Ten questions for pro-choice people

Let me state my purpose up front: I’m a pro-lifer with ten genuine questions aimed at pro-choice people, and I’m hoping that you (dear reader) will keep on reading to the end. But I’m also realistic. The chance of keeping your attention on such a matter of deep division is not going to be easy, not least because you may well imagine me to be misogynistic and backward.

This debate is always vitriolic, and as a result, often deeply unintelligent. Most people (on both sides) are content with sharing facile memes and purile soundbites. I want to avoid that tone, if I can. It’s not the strong language I have a problem with (vital issues call for forceful language), but the ignorant ways that opinions are often voiced, and the consequent refusal to engage in rational discussion. I hope to convince you that the pro-life perspective is rooted in compassion, not misogyny. And so, I urge you to read and even respond.

Here we go…

1. Why is there a double standard at work here, in which we stay quiet about abortion while mourning miscarriage?

Last year we had the tragic experience of losing a little boy at 15 weeks. Everyone around us – pro-life and pro-choice friends included – mourned with us and helped console us at the loss of this child. But what made it a tragedy? Was it the fact that he died, or the fact that we were sad about him dying? Anyone who has felt sadness about a miscarriage feels that way precisely because it is the loss of life. To me, this is an inexplicable double-standard, in which terminations are swept under the rug and miscarriages are met with flowers and cards.

2. Why do we fight to save the lives of disabled and premature babies?

It is a strange fact that the same surgeons can be disposing of unwanted foetuses in brutal fashion, and then performing nigh-on miraculous operations on the bodies of equally young babies in order to save them (as in the famous photo of Samuel Armas poking his hand out of the womb at 21 weeks while the surgeon tried to fix his spina bifida). A hospital in California recently broke world records by saving the life of a tiny 23 week little girl. What made that girl’s life worth saving? Was it the mere fact that she was now outside the womb? Was it the will and desire of the parents? Or was it some inherent worth in her humanity?

3. Why are abortion laws based on viability outside the womb?

The cut-off point of 24 weeks (for healthy babies) is based on whether the baby can survive outside of the womb. The reasoning is that if a foetus cannot survive outside the womb, then the mother has the right to terminate her and choose not to support her development any longer. Now, while it’s true that viability increases with each passing week all the way to 40 weeks, and babies born before 24 have a lower survival rate, it’s not at all clear to me why that has become a boundary for conferring human rights on the baby. The fact is that all babies are highly dependent on the care of others for a long time after birth, and many of us will become dependent on others towards the end of our lives. Dependency on others does not determine whether your life has value, so why do we establish this blurry and somewhat arbitrary line for unborn babies?

4. Why is a woman’s body pitted against her baby’s?

The whole debate is set up so that the right to life is set against the right for women to govern their own bodies. The problem, as I see it, is that the foetus is not the woman’s body. This is acknowledged in our legal system. [1] It’s also the reason you celebrate or panic when you see those two blue lines on the stick. This is not a ‘growth’, and your emotions are proof of that. The pro-life movement views both bodies as beautifully valuable. That’s why we fight for babies and for women. We want women to be genuinely valued and empowered, but abortion doesn’t do that. Why is it that seven percent of women have been forced into having an abortion and it’s used as a tool of coercive abuse? Why is it that women feel they have to choose between pursuing a career or education and having a baby? Why can’t they do both? Why do we see an abortion as a central tenet of women’s rights when it seems to cause women so much grief and pain? (see point 5). Furthermore, more than 50% of aborted babies are female when you factor in widespread sex-selection on the global scene, so it’s not at all clear that abortion is pro-women on any level.

5. Why don’t we talk about the fact that many women suffer unbelievable guilt after having an abortion?

This is not mere anecdote. [2] I’m conscious that the debate is ongoing as to whether there are long-term mental health issues after abortions, but that discussion can be a smokescreen to cover up the fact that many women have been very public and clear about the guilt and regret they have felt after abortions. Whether or not this is categorised as a mental health issue is not the important thing here. Guilt signals something important to a person, and without guilt we lose our humanity. So why do we ignore the fact of guilt after abortions? Is it because the admission of guilt is the admission of wrongdoing?

6. Why is the pro-life movement vilified and bullied as though it was somehow backward to campaign for human rights at this fundamental level?

The pro-life movement is often portrayed as led by white men and as fundamentally backwards and misogynistic, despite the fact that women of all races are involved and are more opposed to abortion than men). But talk to a pro-lifer. Generally, they believe a basic ethic: All human life has sanctity. Which part of this is backwards and misogynistic? Consider this carefully. Most of our concerns around justice on a global level are based on this fundamental ethical conviction. Without this belief there would be no anti-slavery, no anti-poverty, and no anti-misogyny movements. Pro-lifers are merely consistent in applying this fundamental ethic to every single human being, including people in the womb.

7. Why not prefer adoption over abortion?

Since this issue is often cast in terms of the pregnant woman’s difficult decision, given how all-consuming it is to have a child, why do we make this a binary choice between abortion and keeping the baby? There is a beautiful third way: the fact that there are so many childless couples out there who would do almost anything to have a baby of their own. Wouldn’t it be a heroic thing to carry a baby to term and let that child live and be raised in a loving home? I don’t want to minimise the pain involved in giving away a child, but it seems to me quite obviously preferable to ending that child’s life altogether. It is sometimes argued by pro-choicers that such children will go on to lead awful and painful lives, and thus it is kinder to terminate them if they are unwanted. However, this is rightly seen by those who have been adopted as deeply offensive, as it devalues the childhood they had in their adoptive families and the fulfilling lives they are now leading. 

8. Why is it more acceptable to fight for the rights of animals than of unborn humans?

Veganism is on the rise, and campaigners often base their argument on the personification of animals, with slogans like, ‘I’m ME not MEAT’ (next to a picture of a pig), or ‘We take them from their mothers and butcher them’ (next to a picture of a calf). As a rule, vegans are not considered to be among the lunatic fringe. Unlike pro-lifers, they usually get respect for their beliefs. Now, I am willing to tolerate a certain degree of madness in our society when it comes to many social issues, but the fact that the animal rights lobbies are considered compassionate and pro-lifers are considered barbaric is totally irrational.

9. What do you think our descendants will think of us?

Western society has been shown to be wrong on some key human rights issues in the past – most notably slavery and racial prejudice. To this day, we grieve the history of our ancestors who were capable of stripping away the dignity and humanity of people on the basis of their race. But do you not suppose that we have equally glaring blind spots in our seemingly advanced age? I am confident that some future generation will look back on us with disgust for two reasons: (1) The logical inconsistencies of the pro-choice movement will become clearer over time, just as the pro-slavery movement eventually lost the argument; (2) Advances in medicine and science will make it more difficult to sustain a hard boundary between ‘blob of cells’ and ‘human being’, and with no such boundary there is no longer any conscionable reason for allowing abortion at any point after conception.

10. When does a person become a person?

This is really the question to rule them all. Everything depends on this. Assuming we agree that an individual person has dignity and rights that we want to protect, then the importance of this issue simply cannot be exaggerated. So, let me ask it this way: When did you become you? Was it when you were born? Was it when you were viable outside the womb (around 23–25 weeks)? Was it when your heart could first be heard beating in the ultrasound room? And does a person become a person gradually or in an instant? Our laws answer this: a person becomes a person at 24 weeks exactly (and at birth if they’re disabled). But how would you answer this question? And more importantly, why?

Let me offer some concluding thoughts. It seems to me that persuading anyone to change their mind about this issue is very difficult. The divide is deep set and deeply emotional. But my hope is to get greater sympathy for the pro-life cause, and to show that it is based on reason and compassion. First, it is reasonable because there is something beautifully and elegantly simple about saying that life starts at conception, and establishing a firm line rather than an entirely arbitrary one, that risks ending the life of a person. Second, it is compassionate because all pro-lifers believe that the lives of the unborn are worthy of protection and justice – just as we believe that women are worthy of protection and justice, and of the greatest support in pregnancy and beyond. Abortion is simply not the way to do this. We recognise that unplanned pregnancy is frightening and life-changing. But it’s time we questioned the culture that pits a mother against her baby, that offers no support to women in situations of unplanned pregnancy, that discriminates against people with disabilities and little girls in the womb, and that does not uphold the absolute right to life for all and protect the most vulnerable people in our society. It is time to deal honestly with these questions, to wrestle with them together, and to stop dealing in soundbites.

[1] Lord Hope said the following in the case of Attorney-General’s Reference (No 3 of 1994): HL 24 Jul 1997: ‘an embryo is in reality a separate organism from the mother from the moment of its conception.’

[2] The most comprehensive review of the evidence in 2013, incidentally by a pro-choice psychologist, found that there is no mental health benefit to abortion and there is an increased risk of psychological problems following abortion including anxiety, substance abuse and suicidality: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23553240

Andrew Haslam

Andrew Haslam
Andrew is a church leader with a wife and three kids. He is a walking cliché in his enthusiasm for coffee and craft beer.

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