Thursday, April 28, 2011

abortion debate at ASU

Brilliant, logical arguments support pro-choice position!

Was that what I expected? Maybe fractionally--I'm not sure. But I was eager to attend and simply listen today, at ASU, to a debate between a pro-lifer and a pro-choicer on the issue of abortion. I can't say that's what I heard.

The pro-life position was represented by Scott Klusendorf, from Life Training Institute. The pro-choice position by Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU.

It was a civil and charitable debate. If I can, in fact, call it a debate. I have to say, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that the pro-choice advocate resorted to extremely unimpressive pseudo-arguments. Either she didn't have a high opinion of logical arguments, or didn't think that her audience was sharp enough to reckon with a couple of them.

For example, she invoked the fact that some "pro-lifers" support abortion as evidence that abortion is somehow, therefore, acceptable. Let me see if I get the logic, from her perspective: some of my opponents, whom I disagree with, actually agree with my position, at least in some circumstances. Therefore, my opponents who don't agree with my position should agree with my position because...well, hey, they must have their reasons! After all, they are pro-lifers! So abortion is ok!

Any one see a problem with this logic?

Another example. She claimed that some people cite religious reasons for abortion as implicit evidence that abortion is (or at least could be) morally acceptable. A blanket assertion, based on vague religious argument. Again, big disappointment. Hey, I thought it was crazy, right wing "dangerous" pro-lifers that based their positions on dreamy, mindless, and ambiguous religious principles. I thought, "Did she just invoke the fact that some 'religious' people support abortion as evidence that it is, in fact, okay?" Since when does the mere fact that someone believes something prove that it's right to believe it?

I couldn't help but reflect: it's a brave new world! A pro-choicer is standing up in a state school and demanding blind religious assent to her explicitly religious presumption that abortion is okey-dokey.

Don't mind the man behind the curtain...(cue thunder and lightning)..."The Great and Terrible Oz!!!" I don't think too many of us in the audience were impressed.

Meanwhile, Scott said just the opposite: "I will not use religion as support for my arguments. I will use science and philosophy." Which he did, and did impressively well.

I did stand up and ask one question to Nadine in the "Q and A" session:

"Nadine, regarding the unborn, you denied a clear and rigid distinction between positing it as a totally non-human entity and a fully human entity, asserting a kind of ontological 'middle ground.' What is your logical basis for this assertion? It is something in embryology, or philosophy?"

Her answer was paper thin. She essentially re-asserted that the unborn was somehow more than a "tooth" yet less than human without any attempt to provide an argument for the assertion...other than another mere assertion that "we just don't know" and that "there is no agreement among embryologists." Ok. So we don't know. Meaning you don't know. So you're saying: you don't know. And yet you're sure that the embryo is "more than a tooth" and "less than a human." Um, I thought you don't know, like all those poor embryologists that Scott just said are in total agreement that the embryo is a fully alive human, genetically and biologically distinct from it's mother and father?

Scott's humble rebuttal: if you don't know what it is, you don't kill it. Everyone parent has answered their kids' question: "Can I kill it?" The answer depends on what the thing in question is. Is it a tomato? A fish? A cat? An ACLU president? Everything hinges on whether or not the thing in question is a human being.

To make his point, Scott cited embryologists, philosophy, logic, common sense, experience. But not baseless assertions and ambiguous reference to what "religious people believe." It was refreshing. His opponent didn't offer as much intellectual refreshment. That was disappointing but, in retrospect, not all that surprising. At least the debate happened, and students attentively considered the arguments. Another drop in the rising tide of a generation which has had enough of smoke and mirrors. Enough.


  1. The biggest issue I have with the pro-life view is it's not consistent. Explain to me how a mother of four dying with her unborn child is better than only her unborn child's life ending. Life is not lived in black and white, and lest we forget, it's not our job to judge others' choices. We should leave that to God.

    The church's job is not to dictate law for the world, the church's job is to disseminate the information to allow it's followers to make informed choices. Anyone who doesn't understand that will never understand that sitting on judgment of others is wrong, whether you're a bishop, a priest, or other political activist.

    I'm not surprised your beliefs weren't changed, mine won't be changed by a debate either. The way people learn to accept other points of view is through reflection, life experiences, empathy and prayer. These ideas used to be important at All Saints Catholic Newman Center. I, for one, sorely miss them in the current incarnation of the ASU Catholic Newman Center.

  2. Fr. John, great article!! Thank you so much for writing about this. I completely agreed. Nadine was very sweet and polite, but she couldn't stand a chance against Scott's arguments based on Science and Philosophy, and not wishy-washy rhetoric. A lot of her arguments could have been boiled down to the same old "common ground" bit that President Obama likes to play up, but which, in the end, offers no credence or influence towards her position. I hope most of the students there saw that.
    And that is the greatest, most solid aspect of the pro-life movement, isn't it? That we base our arguments on science and logic, the truth, which is supposedly kept in such high esteem by those who hold an opposing view to us. The truth is on our side, so why not use it? If the truth was on Nadine's side, she most definitely would have, and it would have been more effective.

  3. Lynn, in my experience dialoging about this issue on the ASU campus, I've found that most of the inconsistencies are rather found in those who hold a pro-choice point of view. The pro-life movement in no way claims that the life of the unborn child is more valuable than the life of his/her mother. In fact, the pro-life movement has been consistent in holding the firm belief that both are equally valuable, equally loved and equally hold the right to their own life in the eyes of God. It is those who believe that it is permissible to kill the unborn for any reason, be it trivial or grave, who do not hold up in consistency.
    If I'm understanding the situation you've brought up correctly, you're talking about a case of the health of the mother, in which the risk of carrying out a pregnancy to full term could result in her death, and subsequently the death of her unborn baby. When those sorts of situations are brought up, the one thing that is absolutely important to explain is exactly what health related issue we're talking about. A lot of instances in which the doctor claims that the mother will most assuredly die if she does not have an abortion are not as life-or-death as doctors make them seem. Many providers in the medical field are predominately anti-life, so to get this kind of prognosis is incredibly common for even much less dangerous health conditions.
    I can think of one case, though, in which life-or-death really is the situation, and to explain how the Catholic Church, and all truly pro-life individuals, hold up consistently with their views, I'll bring up an example. In what is called an "ectopic pregnancy" the newly conceived baby implants in the fallopian tube rather than in the womb, and, if carried to term, will grow and burst the fallopian tube, killing both the mother and child. As all truly pro-life individuals hold, in this case, as in all cases, *both* lives of the mother and child are equally valuable and equally hold the right to life. Both the mother and child, two distinct patients, deserve the best possible health care from their providers, and neither one of these patients deserves death, which is, by definition, not health care. In this horribly pressing case, we really do have a dichotomy of either the mother living and the child dying, or both the mother and child dying. So what do we do in these circumstances? ...

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  5. ... In Catholic Bio Ethics there is a principle called "the principle of Double Effect." It states that one can never achieve a good end through an evil means. For example, you could not kill one person to give his/her healthy organs to a dying mother of 5, or a brilliant scientist, or a famous violinist, etc. The second part of this principle states that if, through an action which is morally good or neutral, a foreseen yet indirect harmful effect results, the action is still morally licit. To better explain, I'll use the analogy I brought up above. In order to treat the condition of the mother's misplaced pregnancy ("ectopic" means out of place) the doctors would have to surgically remover her fallopian tube, with the baby still inside, resulting in the indirect and unfortunate ending of her unborn baby's life. In this case they are treating the disease first in the hopes of saving the mother's life, through means which are morally neutral, and the indirect but foreseen result is the death of the unborn baby. If, however, the doctor were to go in and DIRECTLY end the baby's life through an abortion, this would be achieving a good end (the life and health of the mother) through an evil means (the direct killing of a human being) which is definitively morally illicit and gravely wrong, and denies the true dignity and worth of the human person, born or unborn. In the first case there is no inconsistency in the belief that *both* the mother and child have an equal dignity, value and right to life, and all true pro-lifers hold this view in all cases. Rather, it is the second case, and all cases of abortion, which fall horribly short and inconsistent with these views of the dignity and worth of the human person. Those who hold the view that the value of an unborn child is subjectively determined by whether or not he/she is "wanted" by his/her mother, or even is lowered to the level of a disposable disease when health issues arise, are unquestionably inconsistent with their view of the worth of the human person, even though they claim that view. The former belief is what the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught, and is, I can confirm, what is being taught now at the All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe. Consistency has never been found stronger and more based upon the truth of the Gospel of Life and the dignity of the human person there than ever before.
    Lynn, if you would like to learn more about the pro-life stance and how it has remained consistent since 1973 (and before) here is a great website: It is Scott Klusendorf's site (the pro-life proponent in the debate mentioned) which has tabs to the scientific and philosophical (logical) cases for the life of the unborn, as well as other defenses for the pro-life stance. If you are interested in really figuring out whether or not pro-life arguments hold water or remain consistent throughout, this is the website you really want to soak yourself in and get familiar with. I hope you find the inconsistencies you're looking for and I'd be happy to hear about them and dialogue about them with you in the future. May God's blessings and peace be on you.