Adam Lee took on a set of 10 questions about abortion this morning. These are questions that an evangelical thinks should be put to pro-choice presidential candidates because they’re never asked the “hard” questions about abortion. Looking at the questions, I’m not sure they’re particularly hard, but they’re worth answering.
You should read Adam’s answers. For the most part, my answers agree with his, and I suspect many pro-choice people will produce very similar answers. As I said above, these aren’t that hard. However, I thought I’d pull out a couple questions to elaborate upon myself. Adam’s answers on these are good, but I wanted them unpacked further.
5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?
First off, it doesn’t resemble eugenics. Eugenics is a form of selective breeding aimed at keeping “defective” or “undesirable” genes from being passed on to further generations. In practice, including far more recently than a century ago, that meant mostly forced sterilization of people who had disorders like Down Syndrome, along with poor ethnic minorities and others whom governments or doctors deemed unfit. What Hitler did was genocide, not eugenics, no matter what kind of justification he attempted to use for it.
If you know anything about Down Syndrome and aren’t just using the people who have it as political pawns, you’ll know that the syndrome itself makes it much less likely for them to successfully have children. The trisomy largely keeps reproductive systems from developing well. There are legitimate ethical questions to be asked and grappled with on managing the reproduction of women with Down Syndrome, who are both very likely to be sexually abused and very likely to be unable to provide care for a child on their own, particularly if that child also has Down Syndrome. They’re not always easy questions, either. In most cases, however, we should be facing those questions well before the point of abortion. And that wasn’t the question asked.
When we’re talking about propective parents choosing to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome, we’re not talking about eugenics. The people who make those decisions aren’t doing so out of some abstract concern for the human breeding stock. They’re making decisions about their own capacity to successfully raise a child who would need a great deal of extra care.
A child with Down Syndrome who is severely affected can require massive daily medical care and will never grow into an adult who can be independent of their parents. A child who is only moderately affected will require significant special schooling and/or vocational therapy to live a quasi-independent life (some ongoing social support is still usually required). There is no way to know ahead of time how affected a child will be, and the resources offered to parents who choose to take on these tasks are not even close to sufficient to provide the best care to a disabled child. Beyond that, parents raising a disabled child are much more likely to divorce, shifting the burden of care to one parent. And then there are the other children in the family, whose parents will have less time and attention for them.
That, not eugenics, is what I see when prenatal genetic testing leads to abortion. Comparing those reasonable, compassionate concerns to a movement based in racism and ignorance of genetics not only doesn’t make me more likely to agree with you about abortion, it makes me less likely to believe your arguments come from a humane place.
9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?
Well, now, that depends. Once the fetus is actually outside the womb, it is its own independent person, but how do you intend to get it out? You understand that we can’t just use a teleporter, and that any procedure to induce labor or remove the fetus alive carries a greater risk to the mother than abortion does, right? You understand that granting personhood to a fetus does not remove it from the mother, right?
You also understand that “viable” simply means that a fetus delivered at that time has a greater than zero chance of living with the assistance of a great deal of intense, expensive medical care, right? And that a fetus delivered at this time, if it lives, generally becomes a baby, then a child, then an adult with serious medical issues, right? And that these statements mostly apply to fetuses without the kind of abnormalities that are typically detected very late in pregnancy, right?
All of that sounds a bit harsh and challenging, but that’s kind of the point. Abortion is a medical decision. Like any medical decision, it involves many factors and frequent trade-offs (think in terms of the side effects of useful drugs). If we legislate an end to abortion at a particular time within gestation, all we actually do is limit the factors that can be considered in making that medical decision. Specifically, we say that a pregnant woman’s health and the future health of that viable fetus may not be considered.
I don’t find that acceptable. Moreover, I reject the assumption that pregnant women and their doctors cannot or will not make ethical decisions on these matters, which lies behind the push to legislate.
And one question already in the comments very early in the morning:
The obvious anti-choice comeback for your answer to 4, though, is: what about severe brain-damage in non-fetuses – say, in babies or even adults? Should we be allowed to terminate their lives with no qualms?
If we’re actually looking at Adam’s answer to question four (“personhood status and human rights should be granted at the point when characteristically human brainwaves are detectable in a fetus”), this is not much of a question. The kind of severe brain damage that we would be talking about is not the sort of thing that would result merely in severe impairment. It isn’t even the induction of a coma. We’re talking brain death or a persistent vegatative state.
We already have protocols for these situations. We have grappled with the ethics and decided that, yes, the decision to terminate a life can be made. The individual can make this decision through an advance medical directive. Next of kin or another designated medical proxy can make the decision.
We don’t expect that anyone will make the decision “with no qualms”, though they could. We don’t allow anyone but medical personnel to make the call on what kind of brain damage and brain activity qualifies. But we allow not only that decision to be made, but more extreme decisions as well, such as “do not resuscitate” orders. This only looks like a hard question to those who haven’t paid attention to how medical decisions are made.
Of course, that’s true for most of these questions.