It's a weirdly fascinating business watching sober and fair-minded human beings trying to work out a formula for the circumstances in which abortion should be permitted. All possible reasons and permutations of reasons are canvassed and debated; excepting only the reason that the woman concerned wants an abortion, which no one mentions as having any relevance to the question at all.
Of course, this way of thinking is very congenial to a bureaucracy-loving socialist 1ike me, who believes that people shouldn't be allowed any freedom to choose for themselves, but should have all their decisions made for them by faceless officials and so-called experts who think they know what's best for everyone. But I'm rather surprised that the tireless defenders of personal liberty whom we usually find ourselves up against in our insidious erosion of citizen rights haven't been exposing controls and snoopers in this sector with quite their usual vigour.
No, I was being gently ironical. I'm aware that those who deny that a pregnant woman has any personal right to choose whether she wants to give birth do so because they are trying to protect the right of the unborn to be born. And there are two arguments often advanced in this direction which I must admit I find rather compelling.
The first is that few people (if any), once having got themselves born and in a position to say, would prefer not to have been born, however reluctant or unsuitable their mother, or however exhausted and inadequate she subsequently became. The second (and logically similar) argument is that if abortion had been freely available in the past, the world might have been deprived of individuals like Leonardo da Vinci and William the Conqueror (who were illegitimate), and Bach (the eighth of eight children).
These arguments are good ones. The only trouble with them is that they're too good. Take the case of that astonishing sixteenth-century figure' Ivan Kudovbin. He invented a primitive form of gas-mantle; he wrote 123 flute sonatas, before the sonata form had been invented; he experimented with cheap money and deficit budgeting; he raised a citizen army which drove the Galicians right out of Galicia into Silesia, and the Silesians right out of Silesia' into Galicia. He was undoubtedly a genius. But, as we know from studying the history of the period, he was one of the unlucky ones who didn't get born. He Kudovbin, but he wasn't. If he had been born he would have preferred to have been born, I'm pretty sure, His loss is a tragedy both to himself and to mankind.
Perhaps Kudovbin was aborted or miscarried, I’m not sure. But I think the trouble was quite probably that he never got conceived. I don't know what went wrong exactly. Perhaps he was the twelfth child in the family, and his parents stopped at eleven. Perhaps his mother was a nun, under vows of chastity. Perhaps his father was away on a business trip the night he should have been commenced. But what seems fairly certain mathematically is that the tragedy of his non-birth could have been averted if everyone had really taken the matter seriously.
Think of it. If the available reproductive plant had been fully utilised from the beginning of time, and every woman had been kept bearing a child a year from puberty to menopause, billions upon billions more people would have been born. Nearly all of them, once born, would have preferred to have been born. And among them, presumably. would have been the usual proportion of geniuses. Kudovbin after Kudovbin -- composers who wrote greater polyphonic music than Bach; Elizabethan dramatists more universal than Shakespeare; Elizabethan monarchs more Elizabethan than Elizabeth. .
The steamboat would have been invented in time to take people to the Crusades; the United Nations in time to reach a negotiated settlement instead. Frozen fish-fingers would have come in about the beginning of the Renaissance.
Just think, for a start how many innocent babes -- potential great men among them -- have been kept out of this world because of legal or moral sanctions against fornication, adultery, rape, and intercourse below the age of consent! Sentimentalists have opposed these creative and life-enhancing activities on various short-sighted grounds, such as the well-being of the woman concerned, and the desirability of stable family and social life. Have they ever stopped to consider the wellbeing of poor little Vsevolod and Tatiana Kudovbin, who as a result of their interference never even started being, well or ill?
But then, people never stop to think about the rights of the unborn. So-called reformers struggled for years to get slavery abolished, using a variety of spurious moral arguments, but really on the shallow hedonistic grounds that the slaves themselves didn't much care for it. Didn't they, indeed! Nobody stopped to consider that without slavery there would in years to come be no Buddy Bolden, no Jelly Roll Morton, no Blind Lemon Jefferson; hence no syncopated popular music of any sort; hence no Beatles and no Cilla Black. So much for Cilla Black, for all Wilberforce cared.
The simple truth is, that it's an ill wind that blows nobody any silver linings. So carry on persecuting people; they may be Dostoyevsky. And don't hesitate to martyr any likely-looking candidate; remember, he may not get canonised otherwise.
From At Bay in Gear Street, published 1967
I had occasion to quote from it recently from memory in a discussion on abortion, which is a good reason to pop it up online.