Thursday, December 1, 2011

Stuck on the slippery slope

In defense of late-term abortion, Ann Furedi, head of Britain's largest abortion-providing organization, says:
There isn't any profound point at which you can say there is a difference between one kind of fetus and another. ...

So if we think [early abortion is] a morally wrong or morally coarsening thing to do, then I think we should oppose abortion right from the very earliest weeks. If we don't think that, then we have to ask ourselves, very clearly, who decides when late is too late? ...

I would really question why, if there is no objective reason, no objective sudden value change, we need to intervene and create a point at which we apparently have the right to override a woman's own subjective decision-making process. Because actually, any definition of late abortion is arbitrary and subjective.
Furedi seems to be saying that because there are no morally significant differences between human fetuses at different stages in the womb, and since (she thinks most people believe) the abortion of early fetuses is morally permissible, then it is also the case that the abortion of late fetuses is permissible.

But one could also argue that because there are no morally significant differences between fetuses at different stages, and because (most people do in fact believe) the abortion of late fetuses is impermissible, then it is also the case that the abortion of early fetuses is impermissible.

Furedi herself, I assume, believes there is a point in human development at which a human being ought not be killed. That point is probably birth. Furedi would surely not want to legalize the killing of toddlers or teenagers for the reasons that people have late-term abortions. But if it is wrong to kill toddlers, and if there is no morally significant difference between toddlers and human beings at earlier developmental stages, such as fetuses, then it is also wrong to kill human fetuses.

Thus, to hold both that killing toddlers is impermissible and killing fetuses is permissible, Furedi must hold that there is some relevant difference between the two. She has already said that there is no morally significant milestone at any point in prenatal development. But it's not clear how any point in early post-natal development is any more plausible as a moral dividing line. (There is no essential change, but rather a seamless continuum of development of an enduring organism.) And birth can hardly be said to be relevant, since it is merely a change in location, not in the nature of the developing human being. As abortion/infanticide-defending philosophers Peter Singer and Helga Kuhse write, "The pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference. We cannot coherently hold that it is all right to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive."

So, ironically, Furedi's argument undermines her position of support for abortion. Her opposition to killing toddlers and other already-born human beings must rationally lead to opposition to killing unborn human beings, for birth is clearly "arbitrary and subjective" as a criterion for deciding who we may and may not kill.