Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What is the Real Issue in Abortion?

There is hardly a more emotional issue out there than abortion.  In fact, many times it seems absolutely impossible to have a logical discussion with people about it.  Personally, I am opposed to abortion.  I don't need the Bible to tell me this.  It seems pretty logical that I cannot condone abortion without also condoning many other clearly unethical practices if I am to hold a consistent worldview.

I have written before about how the entire issue of rape and incest is really a red herring.  Even under those atrocious and appalling circumstances, people would not justify killing a living human being.  I often ask someone if they would condone killing a two year old child that was conceived via rape or incest.  Inevitably, nobody ever says "yes."  Instead, they try to make some other distinction between the two scenarios, usually that a two year old child is a living human being whereas an embryo is not.  And I would agree that IF an embryo is not a living human being, then there is nothing wrong with abortion.  It has no additional moral implications than removing an appendix.  But this illustration shows that for those who bring up rape and incest, their real objection has nothing to do with either one.  It has to do with life.  Is whatever is inside the womb a human life or not?

This same reasoning can apply to most of the standard objections raised to abortion.  "It is a woman's choice."  Can a woman choose to kill her two year old child?  "No, because ______________."  The flaw that most people do not realize they are making is that however they fill in the blank, they are demonstrating that this is their real concern, not a so-called right to choose.  There is no such thing as an unfettered right to choose.

Choice, rape, incest.  All of these are red herrings.  They are noble sounding platitudes dragged out to generate an emotional response, and rightfully so in many cases.  Someone who fails to sympathize with a rape or incest victim is inhuman.  We call a person who wrongfully restricts a legitimate right to choose a "dictator."  Because these concepts have some legitimate applications, they are all the more effective when used in a logically inappropriate circumstance.

I recently waded into the fray again on this issue in an online discussion about an article on Paul Ryan's stance on abortion.  The conversation did not carry far.  I began with my usual simple question.  You can see the type of responses I received below.  Unfortunately, despite everyone's willingness to berate my intial question, nobody posted a response when I pointed out what I believed to be the inconsistency of their positions in more detail.  Because this conversation also turned a bit toward some typical reasons people give for denying that the embryo is a living person, I decided to re-post it here:

Ken: If a two year old child was standing before you and that child had been conceived as a result of rape or incest, would it be morally acceptable to kill that child?

Cherokee: stupid.

Jim: are you High?

SarahL: Well when one can have an abortion, it is not a child. Your argument is invalid...as well as stupid.

MichelleM: Do you not know the difference between a child who can live and breathe and a 7-week embryo the size of a blueberry, which has a 15-20% chance of being miscarried? I'm so sick of men who are vehemently anti-abortion. If you are so concerned about the life of children, use your energy helping children already on this planet, instead of wasting your time trying to control women!

Ken: Thank you everyone for illustrating my point. Do you all see that your responses implicitly conceded that the real issue we have to discuss has nothing to do with the method of conception, whether through rape or incest? The real issue that must be addressed is whether whatever is inside the mother's womb is a child. I agree that it would be "stupid" to claim that a 2 year old child can be killed simply because it was conceived through incest or rape. Sarah and Michelle, please notice that the immediate response for both of you was to argue that abortion does not kill a child. But if it is not a child, why does the manner in which it was conceived make any difference whatsoever? If it is not a child, it is no different than having an appendix removed, so why are we even talking about rape or incest? Those are completely irrelevant issues. If it is not a child, go ahead and remove it. There are no moral implications whatsoever. If it is a child, though, then the manner of conception does not affect the moral equation whatsoever. If you could not kill a two year old child for those reasons, then the age of the child really does not change anything. My point here is not to argue against abortion per se, but rather to try to direct the focus of the discussion where it really should be.

If it is not a child, it does not matter how it was conceived. If it is not a child, you certainly have a choice to remove it from your body and nobody can tell you otherwise. There is no moral condemnation.

If it is a child, the only excuses for terminating it would be those that would justify killing an innocent human being, because that is what it is. It is immoral to kill an innocent human being based solely on the method of its conception. Nobody has the free choice to murder an innocent human being.

If you are going to argue in favor of abortion, feel free to do so. The marketplace of ideas requires that we all freely exchange our ideas in a fair and open-minded manner. However, if you are to enter the marketplace on this topic, do so having clearly thought out the issues and recognizing where the real point of debate must be, not appealing to ill-thought out red herrings.

Michelle. Since you seemed to raise two issues that you believe create a distinction between whatever is in the womb and a "child," if you do not mind I would like to ask you a couple of follow up questions.

First, you point out that a 7-week old embryo is "the size of a blueberry." So if size dictates when someone becomes a person, how big exactly does someone need to be? Is there a black and white point when they instantly qualify for personhood status? If so, how have you determined that exact point? Is it more of a sliding scale in which someone's worth gradually escalates the larger they become? If so, does this mean that taller people enjoy more of a right to life than shorter ones? If these questions seem absurd, that is because they are. But what you need to realize is that they are the logical outworking of your position that the size of the embryo somehow makes a difference in determining whether it is alive. In order to support your position, you must adequately answer these challenges.

Second, you said the embryo has a 15-20% chance of being miscarried, and this somehow means it is not a child. So here you are arguing that the odds of continued survival somehow determine whether something is a person or not. A dear friend of mine was just diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer. She only has a 50% chance of being alive 5 years from now. Her odds are far worse than those you cited for the embryo. Does that mean the moment she got cancer she ceased to be a person entitled to rights? Again, if this question seems to be absurd, that is because it is. But it is the logical outworking of what you have advanced as disqualifying the embryo from personhood.

If you are correct that these two reasons disqualify the embryo from personhood, then your same reasons would also disqualify these others from that same status. If that makes you uncomfortable, perhaps it is time to go back and re-evaluate your criteria for disqualifying the embryo.

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