(RNS) — A few years ago, I participated in a panel discussion at Princeton University with Peter Singer on the subject of abortion and animal rights. (Singer is a philosopher famous for his utilitarian approach to ethics, including his arguments in favor of euthanasia and infanticide.) My purpose that night was to try to persuade Singer and the other panelists (who were also animal rights advocates) to consider granting at least the same moral weight to a human embryo as they give animals and, in doing, to recognize that abortion kills a human being.
To no one’s surprise, I didn’t convince them.
Nor did I convince anyone in the largely hostile audience. During the Q&A session that followed the panel discussion, a man stood up at the back of the large lecture hall, looked down at me with an expression of equal parts wonder and scorn, and said, “I have never met anyone like you.” He couldn’t believe I believed that from the moment of conception, an individual human life worthy of protection exists. “I never knew people like you existed,” he said.
Much of the discussion that night on the panel revolved — as ethics discussions do — on competing interests and goods. As often comes up in discussions about abortion, a central point of consideration was not only the moral and ontological status of the human embryo but also the rights and welfare of the already-born, sentient, autonomous, independent person whose very body and life would bear the weight and responsibility for that developing being.
As someone who is unwaveringly and passionately pro-life — someone who believes abortion ends the life of a human person — I would never deny or minimize the tremendous sacrifice it takes to carry a life once it has begun.
Consider the experience of a dear friend who grew up in an evangelical, pro-life home. Yet, when she became pregnant and single at age 20, she considered an abortion. Abortion offered itself as a tempting, easy way out. As she explained to me recently:
I could have finished college without navigating childcare challenges as I did during those early difficult years of single motherhood. I certainly would have gotten more sleep, had more energy and done more socializing. I might have met someone and gotten married earlier in life. I may have avoided the financial straits I was so often in as a single mom. I probably would have felt less a pariah at church. And I definitely would have endured much less heartache and angst. Making the right decision to have my son and raise him made the follow-through no less demanding.
My friend loves her son, of course, and says she found unanticipated beauty and joy within her hard circumstances. This is, after all, what the gift of life always offers.
This is what those of us who call ourselves pro-life believe. This is why we ask (or rather, demand) that others sacrifice much for the sake of vulnerable lives that depend on them.
Asking (demanding) that someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant to sacrifice so much is, as my friend’s story shows, asking (demanding) a lot.
Asking people not to choose abortion demands even more when those people disbelieve the biology about when a new life begins, question the science around conception, or defer to existential and philosophical questions about ensoulment, personhood and autonomy in order to rationalize their way out of a basic moral obligation to do no harm.
Nevertheless, this is what we who oppose elective abortion-on-demand do. We ask a lot.
The logic of that bumper sticker slogan “Don’t like abortion? Don’t get one” doesn’t work when your position against abortion is founded on the desire to protect the lives of the innocent and vulnerable, not yourself, whether or not the rest of the world believes the science.
But, this column isn’t just about abortion.
I have a hard time with a lot of folks who are on my side of the aisle on this issue, yet inexplicably fail to apply the same logic to the precautions asked for during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is the science about masking, social distancing and even vaccines entirely conclusive and indisputable? Of course not. And the targets are ever moving as the virus and our responses to it evolve.
But basic common sense (and a good amount of research to boot) tells us certain behaviors do decrease the likelihood of spreading infectious disease. (That’s why we cover our mouths when we sneeze, why surgeons wear masks and why we stay home when we are sick.)
The science may be developing and improving as we learn more, and I have no doubt that — as with all other pandemics throughout human history — this one will go away eventually, even if it takes years more rather than months.
But the number of deaths (nearly 900,000 in the U.S. and climbing) this pandemic has already seen won’t change (and, with these deaths, a lowered U. S. life expectancy, the biggest drop since World War II). This pandemic, like all those that came before it, will surely pass. There will be much grief to bear when we come face to face with the fact that some of our loved ones would likely have been with us still if we’d been a bit more cautious, a bit more patient and changed our lifestyles a bit more for a little longer.
It is not asking too much — in fact, it’s really the bare minimum — for those of us who believe we are justified in asking a woman to sacrifice much to preserve a life growing inside her body to inconvenience our own bodies by voluntarily (even cheerfully) wearing a piece of cloth, keeping distant or possibly even adding one more vaccine to the ones we got when we went to school, were employed or traveled on a missions trip or exotic vacation.
By no means am I arguing that the willful, intentional destruction of the life of an unborn child is morally equivalent to inadvertently passing on a virus to someone vulnerable. But we know this virus has brought about the deaths of nearly 1 million people in our country in just two years, and we who believe all human life is sacred are called to protect human lives in many ways.
In this world, which is not our home, every age (perhaps even every decade) presents us with different needs for different times. Although the needs and times change, Christians are marked by a belief that our bodies are not our own. They belong to the body of Christ and should do no harm.
All those in the watching world ought to marvel at us, so alien here, and say, “I never knew people like you existed.”