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.