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# Monday, November 22, 2004


At best, abortion is morally questionable.  This is the conclusion that I have come to after some thought.  Naturally, my background inclines me to be more in favor of an anti-abortion stance, but one’s background doesn’t necessarily keep one from thinking critically about a subject. 


I am a Roman Catholic.  Most people who’ve known me long at all are aware of this.  Not all, however, know that I came from an evangelical Protestant background.  I was “dedicated” as a Baptist when I was a baby, but most of my life growing up I was raised in a “charismatic” Protestant church.  I say “evangelical” because the beliefs taught at that church fall more or less into that broad category.


While the church never taught anything so strong as “Catholics are going to hell,” there was a great sense of misgiving about Catholicism.  It was actually rarely mentioned, but this is the impression I grew up with, which was somewhat solidified in the mission trips I took to Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to “save” the Catholics.


Needless to say, it was not a natural development for me to convert to Catholicism, and it came about only after much thought, study, and prayer.  The details of that journey can be saved for another time, but suffice it to say that this illustrates that some people can be open minded enough to change even long-held religious beliefs.  I did, and I did it because I do my best to follow what I perceive to be the truth, even when it is not easy (and, by Jove, being a practicing Catholic is not easy!).


So I hope you infer that I can and do think about issues critically and consider opposing viewpoints as best as I can within my epistemological framework.  In other words, I’m not here to repeat any mantras, boycott any clinics, or do anything generally inflammatory around this already sensitive issue.  If you agree with my stance on this issue already, I hope you can take away some helpful thoughts to further clarify and solidify your beliefs.  If you disagree with me, I hope you’ll stick around long enough to hear me out and at least honestly consider my points.


I apologize for the long introduction on this one, but I felt it needed to be said since there is so much emotion and polarity on the issue.  I want to make it clear that I’m not just another mindless zealot pitching catch phrases.


The Two Approaches

In my experience, I have seen two different approaches that deal with the question of the legality (and corresponding morality) of abortion on demand.  They are the tacks taken by each side when dealing with the issue.  On the one side, you have folks advocating the woman’s right to choose.  On the other side, you have folks advocating the baby’s right to life.  The two approaches are formalized into two labels: pro choice and pro life.


Unfortunately, when you label something as simply as either side has done, you gravely overlook important nuances of each side.  When you think about what the labels imply about the other side, i.e., that one side is anti-choice or anti-life, you can see how short the labels fall.  On the other hand, it does speak to the central issues at hand, where one group sees the woman’s right to choose as being the overriding principle while the other sees the baby’s right to life as such.  It is key to understand both sides to see these fundamental differences.


The problem is that as long as we frame the question with these fundamentally different approaches, we cannot really talk to each other about the issue with much fruit.  This is plainly obvious in the fact that the issue is still a highly polarized one that, quite possibly, decided our recent presidential election. 


In order for any fruitful dialogue to occur, each side needs to talk to the other side in the framework that they have chosen.  Pro choice folks need to talk openly and honestly to pro life supporters about how they reconcile their position within the framework of the baby’s right to life.  And, conversely, pro life people need to talk to the pro choice group about how they can reconcile their position with the real problems faced by women who consider abortion as a feasible option.


I have seen movement in recent years by pro life groups to talk in this way to the other side.  Initiatives have been growing that have the slogan of “choose life,” supporting programs that try to practically help women who are facing such a choice to choose to keep their babies.  Instead of fostering further polarization, they are attempting to work within the pro choice understanding to help people to make what they see as the right choice, even if they can’t change their minds about the validity of the right to choose.


I can’t say I’ve seen the same initiative coming from the pro choice side.  I think that this is because there is no way to justify the abortion on demand stance within a framework that acknowledges a baby’s right to life.  In order to justify the right to choose, one has to deny the baby’s right to life or simply deny that the baby exists in the first place.


Questioning the Existence of Life

The latter tack seems to be the most justifiable one.  After all, who can sanely justify killing for convenience?  So the approach has been to throw up the defense that we don’t know when life truly begins, so we can safely and sanely dispose of “embryos” (note the careful language to divest human connotation) if we feel that it is more convenient or even “kinder” to either give the potential parent(s) an easier life or to protect the potential life from a life of hardship, respectively.


The problem with this approach is that at its best is the unknown.  Philosophers cannot agree when human life begins.  Sure, you can conveniently agree with those who say, for instance, it begins at birth or, as I’ve heard one ethicist has suggested, after about a year outside the womb.  In this case, you could then justify abortion, even partial-birth abortion, and even, in the extreme mentioned, infanticide. 


But it is still just a convenient choice.  There is certainly no consensus about the issue, even among the most learned, and I would venture to say that the majority of ethicists and philosophers in general would err on the side of some point earlier than birth for the start of human life.  If these esteemed men and women cannot agree, it is hardly obvious that the issue is up for grabs, and we lesser salt of the earth should not presume to know the answer for certain.


Given this, we see that we cannot be morally certain that life does not begin prior to birth or even, as the Catholic Church would have it, at conception.  Since we cannot be sure that life does not exist during pregnancy, we can hardly take the chance that it doesn’t in order to justify abortion. This is why I say that, at its best, abortion is morally questionable, because at its best is a gamble that life doesn’t exist yet.  When such high stakes are at risk, we cannot rightly or sanely choose to gamble.


The Tougher Questions

Of course, we should also consider those who would outright trump the life of the baby with the so-called right of the mother to choose.  Here I’m referring to any who might actually acknowledge life starts in the womb and yet still defend abortion.  And here we’d want to distinguish between those who would choose death because they see it as a kinder, more humane option than the proposed life and those who simply think that abortion can be used on a whim, on demand.


For the latter, I must simply dismiss them as insane sociopaths.  Those who promote killing on a whim should be locked up for the rest of their natural lives.  Only a deluded person can honestly think that killing an unborn child is somehow less evil than killing the person sitting next to her on a bus.  Remember, I’m talking here about those who acknowledge the life of the unborn and still advocate abortion on demand.


The former, however, presents a somewhat more difficult position.  There is built into the human being this thing we call compassion.  This is why we have difficulty seeing others suffer, be they humans, animals, or even (for some people) plants.  It is this good impulse that fuels the belief that killing humans who are suffering is somehow better than letting them suffer.  It is also this impulse that helps people justify abortion in cases where the perceived life of the child would be a life of hardship and suffering.


I am not here to offer any easy answer to this line of thinking.  Or at least, I cannot offer one without relying upon religious beliefs.  However, I can offer some non-religious thoughts to give pause to this line of thought. 


First, simply put, how would you like it if someone decided to end your life because he thought it would be better for you?  I mean, seriously, who are we to make such decisions for other people?  There are no objective, morally certain criteria that determine what makes a life worth living; therefore, again, we are left with a gamble.  Again, we are gambling with other people’s lives, and that is, at best, morally questionable.


Next, consider how we are different from animals.  It is commonly accepted that “putting an animal out of its misery” is a good thing to do.  For those who typically don’t see humans as anything but animals, there is little problem in justifying “compassionate killing.”  But compassion is just one of those things that does separate us from animals.  We also reason about abstract concepts.  We try to better ourselves.  There are so many ways in which we are more than animals. 


Even if you deny the supernatural, it is clear that there is more to humans than there is to other animals.  Those who come up with experiments to try to disprove this only show more how much more we are than them.  Do you see any apes trying to convince other apes that they are no better than other animals?  Again, at best, it is highly questionable that we are “just animals,” so we are playing with fire in using that as a justification for taking human lives in compassion, and this applies to any kind of supposedly compassionate killing, not just abortion.


The best that science has to offer in these questions of morality are unknowns.  (Personally, I don’t think it is science’s duty to answer these questions anyways.)  We would be morally remiss to gamble human life on such frail hypotheses.


The Toughest Question

In all discussions of abortion, I think the toughest question is that when the mother’s life is at risk.  If a doctor is morally certain that not ending the life of the baby will end the life of the mother, I believe that it would be morally justifiable to kill the baby on the principle of the mother’s right to life and to defend her life.  It is hard to say that, but I think to say otherwise would be a symptom of pathological pacifism and a lack of charity and compassion for the mother. 


In any other case, abortion is simply wrong or, at best, morally questionable, and by no means can this last, singular exception be extended or abused to justify abortion in any other form, even rape or incest.  As unfortunate as such circumstances may be, they are not life threatening and so cannot be seen as a justification for taking another life.


Where to Go From Here

In all cases, it is the responsibility of society to see that mothers do not feel driven to the point of considering abortion as the only viable option.  This is part and parcel of the pro life movement branded “choose life.”  Some advocate abortion as a solution to society’s ills.  In reality, it is a symptom of society’s ills.  It is indicative that we have failed to provide the needed support system to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place and to provide viable, socially acceptable alternatives for unwanted pregnancies.


Instead of working to ensure the woman’s “right” to choose abortion, we need to work to help women choose to be responsible in preventing pregnancy and, failing that, to provide them with better alternatives that guarantee a better life for both mother and child.  In doing so, we can be sure that we are making a certainly better moral decision, we can stop alienating and fighting each other, and we can reinvest our time, energy, and money in more laudable endeavors.

Monday, November 22, 2004 1:29:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
Wednesday, November 24, 2004 1:13:51 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
>It is commonly accepted that “putting an animal out of its misery” is a good thing to do.
>For those who typically don’t see humans as anything but animals, there is little
>problem in justifying “compassionate killing.”

Weak comparison. In the case of animal euthanasia, the animal itself is suffering. In the case of abortion, you'd have to preclude that the fetus is the one suffering; usually, however, it's the mother that's suffering as feti are fairly oblivious to these matters.

>First, simply put, how would you like it if someone decided to end your life because he thought it would be better for you?

As an adopted child who walks this planet because his birth mother was pro-choice, I can only say "Thanks for that." I've rather enjoyed my life so far, and hope it continues. It does make me sad to think of what I would have missed, but then again I wouldn't know if I hadn't been here.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004 2:39:03 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Hi Richard,

I think the idea on the compassionate killing and abortion is that they *foresee* suffering for the child. For instance, it would grow up in abject poverty and probably sickness due to lack of proper nutrition and medical care, so therefore, they conclude it is kinder to prevent all of that potential (even probable) suffering.

Thanks for your thoughts.
Sunday, November 28, 2004 6:29:39 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Cudos for daring to bring up a subject like this on your blog! I do not agree with you, but you made some very strong arguments for your opinion.

I just have one question; I presume you say no to the death penalty as well? If not, how do you would you defend the morality of such a practice?
Sunday, November 28, 2004 7:59:54 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Hi Christian, I've responded to your question here:

Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it! :)
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