more on Saletan and abortion in China

I had been thinking about weighing in on the story that Conor comments on here, but abortion is not a subject on which anyone I have ever met is persuadable. Still, maybe it’s worth making this point:

Opponents of abortion have often appealed to a kind of teleological argument: a fetus deserves the same legal protections as any one of us because a fetus will in the natural course of events become one of us, will become what we are, and will never become anything else. This has always been rejected by proponents of legal abortion: one of the most famous and influential defenses of abortion ever written, that of Judith Jarvis Thomson, begins by denying this teleological argument. And any successful defense of the right to abort will have to reject teleology at some point, I think.

William Saletan knows this, and he knows that by protesting the aborting of female fetuses he is verging on accepting the teleological argument, which is why he makes a point of tiptoeing around the issue: the problem in China, he says, is “the devaluation of women, and the expression of that devaluation through sex-selective abortion.” I think Saletan is trying really hard not to say that any women are directly harmed when a female fetus is aborted, because that would grant to the fetus the status of “woman,” and once that is granted the game is up. So he tries to say that aborting a female fetus is an indirect “expression” of a point of view — in the same way, one presumes, that I might express my disapproval of you by drawing a mustache on your photograph.

This would be a nice trick if he could pull it off. Saletan has always been pro-choice but also notably uncomfortable with many of those who agree with him, and he seems to see the Chinese situation as a way for him to occupy a safe middle ground: he can lament the consequences of millions and millions of aborted female fetuses for living women and for the society as a whole, without ever having to say that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with aborting millions and millions of female fetuses. But I’m not sure the ground is as safe as he believes it is. I think he has let the teleological argument in through the back door, and I think that anyone who protests sex-selective abortions and only sex-selective abortions has done precisely the same thing.