The heart has reasons

In the campus newspaper of my alma mater, which will remain nameless, there have been an increasingly heated series of letters to the editor on the topic of abortion. That in itself would not be so terrible, if not for the ability to comment online about any of the letters. Each has devolved, therefore, into a nasty debate between infantile pro-choicers and equally sophomoric pro-lifers. I suppose when you’re a 19-year-old undergraduate that calling names and declaring how offended you are, in capital letters and with profanity, or repeating the same talking points over, and over, and over, is an acceptable and effective form of debate, but in the end, no one moves one inch from his position.

Is the objective to rally the troops, or to change hearts? If it’s the former, then I guess that these debates are achieving their purpose, but I maintain that we should be focusing on the latter. We are not going to be making any converts to our position unless we understand why they believe as they do. So, I’m going to attempt to get a couple of basic premises I see in the pro-choice position, with the hope of suggesting some ways that we might break this deadlock and engender a real “culture of life.”

The first, and most important, principle that I see held by pro-choice people is individual autonomy. No one has the right to tell another person what to do with his own body, unless perhaps such actions are detrimental to another autonomous individual. In this case, it seems to me that utilitarianism comes into play: the believer in autonomy initiates a sort of “moral” calculus, determining whether the harm to another outweighs the good to himself. The woman has a right to “control her own body,” therefore abortion is acceptable, even laudable. Because the fetus is not demonstrably another autonomous individual, it does not enter into the equation. But, it is possible to logically demonstrate that the fetus is an individual, and that autonomy isn’t all-important, so this single principle is not enough to insulate pro-choicers from a change of heart.

The second pro-choice principle is that emotions trump logic. This plays out in predictable ways. I can’t question the morality of abortion because I, being a man, do not know what it feels like to be pregnant and potentially abandoned, abused, or worse. And, what about the poor children who come into the world and are unwanted? Shouldn’t we minimize that number? How terrible it must be to be poor, abused, and neglected. Should we make the mother face the horror of the rape that she has endured, day after day? The heartstrings get tugged at again and again, and in doing so, the horror of abortion becomes cloaked in a fog of good sentiments.

Not only are good sentiments used as armor against the logic of the pro-life position, but also disgust and horror. Take, for instance, the usual reaction against displays like those put up by the Genocide Awareness Project. How dare pro-lifers show such graphic photos, designed to upset women? We can’t have people seeing such gore, because it will emotionally disturb them. The truth of the photos of mangled, tiny babies is obscured, perhaps even blocked entirely, by revulsion.

How then can we get through, against such overwhelming odds? I say that we need to utilize this emotionalism. Pro-choice folks may try to use the revulsion about graphic abortion photos to obscure the truth, but we can use that same revulsion to get through to people if it is accompanied by support and charity. We can try to show people how their desires for children to be wanted and for women to not be abused and neglected are noble and good, but can be fulfilled without the drastic step of killing children. We should promote and support organizations like Pregnancy Support Services, which enable and ennoble women.

But what about the individualism and utilitarianism that underlies pro-choice philosophy, once all the emotional ploys have been spent? The antidote to it, quite simply (though not simply done), is community. Love our neighbors; build up our churches; stay active in our cities and towns; show people that life is about more than just themselves. Hillary Clinton, for all her flaws, has at least one thing right. It does take a village to raise a child.

We do have the most logical and scientific position. Because development is a continuum, there is no neat dividing line before which the fetus is not a person. That the fetus is a separate individual, albeit dependent upon its mother, is indubitable. That, if the fetus is human, it is innocent, and therefore deserving of our protection, is also beyond question. But, if we cannot shake people from their illusions of autonomy and rightly direct the emotions underlying desires for women’s rights and children’s happiness, we will not win.


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