Of mice and men and intelligence genes

Andrew Wayne Austin aaustin at SPAMutkux.utcc.utk.edu
Sun Sep 5 16:05:04 MDT 1999


I know this issue is an ethically and politically contentious one.
Therefore, I make the caveat, probably superfluous, that the following post
is presented without any desire to characterize your position in a
negative light. Rather, I think there is an important consideration that
is missing in your argument. Maybe you have considered it. Either way, I
would be interested in your opinion.

On Sun, 5 Sep 1999, Carrol Cox wrote:

>The general principle I tendered is clear enough.

I am assuming based on this endorsement of a general principle with
respect to abortion that sex selection via abortion is in principle
different from sex selection via infanticide or euthanasia. It probably
follows that race selection via abortion (and sterilization, too?) would
also be in principle different from race selection via infanticide or

I disagree with the argument that elimination of undesirables via abortion
(or sterilization) differs in principle from elimination of undesirables
via infanticide or euthanasia. While my position does not impact my stand
on the legality of abortion, the principle is still worthy of
consideration as an issue of ethics.

One important matter is the question of intention with respect to
abortion. If the woman did not intend to get pregnant, or if she does not
intend to carry the pregnancy to term, and this decision is based strictly
on the fact of pregnancy, namely that she does not want to be, then
abortion as an act of choice seems unquestionable. In fact, based on this
principle, which focuses exclusively on the woman's choice, there should
be no trimester restrictions. This is to say, since the question is not
the status of the fetus but the woman's choice, a definite principle is
observed; under these rules we are not concerned about the fetus's status
because the fetus's status is irrelevant.

However, while I reiterate that I oppose any restriction on individuals
choosing abortion, it is a different situation when pregnancy would be
carried to term *if but for* the sex or race, etc. of the fetus. The
question now includes the status of the fetus. For example, we should be
concerned when cultural oppression forces women to abort female fetuses in
the same way we should be concerned about FGM and a host of other
restrictions on or violations of women's freedom.

If the effect of sex selection in abortion is to cause a reduction in the
number of women in a population, then this is a very good reason to become
concerned about sex selection in any form. Whether it occurs during
pregnancy or after pregnancy with the female infant left to die on the
side of a mountain, the purpose and the effect is the same.

Therefore, likewise abstracting for general principles, it seems that the
concern raised by Marta is reasonable, and that her list reasonably
includes abortion, since the principle is not only about the woman's right
to choose, but about cultural pressure to abort undesirable fetuses and
prevent such fetuses from becoming human beings. A different principle is
concerned, one that is admittedly ethically complex with respect to a
woman's right to choose.

If we fail to observe this difference, then we have forgotten in some
measure the principle upon which a woman's choice is founded, namely to
increase the freedom of women rather than to increase the number of

The lesson is, I think, that we should not abstract a woman's right to
such an extent that social and cultural pressures do not enter into our
ethical concerns about behaviors.

Again, to forestall any temptation to distort my view on this, I neither
advocate or support restrictions on a woman's right to choose to have an

Andy Austin

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