Where Have We Gone in our Thinking? Philosophy and Abortion Have a lot in Common

Her eyes stayed fixed on the pregnancy test. Two lines or one? The 4 minute timer seemed to be dragging the time with a ball and chain. As the time ticked on Tina and I talked about her possible pregnancy.

“If the test is positive, what do you plan to do?” I asked.

“Oh I would have to get an abortion,” she replied.

“A lot of women come through our crisis pregnancy center without being informed or knowledgeable about the abortion procedure.  It’s a good idea to do your research and not be in the dark. Have you looked anything up online?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d you think?”

“It was kinda scary…but I try not to think about it.”

Tina did her homework and the fear blinded her. She made a decision right then; a decision to look away. Tina’s last statement is a reflection of our society — we try not to think.

To Think or Not to Think?

Not thinking is the easy road but thinking long and deliberately about important matters can be dangerous. In his Philosophy book, The Consequences of Ideas, R.C. Sproul harkens back to his college years, while working a summer job in 1959, when he met an interesting street sweeper. The summer job was in a hospital maintenance department where the street sweeper began to engage Sproul in philosophical ideas. Sproul was intrigued by a man whose occupation was sweeping driveways, but who was also knowledgeable in Sproul’s concentration in college.

This street sweeper was a philosophy Professor in Berlin during World War II. His ideas were at odds with Hitler’s Third Reich so he was removed from his position. When he spoke out against the Nazi’s his wife and children were arrested and executed; he escaped from Germany with one daughter. The philosophy Professor no longer taught philosophy, because it had destroyed his life.

Sproul said, “I was pushing a broom because I lived in a culture that sees little value in philosophy and gives scant esteem to those who pursue it. My friend was pushing a broom, on the other hand, because he came from a culture that gave great weight to philosophy. His family was destroyed because Hitler understood that ideas are dangerous. Hitler so feared the consequences of my friend’s ideas that he did everything possible to eliminate him — and his ideas.”

Do we as a nation give the same weight to Philosophy that Hitler did?  Where have we gone in our thinking as a culture? Are we so afraid of thinking? Is darkness a comfort to us?

Philosophy Then and Now

Philosophers of the past were concerned with finding truth; now post-modern thought tells us truth cannot be found (let alone if it even exists.) The tidal wave of post-modernism fueled by the idea of relativism has drowned our society in mud. In post-modernism, words no longer have any intrinsic value or meaning attached to them, and anything goes. To each his own. Live and let live is the mantra of our time.

Today everything is absurd and lacks meaning, such as in Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, where two men banter in nonsensical ways and where their physical actions do not match what they are saying. These two men are waiting for Godot (some literary scholars would say Beckett means God here) but he never comes. In a society where anything goes, where there is no right or wrong, where do we end up? Where do these ideas take us? If we accept post-modern relativist philosophies we have rejected any standard; we have no center, no reference point. Where there is only absurdity, and no meaning and truth, then death sprouts in many forms.

The Rule of Law

One man contends against the view of no truth and meaning. He contends with a world of no absolutes. The famous Oxford professor and writer, C.S. Lewis, wrote a book titled Mere Christianity. This atheist turned Christian philosophizes in his writing about right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe. Lewis appeals in chapter one to the law of human nature. He talks about quarrels.

Everyone says things like, “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?  “That’s my seat, I was there first”-  “Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm” —  “Why should you shove in first?”  “Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine” — “Come on, you promised.”

Lewis says in all of these statements we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior, which we expect others to follow.  The old philosophers would call this the Law of Nature, meaning the law of human nature, and how we are all governed by an internal law that shows us right and wrong. This is the human idea of decent behavior, which was thought to be obvious to everyone, but we have rejected this type of thought in today’s culture.

Lewis would say we believe in this law whether we admit it or not: “If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much — we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so — that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.”

Tina’s Choice

Could Tina’s choice to look away be a suffocation of the Law of Nature? Why would she feel the need to not think about it? Why did she choose to ignore the information she found, even though her emotional response was fear? I went on to explain to Tina the importance of her choice and the possible consequences.

I told her many women come into our crisis pregnancy center in a hurry to terminate the pregnancy with thoughts and emotions traveling at full speed. Many of these women come back to the center for post abortion counseling, because of the guilt and regret they feel for making their choice. I encouraged her to slow down in her thoughts and emotions and make sure she weighed her options. I encouraged her to research and think clearly and deliberately. We never fully realize how our choices today will affect us down the road.

What about Miscarriage?

I then shared a true story with Tina about my sister’s two miscarriages. My sister’s first miscarriage occurred 3 months into her pregnancy and the grief she felt was the same grief a mother would feel if her 3 year old child had died. Why is that? Because the maternal instinct falls into place once the woman knows she is pregnant. My sister had another miscarriage at 4 weeks and the grief was still present. Those in our society would mourn with my sister in both cases, because she wanted those babies.

What if my sister didn’t want either baby?  What if she went to an abortion clinic? Aside from the pro-life followers, most of society would not grieve the loss of the child once the woman chose the abortion route.  Is this a double standard? Are our beliefs concerning this issue based solely on a woman’s choice?

Liz Welch from Glamour magazine states a statistic in her article, Eight Women Share their Abortion Stories, that one out of three women will have an abortion by the time she’s 45. There are 1.37 million abortions per year and 3,700 a day in the United States and 1% of all abortions occur because of rape or incest; 6% of abortions occur because of potential health problems regarding either the mother or child, and 93% of all abortions occur for social reasons (i.e. the child is unwanted or inconvenient.)

If my sister was part of the 93% , then would we deem her choice right? If a woman wants her baby then abortion is wrong, but if the woman doesn’t want her baby then abortion is right? This train of thought can only be the by product of a world given over to relativism. A world where right and wrong is based upon each woman’s choice and desires. This is where we have gone in our thinking.

Injustice in the Abortion Clinic

What if an armed robber invaded my sister’s house and when confronted he beat her to the point where her unborn child died? We would stand in horror at the injustice.

If we think this is injustice, what happens in the abortion clinic? What happens in our philosophical ideas as a culture when we demand justice with an armed robber and mourn through a miscarriage, but we turn our heads and try not to think about what happens in the abortion clinics? We want to save the rainforest, we want to save trees, we want to protect animals lives, but what about developing human life?

We protect the life found in a turtle’s egg, what about a woman’s egg?  Again, where is the standard? Why is it being applied to animal and plant life but not human life?

Pro-Choice Thinking

Some attempt to make a defense for the subjective stance that has led to pro-choice thinking. Judith Jarvis Thompson is one such philosopher. In fact, Thompson gives an interesting analogy:

“But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own.

The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.”

Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.”

Thompson’s analogy breaks down too easily. The first problem lies in the idea of the violinist as being unconscious. Being unconscious has nothing to do with life being present or not. I could faint and be temporarily unconscious, but I would still be alive and I would hope no one would take my life just because I was unconscious.

The second breakdown in the analogy is the assumption that the mother is helpless, because the Society of Music Lovers attached this person to her without her consent. This analogy might apply to the mentioned 1% of women who have abortions upon being raped, but what about the 93% who have an abortion due to inconvenience?

Most women are not helpless; they know unprotected sex will result in pregnancy and even protection is not always safe. Having sex, especially unprotected, will result in pregnancy. The point is some men and women are careless and then think they can wipe it all away with an abortion. Before the choice for an abortion the woman makes a choice to have sex (protected or unprotected.) The issue as human beings is that we don’t like to take the responsibility for our choices. Remember what Lewis said?

“The truth is, we believe in decency so much — we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so — that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.”

Instead of saying the Society of Music’s Lovers tied this person to you, we should say: you tied this person to you! Now concerning the man with the fatal kidney disease — his blood is on your hands.

Behind the Mask of Abortion

Does this make sense to you? Maybe you are like Tina and decided to not think about it a long time ago. Why aren’t you thinking about it? The ancient philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”


Where are the great thinkers of our time? Are they too busy engaging in absurdity, and like Beckett’s characters they are waiting for something they already believe will never come?

You see there is a larger issue at stake in the abortion debate, something that is fundamental, and it’s philosophy. The issue is more than just saving unborn babies; it is a battle of ideas. The way we think directly correlates to how we live, whether we are aware of it or not. Behind every action and decision, from Hitler to today, is a way of thinking. Behind the mask of abortion is the face of relativistic philosophies.

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