The Case for Life
- Saturday, May 09, 2009
Let’s revisit the exchange between Pam and Emily. Pam justified abortion with an appeal to privacy. She also said that poor women can’t afford any additional children. Again, only by assuming that the unborn are not human do these appeals have any force whatsoever. Here’s how Emily might have clarified the issue and exposed Pam’s hidden assumptions about the unborn:3
Emily: Pam, you say that privacy is the issue. Pretend that I have a two-year-old in front of me. (She holds out her hand at waist level to illustrate this.) May I kill him as long as I do it in the privacy of the bedroom?
Pam: That’s silly—of course not!
Emily: Why not?
Pam: Because he’s a human being.
Emily: Ah. If the unborn are human, like the toddler, we shouldn’t kill the unborn in the name of privacy any more than we’d kill a toddler for that reason.
Pam: You’re comparing apples with oranges, two things that are completely unrelated. Look, killing toddlers is one thing. Killing a fetus that is not a human being is quite another.
Emily: Ah. That’s the issue, isn’t it? Are the unborn human beings, like toddlers? That is the one issue that matters.
Pam: But many poor women cannot afford to raise another child.
Emily: When human beings get expensive, may we kill them? Getting back to my toddler example, suppose a large family collectively decides to quietly dispose of its three youngest children to help ease the family budget. Would this be okay?
Pam: Well, no, but aborting a fetus is not the same as killing children.
Emily: So once again the issue is, what is the unborn? Is the fetus the same as a human being? We can’t escape that question, can we?
Again, notice that Emily has not yet argued for the humanity of the unborn or made any case for the pro-life view whatsoever. She’ll do that later. For now all she’s doing is framing the issue around one question: What is the unborn? That is the crux of the debate, and it clarifies many of the toughest questions, including the rape objection.
Pam: But what about a woman who’s been raped? Every time she looks at that kid she’s going to remember what happened to her. If that’s not hardship, what is?
Emily: I agree that we should provide compassionate care for the victim, and it should be the best care possible. That’s not at issue here. It’s your proposed solution I’m struggling to understand. Tell me, how should a civil society treat innocent human beings who remind us of a painful event? (She pauses and lets the question sink in.) Is it okay to kill them so we can feel better? Can we, for example, kill a toddler who reminds her mother of a rape?
Pam: No, I wouldn’t do that.
Emily: I wouldn’t either. But again, isn’t that because you and I both agree that it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings, even if they do remind us of a painful event?
Pam: But you don’t understand how much this woman has suffered. Put yourself in her shoes. How would you feel?
Emily: You’re right. I don’t understand her feelings. How could I? How could anyone? I’m just asking if hardship justifies homicide. Can we, for instance, kill toddlers who remind us of painful events? Again my claim here is really quite modest. If the unborn are members of the human family, like toddlers, we should not kill them to make someone else feel better. It’s better to suffer evil rather than to inflict it.4 Personally, I wish I could give a different answer, but I can’t without trashing the principle that my right to life shouldn’t depend on how others feel about me. In the end, sometimes the right thing to do is not the easy thing to do. And what’s right depends on the question, what is the unborn? We can’t get around it.
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