Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pro-Choicer Advocates Limits On Reproductive Freedom   posted by TangoMan @ 9/23/2007 12:40:00 PM

Dissent has published an article on how pro-choice advocates should start thinking about the prospects of designer babies and the author broaches the subject of regulating, and perhaps prohibiting, access to such procedures. What's striking about the article is the heavy reliance on the "barn door effect" wherein pro-choice advocates, once through the barn door, slam it shut in order to prevent others from using the same rationales to get through the door. For example:
Now, we who support abortion rights may fear that regulating reproductive technologies could endanger our cause. There is no doubt that maintaining the legality of abortion-and fighting to reverse harmful restrictions of it-is paramount. But it is also important for us to sustain a larger moral vision.

The larger moral vision which the author seeks to protect imposes a cost of loss of reproductive freedom on couples who wish to use reproductive technologies. During the Abortion Wars the pro-choice advocates rejected the very notion of a larger moral vision being protected at the cost of individual reproductive freedom yet now, through the use of selective definition, wherein abortion is synonymous with reproductive freedom and the use of reproductive technologies falls outside the definition, some seem fine with the very idea of limiting individual choice in order to advance their vision of a societal interest.

One of the lines of argument she develops begins with the premise that "individual choices can have larger social consequences." I wonder what the author's response would have been to this same premise being used in the early abortion battles, for abortions themselves also create larger social consequences. As women exercise their individual right to abortion they create effects that ripple through society. The same process is at work with regard to access to birth control.

The author makes much of the arbitrary line in the sand she's drawn wherein she places high value on individual liberty for women to control their own bodies and timing of reproduction yet she devalues the individual choice of embryonic trait selection which leads me to question whether she stands for principle or outcome. If the principle of individual liberty is paramount, as we see with free speech cases where disagreeble speech is frequently defended, then we should expect support for individual exercise of reproductive freedom even when one may personally disagree with the choice made. If the outcome is of the highest importance, then we should see the jettisoning of principle when it is no longer convenient. I believe the author is arguing the latter position and this may come to be exploited by those who oppose her viewpoints on abortion, for if one jettisons principle when it is inconvenient to one's immediate concerns then it becomes harder to argue on the basis of principle when one's position is threatened.

I find it interesting to watch these early stumblings on the question of reproductive technologies and the shifting alliances that may result. Earlier I took a rudimentary stab at outline the shifting alliance in the post The Turning of the Tides. One of the most glaring examples of the conundrum reproductive technologies pose for dogmatic feminists was laid bare within this post, Feminist != Support for Reproductive Rights.

While the ideological contortions are interesting to watch what I find most amazing is the penchant for social engineering by fiat. The belief that legislation which restricts a couple's reproductive choice will adequately address what the author see as a problem and that people shall willingly constrain their reproductive choices. Bush and Kennedy championed a law (NCLB) which mandated that all students shall meet proficiency standards in their educations. How's that working out? Is the War on Drugs eliminating all drugs from society? Before abortion was widely legalized, did laws against abortion prevent abortions from taking place? Do Bio-Luddites really believe that prohibitions on advanced reproductive technologies will eliminate choice for parents? The most likely effect will be to drive such parents to underground providers or to exercise their choice overseas, in countries like China, where attitudes on this topic are quite different:
A survey of Chinese scientists working in the field of genetics suggests they overwhelmingly support eugenics to improve public health.

The theory of eugenics - which is considered highly controversial in the West - suggests that the human race can be improved by selective breeding. The survey, which was conducted in 1993 among 255 geneticists throughout China, was reported in the British magazine New Scientist. Almost unanimously - by 91% - the scientists said that couples who carried the same disease-causing genetic mutation should not be allowed to have children. More than three-quarters believed that governments should require pre-marital tests to detect carriers of hereditary disease. They also supported the routine genetic testing of job applicants by employers. There was also strong backing for the genetic testing of children to see if they are susceptible to problems such as alcoholism.

If the authors worried about a class divide developing between the "GenRich" and the rest of the population then the surest way to bring this about is to create a regulatory framework where only those with means can access the service by traveling overseas in order to have their embryos transfered. Does the author imagine that US Customs will maintain a pregnancy screening service for Americans arriving back in the country, or that abortions will be forced on people who have been found to have used reproductive technologies, or that the children, once born, will be born with a Scarlett Letter emblazoned on their foreheads announcing to the world that they are "GenRich."

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