Laying the Groundwork for a Discussion of Abortion (Part 1)

Whether Pro-life or Pro-choice, Ignorance is Never a Legitimate Excuse

My wife recently has been corresponding on Facebook with two young Christian women she knows who are “pro-choice.” I have heard all the arguments before, I believe, and it has led me to wonder if there aren’t some things, preliminary to a discussion of abortion, that both pro-life and pro-choice people should be able to agree on, in principle.

The first is this: anyone discussing the issue should be informed, and not ignorant.

Ignorance is often used to mean socially objectionable, but I’m using it here in its traditional meaning: lacking knowledge. The opposite, knowledge, is a prerequisite to an informed discussion. This is particularly important with contentious issues. If you are going to argue about guns, or the death penalty, or nuclear weapons, or racism, or any other subject on which opinions are sharply divided, it is better to know what there is to know about the subjects, rather than just have an opinion. It is not enough, of course, just to have a slew of facts, because interpretation of those facts is important as well. Without knowledge of the facts, however, discussions can be simply ignorant, abstract, and other-worldly.

Both sides in the abortion debate should know how individual human beings develop in the womb. (I use the term “individual human beings” because there is no denying that, whatever is there, he or she is an individual, that, is incapable of division; human, that is, of no other genus; and a being, that is, not something like an organ of the woman or a secretion. I say, “he or she,” because sex is determined at conception. This terminology does not pre-determine an answer to the question, Is this a person in a moral or legal sense?) Any pro-choice or pro-abortion person who refuses to learn about embryonic and fetal development has to ask himself or herself, “Why? Why would I not want to know about this, when natural curiosity would make someone not decided on the issue want to learn? When ‘informed consent’ is a norm in medicine? When the other side puts such great stock in it? If the ‘pro-life’ side is wrong, why would I be afraid to look, to see, to learn?” Knowledge here entails seeing pictures of the developing human being from conception on, and learning about the developing organs and capacities.

If the response of the pro-choice person is anger at this suggestion, he or she should ask even more seriously, Why am I reacting emotionally to something that should be at best a matter of indifference to me?

This is true also about abortion. Both sides need to know the different ways that abortions are performed, and what happens to the individual human beings in each of these ways. One does not have to dwell on the details, but they have to be understood once. Questions about when nerve endings develop are relevant to questions of pain. This principle applies to any contentious argument involving suffering and the ending of the life of human individuals. So those who accept the use of nuclear weapons cannot hide from knowledge of the effects of nuclear weapons on human beings. A German in 1946 could not refuse to look at the evidence that his government gassed millions in death camps, and that these deaths were not in any sense peaceful. Those who eat meat should not object in principle to knowing how animals are slaughtered, if they are in an argument with someone who rejects meat-eating. And so forth.

This willingness to be knowledgeable, and not just opinionated, applies to seeing pictures of aborted human beings. This is not to promote any morbid fascination: one look is often enough for the reality to be known.

If the thought of this is revolting, you should ask yourself, Am I revolted at any surgery, or made queasy by the sight of blood? That may be the case. So some of your revulsion may be simply with “blood and guts.” But is there something different here? Would my revulsion be different if I saw the recognizable parts of a small human being in a surgical pan, rather than an appendix?

For many of us, the sight of blood does not turn our stomachs, and we are fascinated by complex thoracic surgeries, or by photos of murder victims. If that is the case, then a refusal to look at aborted human beings says something either about us, or about the individual in the picture, or about both. Again, if knowledge should replace ignorance in any debate on abortion, you should see what the result of abortion is, for every method of abortion. It may be as revolting as seeing a victim of a nuclear weapon, but it is part of knowing the facts in this debate.

is the Co-Founder of Vision for Life, a non-profit that advertises pregnancy medical centers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Their work has stabilized birth numbers in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) from 2010 to 2019, while elsewhere in PA birth numbers declined by over 6 percent.

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