More than 50 people attended an abortion rights lecture sponsored by the Harvard Objectivist Club last night in the Sackler Museum Lecture Hall.
Andrew Bernstein, professor of philosophy at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, delivered a speech entitled "Pro-Choice is Pro-Life in which he detailed how the philosophy of objectives supports a woman's right to have an abortion.
Bernstein said the central issue in the abortion debate was whether an individual should live altruistically or egoistically.
The Christian call to help others condemns humans "to live in slavery," he said. "Only the ethics of egoism can free enslaved humans, and liberate the woman from the enforced shackles of family servitude."
Bernstein argued that only the mother's rights should be considered in the abortion debate.
"It is impossible for a fetus to possess rights [because] rights belong only to human beings, i.e. individuals," he said.
Bernstein said a fetus is not actually a human being.
"A fetus is a tiny chunk of protoplasm,' Bernstein said. "It is a biological growth in the body of a host organism. To be a human being requires organically formed individuation.... The fetus lacks biological individuality
Bernstein blasted anti-abortion activists for "rely[ing] on a fallacy of equivocation." He said they fail to distinguish between "the potential" and "the actual" human being.
"We live not in the future nor the past, but in the present," he said. "In the present, the fetus is not a human being. The future is irrelevant."
However, Bernstein said a fetus does have rights if its mother plans to bring it to term.
"The fetus has no rights, but [the actions of the mother] will affect the human being it will become," he said. "The mother should be morally and legally responsible if the baby will suffer in the future from what she does now."
Bernstein said the mother should not abuse alcohol or drugs--which have been shown to cause birth defects--if she plans to bring the fetus to term.
Bernstein's speech, part of a series sponsored by the Objectivist Club, drew active audience response.
One spectator, who said his father suffered from Alzheimer's disease, asked Bernstein who was responsible for caring for helpless human beings.
"The answer is the person who chooses to," Bernstein said. "If you don't choose to, there's no moral obligation.