Friday, August 5, 2016

Tales from Q&A: How can you trust me with a child if you can’t trust me with a choice? [Jay Watts]

“How can you trust me with a child if you can’t trust me with a choice?”

This question came from a young woman in Northern California during a Q&A session following my presentation on the Case for Life. The room of nearly 1,000 students stirred and a few oooh’s told me that the audience felt this was a good challenge.

It isn’t a real challenge at all, but a blank assertion lacking any substance offered in the guise of a question. It is no different than when other people have responded to my talks by saying things like, “Women have a right to choose!” As Greg Koukl points out, if anyone said something like “Women have a right to take!” the immediate response would be to ask, “Take what?” The same response is appropriate for those making these sweeping assertions. “Choose what?”

My job was to help the questioner see the mistake that she made without embarrassing her or bullying her from the stage. Here is how I answered:

“I respect your freedom to make all sorts of choices. Where you choose to live, what you choose to study in school, and what clothing you choose to wear. But let me ask you a question. Do you think that you ought to be allowed to walk across the room, seize any item from one of your fellow students in this section over here, and keep whatever you take as your own without permission or consent from the previous owner?”

She immediately objected, “That isn’t the same thing!”

“I didn’t say it was. I concede that it isn’t. The question still remains, should you be allowed to make that choice?”

Again, immediately she responded, “Of course not.”

I asked her another question. “Why?”

“Because that would be stealing.”

Here I asked for further clarification. “So. Why should that stop you? You may choose to steal. Why shouldn’t I trust you with that choice?”

She answered, “Because stealing is wrong.”

“I agree. Would it be safe to say that we both characterize stealing as immoral?”

She nodded, “Yes.”

“Okay. We have reached a good place of agreement here. We both agree that you ought to be free to make certain choices in your life. We both also agree that there are other choices that are immoral by their nature, like stealing, that you should not be free to choose.

You asked me a question, how can I trust you with a child if I can’t trust you with a choice? My response is that you never addressed the nature of my objection. I have no interest in limiting your morally legitimate choices. I just argued for an hour that that intentionally destroying the life of an innocent human being for elective reasons or reasons of convenience is immoral. I also argued using science and philosophy that the unborn belong in the family of intrinsically valuable human beings. (see Scott's Case for Life page here) If those arguments hold up to scrutiny then abortion would fall into the same category as stealing from your classmate. It would fall into the category of actions that we both agree ought to be restricted. My objections to abortion have nothing to do with any evaluation about whether you can be trusted. It has to do with an evaluation of the nature of the act of abortion.

You are now free to address my arguments about the nature of unborn human life and our moral duties and obligations to them. I would suggest that your best resource in this endeavor would be David Boonin’s book A Defense of Abortion. I think he makes as good a case as possible for people that wish to defend the right to an abortion, though I obviously feel his arguments are ultimately less than convincing. Francis Beckwith and Christopher Kaczor have provided strong rebuttals to Boonin that I find convincing (see here and here), but you should read them for yourself and make your own determination.

What you and I cannot do is offer assertions without content. We both have to resist the urge to shout slogans and respect each other enough to learn to engage against the best arguments available. This issue is too important to be so casually dismissed.”


  1. That was a good answer and probably complete enough for that questioner and that audience. Probably the "how can you trust me with a child?" part was just rhetoric that the questioner had picked up from someone else.

    But the questioner might possibly have remained curious about that part. Many pro-choicers believe that it's possible to do more damage overall by raising a child improperly than by aborting it. Their argument would be, If you trust women to make the choice about abortion, then those who know that they are unfit to raise a child ("should not be trusted" to raise one) will not be in the position of raising one. A woman who is not trusted about abortion is more likely to find to find herself doing that job -- a job for which she can't be trusted. Hence, "If you don't trust me with a choice to abort, you may be putting me in a child-raising position that you shouldn't expect me to be trustworthy with," or "How can you trust me with a child if you can’t trust me with a choice?"

    Of course adoption and drop boxes are possibilities, but that would be part of the answer. The question might in some cases need to be answered.

    1. But life as an objective good which, even by those with substantial hardships (whether due to some deformity or not), is subjectively valued. And of course the point, which, while long ago articulated, eludes many people is that they are already in the world, being raised and cared for now. And the Trot out the Toddler response will likely help rebut any hold outs.

    2. I just gave this comment so that I would be notified to any responses.

    3. Thanks, Sean Killackey.

      The author of the article had "just argued for an hour that intentionally destroying the life of an innocent human being for elective reasons or reasons of convenience is immoral." When asked the question about choice, he showed satisfactorily that some choices should be restricted, and then said in effect that therefore, in order to justify abortion, one would have to defeat everything that he had argued for an hour -- which the questioner had not attempted to do.

      My point, which you may have understood, was that the questioner's argument, most fundamentally, was likely "It is better to be aborted than to live the life of a child raised by an unfit mother." Abortion for that reason would not be "for reasons of convenience." Would it be for "elective reasons"? Yes, but "elective reasons" is a very general term; one who uses that term may well not have thought about the argument "It is better to be aborted than to live the life of a child raised by an unfit mother." I think that the "It is better to be aborted" argument can be defeated by trotting out the toddler, but I think it was a legitimate argument to raise at that point -- legitimate in the sense of not having been clearly addressed already by the author -- and I don't think just reminding the questioner about the argument, already on the table, that "intentionally destroying the life of an innocent human being . . . is immoral" addresses it. In other words, I think the "how can you trust me with a child?" part of the question was not completely addressed.


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