Putting humanity on screen

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.

11 thoughts on “Putting humanity on screen

  1. New slogan for Pileus: “Not the Typical Movement Libertarian Outpost” — or better yet, “WWRT?” (What would Reason Think?).

    Your last couple of pieces exemplify a lot about what kind of alternative outlet I wanted Pileus to be, regardless of what I think about these particular issues. To quote Goldwaterites, “a choice not an echo.”

    1. Arguing that moral condemnation, shame, and humiliation ought to be brought to bear on people who engage in what one believes is deeply immoral activity is not to advocate for “curbing the freedom of” those acting immorally. The “category of immoral but legal” explicitly allows them legal protection to continue, even as it does not—and it should not—protect them from disapprobation.

      Even making abortion illegal, however, would, on Sven’s argument, no more curb the freedom of women than would the illegality of rape curb the freedom of rapists or the illegality of theft curb the freedom of thieves.

      A former professor of mine at Chicago once recounted in class a conversation he had had with a student. The student said, “I have a right to do whatever I want with my own body.” The professor replied, “That’s ridiculous. You don’t have the right to throw it over my face and suffocate me, for example.” The student said: “Right, but that’s because you’re another person.” He replied, “Exactly the point at issue.”

      In other words, the “curbing the freedom of women” claim by itself cuts no ice—not, that is, until you have established the prior claim that the particular act in question for which you wish to grant women freedom is morally allowable. In this case, that is precisely what is at issue.

      If you wish to dispute Sven’s argument, then, you have to address that claim. Much harder, I realize, and less easily rendered into sneering quips, but the intellectually honest locus of dispute nevertheless.

  2. The problem I have here is a lack of a firm rule or set of rules governing the issue. If we are to say “all abortions should be banned” because, for example, they involve the murder of a child, that would be a rule that would apply across the board. If we were to say “all abortions should be permitted,” that too would be a rule that would apply across the board. We could even say “abortions should be permitted provided it is performed before the baby has a heartbeat,” even that would be a rule that could apply across the board. But when we say “abortion is bad, but may or may not be discouraged or prevented by official state action depending on who the father is, the financial circumstances of the mother, whether the doctor has explicit government permission to perform abortions at that specific stage of the pregnancy, whether the woman has been coerced into looking at x y and z images on a screen for so and so much time, whether the woman can find a doctor to swear that the pregnancy is endangering her life, etc…;” that is inconsistent with individual liberty because each person is being treated differently by the state for what could very well be arbitrary reasons (i.e. the political power of the local pro-abortion lobby, or the whim of a judge who woke up on the wrong side of the bed).

  3. Thank goodness the Supreme Court settled the issue of abortion back in 1973!

    This proposal strikes me as sensible for a couple of reasons both of which come down to this: a woman seeking an abortion should be fully aware of what she is doing, morally and medically.

    Without seeing an ultrasound, or hearing the fetus heartbeat, the woman can think she is simply having some amorphous bit of flesh removed. She may, in fact, ultimately understand and believe it to be such, and will not be swayed from her belief by the sights and sounds. But for those that need to describe the procedure using euphemisms like “products of conception” and “uterine content” a requirement to face the reality of what is being done strikes me as not a bad thing.

  4. …a woman seeking an abortion should be fully aware of what she is doing, morally and medically.

    This mirrors many progressive arguments for mandating information be disclosed for a variety of consumer products. But it runs into the same informational problems fans of Hayek apply to arguments against rules like that. How do we know what the “right” amount of information is?

    Now maybe people feel the stakes are high enough in this case to think we know enough. “How differentiated can these womens’ experience be?” Keep in mind that progressives believe the same thing about a whole host of issues for which they believe intervention is necessary.

    1. You know I hadn’t even thought of your excellent point about progressive’s love for mandating information. They want to make sure I know how much trans fat I’m eating with my french fries, yet they fight any attempt to make sure women are fully informed about their decision to kill their fetus.

      Another aspect of this problem is that many of those seeking abortion are young, inexperienced and not very good at understanding the consequences of their actions (which is often why they are pregnant in the first place). They need not only information, but guidance. But God forbid that guidance would come from a parent. The only thing the left hates more than full information for young, pregnant girls is information for her parents. Parents should be engaged in their kids lives, except of course for situations where life hangs in the balance.

  5. All I can add to this debate is personal.

    I saw my older child thru sonogram, at 11 weeks of gestation. I was not considering an abortion. Yet, I was completely shocked at the real life image confronting me: head, torso, arms and legs—-moving. Moving like a baby would in its crib, fists thrusting, feet kicking.

    “He’s about 3 inches long,” the technician proclaimed to me, “And he sure is active!”

    It was stunning, because I had no idea. At the first trimester, I thought that he/she/it would still be some inanimate blob.

    No blob was he. A three-inch baby he was. I marvelled, morbidly, at the thought that it was still legal to snuff his life out, for any reason.

    I am plenty libertarian, and plenty pro-choice. But at what point can we say, you do not have the choice to murder someone else? At what point exactly?

  6. To nooneofanyimport – depending on which state you choose to have the abortion, the answer is, at ANY point up to and including the birthing process.

    This is our nationaly shame; infanticide of millions annually.

    1. It’s not infanticide unless you’re killing an infant. “Infant” describes a newborn.

  7. Progressives embrace mandatory disclosure of information, not mandatory consumption of information. As currently proposed, this is requiring both. How does that accord with libertarian principles of self-determination?

    It seems to me the better approach here is to allow the pregnant woman to make the decision to see, or not see, images of the parasitic life-form growing in her body prior to removal. This would make the situation analogous to providing trans-fat information on french fries. You mandate the service provider have the information available and then the consumer of the service may decide whether to view the information. If they do so, they may then incorporate that information into their decision-making. If they fail to do so, they may remain ignorant, but willfully so.

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