I mentioned that I had a discussion on Twitter about abortion. I had posted a link to an article about Oregon’s suspension of the death penalty (that had nothing to do with abortion) and an acquaintance of mine posted a reply stating he didn’t get pro-lifers (though he used the term “anti-choice”) who supported the death penalty. Was only some life sacred?
Now, first of all, it struck me as an odd way to phrase an objection. Especially since by any scientific definition of life, an embryo meets the criteria for being alive. Some may argue that it’s not a person, but stating out right that it’s not alive is simply false. So unless he holds that the unborn isn’t alive at all, then he’s just cut his own legs out from under him. Because he supports the killing of the unborn life but not the guilty criminal. Is only some life sacred?
Given the choice between arguing in favor of the death penalty and against abortion, I’ll take the abortion debate every time. Simply because I think it’s a greater evil to kill the innocent than let the guilty go free. And that’s really the key issue for the “I-don’t-get-the-pro life/pro-death penalty” position. The issue is innocence and guilt. If those terms have any meaning, there is no contradiction. You might not agree with it, but it’s not hard to understand. When someone makes this type of statement, it tells me that they really haven’t listened to the other side. You should be able to articulate, accurately, the position you disagree with.
We went back and forth for a while, and since Twitter is a bit of a disjointed medium to begin with (making longer points requires more posts, but the other person can post in between your points, making it one hot chronological mess) I’m piecing together his main points from the conversation. I should note first of all that it was a very civil conversation.
His main arguments in response to me were:
1) Society determines who has value.
2) The unborn is not human until it is born and breathes oxygen on its own.
3) It would be wrong for society to start saying killing toddlers is okay, because that would be moving backwards.
4) Killing just one innocent person through the death penalty makes us all murderers.
Some quick thoughts about these. If society determines who has value, then society can say who lives and who dies. They are beholden to nothing and no one but themselves. But to make points 2 & 3 contradict this. #2 states it’s wrong because of a property of the baby itself, not because it’s what society determines on its own. #3 implies a larger standard outside of society. Otherwise “forward” and “backwards” have no meaning, since there’s no external reference point to measure those “movements.”
Furthermore, 2 is extremely problematic since the baby is processing oxygen from the mother, and when born begins to take in oxygen to process through his/her lungs. The only difference is the source of oxygen. Nothing intrinsically about the baby has changed. Only location. By this definition the moment you need insulin or kidney dialysis, you cease to be human since you’re not able to survive without aid. If that sounds ridiculous, it is. But it follows logically from the position. Reductio ad Absurdum.
#4 strikes me as odd because if one mistake in the death penalty makes us all murderers, what does a wrong judgement about abortion make us? We’ve killed over 40 million unborn babies since Roe v. Wade alone. And yet this seems to be one of the least thought out issues, yet most dividing.
Throughout the conversation I was trying to demonstrate the weakness of these points, but was told that I kept “shifting parameters.” It took me a day or two afterwards to figure out how I was the one shifting parameters, but finally I think I understand. This particular person’s worldview is so compartmentalized into different areas that incoherence doesn’t matter to him. It’s very relativistic. So whereas I’m applying logic and taking his reasons seriously (and to their logical conclusions) he simply treats them as totally unrelated situations.
Not every pro-choice proponent holds to these particular arguments or holds to such a relativistic, compartmentalized worldview. But in this particular case, when you hold a philosophy that insulates you from having to face the logical implications of your positions, it is by definition, irrational.
I’ve been having a back and forth online with someone over Mississippi’s Amendment 26 which states :
Be it Enacted by the People of the State of Mississippi: SECTION 1. Article III of the constitution of the state of Mississippi is hereby amended BY THE ADDITION OF A NEW SECTION TO READ: Section 33. Person defined. As used in this Article III of the state constitution, “The term ‘person’ or ‘persons’ shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” This initiative shall not require any additional revenue for implementation.
The purpose of this is to legally establish that there is no difference between humans and persons. All humans are persons, and all persons are human. One of the pro-abortion arguments is that the unborn may be human, but not a person. (Incidentally, this is the exact argument that was made about slaves in the 1800s. They were said not to be persons, therefore are not “created equal” with constitutional protection. A similar argument was in operation in Nazi Germany.)
What made me go and read the amendment (I’m not in Mississippi, so in one sense I don’t have a dog in this fight) was the rhetoric being used to object to the law. Some of the statements being thrown around:
- This law criminalizes any mistake with In Vitro Fertilization or any other miscarriage.
- Any woman who had cancer couldn’t get treatment because she’d be guilty of murder.
- The law dehumanizes the woman making the zygote (they love using “zygote”) more valuable.
- The law makes the woman nothing more than an incubator, subject to the dictates of the state.
I read so much of these type of comments that I came away with the impression that the law must be pages and pages long. I was surprised to find it barely more than a paragraph that did nothing but give legal value to the unborn. That’s quite a bit of information being derived from complete silence. (One might even say…an argument from silence)
Note how none of these center on the main issue. Is the unborn a valuable human being? Instead these objections say, “Look at all these things that might happen. So to fix these hypothetical moral difficulties we’ll just set the embryo’s value to zero.”
These are also misleading. The law does not criminalize anything, it merely establishes value. If there are moral and legal difficulties that might arise, then that needs to be worked out through precedence in the courts. The same way, to my knowledge, we handle every case involving “persons.”