Technology and Choice: George Grant's Disparate Ethical and Legal Positions on Abortion

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Although the victory of the Liberals under Paul Martin in the most recent federal election on a platform that included protecting the access of women to abortion indicates that many Canadians remain committed to a pro-choice position, the controversy surrounding the issue of abortion suggests that it remains a live political question. Those who would look to the work of the influential Canadian political thinker George Grant for insight, and to the main commentators on his position, might come to the conclusion that his work fits easily into the pro-life camp. The author argues that Grant's views are more ambiguous than his commentators on this issue suggest. Grant's views on abortion are grounded in a radical understanding of technology, and this understanding prevents Grant from speaking unambiguously about the question of the proper legal status of abortion. Instead, his understanding of technology requires adopting a perspective on the issue that would have us reject the polarized political positions of the pro-life and pro-choice movements.

Bien que la victoire des Libéraux, sous la direction de Paul Martin au cours des dernières élections fédérales, avec un programme comprenant la protection de l'accès à l'avortement pour les femmes, indique que plusieurs Canadiens et Canadiennes continuent d'être pro-choix, la controverse soulevée par cette question suggère qu'elle a encore une grande importance dans l'univers politique. Les personnes qui examinent l'oeuvre de George Grant, théoricien politique canadien de grande influence, ainsi que les nombreux commentaires sur son idéologie, peuvent croire que son oeuvre s'intègre bien au mouvement pro-choix. Je crois toutefois que ceci est incorrect et que les opinions de M. Grant sont plus ambiguës que les commentaires le suggèrent. Les opinions de M. Grant sur l'avortement se fondent sur une compréhension radicale de la technologie et cette compréhension empêche M. Grant de discuter sans ambiguïté du statut juridique approprié de l'avortement. Sa compréhension de la technologie nécessite plutôt l'adoption d'un point de vue qui nous ferait rejeter les prises de position politiques polarisées des mouvements pro-vie et pro-choix.

In the second half of the last century, George Grant was part of an advance guard of Canadian contributors to the nascent field of the philosophy of technology (Mackey and Mitcham 1972, 13-14). Aspects of his work that call for specific limits to technological development, however, have been largely overlooked by his fellow academics.1 For the most part, his cultural critique of technology has been lost to public consciousness outside the academy. For instance, although in the 1970s Grant's work rallied nationalist Tories, leftist Liberals, and social democrats, he is currently remembered by many as a nostalgic "Anglo conservative" (Rawlinson and Granatstein 1997, 188).2 One thing, perhaps more than anything else, has helped contribute to the predominance of this latter view: he is well known for being an anti-abortionist. Leah Bradshaw observes that "We are all familiar with the stand-off in rights discourse concerning the rights of women versus the rights of the unborn. Grant immerses himself in this debate and takes the side of the unborn" (1996, 220-21). Samuel Ajzenstat also argues that Grant's anti-abortionist stance implies that he favours the rights of the unborn over the rights of women. Ajzenstat admits, however, that "we cannot entirely tell from Grant's text what the upshot of such a position would be for the many details of the abortion issue, e.g., on the question of what might be acceptable grounds for abortion or on who would be most fit to make such decisions or on how compliance with these decisions could be obtained" (1992, 97). Although both of these commentators place Grant squarely in the pro-life camp, we are left to conclude from their analyses that although he felt strongly that abortion involved the taking of an innocent human life, this conclusion did not require his endorsement of any specific legal limits on abortion. …