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Abortion Case

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The emotional stakes in the abortion debate are rarely discussed. I believe that these emotional stakes are a major confounding factor in the debates and that identifying The emotional factors will be useful.

I have noticed that some people who argue in favor of abortion are more highly invested in the matter than am I. I have always favored a woman's right to choose, but my level of emotion about this belief is significantly less than some people on my side of the debate, the pro-choice side. Those people who are very emotionally pro-choice seem to have a personal investment in the debate. If I hypothesize that the highly emotional person has had an abortion, her high level of emotion is explained. Some people who have had an abortion cannot allow themselves to consider the idea that abortion is wrong because there is no redemption for murder. (I do not think abortion is murder. I am saying that the pro-choice zealot may secretly think that abortion is murder, though the belief is repressed.) A person who commits murder cannot make it right. A life once taken cannot be restored. Some people who have had an abortion are arguing about, at the root, whether they have committed an unforgivable sin--not exactly a topic of conversation to be taken lightly.

Let me say immediately that a person who has had an abortion can enter into the abortion debate, but, as a matter of intellectual fairness, she should not exhibit a highly emotional state during the debate or allow her high emotions to affect her reasoning. There are two ways she might accomplish this. First, she can have thoroughly and completely analyzed her decision to have a abortion and have arrived at certainty (actual not imagined) that her decision was correct. She can thus engage in the abortion debate as a philosopher and a teacher with no fear of the contrary arguments of her interlocutors. She will know she has all the answers. Second, she may have philosopher-like powers and be capable of setting aside the risks to her psychological well-being posed by engaging in a debate in which she might learn that her decision to have a abortion was, by her own newly informed judgment, morally wrong. The capacity to set aside real threats to one's ego for the sake of the truth requires extraordinary moral courage. Any person who exhibits high emotion during the abortion debate lacks, in my opinion, this capacity. A person is unwise, generally, to engage in a debate with a person who has an obviously high emotional stake in the outcome.

On the pro-life side of the debate there are also those who are highly emotional. I have two theories to explain highly emotional pro-lifers. Consider again a woman who has had an abortion. This time, though, she is highly emotional about her pro-life position. She may have decided that she has committed a sin that may not be redeemed or forgiven. In an effort to seek redemption anyway, she may have become a "zealot for life." It is hard to live with guilt. One way to live with guilt is to live a life of atonement. Proselytizing the pro-life message can be, for some, a life of atonement.

I see many males on the pro-life side of the abortion debate who are highly emotional about their position. In fact male pro-lifers seem to dominate the public debate. The emotional intensity of these men has baffled me. They, after all, can never have had an abortion (though he may have participated by encouraging his partner to have an abortion). In trying to understand highly emotional male pro-lifers, I look to my own emotions about the violation of the rights of adult human beings for clues. I am, for example, able to understand getting highly emotional about the murder of an adult human being. I find it difficult to watch the beginning of movies that contain acts of murder and mayhem to motivate the story. I am able to imagine myself in the place of such a victim. I project how he might feel. I can experience his rage, his sense of loss and his sense of injustice at the evil, early, and violent ending of his life. I can empathize with his suffering. This process of identification with others is at the root of the outrage I feel at the violation of the rights of others.

Now consider an animal rights activists. Such a person engages in the same process of identification with an animal. He puts himself in the position of a dog being sacrificed, for example, in order to train a surgeon and he is horrified. This identification involves, however, an anthropomorphization of the animal and is factually erroneous--an animal is not a human being. Parenthetically, in order to try to understand the use of dogs to train surgeons, the animal rights activist might try to imagine himself or a loved one under the skilled hands of a heart surgeon whose surgical mastery derives from thirty heart operations upon dogs during the surgeon's medical school training.

The highly emotional male pro-lifer may derive his strong emotional reaction against abortion in the same manner as the animal rights activist--by erroneous anthropomorphization of the human zygote, embryo or fetus. But I am not satisfied by introspection that the emotion experienced by the pro-lifer for an aborted fetus comes from a personal identification with the fetus (as properly happens when we empathize with adult humans whose rights are violated). So then where does a highly emotional commitment to the pro-life position come from?

Children are sacred. In fact, children are, by numerical count of valuers, the most sacred beings on earth. Most parents cannot imagine the non-existence of their children. They cannot even allow their minds to go there. Most parents cannot conceive of themselves surviving the premature death of a child. Spiritually many parents actually could not survive such a death.

Evidence of the status of children as the number one sacred value on earth is to be found everywhere, including politics. Consider the classic image of the politician kissing the baby or the political untouchability of government schools or the title of many legislative proposals in the vain of the "Save the Children Act of 2001" often having very little to do with children or with saving them. If a politician claims his program will "save the children," it cannot be criticized. Outside of politics many, if not most, parents' lives are dedicated to the care and maintenance of their children. People generally experience the surprise of recognition when their children are identified as sacred values. Once stated though, the proposition that children are sacred rarely requires proof. The fact is obvious.

The bloom of the protective zone around our sacred children is almost infinite. As in the case of the "Save the Children Act of 2001," the protection is sometimes ineffectual



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