The intellectually honest pro-choice position

Yesterday Jennifer Derwey from ProWomanProLife wrote about a recent debate at Dalhousie University on abortion featuring Stephanie Gray (who will debate at the University of Toronto campus on Monday) and Dr. Mark Mercer.  Other than some juvenile pranks and a fit of rage, the night went without much ado.

Dr. Mercer “argued that ‘personhood’ did not actually occur until around 18 months to 2 years of age, that until a human being was able to rationalize, make plans, be a ‘locus’ of experience, and feel pain and joy, it was not in fact a person. As such, we should not be “morally troubled” by it.”  In doing so, he followed along the lines of Dr. Peter Singer.  Furthermore,  ”[h]e conceded that though abortion was killing a human being it was not killing a ‘person’ and that there was no moral difference between killing a baby in the womb and killing a baby prior to its ‘personhood’.”

Derwey notes that the pro-choice audience members felt they were not represented well by Dr. Mercer, presumably because he did not use the usual choice, freedom, and rights rhetoric.  He failed to make the usual ‘pro-woman’ or feminist arguments for abortion.  Mercer was confused by this poor reception.  After the debate Derwey spoke with him privately about the usual ‘pro-woman’ arguments, and Mercer responded that he had “written numerous times and shown how those ‘pro-woman’ arguments don’t work, [and that] they have no basis.”

This is what happens when someone approaches the question of the morality of  abortion with a dispassionate mind.  This is what happens when someone approaches the question of the morality of abortion with intellectual honesty. You quickly realize that the usual ‘pro-woman’ arguments don’t work.

Why don’t ‘pro-woman’ arguments work?

A ‘pro-woman’ argument may say something like “She can’t afford the child, so she needs to have an abortion” or “It’s her body, so she must have control over what happens to it.”  The pro-lifer response is that while these are legitimate concerns, killing an innocent human being cannot be justified thus.

In my experience, most pro-choice activists will swear at you, perhaps call you a nasty name, and stomp away at this point.  Dr. Mercer, being a more reasonable person, decided to engage the pro-life response intelligently.  Instead he asked himself “Is this really a human being we’re dealing with here?”

In the course of his investigation, he discovered what pro-lifers have been arguing for decades.  He discovered that abortion does really kill a human being.  He studied the embryology and the philosophical arguments and realized that he could not conclude otherwise.

In order to remain pro-choice, he had to go a different route.  Simply screaming “Her body, her choice” or “Women’s rights under attack.  What do we do? Stand up fight back!” was not good enough any more.  He realized that these slogans did no good if they are used to justify killing a person.  So what does he do?  He stripped the personhood away from unborn children.  He admits that they are human beings, but can’t be considered persons.

Already, unborn children are not considered as persons according to the Supreme Court of Canada, but are after they are born.  Is this good enough?   It is not.  Dr. Mercer realized the absurdity of saying that 10 minutes before birth there is no person, but 10 minutes after birth there is a person.  Absolutely nothing to that child has changed in the few minutes before birth and after.  The only difference is that it is now breathing and perhaps has opened its eyes and looked at the world around.  The environment around the child has changed, but the child has not.  According to law, this constitutes a change in legal status, but Dr. Mercer realized that there is absolutely no different in the reality of the child.

So far the ‘pro-woman’ arguments have failed, and the case that birth marks a beginning of actual personhood (as opposed to legally recognized personhood) is a dead one.  What is there to do to remain pro-choice?

Dr. Mercer looked to Dr. Peter Singer and his line of argumentation.  I will not examine his arguments, but just state his conclusion.  Following Singer, Mercer argued that “‘personhood’ did not actually occur until around 18 months to 2 years of age, that until a human being was able to rationalize, make plans, be a ‘locus’ of experience, and feel pain and joy, it was not in fact a person.”  From this line of reasoning, human life certainly begins at conception, but that human being is not a person and therefore morally irrelevant until it is able to rationalize, make plans, etc….

If one is intellectually honest and inquisitive like Dr. Mercer and Dr. Singer and wants to remain pro-choice, I believe there is no other conclusion to make.  You must say that personhood begins some time after the human being comes into existence.  All of the other arguments simply fail because they are based either on bad science or bad logic.

This conclusion makes abortion perfectly acceptable, but the pro-choicers at the debate didn’t like it.  The pro-choicers at the debate had most likely relied on the ‘pro-woman’ and ignored the science that says human life begins at conception.  They didn’t like Dr. Mercer’s conclusions because they justify infanticide.  Does your six-month old cry too much?  No problem.  Off with its head!  It’s not a person and so it’s not morally problematic to kill it.

I have tried really hard to understand pro-choice arguments and make them work, but if you are intellectually honest about it I believe  you have no choice but to come to the same or at least a similar conclusion as Dr. Mercer.

If you are prepared to bite the bullet, then go ahead and be pro-choice.  Dr. Mercer and Dr. Singer are your models.  But if this disturbs you, as it did to the pro-choicers in attendance that evening, then perhaps it is time to give the pro-life position a thought.

The intellectual journey I described above is not meant to be comprehensive in addressing the arguments.  To do so would require a lengthy book.  Instead it is meant to be an outline of how one is to remain intellectually honest and still think that abortion is okay.  It is an outline of the intellectually honest pro-choice position.

The Morality of and Culpability for Abortion

There are many entries on this blog about pro-life arguments, news items on life issues, and the like.  That is of course all good and necessary, but I will, at least for this entry, do something a bit different. 

I begin with three stories.  The first:

A few years ago early one morning I stood across the street from the Cabbagetown Women’s (Abortion) Clinic with a sign in protest of abortion.  I remember seeing a cab pull up, and out came a young woman probably in her late teens or early twenties.  On her face was an expression of terror.  It was quite clear that she did not want to be there, yet she walked across the street alone into the clinic.  Several other women I have seen entering that clinic have had similar faces. 

The second:

A while back, LifeSiteNews posted a video of former US president Bill Clinton facing a unversity aged crowd with many pro-life students.  These students were respectively giving him a hard time for his opinions about abortion.  President Clinton responded by shouting back at them something to the effect of: “You don’t care about those women who have abortions.  If you had your way then every woman who had an abortion would be thrown in jail.”  I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.

The third:

Every day around the world, thousands of young human beings are ripped, sucked, and detroyed violently within the wombs of their mothers.    Mercilessly they are torn to bits by metal utensils and powerful vacuums by doctors who swore they would never intentially harm anyone during their practice.  This happens nearly 100,000 times every year in Canada, and nearly 1,000,000 times every year in the United States.

I think that these three stories all reveal some very important things, some more disputed than others.  First, that abortion is a terrible evil and can never be condoned.  (I will not delve into the arguments here.  That has been done at length elsewhere.)  Second, that many women go to the abortion mill because they are scared, pressured, alone, and without support.  Third, there is a belief among the pro-abortion-rights world, perhaps with good reason some of the time, that pro-life people do not care about the women involved in abortion, and that the pro-life people actually would like to see women who have had abortions be punished for it.  I have faced these accusations myself on more than one occasion.

These realities are the basis of my reflection, and I believe that everyone who cares about the abortion question should reflect upon them as well.  This post is directed towards everyone, and is not intended to be a polemic or argumentitive piece.  I wish to incite no hostility towards anyone here.

In the abortion debate, we need to make a clear distinction between the morality of the act of abortion, and the culpibility of one who perpetrates such an act.  And that also in a cold legalistic sense, there may be varying degrees of culpability.  For instance, consider an act of causing bodily harm to another person.  I don’t think any reasonable person will say that it is a good thing that someone gets beat up or is harmed physically.  However, we need to look at circumstances to see whether the person who caused the bodily harm is culpable.  If that person was being threatened and reacted in a reasonable way by using force, then we usually will not say that he is guilty.  Or if his force were excessive, we may punish him yet, but to a lesser degree than if it were unprevoked.  If someone causes bodily harm for no good reason, then he should be punished as the law allows. 

Likewise, in cases of abortion, there perhaps are times where the women involved are not entirely culpable, or not culpable at all.

There is an important difference between abortion and the type of activity I used in the analogy.  That difference is that sometimes assulting someone is justified and allowed by law, and rightly so.  For if one is being attacked he needs to defend himself.  Abortion, I maintain, is never justified and ought never to be allowed by law.  Again, I intend to make no arguments here.  They are made elsewhere.  Let it suffice for now, at least for the sake of discussion if you are inclined to disagree, that abortion always entails the killing of an innocent human being who poses no threat to anyone.  And so, it ought never to be allowed.  (In those rare cases where the life of the mother is in serious danger and life-saving non-abortive procedures will also kill the unborn child, let us not forget the principle of double effect.)

Yet, not every woman who has an abortion, as I have mentioned already, can be considered entirely culpable for it.  The crucial distinction between the morality of abortion and the culpability of the women who have abortions therefore is made.  I entreat everyone to ponder this. 

If you are pro-life, don’t judge for a moment women who have an abortion.  Don’t blame her for being a slut.  Don’t call her a murderer.  Doing so is completely unhelpful, except maybe for your own pride (the bad kind).  If you are pro-choice and inclined to think like President Clinton above, please know that there are a growing number of pro-life people are increasingly aware of the troubles women go through which lead them to the abortion mill.  And that an increasing number of pro-lifers are spending more and more energy trying to help and support the women in those desperate situations both before and, if necessary, after abortion.  They have no interest in condemning the women.

Nonetheless, pro-lifers will continue to increase their efforts in revealing the unfortunate truth that abortion destroys an innocent human life.  We cannot refrain from this.  We in Canada cannot stand by and do nothing as 100,000 of our brothers and sisters are taken from us every year before they have a chance to see the light of day.  And our American friends cannot stand around while the same fate awaits 1,000,000 of their brothers and sisters every year.

So, to conclude, I reiterate the terrible and widely unacknowledged truth that abortion kills an innocent human being.  I also reiterate that women who go to the abortion clinic are often not entirely culpable as they often have no other choice.  So often their closest family and friends threaten to abandon them over the child, or offer no support for the severe economic challenge an unexpected child will bring. 

I hope that President Clinton was simply uninformed when he said that all of the pro-lifers would have the post-abortive women thrown in jail.  My experience with the pro-life movement reveals a far more caring and reasonable approach, while never compromising on the fundamental pro-life position.  I sincerely hope that my experience reflects an increasing trend within the greater pro-life world.

Take care, and God bless.