Abortion of twins exposes twisted logic

Brave New World has finally arrived. There are now dozens of ways to artificially create human life, and with this newfound mastery of life has come a newfound contempt of it.

The latest outrage against human life, which made news around the world, was summed up by the headline: “Couple aborts twin boys for girl”. As one newspaper explained the story that originated in the Australian state of Vicoria: “A couple so desperate for a baby girl that they terminated twin boys are fighting to choose the sex of their next child. The couple, who have three sons and still grieve for a daughter they lost soon after birth, are going to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to win the right to select sex by IVF treatment."

Unlike the United States, Australia does not allow sex selection. But the couple, who cannot be identified, say they are so "consumed by grief" over a daughter they conceived naturally but who died soon after birth, that they will head to the US if they cannot get around the Australian law.

Apparently the mother sees no contradiction in her decision to end the life of her two boys in her quest to replace the girl she lost.

In their obsession to have what they want, it seems they will let nothing stand in their way of getting it. If perfectly healthy babies have to be killed along the way, then so be it. After all, adult selfish demands are all that count today, and nothing should stand in the way of anyone exercising their "choice".

This is the predominant mindset that is found in all Western cultures today. So in that sense I do not mean to pick on this particular couple. They are simply representative of so many others who have bought the lie that the entire purpose of existence is to have your wants and demands satisfied – instantly, and at any cost.

Thus this story should not be surprising. It is fully to be expected in a culture which has placed selfishness and the immediate gratification of wants as the highest good, and anything which prevents this from occurring as the greatest evil.

But along with this culture of selfishness goes much confused thinking, particularly on the issue of abortion. One example came with a newspaper column commenting on the Australian couple's decision to abort their twin boys. Writing in the Australian publication, the Herald Sun, Sally Morrell's column headed “Sex selection ban means tragic choice” produced a bizarre and contradictory defence of sex-selection via IVF. Sally thinks that sex selection is a perfectly acceptable procedure, and she oddly claims that if it were legal in Australia, the tragedy of the twin boy’s death would have been avoided.

"...it's the babies lost that must be our real concern here," wrote Sally, "and for that reason alone the law must change so that no more will we see parents disposing of one child to make way for another.”

There is so much muddled thinking here to deal with that one hardly knows where to begin.

For a start, there are very good reasons for outlawing sex selection. The chief one is that children should always be viewed as an end in themselves, not simply as a means to some adult’s selfish ends. Children of any sex are always of value and worth for who they are, not because of their gender. Once we allow gender selection to take place, we open the door for all sorts of other trivial reasons to produce designer babies. If we can argue for the gender of a child today, then why not argue for hair colour, or height, or right-handedness tomorrow?

So there is no guarantee whatsoever that the legalisation of sex-selection will prevent abortions for a whole host of superficial and trivial reasons.

But consider her strange words here: “it's the babies lost that must be our real concern here”. But why Sally? Only if we think the unborn baby has an inherent right to life does such a comment make sense. Yet Sally tells us that “I'm not anti-abortion”.

Sorry Sally, but you can’t have it both ways. If you are pro-abortion, then why would you worry about “babies lost”? Indeed, she confuses everyone with this odd line: “I can understand people being horrified by the abortion of the twin boys. I'm appalled myself. While I'm not anti-abortion, I deplore abortion being used as contraception or for sex-selection.”

Why in the world does the abortion of these twins appal you Sally if you are not against abortion? What you have just told us is this: "Abortion appals me but I am not against abortion." Go figure. What she seems to mean -– but is not even clear herself -- is that some forms of abortion are okay while some others are not.

But why? How can the killing of an unborn child be sometimes acceptable, but sometimes unacceptable? Indeed, unless we regard the unborn as having real moral status -– that is, unless we regard the foetus as a human being with an inherent right to life –- then why should she be appalled at any abortion done for any reason? Either the unborn child is a human being -- a person with a fundamental right to life -- or he or she is not. If not, then one should no more worry about the “termination” of these healthy twin boys than one should worry about clipping one’s fingernails.

Sally cannot have it both ways. If we are talking about a real human being with a real right to life, then surely killing him or her is morally wrong. But if there is no humanity and personhood attached to the unborn, then all abortion should be morally acceptable and nothing to be appalled at.

But wait, there’s more. Sally does not seem to even have a basic understanding of how the sex-selection process works. Recall that she said this: “I deplore abortion being used as contraception or for sex-selection”. Yet her entire article is one long defence of sex-selection!

Does she even know how this process works? It seems she wouldn’t have a clue. So let me fill in the picture for her. As Christopher Kaczor reminds us in his important new book, The Ethics of Abortion (Routledge, 2011), there are several ways in which this can take place: “Sex selection can occur in three ways, prior to conception via sperm separation, after conception but before implantation via genetic diagnosis of IVF embryos, and after implantation via abortion.” What Sally evidently is not aware of is the fact that the third technique -- abortion of the foetus during the course of pregnancy -- is by far the most widespread means.

Thus in most cases of sex-selection, what we have is an abortion to rid the couple of either a male or female unborn baby. But recall the position of Sally: she is fully in favour of sex selection, but she is against abortion for sex selection!

She might as well seek to argue that she is fully in favour of children driving cars, but dead-set against 2-15 year olds driving! Thus the utter incoherence and illogic of her argument. But clear thinking and careful moral reasoning is seldom a strong point of the pro-abortion crowd.

What we have here is yet another example of mushy moralising and conceptual confusion. But this is nothing new in the abortion wars. Sadly it seems to go with the territory. But if anything, error highlights truth, and sloppy thinking helps point to clarity of thought, so at least for that reason we can be thankful for her article.

Bill Muehlenberg is a lecturer in ethics and philosophy at several Melbourne theological colleges and a PhD candidate at Deakin University.




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