…But They Were Aborted
Recently, the Pro Life Campaign, a non-sectarian pro-life group in Ireland, produced this short video:
I can already hear the objection from the pro-choicers who will view this: “Or maybe that fetus you aborted would have become a 21st-century Hitler! Maybe you did the world a favor!”
The idea behind this video, and other campaigns like it, is to try to make the Future Like Ours argument easier for the masses to digest. That argument, in a nutshell, is that the moral wrongness of murder arises from the fact that the murder victim is deprived of his or her future experiences. (Whether the victim is actually aware of that loss is irrelevant; consider, for example, someone who is killed instantly while in their sleep.) Since the same is true of abortion, abortion is similarly prima facie wrong.
The problem arises when pro-lifers, in an attempt to distill this argument into a sound bite, illustrate with the great aborted lives of the person who would have found the cure for cancer, etc. I think that undermines our message, because the pro-life position is that you don’t have to be great to be deserving of life. The right to life isn’t earned by contributing to society; it is an inherent right.
So the Pro Life Campaign’s focus on “everyday people” is a laudable step in the right direction. But what of the future criminal, the pro-choice counterpoint?
Trying to judge whether a person’s life will be “worth living” before that person is even born is frankly ridiculous. Besides, this is real life, not Minority Report. Our system of justice presumes people innocent until proven guilty. The pro-life view is that everyone should be given the chance to live life outside the womb; what they will make of those lives is up to each individual. Some people will make lousy decisions, even criminal decisions. But this does not cause them to forfeit their right to life. (As an aside, I’m especially bemused when the person crying “That fetus could have grown up to be a serial killer!” also claims to be opposed to the death penalty… but only after the kid has been born, grown up, and committed serial murder.)
I propose that someone in the pro-life movement create a video about the most uninspiring aborted life ever. Joe Schmo is a drug addict who’s never worked a day in his life, despite being physically able. He steals, lies, and takes advantage of his family and his few friends. He’s in and out of prison. He’s never fallen in love, never fathered a child, and has no accomplishments to speak of whatsoever. But none of that happened, because Joe Schmo was aborted.
And that is a tragedy.
Pretty deep philosophical issues going on here. I think you're right to defend life on the basis of intrinsic value. This can be coupled with observation that, even if we wanted to apply utilitarian logic to determine who should live, we couldn't, because life is inherently unpredictable (one might even dare to say "free," in a strong free will sense).
Your finishing statement about Joe Schmo is really powerful. Thanks for putting it out there. Too much pro-life publicity focuses on the sappy and sentimental, rather than on life in all of its gritty reality.
I agree with the sentiment here, and would say that it ties in to how people talk about disabled children – 'they can still contribute to society blah blah'. A person is not valuable because of how much they contribute to society. A person is valuable, quite simply, because they ARE.
That said, I do think it's a good thing to focus on the chances at life that are being lost. As you wrote, it is most definitely a step in the right direction!
Interesting. I think even with the PC objection ("What if that fetus became Hitler") still speaks to the PL side because the point stands that *we don't know what that person would have been*. No one knows. Crimes aren't punished before they're committed and people are lauded as heroes before they've done something heroic. The point is they should have a chance to show us what kind of person they are.
Unfortunately when the focus is on the unknown phases of life, the entire point is missed that a living human being is killed during abortion. With videos like this you could easily get objections about when life starts, how this is akin to "masturbation mass murder" and other untrue analogies regarding life. I realize it's hard to be as artistic but focusing on future life stages by (1) talking about their career or (2) saying things like, "they never got a chance to be born" — all of it ignores the humanity of the *unborn*. And that makes it easier to dismiss.
The abortion argument/debate boils down to whether or not a person's right to live trumps another person's right to bodily autonomy.
Everything else, on both sides, is razzle dazzle. Distractions and emotional appeals.
Love your final 2 paragraphs. So who will make that video?
Actually, it also boils down to when (legal) personhood should begin, since even if the right to life/not to be killed/to be free form aggression/et cetera is superior to the right to bodily autonomy, one still needs to demonstrate why all prenatal human beings deserve to have the right to life in the first place.
I also want to point out that human infants might not be able to (fully) understand the experiences which they will miss later on if they are killed. Also, in regards to that whole "what if this embryo/fetus will grow up to be the next Hitler" argument, this argument could also be used to justify things such as forced sterilizations, forced abortions, infanticides, et cetera (I mean from the perspective of someone who considers embryos/fetuses to be persons/worthy of (legal) rights).
I wish it could be us, but SPL has several more pressing projects 🙁
Exactly good points. Hitler might've been different IF his mother hadn't died when he was young and he hadn't gone to Vienna and tried to be an artist. Or, if in Vienna ,the art teachers "encouraged" him to be an artist. Instead, he dropped out and went reactionary and of course World War I began and well…
I think it's important that every person be given the chance to live because although a life can go horribly, there's the chance that it won't. I believe it's possible for every life to be positive in some way. And for that reason, it's unfair to abort a baby because his or her life *may* be horrible when it also may be wonderful!
Unfortunately – I doubt the video would work. Many disagree it is tragic. I've family members who say it's better for a woman to get an abortion than to have a baby and have it grow up in the foster care system. They'd see the video you propose as making the PC case for them.
Perhaps a more effective message would have a series of pairs of young individuals differentiated by arbitrary factors (children, teens & adolescents of different nationality, race, gender etc.) and ask if it's right that the one on the right or left be guaranteed a better future than the other because of that factor-
then end with two unborn children in utero and ask how we can accept that one have NO future because it's unwanted.
Technically it boils down to three issues:
1) to LevelUp's point: belief about state action which would strip away bodily autonomy and compel supporting another versus the state's duty to prevent killing – because there are questions that extend beyond just life vs autonomy such as the role of the state (what is moral doesn't always justify state interference) and positive vs negative rights (taking life versus not saving and/or not sustaining life)
2) to Daniel's point: who can have moral rights since legal personhood isn't necessary to prohibit abortion but a moral justification is necessary to prevent the law being rejected in a democratic state
the one I'd add is…
3) whether moral standing is binary (merely present vs absent) or graduated (falling on a continuum of very strong to very weak)
I'm uncomfortable with talk of "intrinsic" value. Too often it's ultimate justification is either religious or an unsupported assertion (eg, 'It's just 'axiomatic.') For example, I've found this to be the case with most environmental ethics arguments about a duty to preserve wilderness. I think value is always either instrumental &/or contextual: X values Y in pursuing Z.
IMHO, rather than value, we should focus on rights. Human life may or may not be regarded as valuable – but that's irrelevant if human rights are always accorded to human beings 🙂
One problem I have (although minor) with the "future of value" argument is the use of the word 'value,' which practically invites people to render judgment about what they would value.
Marquis made this move to avoid limiting the application his argument to a particular ethical theory, but I think it's problematic.
Also something that irritates me to no end in many people's remarks about the lives of disabled children – they import their own experience of life into the question.
They interpret it as, would I *still* value life if I suffered this loss of ability – but that's entirely different and assumes *their* baseline as a reference point. The real issue is: if I've never known anything else, would my continued existence be something that *I* wouldn't desire.
That sort of subtle priveleged condescension towards the disabled really bugs me.
How can it be any easier to talk about "rights" than about "value"? All of the same issues apply–are they intrinsic or instrumental? And as soon as you make rights instrumental, they're not really rights anymore, are they?
Great point. (And welcome back, ockraz!)
I thought you should check this out:
I found this person made some good points.
What makes abortion wrong is not what they would have been, but what they were: human beings.