Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why Not Thank God for Abortion? [Jay Watts]

Yesterday my Twitter feed and Facebook Newsfeed blew up with Toure Neblett. Toure talked on  MSNBC about his past experience facing an unplanned pregnancy conceived in a serious committed relationship with a woman he was pretty sure he didn't want around for the long haul. (See Video Below) Since he was not ready to be a father - especially not with this woman- the decision of the girlfriend represented a great moment of freedom for Toure and prevented what he characterizes as messing up three lives. The abortion later opened the door for him to have children with a woman he presumably liked a good bit more than the former girlfriend and rise through the ranks of journalism to the point that he could share this story with us all. He wrapped up the tale by thanking God and country for abortion.

I wanted to look at his statement, because at the end of a weird week of videos and articles marking the 40th anniversary of the Roe/Doe decisions it gives a good a launching point for discussing the foundational issues in the abortion debate.  

Issue 1: Why not Thank God?

Toure – like many people that choose to leap headfirst into the abortion discussion – completely misses the point. The right or wrong of the abortion issue hinges on identifying the life we wish to kill and determining what our moral duties are to it, if any. What is the unborn?

If the unborn life in question is not a human in morally relevant ways - that is if they are not like you and me - then why not thank God for abortion? I am grateful for all sorts of medical advances that make it safer to deal with pathologies today than it once was. If I get appendicitis, then thank God for appendectomies. If you watch Downton Abbey and endured this week's excruciating episode then we can all thank God for medical advances that make it safer for women to receive emergency cesarian sections. Doctors delivered my first child by “urgent c-section” because my wife had high blood pressure and wasn't progressing in labor. I thanked God for our doctor's expertise. 

Notice there is a pretty big “IF” hanging in the air, though. I used the following illustration to make the point in a recent presentation. On December 25th 1992, I was driving to my grandmother's house in order to celebrate Christmas with my father's family and inadvertently caused the death of innocent life. Their was nothing I could do to avoid what happened, but innocent life was lost none the less. The scene tortured me, and I replayed it over and over in my mind. I was haunted... for about an hour and then I started drinking ice cold Cokes and opening presents and forgot all about it.

How do you evaluate my reaction to that scene? There is critical information missing isn't there? What was the nature of the innocent life I inadvertently ended? Does my emotional response seem a bit more appropriate when you find out it was a suicidal squirrel that ran in front of my car? (for reasons known only to the squirrel) I haven't the foggiest idea how many ants die every time I take to the road and never spend a single moment mourning or regretting the deaths of the bugs that routinely slam into my windshield. I would think it odd if a person told me they were bothered by the death of a dragon fly on the ride over to my home. If - on the other hand - I had inadvertently killed a child then my quick recovery due to Christmas presents and drink would demonstrate a dangerous lack of perspective and would call into question my entire character. It seems morally defective to get over killing a child so easily. I would expect to never fully recover from something so horrifying.

In the same way, the nature of the life in question is central to our evaluating abortion and our response to it. If the unborn are not human in the same way that we are then Toure's response is entirely appropriate, but he needs to argue for that. If he is merely emoting then his commentary is no more than, “Hurray abortion!” If he is sharing his preference then his commentary is no more than, “I prefer abortion to having the responsibility of raising a child.” It ought to be obvious that neither expression informs us about the nature of the act of terminating a human life prior to birth for reasons of convenience. They tell us something about Toure.

It is true information in the same way that my 8 year old daughter tells me something true when I tell her that it is wrong to not like bacon. She responds, “Daddy, when I put bacon in my mouth I don't like the way it tastes.” This is subjectively true information that tells us about the subjects, Toure or my daughter, but is true information that doesn't progress the evaluation of the issue. It fails to address the nature of the object, the nascent human life. Whether or not that life is human life and possesses moral worth are objective questions about the nature of something external to us. How we feel and what we prefer are simply irrelevant to the question at hand.

I fully admit that Toure's career trajectory may have been improved as a result of that abortion and that this fact makes Toure happy and grateful. But what was the nature of that life that was ended?

If it was a human life in the same way that you and I are human life then I don't care a whit how grateful he is about the outcome of aborting his child. It is wrong to kill others so that we can avoid inconvenient responsibility. Aborting the child was good for him, but it was the violent end to a life only just begun for another. A life that was deemed in another recent creepy addition to the discussion at Salon “So what if abortion ends life?” by Mary Elizabeth Williams, “A life worth sacrificing.” (more on this in issue 2) So he prevented messing up three lives by terminating one of the lives to spare the other two the burden of loving it. That is a less inspiring story.

We argue using science and philosophy that early human life is the proper object of the basic moral duties and obligations that are owed to all members of the human family. (See here) Toure responds that his life was made better by aborting a particular unborn human life. Bully for you, Toure. Now explain why you and others have the right to do so based on the nature of the life that was destroyed.

He comes close to offering an argument based on bodily autonomy rights by quoting the words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and saying he can't imagine telling a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. The problem is that "I can't imagine..." is not the same as arguing "It is wrong to...". Toure frames the discussion by offering autobiographical information again. Then he demonstrates he doesn't have the slightest clue what bodily autonomy rights are by his silly statement concerning the unsolvable medical argument of when life begins. Scholars that argue bodily autonomy rights don't talk like that. They concede a living being and the intentional ending of a life of value. They simply believe and argue that the woman's right to control her reproductive system supersedes the rights of the unborn life. Toure's inclusion of that quote felt more like an intellectual accessory intended to dress up an otherwise ill conceived rant. He isn't the first person to throw around quotes he doesn't really understand to underscore his point and he won't be the last.

The rest is like a shotgun blast of arguments passing by in quick succession. He mentions the stability of the family, nation building, back alley abortions, and the bald assertion of the right to choose. He does so deftly while conceding that seeing life developing in the child he wanted caused him to waiver, but not enough to overcome his certainty that women need to be free to do with their bodies as they please. We will cover some of this in future posts. There was a lot there and little of it addresses the central issue in any way or would be accepted as justification for killing newborns for example. We are again presupposing they are worth less so we are free to do with them what we will. (Next post, Jay! Next post!)

Toure is free to thank God for whatever he wants. If the unborn are human in the same way that you and I are then he is thanking God for the freedom to destroy his children so that he can pursue his career unfettered. If he is a bodily autonomy rights guy then he is thanking God that his girlfriend didn't want to carry his child and destroyed the life growing inside her before it developed enough to have competing rights worth considering. If he doesn't believe the unborn are valuable human life then he is merely thanking God for advances in medical science.

Of all the options, the only one that doesn't make Toure sound like a self-centered creep is the last. But if that were his view it makes little sense to hope that abortions are rare as he does. If the unborn don't morally matter have as many abortions as you like. I don't hope that tooth extractions remain rare. Alas, this is just further evidence that this guy has no idea what he is talking about.

HT: John Stonestreet

Issue 2 – Abortion is necessary for the lifestyle and culture we live in to continue as it is. (Next Post)

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  1. "Aborting the child was good for him"

    Yes, it was. And as pro-lifers we hate to admit this, but abortion is often good for the woman, too. You see so many pro-lifers trying to make an argument about how bad abortion is for women. One book called women the "silent sufferers" It's bad for the baby, but not necessarily for the woman.

  2. "a serious committed relationship with a woman he was pretty sure he didn't want around for the long haul."

    A serious committed ... but didn't want for the long haul???

    Can anyone prescribe some medication to fix my brain because it refuses to process that statement. The dissonance in jarringly & loud.

  3. So you don't want a child, then abstain from sexual intercourse, if you aren't family minded. BUT place that baby in a family that would love, care, provide for a baby they so desperately want & couldn't otherwise have. That's to deny the adoptive parents the privlege of loving a child & having that child have a life & who knows what potenial that life could contribute in this world.

  4. I love the misogyny bit coupled with the "another set of morality." I mean, why impose your anti-misogyny morality on me? In actuality, I doubt that most prolifers are misogynistic, but it has some emotional appeal to say that and it always helps to play the tolerance card. Except that, this all assumes the child is not a human person, so nothing is proved.


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