Discrimination? Microaggression? Propaganda? These are common labels against pro-lifers. Anyone arguing for the rights of the unborn can expect to be characterized as enemies of women, of liberty, and of human rights. Sometimes we can learn from these accusations and pick better terms or listen with more charity. Other times, these labels just don’t fit. Or worse, they are baseless slander.
I would like to suggest that the abortion debate is riddled with a problematic term: “fetus.” At best, this term is a harmless shorthand way to refer to a “human fetus,” “fetal human,” or the “child-in-utero,” and other non-discriminatory terms. At worst, and it’s often used this way, it’s a misleading rhetorical move designed to instill dehumanizing prejudice against the unborn. Either way, we can do better.
Some may call the term “fetus” a “microaggression,” although I’m not a big fan of that concept. My grievance with this term is that it’s typically a subtle but deliberate spin in verbiage intended to relocate the discussion away from any possible implication of human rights. The net effect of that rhetoric, if left unchecked, is a dehumanizing prejudgment about the status of the unborn, as if this “fetus” isn’t really a human being. This use of terms can even be a kind of discrimination. It isn’t discrimination in the sense of breaking a law or violating someone’s civil rights. But it does qualify as verbal discrimination because it is dehumanizing and prejudicial language.
Nevertheless, despite my complaints, I don’t think this term is a huge deal. I’m not trying to make it out to be more than it is. But I do run into this issue often enough that I have to say something about it.
A pro-choice argument in the form of a series of arrogant tweets recently went viral. You would think that with all that bravado, there would have been something new or interesting, but, no, it was just the same argument that has been around for decades. Disappointing as the argument was, I did find it interesting that, the last time I experienced this argument on a college campus, the person making the argument had a similar aggressive tone.
For some reason, pro-choice people tend to think this argument demolishes the pro-life view, so it’s important to be ready to respond to it efficiently (meaning you need to focus on just a couple of disanalogies, not all of them) and persuasively (meaning you need to convince them that you aren’t just weaseling out of a problem with your view).
Tim talks with Ann (mostly obscured) with two pro-life volunteers watching.
Photo credit: Justice For All. Used with permission.
Here’s what I did at a Justice For All outreach at UCLA in May of 2016. (You can find much of what I did in Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen’s book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, which I highly recommend. Robert George also wrote this excellent article recently.)
Ann: So if life begins at conception, what would you do if you were in a burning fertility clinic and you had to choose between saving a born baby and ten frozen embryos?
Tim: That’s a great question and I’m happy to answer it, but it’s a good example of the principle that it’s easier to ask a hard question than it is to answer it. Are you willing to give me a few minutes to answer, or are you just trying to trap me?
“My body, my choice” is possibly the most common slogan in defense of abortion right now and an embarrassing number of pro-life people completely misunderstand it. Consider the following popular meme:
Hilarious right? Aren’t pro-choice people stupid? Aren’t they logic-impaired?
No. Please stop.
To what is “my body” referring in the “my body, my choice” slogan? Pro-life people far too often incorrectly assume that it is the body of the unborn. If that was the case, then yes, it would be a dumb thing to say. Let’s call this the Scientifically Ignorant View. That is almost never what pro-choice people mean. They mean the parts of the woman’s body that are affected by pregnancy, such as her uterus, vagina, ovaries, etc. Those are indisputably her body parts and pregnancy affects them.
The pro-life mind is naturally inclined to be focused on the unborn, and understandably so. They are being killed daily by the thousands. Almost nothing justifies killing a human person. But to most pro-choice people, even if the unborn is a human person, women have the right to kill the unborn if they are inside her body. This is the Bodily Rights View. Shouting that the unborn is a human being does nothing to respond to the Bodily Rights View. Absolutely nothing.
Sometimes your brain plays tricks on you. For instance, when you look at a stick in the water, it looks bent, even though it isn’t. Or, when you’re driving on a hot day, it looks like there is water on the road at the horizon, even though there isn’t. If you want to have true beliefs, it helps to know when your perception is untrustworthy.
In general, people believe things about political issues based on what seems to be true to them. Many different factors influence what seems to be true to us, some of them more than they should. We all have biases, incomplete information, and sometimes faulty arguments that influence what seems to be true to us. But just like it seems to be true that the stick in the water is bent, sometimes what seems to be true politically isn’t actually true.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my closest childhood friends. Our conversation quickly turned to the election because he and his wife have been agonizing over what to do with their votes. These are very godly, very pro-life people. They take this decision seriously and are still trying to figure what to do. My guess is that they will probably begrudgingly vote for Trump, and I won’t.
And that’s okay. We will still love each other after the election.
The question I’ve been concerned about lately is: can pro-life people do the same with their friends and colleagues who make different voting decisions next month? Or will the pro-life movement face an unprecedented and catastrophic level of division?
I told my friend yesterday, “I just want this election to be over. We’re all sick of it. But here’s my hope for what happens next: I hope that all of the people who have agonized over this decision can come together afterward, even though some of their friends also agonized over the decision and made a different choice.”
This election has been a uniquely divisive one. It’s probably the toughest election pro-life advocates have ever had to deal with. We are all doing our best in an awful situation.
I’m not saying both sides are right. On the question of whether to vote for Trump, there is an actual right decision and an actual wrong decision, but it is admittedly very difficult to determine which decision is right. I definitely have an opinion, but I believe reasonable and virtuous people can disagree.