The next part of my blog on the Pro-Life Position, the PLP, begins now. Now I look into whether or not the case for the PLP can be made using consequentialism.
So far the PLP has been supported by social relativism, though to be completely fair social relativism can provide support for any ethical claim, it just has to be part of a particular social ethics. Now let us recall the definition of Consequentialism –
Consequentialism: an action is right if the consequences of that action are the most desirable consequences, the action is wrong if the consequences are the least desirable
So in order to see whether this will support the PLP we need to make sure we aren’t falling victim to relativism. Generally consequentialism is going to determine the rightness or wrongness of actions based on the distribution of happiness, pleasure over pain, produced by an action. Now this might have some slight variations depending on whether a particular set of consequences can be determined as more desirable than another. However the best consequentialist system is the system which defines morally good actions as producing the greatest and best kinds of pleasure for the overall society.
This is known as Utilitarianism, and this system is usually credited to Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. In a nutshell, utilitarianism argues that an action is right if it creates the most good for the most people. Here I don’t want to go into the debates over Bentham and Mill I just want to keep things simple and explain that there are 2 different ways in which utilitarianism works itself out.
Your two choices are between Act or Rule based Utilitarianism.
According to Act Utilitarianism, I have done the right thing if my particular action brings about the greatest good for the most people. So let’s see how well the PLP could be supported by this claim.
Hmm, our results are not encouraging. Since act util. focuses on one action at a time then the PLP (A mother ought to carry her fetus to term) is something I would have to prove on a case by case basis. In other words I will have to re-determine the strength of the PLP every time I am considering the case of a mother. Indeed the nature of the PLP is such that it could never really be supported by Act util. quite simply because the PLP attempts to establish a rule or principle to guide our actions.
Ah, but Rule Utilitarianism might do the trick. Now according to rule util. I have done the right thing if my action is guided by a universal rule which when followed will generally and for the most part bring about the greatest good for the most people. So the simple question for us is how do we make the PLP into a rule such that a rule utilitarian might follow it?
Well we need a rule that is universal, we need a rule which can be universally applied, or at least applied to all persons who are mothers. We also need that rule to be applied at all times and in every case where that rule could be applicable. There may of course be exceptions to our rule, but it will be a poor rule indeed unless those exceptions are few in number and diversity.
Here is our new rule: “A mother ought always to carry every one of her fetuses to term.”
Now we consider whether or not following this rule will cause there to be the greatest good for the most people.
Sadly, our rule will not do very well for the utilitarian position.
Overpopulation makes us unhappy
Since the goal of any such rule is the maximization of human happiness, aka pleasure, then we have to consider how such a rule will affect all of humanity.
In the first place it seems that such a rule will create an overpopulation problem. If this rule is thoroughly practiced then it seems that we may suffer from the overpopulation of our planet.
Since abortion was officially legalized in the US in 1973, there have been approximately 53- 55 million abortions successfully carried out. The National right to life Committee estimates the number closer to 55 million while the Guttmacher Institute estimates the number closer to 53 million between 1973 and 2011.
Now given that the world is made up of approximately 7 billion people, then 54 million (splitting the difference) is a significant number. That is about 0.77 percent of the population of the planet. Which I know doesn’t seem like a lot, but this is not taking into account the world’s statistics. Although there is no way of knowing exactly how many abortions have been performed in the last 50 years, Lifenews has come up with an interesting number. Based on the Guttmacher Institutes report of about 43.8 million abortions worldwide in 2008, and extrapolating from there based on how long abortions have been taking place, and assuming that abortions began taking place in the mid 20th century, Lifenews estimates that about 1-2 billion humans have been aborted in the second half of the 20th century alone.
If abortion truly has kept our species from reaching a population saturation of 8 billion, and if the utilitarian rule for the PLP were to take universal hold, then our population may grow by at least one billion every 50 years. This of course assumes that the birth rate remains constant, which given the fact the world population doubled in the last 50 years, then consistency is unlikely. This kind of exponential population growth could continue until the planet can no longer sustain our numbers. This would result in most people being unhappy.
Of course all of those mothers who would be required to carry to term regardless of their circumstances may also find themselves quite unhappy with the situation. Those mothers suffering from health conditions like hyperemesis gravidarum, preeclampsia, or an ectopic pregnancy might die from continuing the pregnancy and they will certainly be made unhappy by carrying their fetus to term. This could be offset by the pleasure of a newborn baby, so long as they are not also in extreme poverty, or otherwise suffering from medical conditions or complications from birth which would make caring for the new baby impossible.
Besides, according to the Guttmacher Institute 21% of all pregnancies in the US are terminated by induced abortions. Since utilitarianism is concerned with the happiness of all the people in a society, the happiness of those mothers who want to terminate their pregnancies cannot be ignored. This is especially true when a full 1/5 of mothers choose to have induced abortions.
But there is a rather simple problem with the rule util. plp.
The logic of impossible arguments
The point of rule util. thinking is to maximize the happiness of all human persons. However if one were to create a rule which attempted to maximize human happiness by maximizing the number of human persons then one would be in a strange situation. If our goal is to make everyone happy then this necessarily must also include the babies that result from the successful pregnancies, after accounting for infant mortality.
To say nothing of maternal mortality, or infant mortality, the sheer act of increasing the number of people whom you need to make happy will result in a situation where you will need to work harder and do more to make the increased number of people, who now exist, happy. Or let me put this a different way.
The more people you make happy, by making more people, the more people you will have to make happy. Thus you will have to increase pleasure productivity in other major aspects of human life in order to meet the increased pleasure demand created by all of the new people that following this rule will create.
What we have here is a recipe for a classic economic crisis. Now of course our increased demand will be offset by a higher maternal mortality rate and a higher infant mortality rate. But this should also have the effect of making more people unhappy. People are rather unhappy when they die, and there might be a case to be made that people are even unhappier in losing a child than they would be in losing a fetus.
Though one might argue that infants produce happiness in their parents and in those who enjoy their company, babies do not directly produce any activities, goods, or services which cause people to be happy. Indeed a child is not capable of a genuine socially involved production of goods until they are significantly older. All the while they are constantly demanding happiness but are only capable themselves of the indirect production of happiness and must rely on their parent’s direct productions of happiness.
Now does this mean that the human species would be better served by only pleasing adults and having no babies? In response to that absurdity it would make sense to say no, the problem is not with producing offspring, the problem is with our rule.
A much more utilitarian rule would be this one: “A mother ought to carry a fetus to term when she would be fully capable of providing for its needs and wants.”
Unfortunately such a rule cannot support the plp. Indeed such a rule sounds pro-choice. So in the end it seems that consequentialism will not provide us with what we want.
Act utilitarianism does not support the plp since it does not support rules or moral principles.
Rule utilitarianism does not support the plp since a rule based on the plp would cause overpopulation, bring significant harm to a large percentage of pregnant women, and create an economic crisis where the demand for pleasure unavoidably outpaces the supply.
So that does it for consequentialism, we can’t support the PLP with utilitarian thinking. However, I have much higher hopes for our next ethical theory, so let’s turn to virtue ethics.