The Times’ Response to the Mehta Abortion Case

In the space of the two days after their initial response (which I labeled Intellectual Cowardice), The Times of India has come out with some articles whose substance helps explain their initial response. There could have been two principled stands to take.

a) A woman has an absolute right to her body and no one else may properly interfere with it for any purposes whatsoever.

b) A fetus has an absolute right to life and no one may properly take any action that violates it, irrespective of any risk to the mother or the potential child.

The Times does not take any of these stands. In fact, in the world of moral relativism that it inhabits (and has helped create), it would not even understand any of these stands. It does not think of anything as absolute, not even the right to life. In its world view, everything must be judged within a context and invariably the means of judgement is “a democratic consensus” and the context is “good of the society”. Both the stands above would be termed dogmatic, impractical and dangerous.

As evidence consider:

“There are valid concerns that in a country like India where female foeticide is a real problem, any further relaxation of abortion laws could be misused. However, that argument must not hold reasonable reforms to the MTP Act to ransom. There is a separate law — the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Tests Act — to address the issue of female foeticide. Its enforcement is poor; government would do well to get its act together in that area.”

“Ethicists, social scientists, lawmakers and medical specialists should discuss such issues on a common platform until a consensus is reached. A new and liberal abortion law is urgently required but we need to be careful as it may be abused to perform female foeticide. The medical profession in the past has refused to accept collective responsibility for this genocide and has a poor record in ensuring ethical conduct of doctors. It does not have any credibility and has failed to self-regulate. All future laws must be transparent and have built-in checks and mechanisms to curb female foeticide, while accommodating late abortions of grossly abnormal foetuses.”

“It [The current law] allows termination of the pregnancy even beyond the 20th week, if there is a threat to the mother’s life. However, it does not extend that provision to cases where the child’s health after birth might be under adverse risk. It was this lacuna that the Mehtas were challenging as their unborn child runs the risk of being born with congenital heart ailments.”

(emphasis mine)

In the world view that The Times exemplifies, laws and rights are optimization parameters, that are to be continuously tweaked to achieve the common good. This case then was only a sad but inevitable occurrence that highlighted the need for some more tweaking. Their initial reponse was not intellectual cowardice. It was not intellectual at all. It arose from a rejection of principles as being applicable to life. Since principles are derived by an application of the intellect, it showed a rejection of the intellect, an abdication of the role that a newspaper is expected to play in public discourse.

The Mehta Case and Intellectual Cowardice

In all the detailed coverage that The Times of India gave to the case of the Mehta Couple’s rejected abortion plea, this is what the newspaper had to show as its view:

Times View:For the Mehtas, this is a very difficult time, and our heart goes out to them. It’ll be everyone’s prayer that the child is born without any serious complications and grows up healthy. If the baby is normal, the Mehtas must not be blamed for seeking abortion—after all, they approached the court on the basis of medical evidence that suggested a congenital heart block. At least they had the courage and the honesty to take the legal route instead of aborting illegally. The Mehtas, for their part, must put the legal battle behind them and focus on what’s ahead. There have been cases where children have been born out of extremely complicated pregnancies and gone on to lead normal lives. Also, advances in medical science bring new hope every day.”

This is the same newspaper that began its lead article with

This was a court battle that had everything: law, medicine, ethics, religion—and human drama.”
(Emphasis in original)

P.S.
I wanted to comment, but anything I could say should be obvious.

Mehta Couple’s Abortion Case

The Bombay High Court today dismissed the Mehta couple’s plea to permit an abortion of their 25 week old fetus diagnosed with heart problems. (More information here). This sad case has raised a debate about the law regarding termination of pregnancy. It has been said that the law (which only permits abortion upto the 20th week of pregnancy or if the mother’s life is in danger) is out of date and needs to change with medical advances. Yet the issue here is not the extent of advancement or reliability of medical procedures. The issue is whether a fetus has the right to life.

The concept of rights arises from the fact that man (by his nature) needs to act on his own independent judgement if he is to survive. Rights can only pertain to beings that have a purpose and the capacity to exercise judgement. The right to life is the right to act independently, free from physical force from other men. A fetus is not independent. It depends on the mother for its sustenance. It cannot exercise or even form judgement. It does not have a purpose. Judgement and purpose are concepts that depend on the capacity of choice. A fetus is incapable of choice. As Ayn Rand noted

“An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).”

The current law regarding abortion (like most of India’s laws) protects no ones rights. Neither the rights of the mother to her own body (as illustrated by this case) nor the alleged right of the fetus (since its life can be terminated in the case of a risk to the life of the mother). Properly defined, there can be no conflict (such as the one implied by the law) between the rights of individuals. Every man has an inalienable and absolute right to life. These rights are not a gift from the state and it is not upto the state to arbitrarily try to balance them. Nor do laws that protect these rights need to change with the times or with advancements in technology if they are properly framed. What needs to change is the lack of understanding about the source of rights and the role of the state in protecting them.

Update:
I have a more detailed post on this topic here.

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