Monday, 14 January 2008

Unresolved Questions

This post is one I've debated writing since I started blogging. I hesitated for so long because, well, you'll have to read on.

Why now? Well, its a topic I keep running into. As Shrek opines, better out than in, so here goes.

*Deep Breath*

I'm Pro-life

There I said it.

Do I feel better? Well, no, not really. Why?

Because this isn't a topic one can debate. I tried, back when the only online forum was newsgroups (1992 or so). I learned then that the lines or opinions are too deeply entrenched. There is no opportunity for the changing of minds. Everybody makes their own decision, and it seems pretty much sticks with for life. It is seen as a battle, with no room for accommodating the other side. I can see the rationale of both sides of the debate, of why they so firmly hold on. Its a battle between those that feel an obligation to protect all life, against those that see the issue as a matter of freedom, of individual liberty. Based on the volume of posts on the subject lately, the whole abortion debate is reaching a fever pitch again. Online at least.

Considering myself liberal minded, I have found myself constantly questioning why I am so at odds with the established liberal viewpoint on this. Every time I reach the same conclusion. I cannot satisfactorily answer the question "Is a fetus human, or not?"

This in essence, what it boils down to for me. We do not know where life begins. We cannot definitively frame that point in time where a fetus becomes a human child. What I know for certain, is that we don't know jack shit about what constitutes a human being. So I take the conservative approach, if we do not know for sure, then it is human. The consequences of assuming otherwise are disquieting.

We know more about when life ends, than when life begins. When your heart stops beating, within minutes you are dead. But when we try to define that point, either at or after conception, where life begins, we only have theory, ideas, guesses and outright wishing depending on your point of view. I say that last point, as I find that if one examines the motive behind the reasoning, it shows a personal stake in the outcome. Whether one is not willing to be a parent, or a stem-cell embryonic researcher, there is a personal stake for those supporting the theory. That's my controversial viewpoint for those wishing to savage my logic.

To answer the question probably on your mind, yes, I was raised a Christian. In the Christian Reformed Church specifically. I studied my catechisms and took my profession of faith and was accepted a full member of the church. But for the same reasons that I am pro-life, I left the church (and was publicly censured for it). When I fully analyzed what I thought I believed, I had no satisfactory answers. In the end I could not accept that I just had to have faith in God's mercy, God's forgiveness. I could not accept the illogic of heaven and hell, that I owed my life to a God who expected my undying gratitude and love in return.

In this same way, I see illogic in the belief, the faith if you will, that a fetus is not a human child. The very nebulous nature of that line is not universally agreed on (not the greatest link, I admit). So I have no answer to my question, "Where then, does humanity begin if not at conception?"

So if I am pro-life, why did I hesitate to address this topic? I believe that this is an issue each of us has to grapple with in our own way. Pro or con, the effects on society are far-reaching and complex. It is not for me to decide what is right for all. So I do not participate in, or condone the actions of the vehement pro-life movement. I do not believe in calling abortionists murderers. It is too easy to fall into the trap of a myopic viewpoint of casting those with a differing point of view as villains. Calling abortionists murderers ignores the very real part of all of us that finds it abhorrent to kill another human being. By using that label, we deny the pro-choice movement that part of humanity all of us share. We all desire to protect human life. Pro-choice or pro-life. Our priorities and perspectives are different, but our values are not that far apart.

If you press me, or attempt to trap me with my own logic, yes, you will get me to state that I believe abortion is murder. But it is not what I believe that is important, its what you believe, its what the larger part of society believes. If society is truly split 50/50 on this issue, then we owe it to ourselves to calmly debate this, if only for our own personal benefit. Of course, there is no calm debate, so the cycle of recrimination and outright violence continues. Maybe that's as it must be, as we are emotional creatures at heart. But the part of me that values debate and reason cries out in agony at the unjustness of it all.

So I stay out of it, or did until now. But this is all I will contribute to this debate. Take it or leave it, and if you disagree with me, I do not condemn you. I only ask you to teach me your thoughts, so I may learn from you and from that either change my mind, or gain further insight into my own belief.


Mike said...

"Pro-life" vs "Pro-choice" is a false dichotomy. It is entirely possible to be both.

"Everybody makes their own decision, and it seems pretty much sticks with for life."

That is the very essence of "pro-choice" - letting each individual make their own choices, even if we do not personally agree with those choices.

So I know many "pro-choice" people that would never choose to have an abortion - they are, personally, pro-life. I know people who have had abortions, and have also had families and not in that order.

When it comes down to using coercion, either via the law or with sniper rifles or pipe bombs or screaming fanatics, then I have a problem.

The real solution is to change the incentives, not outlaw the practice. Create situations, without coercion, that allow women to be able to choose not to have an abortion. This could mean financial or social support or merely being non-judgmental.

Not to mention deciding whether preventing abortion is more important than preventing sex - supporting birth control, condoms and proper sex ed. If the catholic church was really serious about stopping the aborting of unwanted fetuses, they'd be handing out condoms in church.

Raphael Alexander said...

I also fall into an ambiguous split of opinion. Since I'm a man I can never really have an opinion which in either way carries enough importance. That is to say, I understand the final choice in a free society has to be that of the woman's. Nevertheless I have compiled a philosophical musing of the topic here:

In the case of fetal rights and interference

Catelli said...


I don't advocate coercion to support my stance. However, I see pro-choice and pro-life as points that are at odds with each other. Accepting abortion as an acceptable choice is not pro-life.

I do agree we need to create more incentives to carry a child to term. Easier access to adoption, financial help, and very importantly holding the fathers accountable.


The "because I am a man I don't have a voice", does not hold with me. I am white, does that mean I cannot criticize racism? My reservation comes from the deep divide on this issue. Also that I respect many pro-choice supporters (such as Mike) and know that they hold their position out of sincere belief. (and that is what differentiates this debate from racism, in case anyone thinks I am drawing a direct parallel, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge on the pro-choice side.)

Your linked posting from Nov. covers that point very well. The whole question of when "personhood" is attained was well written.

JJs comment directly addresses my discomfort from the pro-choice side The problem is that as soon as the law starts calling an in utero fetus a person, the next question is: where you draw that line. 6 months? 3? There are some who'd like to draw it at 3 seconds. Obviously a newborn doesn't go through some major change on its way down the birth canal and suddenly turn into a "person". But the potential can of legal worms that could be opened by granting "personhood" at any time before birth means the line has to be drawn there.

She accepts here that a newborn is a person, acknowledges it doesn't happen suddenly in the birthing process, but yet wants to draw the line at birth, to protect the rights of women. The contradiction in that statement gnaws at me. I cannot accept that determining the personhood of a fetus is a threat to women.

I'll have to read the full article by Russell Blackford.

Mike, Raphael, thank-you very much for your comments.