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Talking about Abortion, Part I: Questions and Answers

Last week, we solicited questions to be posed to anti-abortion readers. We got a large number of interesting questions, and identified a number of anti-abortion EV-ers who were willing to field them. We recognize that someone who reads this site, even if they are anti-abortion, is probably not representative of the "typical" member of that demographic. Still, we believe this trio has much to offer in helping to understand the broader perspective.

We'll run these over a few installments, so that we don't overwhelm with too much material at one time. And with that said, here are introductions for our three answerers:

C.H. in Atlanta, GA: I am a life-long millennial Democrat and tend to be fiscally progressive and socially conservative. No party is really super aligned to my personal views, so I go with the less-crazy option. I also happen to be quite religious (Notre Dame alumnus) which is what informs my views on social justice, the intrinsic value of human life, and overall morality.

M.E. in Roanoke, VA: I am a practicing Catholic, married, and have three children. My personal political leanings generally align more Republican than Democratic; in practice, because of the importance I place on abortion, I would classify myself as a reliable Republican voter especially at the national and state level (even if the Republican Party is driving me somewhat bonkers at the moment).

I first wrote to in response to Dobbs to express my sentiment that this decision justified the risk I took in voting for Trump. Since then, I've appreciated the opportunity to explore and explain my position in greater detail. I recognize that the majority of the audience here disagrees with my stance on abortion; indeed, I only offered to respond to questions because I feel I have the ability to provide a different perspective on this issue.

I've been reading for many years (I distinctly remember the days of the site "going dark" for long periods of time between elections) and appreciate the site's approach to reporting the news. While I may disagree with some of their conclusions, (Z) and (V)'s careful approach to reporting is the standard to which media should be held. I'm honored to have the chance to play a small role in (hopefully) continuing that tradition of excellence.

K.K. in Washington County, TX: I am 45 and have a B.A. in government, an M.A. in political science, and an M.Div. in theology. My wife and I worked overseas in Bahrain for two years and then in Lithuania for four years. We traveled extensively and saw quite a bit of the world, both the good and the bad. Until very recently, I was a Lutheran pastor in Houston; Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) was my congresswoman. I am part of the LCMS, a more conservative branch of Lutheranism, as opposed to the ELCA, which is an extremely liberal church body. My political orientation is more of a libertarian/conservative bent. I have never voted Democratic, but I have occasionally voted against the Republican if there is a quality Libertarian on the ballot.

I just relocated to another church, in Washington County, TX. It's bout an hour away but the exact opposite of the urban Houston area, which is more to my liking as I was raised on a working cattle ranch in west central Texas and cowboyed for the first 25 years of my life. I am involved in the pro-life movement supporting crisis pregnancy centers, mobile women's health clinics, and many other programs to care for the women and children who need help. And though I doubt we would agree on much of anything, I enjoy hearing the liberal viewpoint on the issues that seem to occupy the liberal worldview, which is why I don't think I have missed a single post y'all have put out since the beginning.

And now, some questions and answers:

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: I appreciate that your views are based on the Bible, and that every life matters, and a 9-week embryo is a life. Ok. But what I don't understand is how you could support a ban even when the life of the mother is in danger. Is the life of a fetus that has had no life experiences of any sort more important than a grown woman who has friends and family and years of memories and life experiences? How is that justified?

C.H. answers: I am not the stereotypical anti-abortion zealot that many pro-choice individuals envision when thinking about those opposed to abortion. I would like to challenge two assumptions in this context. First, although I am a devout Christian, my view of human life is derived independently of religious texts like the Bible. Second, I disagree with the notion that I see one life as being worth more than another, and I believe that the moral question surrounding an individual's reason for seeking an abortion is relevant when considering it as a policy issue.

Regarding the first assumption, I will briefly mention that the only objective point in time when a separate and unique set of genetic material comes into existence is at conception. Every other point, such as trimesters and viability stages, is arbitrary. Furthermore, barring termination, a pregnancy will likely result in a separate and unique human being (or identical twins, if one wants to be precise). Biology, rather than the Bible, guides me in adopting this position.

As for the second assumption, it is precisely because I do not feel that one life is more important than another that I find abortion morally problematic. Often in abortion debates, the pro-choice community presents extreme cases to label those against elective abortion as pro-rapist or anti-mother. I am neither. Most abortions occur because a mother, with or without her partner's input, decides to terminate a planned or unplanned pregnancy.

It is crucial to differentiate between two unrelated events: a medical intervention where pregnancy termination is not the primary objective, and an elective procedure in which a pregnant woman chooses to end a viable pregnancy for various reasons. A medically necessary abortion might involve terminating a pregnancy as a secondary effect of a hysterectomy for a cancerous uterus or removing an ectopic pregnancy. These types of abortions are not representative of the vast majority of cases, and any inflexible opinions on this matter from politicians or religious leaders do not reflect the mainstream perspective.

The focus should be on elective abortions, which are motivated by factors such as preserving one's lifestyle, avoiding the inconvenience of pregnancy or parenthood, economic issues, or ending a relationship with the father. Regardless of the motivation behind an elective abortion, there is a moral question of whether a parent should be able to end their child's life. I find it challenging to discern the moral difference between ending a child's life a week after birth versus a week before birth. This dilemma does not become any easier when considering earlier stages of pregnancy. Was our daughter, who was smaller 2 weeks before her birth, insignificant enough for her life to be worth less than my wife's desire to not be pregnant? What about 30 weeks before her birth? Was she so tiny and dependent on my wife at that point that she was no longer a distinct human life worth safeguarding?

M.E. answers: My position is that abortion is generally wrong because it intentionally takes a human life. Yet, even apart from the Bible, ethical reasoning broadly recognizes that there are numerous situations where taking a life is regrettable but justifiable. Simply put, I do not support banning abortion if the life of the mother is at serious/actual risk. In this case, abortion would be a tragic and undesired outcome. I view a pregnancy as containing at least two lives, all of which have value and deserve protection. If it is not possible to save everyone, saving one is preferable to saving none.

Indeed, while modern medicine can make pregnancy safer, a well-thought-out policy needs to allow doctors to use their professional judgment when "edge cases" arise. I've been disappointed with some Republican legislatures for not being sufficiently careful in their policies to appropriately handle these cases—simply put, the pro-life side has to do better here.

K.K. answers: To begin, in the states that have laws to protect the life of the unborn, they still permit abortion in those rare and heartbreaking circumstances when it is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. So, the idea that a doctor would have to sit by while a mother died of a complication in her pregnancy is not correct. This is merely a scare tactic to get people to oppose abortion bans. From a biological and Biblical stance, life begins at conception, so every life has intrinsic value based on that. It is not a matter of one life being more important than another, especially based on one person having more experiences or their number of relationships. If that were the case, the life of an introvert would be less valuable than that of an extrovert because the likelihood of them having fewer friends and experiences would not be as great as someone more outgoing. Likewise, because the individual has had a longer life than another does not make their life more valuable.

J.M. in Boston, MA, asks: I'd like to preface my question with a little background: I am the mother of two adult children. My mother had 8 children, was an RN, and would be 100 if she were alive today. She was adamantly pro-choice and would respond to anyone questioning her stance with, "Have you witnessed a 12-year-old give birth to the child of her father who was also her rapist? Can you tell me how many people's lives are destroyed with that birth? Wait: Don't answer my second question, because if you can't answer 'yes' to my first question, you're really not capable of an informed conversation with me."

I completely respect anyone's personal opinion and personal choice about abortion. We're all influenced by our backgrounds, environments, and experiences. I get it.

My question is this: If I can accept that your opinion is right, moral, and just for you, why do you refuse to accept that my opinion is right, moral, and just for me?

C.H. answers: I genuinely appreciate your question, as it brings to light an essential aspect of the discussion that often gets lost. Our culture has increasingly emphasized individualism, which has led to some groups, like certain MAGA supporters, taking the idea of subjective and individual morality to an extreme, resulting in the creation of a parallel universe that dismisses facts and reality.

My belief in objective morality, informed by my faith, compels me to argue that there's an inherent good and evil that exists beyond personal preferences, cultural origins, or historical context. One crucial aspect of this objective morality is the sanctity of every unique human life. This belief is unwavering: it is morally wrong to end another human being's life. However, there may be situations where a greater wrong can be averted by committing a lesser wrong, such as acting in self-defense.

The issue with our current society is that we've become so absorbed in our own opinions, perspectives, and personal choices that we often fail to recognize the importance of shared values and communal morality. This way of thinking is fundamentally flawed. Society thrives when its members collectively accept certain behavioral expectations. A society in which everyone chooses which aspects of communal morality to adhere to is unsustainable. Therefore, it's not morally wrong for society to tell a pregnant woman that ending the human life growing inside her is unacceptable.

While I respect your right to hold your opinion, I believe that certain moral principles, like the sanctity of human life, should be upheld by society. These shared values are crucial for maintaining a functional and sustainable community. I can't imagine a more worthwhile and necessary shared value than cherishing human life itself.

As we engage in these discussions, we can work together to promote comprehensive sex education, increase access to contraceptives, and support potential mothers by offsetting the costs of delivery, recovery, and raising a child. By taking a more holistic approach and addressing these contributing factors, we can create a society that respects both the sanctity of human life and the individual's right to make informed decisions. Part of that holistic approach, though, is figuring out how society enforces protections on these unborn children.

M.E. answers: No, I have not witnessed this or a similar tragedy. Respectfully, however, I find the line of logic "if you haven't experienced X, you don't get an opinion" intellectually lazy and prone to contradictions.

To directly address your question, the difference comes down to when life begins. If I am correct and life does indeed begin at conception, the overwhelming majority of abortions are immoral. Not just for me, but also (presumably) for you. If I am wrong, then I will be the first to call myself an a**hole.

Ultimately, my opposition to abortion is not merely religious but also secular. Everyone is entitled to their own personal religious beliefs and while I am happy to try and convince you that mine are correct, imposing them on you is wrong. If, however, one can conclude (as I have) that life begins at conception and thus that abortion is immoral even apart from religion, imposition is justified.

K.K. answers: My short answer is that I believe in objective truth, not subjective truth. Something is right, moral, and just because something outside of myself has deemed it so. For me, that is God. It is not an opinion for me; it is a fact. Because you see it differently, as simply your opinion that abortion is right, moral, and just, then you can come to the idea that we should be able to simply agree to disagree. And while I do agree that you believe that your opinion is the correct one, I disagree that it is. To think otherwise would be to go against the objective truth that all life is valuable and murder is immoral.

B.M. in Arlington, MA, asks: If states rather than the federal government are better able to make medical (or moral or religious) decisions on behalf of its citizens (according to the Supreme Court), might counties be even better suited?

C.H. answers: I've never really thought about at which level these decisions are being made. I think counties are likely better suited to provide the type of comprehensive support services that are necessary to help support a pregnant woman and struggling parents. Want fewer abortions? Support pregnant women with both comprehensive pre-natal support and support in raising their child. Because I believe that abortion is the termination of a unique, individual, human being—it doesn't really matter at what level we legislate limitations on elective abortions.

M.E. answers: I want to see an end to virtually all abortion. I don't particularly care at what level the decision is made (perhaps ironically, I think a federal ban makes the most sense). I think you are misinterpreting the goal of the pro-life movement (ending abortion) with the tactics involved (step 1, overturn Roe and related cases). In the post-Roe, pre-Dobbs world, it was effectively impossible to ban the vast majority of abortions. Thus, the minimum necessary to begin the process of ending abortion was overturning Roe. For me, this was never about states being better able to make medical decisions as opposed to the federal government.

K.K. answers: Federalism, as laid out most succinctly in the Tenth Amendment, dictates that those powers not reserved for the federal government or prohibited by the states are the responsibility of the states. Many argue that abortion falls under this, and therefore, it is up to the states to decide. It would then depend on each of the individual 50 states and their state constitutions on whether they set up a system of federalism similar to the Constitution of the United States which would allow the counties or parishes to make those decisions. However, I disagree that this is a states' rights issue. From my viewpoint, abortion is certainly a federal issue, as abortion laws classify certain people as less valuable than others and, therefore, not entitled to the protections of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness enshrined in our founding documents. I am very wary of allowing the government at any level to dictate who is and who is not a person and, therefore, who is and who is not entitled to the rights and privileges of our Constitution. Therefore, there should be the recognition at the federal level of the biological fact that at conception, an individual human being has been created and is alive and has rights that must be protected by the federal government. After all, protecting the lives of its citizens is one of the main jobs we have tasked our federal government with.

Thanks, all! We'll leave it there for today. (Z)

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