A new trend among pro-life advocates seeking to curtail elective abortions is requiring the use of modern technologies to dissuade expectant women from killing the life within them. An example is a new proposal in Michigan that “requires that doctors perform an ultrasound, offer a description of the ultrasound image, an opportunity to listen to the heartbeat of the embryo or fetus, and a hard copy of the image.”
I’m not sure this is wise policy to adopt without safeguards (for reasons I’ll touch on later), but I like the general idea of putting the reality of abortion, “on screen,” so to speak. Pro-abortion advocates frequently protest images of, for instance, aborted fetuses as being inflammatory, and they choose to use language which separates the description of the abortive act from its reality. Instead of a baby or a fetus, we have the “products of conception” or “uterine content,” or some such other deadly euphemism. However, when watching an ultrasound, when seeing the fetus with all its human parts, when hearing and watching its heartbeat, it becomes much harder to be moved by sophistic arguments about the supposed lack of person-hood of the fetus.
Humanity is easier to dismiss when it doesn’t have fingers and toes.
Mass atrocity is always made possible by orchestrated dehumanization. Whether we are talking about killing Jews in gas chambers, capturing Africans in their native lands and shipping them to the New World as slaves, or forcing Korean women into prostitution servicing the Japanese army, the first step is to construct a new language in which the full humanity of the victim is denied. This language is, by and large, the language used by the media and the abortionists.
But, the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why abortionists hate pictures. The ACLU responded to the Michigan proposal by saying it would subject women to “shame, humiliation, and punishment.” One would hope so. I wouldn’t want to force women who have legitimate moral reasons for abortion, such as those suffering from rape and incest or who need an abortion for medical reasons, to undergo this experience. But these cases do not describe the bulk of terminated pregnancies. Convenience is still the underlying root cause for the great majority of abortions in America. Such people are deserving of more shame and humiliation.
Even if one maintains that abortion should fall in the category of immoral but legal, it does not follow that efforts to dissuade women from abortions are not desirable. As a comparison, I would put adultery in the category of immoral but legal. And I’d love to have adulterers come under more public shame and condemnation. I’d love to see men who were thinking about betraying their wives and children persuaded to feel a lot more shame and humiliation about the likely consequences of their irreversible actions. Perhaps if they could be shown a picture of their children learning about this betrayal it might make them reconsider. They would be forced to confront the humanity of their victims.
In addition to dehumanization, the other primary tool of deception is to make the issue about something it is not, namely self-ownership or choice. Just yesterday, I read a caustic journalist’s defense of having “control over her reproductive organs.” This is like my taking a tiny, newborn infant into my hands and saying whatever happens to the infant is of no moral or legal concern because I have have the right to exercise “control over my hands.” The self-ownership claim just isn’t relevant. The unborn child is entirely dependent on the mother, but it is no more a part of her body than it is a part of the father or of anyone else, and it is impossible for the unborn child to exercise self-ownership when he’s dead.
When the military puts a rifle in the hands of a young man and trains him to kill people, they don’t spend time showing the humanity of the “enemy.” The soldier does not see pictures of the enemy holding a child on his knee, being embraced by his mother, or sharing a laugh with friends. The soldier, if he is to do his duty, has to put those images aside, I think (I’ve never been a soldier, so I’m just conjecturing here). Abortionists have a similar strategy: put the actual act off screen and cover it with abstractions and misleading rhetoric.
Viewing the unborn child, even as an early fetus, strips away the charade. Will this cause shame and humiliation? How terrifying it would be if it didn’t. But it makes those involved see abortion for what it is, even if for only a moment.