No too long
ago, renowned Planet of the Apes
cosplayer and animatronics enthusiast Ken Ham catalyzed the most massive
synchronized facepalm when he answered a simple question asked by an audience
member: “What, if anything, would ever change your mind?” His answer, of course, was along the lines of
“Nothing. No one is ever going to convince me that the word of god is untrue.” Somehow, I suppose, he thought this was an
intellectually honest answer. Ham even seemed to feel Bill Nye’s response (“We
would just need one piece of evidence”) bolstered Ham’s position.
|See full quotes here.|
Whether the topic is science, philosophy, politics, or math, there’s value in
stepping back, loosening your hold on even your most closely guarded values,
and pondering this question: “What would it take to change my mind?” Rather
than simply taking a defensive position, you can actively define and set limits
to the extent of your beliefs, while remaining open to the possibility that you
might very well learn something.
Of course, the abortion debate is not primarily a question of science, but of values. When we’re debating the humanity of the
fetus, science can help, but if we are debating the personhood of the fetus, Bill
Nye’s answer of “evidence,” won’t suffice.
Instead of more scientific facts, we require a change in philosophy.
What would change your mind about your philosophical views on abortion? I think
it’s alright if we offer answers to this thought experiment that may be highly
improbable. As long as the scenarios
that would change your mind are possible,
you have logically worked out your limitations and left your ideological
opposites room to convince you.
I’m going to outline the results of my own experience with this thought
experiment, but, before I do, I’m going to qualify my experiences with some
background information. Nearly all of my
in-person friends hold some type of pro-choice position. This has exposed me to a number of arguments
and scenarios I’ve had to judge my own arguments against. Since the arguments have come from friends,
they haven’t been filled with vitriol; instead they’ve helped me determine where I agree
with them, where I don’t, and what that means for my thought experiment. Whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, I
recommend you talk your views over with some friends who disagree with you 100%,
to help you if you get stuck.
There was a point in my life when I nearly did change my mind. In high school I argued against abortion on
secular grounds, but a few years later I spent a year abroad in Japan, and that
shut me up. At the time, Japanese abortion laws were being revisited by the
Diet (Japanese congress). In light of
the fact that Japan was, and still is, facing a huge crisis in having an aging
population with a shrinking birthrate, the Diet was looking to restrict access
even further. Essentially, the Diet was
hoping to use restricted abortion access as a way to increase the birthrate,
thereby giving credence to the argument I hear these days, that abortion
restrictions are designed to turn women into broodmares.
considered this perspective before. I
saw the destruction of the unborn as a very individual crime with a very
individual victim. I had never
considered abortion politically. I had
never considered the idea that a restriction on abortion was intended
specifically to force women into a particular lifestyle, and I wasn’t sure how
that worked out logically in my mind.
Was potential tyranny of the state enough to override the rights of an
individual to life?
It took me many years to process this information, although eventually I came
to the conclusion that no, it was not. The
fear of turning women into broodmares is a separate question from that of
abortion. Besides, during the Japanese
baby boom of the 1960s extended access to abortion was similarly used as a tool
to manage women’s fertility, because at the time there were too many children
for the social system to handle. What
needs to change in the present is the Japanese attitude towards women, not the
Japanese policy towards increasing abortion access.
So, without any further procrastinating, here
are five (perhaps improbable, but possible) ways in which I would change my
mind. They aren’t meant to be
exclusive. Perhaps there are other
arguments there and I just have yet to find them:
1) I would need to find religion:
atheist. As far as I know, this is the
only life I will ever get to live and, as far as I know, the same is true of
you, and of everyone. I place a high
value on the right to life specifically because there are no other rights
without that first one. Abortion is
unique in that it revokes the right to life without serious consideration by
third parties to reduce bias in the decision.
Revoking the right to life when the person in question has done nothing
the perpetrator receiving no legal or military consequences, is also unique
However, people with religion have it differently. I suppose if I were a true Buddhist, a true
believer in reincarnation, I would be not only pro-choice, but I’d argue for
abortion on demand. After all, if the
mother thought she couldn’t offer a decent life to the child, it would make sense
to send that child on to its next life, where it might have the opportunity to
have a good one. If I were just your run-of-the-mill
Christian, I might rationalize that though the opportunity to live might be
lost, that child would be in heaven as an innocent.
would have to have a different understanding on what it is that makes up “me”
and my consciousness:
closely with the above reason, just in more secular terms. As far as I know, the sum of me is a
combination of brain chemicals and outside stimuli. I don’t know why it is “me” who is
experiencing what is going on in my brain, but I suspect that when that brain
is done, whatever it is that is “me” will be done experiencing. If I am wrong on that (and I don’t think I
am, but anyway…), if there are some other levels of consciousness, then I might
still not agree with abortion, but I might be more permissive with the idea of
other women getting them, since their children would still go on to experience
other things, instead of being robbed of the only consciousness they might ever
know. Of course, that kind of takes away
part of the moral outrage I’d have about murder in general, which brings me to
my next point…
think morality is subjective, I’m not a moral relativist (i.e. a person who
accepts the morality of other groups and cultures because it is the morality
they have). My moral code may have been
developed in the context of a western, American lifestyle, but I think it is a
pretty good one. One of the core values included is that, generally, it is not
okay to kill someone, and when it is, it is because of extenuating circumstances
whereby that person is posing a direct threat to someone else. Some cultures think it is okay to kill a
woman because she was raped. I’m not
okay with that, and I wouldn’t be okay with that even if I did think sex was
wrong. A rape victim hasn’t done anything
wrong, and she is paying for the actions of both another individual and a
larger family or society that doesn’t know how to deal with her in their
cultural and socio-economic context. I think this description also fits the
aborted unborn. However, if you can turn
me into a moral relativist remove this concept of universal human rights, and
convince me that murder is okay when the surrounding culture and society deem
it okay, I’m pro-choice.
4) If we lived in a certain dystopia:
here watched the rebooted series of Battlestar Gallactica? No?
There is one episode about a place called “The Farm,” in which my
favorite character, Starbuck, is kidnapped by the Cylons and sent to a place
where women are hooked up to machines to breed (Cylons want babies!) That’s a pretty horrifying scenario. If women were in fact being inseminated and
forced to breed, and the only way to even fight back from this very desperate scenario
was to prevent their oppressors from getting what they wanted and repeating the
cycle, I would say abortion would be fully justified. I would mourn the dead, but at that point,
humanity is pretty much dead.
if we as a species were less like Homo sapiens and more like Pacific salmon, I
would have a different opinion on abortion.
If the only way to reproduce was to have the parent or parents die, I
wouldn’t begrudge a parent making the decision to stop reproduction in its
understanding of biology:
heard some pro-choicers say that, due to the Great and Powerful
Bodily Autonomy Argument (GAPBAA), the fact that the unborn are human beings
doesn’t matter. I disagree. If the unborn were not human beings, we
wouldn’t be discussing whether bodily autonomy is sufficient to override their
rights to life.
terribly interested in legalistic personhood at this point. Personhood has historically followed what the
society at the time has felt about which human beings are persons. This means that certain groups (including
women themselves) have been seen as persons, non-persons, 1/3 persons,
etc. I am far more interested in
knowing if the unborn are unique, self-automating human beings or not.
lines, I’m more interested in biological humanity than “personhood.” In that
case I can’t see when a human being begins if not as a zygote. Convince me that
I am in error on this point, provide me positive evidence that human beings begins
at some later point, and you will have yourself a pro-choicer up until that
Ok, kids, your turn. Whether you’re
pro-life or pro-choice, what would it take to change your mind? If you are
undecided, what arguments would convince you one way or another?