|OK, the following three posts from SoloHq, November 2005 present my analysis of Rand's position on late-term abortion. Comments are welcome...REB|
1. Here is my post from November 4, 2005 (11:50 pm pdt), #10 on the thread "Article Discussions: Was Ayn Rand a Conservative?" --
In Post 1, Robert Davison wrote:
I found your article well written and cogent. One small quibble to say that Rand "advocated abortion on demand" is an exaggeration.
A piece of protoplasm has no rights-and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months.-Ayn Rand
In Post 4, Adam Reed commented:
The quote you cite comes from a time when Ayn Rand was still ignorant of key facts about the need for interaction with the environment for the development of consciousness. She later made it clear that abortion at will is an absolute right until the fetus/infant develops an independent consciousness.
And in Post 9, Adam replied to Neil Parille:
Neil, and anyone else inclined to remake Ayn Rand into a ConSymp: Give up. "Ayn Rand Answers" is out, and Ayn Rand's own position is clearly stated on page 64. There are many other opinions in the book that make chopped liver out of any TOC-style compromise with Conservatives.
Speaking of "compromise with Conservatives," wouldn't that include joining them in opposition to partial-birth abortions of late-term fetuses? Surely, that's not something Rand would have done or condoned others doing. Yet, here is what Rand said, in one of her later opinions, as reported in Ayn Rand Answers:
...I'd like to express my indignation at the idea of confusing a living human being with an embryo, which is only some undeveloped cells. (Abortion at the last minute -- when a baby is formed -- is a different issue.)...The basic principles here are: never sacrifice the living to the nonliving, and never confuse an actuality with a potentiality. An "unborn child," before it's formed, is not a human, it's not a living entity, it has no rights...(Ford Hall Forum QA, 1974, emphasis added)
When Rand was relatively ignorant about fetal development and entertained the idea that an "embryo is perhaps potentially conscious" at about three months into the pregnancy, she suggested (Ford Hall Forum QA, 1967) that "before that point, there is no rational, moral, or semi-humane argument that could be made in favor of forbidding abortion." This remarkable statement implies that she considered the rationality, morality, and humaneness of such arguments to be at least theoretically plausible for the later stages of pregnancy. And her comments from 1974 about "abortion at the last minute" reveal that she had come a long way, indeed, toward acknowledging that late-term fetuses are indeed formed living entities with rights.
And is this really so horrifying or obnoxious a conclusion to come to, considering that premature babies born quite a bit earlier than some victims of partial-birth abortion are nonetheless recognized as having the right to life? If it's obvious that preemies are formed living entities with the right to life, what is the obstacle to acknowledging the same rights for yet-to-be-born fetuses who are even more formed than their premature counterparts?
2. Here is my post from November 5, 2005 (11:00 pm pdt), #15 on the thread "Article Discussions: Was Ayn Rand a Conservative?" --
Adam Reed says that Tibor and I cannot honestly interpret Rand's views as implying an objection to late-term abortion. That is philosophical and rhetorical balderdash!
Interestingly, while I cited Rand's admission that a late-term fetus was a formed individual as being made in 1974, Adam counters by quoting Rand without noting that those comments were made in 1967 and 1969! I am incredulous that Adam, who was discounting Rand's 1960s view on fetal ("embryo") consciousness as being superceded by her later views, is now relying on her earlier views. Just who is engaging in speculation and spin here?
While I will not stoop to Adam's level of rhetoric, I think that HONESTY and FAIRNESS dictates that we give at least equal weight to Rand's LATER COMMENTS, which clearly indicate that she was troubled deeply by the thought that some women would try to justify "last-minute" abortions, "when a baby is formed," and not just those that were "severely defective."
Adam also omits Rand's later comments, from 1973, about the rights of severely retarded individuals. In answer to the question "Do severely retarded individuals have rights?" Rand replied:
Not actual rights -- not the same rights possessed by normal individuals. In effect, they have the right to be protected as perennial children. Like children, retarded people are entitled to protection because, as humans, they may improve and become partly able to stand on their own. The protection of their rights is a courtesy extended to them for being human, even if not properly formed ones....[p. 4]
If the severely retarded have the right to be protected like children, then they have that right at the same point that normal children do -- once they are formed and able to be born. Rand's overheated 1969 rhetoric about a "healthy mother" being "made to live for a subnormal, mindless child whom one cannot face is sacrifice and drudgery without a goal" (p. 129) is thankfully moderated 5 years later. Apparently she realized that just as normal babies can be given up for adoption by those unwilling or unable to care for them, so can "subnormal mindless" children -- and that "subnormal mindless" children have human potential, too (as she noted in 1974). Too bad that Adam did not pick up on this development in her sensitivity and thinking.
Again, if premature babies have rights, whether or not they are retarded, then those who are still in the womb but further developed also have rights. And this is so, even though they are still part of their mother's body. The essential factor in whether or not a particular fetus is an individual with rights is not its being no longer part of another's body. It is its no longer being unable to survive without being part of another's body. Once a fetus is capable of survival outside the mother's body, it is, for all intents and purposes, an individual with rights. The only thing that can supercede those rights is the physical survival of the mother, and that hardly ever (never?) necessitates a partial-birth abortion as against a Caesarian delivery. That is why Tibor said, and I agree with him, that partial-birth abortion of late-term fetuses is tantamount to infanticide.
3. Here is my post from November 6, 2005 (7:59 pm pdt), #19 on the thread "Article Discussions: Was Ayn Rand a Conservative?" --
Adam Reed wrote:
As I wrote elsewhere, I view Rand's abandonment of the integration of philosophy with the sciences (at some point between 1969 and 1973) as a retrogression and a mistake. By 1974, and possibly some years earlier, Rand had broken contact with Robert Efron, and had no one who could help her ground her assumptions in the facts of cognitive and biological science.
Adam, do you really believe that, without the guidance of a neurophysiologist, Rand was unable to learn of and grasp the concept of “fetal viability”? That is, after all, what she was talking about in her 1974 Ford Hall Forum comments:
I'd like to express my indignation at the idea of confusing a living human being with an embryo, which is only some undeveloped cells. (Abortion at the last minute -- when a baby is formed -- is a different issue.)...The basic principles here are: never sacrifice the living to the nonliving, and never confuse an actuality with a potentiality. An "unborn child," before it's formed, is not a human, it's not a living entity, it has no rights...(Ford Hall Forum QA, 1974, emphasis added)
Surely, with Rand’s intense interest in the subject, she was well aware of Roe v. Wade, decided by the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, just months before Rand’s above-quoted remarks about the stage of pregnancy where “a baby is formed.” Surely, she would have read had occasion to read and ponder these passages from the Blackmun majority opinion (emphasis added):
For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother. Pp. 163-164; 164-165.
Most Greek thinkers, on the other hand, commended abortion, at least prior to viability. See Plato, Republic, V, 461; Aristotle, Politics, VII, 1335b 25.
As we have noted, the common law found greater significance in quickening. Physicians and their scientific colleagues have regarded that event with less interest and have tended to focus either upon conception, upon live birth, or upon the interim point at which the fetus becomes "viable," that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid. 59 Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.
…the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman, whether she be a resident of the State or a nonresident who seeks medical consultation and treatment there, and that it has still another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. These interests are separate and distinct. Each grows in substantiality as the woman approaches term and, at a point during pregnancy, each becomes "compelling."…With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the "compelling" point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.
Adam writes further:
The fact remains that a statement which specifically addresses the issue in question trumps conjectures from subsequent vagueness. The vagueness is more likely a result of Rand's loss of contact and integration with science. This is a loss of grounding and not a principled change in Rand's position.
Says you, Adam. It's clear to me that Rand’s 1974 position was well grounded and closely paralleled the Supreme Court opinion. And with good reason. The Court, in one of its too infrequent flashes of wisdom actually set up the approximately correct dividing line establishing the right to life of third-trimester fetuses. Rand, to her credit, assimilated this decision and modified her own views accordingly. Nothing vague about her 1974 comments at all.
The facts of reality that grounded Rand's 1969 position start with the classic studies of Held and Hein (1963) which showed that when kittens were prevented from actively exploring the visual world, even though they received the same visual stimulation as their normal counterparts, they failed to develop normal visual perception - and failed to develop the brain structures necessary for perception. But, as Rand often said, to be conscious is to be conscious of something. This requires perception - and perception requires active interaction with objects in the environment, which is not possible until after birth.This is a gross misinterpretation of Held/Hein (1963). What their study shows is what motor deprivation does for the development of perception after birth. It does not at all establish what Adam claims, namely, that perception does not exist before birth. In fact, as was established in the mid to late 1970s and reported by Stephen Rose in The Conscious Brain and in newspaper articles at the time which interviewed the chief researcher in this area, Dominic Purpura, the fetal brain is already engaging in patterned awareness of reality by about the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy. Late-term fetuses have brain waves essentially like those of premature babies and full-term babies and adults, and essentially unlike those of earlier fetuses. They are not passive little lumps inside the mother’s body. How on earth could you assume that they are not, in albeit limited fashion, engaging in “active interaction” with their environment? They suck their thumbs, they kick out at the mother’s body, they change position at the most embarrassing times (for the mother), etc. Granted, their perceptual awareness is a pale shadow of the richness that awaits them “on the outside,” but they are not cognitive blank slates at birth. It may or may not be true that singing a particular tune over and over to your baby in the womb is etched in the baby’s memory, as some research claims. But at birth, babies hit the ground running – well, so to speak. They are not “tabula rasa.”
Adam, once more:
Once Rand lost touch with Robert Efron, and thus with the grounding of her position in the facts of reality, she did become more vague and uncertain. But the core of Rand's philosophy is primacy of existence - which means that the uncertain Rand of 1974, the Rand who by then lost contact with science, is - to the extent that she changed her position to one less well grounded in the facts of reality - not the true Rand.
I wish the "true Rand" were still alive and could kick your ass for saying that, Adam. There is nothing “vague and uncertain” about her informed views of 1974. The Supreme Court’s views were grounded in reality, and so were Rand’s, and the subsequent findings of Purpura et al only served to more firmly establish that the “bright line” for individual rights is not birth, but the third trimester, when, in Rand's unequivocal words, "a baby is formed."