Ask Auntie Pinko
December 15, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
I am having a very hard time clarifying my thinking on the
abortion issue. Can you help?
Here's my problem: as a woman, of course I am in total favor
of the right to safe, legal abortion. I once accompanied a 15-year-old
acquaintance when she aborted her brother's child (and helped her
get out of the abusive family situation).
However, I am squeamish about abortion on another level. Of
my closest and dearest friends, about half are gay. As medical technology
advances, I believe we're not far from isolating the "gay gene,"
or otherwise developing some scientifically valid way of predicting
a tendency on the part of a fetus to develop into a gay child. I
also believe, based on my three decades living in the Bible belt,
that it would take all of fifteen minutes for the fake Christians
to find a way to justify aborting all of those fetuses.
I love my gay friends. The world would be a sadder place without
Am I being paranoid, Auntie? Or is this a valid concern? Does
it necessitate modifying my staunchly pro-choice stand?
On one level, I think Auntie can help. Spend a little time doing
some research on what genome mappers and genetic researchers are
discovering and reporting - it will certainly ease your fears about
the mass abortion of "gay" fetuses. Researchers are discovering
that the human genome is an enormously complex "program"
for creating human beings, with billions of variables, dependent
on far more than the combinations of various chromosomes and amino
acids! While it may be possible, some day, to identify some genetic
factors that appear frequently among gay individuals, the chances
of establishing a reliable causative link between one particular
gene or chromosome and "gayness" are so remote as to be
With the exception of a few rare (and often debilitating or fatal)
conditions, there appear to be very few aspects of human health,
behavior, or personality that depend on one specific genetic marker.
Even in the case of such things as eye and hair color, which we
once thought would be a simple matter of finding "a" gene
to control, researchers are finding out that it is not nearly that
simple. Often combinations of markers for this or that characteristic
are broken up over several sites in the DNA sequence, and many markers
may have more than one effect or function. Trying to eliminate a
marker that controls (for example) a tendency to really bad acne
might also interfere with some other ability or characteristic that
you wouldn't necessarily want to eliminate.
In other words, like almost everything connected with human beings,
genetics is not going to offer simple solutions to complex problems.
This is not to say that some people aren't going to abuse or misuse
the knowledge that genetic science produces. We are in for a rough
ride as we deal with issues of gender selection, controlling for
certain types of disabilities, etc. While there is some level of
agreement about the ethical acceptability of aborting a fetus with
a condition that is certain to produce profound defects, great pain,
and early mortality, there is much less agreement about conditions
like Down's, which can produce relatively healthy individuals.
Auntie does find it ironic that the theology which vilifies homosexuality
as "sin" seems so bent on ignoring the larger theological
implications of the genetic components in human behavior and character.
Fortunately, scientists are slowly but steadily documenting the
reality that most of the "undesirable" things we attribute
to "bad heredity" spring from a complex mixture of nature
and nurture. Although genetic selection can "deal a bad hand"
to anyone, there is less inevitability to biological destiny than
we once thought. The upside to new genetic technology (if we have
the wit and compassion to use it) is the ability to identify potential
problems that can be alleviated or prevented by the early application
of therapy or providing special resources, education, etc., to parents.
However, I certainly cannot guarantee that we will make the compassionate,
positive choices in meeting the ethical challenges posed by new
genetic technologies. The relentless human urge to simplify complex
issues can be a terrible stumbling block. For thoughtful people
like you, Holly, this means re-examining your beliefs and what you
think you know on a regular basis, and making painful moral choices
where there are no clear "right" answers that produce
universally positive results. I wish that I (or better yet, someone
else!) could provide such answers quickly and easily, but the harsh
truth is that in some cases they don't exist, and in a great many
cases they only emerge after long testing through experimentation,
suffering, and conflict. And even then, they're not always permanent.
Still, the more we examine and discuss such difficult questions,
the more progress we make toward perceiving solutions. In that sense,
it's worth raising the questions even when there are no answers,
so thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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