“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” | Robert Frost
Like life, CHOICE is a word that can mean very different things; a word whose definition is important to the conversation surrounding Planned Parenthood and abortion.
Before we get into the differences in the two definitions, it is important to make clear that no one believes that people should have unlimited choice. Choice unfettered is anarchy. The existence of any laws or limits negates freedom of choice as a universal ideal; there is no such thing. In addition, choices cannot be made in a vacuum; every choice is the result of many other choices that have brought someone to this place (the chosen path as Robert Frost describes it). The question becomes what limits choice, what choices should be free, and on what do we base our choices?
The belief in quality of life (see yesterday’s post) tends to lead to a definition of choice connected to personal liberty: whatever is best for you. Since it is your quality of life, it is also your choice as to what would give your life value and bring you happiness. This view would place a limit on that which interferes with the quality of life for others. Do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else’s freedom of choice. While morality is often defined as relative, there is still an underlying idea that right and wrong exists.
The belief in quantity of life leads to a definition where choice is connected to responsibility. Since the value of life comes from outside of the person, choice cannot be limited to what is best for the person. Instead, choice must be driven by what is right (usually connected to moral absolutes); morality is objective and trumps personal liberty.
Much of the time these two definitions run parallel without issue, because what is best for the person (and the subjective choice) is also what is morally right. The place where this gets tricky is in situations where there is no ‘good ‘outcome; those choices which place you between a rock and a hard place. These situations are the ones where an abortion becomes an option for many:
- Too young to be a parent
- Can’t afford to support a child
- Possible birth defects
- Potential harm to mother
- Result of a rape or abusive relationship
None of these are easy situations, and many people, including abortion advocates will agree that it is a last resort for those who find themselves in an emergency. The issue of choice is often presented as a person having to define for themselves what is best in the midst of trying circumstances, especially since they are the ones who have to live with the results of ‘choice.’ But choice is never an individual issue. We are not all autonomous beings who live apart from and free from the choices of others. Instead, the limits placed on all of us are the results of not only our own decisions, but also the decisions of others around us (see #5 above). In other words, every choice made infringes on the ‘free’ choices of others.
Abortion not only clashes with the quantity of life belief in moral absolutes: taking a life is wrong, but it also conflicts with the quality of life belief in not limiting the freedom of others. The way forward is to have an honest conversation about what is best, not only for the individual, but what is best for society.
- What does it do to a culture to allow the terminating of life to solve difficult situations?
- What virtues does it instill in the next generation to place choice above appropriateness?
- What does it mean for the future if avoiding struggle and pursuing happiness becomes the highest ideal?