Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The intellectual bankruptcy of the pro-choice movement

Jon Shields, professor at Claremont McKenna College, writes:
Whereas many [pro-lifers] have comfortably embraced distinguished allies in the academy, abortion rights advocates cannot easily do so. In fact, pro-choice philosophers are badly at odds with the pro-choice movement. As Rosamund Rhodes, the pro-choice director of bioethics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, confessed more than three decades after Roe [v. Wade], abortion rights proponents are simply not prepared to explain "how or why the fetus is tranformed into a franchised 'person' by moving from inside the womb to outside or by reaching a certain level of development." ... As [pro-choice philosopher Peter] Singer put it, "[L]iberals have failed to establish a morally significant dividing line between the newborn baby and fetus."

Nonetheless such thinkers have articulated strong pro-choice arguments. They are not likely, however, to be embraced by the pro-choice movement because of their political liabilities. ... Scholars such has Mary Anne Warren, Michael Tooley, and Peter Singer defend abortion rights by rooting personhood in self-consciousness. From this perspective, human organisms acquire rights only when they become willful, self-aware beings. The pro-choice movement, however, has been reluctant to accept this view of the human person because it also justifies infanticide. As Singer has starkly put it, there is no "intrinsic wrongness [in] killing an infant."

These problems have left abortion rights advocates severely handicapped in the context of public debates. When pressed by pro-life activists, they have no ready explanation for why fetuses become persons at any point between conception and birth.