My schoolmate Caleb Jones has written up a conversation he had with a Planned Parenthood volunteer that is earning him predictable applause on Facebook for his brave truth-telling. I think he did a good thing by at least trying, however unsuccessfully, to engage with someone on the “other side” of the issue. But where his commenters and friends see a compassionate attempt to communicate, I see a story that is dripping with self-righteousness and that is emblematic of the gulf between how pro-lifers imagine their arguments as opposed to the actual quality of their arguments.

I actually really liked the beginning of Caleb’s exchange with the volunteer. He told her that that abortion makes him uncomfortable even if it amounts to only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget. That’s his conviction, and I respect him for standing by it. But the conversation continues, and almost right away Caleb starts bludgeoning the volunteer with his moralizing and wondering why she doesn’t repent on the spot.

The moralizing, in particular, is his insistence that fetuses are babies being killed. That’s the motivational core of the pro-life argument, and Caleb has every right to be passionate about it. But his conversation with the volunteer reveals something all-too-common among pro-lifers: the conviction that no one could possibly disagree with them if that person were not indoctrinated, confused, or lying to themselves. Caleb, in his own description, forces the woman to confront the word kill rather than “let her hide the subject at hand with clichés and meaningless words.” Controlling the terminology of the debate is a classic propaganda strategy that both sides of the abortion issue deploy ferociously, and that’s exactly what Caleb is doing here. It appears that the Planned Parenthood volunteer is not well prepared to defend her views on the moral status of the fetus at the level Caleb is—in fact, she may not even have strong convictions about it. But once Caleb has “scored” against her by getting her to admit that aborted babies are killed, he says, with a fairly shocking degree of smugness:

You would think that at this point in the conversation the woman standing across from me with the clipboard and the umbrella would see the moral depravity laced throughout her organization, walk in a restaurant bathroom, turn her Planned Parenthood t-shirt inside out, and walk home right then and there. But she didn’t. The conversation went on.

Well, no, I wouldn’t wonder that at all, and neither would anyone who doesn’t already agree with Caleb’s dogmatic views. He has not revealed a hopeless contradiction in her position or really even communicated with her at all. He has insisted upon his own definition of what an abortion is, and considered himself the victor because his interlocutor doesn’t know how to respond. This is what he does for the rest of the conversation: keeps on saying kill, kill, kill without listening or trying to imagine the real world situation of someone who might seek an abortion as vividly as he imagines the inner life of her fetus.

Again, I’m not blaming Caleb for believing abortion is murder, even though I do not. I remain uncomfortable with abortion even though I strongly believe it should be legal. But what the volunteer is doing, and what I would have done in her shoes, is challenging his absolutist logic. The woman rightly points out that the world can be an ugly, violent place that all the platitudes about “endurance for the sake of righteousness” do little to salve. Fetuses can have horrific disorders, they can threaten their mothers’ lives, and they can grow into babies that are certain to be born into poverty, abuse, and neglect.

The woman Caleb was talking to has lived that—she has lived in 15 foster homes and knows what growing up in those conditions is like, and she believes its necessary for women to have the option to end an unwanted pregnancy in certain conditions. At the same time, Caleb’s story—he lives a valuable life despite having a genetic disease that could have made him a candidate for abortion—makes him believe every fetus should be given the chance he got, no matter what. I respect both of these positions, and it is ultimately why I believe  every mother deserves the absolute right to decide what happens inside her own body. Only she really knows her situation and what she and her future child can survive. Caleb seems to believe that only his experience is valid, that everyone must be forced to make the choice he’s glad his mother made. It’s a difficult, painful reality to talk about, but I think any of us who considers it long enough, or listens to enough real-life stories, can imagine situations where that choice would not have had a happy ending. Caleb believes the world kill overcomes all of this complexity, shuts out the experience of others who have not reached his conclusion—just like he’s doing to the woman he met in the rain under the pretense of “communicating” with her.

I do not pretend, unlike many other people who support the legality of abortion, that this is not a difficult issue, that it doesn’t and shouldn’t come with sadness, regret, or the many other emotions it brings up in people who have been through it. I don’t even believe we can deny that abortion is violence or killing. (For more on that, please read Kristen Dombek’s amazing essay in Issue 10 of n+1, entitled “The Two Cultures of Life.” I’ll email you the PDF.) But the world is full of painful choices, and I ultimately cannot accept that the activist’s passion for the unborn should deprive the living, flesh-and-blood woman in a painful situation the right to make a choice that only she can comprehend. Pro-lifers, even passionate ones like Caleb and his many admirers, would do well to do more listening and communicating and less shutting down the conversation.

Update, 9:18 pm: Several commenters have chastised me for the meanness of my title. I tried to explain myself in various spots below, but I think they are right that it’s a poor choice for a post accusing someone else of smugness and condescension. More than that, judging motives and attitudes is more often than not unfair. I’m not going to try to erase my mistakes, but I apologize to Caleb for being less gracious than I should have.

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About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to When You’re On a Pro-Life High Horse

  1. Cathryn says:

    Love it. Thanks for writing this.

  2. TheoMatt says:

    “I do not pretend, unlike many other people who support the legality of abortion, that this is not a difficult issue, that it doesn’t and shouldn’t come with sadness, regret, or the many other emotions it brings up in people who have been through it”

    well you’re conflicted about it, so you get a free pass to diss people who want to take the “theocratic” measure of defunding it as Christianists.

  3. Kevin Sawyer says:

    What is “absolutist logic”? That seems like a nonsense term used to poison the well. Basically, you see the person with whose position you disagree as an absolutist scoring rhetorical points and the person with whom you agree as layering in experience, adding nuance…

    That’s pretty much a rhetorical device in and of itself, but it also reveals something about the pro-choice argument. Under the harsh light of logic, abortion is murder. You must infuse the debate with appeals to emotion in order to eschew the core logic of the debate.

    It is quite possible the PP volunteer didn’t have a ready answer to the killing business because there really isn’t one.

    Also, the 3% figure is accounting gobbledygook. 70% of PP’s non-government revenues come from abortion. Without legal abortion, the organization would have no hope whatsoever of turning a profit. It would die almost immediately.

    • Rob says:

      There are, in fact, numerous logical flaws in David’s piece, starting with his discomfort with the word “killing” for its “propagandistic” connotations. In reality, killing is the most morally neutral term possible for what occurs in abortion. Killing is the termination of a life. According to biologists, a fetus–from the moment of conception–is a self-generating, distinct (if dependent) organism, a life. Abortion is the termination of that life. I.e., abortion is killing.

      Anyone who denies that abortion involves killing is willfully ignorant (“lying to themselves,” etc.). The question isn’t whether abortion is killing, but whether abortion is murder. Is there a categorical imperative–i.e., an absolutist logic–according to which all killing of human organisms is morally blameworthy, i.e., murderous? Or, as in the case of armed self-defense, for example, are there contextual factors that shape whether abortion constitutes a murderous killing?

      I myself am conflicted about this latter question. But let’s be clear: there is nothing morally superior about my indecision, and David shouldn’t imply as much in his own writing. Nor do the “experiences” of the PP volunteer (sob story: multiple foster homes, etc.–a nice rhetorical flourish of propaganda, no?) necessarily do much work in clarifying the moral or ethical dilemmas involved. A close relation of mine recently had an abortion–which she now deeply regrets. Are her personal experiences more valid than those of the PP volunteer? According to whom?

      And while I understand that perhaps abortion is a choice whose conditions only the woman involved can fully “understand,” this, too, fails to clarify the moral question at hand. First, I’m not even certain that the epistemic horizon here is actually so small, for it is contingent upon an atomistic, liberal individualistic notion of moral decision-making in which the only affected parties are the woman and her fetus (but what about other family members, for example?). Second, such claims are simply irrelevant. Only I can fully understand the heart-wrenching passions and betrayals and suffering that moved me to kill (not murder, right?) my wife after she cheated on me (totally hypothetical, by the way). Why are idiosyncratic affects valid in the case of abortion but not in the case of my murder? While I’m not a neo-Kantian moralist, it seems to me that there is either a moral principle here, or there is not; there is either a moral distinction to be made here, or there is not. Moral questions are not easy or lucid, but that doesn’t mean they are eternally shrouded in the directionless fog of everyday living.

      • Rob says:

        Also, I have no idea why the question of the circumstances into which the child would be born are relevant. There’s a subtle elitism, not to mention determinism, at play here: is a life of material poverty somehow not worth living? Would it be better that all poor people die before they are born?

        • Rob, note:

          “I don’t even believe we can deny that abortion is violence or killing.”

          • Rob says:

            I see that, and my apologies. In my mind, I was referring to the earlier portion of your editorial when you object to Caleb’s insistent use of the word “killing” in his framing of the debate.

            My point is simply that there is no coherent objection to be made here. “Killing” is probably the most morally neutral term available. “Terminating” a pregnancy, while popular, is rhetorical manipulation, as it obscures the fact that, according to medical science, killing is what happens. But “murder” is equally manipulative, as I noted.

  4. Stephen Swanson says:

    I really appreciate this on a number of levels. First, it’s a very effective and sensitive work of rhetorical criticism, a skill that I think goes largely unnoticed in the contemporary spheres of religion and politics. Second, I think that it gets to a heart of the issue (a heart that I think Ayelet Waldman approaches from another position when she discusses her and her husband’s decision to abort), the problem of creating policy from a position of fundamentally different modes/languages.

    The problem, as Dombek notes, stems from the reduction of the issue down to the definition of life rather than taking the larger views of the multiplicity of lives.

    It SHOULD be personal and hard for people to communicate on an issue like abortion, and the language used in the “communication” of the issue does not help.

    Labeling abortion as an issue of “convenience”, as Jones decries in his final paragraph, shows the ignorance and insensitivity towards the realities of people facing that choice, even if, for his mother and his family, it worked out.

    For many who have to choose, the choice is between bad and worse. It ranges from couples to women alone. It ranges from desired children to accidents to rape. It ranges from having to admit to one’s parents, family, etc. that you do not live up to the image they might have had of you to the consequence of carrying a much desired child to term and then watch them die (quickly or slowly) because of a cruel twist of genetics.

    The spectrum is vast, and to reduce it to a conversation between one young man and one volunteer and post it as a meme hurts me deeply. To call it a real attempt to cross over and understand makes me angry. Collectively, these things remove hope for any sense of real community and understanding.

    Thank you for responding so carefully and thoughtfully.

  5. “And, as we know, the official catechism published by the Archbishop of Paris, was changed by Mgr Amette in 1914 so that the sixth commandment read ‘Thou shalt not kill unrighteously, in deed nor in will’ instead of ‘Thou shalt not kill in deed nor in will’ as before. In fact, the commandment of the Old Testament, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ seems rather to have been meant for reckless motorists than for soldiers.” — Bart de Ligt, “The Conquest of Violence,” pg. 11

    Even the wording of the piece in question, “Don’t Deliberately Kill Innocent People” is virtually identical to the unfortunate rendering of the sixth commandment as “Thou shalt not kill unrighteously, in deed nor in will.” If one is going to be pro-life and be consistent, one must also be anti-execution, and anti-war. At this point (and only this point) can I accept a pro-life position as consistent.

    But to say not to kill “innocent people” (=”unrighteously”) “deliberately” (= “in will”) puts the sixth commandment through a death of a thousand qualifications… watered down to the point that it means almost nothing — it protects some children here, but none in a country we might be bombing.

    All I’m saying is that the logic of this pro-life position mandates much more than this one-sided prescription.

    • Rob says:

      “If one is going to be pro-life and be consistent, one must also be anti-execution and anti-war.”

      Why? I’m no cheerleader for armed conflict or the death penalty, but I can’t trace your logic here. Upon what grounds do you claim that execution, for example, is “killing unrighteously”? Or are you simply assuming a priori a pacifist logic, according to which all killing is immoral? And what about killing plants or animals?

      That’s far from a straw man in my last question: the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is a compact, undifferentiated, opaque statement. What do you mean I can’t kill? I must kill to live! Every step I take smashes the homes and bodies of numberless insects and invisible organisms! The commandment obviously does not mean what it says. What it means is that thou shalt not murder.

      And murder is yet to be defined. Not all instances of killing, apparently constitute murder.

      • I’m not talking about murder. I said killing. Let’s start with human life, since most commandments tend to be anthropocentric.

        You do not have to kill to live, you could be a fruitarian! Consumption of fruits, nuts, leaves, animal byproducts usually does NOT constitute killing. For the most part, this is what I tend to consume. My real concern is for perennial plants in my garden, ones I do not have to kill. The same with my bees.

        I think something must be sentient to be “killed” — though I don’t see any substantial difference between killing and murdering. But then again, I think everything is fundamentally alive… who knows, who knows!

        The habits of violence produce the results of violence.

        I’m currently mostly vegetarian. I still eat seafood sometimes, but most of the time it’s just vegetables.

        Joel Salatin says something homologous: if you’re going to be “pro-life” but eat at McDonald’s, you’re a hypocrite; if you’re going to be “pro-choice” but not bother protecting infants, you’re a hypocrite.

        Personally, I’m sorting out whether vegetarianism is the only ethical option or not, but that’s unresolved. And most vegetables do not require killing to be consumed. But we’ll see where this logic takes me. Haven’t sorted it all out yet…

        • Paul says:

          Well, we know that warfare and execution are not inherently inconsistent with the sixth commandment because God himself sanctioned such acts. I think the standard of consistency you require of pro-lifers is itself inconsistent with the totality of biblical revelation. However, I admit that it would, at the very least, APPEAR more consistent for the professed pro-lifer to be anti-war and anti-execution.

          That said, if I could be persuaded that your understanding of the sixth commandment is correct, I would gladly adjust my views in favor of being able to maintain a consistent pro-life stance. Indeed, arguing that the unborn child possesses a(n inalienable?) right to life is far more important than maintaining one’s qualified support of warfare and execution.

          Finally, the distinction between “killing” and “murder” is necessarily a question of intent. However, this is only relevant if there is any serious question as to the proper interpretation of the commandment’s language. But even this is of little consequence; the broadest scope the commandment could possibly assume (i.e. killing) must still be reconciled with the rest of biblical history such that the standard you require of pro-lifers remains suspect.

  6. Kirk Whitworth says:

    David the difference between the Christian, ethical, and righteous response to this sadly deceived woman, and, say yours, can be found in this remarkable concession you made: “He lives a valuable life”. What makes Caleb’s life valuable is because he was made in God’s image, not because he wasn’t born into poverty or some other capital offense that makes that child less than valuable. The “valuable life” mindset is what has justified the most hideous crimes against humanity throughout history. It was what motivated slavery and the Nazi extermination of Jews. It is so sad to see what has become of your faith in recent years. Yet there is still room at the cross for you, friend, if you return to the One who made you in His image.

    • Sundown says:

      So Kirk, your arugement basically is: “People who don’t agree with Kirk Whitworth aren’t Real True Christians.” Is that correct?

      • Kirk Whitworth says:

        No, just people who don’t agree with what the Scriptures plainly teach. I don’t get why that’s so controversial.

      • Kirk, as I explained in my response to Caleb below, I was referring to his life’s value to himself and to those who love him. I’m not denying that every life has value. But the circumstances you are in can make your life more or less valuable to yourself, and I believe women have a right decide if those circumstances should include supporting a child. There are myriad opinions one can have about what that right should entail, what kind of responsibility it should require, and what kind of policies can bring that about.

  7. Leanna says:

    Abortion is an issue that I’ve had difficulty dealing with for a long time. I grew up in a conservative, homeschooling, Southern Baptist family. I wrote essays comparing abortion to the holocaust. Now, post-college, as an adult who has done a lot of thinking about my beliefs, abortion is still a tough one. I’m married now, my husband and I are financially stable, and pregnancy is still a hugely daunting and frightening thing for me. It’s a big deal. It changes your life, and as a woman, it also drastically changes your body, and the way you are viewed by other people. For nine months, you are visibly pregnant, meaning that people think they are free to talk about you as though you are an object, to give you advice and touch you and reprimand you. Now, imagine you are not in a stable situation. Or that you have been raped, an experience that involves a horrific loss of control over your own life and body, and you are now pregnant. Imagine you are a teenager, without the emotional resources to deal with such a complex situation. Women experience pain, too, women are in peril in these situations. That kind of high-jacking of the body is something men NEVER EXPERIENCE. That doesn’t mean abortion is a wonderful thing, but it does mean that the conversation is more complicated than the word “kill” and the there are two people, two bodies, involved in a pregnancy, not just the baby, but also the mother.

    • Thank you for the very honest comment, Leanna. This is exactly what I’m trying to get people to realize: that their beliefs affect real people’s lives, people who are in stranger, sadder, or scarier positions than these people ever imagine.

      • Rob says:

        So what?

        I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I fully believe that thinkers should take some responsibility for the practical consequences and effects of their ideas. But what does that mean in–for lack of a better term–practice? The fact that many woman find themselves in scary, sad, or strange situations that would make abortion attractive in a visceral way doesn’t say much about the moral status of the action itself, does it? Or does it? There’s a lot of rhetoric here that needs to be clarified.

        • Actually, I think it does matter to the morality of the action itself. A moral is a doctrine, principle or convention, and those things are by definition contingent. We decide our own morals personally and socially, and the more we know of human experience that we don’t have access to ourselves, the more nuanced our picture of morality should become. To me, knowing about the reasons why women seek abortions matters immensely to how I view the action. Like most moral dilemmas, they are singular and often undecidable cases.

          I know the “moral absolutists” on here will probably flip out at that, but whatever. That is what both in theory and practice most accurately describes the world I encounter every day.

          • Rob says:


            I’m a moral relativist as well (there: I said it). All moral choices are contingent, and, at best, there are moral truths, not Moral Truth.

            But I’m not a moral relativist because I think personal moral “values” and “feelings” are relevant when assessing the moral or ethical value of an act, and I also reject the notion that only the actor can, as it were, be judge in his/her own cause.

            Since your argument apparently hinges on the high illustrative/explanatory value of idiosyncratic personal feelings, affections, experiences, and emotions, let me elaborate on my reference to my relation who had an abortion recently. She was terrified: she wanted to keep the child, but her (abusive) boyfriend wanted her to terminate the pregnancy. Her parents were already semi-estranged. She herself, due to some extraordinarily unwise and selfish decisions, was not living what one might deem an economically stable life. And yet, even as a moral relativist (a term I should probably explain), I can’t see how those “feelings” affect the moral status of her decision. I condemn her abortion. Our moral decisions aren’t based upon what we value. They are and ought always be conditioned by our duties and obligations to Others–and, in my opinion, the class of Others includes the fetus. And it includes, in this case, her parents (who offered to adopt the child) and, for that matter, my wife and I, who considered a similar offer of assistance. Christ’s commandment to “love thy neighbor” is the ultimate statement of moral relativism: make the best decision in each unique moment that would best embody love of thy neighbors, those with whom we share space and time. I don’t think my relative’s abortion fulfilled that commandment. Feelings have nothing to do with it. Authentic moral choices, it seems to me, require strength–they demand that we bracket our weaknesses and our selfish emotions. Meister Eckhart: we must relinquish our own wills; the more there is of me in any decision I make, the less there is of Christ.

  8. Kevin Sawyer says:


    Buy your logic, if I oppose murder, but support any war, I am inconsistent. Perhaps this is so, but the onus is on you to make that case.


    Whether or not a woman’s body is “highjacked”, that does not in any way complicate the word kill. You are trying to have your rhetorical cake, and eat it to, using your incendiary term while simultaneously depriving the pro-life side of theirs.

    • Leanna says:

      I’m not saying there’s no killing involved. I’m just saying it’s much more complicated than that. I’m saying we need to find empathy.

      • Kirk Whitworth says:

        Is it “more complicated than that” when someone is killed because someone in power believes that their life is less valuable because of their race? I’m sure Hitler would believe the holocaust was “more complicated than that” too.

        • Stephen Swanson says:

          Ok, folks, debate’s over. The “Hitler” card is on the table.

          The weak, but nuclear, option has been taken by comparing potential mothers and their partners who face a difficult and emotional choice to Nazis who attempted to take over the entire world and slaughter millions of people because of their exalted sense of self-righteousness and the inferiority of others’ ways of seeing the world.


  9. Kevin Sawyer says:

    It remains so that the word “kill” isn’t complicated. It ends a life. The fact that it is not complicated says a lot about the value (or lack there of) in talking about nine months of labor, how hard parenting can be, whether kids will grow up poor etcetera.

    • Harris says:

      The difficulty with “kill” is that we have several gradations of that term: is it manslaughter? is it first degree? is it malicious? Like the Eskimo’s fabled multiple names for snow, we have our multiple terms for the ending of human life. The choice of the word “kill” is a rhetorical and political choice.

      Had the discussion been that of ending a life, there may be have been room there for honest conversation.

      • I mentioned “kill” a lot, and I think that gave the false impression that I was hung up on that word in particular. As I admitted in my final paragraph, there is no doubt to me that abortion involves killing; the true question of this issue is what is being killed.

        My point in harping on the “kill” language is that this word is important to Caleb’s strategy of sparring with the woman he met…he keeps throwing out the word “kill” to throw her off, which it does because she’s naturally uncomfortable with the idea of killing and apparently doesn’t have the technical education on the issue to get that even if this is a kind of killing, it may not be the same kind of killing that murder or manslaughter is. And that makes all the difference in the world. But my intent in addressing Caleb’s use of the word was his rhetorical strategy, which in my reading amounted to tripping the woman up and then just baldly asserting the obvious rightness of his own logic/definitions. That’s neither argument nor conversation, and his entire story was an attempt to show him engaging in those two things.

  10. Jon C. says:

    Ok so the ironic thing about writing this is that you yourself on a high horse and hold in response to your ideology being challenged you lash out at his stance in stead of his actual argument. It’s clearly ignoring the issue. Just because you feel uncomfortable from an argument does not make it wrong. Please make a more responsible and less personal response to the arguments that caleb was making if you can.

  11. Stewart Lundy says:

    Kevin, I’d love to! Have you read Huxley’s “Ends and Means”? Best place to start!

  12. The Schaef says:

    “I don’t even believe we can deny that abortion is violence or killing… But the world is full of painful choices, and I ultimately cannot accept that the activist’s passion for the unborn should deprive the living, flesh-and-blood woman in a painful situation the right to make a choice that only she can comprehend.”

    If we come to an agreement that an abortion is a violent act against life, then what is it about the choice to kill that only that one pregnant woman can comprehend, and by what reasoning do you presume we have no standing to deprive people of the choice to kill?

  13. TheoMatt says:

    it’s funny to me, the same people who accuse conservatives of constructing convoluted rationalizations to justify their stance against, say, same-sex marriage, appear to torture themselves just as much on this issue, cuz of course of they came to a pro-life conclusion, they wouldn’t be liberal — which is more important than being Christian of course.

    it’d be one thing if you threw up your hands and said “it’s complicated” and supported a more restrictive abortion regime, for utilitarian reasons…but of course, blasting Republicans who want to defund Planned Parenthood as theocrats doesn’t sound so “conflicted” to me, call me crazy.

  14. Stephen Swanson says:

    Do you actually want to know, Theo and Schaef?

    • The Schaef says:

      Do you ask that because you seek to drop a veiled accusation of blowing off any answer, or to drop a veiled accusation of fearing the answer, or to add drama to what should be a simple, logical answer, if such can be given?

      In short, just answer the question and leave the theatrics.

      • Stephen Swanson says:

        Herein lies the problem, I actually would enjoy a discussion and real communication about what motivates me on this complex issue. However, engaging in that discussion with people who have already constructed my possible responses and dismissed them out of hand is dehumanizing. It fails to treat me as a real person. It aborts any attempt to understand one another and seek consensus and empathy.

        I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. To presume that what motivates me is theatrics just shows me that we’ve got a long way to go.

        • The Schaef says:

          Do we have a long way to go? Or have you now posted two responses without actually saying what you intend to say? How can I have “constructed your possible responses” when you have yet to give a response at all? In light of that absence of substance, what have I to understand?

        • TheoMatt says:

          “It aborts any attempt to understand one another”

          i see what you did there

          empathy is valuable, but it’s not everything.

        • Rob says:

          Ok, Stephen, then respond to the several articulate commentators in this thread, a group that presumably includes me.

          • The Schaef says:

            I’ve already done that, by addressing the core of the issue and making a moral assertion based on scientific fact.

            A large portion of the “articulate comments” running through this thread are tied to emotional arguments toward the mother. This too is something that I’ve already addressed, but what I don’t understand is the lack of empathy toward the child. The mother can be in a bad financial situation, yes; the mother can be in a bad emotional situation, yes; the child, however, will be dead, and it is my understanding from a broad range of examples that being dead is not something one normally would aspire to.

            In short, why can’t we love them both?

          • Stephen Swanson says:

            Rob, I had wanted to reply to your above, thoughtful response about moral relativism, the situation with your friend, and Christianity, but there’s no “Reply” button.

            I think that we fundamentally agree on most things, particularly with the idea that Jesus calls Christians to be moral relativists (or, what’d I’d call situationalists/phenomenologists/relationalists).

            The difficulty in the abortion debate is to be a relationalist, we need to have the room to make that choice (including what we might think of as a bad or morally wrong choice).

            Let’s talk about the example of your friend with the helpful parents/friends and the abusive boyfriend. Since that situation could just as easily be shaped the other way (with abusive boyfriend wanting her to HAVE the baby and parents/friends who think she should abort it), then there needs to be availability of options and a culture that makes it easier (not EASY) to make those choices from a position less based on fear, anger, etc.

            I agree (based on my faith and informed by philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas and the later works of Jacques Derrida) that we are called to be ethical agents that are more concerned with our responsibility to the Other rather than the Self. However, in those perspectives, we have to be able to put ourselves in both positions and look at the issue from multiple perspectives.

            These decisions DO “require strength”. I couldn’t agree more, but they also require an empathy towards the Other that does not try to make the decision FOR them, trying to subsume them or master them. We need to make ourselves servants to the Other at the same time as we are called to extend them hospitality of body and spirit (like you did with your friend).

            But, that same ethical motivation might also call for us to look at the mother who faces the reality of carrying and giving birth to a baby that will live and die in constant pain and suffering. It must also allow for us to extend THEM the hospitality and service of either decision they might make and attempt to understand their pain.

            Ayelet Waldman, who I referenced in my first post, argues that one of the greatest disservices that the pro-choice movement has made in the last 30-40 years is to take the rhetorical tack that it ain’t no thing, that it’s just a medical procedure, and I agree.

            Until my wife and I potentially faced a real possibility of having a child with a genetic condition that would result in “living” in pain and unawareness (which we thankfully did not ultimately have), I had no idea where I fell for sure. However, I cannot believe that it is ethical, by ANY definition, for someone (myself included) to force my wife to carry that child to term and watch him slowly die in constant pain. I cannot believe from even a logical or absolutist position that it is ethical to force my wife to listen to the heartbeat of a much-desired child before having to make the choice to end his life. How does that abide by Christian morals? How can we claim the right to such moral and objective certainty to KNOW in a God-like way what is best for someone for whom we do not have direct responsibility?

            It IS a thing. It matters, whatever we call it, but it should be, must be, a choice available because of the breadth of potentialities that could lead to that situation.

            Levinas and Derrida talk about the ethics of questioning and uncertainty. They argue that the expression of informed and empathic connection to one another that both admits to ourselves and the Other that we do not understand their position but also that we strive to serve/host them presents a fundamentally ethical relationship.

            I believe and have argued that this relationship is both what Christ demonstrated in his life, as described in the Gospels, and what He calls us to live in our lives as we work towards the Kingdom of God.

            We see example after example, particularly in Mark, of Jesus defying the simple, legalistic definitions of right and wrong, as based on the Pharisees’ interpretation and construction of the Temple. He prophesies that he will tear down the old temple and build it anew, and it appears to me that that rebuilt temple is relational, and that relationship is primarily in regard to one to another, not in a stance of judgment of one another but in service to one another.

            I don’t know what God believes about abortion. I know that God says that murder is wrong in the Ten Commandments but then orders the Israelites to massacre entire races (speaking earlier of genocide) from the infants to the old men. I also know that Jesus told the rich man that the law was not enough but that they are called to give it all up. I don’t know whether that means Jesus calls people to destitute themselves to enter the kingdom. I know that we are called to life and that more abundantly, but what that means and how that’s constructed socially in a fallen world remains a mystery to me.

            However, it is in that Mystery that I find the grace of God so powerful and vital. The acknowledgement that we are ALL sinners and that God’s grace is sufficient for ALL must temper all of my personal judgments.

            It does not eliminate the need to be discerning, but that discernment is often both of from Jesus’ view to avoid the false prophet that turns us away from community and shalom.

            Because of this, I support choice even though I know that it is wrong at times. I don’t know if that makes my reasoning “convoluted”. I suppose that many would say so, but I know that I feel it is simple, even as it is not easy.

          • The Schaef says:

            “I couldn’t agree more, but they also require an empathy towards the Other that does not try to make the decision FOR them, trying to subsume them or master them.”

            When you presume to end another human life, that is exactly what you are doing: subverting that child’s inherent right to life. Why do these calls for empathy appeal to the needs and wants of the mother, but not of the child?

            “However, I cannot believe that it is ethical, by ANY definition, for someone (myself included) to force my wife to carry that child to term and watch him slowly die in constant pain.”

            This ethical position, I notice, requires a scenario you believe to be connected to a terminal prognosis. For starters, what about the overwhelming majority of procedures for which this is not the case? Additionally, there is the case of a friend of mine, who would have been a prime candidate for a “mercy killing”, for she would be born premature; face a life with cerebral palsy; require multiple, expensive, dangerous surgeries; and even for all that she would not survive to see her second birthday.

            I believe it will be her 38th birthday this summer.

            “I cannot believe from even a logical or absolutist position that it is ethical to force my wife to listen to the heartbeat of a much-desired child before having to make the choice to end his life.”

            From a medical standpoint, is it not important to have informed consent? Would you spend so many words on understanding and empathizing with the intensely personal and difficult decision of the mother, and so few words on having her understand the gravity of her own situation?

            All the empathy in the world does not change the fact that what is at stake is human life, and it is the one side of this equation which always seems to be the first one thrown out in favor of the non-mortal problems of others. Should not our first responsibility be to protect human life, and secondly to protect the liberties of the individual? That is how all of our other laws for murder are written, defining and defending life without making things a “black-and-white issue”.

  15. Caleb Jones says:


    Thanks for reading and responding, and I hope you are doing well. I’m commenting because I’d like to make some factual corrections in quotes and references to my piece, and I would also like to voice some strange phrases and statements in your response to me.

    First, it is not true that abortion makes up only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget. Planned parenthood reports that Abortions are only 3% of the total services that it provides are abortion services. That has nothing to do with funding.

    However, this obscures the thing people are really looking for when they want this information. Since a single woman can come in and get 4 services (couseling, education, an abortion, and birth control), but only one of those is an abortion, that couts as 4 services but only one of them was an abortion. It’s difficult to accurately tell from their reported numbers exactly how many women who go into a Planned Parenthood center actually get an abortion, because even if you calculate it by the number of abortions provided by Planned Parenthood a year (about 332,000) divided by the number people who visit Planned Parenthood in a year (about 5,000,000), it comes out to 6.6%. But then again, you don’t know if a single person coming into a PP center on two separate occations is one person or two, and you don’t know if a boyfriend, a mother, or a friend coming into a PP center with a pregnant woman is also counted as a patron (after all, if they listened to an education session, they could be counted as receiving a “service”).

    Second, I will be the first to admit that if a fetus, embryoes, and zygotes are not persons, then my whole moral point is reduced to nothing. However, rarely have I ever heard someone try to make a serious case for this belief.

    Yes, I did assume that a fetus was a human whenever I asked if fetuses survive abortions, but the fact that this assumption was never explored or challenged told me that it wasn’t really a point that was seriously being considered.

    If you have a problem with my terminology, then please correct my terminology. However, I don’t even see you correcting my terminology. I just see you saying you don’t like my terminology, because it destroy the legitimacy of your point of view. However, you don’t offer an alternative terminology to replace mine. If you don’t know or don’t have an opinion about whether a fetus is a human, don’t you think that’s something that needs to be discovered before we continue discussing the matter? It’s clear in my mind. Is it clear in yours?

    Third, you said I have lived a valuable life. I’m confused about what that is. Can you explain how it is possible that I have lived a valuable life and how others have not lived a valuable life? I think my life has been quite average, to be honest: no more valuable than anybody else’s.

    Forth, you claim that “my story” (having a genetic disease which could have made me a candidate for abortion) makes me “believe every fetus should be given the chance he got, no matter what.” This is not true. I said in my piece and in my conversation with the volunteer that my story made it personal. I believe that every fetus should be given the chance for life not because of “my story” but because I believe it is wrong to kill people and fetuses are people. Because it is now personal for me, that gives me a personal stake which drives me to share this truth with others.

    Fifth, you claim that only the mother can comprehend the situation. I it is not true that the mother, or anyone for that matter, can comprehend the situation. No one knows the future. No one knows what “quality of life” a person will have (whatever that means). Nobody knows if a poor person in foster care will live a terrible life. Nobody knows if a rich person in a two-parent household in the suburbs will have a great life. Nobody knows any of that. All we know is what is right, and we should do what is right. It is not right to kill fetuses, which are people (unless, of course, you can prove they are not people).

    Finally, I was also confused about what “absolutist logic” is. I was under the impression that all logic was absolute, and that if the logic in question is not absolute, then it is actually not logical. Can you explain this statement?

    But anyway, thank you for your piece, and thank you for sharing it with a wider audience.

    • I’m usually the last person to agree with Caleb — I think he can attest to that — but Caleb is right about how this piece is composed. If Caleb’s piece lacks rigor (following the pro-life position to its logical conclusion), this piece lacks charity which means it also lacks rigor.

      Why does no one want to follow the logic out? Discourse is predicated on the possibility of being wrong: I can misunderstand, I can miscommunicate, you can misunderstand.

      Whatever happened to the principle of charity? Where did we start throwing out charity for the sake of argument? Why can’t anyone try to read the opposition in the best possible light? Without charity, there is nothing but pontificating.

      • David Sessions says:

        Stewart, I’m completely open to being corrected, by I honestly have no idea what you mean. If you can cite some specific ways you think I’m not charitable, I’ll be glad to address them.

        • To start with, your title is a Search Engine Optimized spectacle. If Caleb’s is obnoxious and in-your-face, so was that.

          Speaking of someone else’s “smugness” isn’t the beginning of “Hi! Let’s have dispassionate discourse!” It’s like “heresy” — only OTHERS are heretics. Only others are arrogant.

          Nor is speaking of Caleb “believing” unless he explicitly states, “I believe X.” This would be problematic in a paper, equally problematic in a journal, and always pushes buttons. It’s better to show what he’s concerned about and how he is mistaken (or how you might mistake him, though what he says is pretty clear). I don’t know what Caleb believes — I only know what he says.

          “Propagandistic”? Really? Even half-assed journalism (the lowest form of writing) doesn’t allow such terminology!

          Also, drawing on Caleb’s “story” is not a useful — he could reply with another uncharitable explanation of why you’re pro-choice, and it would never end.

          That said, it’s easy enough to defeat Caleb’s arguments: they’re not original, they’re not converting anyone, and in the end they’re only preaching to the choir. That doesn’t mean they need to be misrepresented, though. Even using the highest possible charity, it’s a weak presentation.

          Maybe I’m nitpicking — but I think we should still force ourselves to a superhuman standard.

          But again, are you convicting anyone or changing practice? I’m not really too upset about ideological exchanges — ideology rarely intersects reality. This is why die-hard “conservatives” and bleeding-heart “liberals” still buy the same clothes, eat the same food, send their children to the same schools, read the same magazines, watch the same movies… and then somehow (perhaps because it’s their only difference from anyone else)

          Most distracting is this Kirk fellow — and I can’t believe he actually thinks what he says. To violate Godwin’s Law in your first comment is epic.

          Tolerance is not tolerance if it only tolerates the tolerant. True tolerance even tolerates the intolerant. It’s like calling for “unconditional love” but refusing to show it to those who don’t show the same unconditional love — this is no different than “loving those who love you” which is what even the “heathens” do.

          This piece is reactionary — purely a negative image of Caleb’s post, embodying the same attitude in different clothes. I’m not comfortable with that from you. Write a manifesto, but despite the fact that I disagree with 110% of what Caleb tends to say, I disagree with this almost as much.

          What is the practical application of this? Are you getting an abortion? Again, I don’t think ideology intersects reality very often — so please don’t take my criticisms too much to heart! I think ideology and reality exist in separate worlds. I’ve seen right-wing Christians who have the worst theology but have a real practice of charity and left-wing whatevers who have excellent theories and no practice.

          Caleb is acerbic and doesn’t bother with real arguments — and that’s fine for him, but why do the same? I don’t think Caleb’s piece is charitable, but that doesn’t mean yours shouldn’t be either! I expect more from you than Caleb. 😛

          Some context: abortion is reactionary. Abortion is in no way revolutionary. Abortion is obsolete after the revolution.

    • Caleb,

      Thanks for the response. In turn…

      1 – My bad if I misread what you meant by the 3 percent figure. I don’t think Planned Parenthood’s budget numbers are relevant to what I argued, so I’m going to leave it at that.

      2 – As I said, you have every right to this definition, but you haven’t communicated with someone who disagrees with you simply by asserting it. I realize you wanted to persuade someone of your point of view, and that’s fine. But my problem was with your portrayal of her as stupid and confused relative to your own state of moral enlightenment. It is possible for people to disagree with you about what happens in an abortion and still be intelligent and ethical. As I said, I personally cannot deny that some kind of killing takes place, but, unlike you seem to have assumed in your conversation, the simple concession of that fact does not automatically change one’s position.

      3 – By this, I mean that by your own account, you are glad to be alive, and think that whatever pain and discomfort you’ve had to endure (and I know it has been considerable), your life is worth living. That’s all. It is uncomfortable to think about, but not every person who is born feels that way. And some parents have children who will never be even be conscious of their own life, but whose existence make the parents’ lives one of endless hardship and sadness.

      4 – I get your point, but I’m not sure you can cleanly separate your story from your convictions. We are our experiences in a fundamental way, and far more often than not our convictions precede reason and argument. You believe what you believe is right because of your story – the grand story of your life in all of its bits and pieces.

      5 – You are technically correct; I should have said that mothers can comprehend their situation better than anyone else. This is another one of those points that can influence your opinion either way. Because of this vast uncertainty, I believe a woman is the only one who has the right to make a choice about her pregnancy, not me, not the Catholic church, not the state, not anyone. She bears the heaviest burden of that decision financially, emotionally, and physically. I can see how this uncertainty would lead someone to conclude the opposite – that no one should have the right to end a life. I respect that, but I disagree.

      6 – Logic is a human construction just like every other conceptual framework we have devised. There is an entire half of the globe, and thousands of centuries of history, that have/had no conception of logic in the Western classical sense. In my opinion, logic is a powerful tool of the human mind that rapidly runs up against its limits when it encounters certain types of questions. In no case does it go all the way down, and it is not “absolute” in any sense.

      • TheoMatt says:

        “That’s all. It is uncomfortable to think about, but not every person who is born feels that way”

        so what? even miserable people obviously can’t comprehend what nonexistence is — no one can. the fact that this argument is still used baffles me.

      • Hey now, don’t diss my favorite half of the globe! India has magnificent metaphysical systems than encompass unfathomable tomes. And the Buddhadharma is grounded on rationality. Perhaps a foreign mode of logic, but one closer to Eckhart than Aquinas.

      • The Schaef says:

        I would assert in response to point number five that the dead person probably bears the heaviest burden of the decision, on account of they aren’t alive any more.

      • kevin sawyer says:

        “Logic is a human construction just like every other conceptual framework we have devised. There is an entire half of the globe, and thousands of centuries of history, that have/had no conception of logic in the Western classical sense. ”

        So you concede, at least, the pro-choice position is illogical, and we must appeal to a pre-enlightenment mindset in order to argue for its legality. Fine. However, abortion seems to be the product of the western-logical mindset. In other words, legal abortion fails this test, among all the rest.

  16. Devin says:


    “Also, the 3% figure is accounting gobbledygook. 70% of PP’s non-government revenues come from abortion. Without legal abortion, the organization would have no hope whatsoever of turning a profit. It would die almost immediately.”

    Planned Parenthood is a non-profit organization.

    • TheoMatt says:

      read the post above buddy. Douthat’s made a similar point.

      of course it’s worthless anyway cuz even if PP was 100% abortions liberals would still defend it. the 3% is just a poor rhetorical device to win over wobbly conservatives.

  17. Kevin Sawyer says:


    Non-profits can turn a profit. You’ll need a new trump card.

  18. TheoMatt says:

    it’s worth pointing out that an issue can be “complex” emotionally and not-so-complex logically, and that it’s not a copout.

    • Kevin Sawyer says:

      Right. There are emotionally complex reasons why parents shake their babies. Alas, the heartbreaking result of such an action is pretty clear cut, and we therefore invite said parent to have emotionally complex attitudes toward their prison sentence.

  19. Shane Lopez says:

    Just want to add my ten cents in here. If abortion is murder (or killing), and a fetus at conception is a life, then condom manufacturers kill more children in one pack of condoms than guns ever will. Ever.

    Kevin… If abortion is murder, than contraception is, as well, for the exact same reasons. It prevents (at least one) life from taking foot in-utero. This is exceptionally worse than abortion, as the parents never even get a chance to find out if the child is viable and healthy.

    Should we invite all those people who utilize any of the various contraceptives (not limited to condoms) to analyze their complex emotions in prison as well? Or should we condmn them for mass genocide and perform summary executions via military tribunal?

    Now, if you would ljke to dismount from the “abortion is unquestionably murder” high-horse and talk to us at level… I would be willing to talk with you in a far less sardonic tone.

    Otherwise, enjoy mass murder. Every. Time. You. Do it.

    • TheoMatt says:

      you’re dumb

      • TheoMatt: Just a warning that you’re on the verge of being banned. If you want to participate in the conversation, fine, but randomly insulting people and posting incoherent things after every comment is not that. Consider yourself warned.

        • TheoMatt says:

          i think i’ve been pretty coherent. i could deconstruct the above poster’s comment but really, anyone who takes two seconds to think about it should realize what’s wrong there.

        • I’ll pay you $5 to ban anyone who says “hell” or “Nazi”

          • TheoMatt says:

            actually, considering how much claims of Nazism are thrown around as a generic “bad” meaning, abortion at least makes some sense. it’s not productive of course, but still.

    • Kevin Sawyer says:

      “Kevin… If abortion is murder, than contraception is, as well, for the exact same reasons. It prevents (at least one) life from taking foot in-utero.”

      No. A human being is what it is. Whether you know what one is has no bearing on this discussion.

      “Now, if you would ljke to dismount from the “abortion is unquestionably murder” high-horse and talk to us at level… I would be willing to talk with you in a far less sardonic tone.”

      You mean sarcastic, not sardonic, which is different. Either way, I don’t care what tone you use. Just be less stupid.

      • Shane Lopez says:

        No, meant sardonic, as in derisive And mocking. Unfortunstely, what i said was not in the least bit sarcastic.

        You did not make any attempt to actally address the argument, and instead directed the argument back to me or to other subjects. This is what people in rhetorical circles call fallacies. Specifically Ad-Homonim and the Strawman fallacies.

        Please address the topic i brought up, and not the language i brought it up in (or with).

        So again… Try to stay on topic.

  20. Matthew says:

    It appears that the overall thrust of the post is “absolutist moral logic in regards to abortion must submit to the realities of life,” which, in my book, is a great message to take home. However, I am not really sure how this argument goes to “you shouldn’t express an absolutist moral logic in a conversation.” After all, this is how these arguments work– you weigh two principles in conflict against each other and you determine which one is stronger or ought to be more absolute than the other. For Caleb, the moral right of a fetus to live outweighs the moral duty we might feel to protect the fetus or its mother from possible future suffering. Most people in the world hold that “it is wrong to actively kill other people” as a basic ethical first principle. Every ethical argument about lawful killing starts there and establishes exceptions. David takes Caleb to task for saying, basically, “that moral first principle can’t be outweighed by the circumstances you mention,” accusing him of ignoring moral complexity when he does no such thing. Rather, Caleb is saying that, when you weigh the moral complexity of the issue, there is no complexity that can possibly outweigh the moral gravity of killing another human being.

    Also, the title is stupendously awful, as equating a rigid moral stance and refusing to compromise on something that you consider to be a basic human right with “being up on a high horse” is foolish at best and malignant at worst. For example, no one who says, “I think that all women who want contraception should have it and everyone who disagrees with me wants to deny women a basic human right” ought to be characterized as being up on a moral high horse.

  21. Matthew, I have accused Caleb of insufficiently considering the moral complexity of the issue, but I have not misunderstood him; I realize, contrary to your summary, that he thinks that “nothing can outweigh the moral gravity of killing another human being.” I disagree with that as a definition of abortion, but I’m aware that is Caleb’s position.

    This also plays into your misunderstanding of the title. I don’t think Caleb is on a high horse because of his belief about the moral gravity of abortion, but because of his smugness about that belief. He takes for granted that if he impresses his definition (killing) hard enough and gets someone to admit that’s what’s happening, then he has won the argument. I’m not saying he has to back down on his belief about abortion; I’m only saying that pretending he has “scored” against someone who disagrees by merely asserting his position repeatedly and calling the other person depraved is smug and pointless. He hasn’t done a great deed for his cause, he’s only been something of a jerk.

    • Kevin Sawyer says:

      “Matthew, I have accused Caleb of insufficiently considering the moral complexity of the issue,”

      Right. But your accusation is based on an absurd semantic discussion.

      “I disagree with that as a definition of abortion, but I’m aware that is Caleb’s position.”

      You offered no basis for your own opinion, which is part of the problem. It is easy to accuse someone of employing “absolutist logic” (which again, is a gibberish term) without espousing your own precise opinion, which might be picked apart similarly.

      “He takes for granted that if he impresses his definition (killing) hard enough and gets someone to admit that’s what’s happening, then he has won the argument.”

      You did not demonstrate otherwise.

      “I’m not saying he has to back down on his belief about abortion; I’m only saying that pretending he has “scored” against someone who disagrees by merely asserting his position repeatedly and calling the other person depraved is smug and pointless.”

      You acknowledged the PP volunteer had no answers for his objections. Also, with “scored”, you are quoting yourself, and pretending to attribute the term to Caleb. That’s a rhetorical tack, whether you like to pretend it is or not.

      “He hasn’t done a great deed for his cause, he’s only been something of a jerk.”

      Be that as it may, your post is utterly abysmal. I don’t care whether you are being a jerk or not (why worry about such things, given the gravity of the matter at hand?) but you have failed to rise above that which you decry. You seem to believe the fact you disagree with Caleb somehow makes it impossible that he could be empirically correct. That is not true.

      • Shane Lopez says:

        Absolutist logic – Logic having or containing a tone that relates to Absolutism, that is that “things are absolute (black or white)”.

        This is in opposition to Relatavistic Logic.

        Relativistic logic – logic that espouses a variation of judgable criterion as situations and individuals vary.

        Not nonsense words. Stop saying that it is.

        You misused the word “espousing”… I did not. Note it.

      • Shane Lopez says:

        Also, while it may appear that he is “quoting” himself… He is paraphrasing the terminology used by the original author. This is not a rhetorical tack, it is simply a matter of not wanting to utilize the copy-paste function of his browser as readilly as you appear to.

        Caleb “just being a jerk” becomes noteworthy when he fails consistently to support his logic outside of very simple and (uh oh, heres that word you don’t lime) absolute terms.

        He fails to answer basic problems she presents him with by saying that “funding abortion makes everything else they do bad” ( again, a paraphrase). A good examke is the fact that she mentioned contraception and pap smears, yet he concludes tha those are all for naught since “It’s just the killing people that bothers me” (that was a direct quote).

    • Matthew says:


      Thanks for responding. I would like to say that I did not mean to accuse of you “misunderstanding” him, but more that you tried to de-legitimize his point of view by calling him a jerk and saying that he shouldn’t use that (perfectly valid) argument because it doesn’t listen closely enough.

      Caleb’s attitude was not really where most of your article went; I felt like you pretty much stuck to the utility or appropriateness of insisting on a moral absolute as a argumentative tactic. If your concern was primarily his attitude and not his moral absolutism behind it, your post did not do a great job of dissecting that nuance.

      I certainly find the triumphalism in Caleb’s post in poor taste, but I do have a hard time holding it against him when he has such a strong personal stake in the issue (wherein I feel like your article doesn’t do a great job of listening to Caleb’s point of view, along with consistently assigning to him the worst possible motive.)

      Finally, if smugness against one’s opponents on internet moral/political discourse is such a big deal for you, I would impetuously suggest that you take a break on some of those tweets, Mr. Pot. ; )

  22. BigJT says:

    Sour grapes, my man, sour grapes. Want some cheese with that whine? Bottom line, Caleb Jones gave a model for us up on the pro life horse to follow: not hate speech, just simple truth statements showing the logical fallacy of abortion not ending a life. He didn’t score a victory, but he did offend you with his piece…sounds like more than one victory came from this encounter…made you think didn’t he?

  23. TheoMatt says:

    an embryo is biologically human?? no way, libruls’d never be anti-Science yo.

    • Matthew says:

      TheoMatt, as someone who seems to agree with you on several major points: you’re being a troll. Please stop. Your level is discourse is probably more appropriate for someplace else; the rest of us conservatives were having decent (albeit often prickly) conversations around here before you came around. Please work harder to make more thoughtful comments or don’t say anything at all.

  24. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the 9:18pm update. It takes guts/spine/cojones to admit you were wrong and to say it so plainly, and I respect that. One of the many reasons I keep reading here no matter how often I disagree.

  25. Joseph says:

    Hello David. Just a random internet surfer here, and came across Calebs post, followed by yours. I thought this was a constructive response to Calebs post. I applaud your humility in apologizing for your condescension, something we are all easily guilty of when expressing our disagreements.

    I am of the mindset that abortion is wrong because it is taking a persons life. You stated “I don’t even believe we can deny that abortion is violence or killing.” I take that to mean (maybe falsely so) that you believe abortion may be (or is) killing. If that is true, then is it safe to say that you think killing is ok (would be ok) in the circumstances of abortion? In otherwords its not ok to kill your fellow man in normal circumstances, but in abortion it ok to kill the person inside you? Am I understanding that correctly?

    Please understand, I am not trying to make a point, or arguing with you at all, I simply wish to understand your position. I myself am pro-life but wish to understand the pro-choice position better. My understanding is that most pro-choicers would say its not a person/life but rather just a part of the mother, and the mother has the right to do what she wants with her body and all parts of it.

    Also, a side question, are you a Christian? I dont know Caleb or what school he goes to, and haven’t seen this blog before either but it seems to do a lot with Christianity (from the tags). I myself am one, though I fear oftentimes Christians can come across as arrogant and self righteous when they talk about political issues such as this one (and I know I myself am not free from being so, though I prefer to avoid such topics because of the fruitless arguments that often ensues).

  26. Sean says:

    As a non-believer I have been following the conversation with interest. I was a professing Christian for the first 30 years of my life, and considered myself staunchly anti-abortion. I based this mostly on my religious understanding (based on certain biblical passages and the teachings of my church) that the moment of embryonic conception was attended by the creation of an eternal soul, which it would be a sin to kill. This is purely a religiously-based proposition, is it not? Is this basically the reason for opposing abortion by most commenters here?

    Having jettisoned my religious beliefs, I came to consider abortion as a much murkier issue. It is still obviously killing, or ending a life, but does it constitute the murder of a person? Personhood seems to me to depend on the stage of development. Upon further research, I realized my previous understanding of the “moment of conception” was flawed, since really there is not a moment as such, but a process that can, and often does, derail spontaneously at any point along the way. As grey as the issue has become for me, I have seen the benefit of allowing a lot more leeway for personal decisions in this matter.

    I am interested to learn other ways religious believers approach the issue than my previous position, which was very black and white – one of the reasons I came across this blog in the first place.

  27. Matthew says:

    I’m curious how pro-life respondents to this post might address two different conundrums, which (though I’ve long considered myself pro-life) I’ve had a difficult time answering. If others want to jump in the fray, that’s fine. I plan to watch from the sidelines from here on out:

    1. A sperm is alive—at least, by the definition of “life” being sought on other planets. A sperm, certainly, has human DNA—yet no one but Monty Python (singing “Every Sperm is Sacred”) is clamoring to defend that life. Moreover, by some estimates, well over 30% of fertilized eggs fail to implant and their discharge goes unnoticed by women or their partners.

    Should we pro-lifers advocate menstrual collection to save these embryos, many of which would have been viable had they implanted? Should we set up labs to comb menstrual fluid for embryos, so we can give each a proper burial—or collection and aggregate burial of menstrual flows be sufficient? (Would a mass grave for victims of the abortion holocaust be okay?) Along this same line of reasoning: if embryos are the moral equivalent of adults, do we expect heaven to be populated primarily by embryos?

    2. Is it permissible to give a child brain-damaging drugs? (We pro-lifers would say no… right?) Is it permissible to neglect to feed a child and, thereby, cause neurological damage? (We’d say no again… right?) After a child is born, I think everyone would agree: “no way: neither is okay!” The first is child abuse; the second is child neglect—and both are prosecutable offenses.

    But what would happen if legislators were to attempt to apply these same standards to pregnant women? Honestly, should it be a crime for a mother to take drugs that may damage the brain development of their offspring? to smoke? to have a nightcap? Should it be a crime for a pregnant woman to skip prenatal vitamin doses or fail to eat a balanced diet—and, thereby, to increase her child’s risk of neural tube defects? Is the first still child abuse? Is the second child neglect?

    If so, at what point should the state step in, lock pregnant women in their homes, deny them cigarettes and alcohol, and force feed them nutritious meals? Would these women have a right to object—or would they have “given up that right” when they decided to have sex? Once a woman has had sex, is the state justified in stepping to do everything in its power to ensure a healthy delivery, regardless of the rights she gives up or the risks to her in giving birth? These, it strikes me, are the concerns of the pro-choice side. They answer “no way”… and honestly, so do I.

    So, how do we pro-lifers answers #1 and 2? Do we maintain a logically consistent position, regarding humans of every developmental stage as worthy of equal state protection? Do we want a small government that respects personal liberties? Are these desires compatible?

    In struggling to answer these questions, perhaps we’ll develop a bit more understanding for women who struggle with the decision whether to carry their children to term. Perhaps, we’ll even develop more respect for some of our opponents in the abortion battle (like David) who are fighting against legal precedents being established, which would grant the state the right to control women’s bodies once they’ve had sex and are (or might be) carrying a child. (How invasive of test should the state be able to mandate to find out? Whom should be made to undergo it? At what age? How often? …Where this leads isn’t remotely pretty.)

    I’ve met a fair number of pro-choicers who are also anti-abortion; they find abortion morally repugnant, would never have one themselves, and go out of their way to make sure no one in their families is ever put in a position where abortion may seem like the best option. I think that’s not enough, but even so: I don’t think the people who hold that position are moral barbarians or monsters. They’re people, too—just like you, me, and (I think) sensing, thinking, pre-born children.

    I look forward to reading feedback.

  28. Sean says:

    Matthew, your post is intriguing. It reminded me that I recently ran across an account of human chimerism, where a person has two sets of DNA. There are apparently different levels of chimerism, with some non-identical twins sharing some stray bits of each other’s DNA. Others are apparently resulted two fertilized eggs that joined at some point after “conception” and became one embryo, and thus eventually one person. This process can also produce conjoined twins.
    One can see the questions that might arise for the believer. Did the original zygote have a soul before it joined with its alter-zygote? Which soul does the person who lives on possess? Did one technically “kill” the other? Seems all this squishiness and uncertainty during the early developmental stages should lead even the most staunch abortion foe to have some flexibility and be a bit less dogmatic. But of course that is probably hoping for too much.

  29. Martha says:

    In order for me to enter into this discussion, I have to care about what is true and seek to understand the greatest amount of truth possible for me. If I don’t care or don’t care to seek, I would not care to enter into this discussion.

    A couple of questions surrounding abortion:
    1. When are we a human person?
    – sperm/egg?
    – from the moment of conception?
    – heart beat?
    – brain waves?
    – viability? (which keeps getting younger and younger with modern medicine)
    – when we can walk?
    – when we have a soul?

    I admit it. I don’t know when we are a human person. Pretty sure that I’m a person. I’m pretty sure that a teenager, toddler, and infant are persons. There’s something inside me that makes me almost certain of it… call it natural law or whatnot. I even have a hunch that the neonates born at 24/26 weeks that I’ve seen in the NICU are persons independent of where they are (mother’s uterus or NICU). However, the sperm… it doesn’t have the potentiality, even with the proper nutrients, to grow to a toddler stage. Only when physically combined with something other than itself and becoming something other than itself (a zygote) that he can grow to a stage that I have some certainty is a human person. So, the other question.

    2. When is it ok to kill/terminate the life of a human person?
    – when another is threatening your life? most would agree with this. however, there is the grey area of a tubal pregnancy. If the embryo is a human person, and this person is threatening the mother’s life, is it ok to kill the embryo? Luckily, modern medicine has provided a way to avoid intentionally killing the embryo by removing it from the tube and trying to re-implant it in the uterus.
    – when the other lives inside of you?
    – when the other can’t think for itself?
    – when the other is not contributing to society?
    – when the other is not living a meaningful life?

    The ok-to-kill-a-person situation seems rare. If it is rarely ok to kill a person and I’m pretty sure that we become a person somewhere in the early stages of development, then I’m not going to risk it. To take it one step further, humans in the early stages of development should be protected just in case they are persons. “I don’t know. It might be a human person.” This level of understanding what is true just quoted does not make it ok to kill/terminate the life of something that might be a person.

    • Dan Allison says:

      Gee, Martha, are we human when we are white? When we are Gentile? How about at 12 when the reproductive system has finally evolved. All the LINE DRAWING to exclude fetuses from humanity is just as wicked as the line-drawing that fundamentalists do when they decide who’s in, who’s out.

  30. Matthew says:


    I’ve heard the argument you’re making; I’ve made it myself. We’ve said, in essence: every fertilized egg is a human life and (or, in the absence of knowing for sure) should be protected by government force as if it is human life.

    The issue here isn’t what you or I would do; neither of us would choose abortion—but I know plenty of people who are pro-choice who wouldn’t, either.

    The issue here is that, as pro-lifers, we have been calling for the use of government force to protect what we believe is unborn human life, without (it increasingly seems to me) following our position through to its logical conclusion. You can read my prior post for examples of behaviors we (thankfully) haven’t been calling for, including collecting menstrual flows to give embryos proper burials, confessing that heaven will be primarily populated by the (spontaneously or otherwise) aborted, and compelling pregnant women to eat nutritious meals and avoid drugs. Such proposals are absurd.

    But that’s the point: the argument in my prior post is a kind of argument called “reductio ad absurdum,” in which premises are simply followed to their logical conclusion. If the conclusion is absurd and the argument is valid, there’s something wrong with the premise.

    So, there appears to be something wrong with our premise—or I’m missing something. Want to try again to help?

  31. Fox says:

    This is the best question in this thread:

    “what is it about the choice to kill that only that one pregnant woman can comprehend, and by what reasoning do you presume we have no standing to deprive people of the choice to kill?”

    But nobody answered it.

    It seems that if as a society we do not allow some people to kill other people, then the mother is not the only person that should be involved in this decision. Society gets to say who gets killed and who does not get killed. So the whole argument that “a woman gets to decide about her own body” is hyper-individualistic.

    Thanks, The Schaef, for asking a great question, and sorry nobody has answered you.

  32. vardnas says:

    I see that this comment thread is pretty much dead, but I just found it today and feel the need to comment.

    Interesting that David’s original post is not a moral argument over abortion, it’s a critique about how this Caleb guy chose to present his pro-life argument to someone with whom he did not see eye-to-eye. Yet almost every subsequent comment is some variant of the pro-life/pro-choice debate. How surprising.

    I also find it interesting that it’s mainly men making the pro-life arguments here. Sure, men are capable of understanding abortion and the complexity of the issue; but none of you men will ever be faced with a pregnancy, whether it’s wanted or not. Yet you all have such vehement opinions. I often wonder if the abortion debate would be a debate at all if men were the ones carrying fetuses to term.

    Pardon my French, but Caleb does start to come off as something of a douchebag in his last couple of paragraphs. He admits to feeling bad about most assuredly ruining this woman’s afternoon. This is a laughable idea given the typical level of discourse she surely encounters one most days—which is to say uncivilized and rude. I very highly doubt he was the worst thing about her day. And how arrogant to think she gave him a second thought at all.

    I also doubt the sincerity of his regret, since he essentially pwned an unsuspecting Planned Parenthood volunteer and then chose to splash it all over his Facebook page for the adulation of hundreds.

    Thanks for the good read, David.

  33. Dan Allison says:

    Personhood is always defined culturally. I’m profoundly weary of people who use the term “scientific fact” to shut down all conversation. People who do that haven’t the first clue what science is, or what facts are.

  34. Cury says:

    The n+1 article sounds really interesting. Do you still have the PDF/could you send it to me?

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