Since my last post, I’ve been asked what I think is the logical conclusion on abortion that will someday become our national consensus. Ok, since you asked, here’s my thinking on it, and that’s all it is, my personal thinking. Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with me, the law on it won’t change unless and until a vast majority of Americans agree (which is why it doesn’t make a lot of sense to vote for political candidates strictly based on their personal beliefs about this issue — there’s not much any one of them, even as President, can do about it). I originally wrote most of this back in 2009 for a women’s group interested in the issue.
First, a little background:
On June 1, 2009, I appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel to discuss the shooting death of abortion doctor George Tiller in Kansas and some ensuing disingenuous charges that certain media personalities (who shall remain nameless) had incited the shooting (not unlike what was said, again disingenuously, of certain media personalities in the wake of the recent shootings of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others in Arizona). The following evening, June 2, 2009, prominent feminist Patricia Ireland appeared on The O’Reilly Factor and attempted to rebut some of what Bill O’Reilly and I had said about Tiller on that program over the years. After stating her belief that life begins at conception, Ireland went on to state that an abortion may be justified nonetheless if a baby would impinge upon the “hopes and dreams” of a pregnant woman. Ireland then appeared to recognize and attempted to reconcile those contradictory statements by reversing herself on the former, stating that pregnant women are “lives in being” whose concerns take precedence over the “potential” lives of their unborn babies. Ireland’s rationalization on The O’Reilly Factor illustrated what I think is an intellectual laziness that has prevented us from yet reaching a logical consensus on what’s arguably one of the most important issues of our time.
President Obama really didn’t fare much better than Ms. Ireland when he said at Notre Dame in 2009 that Americans’ opinions on either side of the abortion issue are essentially irreconcilable and that the two sides must essentially agree to disagree. I disagree with the President on this. With this year’s State of the Union Address emphasizing civility amongst the American people, this “difference of opinion,” like many others, is not irreconcilable, in my opinion, and it’s far too serious an issue for public policy really to be based on anyone’s opinion. Our nation’s stance on abortion should be based not on opinion, nor on religion, but on logic.
Applying the logic standard, Vice-President Biden fared no better when he professed during the 2008 presidential campaign to believe that a human being’s life begins at the moment of conception but said he cannot “impose that belief on others.” It defies logic to essentially define murder so loosely as to say that an act is murder unless it isn’t murder in the opinion of the person committing it. An abortion either ends an innocent person’s life, or it doesn’t. Instead of equivocating, I’d like to see someone who wants to be entrusted with a leadership position in our society demonstrate both the ability and the willingness to analyze such an important issue logically and reach a conclusion, whether I agree with the conclusion or not. In this case, I don’t think it requires an M.D. or extensive study of the gestational human developmental process; all that’s required, as I see it, are the ability and the courage to apply logic to the issue.
So here’s where I think Ms. Ireland, the President, and the Vice President, departed from logic on abortion:
Before you do anything else with respect to the abortion issue, I think you have to come to a personal conclusion about whether or not it’s murder. If you think it is, then it doesn’t really make sense to talk about there being a “choice” involved because we, as a society that wants to survive, can’t let anyone “choose” whether or not to commit murder. Here’s how I’ve come to my conclusion. I think it’s logical that there exists some point at which the development of a unique human being begins, and I think it’s logical that this point is conception. Once conception has happened, a process has begun that, if it’s allowed to continue to its ultimate conclusion, will result in a fully-formed human being.
I don’t think it makes a logical difference that a developing human being doesn’t resemble a fully-formed human being during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. As a student of the law, I can tell you that elsewhere in American law, we recognize the destruction of a product in the making as the destruction not just of the partially-completed product but of the finished product. For example, if an arsonist burns a farmer’s wheat field halfway through the growing season here in Kansas, we hold the arsonist liable not just for the value of a field full of half-grown crops, but for the full anticipated value of the harvest. Sure, it’s possible that a hail storm may have destroyed the farmer’s crops prior to the harvest, but we nonetheless calculate damages based on what likely would have occurred absent the act that stopped the developmental process. The same logic applied to abortion dictates to me that intentionally ending the development of a unique human being is the functional, prospective equivalent of ending a fully-developed person’s life, which would be murder.
I don’t think that anything, no matter how tragic it may be, logically justifies the murder of an innocent human being. For instance, I don’t think it makes a logical difference how the development of a unique human being got started. Rape rarely results in pregnancy, but when it does, the pregnancy is a constant reminder of the rape. While some women are able to conceptualize the unborn child as something good to come from tragedy, at least for a childless adoptive couple if not for the rape victim, others conceptualize it solely as a prolongation of their victimization. As a psychologist, I understand the latter view, and it’s truly heart-wrenching. But I still don’t think it logically justifies murder. We don’t even allow a pregnant rape victim to murder the rapist, so it’s inconsistent logically to allow the murder of an innocent person created by the rape. I wish that our medical science were at a point where a developing fetus could routinely be transplanted from a rape victim to another woman who wanted to complete the pregnancy.
Similarly, I don’t think it makes a logical difference where the development of a unique human being is occurring. This is where I think the Supreme Court departed from logic in the Roe v. Wade case. A person’s privacy is important, but I think it’s logical that an innocent person’s life is more important. While a person’s body is understandably a more emotionally-sensitive location than the person’s domicile, they really are logically analogous here. An American has an expectation of privacy in her home, but that doesn’t prevent government intrusion into her home if there’s probable cause to believe that a murder is imminent inside it.
I also don’t think it makes a logical difference whom the development of a unique human being might harm, nor do I think it makes a logical difference who might be helped by ending that unique human being’s development. In the extremely rare instance in which the life of a pregnant woman is threatened by her pregnancy, it’s just as heart-wrenching if not more so than the instance of a pregnancy caused by rape. But logically, I still don’t think it justifies murder. For instance, if an adult and a child are in a slowly-sinking lifeboat waiting to be rescued at sea, we don’t allow one to push the other overboard in order to prolong the sinking of the lifeboat and thereby to prolong the remaining occupant’s opportunity to be rescued. We don’t discount the value of the child’s life even if the adult has other dependents, nor do we discount the value of the adult’s life just because that person has less life left to live, nor do we discount the value of either occupant’s life if he or she happens to be sick, nor do we discount the value of the child’s life if the adult is his or her parent. Sometimes tragically, we require both occupants to drown or be rescued as fate dictates.
Finally, I don’t see abortion and the death penalty as logically-equivalent. I think there’s a logical difference between a case in which one individual ends the development of another, totally-innocent, individual and a case in which society ends the life of an individual who has severely and/or repeatedly attacked one or more members of the society and has thereby shown that he/she can never be trusted to live peaceably within the society again. (Personally, I do have reservations about the death penalty, but they’re practical — involving its application and the potential for an irreversible mistake to be made — not philosophical.)
I believe that most Americans eventually will arrive at the same conclusions as I have. Here’s how I think it might happen: I recently appeared on CNN Headline News to discuss a horrific murder case in which the defendant allegedly killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and cut open her womb in an attempt to steal the baby. The baby died, and I believe that most Americans want the defendant to be charged with two murders, not one, which is soundly and consistently logical. Problem is, it’s not logically consistent with a legal system in which a doctor could have killed the baby intentionally, regardless of the circumstances. The same act can’t be infanticide if the mother objects to it but perfectly legal if the mother doesn’t object to it. It’s a glaring fallacy, shrouded in understandably-strong emotions, that ultimately must be resolved with logic. Either this defendant and other similarly-situated defendants must be charged with one murder only, or ending the development of the baby must be considered a second murder. It is my hope that as such defendants are convicted of two murders, and savvy defense attorneys zealously appeal those convictions (as they should), the Supreme Court ultimately will interpret the law more logically, paving the way for the collective wisdom of the American people to prevail.
(As a psychologist, I don’t want to close without addressing any guilt feelings that the foregoing may have induced in a woman who’s had an abortion. I’d encourage anyone in that situation who’s spiritual to discuss it with her spiritual advisor and anyone in that situation who’s not spiritual to discuss it with a psychologist. I believe that the vast majority of women who’ve had abortions didn’t believe at the times of their abortions that what they were doing was wrong. I also believe it’s possible that some women who’ve had abortions were so emotionally distraught at the times of their abortions that they couldn’t have been expected to discern that they were doing something that they may now believe was wrong, particularly when the law said otherwise.)