The James Wilson Foundation on Natural Rights and the American Founding

“Eugenics and Other Evils” – JWI Affiliated Scholar Prof. Justin Dyer in Public Discourse

In a piece titled “Eugenics and Other Evils” for Public Discourse, Prof. Justin Dyer, a JWI Affiliated Scholar, argues that the state has a compelling interest in preventing eugenics. Heightened in the context of abortion, eugenics presents a threat to human dignity and human equality.

He reflects upon Justice Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Box vs. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, “a certiorari order that artfully tabled the question whether the state of Indiana may lawfully prohibit abortions chosen because of the sex, race or disability of the unborn child whose life is terminated,” according to Dyer. His and Thomas’s primary concern with eugenics is that its “sordid history… in the United States remains relevant to our ongoing constitutional disputes about abortion.” Dyer argues that the government should have a “compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics” because “abortion can easily be used to eliminate children with unwanted characteristics.”

Here are some more excerpts from the piece:

“Under the Supreme Court’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process jurisprudence, a state may not burden a fundamental right unless it has a compelling interest that it pursues by the least restrictive means. Presuming, for the sake of argument, that there is a fundamental constitutional right to abortion, does the state nonetheless have a compelling interest in preventing abortions chosen for eugenic reasons?”

“Technology has dramatically increased even since 1992, and, as Thomas notes, “with today’s prenatal screening tests and other technologies, abortion can easily be used to eliminate children with unwanted characteristics.” This has led, for example, to the near-elimination of children with Down Syndrome in many Western countries and widespread sex-selective abortion in Asia and in some communities in the United States. There are, additionally, wide racial disparities in abortion ratios in many American communities.”

“Eugenics was, and is, a progressive movement—one that rests on a vision of development, progress, and perfection. The history of the twentieth century, however, shows that the heavenly vision leads to hellish results. The eugenic search for good genes comes at the cost of human dignity and human equality, and leaves by the wayside the dogma of the sanctity of human life. Rather than warning us that eugenics can happen here, Thomas’s dissent lays out the case that it already has happened here.” 

You may read the whole piece here

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Law and liberty cannot rationally become the objects of our love, unless they first become the objects of our knowledge.
— James Wilson, Lectures on Law, 1790