This Deadly Simplicity
July 01, 2022
Ambiguity is tough for a lot of people. They crave the bright lines that separate good and evil. Wrestling with moral questions is frightening and hard and you’re never sure you’ve gotten it right. Who’d want that? Much more reassuring to have simple and unambiguous principles to determine your decisions. Hence the moral rectitude of the anti-abortion activists.
It is only when we inject into the issue questions of subjectivity (like wantedness) or religions (like ensoulment), existential ones (like sentience), theological ones (like human dignity) or sociological ones (like quality of life), that we find ample room for uncertainty and disagreement. These are important, enduring questions. But they are not questions upon which the basic, inalienable right of an individual life should depend.
But why not? This is from an NYT opinion piece celebrating the downfall of Roe v. Wade. The writer (a research professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), believes “that abortion unjustly ends the life of a being that is fully human, a life that exists independently of the will of the mother, is self-organizing and unique, developing yet complete in itself...” She comes to this belief by explicitly refusing to consider any of those subjective, religious, existential, theological, or sociological questions that she rightly says might cause uncertainty. On what does this “basic, inalienable right of an individual life” depend? She doesn’t feel the need to say. For her, it is so clearly and comfortingly obvious that it completely eliminates any need to consider those challenging questions (important and enduring though they be).
What fascinates me even more than the incoherence is the blinding arrogance. Having clarified that her belief is not subject to questions subjective, religious, existential, theological, or sociological, she is nonetheless so committed to the truth of it that she has no hesitation in calling on the full weight of the secular state to enforce the consequences of her belief upon the majority of people who do not share it. What a comfort it must be to have such an unassailable moral core. But how intellectually weird.
“If you believe as I do...” she says, the chain of consequent actions is clear. But what if we don’t believe as you do? On what basis does your belief carry greater moral weight than mine? She doesn’t appear to grasp that this could even be an issue. She’s been liberated from ambiguity.
Their opponents accuse the anti-abortion activists of hypocrisy. “If your dedication to the sanctity of life were as fundamental as you say it is, you’d be objecting to capital punishment and war and advocating for more comprehensive gun control with just as much passion as you bring to marching back and forth in front of abortion clinics.” They smugly think they’ve won a point. But I understand why the activists won’t take those issues on. They don’t provide the clear freedom from ambiguity that saving those innocent babies does.
The woman who chooses abortion also chooses to accept the moral responsibility for the consequences of ending the potential of that human life. She accepts responsibility for weighing the difficult questions and making the best moral choice she can. Does the anti-abortion crusader accept responsibility for the wrecked lives her successful campaign will result in? More women will die. More children will be born into poverty and misery. More will spend their blighted childhoods in the over-burdened foster care pipeline. More healthy, happy babies will not be born because an abortion that would have given a young woman a chance for a secure and successful life was denied her. The crusader chooses not to live with any of those consequences. She can lay the responsibility off on the poor choices the woman made in the first place, or the family that didn’t step up, or, if all else fails, the surety that “God has a plan”.
She's absolved herself from considering those uncomfortable subjective, religious, existential, theological, and sociological questions. She keeps her thought processes clear. She keeps her focus narrow. She’s saving babies. That’s what matters. God will sort the rest out. It is all so unambiguously clear.