I am often asked how so many animal rights activists can also be so pro abortion.  For example, when I debated Gary Francione at Columbia Law School about animal rights, he said he supported abortion throught the ninth month even though he believes rights come from mere sentience. Sentience means the ability to react to the environment.  Late term fetuses can at least do that and may feel pain.  No matter.

Boiled down to its essence, animal rights and pro abortion go together easily because both views involve an inherent (if sometimes unconscious) antipathy toward human exceptionalism.  (I know there are some pro animal rights/pro life people, so don’t yell at me.)

Pro animal rights/pro abortion believers usually couch their arguments in more high falutin’ terms than crass anti humanism. Example: Daniel Bor, writing in Slate, says it would have been okay to have aborted his daughter even late in gestation, but he is a vegetarian because animals may be conscious.  From, “When Do We Become Truly Conscious:”

When do these brain regions form in the growing fetus? Only after about 29 weeks are the connections between these areas properly laid out, and it takes another month or so before the thalamus and the rest of the cortex are effectively communicating, as revealed by brain waves. So it’s highly unlikely that consciousness, at least in any form that we’d recognize as human awareness, arises before about 33 weeks into pregnancy. There are therefore no scientific reasons for restricting abortion on the grounds that the fetus will experience pain, at least until very late in pregnancy. This evidence has heavily influenced my views here, and consequently I am very much pro-choice.


Another ethical issue that hinges on questions of consciousness is that of animal rights...If no animals except humans have consciousness, there’s no problem, as suffering requires consciousness. But if even those animals classically assumed to have very limited mental faculties, such as poultry and fish, have a substantive awareness and significant capacity for suffering, then are we justified in inflicting all this pain and discomfort on them?


See what I mean?  Bor is “taken aback” by how much he loves his daughter:
Having prided myself on my objectivity throughout my adult life, I’ve embarrassingly found that my daughter is the main exception to this aim: I’ve not only been taken aback by how fiercely I love her but also by how proud I am of her and how quickly I distort the truth to make her seem exceptional in every way. But when I can step back from these views, I ask myself: At what point did she become conscious? Obviously she is conscious now, as she can tell me her inner thoughts via language. But when did she start experiencing her environment? On a personal, intuitive level, I had little doubt that her first intense bursts of laughter at my silly antics, when she was a few months old, reflected a substantive consciousness. But was she conscious well before this? Was she aware when she was still in the womb, kicking away? Or could she only experience things when she first opened her eyes to the outside world on the day of her birth?

Why one should be taken aback for paternal love is beyond me.  Worse, the way I read this, Bor seems to be saying that his love should depend on his daughter being conscious. I hope not!  Good grief, man!  Whether conscious or not, she is flesh of your flesh, and blood of your blood.  And if she should ever suffer a tragedy and lose consciousness, wouyld that make her less worthy of Bor’s parental love?  I sure hope not.

Using consciousness as the line of protectability—in many ways, consciousness is in the eye of the beholder as we don’t know what it actually is yet—is just another way of promoting personhood theory, a la Peter Singer. In this view, being human isn’t what gives rise to moral value, the point of said belief being—or perhaps, merely the logical end result—the creation of a huge caste of killable people who can be terminated and still get a good night’s sleep.

Articles by Wesley J. Smith

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