The nomination of Sarah Palin has brought the abortion issue front and center. She did so by putting her money where her mouth was: knowing she was going to have a handicapped child but choosing to carry it to term, anyway. We know that her family shares the same values: her daughter is pregnant, but she too will carry the child to term. So abortion is coming back into the debate but because of the utter commitment to life reflected in the Palin family.
In the Palins, principle lives in action.
It is good that the subject is coming up again. Some 40,000,000 infants (in liberalspeak: globs of cells) have died in the US alone since Roe vs. Wade. The Holocaust had some six million Jews and many others: the old, the infirm, the mentally ill, gypsies, etc. If in fact these 40,000,000 infants are really persons then it is a holocaust on such a scale that even the word ‘holocaust’ doesn’t capture the truth. And this, not done by racist fascist Nazis, but right here in the good ol’ land of the free and home of the brave.
There is no dispute here that life begins at conception. The philosophical question has to do with when we believe that the entity is a person, and consequently entitled to the rights we ascribe to persons. There is no non-arbitrary objective measure other than conception by which to say “before there wasn’t, but now there is.” There is no place in the stages of pregnancy where one can say “Aha! Now it is a person!” The next non-arbitrary, objective measure, is birth itself.
(Note: by pointing out that conception is non-arbitrary and objective and no other alternative exists (except birth itself) I have not yet invoked a religious argument.)
The question is how we might convince someone who finds it difficult to ascribe the rights and privileges of personhood to something that does not yet look like a person (as we are accustomed to seeing them) to begin doing so.
This is a serious issue with numerous undercurrents I don’t have time to explore at this moment. I do want to focus on one critical distinction between liberal and conservative attitudes to the question. It is no secret that conservatives tend to be more religious than liberals. Here is how that difference plays out.
Religious people understand that value is not, strictly speaking, intrinsic, unless there is a higher frame of reference in which to view the matter. For example, a penny is not even worth a cent unless people decide to ascribe to it value. The penny obtains its value precisely because it is valued. Similarly, people are not valuable unless other people value them. However, there is no reason why people should value other people. Things like ‘social contracts’ are not valuing other people- they are valuing one’s own self, treating others a certain way for purely utilitarian and mercenary reasons, fearful of retaliation. There is nothing to keep people from utilateraly believing otherwise, though. The history of the last century makes that clear.
So long as the frame of reference in question is merely horizontal, that is, people regarding people, then personhood is completely subjective, malleable, and open to manipulation by tyrants. But conservatives- being as they often are, religious- do not believe that the only thing that is real is the frame of reference we experience each day. Thus, a person’s value as a person is not conveyed by virtue of the declarations of other persons, but is endowed by an entity coming from higher up. If you like, we are the penny, and only have our value because God values us.
One ‘penny’ cannot say to another ‘penny’ that they do not have value because it is not in the power of the ‘penny’ to do so. A penny has intrinsic value within the system only because entities in a higher system impose the value down into the lower system.
But materialists, atheists, philosophical naturalists, and an awful lot of liberals, do not believe there is such a higher system, and therefore believe that all value is imbued by the collective. For them, it doesn’t matter that much if you slaughter 10,000,000 fetuses while in the first term (for example) because if the collective says these are not persons there is no higher authority to determine otherwise. Christians, religious folks, supernaturalists in particular, and an awful lot of conservatives understand that there is a higher authority, and moreover, if there isn’t, then there is no real basis for condemning abortion, genocide, or holocausts in general.
The upshot of this is that there is very little hope of ending the abortion holocaust by argumentation about the question of abortion, though headway can be made against partial birth abortion and late term abortions in general (because in this case the fetus looks more like a person and requires less of an imaginative and intellectual jump for them). Ultimately, however, the question can only be decided by persuading them to the view that personhood isn’t a subjective concept that we persons can shift around at will, but rather an objective reality imposed on our reality from high. In a word, the best way to end the abortion crisis is to create more Christians.
For that, apologetics will come in handy. In particular, within the church and within our education programs. It is much easier to retain Christians than to try to win them back. One might think that the prospect of losing these souls would be enough on its own to prompt the Church to get cracking. But as the abortion issue makes plain, there are other far reaching consquences, too. We hesitate at our peril.
For some interesting conversation about this read this thread on my discussion forum between some Christians and atheists. I can’t vouch for all of it since I didn’t jump in until near the end, but I think you’ll see how this issue is the central issue, even if it is unspoken.