Are Pro-Lifers Imposing Involuntary Servitude?

As a fervent admirer of Ayn Rand, I nonetheless remain flabbergasted by her position on abortion. Rand held to objective reality as the basis upon which knowledge and understanding must be built. She touted the Aristotelian law of identity — “A is A.” A thing is what it is, and cannot be something else. Yet, when addressing abortion, Rand appeared to abandon that law. An unborn child is not a child, she claimed, but a “potential” child leeching off its mother until birth.

Objectivist therapist Michael J. Hurd echoes Rand’s view today. Writing about Ohio’s effort to ban Down syndrome abortions, Hurd argues that parents ought to be able to kill their unborn children to avoid the burden of disability. He attempts to seize the moral high ground by portraying unplanned pregnancy as involuntary servitude.

Here’s my question: What does it say about us as a society if some people use the force of government to impose the life of raising a child with Down Syndrome on unwilling victims, i.e. parents?

Really? How does a child victimize its parents merely by existing? More to the point, how can I impose the life of raising a child upon you? Aside from rape, which accounts for less than 1% of all abortions, by what mechanism can one human being forcibly place another human being in the position of parenthood?

Hurd proceeds as if conception were immaculate or otherwise involuntary. At the risk of condescending, let’s reiterate that conception results from sex. Aside from rape, which again applies to less than 1% of the cases under consideration, sex is voluntary. Regardless of intent or precaution, the risk of pregnancy exists when you have sex. That’s an objective fact of reality. Why is Hurd evading that reality? The risk of pregnancy proves inherent to sexual activity, and must be assumed by those engaging in it.

Hurd’s characterization of “imposed parenthood” presumes that unborn children are somehow not children. His position presumes that the choice to become a parent occurs during pregnancy, rather than before conception. He thus circumvents the core issue, the nature of life, and the nature of unborn human beings in particular.

If you want to argue that life begins at some point other then conception, fine. But you have to actually argue it, not presume it as somehow self-evident. The burden of proof rests upon the abortionist, because the prima facie evidence indicates that life begins at conception.

Hurd contends otherwise:

Life begins when life begins — at the moment of birth. Prior to birth, or at least prior to viability, a fetus is — by its very nature — an extension of the body of the pregnant woman. It’s a potential life, or a life in the making, but not a life in the actual, objective sense.

How does he figure?

…there’s an essential difference between [a non-viable fetus and a newborn infant]. The non-viable fetus cannot function yet — biologically — as a life, apart from or outside of the mother’s body. The infant obviously can. You cannot ignore such a crucial distinction; you cannot evade the difference between a potential life and an actual, self-sustaining (biologically speaking) life.

Here are some facts that you cannot evade. A newborn infant proves marginally more “self-sustaining” than it was the moment before birth. Indeed, my two-year-old son cannot sustain himself. Nor can my six-year-old son. The distinction Hurd evokes is developmental, a moment in life, not the beginning of life. If the capacity to sustain one’s self defines life as such, then we have an argument to abort certain thirty year olds.

Next: If it’s not a child, what is it?…

From where does Hurd get this notion that an unborn child exists as “an extension of the body of the pregnant woman”? If a fetus is part of the mother’s body, what function does it serve relative to her whole? Is it an organ? A tumor? Some kind of abscess? How can someone who claims to rest his case on objective reality evade the fact that a mother and her child are distinct organisms? Is a Siamese twin an extension of the body of her attached sibling? How obtuse must one be to conflate biological dependence with uniformity? How willfully ignorant must one be to pretend that a newborn child was not a child one second before her birth?

Even if you sidestep the question of when life begins, Hurd’s characterization of parenthood as involuntary servitude proves confounding:

We’re rapidly becoming a society of “brother’s keepers.” More and more, the government decides that everyone must be cared for, protected and nurtured at others’ expense. One price of such a society is that the government that makes the commitment to caring for everyone will eventually control the activities, behaviors and choices of everyone.

Forcing people to be parents of a mentally or physically disabled child whether they wish to be, or not, is one of the most ruthless, sadistic and mind-numbing forms of totalitarianism possible.

Hurd proceeds as though babies were airdropped by state-sponsored storks. Again, babies result from sex. Sex is a choice. The consequences of sex are widely known and consensually assumed by participants. Who’s forcing who here? Parenthood stands as the one human relationship with a genuine duty to provide, because parents are literally responsible for their child’s life.

But let’s accept Hurd’s premise for the sake of argument. If “forcing” people to be parents of a mentally or physically disabled child is ruthless and sadistic, why shouldn’t a parent be able to kill his disabled child after birth? Why shouldn’t a parent be able to decide, after six years of struggling to deal with an autistic son, to kill him if he no longer want to “serve” him? Isn’t parenthood “involuntary servitude” regardless of when a parent decides it is? Or does a parent remain responsible for the life of he child whether he wants to be or not?

It strikes me as a glaring evasion to pretend that undesired responsibility is somehow involuntary servitude. Sometimes, our choices have unintended consequences. Our lack of intent does not make those consequences any less our responsibility. The offending party in an accident doesn’t get to plead intent and get out of paying for the damage he caused.

No matter how you try to conflate it, the real issue remains when life begins and who bears responsibility for it. If you don’t want the burden of parenthood, don’t have sex. If you choose to have sex, regardless of your intent or motivation, you assume the risk of a potential pregnancy. You don’t get to retcon the decision after the fact, pretend that life isn’t life, deny that human children are human children, or imagine that somebody else made you a parent at the point of gun.