Jul
11
2009

Science Czar John Holdren denies the ‘right of women to choose?’

(Via AoSHQ) This was written by John Holdren, Obama Science Czar, in 1977:

Individual rights. Individual rights must be balanced against the power of the government to control human reproduction. Some people—respected legislators, judges, and lawyers included—have viewed the right to have children as a fundamental and inalienable right. Yet neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution mentions a right to reproduce. Nor does the UN Charter describe such a right, although a resolution of the United Nations affirms the “right responsibly to choose” the number and spacing of children (our emphasis). In the United States, individuals have a constitutional right to privacy and it has been held that the right to privacy includes the right to choose whether or not to have children, at least to the extent that a woman has a right to choose not to have children. But the right is not unlimited. Where the society has a “compelling, subordinating interest” in regulating population size, the right of the individual may be curtailed. If society’s survival depended on having more children, women could he required to bear children, just as men can constitutionally be required to serve in the armed forces. Similarly, given a crisis caused by overpopulation, reasonably necessary laws to control excessive reproduction could be enacted.

It is often argued that the right to have children is so personal that the government should not regulate it. In an ideal society, no doubt the state should leave family size and composition solely to the desires of the parents. In today’s world, however, the number of children in a family is a matter of profound public concern. The law regulates other highly personal matters. For example, no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?

This is, of course, appalling to any person who identifies as ‘pro-life’ – but it should be even more appalling to any person who identifies as ‘pro-choice.’  It is simply impossible to reconcile the position that the government may regulate the number of children with the position that a woman has a ‘fundamental right to choose’ whether or not to have an abortion.  If you consider that right to automatically overrule the government’s ability to force you to carry an unwanted child to term, then it logically follows that you must also consider that right to also overrule the government’s ability to force you not to carry a wanted child to term*.  And if you admit that the government has the right to dictate your fertility, then you don’t actually believe in a ‘fundamental right to choose’ in the first place; you believe in the government’s right to choose for you.  Reading the rest of Zombietime’s article, it is fairly clear that Holdren is firmly of the opinion that the government does have that right, and that it trumps individual opinions on the matter.  And now he’s in charge of science policy.

Or, to put this another way:  they told me that if I voted for John McCain the President would appoint an anti-choice fanatic as science czar, and they were right.

Moe Lane

*State-sanctioned population-control programs almost guarantee forced abortions.  Like it or don’t like it, as you please; it still happens.

Crossposted to RedState.

7 Comments

  • […] rest is here: Science Czar John Holdren denies the ‘right of women to choose?’ Harness The Wind to Save The Worldnewsreel290609Hungry for Change? See Food Inc.Opinio Juris […]

  • Dan Lowe says:

    (When moderating, you should probably post this one and delete the other one, for the sake of readability.)

    Sorry if my comment seems like it came out of the woodwork. I actually subscribe to your blog, and came across the post because the topic itself is one that, obviously, interests me. I have an hour, and I’ll understand if you glaze over the length of my comment, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

    I think you’re reading this too politically, at least in terms of practical politics or one particular political issue (the choice a woman should have whether to bear children). Sure, Holdren might have a hand politically now, but it shouldn’t misconstrue a completely valid insight about human rights, hypothetical states, and so on.

    If we’re talking about human rights as they’re preserved by a state, then the discussion is raised about social obligations a populace has to its state, and that’s what Holdren’s seems to be talking about. The most usual example of surrendering certain rights, which is mentioned here, is when certain members of the population are employed as police or military to defend the state as a whole, the argument being that if the state wasn’t around to protect so-called inalienable human rights, then they wouldn’t be nearly so inalienable, as whatever tribe with the biggest stick (or bomb) could tread over them without flinching. Thus, rights are as much a construction of a political state as political states are a construction of people gathering under a common set of beliefs: ‘I don’t want to be robbed, I don’t want to be killed, I don’t want to be raped (in any manner that involves having control of my body taken away).’

    It isn’t much of a leap from military obligation to bodily obligation, either. Historically, through the practice of conscription (including “selective service” in contemporary America), representatives of the state could come along and declare a child in their service. During antiquity it was thorough: children would reach a certain age and be taken away for military service. Throughout the age of imperialism, when states conquered countries (e.g. securing populations for their ideology), the “rape” in “rape and pillage” was, sadly, probably allowed — even condoned — because of its strategic contribution. The fatherless, ‘bastardized’ children were those likely to become soldiers during the next generation of warfare.

    So, it’s also not inconceivable to say that given a crisis of population, that the state would have a vested incentive to deal with the population. Sure, it’s horrible to think of a scenario where — you’re right — women would be forced to have abortions, as has actually been the case in modern China, even if to a lesser though just as horrible extent when children (most often girls) are abandoned due to restrictions put on the size of a family. Really, the only scenario where people would be forced to have children is in reaction to this. I know too many people, my parents included, who are convinced that China will swallow us because we don’t have enough babies. But, given that we are our state, this decision not to have children is our own, and made constantly. Every time a couple or a woman decides that it’s not rational to have a child, because it would affect their own life or (to a much lesser extent) because it would affect global population, the so-called state, in democratic-republican form, is exercising its decision in the matter.

    I’m sure of course that anti-choice/pro-life advocates don’t want to read our system of government this way, that an individual decision consistent with our liberties is an act of the state itself, but it’s true. Because on the other side, if a woman’s right to her own body was ever impeded upon legally, it would be both an act of the state and an act of those who politically advocated the law.

    Personally, I think the perpetuation of life — and more importantly, good life (which includes freedom of choice) — is more important than the maintenance of a state, especially when it’s hard to separate the Greeks from the Barbarians ideologically. States that don’t value life in these terms should be abandoned and overthrown. With that said, however, I’m not sure whether I disagree with Holdren’s suggestion that a state has a responsibility to regulate its population, not only in terms of quality (weeding socio/psychopathy through criminal justice) but in number. You’re right that such population control is irreconcilable with a woman’s right to have ultimate say over her body, but the overall question in this (and, again, Holdren’s) is whether or not members of a state have ultimate say over their bodies when participating in their social state anyway. So long as we need to defend our way of life, the answer seems to depend on whether enough people would contribute themselves when the need arises, through volunteering for military or humanitarian service, or abstaining from having children given a crisis of population. Outside of participating with one’s society, however, the issue goes away. In the same way that human freedom supersedes state obligation, a person can refuse to contribute to a war they don’t think is justified, and likewise could refuse to have or not have children regardless of the law.

    One final note, which I didn’t know where to fit in but think is at the heart of the whole matter, is the idea we take for granted that women should ever be required to go through pregnancy to have children. That they do and that fecundity and the tremendous value of that contribution is marginalized should not be overlooked, but in terms of ideal situations, I still find taking it for granted to be absurd. Shulamith Firestone, a feminist philosopher from the 1960s and 70s proposed that women’s revolution will never be complete, that sexual equality will never be realized, until a biological revolution has taken place. The role of cybernetic and biotechnological enhancement in economic equality (making everyone equally as fit to do any job) has been tossed around, but Firestone also proposed using cybernetics when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Certainly cybernetic wombs are science fiction today, and are usually included only in horrible scenarios, but every time someone rolls their eyes at this concept, I’m driven to emphasize the primary point in discussions like these — at the heart of the pro/anti-choice debate, and at the heart of this one:

    Women make babies, but women aren’t baby-makers. Until we voice that basic assumption, the discussion isn’t going anywhere.

  • […] might remember John Holdren from a previous post – one where it was noticed that the man was on the record as considering the government to […]

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