Abortion

Abortion - "(1) miscarriage of birth, especially if deliberately induced; (2) delivery of (probably non-viable) foetus in the first 28 weeks [7 months] of pregnancy."

Foetus - "unborn or unhatched offspring, especially a human one more than 8 weeks after conception."

The issue of abortion is a highly emotional one to many people. There are fanatics, believers, and followers on both sides of the discussion. The subject has been so much in the popular press that few, if any, remain ambivalent or undecided on the matter. Either you are opposed to abortion in principle or for pragmatic reasons, or you are in favour of allowing the woman to make a more or less free choice of whether or not to have an abortion. The polar extremes admit no infringement at all of either the "Right to Life" of the foetus, or the "Freedom of Choice" of the woman involved. The less fanatical from both extremes just about cover the continuum of possible positions in between.

The purpose of this essay is to explore the "Abortion Issue" from the perspective of the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism. I will begin by stating a philosophical position, and proceed to explain the rationale behind that position, and its derivation from the foundations of Evolutionary Pragmatism. I will also attempt to respond to some of the more rational arguments that might be presented by those who might disagree with the stated position, and explain why the stated position of Evolutionary Pragmatism is philosophically and rationally sound.

The Philosophical Position

The position of Evolutionary Pragmatism on Abortion has two related, but quite separate aspects. First, the philosophical system of Evolutionary Pragmatism mounts no philosophical objection to the act or choice of abortion. Abortion as an act or choice is regarded as neither Moral or Immoral in and of itself. This is a direct result of the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism being a "Situational" system of philosophy. The Evolutionary Pragmatist, therefore, will not oppose Abortion in principal. I will explain why in following paragraphs, and add more specifics to this generalization.

Second, there is nothing in the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism that can justify a government's intervention in an individual's choice of whether or not to obtain or do an abortion. There is no conceivable mutually desirable goal of a society that includes both pro- and anti- abortionists, that would justify a government intruding on the individual behaviour of its citizens in this area. Those who oppose abortion on religious or philosophical grounds should be free to not obtain or perform abortions. Those who do not object to abortion should be free to obtain or perform an abortion. Neither group should be permitted to impose their philosophical beliefs on the other. The philosophical basis of the purposes and functions of Government are explored in the essays on Government, but I will expand on this theme as it particularly applies to the issue of Abortion in following paragraphs.

The Philosophical Principles

The second basic axiom of Evolutionary Pragmatism states that "The continued survival, and successful proliferation of our Gene-Pool over the long-term, is a Good Thing". It is a corollary of this basic concept that the individual's own continued survival is not necessarily a Good Thing in and of itself, if that continued survival interferes with the continued survival and successful proliferation of the individual's gene-pool in the long term. Thus, within the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism, it would be judged as Immoral, if a person should pursue continued personal existence at the expense of the long-term welfare of his/her gene-pool. (It would, of course, similarly be judged Immoral if an individual should pursue the welfare of some other person's gene-pool at the expense of the welfare of his/her own gene-pool.)

It is also a corollary of the second axiom of Evolutionary Pragmatism, that the continued survival of an individual's children is not necessarily a Good Thing in and of itself, if that continued survival interferes with the continued survival and successful proliferation of the individual's gene-pool in the long term. After-all, protecting the welfare and continued survival of one's children (or any one child), is but one particular strategy that can be followed towards the goal of maximizing the long-term welfare of one's own gene-pool.

The "Many-Children" Strategy

To apply these basic elementary principles to the issue of Abortion, we must consider the relative welfare of the gene-pools of both the mother and the foetus. Let us first consider the perspective of the mother. The mother has a large genetic investment in the gene-pool of the foetus. One-half of the gene-pool of the foetus is her gene-pool. Or alternatively, one-half of her gene-pool is being proliferated in the gene-pool of the foetus. As a first approximation, then, it would appear that it is in the best interests of the mother to continue the pregnancy. It would initially appear that it is in the best interests of her own gene pool, if the mother carries the foetus to term so that one-half of her gene-pool will find continued existence in the life of the child. All things being equal and unchanging, the mother could consider that the continued survival of the foetus would improve the probability of her gene-pool surviving and proliferating. It would appear that placing one's eggs in two baskets rather than one (even if the proportions are not equal), would reduce the risk of total loss if one of the baskets (mother or child) should subsequently die. And it would appear that if two individuals (mother and child) are involved in proliferating the gene-pool, then there is an increased probability of the proliferation being successful. As a first approximation, then, it would appear that it would always be in the best long term interests of the mother's gene-pool, to sustain the pregnancy and succour the child until the child can take its place in the role of proliferater of the gene-pool.

Things are never quite that simple, however. The basic axiom stresses the long-term proliferation success of the mother's gene-pool, not the immediate or short term reproductive success. It will not be to the long term advantage of the mother's gene-pool if the child, once born, is unsuccessful in having children of its own. Even if the child is born and grows to an adult, if the child has no children in turn, then the mother's gene-pool has died out just as completely as if the foetus is never born. A rational approach to the analysis, therefore, would demand that the probability that the child in turn will successfully proliferate the gene-pool be a key consideration in whether or not it is in the long-term best interests of the mother's gene-pool to continue the pregnancy. If the child will likely not be successful, then the best interests of the mother's gene-pool may better served by terminating the pregnancy and husbanding her resources for another try later, when conditions (or probabilities) are better. Or, alternatively, the mother may choose to have many children, and invest a lesser amount in the care and raising of each one, thus spreading her available resources over a larger number of probabilities.

In the past, and even today in the lesser developed societies, the motherly response to this risk analysis, has been to have many children. In the past and in the lesser developed societies, large families have been, and still are, the norm. This is a concrete demonstration for the validity of the genetic inheritance mathematics that prove if the probabilities are low that any one child will succeed in having children, one of the strategies in response is to have a large number of children. This "many-children" strategy increases the probability that at least one child will successfully pass the gene-pool on to an additional generation. In times past, mothers had little means of predicting the particular threats to their children, and little chance of overcoming those threats as they struck. Faced with this limited ability to deal with the specific threats, and the relative inability to limit pregnancies, the only possible response was to have many children. Simple probabilities were depended upon to ensure the proliferation of the gene-pool.

However, when a mother has many children, and faces the high probability that many of them will not survive to parenthood themselves, the mother cannot afford to make a high investment in any particular child. This is because there are many children and only one mother. There is simply not enough mother to go around. And the mother herself cannot afford to make too large an investment in a child who is individually unlikely to contribute to the long-term success of her gene-pool. It is much better, in a high risk environment, for the mother to make many small investments in a large number of children, and keep making additional small investments in additional children. Since the mother is making a relatively small investment in each child, the child will experience a relatively small loss should the mother die. The children will survive and succeed in proliferating the gene-pool more or less independently of the size of the mother's investment in each child, largely because the mother's investment in each child is relatively minor. It thus is to the advantage of the mother to have as many children as possible, even if that might be detrimental to her continued survival as an individual. (As maternal mortality statistics would suggest it is.)

Taking this strategy as a guide would indicate that abortion should be Immoral in almost every situation involving a foetus healthy enough to survive until adulthood. Based on this strategy, a woman should have as many children as possible. Pregnancies should only be terminated where the foetus is demonstrably unlikely to survive to parenthood. Pregnancies should even be continued in the majority of cases, when they are hazardous to the life of the mother. If you examine the history of the Abortion issue, you will see that in the past, abortion was indeed considered Immoral in almost all situations. And since the medical profession was unable to determine the health status of the foetus before birth, "Therapeutic" abortions were performed only where the health of the mother was directly threatened, and the mother was young enough to have many additional children.

Notice that even with this strategy as a base, the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism does not oppose all abortions on principle. Assuming the "multiple-children" strategy, does label as Immoral most abortions, but it would not label as Immoral those abortions where the foetus can be shown to be unlikely to parent children in turn. This category would probably include situations where the foetus can be shown to be severely disadvantaged physically or mentally.

The "High Investment" Strategy

There is, however, an alternative strategy for success. In current times, and especially in the western or "First" world, the threats to the reproductive success of our children are relatively well understood, and we are well equipped with antidotes. With modern science to help us, we have a much better understanding of what the threats are, and how to counter them. We now, therefore, have another alternative to the "many-children" strategy. This new strategy might be labelled the "high-investment" strategy.

The "high-investment" strategy does not depend on uncertain probabilities to ensure the continued proliferation of the gene-pool. With our modern scientific knowledge and medical capabilities, the probability is almost a certainty (say at least 80%) that any one child will survive into parenthood. Given this change in the risk environment, genetic theory suggests that the mother can achieve better long term success by making a larger investment in fewer children. Since each individual child is much more likely to have children of its own, it becomes a more economical choice to focus the mother's investment in a smaller number of children. The larger investment in each individual child permits higher investments in such things as education, training, health and welfare. These are all aspects that enhance the child's probability of successfully proliferating the gene-pool over the long-term, within the context of the modern world.

They are also investments that are too expensive for parents following the "many children" strategy. Investments in education, training, and health care are very expensive. Most parents do not have the resources to make these investments for more than a very few children. And societies as a whole, reflect the economic decisions of the members of the society. Social investments in schools, and sewage systems are possible only as a reflection of the many individual parent's decisions to make greater investments in their children.

That this second strategy works and is successful is demonstrated by the dramatic drop in the birth rates of nations now in, and newly joining the "First World". The birth rates in these countries is clear proof that the women of the modern world have made a shift in reproductive strategies in their continuing efforts at ensuring the long-term proliferation of their gene-pool. It is not the ultimate objective that has changed, merely the current strategy. And the strategy shift has happened, please notice, with very little conscious attention to the genetic or economic analysis I have just detailed.

The current heated debate over abortion is a direct result of this change in reproductive strategy. The guiding principles of most religions were established in times when the "many-children" strategy was all that was available. As a result, the philosophical positions of these religions reflect the anti-abortion attitudes of the "many-children" reproductive strategy. They are not prepared to deal with the changed base assumptions presented by the alternative "high-investment" strategy.

Under the ground rules of the "high-investment" alternative, the Moral course of behaviour is for the mother to do everything possible to maximize the probability that her children will survive and have children of their own. To do this, the mother is Morally bound to take advantage of every opportunity presented to maximize the health, education, and welfare of her children. Her long-term success at proliferating her own gene-pool will be determined by a small number of children each having a high probability of having a small number of children in their turn. The cost of a single failure under this strategy will be relatively very much higher than it would be under the "many-children" strategy, so every available opportunity must be exploited to the fullest, to ensure that the small number of children are as successful as possible at proliferating the gene-pool. Abortion becomes merely one more medical tool in the growing arsenal available to mothers for ensuring that the small number of children they will have, will be healthy, happy, and most important, reproductively successful.

If it can be shown that in the current cultural context, an unexpected and unwanted baby will have a lower probability of participating successfully in the long term proliferation of the mother's gene-pool, then it becomes a Morally proper behaviour to prevent or terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Since it can be clearly shown that early (e.g.. teenage) pregnancies result in economically disadvantaged children, it becomes Morally proper to employ abortion to delay pregnancies until a more economically acceptable time in life.

Those who have adopted and understood the genetic and economic foundations of the new "high-investment" strategy find themselves arguing on a different level, about different subjects, when they attempt to plead their case to those who are guided by the "many-children" strategy. By and large, neither pro- nor anti- abortionists understand or accept the scientific (genetic) basis of their battle. As a result, both sides find themselves talking past each other. Neither side understands, or is prepared to deal with the fact that the basic underlying assumptions of each side are so radically different. The "Freedom of Choice" arguments are based on the "high-investment" strategy for long-term genetic success. If you understand the scientific and genetic basis of the strategy, then you can argue with the pro-choice adherents in terms they will understand. If you attempt to argue from the basis of the "many-children" strategy, then you will be presenting arguments the pro-choice adherents will not understand, will find confusing and will treat as irrational. And the reverse situation is just as true. If you try to argue with the pro-life adherents without understanding the scientific and genetic basis of their "many-children" strategy, you will also be considered irrational. There are a lot of "irrational" arguments flying about in this debate.

Being a philosophy founded in a sound understanding of the scientific knowledge about reality, Evolutionary Pragmatism can understand and converse with both sides of the abortion issue. An Evolutionary Pragmatist will not be popular with either side of the issue, of course, because the Evolutionary Pragmatist will insist the discussion be based on facts, and rational arguments. The more vocal adherents on both sides of this issue are unfortunately too wound up in their emotional furies to deal patiently with an insistence on rational discussion. And when challenged to answer the question of whether abortion is Moral or Immoral, the Evolutionary Pragmatist will answer "That Depends", which infuriates committed adherents on both sides.

The Morality of abortion depends on the rational and objective determination of whether an abortion in this particular case will promote the successful long term proliferation of the mother's gene-pool. In philosophical or political debate, however, there are rarely concrete examples to point to and examine. So in defence, the Evolutionary Pragmatist will respond with a number of rough rules of thumb. These will be guidelines, based on generalities, and are never intended as absolute rules applying to all cases. In principle, then, the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism contains no objections to abortion as an act or a choice. Whether an act or choice of abortion is Moral or Immoral is a situation specific determination. But in general, within the context of the modern western world, where most women have adopted the "high-investment" reproductive strategy, and where individual's are expected to make their own decisions, the philosophy of Evolutionary Pragmatism would expect that abortion should be regarded as just another tool available to women in their efforts at maximizing the long-term proliferation of their gene-pool.

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