Abortion and Eugenics: Linked or Not?

Did Justice Thomas err in making his connection?

Some time ago, I introduced my readers to an argument made by my professional acquaintance Daniel Moody, where he demonstrated that there was a link between abortion and the sexual tyranny of the political left. In his original article, which I reviewed and agreed with considerably, he made this statement,

“It has taken mankind less than one hundred years to make the journey from an embrace of contraception to an embrace of gender fluidity but the link between the two is not always obvious.

Now, Daniel, who is a Roman Catholic, and I, who am of the Reformed tradition, would find some disagreement on the subject of contraception in general. The Roman Catholic Church has declared the use of contraceptives to be a moral wrong. The Protestant and Reformed traditions also historically held a similar view at least until the twentieth century and then began to wax and wane over it. 

I do not assume to speak for my fellow Protestants and Reformed brothers and sisters, but I do see that there as a measure of personal, sexual responsibility, that couples have the right to decide for themselves whether or not or how many children that they would wish to bring into the world, and as such have a certain amount of liberty (some might say “right”) when it comes to their marital activities as to whether or not to procreate. Even the Apostle Paul made it clear that married couples have this right under certain circumstances and that he wasn’t going to make it so much of a moral issue under the faith.

Now, most likely, and this is something that I have noticed in Catholic defenses of their position is that they will sometimes cite the death of Onan son of Judah, one of the tribal patriarchs of Israel, as evidence for their position. However, when one digs into the context of the text. Onan’s sin wasn’t that this was a normal relationship, but rather a situation of levirate marriage, where the brother of a dead man “marries” his sister in law, in order to conceive a child that will bear the dead brother’s name, and thus maintain his familial inheritance. Onan hated his brother, and rather than fulfill his duty—and thus a line for the coming Messiah—that God struck him dead.

Now that may seem like something of a rabbit trail but, when it comes to the question of abortion it is something necessary to consider.

A question of purpose

One of the notes that Daniel hits in the article is the purpose of sexual intercourse.

It’s something that I seized on as I thought about his article:

“[If] sex does not have procreation in view, then why not say that sex is not primarily for that purpose? (emphasis added)

We have, as we have secularized (ie de-sacralized) our world, so detached sex from its divinely assigned purpose and objective—“be fruitful and multiply”—that pregnancy has become seen as a disease that requires someone to be “cured” of it, as this article insists,

“Maybe the worst thing about the “pregnancy is not an illness” philosophy is the fact that  it requires women to live as they did before. But many women are not able to function at the same level they used to before they got pregnant.

She goes on to relate her experience,

“When I was pregnant with my first, I was doing an internship at an NGO. I really believed that pregnancy would not prevent me from doing whatever I wanted to. The internship was a great experience but, sadly, I was getting premature contractions, and I often had to call in sick.

After raising two young men that I happily call my “sons,” if there is one thing that I have learned in life as a result of that experience is that God created children to expose and remove the selfishness out of you. And I hate to say it, but it seems like her experience of pregnancy definitely exposed the selfishness that she has in her heart, to bad it doesn’t seem to have removed it.

Let’s take the claim that “…the worst thing…is the fact that it requires women to live as they did before…”. 

First, let’s ask her to ease up off of the strawman, because he doesn’t deserve to be beat like that. And then let’s ask, exactly who is imposing this “requirement”? 

Undoubtedly, her response would be, 

“Well, society.”

Okay, do you think that maybe, just maybe, “society” is not the one “requiring” it, but rather certain feminists and so-called “women’s liberation” figures and that you’re trying to live up to their expectations and not any genuine, historical “requirements”?

patriarchy

Okay, maybe that was a little strawmanning on my part, but I hope that you see the point so that we can get into the meat of the matter, that being a recent statement in a decision by United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. 

To procreate or not to procreate?

Thomas, writing a concurring opinion in the per curiam decision of Box v Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, makes several notes worthy of distinction that we need to consider and are relevant to the question of purpose. 

The blog First Things captures the central theme of Thomas’ opinion where he writes,

“This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation. From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics. 

His statement may cause some of us who are not historically savvy to scratch our heads and ask, what is “eugenics”?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entry says,

“[Eugenic’s] literal meaning—good birth—suggests a suitable goal for all prospective parents, yet its historical connotations tie it to the selective breeding programs, concentration camps, medical experiments, and mass exterminations promoted by Germany’s Nazi regime in World War II. Undoubtedly, we have an obligation never to forget the Holocaust, or to allow history to repeat itself. Yet intuitively we have some moral obligation to promote good births—to have, in the most literal sense, eugenic aims. Indeed, if parents are encouraged to provide the best environment for their children (good nutrition, education, health care, a loving family situation, etc.), why not also encourage them to ensure their children have good genes? If we have some moral obligation to secure the well-being of our future children (a question explored extensively in the literature on the non-identity problem; see the entry on the nonidentity problem), different questions come into focus: how far do such obligations extend, what justifies them, and can related contemporary practices be distinguished, in their aims, forms, justifications, and likely consequences, from the clearly morally impermissible eugenic programs of the past? (emphasis original)

Almost anyone would agree with some of the concerns raised in that quote. As parents, there is definitely a desire to provide the best possible environment for children. Indeed, we hold this as something of a moral obligation, that’s why there are things like child welfare laws.  

Indeed, when Thomas’ opinion hit the internet, there was almost immediate hissing and booing from opponents, as Eli Rosenberg wrote in The Washington Post, just two days after the opinion was made public, 

“Thomas argued that the door for abortion rights was opened by the eugenics movement—the now-discredited pseudoscience obsessed with genetic fitness of white Americans that was popular in the early 20th century—to raise arms about abortion rights now.

Rosenberg goes on to cite a number of historians, economists, and lawyers who accuse Thomas of “being guilty of a gross misuse of historical facts”, making an “amatuer historical mistake”, doing “bad history”, and being “ignorant and prejudiced when it comes to birth control”.

Rosenberg quotes Princeton historian Thomas C. Leonard as saying, “Eugenics was about state control of human breeding…A platoon of scientific experts would decide what’s best for the human genome. Today it’s very different. We leave the decision to the parents and medical professionals, and that makes all the difference.

giphy

Um… that’s a distinction without a difference.

The SEP notes that,

“Philosophers have recently begun to explore the possibility of “liberal” as opposed to “authoritative” eugenics…Liberal eugenics would be based upon free choice, pluralist values, and up-to-date scientific understanding of genetics and epigenetics. Furthermore, advocates of liberal eugenics aim to be sensitive to the effects of problematic but deeply entrenched social problems (eg racism, sexism, heterosexism) on individual choice…Liberal eugenicists point to significant developments in our understanding of genetics to help distinguish liberal eugenics from its problematic predecessors.

As if that actually fixes the problem. The problem is the philosophy that underlies it, not at what level it’s implemented. The philosophy, the inherent attitude, of eugenics is one of oughts. It’s a moral calculation rooted in utilitarian ethics and consequentialism. 

It’s not to say that eugenicists hate all children, it’s that those who promote eugenics only love certain children. 

Returning to Rosenberg’s article he quotes Yale professor emeritus Daniel Kevles, “Eugenicists were initially hostile to birth control because they knew that the type of women who would use it were the type of women they would want to encourage to reproduce, so-called ‘better’ women—upper middle-class women.

Modern eugenicists, going back to Rosenberg’s quote of Leonard and the SEP’s definition of “liberal” eugenics, still isn’t responding to Thomas’ argument though. The closest is an attempt to address an argument by Thomas on page 16 of his concurrence that the use of genetic testing to identify and then abort babies with Down’s Syndrome in countries like Iceland, Denmark, and France, as well as sex-selective abortions in China and other Asian nations, are all driven by eugenic attitudes. 

Rosenberg, drawing on his experts, tries to distance abortion in the US from its roots in the US eugenics movement as a “personal choice by an individual” rather than “state-mandated programs foisted involuntarily on others”.

Thinking people—like my readers—should immediately spot the fallacy in the reasoning: it’s not who does it, its the philosophy behind it. 

The philosophy of eugenics has gone from being a club wielded by the state to being a scalpel wielded by the individual. 

To answer the question posed in the title: yes, abortion and eugenics is linked. Justice Thomas hit the nail on the head. Those possed by the ideology of abortion for any reason often try to justify those reasons by saying things like,

“Children should grow up in a home where they’re wanted and can be cared for.”

They say such things, not because they want to establish a world where such exists through encouraging abstinence until marriage, wherein a stable and cooperative home life can be established. But because the underlying worldview sees humans as merely animals, driven by instincts, and when consequences of behaviors result, there’s only a desire to escape responsibility, and if that means the death of a child…so be it.

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