Abortion in Ethics Class

Remember when talking about abortion went well? That changed pretty fast. Today we had the dreaded abortion discussion in class, and it went…well, here’s how it went.

We were split into groups where the goal was to “come to a consensus on when life begins”. I pointed out, rather obviously, that this was a rather meaningless question in regards to the abortion debate. Lots of things are alive without being people. The group agreed, and the Professor changed the question to the more interesting “When does human life begin?”.

The caricatures of my views started almost immediately. I was the only *staunch* pro-lifer against two very staunch pro-choicers, with the other three people in the group basically keeping quiet. So it was a very uphill battle. The first thing I noted was that it was a matter of basic, undeniable fact that cells are alive. Nobody seriously denies this; I had a biology textbook with me that said that very thing. It’s not remotely controversial. This was not an argument – it was meant to be a starting point we could agree on.

One older woman, a mother of several children who had apparently undergone a difficult pregnancy, became extremely offended by this comment. She said that it’s “Not obvious at all!” that science agrees that cells are life, and that “Several people were disputing my view, so it’s not universally agreed of course.”

I was utterly confused. What I was saying was really, truly not controversial; cells are alive. They are biologically classified living things that reproduce, make waste, and move. This is nothing new.

So first this woman brought up arguments about “potential life”, pointing out that if “cells are alive” is true masturbation is murder. Apparently she was still under the mistaken impression that I said that cells were HUMAN lives, or potential human lives. I said, “Yeah, if I was making that argument it would be TERRIBLE, but I’m not”. So she asked if I thought sperm cells were alive. I said, “Well, of course. Nobody seriously denies this”. She got all offended, apparently thinking I was making the potentiality argument again, saying sarcastically that it “Must be nice for me to know everything”, and implying/outright saying that I was an asshole, even using that word. I was angry too of course. I never called her an asshole, or even insulted her, but I did imply that she was being really, really thick about this. Which she was. Hey, I was angry when I said that.

Eventually she settled on ignoring me when I spoke as I kept trying to clarify that what I said was Not that biology has proven that cells are human persons. Did I believe that? Yes. Would I ever say that people who disagree are obviously wrong and “Nobody seriously denies this?”. Of course not! I have a big mouth, but I’m not THAT bad. I can make an argument to back up my position, one that can be challenged by other viewpoints and defended. I just hadn’t made the ARGUMENT yet. She apparently thought that I was trying to say that science proved that zygotes are human persons, and any scientist knows that, and if you disagreed you just disagreed with fact – when I never, once, made that argument.

After she decided to ignore me, and having another girl there who agreed with her that she could talk to, I looked at a girl who was on the fence and said, “Look, just give me 30 seconds and hear me out”. I explained EXACTLY what I had been trying to say and made a very brief argument for my position. She ended up still being pro-choice, but she was still very on the fence, and after I explained my views to her she said she understood exactly what I was trying to say and understood that cells are, uncontroversially, biologically, alive.

I think what happened is that abortion is a very, very emotional issue. This woman went through a tough pregnancy; being pro-choice was important to her. So as soon as she heard “cells” and “scientific fact” the “DOGMATIC PRO-LIFER ALERT” went off in her head, and that was absolutely IT. The irony is that she didn’t realize the entire time that she wasn’t arguing against anything at all, because I hadn’t even made a claim about abortion yet. I’m still not sure, even after I explained it carefully through reasoned argument to the class, that she actually understands my position. She’s certainly still convinced that  I’m unwilling to listen to reasoned argument or consider other views. Of course, anybody who sees me in my own comments section knows that if somebody disagrees with me I’ll almost always take the time to engage with them, unless I feel like there’s a good reason not to (for example, I don’t think I have anything to say about Law’s evil god challenge, because Feser already settled the issue). And she probably didn’t know that I used to be pro-choice to a limited degree and pro-gay marriage to a limited degree. I evaluate my positions all the time, and if somebody argues with me about it, I don’t dismiss it; I try to win the argument, yes, but I’ll almost always take it seriously. Including in this case.

Another thing I noticed: In the group discussion almost every pro-choice argument was an emotional one. They assumed that pro-lifers were pro-life for religious reasons (in fact, I’m pro-life due to a speaker at my school giving a 100% religion free argument against abortion), when none of us – literally none – appealed to religion at all. We tried to argue from a logical standpoint; their riposte was to point out that “If your teenage daughter was pregnant you’d change your opinion”, or “I know a girl who was staunchly pro-life who got pregnant at 16 and had an abortion!” (And I know people who worked in abortion clinics who are now part of the pro-life movement. So?).

I also noticed that, while I’m sure it wasn’t totally intentional, there was a lot of, yes, bigotry on their part against disabled people and adopted people. One girl actually had the temerity to ask me, when I said that in a situation where I couldn’t raise the child that I’d put the child up for adoption, if I’d do it knowing that the 16 year old child would be emotionally scarred because he knew he was adopted! It was such an absurd question it was almost hard to take seriously. She was honestly saying that it’s better to have never been born than to be adopted. And she didn’t even realize it. Ditto for all the arguments about “WOULD YOU ABORT A SEVERELY DISABLED CHILD?”. So it’s better to not enter the world at all than be disabled? Well, okay then.

Basically, it was emotions versus logic, though of course they would disagree. And that’s why pro-lifers have it hard. I can argue from an intellectual standpoint, but if a mother goes up there and says if she hadn’t aborted her child she would have died, well, who’s side are you on?

Yeesh, I’m still emotionally exhausted. I take comfort in the words of Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something”.

Indeed I did, and at least I can hang my hat on that.

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18 Responses to Abortion in Ethics Class

  1. Crude says:

    Another thing I noticed: In the group discussion almost every pro-choice argument was an emotional one.

    Pardon my being direct, but how many men were you arguing with?

    • Don’t know. A lot more women then men though. Maybe three or four?

      • Crude says:

        That’s fine. Contrary to what others are saying, I wasn’t making some kind of ‘lol women can’t do metaphysics’ claim. I just heard ’emotional argument’, recounted my experiences, thought I’d ask.

        I try to always be very plodding and deliberate when talking with emotional people, because my experience is that ‘misunderstanding’ dangers are second only to ‘intentionally misinterpreting to try and gain license to act aggrieved’.

      • Well, that was what was so bizarre about this whole case.

        I understand a lot of things about myself. I have a big mouth. I sometimes don’t know when to let things drop. I can come off sounding too aggressive. The whole thing with this particular instance though is that, no matter how many different angles I look at it, I still genuinely don’t think I did anything wrong, except that maybe I should have dropped the whole thing sooner- but that’s it. Otherwise I really, truly don’t think I did anything wrong.

        I mean, how much more plodding and deliberate can you be when you’re using the starting point “Cells are alive”? She was a loudmouthed liberal who didn’t like me because I’m a loudmouthed conservative – the difference being that I didn’t act like an overgrown child. This is a 40-something or more year old woman with children talking to a 19 year old kid. Grow up.

      • Ilíon says:

        The whole point of her illogical (and irrational) bellicosity was to get you to “drop it”, sooner, rather than later.

        Leftists – and even moreso when the leftist in question is female (*) — don’t give a damn about understanding what “the bad guys” really say and think, much less do they care about finding out where the truth lies. But, they do care, and care very much, about silencing “the bad guys”.

        (*) It’s not totally impossible to shame a male leftist for his illogic, however difficult it is.

  2. tcsgamer says:

    Well done. I know it’s difficult, but don’t get pulled into their emotional states. Certainly show sympathy were needed (I’m sure that mother is in some serious pain and anger), but keep to your arguments and stay the course.

    What you saw here is the general state of debate in the West: if it feels good, it true. It’s all emotion all the time and this points to how feminized we’ve become.

    Good to see you’re being the man you need to be and defending those who can’t defend themselves.

  3. Ilíon says:

    Basically, it was emotions versus logic …

    That’s why, throughout civilized history, in any society and polity that lasted any length of time, women were allowed no official and public voice in running the polity. But, once the women have a public voice in the polity, more and more males start growing up to be women with XY chromosomes.

    Civilization is created by *men* … and it can endure only so long as the men are, well, men, and not women with XY chromosomes.

  4. Juan Herena says:

    Hold on fellas, remember there are many women Catholics who are pro-life and are so because they understand the philosophical and scientific arguments for it. Modern ignorance of logic spans both genders, I think. Malcolm, a philosopher is generally going to be misunderstood in a crowd of Thrasymachuses. Just thank God they didn’t make you drink hemlock.

    • Heh. As I say at the top, I’m less a philosopher and more somebody who isn’t a philosopher but acts like one (I say this because I have read very, very few serious philosophical works, and without doing that I feel calling myself a philosopher would be really stretching it).

      Another thing: The idea that pro-lifers don’t care about women in dire straits is simply ridiculous. From my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

      It was also quite heartening to see how many people opposed abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

  5. To answer what seems to be the burning question: There were maybe two pro-life girls to 8 or so pro-choice girls, with the reverse true for men.

  6. Anyway, it wasn’t very fun arguing with an overgrown child who seemed absolutely adamant about not actually listening to what I was saying and who eventually resorted to name-calling and a childish temper tantrum. All because she thought I said something I never actually said.

  7. Ilíon says:

    Contrary to the lie that the lying liar made about me, I didn’t say women *can’t* “do metaphysics”

  8. Kind of late to the discussion, but I had an almost identical experience the other day when discussing gay rights. Somebody had posted a status about the proposed Arizona law and called it a disgraceful breach of human rights or some such, and I commented that freedom of conscience was also a human right, and that this implies the right not to be forced to take part in an activity you think is immoral. Whereupon I was mobbed by half a dozen people or so, who berated me for supposedly advocating that gays be denied service simply because they’re gay, and for saying that homosexuality is something people choose. It made no difference how many times I pointed out that I’d never said either of those things, and repudiated both positions; I was a bigot who was morally on a par with the Nazis, and that was that. The whole incident made me seriously think that a lot of people nowadays are so brainwashed on certain topics that they literally cannot understand any opposing arguments, no matter how plainly they’re stated.

    • Crude says:

      I think it’s part brainwashing, part willful. These are people who have been conditioned that ‘you win arguments this way – by mobbing and making the most malicious interpretation possible’.

      • No doubt that plays a part. I also think it’s partly due to the strange belief a lot of leftists seem to have that everything is as obvious to you as it is to them. So clearly everybody *knows* that members of a Designated Victim Group could never oppress anybody, and it’s just so *obvious*, so clearly if you say that forcing somebody to make a cake for a gay wedding is wrong or oppressive, you must obviously be lying due to some sort of sinister ulterior motive, probably bigotry. Hence your interlocutors are perfectly justified in ignoring what you say and addressing what you (supposedly) really mean, and if what you “really” mean is directly contradicted by your statements, well, that just proves how much of a liar you really are.

  9. Pingback: In Honor of My First Year of Blogging | Malcolm the Cynic

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