Never suboptimal

This year is an election year in the US and that will, by November, have driven the rest of the world crazy. But it will also put one social and moral issue into the spotlight again and again and again. Abortion. Nowhere in the world perhaps is this issue as politicized as it is in America. It is, above all other reasons, THE reason why people who wish Donald Trump was not their candidate will nevertheless, on November 3rd, vote for him.

In many ways, I think this support is a little misguided because the GOP has never seemed particularly interested in trying to repeal Roe v Wade but the maths on the Supreme Court has changed in their favour, so who knows, maybe this time. This commitment to vote pro-life is so deeply ingrained that even though in practical terms nothing much is likely to change, for pro-life voters they simply cannot bring themselves to vote for a pro-choice candidate. And certainly not for the more extreme positions that are currently in favour in the Democratic party.

This political situation is set against a situation where, on the one hand, abortion provider and arch-nemesis of the pro-life movement Planned Parenthood has just had it’s busiest ever year and on the other hand, the abortion rate in the US is at its lowest rate since 1973 and continuing to fall.

But, it’s possible that the views of the general public are beginning to shift. It’s not like we don’t know the answer to the question, ‘when does life begin?‘ We do. Everyone does and the emotional weight of that argument is increasingly on the side of the pro-life camp. In her essay An Honest Abortion Debate, Alexandra Desanctis argues that:

Over the past few decades, there has been no greater boon to the anti-abortion cause than the ability to view in the womb the developing human life, to capture that image, to print out and hang up on the refrigerator and show to the world a picture of the tiny person growing inside his or her mother.

Case in point.

This technology adds emotional power to pro-life words. So when Nicanor Austriaco writes about human dignity then the picture above confirms the truth of his words.

The Judeo-Christian tradition holds that humans have intrinsic dignity, based on the belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God. This dignity thus cannot be lost, from conception until death, no matter the apparent indignities a person suffers.

This conviction leads women like Sarah Williams to make profound and moving decisions during her pregnancy. Her essay is compelling, heartbreaking and beautiful. Her daughter Cerian was found to have a skeletal deformity that would lead inevitably to her being stillborn. She was urged to abort and when she opted to carry her to term was told: “To fail to abort in the case of proven fetal abnormality is morally wrong because in doing so one is deliberately bringing avoidable suffering into the world. It is an ethical imperative to abort in the case of suboptimal life.”

This is how Sarah responded:

The word “suboptimal” rang in my head for days afterwards. Silently, I formed a counterargument. My medical colleague’s argument, along with all the practices I had been pondering, presupposes a particular definition of normality, of health, and of quality of life. But what happens if the definition on which this argument rests is dubious? Whose definition of normality is it anyway? And on what basis is quality of life assessed? What is a normal person? Do normal people have a certain intelligence or skin colour? Normality is a relative scale with no accepted criteria in all cultures. At one end of this relative scale we place people who are restricted by intellectual functioning, illness, age, or accident. And at the other end of this scale we place people with efficient minds and bodies. By this definition each of my three children sit at different points on the normality spectrum. Could I as a parent who loves them equally decide which one of them was most valuable, or worthy of a place on the planet?

Her reasoning pushes the pro-life camp towards dealing with one of the most powerful push backs to Christians everywhere and Republican voting Christians in the US in particular. That while they proclaim deep care and compassion towards the unborn child their attitudes and policies towards the living are not nearly as compassionate and caring. In other words, they are hypocrites. American evangelicals, in other words, need to be a little bit more Catholic in their pro-life commitments.

The key question for the pro-choice side is now, not when does life begin but as Andrew Haslam asks in his Ten questions for pro-choice people, when does a human become a person? At what point does a human being acquire the rights that pertain to human beings? And what are the reasons for choosing that point?

To the pro-life side, the case seems unanswerable, although it seems that in England the Church of England can make a fudge of almost anything. And this debate will largely be mysterious to the vast proportion of Sweden where 94% of the population support some form of legal abortion which just goes to further prove the point that Europe and the US do not operate from similar cultural wordviews.

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