Difference, disability and discrimination : a philosophical critique of selective abortion
The practice of abortion continues to provoke controversy and disagreement. However, within the context of this wider debate, a greater level of consensus appears to have been reached as to the moral acceptability of the practice of prenatal screening, and selective abortion following the detection of foetal abnormality. This study seeks to interrogate whether justifications of this practice lend credence to the moral permissibility of selective abortion. In particular, it considers whether justifications for this practice amount to, or perpetuate, discrimination on the basis of the characteristic of disability, as selective abortion entails choosing against a particular foetus because of its characteristics. This study poses this question in two contexts – where the moral permissibility of selective abortion is regarded as an exception to the general moral impermissibility of abortion, and where selective abortion is regarded as one distinct justification within the context of the general moral permissibility of abortion. This study attempts to show that while justifications of selective abortion are directly discriminatory in the former case, they are not necessarily discriminatory in the latter case. This latter conclusion, however, recommends maintaining vigilance against the possibility that such justifications could rely upon or perpetuate prejudice, or restrict reproductive autonomy. These conclusions are considered within the South African context; in particular, with regard to their application to the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996.