One of the dodges that you hear in these debates is that only women should decide what happens in a crisis pregnancy. This emotionally-satisfying stupidity presupposes that reason alone cannot establish the personhood of the nascent human, and that the difficulty of the situation determines the moral validity of choosing to abort the child. Even if we were somehow to accept this “reasoning,” it conveniently ignores all of the pro-life women, who dare to risk exile from the cool kids’ table, in order to stand up and say that killing an unborn child is not a morally praiseworthy act.
A great number of people do not want to mourn those who die as victims of COVID-19, if they die as members of the unvaccinated population. Nevertheless, when it comes to abortion, every harm that attends trying to circumvent laws restricting abortion is laid at the feet of those attempting to defend the lives of the weakest among us. Doesn’t it make more sense to say that if one suffers harm doing something stupid and evil, one deserves it? Then again, you have to presuppose a particular answer to the moral question under discussion, in order to avoid the moral challenge posed by defenseless children in the womb.
Over 90% of all abortions in the United States are completely elective. If we want to talk about the harms of a particular law and its application on those affected by it, let us not pretend that that discussion of harm with respect to abortion itself is anywhere near equivalent. If we count the generations lost by abortion since the judicial intervention of Roe v. Wade, one estimate places the number at 150 million, in terms of people that should be here, who were never born. Perhaps tens of thousands will die today.
We were all once those defenseless fertilized cells. At what point do we draw the line of morally significant life worth defending, if we do not draw it at conception? It makes the most sense scientifically, and ethically. Otherwise, personhood would hinge on some sort of exercise of capacity, instead of the inherent dignity of being a human person.
That moral mistake would and does have profound implications for the disabled, the infirm, and the elderly. We can do philosophy poorly, or we can do it well. In either case, we do have to make choices about the meaning of life, and the purpose of existence. It is only the profoundly ignorant, or the willfully deceptive, who try to hide their philosophy and its implications under a seemingly straightforward question of empirical science.
We will never fully escape from horrific no-win scenarios, with respect to childbirth, illness, disability, and death. Even so, we must fully reckon with the impact of modern technology on the ethical questions before us. We can do genetic testing that reveals the presence of disease and defect to a degree not even imagined 40 years ago. And yet, the very same technology that allows us to know about disability and defect leads doctors and parents to abort defenseless children after a Down’s syndrome diagnosis, over 90% of the time.
It is admirable that people from across the political spectrum condemned China’s forced sterilization and abortion policies, but the immorality of that is only partially located in the coercion forced upon the individuals. Americans willingly choose to kill their own children each day, under no compulsion at all, in most cases. And speaking of Down’s syndrome, do we really want to say that such lives are not worth living? Do we really want to say that none of those people have been worth defending?
It seems to me that we can come to a consensus that the dignity of people is not contingent upon what they can accomplish for someone else, or for us as the wider society. Yet when it comes to abortion, many people refuse to bear the burden of the inherent dignity of human beings, and to apply it in their everyday lives.
The dignity of particular lives is especially relevant now, as we argue about police brutality, economic and social inequality, racism, and a lack of opportunities. Those discussions almost never fit comfortably in any one partisan box. Even so, I note with sadness that about 85% of the unborn children aborted in New York City are black. I believe that black lives matter, so these lives should matter, as much as any other lives. Let us focus on the real questions before us, and not allow euphemism to stand in for argument, or to bring confusion, instead of clarity.
Jason Kettinger is Associate Editor of Open for Business. He writes on politics, sports, faith and more.