Very delicate ground, here.
I want to be as precise as I know how in discussing the language used in today’s Washington Post editorial about the upcoming Tim Tebow ad, while trying to avoid the extreme emotions that usually accompany this topic.
The ad is said to feature Tebow and his mother. Tebow’s mother was being treated for amoebic dysentery during her pregnancy and it was feared that the drugs used to treat her illness would cause grave harm to Tebow. She was advised to have an abortion. Obviously, she did not.
This is not just an anti-abortion ad, it is also a reminder that doctors can be wrong. Tebow’s mother makes a statement that having her baby was the correct choice. The implication is that this decision would be correct for some or all other women.
I do not want to discuss the politics of the abortion debate. So it is immaterial to our central topic whether it is right or wrong for CBS to run this ad.
Clarity must be paramount: let us carefully define our terms. The most common euphemism abortion supporters use is “pro-choice.” They mean by this that all women should be allowed to choose to kill their fetuses or not to kill them.
The emphasis is on choice, but it is the act which is at contention. The pro-abortion euphemism is meant to, and does, distract attention away from the act. For our case, this is important because of the way the Post uses this euphemism, about which more in a moment.
Anti-abortion supporters come closer to acknowledging the act of abortion with their slogan of “pro-life.” They mean by this that no woman should be allowed to choose to kill her fetus. The proper word is “kill” because the fetus is alive.
There are, as we all know, gradations and subtleties of both positions. Some anti-abortion people would make an exception and allow abortion if certain conditions held. And some pro-abortion people would disallow abortions if other conditions held. These subtleties are immaterial to our central point.
Which is this: We can take it that all agree that to murder is wrong and is a punishable act. But one can only murder another human. Anti-abortion supporters hold that a fetus becomes human at the moment of conception. Pro-abortion supporters hold that a fetus does not become human until it is delivered from its mother.
This is the point to argue. All other matters fade to insignificance or are political distractions. For example, the Post reports that “Erin Matson, the National Organization for Women’s new vice president, called the Tebow spot ‘hate masquerading as love.'” This is unintelligible philosophically, however revealing it may be politically. Thus, we will ignore it.
Now, if a fetus does become human at conception, then no woman may legally “choose” to kill it, for if she does, it is plainly murder. If a fetus does not become human until birth, then a woman may choose to kill it and cannot be punished for doing so.
It is, of course, possible and coherent to define the point at which a fetus becomes human at times intermediate of conception and birth, but these definitions are presently irrelevant to our discussion.
The Post editorial—which supports the “right” for Tebow to air his ad—is a typical example of muddled thinking that follows this debate. They say, “abortion is as tough and courageous a decision as is the decision to continue a pregnancy.” This is false. If a fetus is not human, it is no act of courage to undergo a medical procedure from which there is little risk of harm. But if a fetus is human, then the act of abortion is not courageous but villainous.
The writers (Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman) then descend into, what must be, an unspoken desire on their part. They say, “Pam Tebow was indeed courageous and had the legal right to choose…” Courageous she may have been, but the implication is that she might not have had the “legal right to choose.”
Since she was determined to have her child, and if she did not have the right to choose, then the choice whether to abort or not would have been made by others. Evidently, the Post is imagining that doctors should have that right, or that they would be in the best condition to judge, what defines a human.
In the same vein, while showing that support for abortion has decreased, the Post, repeats a common non-sequitur, “We read about successful fetal surgery; we don’t read about women dying in pools of blood on their bathroom floors after botched abortions, as we did when the procedure was illegal.”
If a fetus is human, then the harm caused a woman from a self-induced or botched abortion is not mitigating. She has still committed, or has been complicit to, a murder and does not have our sympathy. And if a fetus is not human, then the question shifts to one of stupidity (on the woman’s part) or possibly medical malpractice (on the part of whomever botched the abortion).
Doctors are in no better moral position than any of us to say what is or is not a human. But medical technology has evidently been partly responsible for the decrease in abortion support. Many, after seeing a colorful, three-dimensional picture of a young fetus, have concluded that the fetus is human. It is rational to suppose that these sorts of images and anecdotes will become more vivid and that support for abortion will continue to wane as more people conclude that fetuses are human.
The Post‘s writers tacitly admit this, and suggest some pro-abortion group produce a competing ad.
We’d go with a 30-second spot, too. The camera focuses on one woman after another, posed in the situations of daily life: rushing out the door in the morning for work, flipping through a magazine, washing dishes, teaching a class of sixth-graders, wheeling a baby stroller. Each woman looks calmly into the camera and describes her different and successful choice: having a baby and giving it up for adoption, having an abortion, having a baby and raising it lovingly. Each one being clear that making choices isn’t easy, but that life without tough choices doesn’t exist.
This brings us to probability and counterfactuals, which are unfortunately confusing subjects. Suppose a woman has an abortion. We cannot know, but can only guess, what her life would have been like had she not had the abortion. As the time from the abortion increases, the guesses become vaguer and more improbable. At best, then, any personal story it is weak evidence for the benefits of abortion.
However, we can generously suppose that the consequences of abortion are positive and as rich as you like. If a fetus (at whatever point in its development) is not human, then showing a post-abortion woman living a glamorous life would only serve to increase the number of abortions (try arguing the opposite), something few claim they support.
But if a fetus (from conception) is human, then showing a woman benefiting from her crime, and encouraging others to do the same, is evil.