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P.Z. Myers on Abortion

P.Z. Myers on a faux online abortion poll:

“I’m about as pro-choice as you can get…”

Unsurprisingly, Myers is “pro-choice”. But Myers’ advocacy of “choice” goes further:

“…I’m even willing to say that I’m pro-abortion…”

“Pro-abortion”? Even committed pro-abortion zealots don’t generally endorse abortion explicitly, except to assert the right to ‘choice,’ as if one were choosing a salad dressing rather than deciding to take a human life.

“[I] would like to encourage more people to abort…”

Why would Myers evoke Planned Parenthood’s business plan? I have no doubt that Myers would justify his odious incitement for more mothers to kill their children by appeal to the junk-science of population control. Yet as economist Julian Simon noted in his refutation of crackpot Paul Ehrlich’s apocalyptic overpopulation claims, human beings are the ultimate natural resource. Human ingenuity and labor are essential to the well-being of a society, and there’s no evidence that population densities achieved in the modern world inhibit human flourishing. Bangladesh and Gaza (low standards of living) are densely populated, but so are Hong Kong and Monaco (high standards of living). South Korea has 2.5 times the population density of North Korea. Puerto Rico is more densely populated than Rwanda. Japan has a higher population density than Sri Lanka. The United States has the same population density as Zimbabwe. Human flourishing depends critically on free economies and absence of war and of corruption and of political strife, and little if any on population density. Ironically, human flourishing depends critically on government policies that are the anthesis of the preferences of most population control zealots, who today are mostly socialists and often Marxists. Malthusian anti-human “science” has been scientifically discredited for more than a century and a half. Despite the demolition of their “science,” population-control zealots are undeterred and are responsible for atrocities across the globe: China’s one-child policy, forced sterilizations in China, India, and Peru, and the “missing women of Asia” — the 100,000,000 missing women in countries in which brutal population control measures have led to sex-selective abortions and female infanticide.
Valerie Hudson and Andrea Den Boer, authors of the landmark book “Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population” ask:

What forces drive the deficit of females in Asian nations such as India and China? Why are their birth sex ratios so abnormal? Why are early childhood mortality rates for girls higher than those for boys? Why are most children in orphanages girls? How do we account for the disappearance of so many women — estimated conservatively at over 90 million missing women in seven Asian countries alone?

They conclude:

[T]he modern gender imbalance in Asia, as with historical gender imbalances in Asia and else-where, is largely a man-made phenomenon. Girls are being culled from the population, whether through prenatal sex identification and female sex-selective abortion, or through relative neglect compared to male offspring in early childhood (including abandonment)…

Pro-abortion population control policies are the foundation of this femicide, and Myers’ explicit embrace of abortion and implicit embrace of population control junk-science puts him in the company of thugs. Ironically, Myers’ fellow pro-abortion goons have violated women’s basic human rights — the right not to be sterilized, not to be forced to have an abortion, even the right to live until birth and the right not to be killed after birth because you’re a girl — on a scale unprecedented in human history. It’s no coincidence that the first women’s rights activists in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century were passionately pro-life and anti-abortion. Abortion and population control are primary instruments of femicide and of the worldwide degradation of women.
The denial of basic human rights by the pro-abortion population control thugs is expanding. My colleague Wesley Smith at Secondhand Smoke quotes Peter Singer, a utilitarian atheist-Darwinist ethicist at Princeton, who has denied that young children meet the standards for personhood and has stated that many intelligent animals ought to have more rights than young children.

“When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if the killing of the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others it would . . . be right to kill him.”

More Singer:

“Maybe the law has to have clear bright lines and has to take birth as the right time, although maybe it should make some exceptions in the cases of severe disability where parents think that it is better for the child and better for the family that the child does not live…The position that allows abortion also allows infanticide under some circumstances…If we accept abortion, we do need to rethink some of those more fundamental attitudes about human life.”[emphasis mine]

Abortion and infanticide are parts of a greater moral worldview — a worldview in which the rights of personhood are not conferred to all human beings.
So what do I believe about personhood, and about the beginning of human life? My views are straightforward. They are Catholic views, shared by most people who adhere to Judeo-Christian morality. In the debate on when human life begins, there are two questions:

When does a human being begin?

When does personhood begin?

The answer to both questions is obvious.
The question “When does a human being begin?” is a biological question. A human being is a living member of the species Homo sapiens. A human being begins to be a living member of the species Homo sapiens at conception, and ceases to be at natural death. A human being begins at conception, and ends at natural death. This is a scientific question with a scientific answer. There is no debate.
The question “When does personhood begin?” is more subtle, but has a clear answer. Personhood is an ethical term, and refers to rights and privileges conferred to a human being (I’ll omit discussion of non-human persons). In just and civilized societies, all human beings are persons, as all human beings are recognized to have some rights. Of course rights may differ according to abilities, age, etc. (my ten-year old doesn’t have the right to drive a car, etc).
Given that conferral of personhood is the recognition that a human being has some rights, there is one right on which all human rights depend — the right to life. If a person does not have the right to life, than all other ‘rights’ are merely contingent on the arbitrary decision to allow the person to live. This condition — ‘you have rights if we let you live’ — of course obviates all rights.
The right to life is the fundamental right of persons, and is the right from which all other rights are derived.
Finally, are some human beings not persons? I note that this view — the view that there are classes of human beings who are not persons in the sense that they do not have a right to life — is the basis for the worst of man’s inhumanity to man. The denial of personhood is the basis for slavery, aggressive total war, genocide, racism, anti-Semitism, among countless other manifestations of human depravity. The denial of personhood to some human beings is the thread that runs through human evil.
Yet in our society the denial of personhood to unborn children is endemic. It differs only in the accidents from the worst crimes of man. The denial of the Judeo-Christian assertion that all human beings have dignity and are entitled to the right to life (a denial that is central to Darwinist and New Atheist ideology) is bereft of reason and of simple human decency.
Myers again, on abortion:

“what’s at stake is a mere embryo, so it’s no big loss if it’s flushed and incinerated, and I don’t have any illusions about whether this is deciding the fate of a human life — it’s not. There’s no person…”

Myers’ ugly assertion — “it’s no big loss if it’s flushed and incinerated…[t]here’s no person” — demonstrates the New Atheist moral vacuum. New Atheists insist that there is no objective moral law; morality is nothing more than an evolved adaptation, or what each of us decides, ad nauseam. Yet if there is no objective moral law that transcends the individual will to power, then power, not justice nor mercy nor even love for one’s own child, governs human conduct. Atheist morality boils down to this: ‘… because we can’. That has been the moral code of atheism in power for a century.
So here’s my biological and moral tutorial for Myers:
Women have a right to control their bodies — the right to self-determination. Yet the right to self-determination is contingent. One does not have a right to kill another person. The right to life supersedes the right to self-determination. When a woman is pregnant, the rights of two human beings must be weighed — that of the woman, and that of the child. While decent people agree on the rights of the woman, what about the rights of the child? What is the moral status of a child (or an embryo or a zygote) before birth? Is the unborn child a person?
My answers:
Biology 101: Human life — the existence of a discreet individual human being — begins at conception and ends at natural death.
Morality 101: All human beings are persons, and all human beings (from conception to natural death) are entitled to the fundamental right of personhood: the right to life.
Denial of personhood to some human beings — to Jews, to blacks, to women, to unborn children — is profound evil, and is the same evil.

Michael Egnor

Senior Fellow, Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence
Michael R. Egnor, MD, is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, has served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, and award-winning brain surgeon. He was named one of New York’s best doctors by the New York Magazine in 2005. He received his medical education at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his residency at Jackson Memorial Hospital. His research on hydrocephalus has been published in journals including Journal of Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, and Cerebrospinal Fluid Research. He is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hydrocephalus Association in the United States and has lectured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.