The recent passage of New York’s radical new law permitting abortion up until the beginning of labor was shocking, but more shocking still were the cheers of the lawmakers when the governor signed the bill into law. Even people who were barely lukewarm in their pro-life sentiments were horrified by such an enthusiastic reception of the law. I could not help but wonder, however, at the pro-life horror as much as I wondered at the pro-choice cheers.
When I was teaching debate, I always allowed my students to choose the topics, no matter how controversial, with one exception: abortion. I had to explain that the topic is not debatable. Why? Because the morality or immorality of abortion depends entirely on a judgment about when life begins; otherwise, it’s simply a debate on infanticide. Nor can the issue be decided solely on the basis of religion: The Catholic church says that life begins at conception, a position that makes most birth control methods infanticide, but the Union of American Hebrew Congregations says that life begins when an infant first breathes outside the womb of the mother, a position that makes abortion legitimate up until the very last moment. That is why the Supreme Court refused to make a judgment and that is why the whole issue has been—and will continue to be—so impossible to legislate.
“Well, then, Ms. Hunt, what is your position? Should it be legal or not?”
“I don’t want it to be illegal—I want it to be unthinkable.”
And so the outrage that pro-lifers expressed at New York’s lifting of virtually all restrictions on abortion is as troubling as the cheers of the lawmakers. What is it that governs pro-lifers’ thinking when they consider human life in the womb? Is it the relative development of the baby? Is a baby not as fully developed as one about to be born somehow less a person than one more fully developed? There is something askew in that point of view. Either that’s a human life or it isn’t. Can any human be more or less a person? Once conceived, it’s either a human or it isn’t. The cheers are indeed horrifying, but the hypocrisy of those who were outraged is just as disturbing.
Possibly most mysterious of all is how we have borne our grief in all these decades of legally disposable babies. There’s only one way: by denying the infant’s personhood in earlier stages of pregnancy. Not only has that denial made it possible to bear the reality of the mass murder that has become a part of our culture, it has also allowed so many of us to continue our own systematic murder in the devices we use to prevent birth. It is our reaction to the cheers of the lawmakers that exposes our own hypocrisy.
From the moment a woman knows she is with child, she is answerable to God for the life of the person in her womb. If that is not true, then there is no life-creating God. And that is where the real debate lies—and always has—and no legislation can answer it. That debate is not between us, but within us.