Saturday, January 26, 2013

what to say to those who claim to love life so much they imagine they've put it in a bottle where you shouldn't be able to touch it even if it's your own body, or in it

It was the conclusion of an abortion debate in a political science class, sophomore year, and there I was, standing in front of the crowd, soaking in victory, like conquerors do. My counterpart, a female student taking the pro-choice side, was left in tears. If you're ever in 1994, track me down and kick me in the nuts, preferably in the middle of that debate for everyone to see. Not sure what I said but I'm sure I said it self-righteously. Old habits. Old embarassing habits. Rage looking for a target, and missing.

Anyway, I know how the "pro-life" argument goes, and it's something like this:
  1. Human life begins at conception. This occurs outside space-time. There's a magic door between non-life and life just as there's a magic door between unbaptized and baptized, unwed and wed, and so on. It's a bit surprising the priest doesn't need to perform a ritual to officially start a life.
  2. The premeditated taking of innocent human life is murder. 
  3. Murder is illegal.
  4. If murder were not illegal, a lot more people would do it. That is, laws against murder and their enforcement exert a tremendous downward pull on murder rates (with no negative consequences that would outweigh, by whatever standard, any gains in the reduction of unneccesary death).
  5. Making abortion illegal would likewise exert a tremendous downward pull on abortion rates (with no negative consequences that would outweigh, by whatever standard, any gains in the reduction of unneccesary death).
I'm understating the last two points a bit. #4 almost always goes unstated but the implication tends to be that murder rates would be something like 100%, whatever that might mean. For people who don't think about it much, 100% will probably be the default rate. With the last point, the implication tends to be that "pro-life" policies will reduce the abortion rate from millions per year to zero.   
That is a good argument, no joke. All you have to do is make abortion illegal and you can prevent millions of babies from being slaughtered. Good people don't like to see babies slaughtered. Good people save babies. Are you a good person?

I take the second and third points to be true, the first, fourth, and fifth to be false. 

I tend not to get caught up in the first point. If someone believes in the priesthood, how am I gunna convince them that life isn't magic? So I always come back to the fourth and fifth, mostly the fifth. Not because I'd accept the whole thing if the fifth were true, which I wouldn't, but because I'm lazy. "Please show," I say, "what likely effects the criminalization (they don't usually like that word cuz it sounds mean) of abortion would have on abortion rates. If you can show me a solid study that demonstrates a likely meaningful reduction in abortion rates, then we'll talk (about the consequences of people forcing other people to do things at the point of a massive state-wielded gun and the patriarchy and so on)."

Another thing. If the question comes down to whether a woman has a moral obligation to carry the fetus to term, with the implication that a state should intervene if she does, we're way off track. See above.

A not-bulletproof-due-to-correlation-causation-issues-but-still-nice link regarding #5.

And for what it's worth, the Catholic Church's concern for the unborn needs to be seen alongside its equal concern for the pre-conceived. I mean the contraception thing. What does the Church care about? It has nothing to do with avoidance of suffering, to be sure. The Church is committed to suffering, implicitly, explicitly, and every other way. No, it's something about the fear of non-existence projected onto imagined selves.  

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