Saturday, February 10, 2007

Abortion: Choose Life

I was going to let this series go after the last post - "Why Shouldn't I Kill You" (Brain Cramps, Street Prophets) because, if anyone had really gone into the last three posts, this one would be superfluous - my position on abortion is clear:

  1. I believe an fetus is the type of life whose life it is seriously wrong to end: abortion is prima facie (not always) immoral. This is because:
    • from a Biblical argument we are created imago dei; we should be sharing God's love for the images he created; and being created imago dei is not about our biological and/or psychological development
    • arguing from a secular perspective, Marquis's "future-like-ours" argument (download here) is intuitively correct to me; and aligns with us being imago dei - it is not about our biological and/or psychological state

  2. I am not about making abortion illegal, and indeed think anti-abortion Christians are making a mistake in focusing on making abortion illegal instead of unchosen

  3. I will not really call myself "pro-choice" because, even though I am in favor of allowing the choice of abortion by women, it is not because I believe they have an unrestricted moral right to end the life of their child - just a legal one. In the vast majority of cases of abortion in the US, women are "choosing" poorly in the way they "control their own bodies and sexuality" in getting pregnant in the first place; and rationalizing the destruction of the child is just one more bad choice. This may be through ignorance, lack of education, lack of money, lack of adequate medical services, despair, etc. - and I will agree we need to work long and hard on all that. However, killing the child does not become a moral choice because the process up to now has been bad, or the other choices are difficult - it is just the last bad step at the end of a bad process laced with bad or inadequate choices.
There are reasons why abortion can be the most moral decision (it being the greatest good among a host of worse choices) - but most of the time the whole discussion is framed outside morality and framed in legality: whether or not it is ok for society to interfere in an abortion. What is the point of believing that abortion is prima facie (not always) morally wrong; and then not making it illegal. After all, if I think it is wrong to kill the child in the womb why wouldn't I legislate against that killing. Well, half the country doesn't agree with me on the moral status of the child. Frankly, if ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road there was a general consensus on the morality of abortion I would be willing to legislate it - but we are nowhere near that now.

On a broader level, it is obvious that the general culture, other than "knowing" killing is wrong, doesn't even really have a moral consensus on why killing in general is wrong, or the sanctity of life in general. We hardly, as a overall culture, show by our actions that we affirm this definition
The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.
Again, human beings is the key word in this definition: we find a way to "dehumanize", or remove from imago dei, whomever it is convenient for us to remove: we do that with children in abortion, and we do it for all those reasons listed in the definition above. We also do it, against our deep conscience, because our surface conscience can be blurred or err for at least these reasons:
  1. insufficient experience: we do not know enough to reach sound conclusions;
  2. insufficient skill: we haven't learned the art of reasoning well;
  3. sloth: we are too lazy to reason;
  4. corrupt custom: it hasn't occurred to us to reason;
  5. passion: we are distracted by strong feeling from reasoning carefully;
  6. fear: we are afraid to reason because we might find out we are wrong;
  7. wishful thinking: we include in our reasoning what we are willing to notice;
  8. depraved ideology: we interpret known principles crookedly; and
  9. malice: we refuse to reason because we are determined to do what we want.
One of the common criticisms of pro-life people by pro-choice people is that the pro-life folk only care about life before it is born. I know that this is an extreme criticism, and mostly wrong, about the pro-life folks I know; and I know that Christians, and the culture, do not do enough to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widow, house the homeless, and care for the sick. There are just too many people in the world and the United States suffering from malnutrition, disease, war, etc. for Christians in the United States to be building churches like palaces with massively expensive crystal chandeliers. If politically conservative Christians are going to be opposing things like welfare, food stamps, and other social service programs in favor of private corporate, church, and individual mitigation then you had better be showing, by your actions, that private corporations, churches, and individuals can care "for the least of these" adequately. Christians are called to have less than they want; and take care of more neighbors than is comfortable.

I am pretty much opposed to this view expressed in one of the three earlier posts:
I actually do not find abstract philosophical arguments on this topic to have any relevance or utility. They bring little or no aid and comfort to those burdened by this decision.

My experience of those who have had to make this decision strongly suggests that matters of philosophy are in play for very few women at a time like this. The decision is most often taken on a pragmatic and emotional paradigm as opposed to a philosophic and intellectual paradigm.

Questions of philosophy, while fascinating intellectually, accomplish little toward a greater understanding of this matter.
While it is true that it is a little late when someone is pregnant, and struggling with the decision to abort, for them to begin to look at the philosophy/theology/ethics about abortion; part of making abortion "safe, legal, and rare" is for women, at that point, to choose life, rather than death, for their child. That is what philosophy/theology/ethics education and discussion does. It gives people the tools to make a difficult and rational decision in a tough and emotional situation - they know what they think is right, and wrong, before they face a life and death situation - when their beliefs are tested by pragmatism and emotion. If we avoid the "philosophic and intellectual paradigm", then when "s--t comes to shove", and we reach for the "pragmatic and emotional paradigm", we are likely to make any number of the mistakes quoted above.

There has been some suggestion that questioning the decision-making of women about abortion is somehow disrespectful of women, or even misogynist. If I thought only women made those mistakes - or that someone else should make the decision for women - that would be true. Since I am not in favor of making abortion illegal or in any other way taking that decision away from the mother; but instead respect women (along with everyone else) enough to want to challenge them to think more deeply on this issue, I think that criticism is unfair. All people, men and women, need to constantly reinforce our moral structures - because we are constantly under pressure in this world to act for our own benefit alone, place ourselves (and our needs) over all other considerations, and to compromise our foundational beliefs for transient reasons. That is reality and not disrespect.

Ethics of life discussion/education needs to happen far earlier than when the pregnancy test turns up positive. It needs to happen, along with sex education, in middle and high school. It needs to not just encompass the ethics of abortion; but kids need to be talking about all the ethics of life issues: the ethics of poverty, murder, war, capital punishment, AIDS treatment, etc. There needs to be an Ethics of Life course for every child in this country; and that, of course, cannot be Christian based. It will also, in a pluralistic society, have to include the study of persuasive views both secular and religious and for and against things like war, the death penalty, and abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice folks will have to let little Suzie and Johnny read, and discuss, both sides of the issue and work through, with their parents help, their own ethical framework on these issues. Only in this way will they be able to sort their way through all the difficult choices, for both women and men, the come with controlling their bodies and sexuality.

If abortion is going to truly become "legal, safe, and rare" in the United States than not only do we have to provide the structural and emotional support for more women to "choose life" - we have to make folks deeply look at this question:
Is a fetus the type of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end?
because, if the fetus isn't that type of being then worrying about abortion is nonsense - and choosing not to have one has nothing to do with choosing life. If it is that type of being, then we need to start measuring all our decisions about that life against that belief.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly