Mirror of Justice

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Friday, January 28, 2011

"Abortion, Reason, and Science"

"Abortion, Reason, and Science" is the name of this essay, by David Harsanyi, published at the Reason (a libertarian magazine) website.  (My advice, for what it's worth, is that one resist any temptation to read the comments.)  He says:

 How many Americans instinctively turn to the pro-choice camp because pro-life proponents aggravate their secular sensibilities?

As Nat Hentoff, the noted civil libertarian journalist, once remarked, when he turned pro-life, his cohorts at The Village Voice wondered when he had "converted to Catholicism—the only explanation they could think of" for his "apostasy."

It's unfortunate that abortion is a social issue, because it is science and reason that can turn the debate. . . .

[If] the pro-life movement is going to win the hearts and minds of the rest of the nation, it's not going to need more God. It's going to need more reason.

On the one hand, the piece made me want to roll my eyes and grumble a bit.  After all, the pro-life side of the argument (at least, in my experience) has been asking all along to have the abortion question subjected to the tests of reasoned argument.  Bring them on!  On the other hand, though, it seems hard to dispute the author's suggestion that many people (fairly or no) embrace abortion rights because they believe (incorrectly, in my view) that a "secular" orientation requires it.  If Harsanyi can get a few people to re-think that embrace, more power to him.

UPDATE:  This post, at First Things, has prompted some interesting discussion in the comments box. . .

http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2011/01/abortion-reason-and-science.html

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There is a problem, it seems to me, with those in the pro-life movement trying to use unease with post-viability abortions as a way of getting people to rethink abortion, and that is that to most of those who are pro-life (certainly to Catholic pro-lifers), there is no moral difference between an early abortion and a late one. Or, for that matter, there is no moral difference between an early abortion killing a "post-born" baby. Late-term abortion (and infanticide) are objectionable to many in the pro-choice movement because they do not believe an early embryo or a fetus is a person, but they do believe that at some point in prenatal development, the unborn infant reaches a point in its development where it should be thought of as a person.

The two main problems with the abortion debate (on blogs, at least) is that (1) the same arguments get repeated over and over, as if no one had ever made them before. And (2) people get angry (if they didn't start out that way) and resort to emotionally charged language. This is not, in my opinion, "reasoned argument." I think one way to avoid at least problem 1 is to specify a good book (or make up a reading list), and to have a discussion *about* the book(s) only by those who have *read* the book(s). I don't know how to stop people from getting angry, but a good moderator should be able to keep the debate from deteriorating into a shouting match (one hopes).

Posted by: David Nickol | Jan 29, 2011 8:46:45 PM

I actually think science and reason brings a real problem to the abortion discussion. Western Civilization is tuned to categorize and characterize since Aristotle. So, we ask questions like "at what point does life being?" But, if you examine the human experience around pregnancy, I propose that life doesn't begin at a single point.

I think it was in the comments of linked post that someone noted you don't ask a pregnant woman how her fetus is, you ask how the baby is doing. Of course, you also don't have a funeral for a miscarriage. For me, the points to a reality that is not easily squeezed into the binary thinking that reason and scientific method often require.

Posted by: JimII | Jan 29, 2011 11:44:36 PM

I actually think science and reason brings a real problem to the abortion discussion. Western Civilization is tuned to categorize and characterize since Aristotle. So, we ask questions like "at what point does life being?" But, if you examine the human experience around pregnancy, I propose that life doesn't begin at a single point.

I think it was in the comments of linked post that someone noted you don't ask a pregnant woman how her fetus is, you ask how the baby is doing. Of course, you also don't have a funeral for a miscarriage. For me, the points to a reality that is not easily squeezed into the binary thinking that reason and scientific method often require.

Posted by: JimII | Jan 29, 2011 11:44:36 PM

There's a curious statement by essayist David Harsanyi,"[If] the pro-life movement is going to win the hearts and minds of the rest of the nation, it's not going to need more God. It's going to need more reason."

Reason alone will take us wherever facts and human judgment lead, to the Luceum with Aristotle, to Mount Wilson with Edwin Hubble, or to Bergen-Belsen with Hauptsturmfuhrer Josef Kramer, and please mind your own business, thank you very much. As Mark Twain said, "First get your facts, then you can distort them as you please." Charles Darwin and the intellectual entrepreneurs who followed him reasoned their way to a world in which life is an accident of primordial chemistry and the fit survive, full stop. On its best day, reason gives us small truths: the speed of light; the tensile strength of 300-series stainless steel; the conditions needed to sprout Penn State Mix grass seed.

Only God delivers truth big enough to anchor human reasoning in the abortion question. Believe or don't. Life is a gift from God, or it is not. One man can hold a corporeal personal property interest in another human being or he cannot. A woman’s body is hers and hers alone, or it is not.

Whose reasoning, Mr. Harsanyi? How much less God?

Posted by: Earl Bohn | Feb 8, 2011 10:52:20 AM

"Of course, you also don't have a funeral for a miscarriage."

Perhaps you don't, and perhaps many don't. But many people do. Google is your friend.

Posted by: joe catholic | Feb 8, 2011 2:27:02 PM