Pro-choice, anti-guiltJONATHAN KAY
Fifteen years ago, philosopher James Q. Wilson proposed a provocative new take on abortion.
Following on the idea that "people treat as human that which appears to be human," he suggested in Commentary magazine that every woman seeking to abort her fetus be made to examine a photo depicting roughly what that fetus looks like on the day in question -- an image contained in a catalogue retained for this purpose: "266 photographs in all," Wilson specified, "one for each day of embryonic or fetal development."
The idea has always appealed to me for one simple reason: It ensures that the mother understands the moral dimension of what she is doing at the moment she is doing it.
Nailing down the universal, exact moment when the spark of life animates a person is impossible -- it is something that reasonable, compassionate people are destined to argue about in perpetuity. But even if we all have different ideas about what makes a human, we can at least ensure that women have the basic visual data they need to apply their own personal ethical standard against what's growing in their uterus.
In fact, some U.S. states already have started going down this road: An Oklahoma law, now being challenged in court, would prohibit a woman from aborting her fetus unless she submits to an ultrasound -- during which the display screen is turned toward her face, and the doctor describes the appearance and dimensions of the fetus. (Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi also require the mother to have an ultrasound -- but she is not required to look at the images or hear them described.)
It seems like a cruel exercise, but it also strikes me as morally necessary. One of the lamentable results of the culture wars is that women have been taught to regard abortion -- a medically profound event that either kills, or pre-empts, a unique, genetically determinate human being -- as if it were merely an act of feminist self-empowerment. Showing a mother an image of her soon-to-be-dead fetus will disabuse her of that myth.
Over time, such a policy might also render a more humane society. It is no coincidence that monstrous crimes are most common under governments that deliberately shield their citizens from the moral consequences of their actions. In the Soviet Union, abortion was used as a means of birth control. (In latter decades, each Soviet mother had, on average, four abortions.) And why not? The all-knowing state said it was OK. In other communist nations, orphaned babies were warehoused in conditions that ordinary people would have found shocking -- had they been allowed to observe them.
This is more or less the template that Canada's militant pro-abortion advocates are following. Last month, the National Post's Charles Lewis profiled the tactics that university radicals are using to shut down the abortion debate on Canadian campuses. At the University of Guelph, the Central Student Association has informed Life Choice, an anti-abortion student club, that it would not be accredited because its message allegedly offends women. The controversy mirrors a similar episode at York University, whose student government banned a pro-life group under an identical pretext last summer.
And then last week, Lewis reported that the Student Union of Lakehead University (LUSU), an officially pro-choice body, is forcing all student publications and displays to be "positive" in nature -- a blanket move obviously designed as a pretext to thwart a pro-life group that recently petitioned CUSA for official status.
In the most telling example, a prolife student group at the University of Calgary has been threatened with fines and expulsion because it erected a large, graphic display showing a bloody fetus alongside an image of Holocaust victims. (The school is willing to permit the display -- but only if it is turned around, so that passers-by won't see it.)
Dead babies and Jews -- that's strong stuff. But an obvious question presents itself: Would students be forced to take down equally graphic images of Falun Gong victims? Of domestic-abuse survivors? Of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Probably not. On those issues, universities and student activists rise to their role as debaters and truth-seekers. But not when it comes to abortion: An anything-goes consensus has been reached, they tell us, encoded in Canada's complete absence of an abortion law. And anyone who complains about it is a presumed misogynist.
In other words, pro-abortion radicals don't just want a country where abortion is free and easy, but where consciences are as well -- where a woman who gets an abortion is not only exempt from legal sanction, but also exempt from the natural moral reflection that, in a humane society, inevitably accompanies major bioethical choices. And to make that wish come true, they're willing to shut up anyone trying to tell women the other side of the story.
Even Canadians who support abortion rights should find that pretty scary. A "right to choose" means nothing if women don't also have a right to be informed.
Jonathan Kay "Pro-choice, anti-guilt." National Post, (Canada) December 6, 2008.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Jonathan Kay, and the National Post.
Jonathan Kay is Comment Pages Editor of the National Post newspaper. In addition, he is a columnist for the National Post op-ed page, and a regular contributor to Commentary magazine and the New York Post. His free-lance articles have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and various other publications. In April, 2002, he was awarded Canada's National Newspaper Award for Critical Writing. In June, 2004, he was awarded a National Newspaper Award for Editorial Writing.
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