I’m taking a bit of a break from my critical series on
Thomson’s famous essay, A Defense of Abortion, to present an article that was
inspired from a conversation I had with my friend, Linda, on Facebook. I am a
speaker and mentor for Justice for All, which is an organization that trains
people to make the pro-life case persuasively and effectively (by making good
arguments and avoiding bad ones while avoiding the common pitfalls the people
tend to fall into while discussing controversial topics, such as yelling and
name-calling, and have good, respectful dialogue). So I have a vested interest
in helping pro-life people make good arguments and avoid bad ones, including
helping them see the other side as people and not as any manner of unkind thing
they may think about pro-choice people. This article will be a bit of a
departure from my normal output, as this will be a bit more personal.
draws a lot of confusion in the abortion issue, and like the terms “pro-life”
and “pro-choice” themselves, can be misused to make the other side look like
uncaring fascists. The word I’m referring to is empathy. As a
philosophically-minded thinker, I find it’s always important to define our
terms. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines empathy as “the ability to
understand and share the feelings of another.” This is to be differentiated
from sympathy, which the same dictionary defines as “feelings of pity and
sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” In short, sympathy looks at a hurting
person and says, “poor guy.” Empathy looks at a hurting person and says, “how
can I help?” Sympathy helps you feel bad for someone but empathy drives you to
Her observation was that pro-choice people tend to empathize with the mother
because they place much value and emphasis on the capacity of an individual.
After all, I often hear them say the pregnant woman deserves our respect, not
the fetus, because she is a “living, breathing person.” (As I have written
numerous times, the preborn qualify as persons. I am simply using language I
constantly hear from the pro-choice side.) I have found that this generally
tends to be true. It’s true in my own life. I was pretty mercilessly tormented
and bullied when I was in elementary school, all the way up until my high
school days. No one would stand up for me. Not my teachers, not other students.
My own mother would laugh about it because she apparently thought it was funny.
This ended up giving me severe emotional trauma, to the point where I did
contemplate suicide for a long time. I did eventually overcome these thoughts,
largely due to my Christian faith, but now that I can look back at it I think
(aside from my Christian convictions) that my past of being tormented and
bullied has given me a perspective on the issue that many people lack. I view
the abortion issue as the ultimate act of bullying — big, powerful people who
place their own priorities over that of an innocent, defenseless child in a
situation that was forced upon them. To kill them because they’re in the way of
something we want seems like the height of cruelty to me.
people believe pro-life people lack empathy because they feel we care more for
a fetus than for a “living, breathing person.” Pro-life people believe
pro-choice people lack empathy because in order to help a woman “not be
pregnant,” they are willing to support and/or go through with a procedure that
ends the life of an innocent human being, a procedure that ends their life in a
pretty gruesome way. But I think both the pro-life and the pro-choice person
are wrong. Both sides obviously have empathy, it’s just that the subject of
their empathy is different. The pro-life person, driven by empathy, is trying
to end abortion because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being.
The pro-choice person, driven by empathy, is trying to keep abortion legal so
that it can be safe and rare, in case a woman finds herself in a situation in
which she needs it. (Again, I’m using language from the pro-choice side.
Abortions are not as safe and rare and pro-choice people often make them out to
empathy in this case is misguided. We should all have empathy for pregnant
women and help them as much as we can. But the preborn human being is in an
intrinsically vulnerable state, and needs the protection of those stronger than
themselves to take care of them. To kill them when they exist in such a
vulnerable state makes us no different than bullies, especially in the vast
majority of cases in which sex was consensual between the man and the woman.
We don’t live in a fantasy world in which pregnancies are easy, and fun, or
anything of that nature. We recognize that pregnancies can be difficult. But
empathy does not mean allowing a woman to kill her child to escape pregnancy.
Quite the contrary, true empathy means helping the woman through her pregnancy
as much as is possible.