On Thursday, the 23rd of March 2017, we hosted Stephanie Gray as she gave her talk, Abortion: The Great Debate. Here, in case you missed it, are our notes from that address.
She began her presentation with the story of Dr. Victor Frankel and his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankel survived the Holocaust, and the first half of the book documents his experiences during the Holocaust while the second half makes observations about psychiatry. He notes in his book that some prisoners, who were cruelly treated like animals, likewise became and acted like animals. Yet, other prisoners somehow maintained their humanity. Similarly, there were guards who, given great power over the prisoners, acted brutally. Others, in the same position, were not brutal but rather expressed some humanity. We see that although many people have the same experiences, there are many different responses. The last of the human freedoms to be taken, according to Ms. Gray, is the freedom to respond. We must inspire people to make the right choice, not limit choice, she said. It is our responsibility to prove that we ought not to choose abortion
She outlined her presentation as first confronting the three toughest cases, then describing when life begins, and finally describing the act of abortion. She felt she ought to start by defending the toughest cases because, if one can be convinced of these difficult cases which represent an extreme minority of all abortions, it is easy to become convinced in the majority of cases.
1: The first difficult case is that of the Poor Prenatal Diagnosis. This is a diagnosis that, during pregnancy, shows the child may in some way be disabled, mentally or physically, or may die upon birth.
She recounted an anecdote and told how an audience member once mentioned his stepmother who had an abortion because the baby was going to die upon birth. Was that wrong to do, he challenged. Ms. Gray argued that indeed it was wrong to abort the baby. She felt that we always ought to maximize the time, no matter how brief, that we have with the child. Imagine, she suggested, that we had a close relative who would soon be dying. We would never want to cut short our time with the person we love and wish that they stopped prolonging the inevitable. We must think the same way about the unborn.
Then, she spoke on the issue of a diagnosis mental disabilities. We must, as a society, get rid of the stigma surrounding disabilities. Instead of placing a focus on what people cannot do, we should be at awe at the amazing things that they can do. Then, she spoke about the specific case of “Nick”, a man born without any limbs. In the past, he was horribly bullied because of his rare condition. Once, he even considered suicide, yet he persevered and now has a fulfilling life. He changed his perspective and now uses his disability to his advantage to reach new audiences and communities.
Thus, we see that any life is worth living and can ultimately be fulfilling. Aborting a child with a disability only increases the stigma around disability and furthers the narrative that disabled people should not exist. We must embrace and celebrate difference, not exterminate it.
2: The next difficult case she raised was pregnancy in the case of rape. In such cases, the woman did not consent, and many people question why she ought to carry the pregnancy. It indeed is an injustice, she said, and we need serious punishments for rapists. Rape and the effects it has on its victims cannot be taken lightly. Nevertheless, we cannot accept abortions in the case of a rape. If the baby is in fact a human child, if it truly is a person, we cannot consent to have it killed. In a sense, Ms. Gray argued, we would be punishing a child for the crimes of its father.
We must also know, said Gray, that aborting the baby will not un-rape the woman. She will still be traumatized, and a second wrong does not erase the first. Ms. Gray pointed out that, while a woman does not choose a rape, she does choose an abortion. As a result, she must live with that second choice as her own, and choosing an abortion during such a difficult time can lead to even greater trauma.
3: The final difficult case is the case in which the woman’s life may be in danger. Ms. Gray argued that we too often focus on the end of saving lives while paying little heed to the means. Murder, she said, cannot be a means to save a life. Using arguments that sounded Kantian, she argued that we cannot possibly use people as a means. To illustrate her point, she used an example of two drowning people. In one scenario, she imagines a rescuer swimming out, saving one, attempting to get the second, but failing to do so. Thus, the rescuer successfully rescued one person while the other drowned. In the second scenario, she imagines the rescuer swimming out, saving the one, then pushing the other one under the water, killing him but aiding the rescue of the one. In both scenarios, one man was rescued while the other one has died, and yet, only in the second scenario is the rescuer a murderer. In this example, Ms. Gray furthered her argument that we must always attempt to save both lives and avoid wanton destruction of either. Of course, it is not always possible to save the fetus’ life, but the attempt must be made, and in many cases, it is possible.
4: Finally, Ms. Gray moved on to proving that the fetus was not only a living human creature, but also deserving of personhood. This is, perhaps, the most important argument of all as it underpins all other arguments about abortion.
Ms. Gray argued that development of the human person begins at fertilization. Development does not end at birth, however, but rather continues throughout life. Life is not static, but rather it is a process of continual development. The only thing that changes for a human after the moment of birth is its appearance and ability. The nature of a human being is begun with fertilization, though the form may change, the essential essence remains throughout life.
Likewise, she argued, with the process of IVF, we see an attempt to create human life. The attempt is not considered successful when the baby is born, but rather it is a success upon fertilization.
She then examined the UN Declaration of Rights which says that all members of the human family have rights. Also, the declaration outline special rights of the child, and the UN claims that a child has these rights before and after it is born. A child needs special care, according to the UN, because is especially vulnerable. Further, the UN prohibits executions of pregnant women. Why does it do so, and why do so many states agree? There is a universal consensus that no innocent person should be executed. Thus, we implicitly recognize that the woman is harboring innocent life. Otherwise, there would be no difference between executing a pregnant woman and one who is not.
Ms. Gray then went on to deliver refutations of arguments based on the size, development, environment, and dependency of the fetus as reasons to deprive it of rights. In essence, she demonstrated that in isolation, none of these can detract from the personhood of a fetus. A child is no less a person than an adult, essentially demonstrating that neither size nor developmental stage affect the essence of being a living human. Moreover, that a fetus is dependent on a person is no more grounds for destroying it than the fact that a baby is dependent upon its parents is ground for destruction.
5: Finally, Ms. Gray concluded by examining the process of abortion. She showed that it is supremely violent and destructive, and can cause great pain to the fetus. This part of the presentation included a video and interview with an abortion doctor on the terrible details of abortion.
Overall, Ms. Gray illustrated that abortion is a violent and horrid act. Worse, it is one that is performed on living, human people. For this reason, abortion is always wrong, no matter the circumstances. It is impossible to devalue life in such a way as to allow for its destruction. She concluded by calling on all of us to try to change people’s perspectives. It is our responsibility to end abortion, and we may do so if others see as we do the value of life.
Recorded and Edited: