Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Mooting" Abortion Rights?

Since I wrote this, it follows I am implicated in this criticism leveled by Secular Right's David Hume:

the outrage that some liberals feel when one moots the idea of aborting a fetus if they are of a particular racial combination or sex shows that the “rights” and “liberty” based reasoning of the pro-choice movement is often relatively shallow. Abortion is meant to empower women in a positive sense of freedom, a consequentialist rationale, not to reinforce prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Making abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating morality and inculcating values about how women relate to their bodies and society. Interestingly Nixon’s qualms about abortion were consequentialist. Rather than the sanctity of life he seemed to be elucidating a view that abortion was another instance where the sexual revolution rolled back individual responsibility in favor of license. Instead of murder, it seemed a problem of moral hazard.
For starters, I'm unsure of how strong a version of "mooting" Hume has in mind for reasons of sexual or racial selection; if he's claiming that liberals on abortion would re-criminalize abortion for these reasons, I believe he's wrong -- but it is, after all, an empirical question: do polls show pro-choice people taking this position?

Speaking for my pro-choice self, when I say I want people to retain autonomy and authority over their own reproductive fortunes, it comes with a strong measure of resistance to inquiring into people's motivations for either bearing children or deciding not to. To be pro-choice is to assume that people have their own reasons, priorities, and values; and therefore that their reasons, priorities, and values may not be mine given similar circumstances. The legitimacy of the right does not turn on the quality of the reasons behind the exercise of the right. At the same time, the existence of the right does not obligate other people to approve of any given exercise of the right.

In much the same way, the pro-free-speech position would imply a strong reluctance for the state to ask "why do you want to read that book?" or "why do you want to write a blog?" or "why did you think it was a good idea to say that?" And at the same time, while we have a right to free expression, we do not have a right to be agreed with.

Then there's this, requoted from above:
[m]aking abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating morality and inculcating values about how women relate to their bodies and society.
Nonsense. No, legalizing abortion is a way -- the only way, as far as I can tell -- to create the space for free people to enact and inculcate varying values about, among other things, how women relate to their bodies and society. Likewise, making choosing against abortion a right -- which it is under the pro-choice position -- creates space for various values to flourish and spread.

7 comments:

The Barefoot Bum said...

"Making abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating morality..."

Looking at the issue in another way, this statement is nonsense because all legislation that promotes or restricts rights is a form of legislating morality: when we preserve the right of free speech by legislation, we are making legislating the moral argument that people ought to have free speech.

"Hume" is dishonestly trying to sneak in the idea that making abortion a right is in fact a form of legislating what ought to be private morality, which is trivially false.

larryniven said...

I think I'll have to say something about this when I return - this is just so very wrong.

Anonymous said...

Hume on abortion. Who knew? Next week, Leibniz on stem-cell research.

larryniven said...

Er, wait, did you really mean this:

"And at the same time, a right to free expression is not a right to be agreed with."

Is that a typo, I hope?

Dale said...

Uh, no, it's not a typo. Should it be?

We have a right to free speech -- concretely, a right to be unencumbered by others in our choice of thoughts, vocalizations, readings, writings, dances, dirty-dances, etc..

We don't have a right to have our thoughts, vocalizations, readings, writings, etc., to go uncriticized.

We are free to speak. Others, in turn, are free to speak too -- including saying we're full of shit for having said what we said. (Within the limits of slander yadda yadda.)

Yes? No?

larryniven said...

Oh oh - I get it now. I was reading that as just a straight synonym for "free speech," but that's totally different.

Time to go do some editing...

Paul P. Mealing said...

There's not much I can add to this - just wanted to say I agree.

And you are right Dale: a lot of people don't seem to understand that a right to free speech implies a right to be challenged. In fact, the 2 are not just complementary but necessary, as everyone here is demonstrating.

Regards, Paul.