Are There Any Arguments Against Eugenics Left?

Most, or even all, progressives say they are against eugenics. Yet most, or all, progressives were against the recent Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act which would have outlawed sex-selective abortions in these United States.

That Act failed in the House of Representatives with Ron Paul, six other Republicans, and all but twenty Democrats voting to abort it. Word was that progressives, women’s “rights” groups, and even a few Asian-American groups opposed the bill.

Now it is obvious that killing a female fetus because it is a female just is eugenics in practice. And so is killing a fetus that differs in any way from the ideal created in the mind of the non-mother-to-be. Killing a fetus which is guessed (genetic tests are not perfect; there is error) will be retarded or, say, medically “defective” is exactly what eugenics is. But killing a fetus because it would interfere with a woman’s plans for the weekend is not strictly eugenical, at least not in a strong sense of active deselection.

Incidentally, and entirely off topic, what do the selfish-genes folks say about the enormous and growing rate of self-gene deselection? (It’s at this point in the evolutionary psychology discussion that the subject is changed.)

It was, as even PBS reminds us, progressives a century ago who led groups like the Race Betterment Foundation. “In 1923, organizers founded the American Eugenics Society, and it quickly grew to 29 chapters around the country.” Woodrow Wilson was positively bullish on improving the human stock. And so forth. (See also this article by professor of anthropology Jonathan Marks.)

But after 1945 a great many who had been championing the culling of the less desirable sobered up or were shamed into silence. These feelings grew so that it was eventually reflexive for any right-thinking person to condemn eugenics.

Except in the case of abortions, where it is actively encouraged. This attitude can be summarized: Killing people once they are outside the womb is wrong, killing them before they emerge is not wrong. (Except that even this attitude is changing: see this.)

So let us ask progressives and leftists out there (1) why on moral grounds they are for allowing sex selective abortions, (2) why on moral grounds they are for allowing abortions for what they claim are “defective” or “less desirable” human beings, and (3) why on moral grounds they are simultaneously against eugenics. Keep in mind that it is everywhere females who are killed off in the wombs at much higher rates than males.

It is a fallacy to argue, incidentally, that if the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act passed it would be difficult to enforce. That law and its policing is irrelevant to the questions just asked. It is a fallacy to argue, for example, that if the law passed “all women seeking an abortion are suspects” in a crime, as this person said, thus eugenics is morally right. It is also a fallacy to argue that the Act would have just plain outlawed abortion, for even if that turned out to be the case, it says nothing about whether abortion for sex selection or against “defectives” is morally right.

The questions of interest have nothing at all to do with what laws exist or what laws might exist. They are purely questions on the ethics of eugenics, whether or not eugenics is lawful. Consider the analogy that it is against the law to take certain drugs, yet many people can still argue that taking these drugs is not morally wrong. We can argue another day whether laws for or against eugenics are desirable, harmful, enforceable, whatever. Today they are of not the slightest interest (except as a means to inform us that some people are for sex-selective abortion, i.e. eugenics in practice).

And don’t forget it is not just sex-selection we are interested in, but the killing of any fetus seen as less than desirable for reasons other than convenience.

Remember that we are ladies and gentleman.


  1. Sandee Enriquez

    Add abortion for any reason and the latest sex selection to global warming (now) climate change theory, animal rights, Gaia, and all those others coming down the pike…they are simply a cover over their true desire for HUMAN population control=eugenics. Yet these eugenics proponents never include themselves, THEY are perfect…else they should throw themselves off the nearest cliff. No it is the imperfect you and me and everyone else who are the useless eaters and destoyers of THEIR beautiful planet. Selfish genes..yes and selfish snobs. As that bumper sticker says: Save the planet..kill yourself. To them I say…YOU go first.

  2. JH

    Are you saying Eugenicists believe that man is the better sex?

    I don’t know exactly why the Act wasn’t passed, but I doubt that the theory of eugenics came to politicians’ minds when voting. You are assuming that our politicians actually behave in a logically or philosophically consistent manner.

    If the law were passed, how would it be enforced? I see the possibility of someone accusing an Asian woman of sex-selection abortion just because of the stereotype. Would her reason of feeling unready for child/responsibility be not good enough just because she is an Asian? As long as abortion is legal, I don’t see how this Act could be effective.

    Where is the evidence that “it is everywhere females who are killed off in the wombs at much higher rates than males. Maybe this is true in China where sex-selection abortion is illegal. But everywhere? Much higher rates?

  3. Mark

    Not a leftie, but I can see the logic in allowing abortions for (among other things) incurable genetic conditions and the like. Regarding its relationship to eugenics though, I consider this closer to preventing incest than improving the human stock.

    1) Regarding sex-selective abortions… yeah I think I’ll outlaw them. On a purely philosophical level it may be useful if there is, for example, an extreme imbalance in the number of men to women (100 men to 1 woman… yeah I think we need more women & fewer men being born, for example). That sort of situation doesn’t exist (and I hope never does exist!) in the real world though.

    2) I do approve of abortions for defective fetuses though, both for economic reasons and emotional ones (both the defective individual and the family). And yes, to prevent the defective genes being passed on too. HOWEVER… it’s probably not going to be too long before we can start curing genetic defects quickly, easily and relatively cheaply, at which point abortions for this reason aren’t exactly required.

    3) I imagine it’s because most people consider eugenics as something done to people who are already born. If you accept the position that a fetus isn’t a person (or at least, isn’t one before week X in the womb), then you’re not doing it to a person. On the other hand, forcibly sterilising black people etc (and let’s not kid ourselves, plenty of people thought this before Hitler showed the world what it entailed) because they are inferior and the racial stock needs improving… well that’s completely different. And like the nazis, and no forward thinking, progressive leftie could POSSIBLY be like a nazi, right 😛 ?

  4. JH

    It is a fallacy to argue, incidentally, that if the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act passed it would be difficult to enforce.

    Oh… sorry, I have learned that when you make such claim, it simply means it’s not what you want to hear.

  5. The thing with eugenics is that it treats humans like animals.

    Now, I’m going to make myself unpopular: abortion is evil. It is the deliberate ending of a potential life. If you accept that is not evil, then everything that eugenics practices follows.

    Now, women are always going to find a way to abort a pregnancy when it “ruins” their lives. The strongest argument for abortion is that it stops women from dying, that it stops the “angel makers” from performing abortions under unsanitary conditions and women dying because they didn’t want to be pregnant.

    It doesn’t make it right.

    Eugenics is all about breeding humans, removing the undesirable traits and creating some sort of more perfect human. It is pure and unmitigated evil. But that takes a discourse into the nature of evil: something that is intensely unpopular because the modern mindset denies that evil is even possible.


  6. mt

    “Now it is obvious that killing a female fetus because it is a female just is eugenics in practice.”

    Why is that obvious? If the goal of eugenics is to improve the genetics of a population, how does killing a fetus based on gender accomplish that?

  7. Matt


    As to your number 1. Such a situation does exist athough not anywhere near as extreme as you hypethetical.

    This situation exists today in India and China. In India for largely cultural reasons (daughters are seen as a major expense due to dowary traditions) and in China for a combination of legal (one child per family) and cultural (similar to India) reasons.

    Note, the Normal ratio is considered to be 108 males for every 100 females. T

    he current ratio in China is 120 males for every 100 females. Not as sever as your hypothetical, but a significant deviation from normal considering the problem only started 30 years ago.

  8. Tom

    I haven’t heard anyone argue that sex-selective abortion is morally right, have you?

  9. Sandee Enriquez

    *”If the goal of eugenics is to improve the genetics of a population, how does killing a fetus based on gender accomplish that?”*

    Because there is a FIRST time for everything and that FIRST time thing will be shocking to the culture. Then after a while…it isn’t shocking anymore. People get USED to the idea or they get numb. Look around. There is much that is accepted today that just a few decades ago would have brought the populace out carrying pitchforks. One day babies will be formed and bred right in an aquarium…ala Brave New World, then Eugenics will have come full circle into the perfect human…the catch is: according to whom? Now THAT may cause some gnashing of teeth and consternation. Slippery slope=bee hive=nirvana?

  10. George Steiner

    As I understand, the Spartans practiced a form of Eugenics. But it did not help them it seems.

  11. You conflate other reasons for an abortion besides eugenics into “convenience.”

    Many women get abortions because it is the least risky thing to do. That is, they rationally weigh the costs and benefits of allowing the fetus to come to full term versus not. And, IMHO, many people believe that it is rational to allow the mother to consider risk factors affecting not only the fetus, but other people — such as the type posed by the Trolley Problem.

    Risk, in general, is quite complex. It is not a scalar. The dimensions of risk may not even be commensurable. And, obviously, the costs and benefits of the different stakeholders may vary not only in magnitude, but sign. I really can’t see how logical analysis alone is going to get us anywhere.

  12. brent

    Infanticide is justifiable in some cases, says ethics professor
    12:01AM GMT 25 Jan 2004
    One of British medicine’s most senior advisers on medical ethics has provoked outrage by claiming that infanticide is “justifiable”.
    Professor John Harris, a member of the British Medical Association’s ethics committee, said that it was not “plausible to think that there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal” – suggesting that there was no moral difference between aborting a foetus and killing a baby

    Is Bioethics Ethical?

    The lead author, John Harris, the Sir David Alliance professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, in England, claims that it is necessary to establish the criteria for personhood so as to “identify those sorts of individuals who have the ëhighest’ moral value or importance.” It is not life per se that is dispositive, but life of such quality as to “bring [individuals] into the same moral categories as ourselves.” Being human alone does not do the trick: Personhood theory creates castes of “us” and “them,” in an explicit hierarchy of human worth.
    Harris makes a rather astonishing assertion, considering the brouhaha over abortion. He baldly states that human life begins at conception. This, of course, does not mean he opposes abortion—to the contrary.
    So, who (or what) should duly be deemed a person? To Harris, a person is “a being that can value existence.” This means “persons might, in principle, be members of any species, or indeed machines.” He explicitly states that fetuses and newborn infants are not persons, nor are people with significant cognitive disability or dementia.

    The ultimate purpose of personhood analysis is to determine whom we can kill and still get a good night’s sleep.

    The new grim reapers
    Practitioners of bioethics say who should live — and who should die

    Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People

    Merchants of Despair
    Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism
    There was a time when humanity looked in the mirror and saw something precious, worth protecting and fighting for — indeed, worth liberating. But now we are beset on all sides by propaganda promoting a radically different viewpoint. According to this idea, human beings are a cancer upon the Earth, a species whose aspirations and appetites are endangering the natural order. This is the core of antihumanism.

  13. mt

    Most posters here say they are against eugenics. Yet most posters here support laws prohibiting close blood relatives from marrying and possibly giving birth to children with genetic abnormalities.

  14. pouncer

    “most posters here support laws prohibiting close blood relatives from marrying ”

    How large was the sample size in that poll?

    Bill Clinton famously said the nation wants abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare”. Was he wrong? If he was not wrong, did his analysis seem to indicate the then-current incidence or frequency of the procedure was satisfactory, or insufficiently “rare”? If the incidence during his administration a decade ago was higher-than-“rare” what actions would Clintonian-like politicians recommend that would be both constitutionally “legal” AND make abortions more “rare”?

    The penumbra of the emanations of the constitution seem to suggest that the health of the mother — to include her “mental” health as diagnosed by her OB/GYN abortion provider — and the choice arising from procedures to ensure health is a right to be protected. Does the option to choose the sex of an infant affect a mother’s health? Even her mental health? Are we to understand that having an infant of the wrong sex irreparably damages the mother’s health? (The FATHER’S choices and health, (mental or financial) never enter into it.) If the choice of her infant’s sex is not tied to the mother’s health why would it be unconstitutional to ban sex-selective abortion? If the choice of infant’s sex IS tied to a mother’s health, how so?

    Choice is a tricky right to protect, anyway. If a woman chooses to have sex with a man, and regrets it the following day, can she accuse him of rape? There would seem to be cases where it has been argued she can. If a women chooses to have an abortion –provided, most often, by a man — and regrets it at some later time, can she accuse him of infanticide? How long does the window of remorse remain open? If a woman choose NOT to have an abortion and delivers a child of less than perfect health, does she retain the right to “abort” or kill the infant for at least some short period of time post-partum? If such a window of remorse exists at all, and if the child is of the lesser preferred sex, is the period allowed for deciding on infanticide shorter? Can the time window on post-partum sex-selection be shortened without intrusion on a women’s general right of choice to kill her defective infant, also post-partum?

  15. Jim Fedako

    The Ron Paul call-out is disingenuous. Briggs seems to believe the Constitution should still be the law of the land. Yet …

    Paul does not believe this bill is constitutional. I don’t either. Does Briggs?

    That is an important question since constitutionaliy as an ethic must not be employed only when it is to an advantage.

    Paul has a way around the constitutional issue: Sanctity of Life Act.

    According to Wikipedia: The Sanctity of Life Act would have defined human life and legal personhood (specifically, natural personhood) as beginning at conception,[7] [8] “without regard to race, sex, age, health, defect, or condition of dependency.”[9]

    Before calling out Paul, indict all of those who refused to cosponsor this bill each time it was introduced.

    Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act is unprincipled politics at its best.

  16. ppaul

    I think that banning birth sex selection is a function of government that will provide for domestic tranqility in the far future more so than most endevors. See China.

  17. Uncle Mike

    Culling females isn’t the only progressive eugenic cause. 60% of black pregnancies end in abortion. Planned Parenthood is a racist organization that believes in killing off “undesirable” races. That’s real eugenics, alive and well today, and fully supported by progressives like Barry Obama.

    Ironic isn’t it? That a black foreigner would rise to President while strongly supporting black genocide. Next we need a female Prez who supports aborting female babies. Guilt-ridden social suicide is trendy with Leftists, who waver between Narcissism and self-loathing. It takes some serious mental and psychological contortions to be a progressive.

  18. Eric

    Dr. Briggs:

    Eugenics attempts to use breeding to increase desirable heritable characteristics in human populations.

    Eugenics has been successfully employed by Ashkenazi Jewish communities to reduce incidence of Tay-Sachs and other diseases.

    A component of this program is Dor Yeshorim, which provides confidential genetic screenings to members of these communities.

    In response to the premise of your essay, the Dor Yeshorim initiative is an excellent moral case for eugenics.

    I think it would be interesting to discuss what differentiators make a eugenics program moral, such as efficacy, the specific traits that it targets, its confidential and noncompulsary nature, or the community of interest that it serves.


  19. @Eric:

    Breeding and abortion are not quite the same thing, but even still, it assumes that some people are just genuinely better than others (or some types better than others) and that we are capable of deciding that (but what if we aren’t “Good” enough on that scale to decide?)

    That’s why the US Constitution protects all human life, liberty, and happiness, or at least is supposed to. Once you make “desirable” and “less desirable” parts of a culture’s worldview, I can’t see how it doesn’t extend outward to other areas for minimally helpful results.


    I think Ron Paul was rightfully called out. The Constitution’s 14th amendment says:

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    Now, the first portion is in reference to Citizens, but the part defending “life, liberty, property, and due process” is for Persons at a state level. If Paul believes that the unborn are “Persons”, why couldn’t he be in support of this bill, far more practical in terms of passing the congress right now than the other, simply on this basis.

  20. Jim Fedako


    Until the unborn are granted personhood, the 14th Amendment does not apply. Paul has proposed legislation to change the definition of personhood. Why have those who claim they adamantly support the right to life been unwilling to cosponsor Paul’s bill?

    Unanswered from you is whether the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act is constitutional. And, if you claim so, how is it constitutional?

    The point I am trying to make is many who claim the Constitution should be the law of the land give a wink and nudge to it when they want unconstitutional legislation passed. This is the same sleight of hand, so to speak, condemned when used by the other side.

    It is disingenuous to call out Paul when he has offered a constitutional solution while giving the other 434 House members a free pass.

    NB: Those who proposed the PNA had no expectation of its passage. So their support and vote was for show alone, which is why the whole matter is unprincipled politics at its best.

  21. JH

    I have relatives who have several daughters and believe abortion is wrong, but decided to use the technology to have a son. The decision is usually made by the family not the woman. You might be surprised to learn that the mothers would rather not have another child, but choose to succumb to family demand. It’s especially judgmental when people lay this problem on the shoulder of women.

    The sex-selective pregnancy as used by IVF is acceptable back home for cultural reasons. As far as I know, sex selection has little relationship to genetic disorders or about the superiority of boys. Eugenics? Well, people can label their opponents and use slippery slope arguments as they see fit.

    George Will would tell you that aborting a genetically defective fetus is eugenic, and that the world is a better place with his son’s birth. Who can disagree with him on this?!

    (He is my very favorite conservative… not because that he dislikes George Bush and Donald Trump and that he said Dick Cheney owed apology for Iraq War. ^_^)

    However, when a friend went through the agony of a Down syndrome diagnosis, I asked myself whether I would adopt the baby and my answer was and is “No”. My reasons are among the most common reasons women consider abortion. So, who am I to tell (judge) her or any other women what to do?

  22. JH

    Mr. Opie,

    Most of Pro-choice proponents, at least those I know of, also think abortion is evil, and the legalization of certain abortions doesn’t make it morally right. (So their arguments rest on other something else and can be found easily on the internet.) For this reason, I am very hopefully that abortion will become a non-issue due to the promotion of adoption by both sides, the availability of contraceptive, the positive attitude change attitudes toward single mom… …

  23. domenico

    the problem is very simple…

    As Planned Parenthoud points out: “Planned Parenthood strongly condemns any coercive reproductive policies…This legislation will impose harmful restrictions on a woman’s access to care and limit her choices as she makes personal medical decisions. ”

    So, if to choose the sex of the child is a ‘medical decision’ why should be not allowed to choose the color of the skin, of the eyes, of the hair, or when the tecnology will permit it of the height, of the intelligence?

  24. ruidh

    I reject your framing of the question. One can be against sex selective abortions and yet not desire this bill. I see several inherent problems not the least of which is how does one determine if a given abortion performed after amniocentesis was done for the purpose of sex selection? I do not trust that rabidly anti-abortion prosecutors in certain parts of the country will not go on a rampage against women who choose abortion when faced with difficult decisions involving their own health and that of their potential child. Why would I want to put that loaded gun in their hands?

  25. Adam H

    I don’t understand HOW the government can outlaw “sex-selective abortions”. Is it that once you find out the sex of the baby, you can no longer get an abortion? Or is it that you are asked your reasons for having an abortion?

    I will go against the grain and say that I am PRO-sex-selective-abortion. What I mean by this is that if abortions are legal, they should be legal to everyone regardless of motive.

    Eugenics got a bad rap because of the Nazis. But I say that individuals MUST be allowed to “breed” as they see fit for the sake for themselves and their offspring (y’know, as long as it’s not messing with other’s rights). Hitler tried to get the government to impose regulation on this “natural selection”, which I think we can all agree was evil. THAT is the lesson we should learn from the Nazi eugenics program.

    How can pro-abortionists say things like “I don’t support abortion for gender selection – I don’t know anyone who does” (Colorado Rep Diana DeGette)? What happened to the woman’s right to CHOOSE? She can only CHOOSE when you agree with her choice? Isn’t that a bit intolerant?

  26. Until the unborn are granted personhood, the 14th Amendment does not apply. Paul has proposed legislation to change the definition of personhood. Why have those who claim they adamantly support the right to life been unwilling to cosponsor Paul’s bill?

    If “Personhood” is not defined to include or exclude the unborn in the Constitution yet, why couldn’t Paul support the bill?

  27. Except eugenics is about “improving” the species genetically which you can’t do by aborting female fetuses. So this article seems to be an attempt to smear an already unsavory activity by associating it with a word with a nasty history. Maybe William was having a bad day when he wrote this.

  28. domenico

    the purpose of the eugenics is to eliminate the unfits, those foredoomed to perish in the struggle for existence, or those who will have difficulties in their lives or those who will create problems for their own family or the society in general.
    In sex selective abortions females are those identified in this category.

  29. Except such a strategy destroys the species ability to replicate. Hence there must be a flaw someone in your claim. 😉

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