Why It Doesn’t Matter For Abortion If Pro-Lifers Don’t Care About People After They’re Born

Why It Doesn’t Matter For Abortion If Pro-Lifers Don’t Care About People After They’re Born

Whether pro-life people are saints or bigots, whether or not they support our various political views, we still have to decide whether we are okay with killing the unborn.
Kiefer Owens
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For whatever reason, too much of the discourse around abortion has devolved into something like the following.

A pro-life person asserts abortion is the active killing of a defenseless human person, and is therefore evil and should be outlawed. Then a pro-choice person claims the pro-life person is only pro-life up to the point of birth (she is just “pro-birth”), not showing concern for life after birth.

The pro-life person supposedly does not care about life after birth because she does not support universal health care, or supports the Second Amendment or the death penalty. And that makes the pro-life person a hypocritical bigot who should not be taken seriously.

The latest subjects of this knock-down pro-choice argument have included Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama senators who put into place a law that basically bans abortions in the state. A CNN article titled “Alabama’s ‘pro-life’ governor is a hypocrite” includes the following:

The anti-abortion movement raises a question about capital punishment that must be answered. If the 25 white men who voted in the Alabama senate for a near-total ban on abortion were really serious about the ‘right to life,’ would they not have simultaneously banned capital punishment? …And Alabama’s Ivey? It’s safe to say that those on death row in Alabama (a very long row, with 177 seats at present) will not find compassion from this so-called ‘pro-life’ governor.

So Ivey and Alabama senators are apparently exposed as hypocrites, claiming to value life in one area but denying it in another.

What does all of this have to do with the abortion debate, exactly? Nothing. The views of bigots, hypocrites, or otherwise backwards people, about abortion or any other issue, have nothing to do with the facts and circumstances surrounding the moral and legal issue of abortion.

After all, suppose that everything that was said about pro-life people above is true. Does that do anything to resolve the perplexing fact that the United States is one of only seven countries that allow elective abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy (the others are Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam)?

Does it prevent us from pausing at the fact that the legal justification for allowing the killing of the unborn largely depends on denying their human personhood, and denying the humanity of a group one seeks to oppress has been a common feature of evils throughout the course of history (slavery, for example)?

Does it change the fact that at 20 weeks of gestation, a human fetus has a heartbeat, brain waves, pain receptors, and functioning organs? Or that at 24 weeks of gestation, it is likely to survive outside the womb with today’s technological advancements?

Does it demonstrate any differences between an unborn child and an infant that has been born, other than location, degree of dependency, physical development, and degree of being wanted, none of which have anything to do with the child’s moral value?

Does it prevent us from thinking carefully about the known scientific facts concerning abortion, which have expanded since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973?

Or does it do anything to answer whether we were really justified in allowing 638,169 abortions to be conducted in 2015?

It does not do any of these things. Attacking the character or consistency of a person does nothing to invalidate her argument; it still remains for us to consider and answer. Whether pro-life people are saints or bigots, whether or not they support our various political views, we still have to decide whether we are okay with killing the unborn.

Now it is possible, believe it or not, both to take the pro-life argument seriously and to believe that the people making it are not horrible people. Maybe pro-life people genuinely believe that while outlawing abortion would save lives, stricter gun laws would not. They may be wrong, but we do not have to assume that they are lying for political purposes.

As for Ivey and the Alabama senators, maybe their allowance of the death penalty has something to do with unborn children being innocent and those on death row having committed some heinous crime worthy of capital punishment. Again, maybe they have bad arguments for the death penalty, but there is no reason we must assume they are either idiots or horrible people with nefarious motivations.

I hear that there was a time when our politics was not all about assuming the worst in people. I would prefer our current politics to be like that, but if that sort of thing is not for you, fine. You can believe all you want about pro-life people, but it is still all of our responsibility to reckon with what our society allows to be done to the most defenseless among us.

Kiefer Owens has an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Illinois. He currently works in adult education and writes about religion, politics, and philosophy. Follow him on Twitter @KieferOwens.

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