Begging the Question At the Museum

If you visit the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in downtown Richmond, you will see a curious exhibit honoring pro-choice activists who were arrested during a protest that happened in 2012 at the Virginia State Capital. Protesting a bill aimed at requiring women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, several dozen protestors broke through barricades set up by law enforcement and were subsequently taken into custody. One woman’s crimson red jeans are prominently displayed after she was photographed wearing them during her arrest. The display is part of a broader exhibition on the history of Civil Rights movements in Virginia.

Just around the corner, there is another display, one dedicated to honoring those who advocate for equal rights on behalf of people with disabilities. 

The irony is fairly hard to miss. Many people will seek out abortions if they find our their child will be born disabled. As a colleague of mine points out, at least half if not a majority of pregnancies diagnosed with Down Syndrome will be terminated through abortion.

Some careful questions are in order here:

First, does pursuing inclusion for people with disabilities(something we should do) extend to allowing them to be born? If so, then how does a display honoring those who fight for their ability to prevent the birth of children with disabilities accomplish this? 

To put it another way, does the ability to abort a child who will be born with a disability deserve to be celebrated? 

There are some who will insist that abortion is a right that any woman may exercise for whatever reason she may deem, and that it is wrong to deliberately interfere with a woman getting an abortion. 

Furthermore, there are other pro-choice activists who in recent months have asserted that denial of abortion is essentially forcing a woman to be pregnant or give birth against her will, a moral crime on par with sexual assault.

Okay, fair enough. Let’s assume that is the case. If so, then there is no abortion that is really wrong so long as a woman doesn’t have to remain pregnant if she chooses not to. 

This means that if a woman chooses to have an abortion because her baby will be born with some sort of disability, there is nothing remotely wrong with doing so; in fact, it would be the opposite, requiring a baby to be born against the will of the person giving birth is what would be wrong. 

This is absurd. Birth is not an abnormal medical event, and medical complications that do arise show that we know at a basic level what normal pregnancy is supposed to look like. Birth is the end result both sexual intercourse and pregnancy are inherently oriented towards, and it is a pretty big stretch to claim one is the victim of a vile injustice for the natural results which may follow an action(sex) they may have willingly engaged in. Having to provide basic support to one’s own children is not oppression or injustice. Claiming otherwise reflects a worldview centered on pleasing the self rather than doing right by other people, including one’s own children.

Second, while it is absolutely right to say we shouldn’t mistreat others on the basis of race, sex or disability, what about when it comes to humans who are smaller, less developed, in a different location, and more dependent? Why are these categories any more relevant for how we should treat people?

What most often happens is that people who support abortion assume that abortion doesn’t kill a member of the human family. They simply assume that when it comes to pregnancy, there is only one human being who matters, the woman making the decision. However, if the unborn entity killed in abortion is a human being, then what we are doing is saying that some humans matter more than others, and some may be killed to suit the preferences or needs of others. 

Let’s put it this way: Would anyone celebrate the decision to throw a disabled newborn in the dumpster? The answer is of course no(with a few odd exceptions), but what changed in the time before the infant was born, and the time after birth, that somehow changed our obligations towards the infant? Why do we have a moral obligation to not kill them now, and not several months before they were born? Most often when it comes to abortion, people are simply assuming(without providing a justification) that abortion doesn’t actually kill anyone.

Inadvertently, this is what the Virginia Museum of History and Culture is affirming, though not by any means intentionally. By ignoring the question of whether or not abortion kills a member of the human family, the museum is awkwardly celebrating the ability to terminate the lives of the very disability rights advocates it was also honoring with it’s display. There is a contradiction in thinking involved here, and an assumption that before we are born, we don’t count. 

What pro-lifers must do is graciously expose the contradiction in people’s thinking on abortion. To do this, we must be willing to focus the issue on the humanity of the unborn, because it is the central question that drives the debate over abortion. 

If abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, then putting the activists who fight to protect this ability to kill on the same moral pedestal as those who fought to achieve equal protections for those of different races and different abilities is at best contradictory and at worst, obscene. 

Much of the thinking people do on the issue of abortion involves such a contradiction. Pro-lifers must point out the contradiction and expose the faulty thinking underneath