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John Holdren on Abortion and Morality

Morgen on July 22, 2009 at 2:19 pm

The President’s Chief Science Adviser, John Holdren, has come under fire lately for some radical views he expressed in the 1970′s regarding the possibility of using forced sterilization and abortion to manage population growth. The blog zombie time was the first to break this story in the blogosphere, and it has since been picked up by the Washington Times and Fox News. Population control in general was a significant focus for Holdren in the 70′s, and he frequently collaborated in research and writing with Paul Ehrlich, the infamous author of the The Population Bomb.

I decided to do a little digging of my own and found a related article that Holdren and Ehrlich co-authored in 1971 which outlines their general views on abortion. The title alone is pretty enlightening:

“Abortion and morality: Has a potential human the right to live inside an actual woman without her consent?”

Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find a copy online to link to. The archived copy I was able to find is of pretty poor quality, but you can download and print off a copy here.

Here is an extended excerpt of the portion of the article dealing with morality (emphasis added below):

The question of morality usually centers on whether abortion is equivalent to taking a human life. A fetus is certainly aliveas are the cells destroyed every time you brush your teeth – but it is a potential rather than an actual human being. The some thirty thousand eggs present in the ovaries of each human female at birth are also potential human beings one step removed, since they require only sperm – available in abundance – to become embryos. Only a tiny fraction of these eggs are fertilized, however, and society does not mourn the rest. Nor is much thought given to the countless early spontaneous abortions that pass unnoticed in the menstrual discharge. If abortion is “murder”, are these “accidental deaths”?

Such a reductio ad absurdum is not to suggest that abortion be undertaken frivolously. However, it does underline the distinction between potential and actual human beings that is already implicitly recognized by society. Denial of abortion subjects actual humans to the anguish of compulsory pregnancy and the burden of unwanted children – a burden that mothers share with siblings who may already be receiving insufficient care and attention, with unwanted children who may be abused or abandoned, and with the society that ultimately must cope with the maladjusted product. If actual human beings are of more consequence than potential ones, then abortion is moral

If abortion is needed by individuals and by society, is medically safe, and is not patently immoral, it is difficult to be sure exactly what is accomplished in subjecting the procedure to restrictive government scrutiny. The legal distinction between potential and actual human life is clearer than the biological one. Infants are entitled to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but fetuses are not. Because of this distinction, the relaxation of abortion laws could scarcely imperil the rights of infants or of elderly and otherwise dependent people. Moreover, as Lynette Perkes stated eloquently in a letter to the editor of Newsweek, “…neither they nor anyone else in our society now have a right even remotely like the one in question – the right to live inside the body of another person against that person’s will.

No doubt how you personally view the issue of abortion will to a large degree influence your reaction to the beliefs expressed here. I find them completely abhorrent, with no basis in any form of morality that I can comprehend, much less condone. Based on the standard of morality (and law) advocated by Holdren and Ehrlich, only newborn infants would be protected under the Constitution. And if you doubt they really intended to advocate for the legalization of abortion up until birth, consider the question asked by the sub-heading of their article. Based on the final statement quoted above, there is no doubt that they believe an unborn child has no right to live without the ongoing consent of the mother.

It should be pointed out that this article was published prior to the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973. And that even the majority of Justices who voted in favor of legalizing abortion took a much less radical position than that advocated by Holdren and Ehrlich. The Roe decision at least recognized that States have some legitimate interest in protecting the “potentiality of human life”.

Holdren and Ehrlich close their article with the following statement:

A more worthy goal for those of humane bent is to improve the lot of those children who are wanted by their parents but who face misery, starvation, and disease in an overpopulated world replete with inequity. (Ed. emphasis added)

Given the radical nature of Holdren’s views on the unborn and the ethics of abortion, I don’t think it’s surprising at all that he would later suggest that for the good of society as a whole, a policy of forced abortion and sterilization may be necessary to contain population growth. Since “actual human beings are of more consequence than potential ones”, then why shouldn’t forced sterilization and abortion be legal as well?

It takes a certain combination of depravity and arrogance to advocate for policies such as these under the guise of “science”. And remember that John Holdren is now helping shape the nation’s policies on a range of issues from climate, to energy, and even national security. In his Inaugural speech the President promised to “restore science to its rightful place” in the White House. And perhaps scientific reasoning should play a more prominent role in policy making. But I don’t think it’s reasonable for the President to expect the public to trust the judgement of someone who has previously expressed such radical views on the value of life. The nation deserves better from its top scientist…and it’s President.

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Category: Health & Education, Politics, Religion & Faith |

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