Noam Chomsky on Abortion

Speaking in Dublin on April 13th, 2013 (we really had to go back to find his views on abortion) Noam Chomsky stated that he believed restrictive abortion laws were attacks on women. Stating that he believes that one of the areas where society really has made progress over the past century, has been on the subject of women’s rights and current laws threaten to overturn much of that progress. Now this is one of two times, that we could find, where Noam Chomsky has specifically talked about Abortion.

Chomsky: Abortion is An Example of Competing Values

For Noam, abortion is yet another example of where competing values (a life vs freedom over bodily autonomy) come into conflict. This quotation comes from an excerpt from the 2006 documentary “Lake of Fire”, a documentary about abortion in contemporary society in the United States. 

“You shouldn’t just arbitrarily kill some animal because it’s fun to kill it. That’s a reasonable value. On the other hand, most people agree to swat a mosquito. Ok well the idea that life should be valued has come into contact with another value. That’s commonly the case. The values that we hold are not absolute, they are always contingent. They conflict. If you just take one in isolation, yeah it may sound legitimate and maybe is, but you have to ask what it means under particular conditions.”

Chomsky ultimately summarizes his position in one line “So choice is legitimate, saving life is legitimate, and sometimes they run into conflict.”

Though the two have had a fairly prickly relationship and correspondence in the past, Chomsky does sound quite a bit like fellow public intellectual Sam Harris, whose brand of consequentialism argues for an objective truth in terms of moral actions, however the rightness or wrongness of an action (such as abortion) is determined by specific variables related to that unique event.

In the ethical debate, this normative moral framework is called “scalar consequentialism.”  A fairly new slogan for an old idea, Scalar consequentialism is well explained by Neil Sinhababu in the abstract to his paper Scalar consequentialism the right way “Rightness and wrongness come in degrees that vary on a continuous scale. Examples in which agents have many options that morally differ from each other demonstrate this….(scalar consequentialism) which treats the rightness and wrongness of actions as matters of degree, and explains them in terms of the value of the actions’ consequences.”

Chomsky’s Comment’s Predate Heartbeat Bill

The above mentioned comments by Chomsky on abortion (taken in 2006 and 2013), came before states such as Georgia proposed and passed the Heartbeat Bill which is much more restrictive than the bills on the table in either 2006 or 2013. Proposed in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, the so-called “heartbeat” bill made it illegal to terminate a pregnancy as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. The reasoning being that the “heartbeat” is a sign of a human life.

In regards to it’s relationship to the right of women to have bodily autonomy and the larger healthcare debate, these bills really have the potential to be quite the setback. Essentially if a heartbeat is detected (under these bills) it is illegal for a doctor to perform the operation. Furthermore, under these bills if a woman becomes pregnant in Georgia (for example), then travels to California to have the abortion, she will still have broken Georgia law and face serious consequences. An important detail is that many women, will not even know they are pregnant until a heartbeat is detected (especially those that became pregnant unintentionally) thereby making it impossible to obtain an abortion legally.

Noam Sits Left of Center In America

When compared to the rest of the country, Noam is once again on the left side of the spectrum. However, in the case of abortion, he is at least in the majority this time around. As of 2019, acceptance of abortion by the general public crossed the highest mark since 1995 according to the Pew Research Center. This number, of people who said abortion was legal in all or most cases, crossed the 60% threshold (61%) for the first time since 1995 (the first year Pew began this longitudinal study). 

As always, we will continue to accept errors and, if we can confirm that any errors have been made or we discover we have missed relevant details, we will update this page and update our errors page that documents all additions or corrections to pages after they are published. Finally it is important to note, especially for this article, that we try to emphasize the most recent opinions rather than older opinions as more recent opinions will be closer to their actual opinions. Should we become aware of position changes by anyone on the Scholar Fact Check, we will make the change and note it on the relevant page. 

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