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Choice (almost) devours itself--UK version

If you are on social media and pro-life, you have probably by now heard of the case in the UK in which an 11th-hour appeal has (for now) prevented a forced abortion. The pregnant mother is a mentally disabled African woman of the Nigerian Igbo tribe. Some news reports say that she has the mental capacity of a 6-9-year-old. Her mother cares for her and strenuously opposed the abortion, stating that she (the grandmother of the unborn child) is willing to care for the baby.

Apparently some "do-gooders" from the NHS, upon discovering the pregnancy, went to court for permission to carry out an abortion. Their rationale was that the pregnant woman's mother has her hands full caring for the woman herself and that it was plausible that the baby might be "taken into care" after birth--forcibly removed from the home to be placed into the foster system. The idea was that this would be more psychologically traumatic for the mentally disabled woman than having an abortion now. (She is 22 weeks along.) Hence, they alleged, an abortion was needed for her "psychological health."

Judge Nathalie Lieven agreed, ordering an abortion as in the mother's "best interests." The grandmother of the unborn baby immediately appealed, and a three-judge appeals panel has reversed the decision. Since abortion is legally harder to obtain in the UK after 24 weeks, it seems plausible that the baby's life has been saved.

This case illustrates very well the phenomenon I have called "choice devours itself." In such a case, the very person or people who were allegedly going to benefit from some choice (usually for death or sex) are forced into that "choice" against their will via some rationalization. Other examples include minor girls forced into abortion, forced abortions in China, and people being forcibly held down in order to complete their "chosen" suicides.

It was interesting to notice on social media that some pro-choicers were opposed to Judge Lieven's ruling. One might think that that is logical, since they are just being consistently pro-choice. Well, yes and no. It's complicated.

Think of it this way: In order to be pro-choice about abortion, you have to treat abortion as something other than murder. Generally the pro-choice position is that abortion is a medical procedure like any other and that it therefore ought to be up to "the woman and her doctor" to decide whether or not this procedure is best. In other words, the pro-choice position is that sometimes abortion really is a rational decision and in the best interests of the woman.

But obviously, if a person is mentally incompetent, it is entirely possible that he (or in this case she) will sometimes rightly receive medical procedures that are unchosen. After all, if a mentally incompetent person "didn't want" an emergency appendectomy, obviously one would go ahead with the appendectomy, just as one would do in the case of a child. A person who is mentally not competent does not have the same rights to refuse treatment that a fully mentally competent adult has. If abortion is just another medical procedure, then it falls under this principle. And if the unborn child has no rights, then Judge Lieven's procedure of considering only the probability of greater mental distress to the mother if her baby is later "taken into care" than if she is given an abortion now (presumably under general anesthetic) is at least in the vicinity of being ethically correct. It's all a matter of utilitarian calculus. Look ma, no deontology!

Here is the question: In virtue of what moral principle do pro-choicers treat the right to refuse an abortion, even on the part of a mentally incompetent person, as absolute? I do not believe that a pro-choicer can give anything other than an unsatisfactory, gerrymandered answer to that question.

Obviously, I'm glad that there are some pro-choicers who retain enough spontaneous ethical insight to realize that Judge Lieven's ruling was horribly wrong. But this very insight should cause them to rethink their entire approach to abortion itself.

Comments (13)

"In virtue of what moral principle do pro-choicers treat the right to refuse an abortion, even on the part of a mentally incompetent person, as absolute? I do not believe that a pro-choicer can give anything other than an unsatisfactory, gerrymandered answer to that question."

This speaks to a larger inconsistency within liberalism in general, one which Maximos once wrote about here as "liberalism's consent problem." While dealing with a different (but related) subject, the logic of his critique runs along the same lines as yours.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/12/liberalisms_and_liberaltariani.html

That's a good, old post by Maximos. We really do have to get at the substance of what is being chosen or refused, be it sex, an abortion, or a flavor of ice cream.

The problem with too many leftists is that they try to treat too many things on the model of a flavor of ice cream, and then they run into places where that is obviously not a good model for that thing. Sex, for example. Or they will pick some other very bad model, like a needed medical procedure as a model for an abortion, as in the case in the main post.

Of course, they themselves then have all kinds of things (and this has become more obvious in the intervening 10 years) that they think are just plain evil and hence should never be permissible choices. Refusing to affirm homosexuality is one of these. *That* choice must *not* be left up to the individual unconstrained.

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"In virtue of what moral principle do pro-choicers treat the right to refuse an abortion, even on the part of a mentally incompetent person, as absolute? I do not believe that a pro-choicer can give anything other than an unsatisfactory, gerrymandered answer to that question.""

I might be asking the same question in a different way here, but are there any circumstances in which choosing to abort is unreasonable or even unjust on the so called pro choice view that regards abortion as a fundamental right and a positive good? Furthermore, is it even logically consistent and possible for the choice to abort and the choice to not abort to be both equally reasonable and good?

I'm not quite sure there is, and I lean towards it being the case that on the pro abortion view as it is currently stated that there is no such thing as a pregnancy in which it is best to let the baby be born alive. I'm speaking here on the logic of the position and not necessarily what any individual pro choicer believes. Which if any want any friend or family member to continue a pregnancy to birth, it's out of cognitive dissonance, and not a coherent, principled position.

I might be asking the same question in a different way here, but are there any circumstances in which choosing to abort is unreasonable or even unjust on the so called pro choice view that regards abortion as a fundamental right and a positive good?

If one were a utilitarian and defined "justice" in utilitarian terms, then presumably there could be cases where the choice to abort caused greater unhappiness, all things considered, for sentient beings in the world than the choice to let the baby live. But there is no strong reason why they would include all the cases where the abortion was carried out against the mother's wish. And I would say that a consistent utilitarian cannot regard *anything* as a *fundamental* right.

"I lean towards it being the case that on the pro abortion view as it is currently stated that there is no such thing as a pregnancy in which it is best to let the baby be born alive."

The incoherence operative in most pro-choice thought boils down to a sort of magical thinking whereby the mother's wanting of the baby is what embues it with humanity. Thus the only "inherently good" pregnancy is one in which the unborn child is wanted, subject of course to the freedom of the mother to change her mind.

In other words, the child is treated like an animal: the only difference between a pet and a pest is the individual human's attitude towards the thing. But obviously that attitude has no effect whatsoever on what the creature is inherently, and anyone arguing otherwise would be considered a looney.

The incoherence operative in most pro-choice thought boils down to a sort of magical thinking whereby the mother's wanting of the baby is what embues it with humanity. Thus the only "inherently good" pregnancy is one in which the unborn child is wanted, subject of course to the freedom of the mother to change her mind.

The nihilistic conception of choice offered by liberalism, which says that the only "inherently good" thing must be a thing freely chosen, manifests itself in lots of other ways. The immoderate emphasis placed on choice as the source of real value leads, by a short and obvious route, to the idea that a person's sex is an indeterminate thing unless and until it is asserted by him. It also leads to the ludicrous notion that his sex, once chosen, ought to be a source of pride and personal exaltation (as well as the adjoining lunacy that merely to subscribe to the sex "assigned" at birth is something dull and almost unworthy).

I've remarked before on the perniciousness of liberalism's refusal to impose limiting principles on the constituent assertions of its creed, and this is one of them: That the objects of value are the objects of our choice, qua choice. The fact that this fetishization of choice so rapidly devolves into its opposite in such cases as these shows how false and even impractical it is.

"The incoherence operative in most pro-choice thought boils down to a sort of magical thinking whereby the mother's wanting of the baby is what embues it with humanity. Thus the only "inherently good" pregnancy is one in which the unborn child is wanted, subject of course to the freedom of the mother to change her mind."

Isn't wanting the baby mostly a concession to the mom's weakness and also pragmatic, i.e. some babies need to be born?

The choice to kill the baby is the only choice that is always rational and justifiable if abortion is a positive good. Choosing to have the baby is not good in and of itself, it is only good that a woman has the freedom, within reason as defined by experts, to make that choice.

The fact that this fetishization of choice so rapidly devolves into its opposite in such cases as these shows how false and even impractical it is.

I'm inclined to think myself that this shows that the fetishization of choice was never really "what it was all about." This is obvious from the extreme selectivity of the areas in which this importance of "choice" is applied. Of course, this has become much more obvious in the totalitarianism of the last ten years. A rugby player's choice to post about the wrongness of homosexuality and the fact that unrepentant, active perversion leads to hell *must* be punished. That choice is not exalted. And the same is true for many, many other choices.

On a more mundane level, the pro-choice crowd doesn't seem to care much about the fact that I can be fined for not putting on a seatbelt in my car. I'm not getting up in arms about seatbelt laws, but they are just one of a zillion examples where choice apparently doesn't matter in the least. And the same people are usually very enthusiastic about no smoking laws and a great many other places where choices are infringed.

What are the areas where choice is treated (though selectively there as well) as sacred? Sex and death. If this sounds a bit Freudian, I can't help it, because there it is. It's in the areas of sex and death that Choice Is All. I *must* be able to choose death for my baby. I *must* be able to choose death for myself (assisted suicide, euthanasia). I *must* be able to choose my own sex (transanity). I *must* be able to choose to have sex with anyone I please, without even the slightest social stigma (homosexual, etc., agenda). For now this imperative doesn't include adult sex with children, though I doubt that that limitation will last.

So what this is really about is making a god of Eros and a god of Thanatos. But Thanatos and Eros are jealous gods and become demons when they are made gods.

"So what this is really about is making a god of Eros and a god of Thanatos."

Can't leave out Mammon. We fetishize economic choice just as much, if not more, but again rather selectively (both the right and left have their respective household gods in this regard). As Tony Esolen once wrote, we have a Zipper Party and a Wallet Party, with a considerable amount of overlap between them. Consider all the women who have abortions for "financial" reasons, for instance. It would be a big mistake to presume that they're all "liberals" or progressives.


Well...I must say that anybody who wants to talk credibly about "the wallet party" and "the zipper party" probably should not be making a deal on Facebook about how every conservative has an obligation to vote for an ignorant, unprincipled, sexually amoral, multi-millionaire vulgarian because he's not a nice guy and that's what we need nowadays to fight our battles. But I suppose that's a topic for another day...

I'm not on FB so I don't really know what you're talking about. I'm quoting Esolen from years ago in Touchstone, and whether he supports DT or not (I don't, for the record) doesn't make it any less accurate.

Great article by Maximos, thanks for the reminder, NM.

From the stand point of the liberal claptrap in favor of abortion as "choice", they should have NO PROBLEM leaving the choice to the persons who should have it naturally. In this case, the girl, or, on her behalf, those who are personally responsible for her (her mother, of course). The state never cares for a person like family does, the state does it only as an institution, and institutions have policy, not love. So if the girl's mother remains a good mother (such that the state is not considering taking her child away due to abuse or negligence) then the decision belongs with the mother. Period. I don't know how the judge thought he gets to intervene his preference into that.

Except that liberals, and especially liberal activist judges, are perfectly willing to be bad liberals to the extent of imposing THEIR liberal preferences on people who don't want them. Ho hum, nothing to see here, just the usual: a liberal talking out of both sides of his mouth. That's OK, because liberalism allows this - being incoherent to begin with.

Notice that there is no girl's father in the picture. Why does this surprise nobody? Because broken families are the natural product of the sexual revolution.

Notice that there is no girl's father in the picture. Why does this surprise nobody? Because broken families are the natural product of the sexual revolution.

Hard to say there. The mentally disabled pregnant girl is in her 20s, so there might have been a husband/father earlier. They are apparently from Africa (Nigeria) and Catholic. I don't know at what point they converted or their backstory. I also don't know familial practices in Nigeria, but they probably were not directly affected by what we would call the sexual revolution. I suppose the young woman's father could have died by violence. Of course there is also plenty of unwed motherhood in Africa, sometimes (I have heard) caused by the end of polygamy during the colonial period without the development of a replacement ethic of strong monogamy.

No doubt the judge would say that she "had to" interfere in the situation and override the mother/guardian because it was "necessary in the best interests" of the disabled woman. One can of course imagine extreme circumstances in which this becomes necessary. (E.g. Guardian is attempting to refuse a blood transfusion after a car accident.) But this is obviously not one of those circumstances. A pregnancy, however tragic in its origin, is not ipso facto a medical emergency requiring instant intervention to bring it to an end!

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