Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Deontology, Consequentialism, Abortion, and Animal Rights

by Sherry F. Colb

In my Verdict column for this week, I  take up the question of why pro-life members of Congress and other advocates have been uninterested in pressing for increased access to contraception, given that wide access to contraception dramatically reduces the rate of abortion (by reducing the rate of unwanted pregnancy).  I suggest that their view might be explained as the product of a deontological perspective, rather than a consequentialist perspective, on the act of abortion.  In particular, I propose that a retributive approach to the wrongdoing of abortion aims to effect moral persuasion upon the parties responsible for abortion as well as to punish those who decide, notwithstanding the putative immorality of the procedure, to provide it or to undergo it nevertheless.  For similar reasons, perhaps, those who are morally outraged and focused on the evil of criminal conduct may be most interested in providing severe and long-term punishments for those who engage in it rather than providing benefits and educational access for those who are at high risk of embarking on a life of crime.

 I am a co-author (with blogger Michael C. Dorf) of a forthcoming book about abortion and animal rights, entitled Beating Hearts:  Abortion and Animal Rights.  As such, I am interested in exploring here whether there is a similar phenomenon at work among some number of animal rights activists.

The first step is to determine what the analogue of access to contraception would be in the animal rights movement. I can think of three possible candidates:  providing delicious vegan food so people see that they will want for nothing as vegans; explaining the health benefits of leaving animal protein off one's plate; and pointing out the environmental devastation attributable to the consumption and production of animal products such as dairy and flesh.

I should start by saying that although I consider myself mostly a deontologist (or deontist), I strongly favor efforts to provide delicious vegan food to people so that they realize that they are not missing anything if they decide to stop consuming the products of animal torture and slaughter (which all animal products, including organic dairy and eggs from one's backyard, truly are).  I also feel comfortable advocating for veganism on the basis of its documented health benefits (my general practitioner says he has never seen such good cholesterol numbers, and I'm not even a "health food" vegan).  And I am glad to point out the environmental impact of consuming an animal-based diet.

Notwithstanding what I have said above, I know that there are ethical vegans who are strong deontologists and who steer clear of advocating for veganism on the basis of non-animal-rights arguments. I have heard some say that veganism is not about delicious doughnuts and plant-based meat, seafoood, and cheese; it is about the injustice of exploiting our fellow sentient earthlings. Talking about health benefits and environmental effects, for them, seems like asking people do the right thing for the wrong reasons.  The consequences are a reduction in demand for animal products and therefore a reduction in the suffering and slaughter of sentient beings.  But the deontologist may be unhappy because the means--advocacy of how veganism is good for humans--does not match the ends--doing justice for nonhuman animals.

I myself find the amount of suffering and slaughter caused by the consumption of flesh, dairy, and eggs to be so astonishingly great (over a trillion animals slaughtered a year, counting sea-dwelling beings) that I am prepared to say anything truthful and non-offensive that might persuade people to start consuming a plant-based diet and utilizing non-animal-based clothing, etc.  I am generally quick to add that I am a vegan mainly for animal rights reasons, but I am certainly not indifferent to the other beneficial effects, and I do not expect other people to be indifferent to them either. Perhaps this makes me something of a consequentialist in regards to animal rights, since a true deontologist would want to encourage people to become vegan for the "right" reasons, much in the way that I described the pro-life deontologist wanting people to choose to take their pregnancies to term because life is sacred rather than reducing the abortion rate by having the same amount of sex with the help of contraceptives.

One area where I do take a more deontological approach on animal rights than some do is in my refusal to engage in sexist or racist rhetoric in an effort to persuade people to stop using animal products. There are campaigns, for instance, that depict women enjoying rough sex with their virile vegan partners (because animal foods tend to clog the arteries, including the arteries implicated in impotence or erectile dysfunction). There are numerous other sexist campaigns for leaving animals off one's plate (and arguably one racist campaign to do the same), and I neither support nor post such campaigns on social media.  I believe that people should not be turning to veganism because they hate women or because they stereotype people of color.  Indeed, from my perspective, the use of such campaigns is incompatible with veganism because ethical veganism is about refusing to treat any sentient being as a resource, women and people of color included.  I have heard others say, however, that if sexism works, why not use it?

If a Klansman were to ask me about wearing a white sheet that says "Go Vegan," I would implore him not to do so. While I am comfortable with touting the positive instrumental benefits of veganism, I am strongly opposed to utilizing other-hating or other-shaming methods for motivating people to stop exploiting animals, even if such methods were to "work."  Such tactics are wrong, as a matter of principle, and I will not engage in them.  I explain in a column here why this approach leads me to reject the anti-Kaporos campaigns that occur around the Jewish High Holy Days. And for similar reasons, I suppose, the pro-life advocate who believes that contraception is sinful will not try to make contraception more available, even if it has the net effect of reducing the rate of abortion. Though I disagree with that approach to contraception (in large part because I view contraception as morally permissible), I can understand it due to my own views about animal rights.


Greg said...

Prof. Colb, I think you've missed the most obvious example here, (I'm guessing) primarily because you want to end up as a moderate in the spectrum of animal rights views. However, there's nothing wrong with holding strong views, and I think the animal rights analogue I propose is in many ways more comparable to contraception in the anti-abortion context.

To me, the most obvious analogue to contraception in the animal rights movement would be eating milk and eggs, or perhaps more generally vegetarianism in all its flavors. To an individual who believes that milk and eggs do not represent the same moral problems as consuming meat, they can honestly advocate an increase in dairy and egg consumption as a way to reduce meat consumption.

For someone, such as yourself, who advocates a more general view of animal rights, this hypothetical focus on eggs and dairy is unconscionable. Not only is it the wrong way to achieve your goals, it is, in fact, THE VERY THING that you are trying to avoid, namely, cruelty to animals.

In the same way, for many who oppose abortion, they oppose contraception not just because they think it is the wrong way to reduce abortions, but because they believe it is literally the same thing as abortion. There may be other arguments made against contraception, and this argument as applied [IVF] is often hypocritical, but this is a strong one if you accept the idea that life begins at conception, creating a single-celled human.

When viewed this way, it becomes pretty clear why in both cases the opposition to the so-called "intermediate position" can be so strong. While those on the other side (no problem with meat, pro-choice) don't understand those who refuse to hold what they view as an "intermediate" position, the problem is that with the original worldview (anti-abortion, pro animal rights,) there's nothing intermediate about it at all.

Joe said...

The comparison doesn't quite work since contraception directly stops abortion (especially if we put aside a few types that some label abortifacients) while eggs/milk might help (various "animal substitutes" have that), there are loads of alternatives to meat products.

And, as noted in Colb's book, milk/eggs still harm animals in various ways. This gets to a promising area of explanation (I found the article a tad too philosophical myself; maybe, that's just my problem) is that many (some here do support contraceptives) think contraceptives are part of the problem. They argue that it encourages certain things (e.g., free range sex) that encourages a level of recklessness and improper behavior that helps lead to abortion. So, Ms. Fluke is a 'slut.' It is part of a united whole, including the problem with gay rights.

Catholic doctrine also is that it violates the sanctity of the sexual act. And, some oppose abortion for reasons arising from beliefs on role of women and such for which contraceptives doesn't solve the problem. I don't think it is that contraceptives like condoms are "the same" as abortion as much as it is either seen as aiding & abetting or part of an overall whole of immorality.

So, partially, it is a matter of disagreement of cause/effect (see also, a split over abstinence education) and an overall vision of sexuality etc. that cannot accept contraception.

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David Ricardo said...

I would disagree with Ms. Colb in her position that a large number of opponents of abortion rights have a deontological view as opposed to a consequential position and that those who have a consequential position are driven by consequences other than abortion. Let me explain.

Let’s divide the opponents of abortion rights into several categories.

1. Those who are opposed to abortion rights but support all type of contraception. These are likely to be the truest deontologists, and should engender the utmost respect from those of us who support abortion rights. But I would suggest they are a small minority of anti-abortion rights individuals.

2. Those who are opposed to abortion rights and opposed to any contraception that involves destruction of an embryo or fertilized egg, but who would support contraception such as condoms that prevent fertilization. Again, we should disagree respectfully with these individuals, but with less respect compared to group 1 above, because the concept that a fertilized egg is a person fully endowed with all rights and that a woman has no control over her body until the fetus can survive on its own is contrary to a rational position and rests more on faith than anything else. (and no, no one should come back with the argument that because these people have a fully committed belief that the degree of faith should allow their position to prevail un-contested. Intensity of faith is no evidence that the faith is justified, and in many cases the greater the intensity of a belief, the more incorrect that belief is.)

3. The final group is composed of those who oppose abortion rights and also oppose any and all contraception and family planning. No one in this group can realistically be called a deontologist, because they are far more driven by a desire to use moral approbation and the rule of government to regulate and control sexual activity than they are by a deontological belief against abortion. For them an unplanned/unwanted pregnancy is a tool.

These individuals believe that their views of sexual relations should be forced upon society, specifically the view that sexual relations should not take place except for the purpose of procreation. (Go back and look at the issue in Griswold if you have any doubts.) Before the 1960’s they used the threat of pregnancy as a cudgel and the condemnation of an ‘unwed mother, (a fallen woman etc) to try to force their positions on those who disagreed. In fact, an unwed mother was to be punished, as revelations about the treatment of them in so-called homes operated by both religious and non-religious groups have shown.

But then the pill came along, and then Roe and all of the ability of these groups to use the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, the shame of an unwed mother (had birth control been available in the 19th century Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter could only have been written as satire), the horrific treatment of pregnant women in ‘shelters’ and threat of a single woman having to raise a child alone disappeared.

So these individuals have taken up the cause of both anti-abortion rights and anti-contraception access to attempt to restore the world of 1958. That they are attempting to do so by means of governmental coercion means that they are neither conservative nor compassionate. They are the consequentialists, trying to use the consequences of sexual activity for purposes other than procreation as a way to prevent that activity.

Sacchiridites said...

This is the most inane logic of comparison I've ever had the displeasure of reading.

Deontology and consequentialism have nothing to do with food choices in the context of abortion. Perhaps it would be better to claim animal rights regarding collective responsibility as a society for the quality of and availability of food choices and leave it at that.

But the comparison is moot unless one is a cannibal.

Human beings and the by-products of human biological function are not food sources for society at large. Human breast milk is biologically impossible to produce en masse for the sustenance of the populace.

Perhaps the author would like to continue on the slippery slope of farming lactating homo sapiens; as reprehensible as any retraction of human rights and autonomy.

The author has lost all relevance to deontology and consequentialism in connecting human abortion rights with the ethical treatment of animals and the gathering, distribution and consumption of animal by products.