Pro-Life Rhetoric Rooted in Reason
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 02:01
Last week, Kelly Thomas (SFS ’15) and I had the privilege of co-directing Georgetown’s 15th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, the largest student-run pro-life conference in the nation. The theme of this year’s conference, “Morality and the Law,” addressed the popular categorization of the pro-life position as a privately held belief that cannot be imposed on others as a universally compelling law. An examination of the issues reveals that the pro-life position is rooted in reasoned argument, accessible to every human mind and, by extension, the public realm.
This “personally pro-life, publicly pro-choice” position asserts that morality is intrinsically private — that is, inaccessible to public reason — and thus not compelling in law, which is rooted in reason rather than belief. However, this idea fundamentally misunderstands morality and the act of abortion itself. The pro-life position makes the claim that abortion is morally repugnant. This moral claim is rooted not in private belief, but rather in a publicly accessible human attribute: reason.
Objectively speaking, abortion directly ends human life — life with unique DNA, life that from the moment of conception is already a “he” or a “she.” The pro-life position requires no religious conviction to recognize this scientific truth; the most secular of embryology textbooks will attest to the identity of the embryo as human. It is the pro-choice position that begins to question the philosophical status of the embryo, asking whether it qualifies for personhood or has a soul or can be described as fully human. The pro-choice position therefore requires a value judgment; the pro-life position requires no such judgment.
It is precisely the rationality of the pro-life argument that makes it legally compelling to all people. Pro-choice proponents are correct in asserting the religious neutrality of law; law springs from reason and remains silent in specific religious prescriptions. However, this quality of law does not dictate that law be morally neutral; indeed, most law involves a moral judgment on a single matter. The law bans theft and murder not because they violate a divine commandment but because they violate a moral code that is rooted in reason. One can understand abortion as an evil without having religious convictions, just as the law can make a statement about the evil of murder.
The pro-choice argument disregards this link between rational morality and law by retreating into euphemisms and refusing to examine the actual act of abortion. “Pro-choice” proponents argue precisely what they have criticized the pro-life movement for; they make the “right to abortion” sacred ground, refuse to reason about it and treat it with quasi-religious respect.
No longer do pro-choice advocates engage in debate about abortion itself, for this debate is too easily lost through reason. Instead, they make recourse to feminist rhetoric, claims about women’s right to privacy and women’s reproductive health. These terms are simply euphemisms that obfuscate the issue of abortion. There is a refusal both to acknowledge that “choice” does, in fact, denote “abortion” and to examine what it might mean to place all stock of women’s dignity and healthcare in her ability to kill whatever life is in her.
These arguments effectively construct a wall of separation between abortion and reasoned argument. It is as if the choice to abort is so sacred for women’s empowerment — indeed, the sine qua non of what it means to be a woman — that speaking about it is as unseemly as speaking about religion with coworkers.
And so, the pro-choice position dissolves into incomprehensibility. It is the ultimate “private” position, one that refuses to look truthfully at the act that it defends, one that leads otherwise rational politicians to vote for the deaths of defenseless humans.
It is time for us to re-examine the act of abortion itself without confusing the argument with euphemisms. To use a Georgetown phrase, let’s engage in discussion. After all, this is a university; nowhere else will we have such an opportunity for the free exchange of ideas. We should use this time to look at the actual issues at hand, to look closely at abortion and to shy away from the euphemistic rhetoric of choice. Ultimately, a return to reasoned debate will reveal the truth of this highly politicized issue — that the act of abortion is a universally compelling moral evil and must be condemned in the public domain.
Evelyn Flashner is a junior in the College. She was a co-director of the 2014 Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life.