1. The abortion debate has a stereotypical shape to it. It usually swirls around issues of personhood and autonomy.
What this emphasis overlooks is a more obvious prolife argument, and that is the degree to which human beings value each other. Of course, that ranges along a continuum. We don’t value a stranger in the same way we value a mother or father, brother or sister, or best friend.
But that distinction isn’t especially relevant to this debate since the parties involved in abortion are related to each other.
I daresay that, for most parents, their children are the most valuable things in life. And siblings often feel the same way about their brothers and sisters.
This is why parents and siblings freak out when they receive a call from the ER about how their son or daughter or brother or sister was rushed to the hospital after a terrible traffic accident. They, in turn, rush to the ER, and spend nail-biting hours in the waiting room, hoping for the best, but fearing for the worst.
To lose a son or daughter, brother or sister to suicide or homicide, accident or terminal illness, is one of the great calamities of life. For that matter, to lose a mother or father to old age can be equally devastating.
When there’s a report of a schoolyard sniper, parents are terrified that their kids might be the victims. If their home catches on fire, what’s the first thing they try to rescue? The furniture? No. Their kids. If their home is destroyed by a tornado, but their children survive, that’s what they ultimately care about. Given a choice, they’d far rather save than children than save their home. Many parents will risk their own lives to save the lives of their children.
If the home is destroyed, they can move on with their lives. Absorb the emotional loss. But if their children die, there’s a sense in which their life comes to a standstill.
This applies to strangers as well. When we hear a news report about a child lost in the woods, or a child that fell down a mineshaft, the whole country tunes in.
It’s bizarre that so many parents are so possessive about children after they’re born, but so callous about children before they’re born. How quickly go from being disposable to being indispensable.
2.Of course, you might say, that’s because we get to know the child after it’s born. And no doubt there’s some truth to that.
However, people are often intensely interested in family members they never knew. Suppose I just found out that I have a brother I never knew I had. Unbeknownst to me, my mother gave him up for adoption. Wouldn’t I want to meet him? Wouldn’t I me angry about all the lost years? About all the opportunities I missed in not knowing my brother? The fact that I don’t know this person is the problem. I want to get to know him. I feel betrayed because I wasn’t allowed to. His existence was kept a secret.
Women who gave up their child for adoption often want to reenter their child’s life at some point. They lament not knowing their own child.
Likewise, many adopted children go to great efforts to discover their biological parents.
3.At the same time, this raises the question of whether children are valuable because we value them, or whether we value them because they are valuable.
From a secular standpoint, nothing is intrinsically valuable. Life on earth is a cosmic accident.
However, you can’t very well use that as an argument for abortion rights or women’s rights. If nothing is intrinsically valuable, then the mother or “woman” has no more intrinsic value than the baby. If feticide is justifiable on the grounds that every child should be a wanted child, then is homicide justifiable on the grounds that every man or woman should be valued by someone else?
4.Is there nothing inherently valuable about a child that causes us to value it? Does a child have a purely arbitrary value, like china or sterling silverware?
Even when parents murder their children, they do so because they know how important children are, and they want to do the most evil, hateful, hurtful thing they can. Out of a punitive, spiteful rage, they choose a target of utmost value.
5.Of course, children are not the only things we value. And of the other things we value, we don’t apply abortion criteria, like personhood or autonomy.
For example, people value their pets. They value cats and dogs. Does a cat have to meet some threshold of personhood to be valuable?
Even if you could mount an argument for the personhood of a cat, no cat owner bothers to formulate such an argument to justify the existence of his cat.
And how does the personhood of a cat compare with the personhood of a baby?
Suppose I went to the pet store everyday and bought a new cat. I buy a new cat everyday because, as soon as I bring my new cat home, I kill it. Everyday there’s a dead cat in my dumpster.
That’s what gives purpose to my life. Meaning. Self-fulfillment.
Suppose word got out that I’m a serial cat-killer. What would that do to my reputation? Don’t you suppose the neighbors would be outraged? I’d become very unpopular in a very short time.
Suppose I assured them that I always kill my cats painlessly. Would that assuage their indignation? I doubt it.
In fact, cat-lovers would pass a law to prosecute serial cat-killers like me. Even though it’s my cat, cat-lovers would violate my autonomy.
And yet a cat is not a person, is it? I mean, what’s the IQ of a cat?
And what about a kitten? A kitten would be even less of a person than a full-grown cat.
Moreover, my cat is a perfect stranger to them. They have never formed an emotional bond with my cat. So why do they value my cat?
6.Then there’s the question of trees. Many people have a thing about trees. They like trees. They protect trees. Old-growth forest.
How do trees rate on the scale of personhood? Not very high. A tree is a poor candidate for consciousness. What’s the IQ of a tree?
There are lots of people who would wax indignant if I took a chainsaw to a magnificent oak tree. Suppose I cut it down just because I can. It’s on my land.
I don’t cut it down to make space for something. I just cut it down because I can. Just because it’s mine.
Many people would be outraged. But why? Have I wronged the tree? After all, the tree is not a person. And it’s on my property. Indeed, it is my property.
Yet I daresay many people would violate my autonomy by passing a zoning ordinance that prevents me from cutting down a magnificent oak tree.
7.Or take a Redwood forest. Suppose I’m a private developer. The world’s last surviving Redwood forest sits on my parcel of land. I bought it. It belongs to me. I can show you the title deed.
Suppose I want to clearcut the forest. I want to put a pharmaceutical factory there. It will employ many people. It will produce much-needed medications. It will benefit many human beings. It will benefit many “persons.”
Do you think I’ll be allowed to chop down the world’s last surviving Redwood forest? No. Not a chance. Not if they can stop me.
Many environmentalists and conservationists value trees more than people. After all, a Redwood will vastly outlive anyone human individual.
They want to preserve the Redwood forest for posterity. For future generations.
8.What if it were a nursery rather than a forest. What if these were merely samplings? Still, due to environmental constraints, this plot of land is the only place on earth where they could grow. Would I be allowed to pave over the samplings and build my factory? I don’t think so.
Their state of their maturation would be irrelevant to the environmentalists.
Would they take the position that every Redwood must be a wanted Redwood? Well, it’s possible that they want to preserve the Redwood forest because they enjoy it. For their personal enjoyment.
And yet the Redwood’s right to life doesn’t depend on everyone wanting it. It doesn’t depend on the developer wanting it. Yet the developer owns the forest. Why should a perfect stranger have a right to tell him what to do with his property?
A conservationist will argue that the fate of the forest is a larger concern. That the general public should have a say in its survival. As long as other people want it, it doesn’t matter what the developer wants.
And why doesn’t that same logic apply to babies? Why does the mother or father have the final say-so?
9. Why, exactly, do we punish a murderer? Do we punish him because he killed a person? Or do we punish him because he deprived the victim of his future?
Taking the life of the victim means denying him his future. What would have transpired had we not violently intervened to prevent that outcome.
10.This is not the same thing as contraception, or a time-travel scenario, in which a potential individual will never exist. Rather, we’re dealing with the potential future of an actual individual. The individual has already come into being.
Many critics of Truman think that dropping the bomb on Japan was immoral, not merely because the A-bomb killed a lot of people, but because it caused genetic damage in the survivors so that, when they reproduced, their children suffered from birth defects.
Yet, at the time we dropped the bomb, those were merely potential children. They didn’t even exist.
How is that worse than abortion, which takes the life of an actual existent?
11. There’s a prolife ad (“Vanished”) in which we see children at play. Then some of the children are phased out. These are the victims of abortion. Their future was taken from them.
If that were your son or daughter or brother or sister, would you erase him from existence?
Unlike most creatures, human beings are future-oriented. We can anticipate tomorrow. Think ahead. We’re not tied to the past or the present in the same way a lower animal is. We make plans.
Traditionally, we punish a murderer without regard for the age of the victim. If you murder a ten-year-old, you receive the same penalty as if you murder an eighty-year-old, even though the octogenarian has far fewer years ahead.
Why do we feel worse when someone young dies instead of someone old? Because someone young had his whole future ahead of him. His life was cut tragically short. He died prematurely. Before his time.
Well, isn’t abortion the limiting case of that intuition? Even if, for the sake of argument, you say the “fetus” or “embryo” or “zygote” is not a person, what difference does that make? What difference does it make when you deprive the individual of his future? Whether you deny him his future at the age of 50 or 15 or 15 months?
You deprive him of what he would have become, of what he would have enjoyed. And, if anything, the earlier in the process you make the cut, the greater the deprivation.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he wasn’t a person in the womb. So what? By killing him, you deprived him of his future personhood. And isn’t that a tremendous deprivation?
Suppose I castrate a man. I deprive him of the opportunity to father children. I don’t deprive him of anything he had. I didn’t kill his children. But by destroying his opportunity to have children, I wronged him. Gravely wronged him.