In our opinion: A slippery 'immoral' Tweet

Deseret News editorial

Published: Fri, Aug. 29, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT

 Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins tweets that a woman pregnant with a Down syndrome fetus should \

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins tweets that a woman pregnant with a Down syndrome fetus should "abort it and try again," adding it would be "immoral to bring it into the world given a choice. His extreme views earned him considerable backlash.


In the debate over abortion, both sides often resort to using “slippery slope” arguments that decry even the slightest concession to the other point of view. Abortion rights activists therefore oppose any limits on the gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion, because they insist it would be the first step to a total ban on all abortions. Some right-to-life advocates counter that allowing any abortion at all will lead to a brave new world where all disabled children will be killed in the womb as a matter of course.

In most circumstances, the idea of the slippery slope is an intellectually lazy way to use fear of extremes to cast doubt on more moderate stances. Unfortunately, there are select occasions when someone makes themselves heard from the bottom of the slope. Such is the case with famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who recently took to Twitter to give advice to all women who discover that their baby will be born with Down syndrome.

“Abort it and try again,” he counseled. “It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

This sparked a considerable amount of justified outrage from families with Down syndrome children, as well as from reasonable people who recognized the reprehensible nature of such a position. Many with Down syndrome took those words at face value and concluded that Dawkins views their very existence as immoral.

Dawkins was clearly taken aback by the ferocity of the backlash and tried to clarify himself further on his website. At first, he stated that his comments had not been intended for a wide audience, and he mocked “people who go out of their way to find such Tweets.” In other words, Dawkins isn’t sorry for what he said; he’s only sorry that he said it in public.

Perhaps recognizing the absurdity of presuming a Tweet made to over a million followers could somehow remain anonymous, Dawkins then feebly attempted to put some distance between his statement and its clear implications. He noted that his “phraseology may have been tactlessly vulnerable to misunderstanding,” but, given that he still refuses to back off from his initial premise, it’s unclear where he thinks he was misunderstood. Indeed, his problem stems from the fact that he announced his extremism in terms very easy to understand.

Dawkins also does the abortion rights movement no favors by maintaining that his argument “simply follows logically from the ordinary pro-choice stance that most of us, I presume, espouse.” His statement makes the slippery-slope warnings of many in the pro-life movement looked prescient, not paranoid. Richard Dawkins stands at the base of the slope and champions the devaluing of human life. Society would do well to avoid sliding down to join him.

1. ECR
Burke, VA,
Aug. 29, 2014

So why does anyone, especially the DN editors, care what Richard Dawkins thinks? Why was this incident or opinion, of all the opinions across the country, highlighted for an editorial essay?

Mr. Dawkins obviously has a different set of standards to live by than most of the readers of the DN, or not. So why use this page to highlight his opinion rather than just ignore it and not publicize it. How many of the readers of the DN would have even known about his tweet had it not been highlighted in this essay?

2. pragmatistferlife
salt lake city, utah,
Aug. 29, 2014

Personally I think the point of abortion rights is that a woman gets to choose for or against such actions herself within limits.

That's his opinion, probably wouldn't be mine carte blanche.

To the point of the article though, the voice of the other end of the slippery slope no choice at all is in full throttle in America. Personhood amendments, and legal regulations on providers are rampant.

You find one voice on the left and sound the alarm while casually mentioning two slopes, when in fact the right hand slope is up, greased, fully functioning.

It's like when the media has a discussion regarding climate change with one supporter and one nay sayer, when in fact it should be 97 supporters and one nay sayer.

3. Mike Richards
South Jordan, Utah,
Aug. 29, 2014

Do we choose for ourselves the terms and conditions for giving life? Will we find that it is ethical to abort female babies or male babies? Will we find that is is ethical to abort a baby that doesn't have blue eyes, or brown or hazel? What are the conditions that we will accept as being the "perfect" baby?

Mankind has only been given the option to invite children into the world through the creative act. God decides whom to send. Each person has infinite worth. Each person has a purpose and a mission. The world needs every type of person to soften us, to teach us to care for those who are not "perfect", to remind us that some have physical flaws that handicap them, but that all of us have hidden flaws that handicap our eternal progression.

We need to deal with life as it is, not as we wish it were. Babies are precious and they should all be treated as gifts from God.

4. 2 bits
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
Aug. 29, 2014

Who the heck is Richard Dawkins?... and why does ANYBODY care what HE says?

It's his opinion. Just because he thinks it... doesn't mean we have to do it!

Do we just follow Evolutionary Biologists, or other people who tell us it's OK to abort your babies???

I mean it may make you feel more OK about your decision to hear that other people agree that you should abort... but I doubt anybody's going to go out and get an abortion because this guy (who evidently has some clout in some circles) said to.

5. Tyler D
Meridian, ID,
Aug. 29, 2014

@pragmatistferlife – “the right hand slope is up, greased, fully functioning.”

Thanks for adding some accurate perspective to a topic that typically has none.

And to ECR’s point, I think the whole reason for printing the article (despite the faux-protestations of the 1st two paragraphs) is to give justification for this extremism on the Right.

But if we take those two paragraphs seriously (even when the author does not) we should recognize that this issue will never go away if the extremists remain the only voices at the table. We could end this issue (at least being a hot button perpetual political issue) once and for all if a reasonable compromise we’re enacted into law.

How about this – pick a time period when a fetus develops most of the characteristics of being a person, say somewhere between 7 and 20 weeks, and make abortion illegal for any time after that (life of mother exceptions, etc…) - prior to that it is between the parents and their doctor.

Now which side do you think will oppose this vehemently? And so this issue will never go away until all blastocysts are issued social security cards.