As rational, reasoning beings, we have two essentials components to our minds: the intellect, and the will. As a result, one will find behind any philosophical worldview lies two types of argument: the evidential argument, which appeals to the Intellect, and the motivation argument, which appeals to the Will. The former are, of course, reasons for acting on or supporting the worldview, whereas the latter are given as a defense of the worldview, both in the sense of answering objections and in the sense of providing actual objections to opposing philosophies. This is no less true for the debate over abortion, a clash of two mindsets, one in which an unborn child is accorded equal standing with the rest of the human race, and the other in which the fetus is viewed as an object, a burden which a woman may choose to accept or reject. And while there is much to be said about the evidential argument, it is in the battle of motives where we find the ultimate directions of these movements defined.
The evidential arguments are necessary to a movement, but they are not sufficient for it. The mere claim that the unborn child is not a human life does not, nor can it, motivate abortion, anymore than that a cow is not a human life motivates slaughtering a calf. A motive must exist for the conclusion to follow: we are permitted to kill the calf because it is not human, but the reason why we kill it is because we want hamburger. Further, having established some motive for committing an act, mere intellectual arguments against the act are no longer always sufficient to prevent that act from occurring. Abortion is often the quintessential example of this, though the Will has worked against the intellect to justify everything from the sexual revolution to nihilism and the postmodernist movement. It is for this reason that Professor J. Budziszewski has noted that winning the intellectual argument is not enough, and why Professor Peter Kreeft has stated that the emotional, and not just the rational, elements of an argument must be addressed if a change of heart is to be affected.
It is also for this reason that the pro-choice side attempts to paint the abortion as a complex issue, while the pro-life movement is able to steadfastly state that the issue is very simple. Whereas the pro-life movement has only one major motivational argument, albeit one from which several minor ones spring forth, the pro-choice side has many different motives, some which are not compatible with each other. Ironically enough, it is the pro-life movement which works for a variety of solutions, and the pro-choice side which wishes to offer only one, albeit with several possible stages of implementation.
Why is this? The answer is not so complex: being pro-life, at its core, means caring for the life of the child—which does not, however, imply disregarding that of the mother—while being pro-choice means having to reconcile oneself with the notion that the fetus is entirely expendable. The former means recognizing humanity, whereas the latter means ignoring it, denying it, objectifying it; some prominent pro-choice philosophers, such as Judith Jarvis Thompson and David Boonnin, have gone so far as attempting to make a case for the killing of the unborn child even after granting his humanity. Philosophically, this doesn’t leave much room for compassion, and while not all pro-lifers are compassionate, it is the crisis pregnancy centers, and not the abortion mills, which offer such services as post-abortion counseling which can help distraught ex-mothers regain their dignity.
Ultimately, the motivation for abortion must be selfish, while that for choosing life is selfless. This shows up in debates, in writings, in the manner in which abortion mills are run as opposed to the operation of crisis pregnancy care centers, and in the contrast between groups such as Project Gabriel or the priests for Life with that of NARAL. Whether it’s offering counseling to women who are trying to recover from abortions, volunteering to help pregnant women who are on their own with household work, helping to find a good home in which to place children for adoption, the pro-life movement has demonstrated that we stand for more than merely making abortion illegal. Compare this to NARAL, whose campaign is built around making abortion legal, cheap, and convenient for all; or to Planned Parenthood, which seeks to keep parents uninvolved and uniformed about abortion-related decisions in their daughters’ lives, is reluctant to provide information about alternatives to abortion within their clinics, and generally fails to provide much in the way of post-abortion support groups for women; or perhaps to the defenders of abortion, who inevitably portray children as burdens and hindrances rather than a gifts of joy.
There is a pro-life ministry within the Church, but no equivalent exists in either the religious or the secular world for the pro-choice cause. Nor could such a ministry exist in any but the most crude and rudimentary form: anything more requires not only compassion, but selflessness, and a recognition of the dignity of the mother. For once dignity is denied to one group of humans, in this case the unborn, it can very easily be denied to another—such as women who are troubled after having an abortion. In a recent speech before a pro-life rally in Austin, Fr. Frank Pavone, founder and director of the Priests for Life, asked how it is that we can stand up for the dignity of the poor, or the oppressed, of any other people, if we have already embraced the killing of our own children. The answer, he unequivocally stated, is that we cannot.
If you found this post helpful, some related posts may be found here:
Warnings and Ignorance (Thirty Minute Musings)
Apologetics and Motivation
35 Years of Roe and Doe
Abortion Rationalizations and Motives
On Being Pro-Life
Righteous Fear of the Lord and the Pro-Life Movement