I have chosen the title of this post with some fear and trepidation. This is a red-hot topic and there is almost always much more heat than light at the core of the discussion argument. But I do believe that the abortion issue may help us to understand why women would vote for a misogynist such as Donald Trump who regards women as so many trophies to be collected and spoiled in a way only he is privy to. Thus, as we ponder the whys of this election I think at some point this issue needs to be addressed.

The battle between the “pro-lifers” on the one hand and the “women’s rights” on the other comes down to a matter of faith, not reason. This is why the argument becomes so heated so fast. One either believe that life begins at conception or one believes that life begins when the child is removed from its mother. If one does not believe that life starts at conception then there are grounds for the claim that the mother’s rights over her own body are paramount. There is no scientific evidence that either of these claims is the correct one. It all depends on how we define “life.” Those who oppose abortion are convinced it begins much earlier than those who favor abortion. And the courts have determined, somewhat arbitrarily, that is begins after “fetal viability.” Again, there is no evidence that any of these views is the correct one. And since there is no evidence one way or the other the argument comes down to which group has the larger pile of rocks to throw.

The irony, of course, is that many of those who claim to be “pro-life” are also in favor of war and capital punishment which gives the lie to the claim that all life is sacred. And those who argue for women’s rights are frequently quite happy to see women in the workplace held down by a glass ceiling and making less money than the man next to them doing the same job. We are not known for our consistency, we humans.

My thesis advisor at Northwestern, Eliseo Vivas,  wrote a book titled The Moral Life and The Ethical Life in which he said, at one point, “the soldier goes to battle with a heavy heart.” In other words, there are times when we must take another human life. It is a matter of expediency: kill or be killed. St. Augustine insisted that the only time war was justified was to defend oneself and one’s group against direct attack. A “preemptive strike” is not justified. But the moral question is whether the taking of another human life is ever justified. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that life is a human right and if we take another’s life we forfeit our own and he therefore justifies capital punishment on those grounds. Vivas would say “no.” The taking of a life may be a matter of expediency. But that is not a reason that carries any moral weight whatever. Since we cannot ever justify the taking of another human life under any circumstances (Augustine and Aquinas to the contrary notwithstanding) we can only attempt to reconcile ourselves to the fact once it has occurred: this is a psychological, not a philosophical, problem. The soldier with the heavy heart must somehow learn to live with the fact that what he did was wrong. And societies must seek humane alternatives to capital punishment.

Thus the abortion issue becomes increasingly cloudy as we try to deal with two questions at the same time: when is a human being alive? and once alive are we ever justified in taking that life? I confess that I do not have the answer to either of these questions, though I find the second question the easier one. I think Vivas was correct: we cannot justify taking another life; we can only seek to reconcile ourselves to it if it happens.

In the current frenzy of a political contest unlike any previous political contest I suspect these questions are at the core of the explanation why 30-35% of the  women in this country might want to support such a candidate as Donald Trump: they hope he would appoint a conservative judge to the Supreme Court who might somehow “overthrow” Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal once again. Hillary Clinton is sure to nominate a liberal judge and we will have more abortions and more death, in their view of things. For those who see this election through the wrong end of the telescope, thereby missing all the larger issues, I suspect this argument wins the day for many of the devout — whose faith I shall never question, but only ask that it be recognized as faith, not reason — and wish they would turn the telescope around.



10 thoughts on “Abortion

  1. Hugh, as I have shared with Jill on a recent post about a single issue voter, the key question is how do you know what Donald Trump believes about abortion? He has been all over the place on this issue during his adult life. Even in this election, he has modified certain aspects of his position.

    But, the key failing of Trump followers is they believe ever word this man says, which is the sad part of the story. Per people who work with him, he lies all of the time, which is consistent with narcissistic behavior. Plus, the nonpartisan fact checkers in this election have measured his lies at far more prevalent than any other candidate for President since they started measuring.

    So, if someone strongly believes in a single issue, putting chips down on the Trump roulette bet because of this one issue, is a very poor bet.


  2. The so-called “pros” have no credibility. As soon as that kid is born, they wash their hands of it: no support for the mother, no provisions for its care, education, welfare, opposition for any medical needs etc. etc. Their REAL problem is SEX! They don’t like it that women now have the same rights to a sex life as men have had throughout the ages and now that there are many contraception options that right is easily obtainable. All they have left is the fear of pregnancy and they are determined that that fear shall remain!.

    • I suspect this is correct in a great many cases. But there are those who are zealous in their determination to stamp out abortion for religious reasons. As Keith mentions above, however, it’s hard to know where Trump stands on this issue. I suspect it is not a high priority issue for Trump unless he is speaking to the appropriate audience and has forgotten what he said yesterday on the same issue!

  3. You did well in tip-toe-ing gently through the vast minefield that I have, thus far, avoided, my friend! It is, indeed, an emotional subject, with strong views on either side. Yet, it seems to be one that defines the fiasco that has become ‘Election 2016’. Good job!

  4. I appreciate the article – abortion is a topic that needs more attention. One of the final statements “. . .faith, not reason. . .” caught my eye. I’m not sure if this statement was intended to regard when human life is believed to originate, but seeing this was an article about abortion – I assumed it was. It provoked this response. I hope it will be food for discussion. . .

    Life is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as having the following attributes: the ability to grow, reproduce, metabolize, and respond to external stimuli. The human zygote possesses these characteristics. Reason then would tell us that the human zygote is alive. And seeing as it is alive, it is life. It’s not a dog’s zygote, so we would state that it is human life. But not only alive as part of the woman’s body but alive as a separate being. A being with unique DNA and a gender. A human being.

    Reason then, as stated, would tell us that life does begin at conception. Indeed faith, politics, and abstract world views would tell us that when human life begins is up for discussion. From an objective standpoint, the beginning of human life is established.

    I understand people wanting to “tip toe” around “sensitive issues” in hopes of not “hurting others feelings.” But this is not a debate of when human life begins, this is a debate about who has the right to end that human life. And, seeing as though this issue is one regarding human life, we should set aside our “feelings” and seek to portray the unabridged truth – whether it hurts our feelings or not. Making statements that are not backed by fact only serve to water down a conversation that demands clear thought and reasoning.

    Thank you for your time. God bless.

    • Thanks so much for your good comment. Yes, I was speaking about the moment when the fetus can be regarded as a human life. Your discussion rests on the assumption that words in the American Heritage Dictionary constitute “science.” This is a bit of a stretch. I really don’t have a problem with saying it is essentially a matter of faith. So much that passes for hard science rests on faith of some sort — at the very least that our eyes are not deceiving us. I have a high regard for science but I also believe that there are other ways of knowing.

      • Thanks for replying! You make a good point, my siting one questionable source does not give me strong legs to stand on.

        I’d ask that you research the view of human life from the following sources:

        1) the American Heritage Dictionary of Science

        2) Biology online.org

        3) the textbook Molecular Biology

        4) the textbook Before we are born: Essentials of embryology and birth defects

        5) the National Institute of Health

        6) Landrum B. Shettles, M.D., P.h.D (first scientist to succeed at in vitro fertilization)

        7) The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition.

        This link has several more sources http://www.lifenews.com/2015/01/08/41-quotes-from-medical-textbooks-prove-human-life-begins-at-conception/

        From a human reasoning standpoint (That is, if you believe in reasoning, your point about having faith in our eyes is a fair one, and if this means that you reject all objective reasoing then I guess we are at a stalemate in our discussion), this argument is clear. I understand that different cultures, faiths, and political groups may debate the value of unborn life – put the unborn are human life.

        Thanks for your time – and know that this isn’t about my winning an argument, this is about getting the thruth out. God bless

      • I spent my 43 year career trying to get young people to use their minds. I believe in reasoning. But as a philosopher I also admit that there is a limit to reason’s ability to shed light on complex issues. I simply say that there is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is revealed in our philosophy! (I stole that and modified it a bit!) Thanks for the comment — and the sources.

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