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The utter failure to understand what motivates pro-lifers

by | Apr 4, 2016

By Dave Andrusko

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

There I was yesterday evening, peacefully watching the semi-finals of the NCAA Women’s basketball tournament when I glanced at my droid. Big mistake.

Should have waited until today to read the latest from the populist bioethicist, Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., which appeared in Forbes.

Whether Dr. Caplan or someone else wrote the headline, it was an on-the-money summary of his argument (for lack of a better word): “Trump Was Right On Target About Abortion — And The Utter Moral Incoherence Of Pro-Lifers.”

If you read it carefully–or even as haphazardly as it is written–you can’t miss the irony: Caplan’s argument is as intellectually incoherent as he says pro-lifers’ position is morally incoherent.

This is nothing new. I have read some of his academic work and it can be thoughtful, whether you agree or disagree. But when he writes for a lay audience, it’s as if all the impulses Caplan restrained while writing for a scholarly audience are unleashed.

Caplan’s essay is 1,110 words long and runs down so many different paths–pro-lifers would say rabbit trails–it would take quadruple the number of words to address half of his contentions. So let’s just talk about the underlying assumptions that undergird his position.

Just a few word about Mr. Trump’s ever-shifting position on abortion which provides Caplan with the narrative arc under which he includes his hatchet job on pro-lifers.

We wrote last week about the price we’d pay as a Movement for his initial conclusion–when baited by Chris Matthews Trump said women who’ve aborted should be punished –and for all the subsequent revisions.

Arthur Caplan

Arthur Caplan

Caplan goes down the already well-trod path. Somehow a man who Caplan ends up describing as someone who “clearly has no idea what he really believes about the ethics of abortion” functions as a kind of Rosetta stone that makes clear the objective we pro-lifers have striven so long to hide: we can’t want to put women who’ve aborted into jail.

There is nothing anyone can say to people who come to this conclusion. Why? For one thing, almost none of them actually believes we think that way. It’s just a political tool with which to clobber pro-lifers. That’s why they pronounce that either we want to imprison women or we don’t really take the death of an unborn baby all that seriously.

Indeed to Caplan we OUGHT to feel that way, given the premises which he dutifully imputes to us, the better to make his case. Anything less is either insincerity/hypocrisy or evidence of moral incoherence.

What else prevents people from seeing that our motivation is not punishment? Could be because this is the way they would respond to a comparable situation? I will leave it at that.

In addition, because the Caplans of this world are confident they know our real motivation (or what our motivation ought to be) and haughtily look down at we mere simpletons, there can be no respect for the genuine complexity of a crisis pregnancy situation, and even less so for how we respond to the pregnant woman and her unborn baby.

But what is our objective, the one opponents (even the honest ones) cannot grasp? To find a solution that allows a woman to find the inner and outer resources to continue an unplanned pregnancy. How would punishing those who aborted possibly serve that end?

A friend who read Caplan noted that Caplan could have offered another example (at least in Caplan’s mind) of our hypocrisy/moral incoherence. We welcome women and men into our Movement who have had abortions or who have performed abortions, in some cases thousands of them.

Why would we do that? Aren’t we really against abortion? Look at it this way.

When I read Caplan, it was just a few hours after leading my adult Sunday school class in the first lesson in a new book. The question the author asked was, aren’t skeptics/agnostics our “enemy”?

Of course not! From our perspective, they are where we once were. We have no right to look down on them, and certainty not to see them as the enemy. There but for the grace of God go I.

What pro-abortionists like Caplan can’t (or won’t ) understand about pro-lifers is that we have a deep understanding of and appreciation for the human condition. Each of us has fallen short a hundred different ways, so why should we expect more of anyone else?

An increasing number of pro-lifers have joined our ranks after having had an abortion or being the kind of boyfriend/spouse who failed to support the woman in his life in her hour of greatest need. If we were the kind of mean-spirited, unforgiving folk Caplan believes we are (or ought to be if we are not to be “incoherent”), we would, at a minimum, shun them, at worse, make their life as miserable as we could.

But we don’t. Why? Because it serves no end–other than to alienate women and men, many of whom are having second thoughts. And no one–no one–has a more powerful testimony to the wider world than someone who has come out of the depths and into the light.

Besides, to bring this overly-long post to an end, our task is to save babies and their mothers and their fathers and all the other people whose lives will be affected by this terrible decision.

But if you “know” better, like Caplan, this most compassionate and caring and loving of responses is morally inconsistent, at best, hypocritical at worst.

At the risk of stating the obvious, this says far more about them than it ever could about us.

Categories: Abortion