Sunday, April 22, 2012

Objectivist Talk: Pro-Choice = Pro-Life

Dr. Andrew Bernstein brings Objectivism to the abortion debate.... We weren't sure what to expect. (Liz, you shoulda been there)

-By Megan Antonetti-Elford

On April 11, 2012, UT’s Objectivism Society welcomed Dr. Andrew Bernstein, author and  instructor of Philosophy at SUNY Purchase on the subject of a woman’s right to have an abortion. Objectivism follows the philosophy outlined in the writings of  Russian-American author Ayn Rand and is based on her ideas of an individualistic connection with reality and laissez-faire capitalism.

Dr. Bernstein’s hour-long discussion, which depended heavily on the semantics of the debate, chipped away at the issue from many angles often pitting objectivist-style nature as biology against views based on religious sentiment. He began with a dispute about the anti-choice’s use of the phrase “right-to-life.” In essence, he argued that life, defined by ‘individuation’ and independence could only be attributed to a woman in this context and not to “a growth inside a woman’s body.”

Throughout, he drew upon the ancient western philosophy of Aristotle and Plato and popular anti-abortion writers to articulate the misgivings of some of the anti-choice’s most characteristic arguments including:
  • abortion is murder and should be outlawed
  • a fetus is human from the moment of conception and should be granted all rights given to other humans
  • evidence that a fetus is a human is that a fetus is a living being and has the genetic material of a human being
These were followed by quite rigorous and amusing counterarguments from the objectivist point of view - citing, in basic principle, that the “the acorn is not the oak” -a point, I think, that many pro-choicers get.

Though this well-cited succinct outline was of great value to understanding where anti-choice ideas come from, Bernstein’s uncertainty about the morality of later term abortions (after the first trimester) and minors’ right to abortion seemed to be a great disappointment to the audience.

What could be gathered about the objectivist argument for the right to abortion is that this particular right simply falls under the category of rights in general; that is, pro-choice = choice. Tacking on modifiers that it is a right only before certain moments in pregnancy or only to people above a certain age certainly muddled the philosophical purity of the task at hand with its arbitrariness.

Dr. Bernstein went on to cite his apparent disdain for many of the national services that by restricting choice, aim to alleviate injustice, and help the poor and disadvantaged in society- programs paid for with taxes such as environmental protection and health care aid.  These points were probably lost on anyone who does not value people based on the “effort” that they are capable of exerting to survive everyday American life. Additionally, if you are someone who does not feel that paying taxes places you under “involuntary servitude” to the state, you would have shifted in your chair as well. And so Bernstein spent the last part of his talk disparaging government policy in general, pointing out that both liberals and conservatives want to control the lives of individuals and only fight about how much control they should have and in which areas of life.

In my view, a genuine pro-choice stance is far simpler and less far-reaching than the one Dr. Bernstein outlines. Countless anecdotal evidence, especially in the context of abortion, shows that the treatment of moral dilemmas is not reducible to a list of philosophical maxims. Still, that shouldn’t stop us from framing our opinions and fighting for them. Medical abortion should be safe and available to any woman without stigma. And being pro-choice is simply being willing to defend and trust a woman to make this decision for herself. 

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