So this might be a first, but I am hoping to crowdsource some resolution on this topic. Last week I posted about the clear evil that I saw in abortion for sex selection. I thought for sure that the readership would join me in condemning such a barbaric and nakedly misogynistic practice.
What I got instead was a surprising amount of tacit “aww shucks” support for the right of someone to choose to abort a pregnancy because the child is female. Nobody thought it was a good idea, but there were very few people who gave it the kind of blanket condemnation that I had initially approached it with.
This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem for me. After all, any given post might yield a few or a lot of dissenting opinions. I consider it a mark of honour that I have engaged, intelligent and thoughtful readers who may disagree with me on any number of topics. It forces me to become better at defending my ideas, or to learn to change my ideas in places where it is clear that I am wrong.
Here’s the thing though: I am really struggling with this particular issue. I can’t see it as anything other than a bright red line – sex-selective abortion is wrong. Abortion because you can’t raise a child or you’re not ready to be a parent or you don’t want the father to be a part of your life forever are all perfectly valid reasons in my book. I do not see abortion as a tragic event, unless a child is wanted but cannot be brought to term for medical reasons. Even still, the part of my brain that tells me right from wrong sends up big warning signs about selecting against sex or race or other physical features.
We can avoid the utilitarian/practical argument against slavery, for example, by pointing to the importance of respecting human autonomy. The right of an individual to self-determine outweighs the usefulness of forcing them to work for you (and the utility you gain thereby). Autonomy is off the table here, since we are talking about an embryo that is not yet a moral agent. Rawls’ veil of ignorance is off the table for the same reason – you have to have the capacity to want something to factor into the decision-making process.
So here is my question: is there a non-consequentialist ethical argument that can be brought to bear against sex-selective abortion? Is there one that can be brought against racism or sexism per se that would include sex-selective abortion? Do we run the risk of subscribing to “just ’cause” moral arguments, or is there simply no way to accommodate both my wish for reproductive autonomy and my revulsion at the idea of selecting against women?
Basically, is there a rational way to say that these things are wrong without having to bring practicability into the argument?
If they don’t show up on their own, I may bring in the two philosophical heavies I have in my Rolodex to help me hash this one out. I am curious and eager to hear your thoughts.