Science speaks properly a language of abstraction and abstract categories when it is properly trying to sort out and put in order the things it knows. But it often assumes improperly that it has said–or known–enough when it has spoken of “the cell” or “the organism,” “the genome” or “the ecosystem” and given the correct scientific classification and name. Carried too far, this is a language of false specification and pretentious exactitude, never escaping either abstraction or the cold-heartedness of abstraction.
The giveaway is that even scientists do not speak of their loved ones in categorical terms as “a woman,” “a man,” “a child,” or “a case.” Affection requires us to break out of the abstractions, the categories, and confront the creature itself in its life in its place. The importance of this for conservation can hardly be overstated. For things cannot survive as categories but only as individual creatures living uniquely where they live. – Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle
As stated yesterday, the abortion conversation is all about definitions with both sides clinging closely to their idea of LIFE. The definition that they ‘defend’ will cause them to abstract the opposite view. What we are aiming for is what Berry here calls affection: this causes us to see people (and their views) for what they are.
For some life is an issue of QUALITY | a bad life is not worth living. In this definition of life, a life does not have value in itself, the value is in what it produces. Decisions are made based on how they will positively or negatively affect the experience of life. Life is something to pursue.
When you use a certain level of life as the standard for value, then any life that does not meet that standard is easily denigrated, even to the point of being considered useless. For this reason, the conversation about whether or not the unborn baby is a person or not doesn’t matter, because it has NO quality of life, while it may or may not have a negative effect on the quality of life of the pregnant mother (and/or others).
A quality of life person will most often argue from the perspective of the mother, or the quality of life of the baby if it were born (it would have had a bad life anyway). The bombs that it throws are most often name-calling (woman-haters) and to attack the unwillingness of the opposition to create the quality of life that they have deemed necessary for value. An example would be this quote thrown around quite a bit this week:
I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is. — Sister Joan Chittister
This is a good transition into the second definition of life is based of QUANTITY | a life is worth living because it is life . In this definition of life, a life has value in it because it exists. This definition comes not from measurable quality, but from the miraculous reality of life itself (most easily understood as being a gift from God). Decisions are made to protect the sanctity of life outside of the ability to see its potential quality. Life is something to honor.
When you use existence as the basis of value, then you are willing to sacrifice and suffer for the sake of life, because while this life can be hard, it is also beautiful. The conversation in the quantity of life camp tends to be focused on people playing God, exterminating life that does not fit into a human definition of quality.
A quantity of life person will most often argue from the position of what is morally right, holding on to the absolute right of a living thing to survive. The arguments against the opposition come down to name-calling (MURDERER!) and questioning the very humanity of those they disagree.
Is there room for a conversation here? Is it possible for two people with different definitions of life to sit down and discuss what should be done with the unborn? I believe there is, mainly because I believe that God cares deeply about both quality and quantity of life. There are some places of overlap between the two.
Quantity of life compatriots often point to the double-standard that exists when a pregnant woman is murdered and it is treated as a double homicide. Or a man charged with child abuse for punching a pregnant woman in the stomach. Why would that life be given value and treated as life when it is abused, but not when it is terminated? Another case would be miscarriage. We mourn with those who have lost a child when a baby dies in utero, projecting value on to the life lost (a helpful article on this is here). The reason why these two situations are treated differently is because of the value the mothers place on the baby. The fact that the babies are wanted is what makes them valuable, and in the minds of many, human. This is the world of consumption we live in where our desire to have children or not is what gives them worth (or makes them expendable). What is the response to this? How can we defend the value of the weak when their value has been reduced to what others think of them?
Our only hope is to create a quality of life for the unwanted. For Christians (I just narrowed my audience a bit), the job is to live out the gospel (while we were sinners, Christ died for us) with the born and unborn alike, showing love where the world sees no value. By raising the value of human life, we begin to bring value to those from whom it is currently withheld. By living out the love of Christ, we can show that we are pro-life, not just pro-birth.