortion on demand is justifiable on its own terms, then the reference to over-population is superfluous and irrelevant. If a woman’s choice is the guiding principle, how are the available resources a consideration at all? Does the woman’s choice fluctuate based on available resources?
Liberals do in fact believe that, as I have demonstrated elsewhere on this blog. Search “Jaffe Memo” and “John Holdren” to get you started. Holdren, for example, actually said that we can compel women to get abortions if the population ‘problem’ gets out of control. In light of his comments, if John Holdren were sitting in front of me arguing that abortion should be allowed because a woman has a right to choose what to do with her own body, I would laugh in his face. There is no way he can actually believe that, and if he does, his brain is such a muddled pile of slop that there is no way at all he should be the chief science officer of the Obama administration. I understand that there is a third option: he is a liar.
Either a woman has the right to an abortion, or she does not. The putative amount of available resources is irrelevant. Similarly, if a person is a person no matter his stage of development, he has a right to live, no matter what the available resources are. If there is only enough food for 10 people on an island, but there are 11 people, the other 10 are never justified in finding the weakest, most defenseless person among them and putting a bullet in his head. Never.
But Butterfield believes it is relevant–relevant enough to mention in his defense of abortion on demand. I think it is reasonable to ask the question: “Mr. Butterfield, do you really care about women’s rights, or is that just a front for your less politically safe viewpoint that we need to curb the population of undesirables such as ‘needy’ people?
Anyway, as interesting as all this is, in my own response, I fixed on the truly fundamental issue. Read on.
Not When Rights Begin but Who Gives Them the Question
Bradley Butterfield’s October 4th essay reflects flawed thinking and makes false representations of the ‘pro-life’ view. He says “when does life begin?” is the wrong question. He says that “many ‘pro-lifers’ believe they should be allowed to force their beliefs on others.”
There is a reason why the abortion debate has centered on when life begins over against when rights begin–it is generally agreed that all persons have a basic right to life. Only in serious cases, such as when one person murders another do we set that right aside. If the unborn are persons, they deserve our protection. Pro-lifers are not imposing a religious belief on others by taking this view, they are extending a principle that even liberals accept to a particular sub-group, the unborn.
However, Mr. Butterfield’s preferred starting point illustrates that ‘personhood’ status is not particularly relevant to him or other liberals.
By way of example, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minverva, paying homage to Peter Singer as Mr. Butterfield does, argue in a 2012 Journal of Medical Ethics article that the fact that both fetuses and newborns “are potential persons is morally irrelevant.” They say that “when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.”
If we no longer link rights with personhood, what becomes our guiding principle? Mr. Butterfield has an answer. According to him, the highest moral virtue is to avoid cruelty: “Immoral behavior [is] behavior that causes unnecessary suffering.” To suffer requires cognition, which ‘the human fetus is incapable of.’ You cannot “be ‘cruel’ to something that cannot suffer.”
Obviously, there is no reason this principle can’t be extended. Indeed, Peter Singer argues that children up to the age of two don’t necessarily have a right to live.
But why stop there? In a June 2010 opinion piece Singer asks: “How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world?” He suggests, “If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.” On this view, “everyone will suffer to some extent [so] we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely.” His conclusion: everyone in the world should sterilize themselves. Why cause unnecessary suffering to future generations?
Or consider ‘bio-ethicist’ Jacob Appel, who takes issue with parents of children born with birth defects having the choice to kill their child. Why? Because doctors should make that choice, not parents. In a 2009 journal article, he argues that “A child with a birth-defect will endure “several years or even decades of extreme suffering,” which trumps the suffering the family might endure if the State intervened and killed the child. He argues that this is “an inevitable consequence of our progress toward liberal humanism.” And indeed it is.
Appel, like Singer, is anything if not consistent. In a 2009 Huffington Post article he argues that we ought to allow women to pay their way through college by conceiving babies, aborting them, and then selling the body parts. “If a woman has the fundamental right to terminate a pregnancy, why not the right to use the products of that terminated pregnancy as she sees fit?” he asks.
We might also ask: “If someone ‘incapable of basic cognition and of suffering of any kind’ does not have an intrinsic right to life, what about someone under general anesthesia? By definition, such people are incapable of suffering, right?” The liberal argument appears internally inconsistent. Insofar as it is applied consistently, we see outrageous outcomes seriously suggested: the harvesting of fetal organs, euthanizing of already-born children with–and without–parental consent, all the way up to and including the actual elimination of the human race. That would solve Mr. Butterfield’s concerns about overpopulation, I think.
I actually agree that the important question is not “when does life begin?” However, the right one is not “when do rights begin?” but rather “where do our rights come from?” Mr. Butterfield believes that society imparts those rights. Therein lies the true difference in our views. We know of societies that have elevated ‘don’t cause unnecessary suffering’ over even the right to live. Google “Life unworthy of life.” Historically, where ‘when do rights begin?’ has been taken as the starting point, only horrors have followed. Choose your starting points carefully; whatever your intentions, your final destination may not be what you had in mind.