August 9, 2020

It’s a position as alien to the progressives of today as the mores of the 1640s. Unfathomable.

Pro-life. Anti-choice. What are those hard-nosed churchmen thinking? Why so callous to the right of women over their own bodies?

I’ll tell you. If you’ll bear with me.

The first thing to realize about the abortion debate — or divide — is that the two sides, while on the same phone line, are having different conversations.

Pro-lifers are talking about murder. Pro-choicers are talking about liberty.

Let’s be clear about something: if pro-lifers didn’t think that children were being killed, they wouldn’t be interested in depriving women of their freedom. If pro-choicers genuinely thought there was a human being in the womb, they wouldn’t dare lift a finger against him or her. I hope.

The cover of The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Via amazon.co.uk

The point is, that nightmare world of The Handmaid’s Tale is not a thing in the hearts of the Christian pro-lifers it appears to disparage. No: to fear so is to demonize one’s Christian neighbours who are — most of them — the nicest people in the world.

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg — verbally shaking the collars of the powerful — so recently said, “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

People respect her for her harsh call to action in a matter where her mind and conscience are convinced. She’s right. If the global quorum on climate change is correct, we, the people of the West, must sacrifice everything to save our children’s future.

We’re moved if someone tells us we’re burning our planet and imperilling our posterity.

If someone tells us we’re killing our children, shouldn’t we at least listen?

Who are you to talk?

I’m white, male, Christian. I got married at 19 and have seven kids, because my wife is a womb and it’s my mission to fill the earth with my progeny.

No. I’m single, and should I ever marry — a lovely like-minded woman — I hope to use birth control to avoid having children. I don’t connect with them, I don’t think raising them would fulfill me and, frankly, I’ve always begrudged the time and effort it would take to do so.

Yes, I’m religious. But my pro-life stance was never about what my religion taught — other than that I must do what’s right.

No. My pro-life stance derives from a sound mind thinking through the facts that I know to their conclusions.

If I, without superstition, think that the child in the womb is a human being, under threat of death, would I not be a monstrous person if I did not say so?

I’m a man, not by my choice. Should I, in such a case, stay silent?

I can see the earplugs going in.

Pretend, just for a moment, that the child in the womb is a real person. Just pretend.

Do you really want no one to speak for them?

So Why Pro-life?

When I think of all the moments at which I could consider humanity — humanness — to have begun, none of them seems so intellectually honest as conception.

Let’s work backwards. But before we do, let’s bear one thing in mind: if we agree that any one of these demarcation points is irrational, we are agreeing that human life is being taken after that point. Pro-choice or not, we are obligated to oppose abortion after that point as immoral. Murder is not a price to be paid for solidarity.

Birth, then. It should be immediately apparent that the physical location of an organism is irrelevant. A contradiction should also be apparent in the status we accord premature babies versus overdue babies still in the womb.

The cutting of the umbilical cord just after birth. That a baby is an appendage of her or his mother’s body seems contradicted in that the embryo existed separately, with outside input, before connecting with the mother in the uterine wall. That a baby is then a parasitic organism worthy of death is a moralless argument produced by revulsion — a revulsion that in some cases merits sympathy.

But sympathy does not betray itself with ethical lapses. Both arguments, too, seem like rationalizations: a layer added to the facts to make one’s actions palatable — in the same way pro-lifers are accused of adding souls to fetuses to make them beings.

Viability (at least 24 weeks’ gestation, American obstetricians and gynecologists said in 2007). Viability is, of course, a sliding scale. It is also determined partly by medical intervention. It is, thus, unsuitable for defining humanness. It’s also not clear why an organism’s ability to survive detracts from its nature. We don’t think that way for adults who need resuscitation or tadpoles out of water.

Brain activity (recorded at 43 to 45 days old in a 1955 study). We regard our brains as the seat of our identities, but it doesn’t make sense to use the onset of brain activity less sophisticated than animals’ to mark humanity, unless we are appealing to some other trait that qualifies the little being as human. What about a higher stage of brain development? This is problematic. It’s another sliding scale. It’s utterly arbitrary; it’s also ableist. Are one-year-olds’ brains developed enough? Five-year-olds’? Ten? Those with intellectual disabilities? Twenty-four-year-olds’ (the human brain isn’t fully developed until age 25)?

There are other points in embryonic or fetal development that could be chosen, like heartbeat or implantation, but these are more arbitrary yet.

The only event which represents a clear, decisive and essential transformation is conception: when a sperm cell enters an egg cell and the 23 chromosomes of each entwine to create a complete, unique human genetic code. There is no human being without that code; each human is already a unique individual because of that code, unless he or she soon splits to produce identical twins, and what was one organism becomes two.

There is no other difference so clear in human development: once, there was not; now, there is. Unique, distinct, not half but wholly human.

What a beautiful child this is. What a beautiful adult she is destined by her genes to be, unless she is cut off. Who could claim such a right? Who would suffer such a claim to be exercised?

Not I.

Whither Life?

A baby girl sleeping
A sleeping baby girl.
Tara Raye/Unsplash.com

There are further objections to be answered: what if the woman disagrees? What if her life is in danger? What if she has been tortured in her body? Do you care about her welfare if she gives birth?

These questions have answers, though I haven’t the space to give them. Assume compassion, first for the child, then for the mother, and even at the expense of collective sacrifice.

There were 3,921,808 reported abortions in Canada from 1974 to 2017, according to Statistics Canada and Canadian Institute for Health Information data. If even one of those was a human being who deserved to live, it was far too many. Even the shadow of doubt deserves investigation, because the price of a mistake is the loss of our souls.

Or at least what makes us human.

We don’t sacrifice others’ lives for our freedom.

We do spend our lives to save others.

I have every confidence the day will come when the nation awakes to what it has permitted — perhaps in my lifetime. Once conceived, the notion that a child is a human, worthy of life, will grow unabated until at last the law chooses to respect it, or it is arrested, by death only.

Until then, we will speak, write, vote, weep, plead, be — for life.

Parents kissing while holding an ultrasound of their baby
Parents kiss holding an ultrasound of their baby.
Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash.com

Comments may be directed to CBurney7863@conestogac.on.ca.