I reevaluate whether I am really pro-life on a regular basis.
I believe abortion is almost always morally wrong. I believe it should usually be illegal. But I typically don’t feel very emotional about it, at least not regarding early-term abortions (the most common abortions).
When I think of early-term abortions I don’t feel anything like I would feel if someone killed a born child. Or even if someone had a late-term abortion. I mean, sure, I have some emotions about the topic. If a woman chooses to abort under duress, I feel sadness and frustration that we haven’t made society better, or her position better in it. If a woman chooses to abort a wanted pregnancy because of a Down syndrome diagnosis, I feel indignant and defensive on behalf of born people with Down syndrome. If a woman has multiple abortions, I just feel exasperated.
So, sure: sad, frustrated, indignant, defensive, exasperated–I feel things. But these aren’t the emotions I would feel over infanticide–deeper emotions like sorrow, despair, or rage. I don’t feel overwhelmed.
In contrast, my fellow pro-life activists often seem to feel these deeper emotions over abortion. For example, my good friend Kelsey Hazzard has never tried sidewalk counseling, partially because she fears the scenario in which she’s unable to change an abortion-minded woman’s mind. She says she doesn’t think she could live with herself. I don’t feel the same. I think I could live with it fine. I’m not indifferent–I’d be disappointed, frustrated, disillusioned, maybe–but I wouldn’t be crushed.
If I believe all humans–including fetuses–should have a right to live, shouldn’t I feel the same way about early-term abortion as I feel about any other death? (That notion is the basis for the Burning IVF Lab thought experiment.) And if I don’t feel the same way about abortion as I feel about other deaths, does it mean I don’t think fetuses are morally relevant human beings? Do my inconsistent emotions signify insincere beliefs?
I wonder about this apparent contradiction on a regular basis. But then at least one of two main thoughts brings me back around.
1) Abortion isn’t the only type of human death I feel numb to. Every day, around the world, people die of starvation, preventable diseases, and violence–including military conflicts in which my own country is involved. Yet, on a day-to-day basis, I’m more likely to get upset over my car acting up, my research progressing slowly, or my weight climbing too high than over real human suffering and death.
|Which of these situations should bother me more?
Which one actually bothers me more?
Does my ambivalence indicate I don’t believe the people suffering around the world are morally relevant human beings? If so, what does that say about how strongly my personal emotions are connected to the moral relevance of others? If not, what other factors influence my varying emotions about equally relevant people?
Either way, it seems obvious to me that my emotions aren’t necessarily a good indicator of my intellectual beliefs, much less a good indicator of the reality of a situation. In my experience, emotions don’t function off of consistency and objectivity, but off of a wide variety of factors, some relevant and some not.
2) Which brings me to my second thought: there’s nothing wrong with holding a position you find intellectually compelling even if your emotions don’t follow. When my mind and emotions diverge, I’ve found it’s almost always a better decision to go with the mind–and I admire people who try to do the same. It’s the intellectually honest thing to do.
So, even though I don’t feel much over the idea of early-term abortion, I can find no consistent, objective reasoning to explain why there would be more value in, for example, a fetus who has synapses in the brain (8-9 weeks) compared to a fetus who has only just developed cerebral hemispheres (4-5 weeks). The former is more developed than the latter, but neither of them have present abilities like self-awareness or intellectual connection with others, while both of them have those future capacities. I still feel less emotion over the idea of aborting a 4-week embryo compared to a 9-week fetus, but I find no morally relevant differences between the two. If I can’t intellectually defend my emotions, I try not to base my political positions on them.
So what do you think, guys? What are some issues where your intellect and emotions aren’t aligned? How do you then approach those issues? What place does emotion have in forming your worldview, and how much weight to you give it?