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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Michael New: Selective Reduction Reveals a Weakness in the Armor of Choice

At NRO the formidable Michael New comments on the reaction of pro-choice bloggers to the recent story in the New York Times discussing the case of women who conceive twins or other multiples through IVF and then opt to “selectively reduce” the pregnancy to a single developing child.  New’s remarks are here.  The Times story is here.  I previously posted on the Times piece here

As New observes, these otherwise adamant proponents of abortion – including the likes of Frances Kissling, William Saletan, as well as commentators at RH Reality Check and Jezebel – “expressed a considerable amount of unease with women who reduce their [multiple] pregnancies to singletons.”

While New does not deny that these expressions may be sincere on some level, he does suggest that they may be strategic.

I think that something different is at work here.  Supporters of legal abortion typically do not argue that they want abortion to be common or widespread.  They make the case that it should be a legal option for women facing unique or difficult circumstances.  They are also aware of polling data that shows that while majorities of Americans think abortion should be a legal option in cases of rape, serious health risks to the mother, or fetal deformity.  However, they are also aware that most Americans disapprove of abortion in cases of economic hardship or a desire to have fewer children.

Now, since abortions are done in private, the rationale for most abortions will remain unclear.  But women who choose to bear only singletons are seeking abortions out of convenience in a very visible way.  Pro-choice activists realize that if this practice is seen as commonplace, that could weaken support for legal abortion.

Given the sensitive subject matter, the New York Times did its best to put a nonjudgmental spin on this.  But the reaction of ardent pro-choice activists is very telling.

Put a bit more cynically, pro-choice advocates feign a kind of understated revulsion at the practice of “selective reduction” where the pregnancy is anything but unintended.  This is done, notwithstanding the logic of abortion, which provides no principled basis for such opposition, but so as to appear moderate and reasonable in order to preserve an unbounded right  to abort for any reason whatsoever.

The reaction of ardent pro-choice activists is, as Michael New says, “very telling” because, as with partial-birth abortion, “selective reduction” reveals a weakness in the armor of choice.  The revulsion that most people feel in response to the procedure is not feigned but genuine.  What those who value unborn human life must continue to do is ask the question: “Why?  Why do you feel this way?  Why do you recoil in horror at this particular choice?”  If the question is pressed, and one is honest with oneself, the person who began as troubled only by “selective reduction” may find him or herself questioning the entire abortion regime.

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/08/michael-new-selective-reduction-reveals-a-weakness-in-the-armor-of-choice.html

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This topic raises all kinds of interesting questions. For me, one of them is why there is no movement in the United States to regulate in vitro fertilization. There can be no twins to "reduce" to singletons if only one embryo is transferred at a time. Sweden, which I think most people would consider far more "permissive" than the United States, limits embryo transfer to one at a time. Most Northern European countries do the same.

And while there is very strong objection in some quarters to government funded embryonic stem-cell research (or *any* embryonic stem-cell research), it seems strange to me that the only permissible source of embryonic stem-cells for government-funded research is "excess" embryos from fertility clinics, and yet there seems to be little opposition to creating the embryos in the first place. The objection is to using them for research.
To directly address John Breen's post, the last to paragraphs seem contradictory to me. If the revulsion of pro-choice advocates to pregnancy "reduction" is feigned, no amount of pressing them on the matter will prick their consciences. There is more than a hint here of the sometimes-explicit charge by pro-lifers that those who support abortion know in their hearts it is murder and are simply lying about it.

I would suggest that one of the factors that makes the "reduction" of twins to a singleton disturbing is that it is usually the case when a woman chooses abortion that it is not just that she does not want a BABY (or another baby, since 61% of women who have abortions already have at least one child). It is that she doesn't want the PREGNANCY. A woman who gets pregnant and merely does not want another baby can go through with the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. However, in the case of reducing twins to a singleton, the woman is perfectly willing to go through with the PREGNANCY. In fact, since I think we are talking only about pregnancies achieved through IVF, the woman has gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to get pregnant. There is no significant reasons—medical or otherwise—that I can think of why she can object to being pregnant, whether with one baby or two. Why can she not simply carry both babies to term and give one up for adoption?

I'll go out on a limb here and say that I think the typical woman thinking of having an abortion were offered an alternative in which she could have a simple operation, no more dangerous than an abortion, that would end her pregnancy and relieve her of the responsibility for the developing baby—say, it could be transferred to the womb of a woman eager to "adopt"—she would be willing and probably eager not to have the baby she conceived be killed. But it would seem in the case of the woman who chooses to have twins reduced to a singleton, she really wants one of her babies killed. That, I think, is what makes it so disturbing. The only reason I can think of for a woman pregnant with twins to have the pregnancy "reduced" is a fear that if she goes through with the pregnancy as is, she will find herself wanting to keep both babies, so she has to have one killed before that can happen. Better to get rid of it early on, lest she change her mind.

One more point. It seems to me a common assumption of pro-lifers that those who support abortion must believe either (1) a developing embryo has the "moral worth" of a human person (although they are willing to lie and claim that it doesn't so they are free to advocate its murder) or it has no "moral worth" at all. But I think that most people who are pro-choice believe a developing fetus has *some* moral worth, just not the same moral worth as an adult, or a newborn baby, or even a fetus later in pregnancy. Indeed, even if many of those who call themselves "pro-life" did not look upon a fetus as an entity with moral worth, though less moral worth than an adult person, they would be forced to oppose abortion in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother. So it is not bizarre or inconsistent that many who support legal abortion would be troubled by pregnancy "reduction," or abortion for sex selection, or any abortion other than one for which there was a serious reason. Abortion opponents seem to think those who are pro-choice must have to believe that a fetus is either a human person or a valueless "clump of cells." But I think most who defend abortion would say that's a false dichotomy. A living thing does not have to be a human person to be exempt from being killed without a sufficient reason.

Posted by: David Nickol | Aug 27, 2011 8:36:26 PM

So, according to Breen's guess as to his ideological opponents' secret motivations, those ideological opponents' public statements turn out to be insincere and strategic. Super convenient for Breen!

Posted by: Brennan | Aug 29, 2011 11:20:14 AM

Professor Breen,

I was thinking about this question last night while watching the Tigers play the Royals (watching Tigers games is when I do my best thinking) and you are correct in stating that this procedure does reveal a weakness in the armor of choice. However, I would also respectfully state that it puts a dent in the pro-life argument, as well. You and the pro-life side would like to have procedures such as these outlawed (correct me if I'm misunderstanding you) but you don't suggest what we should do with folks who have these procedures. Should we remove the children that these folks currently have because if they can reduce a twin, then who knows what else they would do to the rest of their children? Isn't abortion the worse form of child abuse? Should we put the parents up on first degree murder charges? In the pro-life arguments that I always read, I never see any suggestions as to what the criminal penalties should be. I don't know how you outlaw something without having appropriate criminal penalties. And I think the reluctance of the pro-life side to criminally prosecute people (which I agree with, by the way) weakens the argument.

Once again, I'm not disagreeing with your outrage on this issue. I'm asking if there is anything productive that can be done beyond merely speaking out. And if criminal prosectuion is outside the pale, then what else is there?

Respectfully,


Edward Dougherty

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 30, 2011 11:47:53 AM

Professor Breen,

I was thinking about this question last night while watching the Tigers play the Royals (watching Tigers games is when I do my best thinking) and you are correct in stating that this procedure does reveal a weakness in the armor of choice. However, I would also respectfully state that it puts a dent in the pro-life argument, as well. You and the pro-life side would like to have procedures such as these outlawed (correct me if I'm misunderstanding you) but you don't suggest what we should do with folks who have these procedures. Should we remove the children that these folks currently have because if they can reduce a twin, then who knows what else they would do to the rest of their children? Isn't abortion the worse form of child abuse? Should we put the parents up on first degree murder charges? In the pro-life arguments that I always read, I never see any suggestions as to what the criminal penalties should be. I don't know how you outlaw something without having appropriate criminal penalties. And I think the reluctance of the pro-life side to criminally prosecute people (which I agree with, by the way) weakens the argument.

Once again, I'm not disagreeing with your outrage on this issue. I'm asking if there is anything productive that can be done beyond merely speaking out. And if criminal prosectuion is outside the pale, then what else is there?

Respectfully,


Edward Dougherty

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Aug 30, 2011 11:47:53 AM

Edward,
Because women who feel pressured to have an abortion need love and care and understanding, not criminal penalties. I think the same way of those who try to commit suicide: even though suicide is a grave moral evil that shouldn't supported or encouraged or subsidized by law but should be discouraged by law, those who attempt suicide shouldn't be criminal prosecuted. Instead, they need love and support.

Posted by: Thales | Sep 1, 2011 4:05:25 PM

Hi Thales,

So how would you enfoce such a law if there is no criminal penalty?

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | Sep 1, 2011 4:21:49 PM

Focus on prohibiting doctors from performing the operation.

Posted by: Thales | Sep 2, 2011 9:11:41 AM

Again, I think suicide is an analogous example: we don't (generally) have penalties for those attempting suicide, but there are penalties (generally ) for those who assist suicide.

Posted by: Thales | Sep 2, 2011 9:13:12 AM