24 February

Sex-Selective Abortion: The Failed Autonomy of Modern Man

From a guest blogger: The news that some private abortion clinics in Britain may be carrying out here the sex-selective abortions which are horrifyingly common in parts of Asia is no real surprise to us at Blog for All Seasons.

In today’s society each person is seen as an autonomous individual who cannot make authoritative claims on the lives of any other, beyond those absolutely necessary for the wider social good. This view is crucial to the claim that abortion may be considered as medical care rather than as ‘medicalised’ killing. Since a baby in utero naturally makes substantial demands on his or her mother, it is maintained that this wholly innocent, and barely conscious, being violates her autonomy, unless wanted on terms dictated by her. As a result, ‘abortion on demand’ is considered legitimate by some, even when demand is determined by the baby’s sex. It is assumed that the mother – as a fully developed human being endowed with a fully formed reason, and capacities for friendships, life-experiences and ambitions – is capable of judging whether or not to continue with a pregnancy. Since the unborn child lacks developed capacities advocates of ‘choice’ do not consider the baby’s welfare to involve any moral claims such as are necessary for the wider social good.

Although mother and baby are both clearly human, her ‘right’ to autonomy frequently and tragically trumps her baby’s right to life. But whether or not a human is fully developed – ‘in’ or ‘ex’ utero – is as faulty a means of distinguishing the bearer of rights as is the frailty of the elderly for the granting of special care and attention since it inevitably undermines universal human equality and value. If, as in the case of abortion, human rights are to be granted or withheld on the basis of physiological development, there can be no universal human rights whatever. To maintain any rational consistency the rights of the more fully developed should always trump those of people further down the scale. Such an approach utterly undermines the whole rights project, a project designed explicitly to prevent the weak in society being trampled upon by the strong.

If by recognising a right to autonomy as legitimating sex-selective abortion – or abortion on demand – we undermine the very basis of rights, this surely calls into question the coherence of arguments for so radical a position. The modern notions that we ought all to be free to make our own choices, and to follow our own consciences regardless of the rational inconsistency or harm done to social cohesion, as well as the idea that each member of a modern society is, and should be, truly autonomous, have come to undermine even the mother-baby relationship. Our enthralment to the rhetoric of choice as a ‘value most sacred’ has gone so far that many now advocate an autonomy which is absurd. We should wake up to the fact that the supposed ‘moral progress’ of the sexual and social revolutions has failed, and to the reality that the politics of ‘choice’, however attractive in some quarters, are not the politics of morality.

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