Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Response to a Comment on Abortion

Recently one of my readers posted a lengthy and passionate rebuttal to my conclusion that abortion is a great moral wrong. I will try to respond to that posting in a systematic way.

First, the idea that a man is not entitled to have an opinion about abortion because he cannot experience pregnancy and menstruation is absurd on its face. All of us have opinions, even strong ones, about things we cannot personally experience. You have never owned slaves or been a slave, but I am quite sure you have opinions about slavery. It is not necessary to have been in combat to have strong opinions about war. One does not need to commit rape or murder to have opinions about them. I could suggest dozens of other examples. And so your first point, which in some ways is the premise of your entire argument, is demonstrably false.

I find your remarks about bloodletting puzzling. I doubt that any man gets through his life without seeing blood, and given that combat has traditionally been a man's role, most men have, I daresay, seen a good deal more blood than most women have throughout history. As for the arduous nature of pregnancy... well, no one doubts it, but no one also doubts that billions of women have chosen it, endured it and even found joy and love in it. In general terms, the fact that something is difficult, even impossible, has never been and ought never to be a rationale for destroying the possibilities inherent it in.

Now we move on to your point about the fetus being unwelcome in a woman's womb. We must ask: How did it get there? Apart from immaculate conception, its presence is the result of sex, and sex, most often, is a choice. You cite rape and violence as counter arguments, but statistics show that pregnancy as a result of such violation is quite rare compared to the number of pregnancies which result from consensual sex. (In cases of violence, there is, I think, the strongest argument in favor of abortion.) Since pregnancy is usually the result of consensual sex, then we must ask ourselves why the sex is welcome but the result is not. If you are claiming that the irresponsibility of the couple is the explanation, then I must ask whether such irresponsibility is resolved or compounded by terminating the pregnancy. In other words, does one make up for an irresponsible act by inflicting death on an innocent child?

I find it curious that you do not question whether the fetus is a child, is human, as is usually done in such arguments, even in the case of your own abortions. I applaud you for this. Given that, we must ask ourselves under what conditions is it acceptable to end the life of a child? You cite poverty, the inability of the parents to pay for the child's upbringing, the unfit nature of the father. I submit that none of these is a rationale for killing an unborn child. Many children, indeed, historically, most children, have been born into poverty and deprivation. If the possibility of poverty and neglect were sufficient cause for abortion, the world would be a much poorer place, lacking many of the greatest minds, talents and spirits which have graced it. I will not bother you with a list of the names of such people; I am sure you can compile one as easily as I. I am equally sure that many of those who read these words were themselves born into poverty, or into dysfunctional families, but that did not mean that their lives had to be ended before they began. And I am sure, too, that they are grateful for the fact.

You then move on to paraphrase the hackneyed argument of couples who are too immature, self-absorbed or fearful to have children; namely, that the world is a hard and evil place. It is hard and evil, as everyone knows, but if that were a cause for children not to be born, then none would be born at all. If we actually believe that the world is such an evil place that innocent children should not be consigned to it, then we must ask ourselves: Do we make the world a better or more evil place by killing those innocent children?

Instead, I would argue that if there is any hope for the world becoming a better place, it lies with children who have been well and lovingly raised, and even with those who have not, but who manage nonetheless to make for themselves lives of dignity and purpose. But no matter how impoverished or loveless a child's life may be, he or she will never have the opportunity to create such a life if the mother cuts it off before birth on the grounds that to do so would be impossible. Life is stronger than death, and even a life which lacks caring and resources in its early years may still create love and richness in adulthood. That is why life is the basic sacred possession of all people, and why life, liberty and happiness are the cornerstones of our society.

I do think that carrying to term and adopting out, no matter how trying for the mother, is preferable to taking the life of the fetus. In this way, the mother avoids the possibility of committing a moral wrong, and, if she genuinely does not want the child or cannot care for it, she still offers it a chance at an authentic and fulfilling life. She, or those responsible for placing the child, have a duty to ensure that the adoptive parents are people who can, in fact, provide for such a life. The fact that they are strangers does not mean that they cannot be capable and caring parents. Further, if you would argue that the conception of the child was irresponsible, then adoption offers the mother the opportunity to rectify that irresponsibility by acting responsibly in the child's interest. Again, life is the primary value, and in choosing adoption, she is choosing life over death and humanity over the prospect of inhumanity. And so, none of these arguments of yours carries any weight, I am afraid.

You then go on to tell us that you have had two abortions. You chose that course because the father would have been a drug addict and deadbeat, which raises the question: Why did you become pregnant by him in the first place? A woman’s inability to choose a suitable father for her child is her fault, not the child’s, and the child should not be made to pay for it. We do not, as a matter of morality, compel others, particularly innocents, to pay the price of our mistakes. You had options, which I need not enumerate here, and you did not take them. All of them would have been morally acceptable, but you chose instead an option which many regard as immoral.

You say, courageously, I think, that you carry the souls of your unborn children with you; you feel their absence and even mark their birthdays. You suggest that they may be in heaven, but if that is true, who put them there, and did she have that right? The world can be a cruel place, but it is the place where our souls find their salvation, where they are tested, matured, where they experience joy, wonder, sorrow, ideas, poetry, music, heartache and love. All this, while it may be challenging, is wonderful, and none of it can be experienced by children who were denied the opportunity to live even before they were born.

You take it upon yourself to suggest that unwanted children or children born to difficult circumstances will live lives of misery and failure, but what gives you the right to make such a judgment? We do not know what may come of any young life, no matter the circumstances of its conception; but if we are to be people of dignity and worth, we must assume the best, not the worst, let alone use our assumption of the worst as a rationale for the killing of children. No evil can come from joy, but great joy can come even out of evil. Life must come first, and then everything may follow, for life is endless possibility. But in choosing abortion we choose death, and nothing can come from death inflicted on the innocent but regret, remorse and haunting, even as, I suspect, you feel it, based on what you have said.

You are correct that children do not ask to be brought into the world, but neither do they ask to be killed before they reach it. You argue that some aborted children would be grateful for their deaths – but, really, who, given the choice between life and death would be thankful to be killed? What child would prefer to be dead rather than alive? What species of rationalization is this? Your assertion is obscene. Just as children have no choice in their conception, so parents have no natural right to choose to prevent them from living. The general principle is that if we are in doubt in matters of life and death, we must always choose life over death, especially in the case of innocents. Otherwise we place death above life, and when we do that, even our own lives are put at risk. For if the innocent can be killed in their mothers' wombs, which of us will be safe outside of them?

You then go on to talk a good deal about hormones and premenstrual syndrome and the inability of men to experience them. All of this, while it is important to women, is irrelevant to the discussion of abortion. However, you neglect to acknowledge one fact which is both relevant and important to men: We are fathers. Our children are just that: our children. They are us; they are ours – our flesh, blood, spirit, future and responsibility. Now, in my essay on abortion among these postings, I concede that since the woman must carry the pregnancy, she must have the prevailing view in this matter; however, hers is not the only view. I for one take my role as a father extremely seriously – it is my first, most important and most sacred responsibility, the source of my claim to humanity and my greatest joy. A father helps create the child, and he is not a man if he does not care for, love, nourish and protect it. Given that, he certainly cannot stand silently by while the mother chooses on her own to kill it. He is entitled to a voice, to an opinion if you will, and to some power in the making of the decision whether or not to terminate the pregnancy in his role as co-creator and co-parent. I would support the right of any man who insists on allowing the child he helped create to have a chance at life even over the objections of the woman. That, it seems to me, should be a matter for the courts to decide, if, indeed, there is a dispute. As for myself: no one is going to take the life of a child of mine if I can possibly prevent it – not even its mother. Such is my duty as a father and as a man.

This brings us to your final point; namely, the “ownership” of the fetus. I submit that, as the fetus is a human being (a point you do not dispute) then no one “owns” it. As a race, we stopped claiming ownership of humans a long time ago – men even shed their blood to ensure that that concept was wiped out of our society. You do not own the child because it grows inside you, nor I because without me, that could not have been the case. It is not a question of ownership, as if the child were a car or a piece of furniture: it is a question of life, of humanity, of what it means for us to be human. And just as we, no matter how welcome or unwelcome we were as children, how impoverished or how privileged, how loved or neglected – just as we have had a chance at life, a chance to live and grow and learn and suffer the exquisite pain of love and heartache, of joy and loss, so should the infants we create, whether intentionally or not, be allowed to have that chance.

For life is what is sacred – not our comfort or convenience or our need to erase an irresponsible mistake. Life, once created by us, must be nurtured not destroyed, if we are to call ourselves human. And that is an aspect of the debate that the pro-abortionists always ignore: not the question of whether or not the fetus is human, but whether or not the parents are. For to create a life from your own lives and then willingly to destroy it runs the risk of negating your humanity. What is in question then is not only the humanity of the fetus, but that of the parents as well. Kill you own child, and how can you regard yourself again as fully human?

I do concede in my essay on abortion that there may be circumstances under which abortion must be considered. In such extreme cases, the decision to terminate the pregnancy must be made only after the greatest thought and soul-searching, for the most compelling, even overwhelming reasons, and as early in the pregnancy as possible.

Some argue that the fetus is not human during the first trimester, and so abortion during that time raises no moral question. To that sophistry I reply: Why is it not morally wrong to terminate a pregnancy on the 89th day, yet it is a moral wrong to do so on the 91st? And why it is morally acceptable at 11:59 pm on the 89th day, but morally objectionable at 12:01 am on the 90th day? Besides, are not all pregnancies different? And so how can one find a dividing line in any particular case, or in general? As an alternative, I offer the presence of the heartbeat as a guideline, though even there I have great reservations. I do so, however, in acknowledgment of the fact that women bear the primary burden of pregnancy, and, in rare cases, abortion may be necessary. What I object to, however, is the fact that abortion is the most common elective surgery performed on women in this country. That, to my mind, is a shameful tragedy which cannot help but have implications for the moral condition of our culture.

You conclude by wondering rhetorically how I can “have this specific opinion about something so personal and detached from you as a man, when all your other points seem to direct your philosophies in a completely opposite direction.” While I am not sure what you mean by this, since something that is personal to me cannot be detached from me, I gather that you wonder how I can have so strong an opinion about an experience (pregnancy) which I will never have and a procedure (abortion) to which I will never be subjected. I state again: We not only may, we must, take firm moral positions on matters of common interest, whether they are first-person experiences or not; and as fathers, men must have a say in the fate of the children they create.

It has been said that for evil to flourish it is necessary only that good people remain silent. In such critical questions as abortion, none of us - man or woman - can remain silent. But the ground of any decision regarding the treatment of children must always be a moral one, taking into account the fact that it is life that is the fundamental sacred value in our society, and that in matters of life and death, when there is doubt, we, if we are to retain our humanity, must choose life.