Nov 5, 2021
No political movement has taken refuge behind as many excuses as the “pro-choice” movement. Early advocates of legal abortion dismissed unborn babies as “clumps of cells,” and “fish-like”—non-entities without moral value. When the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the majority based their justification for legal abortion on a so-called “right to privacy,” together with a now-defunct understanding of fetal viability.
Since then, pro-abortion activists and lawmakers have appealed to a patchwork of often mutually-incompatible arguments. Some have continued chasing the ever-receding line of fetal viability, even as modern medicine moves it as early as 22 weeks. Others have cited extreme and comparatively rare cases like pregnancy by rape and incest. Still others have resorted to a kind of philosophical absolutism about a woman’s “right to choose” regardless of how long she’s been pregnant. Her right trumps the right of the unborn, they insist, even up to the moment of birth.
A few have even argued that the moment of birth makes little difference. Princeton ethicist Peter Singer has famously advocated “post-birth abortions,” claiming that a newborn human has less value that an adult pig or rat. These days, it has even become popular to make arguments that have nothing to do with the value of the unborn or the rights of the mother, like overpopulation, climate change, or the quality of life a baby will supposedly have after birth.
From the outside, it looks very much as if the pro-abortion movement is a conclusion in search of justification. Those who’ve attempted to harmonize half a century of confusing and contradictory arguments for abortion seem to have settled on a bizarre bit of metaphysical hocus-pocus that goes like this: A fetus doesn’t become a baby unless and until the mother decides she wants it. Thus, we can justify the inane spectacle of Healthline.com describing what’s vacuumed out of a uterus at 12 weeks as “tissue” and what’s growing inside the uterus of a happy mother at six weeks as a “baby.” What it is depends on whether it’s wanted. This Schrodinger’s Fetus logic was on bewildering display in a recent piece by Kathleen Walsh at The Cut. Walsh is an avidly pro-abortion writer who says she has long disagreed with her pro-life mom, even though her mom’s convictions are, evidently, the reason she is around to argue. In a lengthy and frustrating transcription of one of their exchanges, Walsh demands that her mother accept this belief that a baby’s ontological status hangs on its mother’s will.
“It’s still kind of a baby,” her mother replies nervously. “Whether you want it or not, doesn’t change what it is. It’s not an ‘it.’ It’s not a blob of cells. It’s skin and heart and organs and things developing.”
“It doesn’t matter, though,” Walsh shoots back, “because if it’s in my body, it’s still part of me. It’s still something that is just mine because it’s in my body. And so I am the only one who gets to decide what whatever is growing in there is worth. It only matters in terms of what the person who is pregnant thinks about it or feels about it because before then, it’s not a person. It’s a theoretical person…I exist because you chose for me to exist. You decided that you wanted me.”
“I’m not sure that’s how life works,” her mother answers. “I don’t think I get to decide when the sun comes up or the sun goes down. I don’t get to decide whether you’re my daughter today or you’re not my daughter tomorrow. I’m pretty sure life begins when life begins.”
Like I said, the exchange is frustrating, marked as it is by the author’s shocking ingratitude for her mom’s love and self-sacrifice. But this young woman’s robotic return to the dogma that a baby is a “theoretical person” until its mother decides to actualize it is indicative of just how far the modern pro-abortion movement has strayed from objective fact. From a scientific perspective, “theoretical person” is gibberish. A baby is what a baby is, whether you think that’s a worthless clump of cells or a human being with rights. The one thing it cannot be is both at the same time—a kind of quantum being in a state of superposition. This is how people talk when their ideology slams into reality and has nowhere else to go.
Yet her mother’s patient efforts to penetrate the pro-abortion boilerplate and grab hold of something human in her daughter reminded me of (you guessed it) something C. S. Lewis wrote.
In “The Great Divorce,” souls who’ve hiked down from Heaven meet ghostly, insubstantial friends and loved ones who’ve taken the bus up from Hell. We listen in on several of these conversations, and they vary from satirical to sad to downright haunting.
The Redeemed, often with the help of angels, are appealing to the lost souls to follow them back up into the glorious country at the foothills of Paradise. But the ghosts, barely visible in that bright, solid country, are continually arguing with their hosts, accusing them of unfair treatment or hypocrisy. All are fixated on some right they think they were denied, some argument they think they won, some wrong they believe was never righted, or some virtue of theirs they believe was never rewarded. Lewis makes it clear that all these ghosts are so fixated on themselves—so blinded to the humanity of others and the mercy of God—that most can no longer love or even desire happiness. They have degraded their own humanity so badly that they’re barely there. The grass is more solid than their feet. We might accurately describe these ghosts as “theoretical people.”
I am not drawing any conclusions about the state or destiny of anyone’s soul. But I am noticing that arguments in support of abortion have become increasingly ridiculous, to the point that those who make them would rather suspend their own personhood than admit what’s right before their eyes.
At several points, Walsh insists that the fetus her mother chose to keep was not her. It was a “theoretical person,” and her mother’s decision to keep her actually made her human. She even speculates about whether her mother would have been better off had she chosen abortion. This dehumanizing ideology leads those who fully embrace it to dehumanize themselves.
It’s gut-wrenching, but it’s far from an anomaly in pro-abortion thinking. This is the end result of a movement that has run out of track, denied logic and sense, and is plowing ahead on sheer will-power and wishful thinking. This is the movement whose claims the Supreme Court will be re-examining next month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the case involving Mississippi’s fifteen-week abortion ban. It’s far to soon to speculate on the outcome. But no case in recent memory has offered the Court such a clear opportunity to revisit the logic (or illogic) of Roe v. Wade.
In the meantime, it’s never been more important to understand the objective facts about abortion and unborn life. This week, I was pleased to welcome Dr. Tara Sander Lee of the Charlotte Lozier Institute to Upstream to explain what life is like at fifteen weeks, and what abortion even at this early stage involves. I hope you’ll listen and take to heart the realities an increasingly irrational movement seeks to obscure—not only because abortion threatens unborn lives, but because defending abortion is leaving so many questioning the value of their own lives.