The Agreed-Upon Evil of Targeted Abortion

One of the National Review’s writers goes apoplectic over a television episode where the characters — though avowedly pro-choice — blanche at the prospect of targeted abortion, used to eliminate undesirable traits rather than in general family planning. Apparently there’s some contradiction between supporting “abortion on demand,” but posing moral limits to its application.

In fact, there is none. First, there is no such thing as “abortion on demand.” Although it suits the right to frame the issue that way, since Roe, there have always been considerable limits on the abortion right, and there are certainly even more today. Second, by supporting the notion that women may, with a minimum of government interference, elect to terminate a pregnancy, we nowhere imply that the decision shouldn’t be made with solemnity, and an appreciation for what it entails. That is to say, we agree it  shouldn’t be made freely. We would grant women the discretion to terminate a pregnancy, and hope that discretion is used responsibly.

Revulsion at how and why an individual chooses to exercise a right is not incompatible with the belief that they should have the right in the first place. Our writer’s belief to the contrary is actually quite revealing: contrary to the conservative trope, that government should get out of the way and let us make our own choices, the author apparently assumes that government regulation is the only meaningful way to express some moral limitation on the exercise of a constitutional right.

That is not, and cannot be true. The basis of a free society is the assumption that citizens can be trusted to make the right choices, without requiring the government to authorize their every step. Our Constitution unquestionably grants us important, even dangerous rights — like the right to bear arms, or even the right to raise a family — but all of those rights are circumscribed by duties both legal and moral. We can trust our citizens, and we shouldn’t use laws to secure that trust except where necessary.


  1. It is an interesting stance that pro-abortion folks take. Legally speaking you are correct. One can support the availability of abortion but personally oppose its usage (similar to how one might feel about legalized gambling or any other vice). Here is where I have trouble though…

    If you allw for abortion to happen then I assume you believe it is not a moral failing of our society to permit it. Doesn’t that also mean then that you are saying is is not an immoral act? If so, doesn’t that make abortion for any reason okay?

    1. Oh that’s easy. You’re saying an act, regardless of circumstances or intent, is always moral or immoral? Though typically, when an act changes moral character through differentiating details we consider a different act. Murder us wrong, but there are circumstances when killing someone is not – we have special words for all these different cases. It would be ridiculous for me to insinuate that support for killing in self defense is support for killing for any reason.

      1. I’m saying that if abortion isn’t murder then the circumstances shouldn’t matter. Morality is irrelevant because it’s simply a medical procedure akin to having a mole removed. So.. why would an abortion for financial reasons differ from an abortion because you don’t want another daughter?

        1. Mike, I think it’s analogous to vegetarianism. Vegetarianism isn’t immoral, but there are good reasons to be a vegetarian and crappy reasons. Health reasons are a good reason – I have a friend with a stomach defect who can’t digest meat, for example, so that’s a good reason. Believing meet is murder is a crappy reason – the fuckwits at PETA have no legitimate reason to be vegetarians. So, aborting because you don’t want another daughter, go ahead and do it, just know that you’re a fuckwit.

          1. Steve,

            I would say that the analogy is a bit different – though I like the vegetarian angle. What I am suggesting is that the overwhelming majority of pro-abortion folks are folks that don’t believe abortion is murder / immoral. So they are like meat eaters. But what they are doing is saying certain types of abortions are bad. That’s like saying it’s okay to kill a cow for dinner with your family but bad to kill a cow for a tailgate party.

            I don’t get that logic. If you’re okay with the killing (or to be more precise you don’t even call it murder) then who cares what the reasons are?

            1. oneiroi · ·

              Well, most liberals aren’t quite as objectevists as conservatives are. I don’t think liberals are trying to sit down and put marks on the immoral or moral chalk board. I think part of it is just trying to find a common ground.

              Like saying, “okay, the 8 month procedure seems a little grotesque, it makes me uncomfortable, it has additional risks, I know Mr. Conservative that you don’t like any abortion at all anyway, so I’m fine if we agree not to do this”.

              I mean, everyone has a different line on subjects.

              1. “I don’t think liberals are trying to sit down and put marks on the immoral or moral chalk board.”

                So if not morality, why dislike abortion for some reasons and not others? It becomes completely subjective and an exercise in silliness. What legal justification do you give for being totally okay with abortions for economic reasons but not because you don’t like the baby’s gender? It becomes an indefenisible exercise.

                1. I’m starting to think the better analogy is to meat eaters who only eat certain meats (which is pretty much all of us). When you get down to it, most any animal that doesn’t have toxins is edible. I feel confident saying both of us will eat deer, elk, cow, pig, alligator, duck, chicken, sheep, turkey, bison, pretty much any kind of fish, and at least one or two kinds of shellfish (for me it’s lobster, crab, shrimp, scallop, cajun crawfish, and fried clam). I’ll also eat bear and goat, you probably will too. But I will not eat horse, frog, dog, coyote, rat, cat, or any sort of insect and my guess is you won’t either. Only one of those (rat) is because of health reasons (the things carry too many diseases). Other than that, my reasons are cultural/emotional (horse, coyote, dog, cat), or the thought just sickens me (insect and frog). Arbitrary and subjective.

                  1. I would agree as well – arbitrary and selective. So then we go back to the post title, “Agreed Upon Evil”. The use of that word, ‘evil’ sounds like an assignation of moral status. That goes beyond the icky factor. In order to do that it seems that the criteria has to be more than subjective. I’d just like to hear a pro-abortion person explain how abortions based on gender cross the line.

                    P.S. Just as an aside, frog legs are delicious. I’ll be frog gigging myself in another few weeks and we’ll fry up a big batch for the family.

                    1. Finally, something on which we agree! Frog legs are delicious. I like to fry them in a light beer batter, personally.

                2. Everything is a subjective exercise when you’re dealing with groups of people…I don’t really get your point.

                  It’s like you and Steve have been talking about animals.

                  Most people don’t like the idea of torturing cats/dogs and then eating them for dinner. Some people don’t mind if animals we eat are going through large amounts of pain and are killed.

                  I think the majority of people say, let’s just try to avoid extraneous harm on certain animals. And then the laws kinda gravitate around that consensus.

                  Now, you can be PETA (the “you” in this example), and have these strict lines about what’s moral and immoral, and think anything outside of that framework is wrong, but I think for the majority of people are not looking through that prism.

                  Regarding this topic, there are different lines drawn, for different situations, from different people. Some draw the line early, some raw the line sharp, some later.

                  1. So then what about an arbitrary line that says mariage for two races is okay. Marriage for two religions is okay. Marriage for gays – not okay?

                    My point is asking if we should allow arbitrary moral lines to dictate policy? Targeted abortions already exist in the US. These will eventually expand in scope to gender and other characteristics. Do we allow it and hold our noses or do we draw a legal line that prevents it?

                    1. Again, I don’t understand you. I mean, I already gave examples where we try to find common ground an area of common ground, to accommodate multiple viewpoints from multiple people, for debated and complex issues. Some rigid lines and some blurry. Are we adding marriage to those? Okay… *shrugs*

                      My point is, why if someone is saying, let’s choose this middle ground as something that seems to be an area where we could mostly agree, why do you want to devalue that by saying, “No that’s not allowed. You either have to think it’s absolutely immoral or moral, and thus believe in a strict policy in either direction (to an absurd degree, as your “gender” example).

                      Is that so you’re on the right side of the argument and the other person is wrong because they don’t go as objectivist-esque as you?

                      On the theoretical level, I don’t think there’s anything wrong that liberals don’t want every baby to be aborted under every circumstance. Just as, I don’t think it’s wrong for a conservative to believe that there are exceptions where abortion is okay. Those viewpoints are people trying to make sense of a complex issue in the real world.

                    2. So then you are okay with amending current law to allow abortions in cases of Down Syndrome or ‘mom ain’t got no money’ but to ban abortion because the baby is going to be a gender the parents don’t want? And if so, how do you argue for that line legally?

                    3. oneiroi · ·

                      No. That’s illogical and silly.

                      That’s like saying, you approve of guns, so you support giving guns to kids, criminals, and the mentally disturbed…since you think people have the right to bear arms.

                      I already covered this in my last comment…repetitive. I haven’t voiced my opinion, just that I have a right to have whatever opinion I want with whatever exceptions I want. Just as you do with various subjects.

                    4. So then it’s unrestricted abortions and everyone can make the personal choice whether to feel bad about abortions under certain circumstances?

                      I understand your personal feelings oneiori. I’m slighlty more interested though in how personal feelings translate to law.

                    5. And I’m more personally interested in why you’re pushing the idea that if you believe A you must believe B. I mean, as I said before, every time you bring up how you think people have rights to assault guns, I should ask why you support giving assault weapons to children? That’s what you keep bringing up with abortion.

                      “I’m slighlty more interested though in how personal feelings translate to law.”

                      They don’t. Our individual feelings don’t translate to law. Our aggregate feelings affect law. And a conglomerate of moral issues, dilemmas, which are usually compounded by other moral considerations, are never clear cut, which is why we have debates on subjects.

                    6. Because I think tha the decision-making point with abortion comes with whether or not you believe it’s morally okay to terminate a pregnancy. Beyond that I don’t believe there is any more debate. Since I am pro-life and believe that abortion is murder, there’s no debating whether or not certain kinds of murder are okay and others aren’t. The rationale is irrelevant. It’s ALL murder.

                      I am though very interested in the mental acrobatics that some people go through in order to take a heavily nuanced view of abortion where certain abortions are okay and others aren’t. So, for example, I simply cannot fathom how someone would be okay with an abortion based on financial considerations but believe an abortion based on undesirable gender is bad.

                      I’m glad though that you were slightly more clear on the law thing. It’s a more defensible position for the pro-abortion side to take. Legally allow all abortions and just feel bad about the ones you don’t like.

                    7. Again, you have exceptions for whether or not people have guns or not, even though you believe people have the right to have guns.

                      You probably support torture under a “terrorist ticking time bomb” scenario, yet don’t support torturing every person that steals a twinkie.

                      You are okay with killing animals, but don’t support dog fighting.

                      You believe in the death penalty, but don’t think it should be applied to trespassers.

                      Liberals emphasize the moral value on the rights of the mother. That doesn’t mean they always put an absolute moral right that trumps everything always forever. Some also put a moral value to the fetus under certain circumstances. Conservatives do this as well when they grant exceptions for abortions, they are weighing one moral value against another. I mentioned that earlier.

                      Just because you believe that abortion is murder, doesn’t mean everyone else does. And just because someone else doesn’t think it’s murder, doesn’t mean they have to support handing out abortions.

                      Again, those are false equivalences.

                    8. The only way I can sort of identify with what you’re saying is, is with torture. When it comes to torture, I’m an absolutist, and think it should never be done or even considered.

                      Yet for nearly every other issue, I’m rather pragmatic.

                    9. I think torture is a great example since we seem to have common ground. So then I ask, Why do you oppose it universally? Why is no scenario ever okay? Is it because you see torture as immoral?

                    10. Morally reprehensible, negative repercussions for soldiers and citizens abroad, negative results in our moral standing when dealing with other nations, it’s against the spirit of our founding (cruel & unusual treatment), it’s unreliable (far down on that list).

                  2. So then yeah, your view of torture is a good analogy for my stance on abortion. It’s immoral status will always tip the scale when weighed against any other factor.

                    Where I STILL don’t understand the liberal mind is that I don’t see them ascribing immoral status to abortion based on the act itself. Instead they ascribe morality based on the motivating factors for the abortion. This is different than at least the way I view torture. I can only speak for myself but I find all torture to be immoral. With that said I would probably allow it in certain situations (your ticking time bomb scenario), but that is only because the scale tips in favor of torturing to achieve the greater good. Basically one immoral act trumps another.

                    But if I felt torture itself was amoral (which is how I believe most liberals feel about abortion) – I would never feel the need to weigh the motivating factors because they would be irrelevant. They would be unable to change an amoral act to an immoral act.

                    1. oneiroi · ·

                      The “you” response of this would be, “Oh so you believing torture is okay? Then why not torture everyone in cases where it prevents harm? I mean, if you allow it, you must think it’s an amoral decision”. It’s the same as what you’re saying. You just don’t think so because you’re on the opposite side now.

                      Most liberals have similar moral decisions that you make, just on a different timeline. Mostly because people have a different idea of what should be considered life.

                      I imagine you see a difference between contraception, Plan B, and abortion. You probably put a different moral weight on each instance, probably none on contraception, some on Plan B, a lot on abortion. That doesn’t mean you are an amoral baby killer as the Pope would claim.

                      Most liberals have the same difference in perspective, just pushed back further, because they put more value on the women’s rights in the situation than conservatives. So instead there is Contraception, Plan B, Early Abortion, Late Term Abortion. More liberals put more moral weight as you get near the end of that timeline as well, and near zero at the beginning, same as you.

                      That’s not an amoral consideration at all. I would say that a majority of liberals agree with Roe V Wade decision to say that the state had an interest in protecting life on the point of fetal viability, unless the mother’s life is at stake (which is actually an easy argument since Democrats aren’t that strong nor consistent with abortion rights).

                      It’s the same as your beliefs. There’s a time where there is seemingly an amoral decision, while considerations of what is life increases along a time line of pregnancy, while being weighed against other moral issues such as the rights of women.

                    2. @ Oneiroi

                      “The “you” response of this would be, “Oh so you believing torture is okay? Then why not torture everyone in cases where it prevents harm? I mean, if you allow it, you must think it’s an amoral decision”. It’s the same as what you’re saying. You just don’t think so because you’re on the opposite side now.”

                      Read my last comment again. I consider torture an immoral act but weighed against other larger immoral acts (ticking time bomb) torture is the lesser of two evils. Were I to believe it was an amoral act I would endorse it in any number of lesser situations.

                      I understand the concept of a morality that increases with the age of the fetus. What i don’t understand is a ascribing morality to certain motivating factors, which you haven’t really addressed. I ask again, how do you give a pass for abortions based on economic hardship but not to abortions based on an undesirable gender? In my mind the first situation is actually more frivolous than the second, as economic status is a fluid thing and gender is biological.

                    3. I still kinda don’t see the point of the questions.

                      You said, you view torture as having a level of morality based on the situation.

                      And I said and you partially agreed, abortion has different levels of morality based on the situation.

                      It’s mostly splitting hairs at this point.

                      Yes, liberals are more concerned with the livelihood of the mother & child, than someone trying to participate in selective breeding. I mean, we’re liberals, we are against making decisions based on gender, race, and other immutables :P

  2. But frogs are slimy! They’re like oysters or mussels or worms, all, slimy and wriggly and not reptilian or avian or mammalian.

    Gigging is fun, though – I’ve gigged for fish. Very very difficult – only ever got one fish, and it wasn’t the one I was aiming for.

    1. Frogs aren’t usually all that slimy, and you’d skin them first anyway. They’re excellent fried and added to a pasta sauce.

      Horse meat is quite tasty, too. Like beef, but sweeter and more tender. I heartily recommend it.

      1. I might actually try horse, but it isn’t available in the US unless you raise it, slaughter it, and butcher it yourself.

        1. I’ve heard donkey is also really good. They eat it in Sardinia. Anthony Bourdain seemed to like it.

  3. I will chime in on Mike and Oneiroi’s discussion when I get home from work.

    1. As someone who thinks “murder” and “torture” are sometimes-bads and abortion is an almost-always-good (it’s a bad if the woman doesn’t want an abortion and somebody forces her to get it… I’m looking at you, CHINA!), I find y’all’s choices of examples interesting. But less interesting than discussions of meat.

      Why is goat always so damned bony when I eat it? Is there no goat roast? Or is it just that I’m eating at cheap Jamaican restaurants who only buy cheap bony goat?

      1. Speaking of China, their emerging incorrect gender ratio demonstrates the negative externalities unique to sex-selection as a reason for having an abortion.

      2. To be fair to China, their dilemma was between the current draconian one-child policy, and an explosively growing population with extensive instability and probably people dying in the streets from hunger.

        I think goat is supposed to be cooked with lots of bones in it because it adds to the flavour. Haven’t tried it, so I wouldn’t know.

  4. @ Oneiroi:

    “You said, you view torture as having a level of morality based on the situation. “

    No. I said torture is always immoral BUT some things are even worse. So if we create a formula, it would look something like this:

    Torture (Immoral Act) < Killing a shit ton of Americans (Immoral Act)

    In a similar way I would also say that:

    Abortion (Immoral Act) < Making a woman carry a rape pregnancy to term (Immoral Act)

    If we look at my moral formula for abortion it would look like this:

    Abortion + Reason A = Immoral

    Abortion + Reason B = Immoral

    Abortion + Reason C = Immoral

    Abortion + Reason D = Immoral

    What you seem to be saying is that for liberals it looks like this:

    Abortion + Reason A = Moral

    Abortion + Reason B = Moral (but yucky)

    Abortion + Reason C = A Little Bit Immoral

    Abortion + Reason D = Really Immoral

    As you can see, for liberals the variable that determines morality is not abortion itself but the reason why someone is having it. I say that perplexes me and at this point it doesn’t really seem like you are going to explain why you all focus on the second part of the equation instead of the first (since the first is the act itself).

    1. I did go over that:

      I imagine you see a difference between contraception, Plan B, and abortion. You probably put a different moral weight on each instance, probably none on contraception, some on Plan B, a lot on abortion. That doesn’t mean you are an amoral baby killer as the Pope would claim.

      In the end, I find your idea of what and where life begins, from the egg, to insemination, to cells, to tiny fetus, to fetus, to baby. It’s all a mix of science (that doesn’t tell us anything specific) and a social construct. The whole thing is rather a murky area. Your perspective on what life is, I know is mostly an arbitrary line. So I can never really see your personal perspective on where life begins as any more worth or less worthy to consider than mine.

      Which is why I’ve never really been a big abortion issue person.

      1. So you’re saying the definition of life is murky. Okay, I get that. So then why does terminating that maybe-life suddenly gain moral clarity depending on the motivations for seeking the abortion? You’re essentially saying, ‘I don’t even know when life begins, but a mother terminating her pregnancy because it’s an undesirable gender makes me morally squeamish.”

        Do you not see a bit of a confusion there?

      2. oneiroi · ·

        No, I am saying you my friend, have no idea when life begins. You are not scientist nor god, not privy to any more information than any one else.

        Again, it’s a moral decision based on multiple factors.

        And again, I”m tired of your condescension when you pursue so many other policies that hurt the same women and children you are supposedly and shallowly supporting. But hey, better stand up for one morality if you’ll abandon so many others.

        But that’s what we’re discussing isn’t it? A difference in moral values.

        1. I agree. I have no idea when life begins. So I err on the side of caution. You, on the other hand, have created an elaborate web of acceptable and not-acceptable reasons for abortion (moral judgements if you will). That strikes me as setting yourself up as a far wiser arbitrator of morality than myself. I’m curious what information you are privy to that I am not?

          The other claptrap about pursuing policies that hurt women and children is a diversionary tactic. A lack of support for whatever programs you are eluding to doesn’t negate my position to abortion. And unless you’re willing to suggest that children are better off never being born than have to grow up in the world my policy preferences create, then the pro-life position is still superior. .

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