A few days ago as I sat enjoying a coffee at the Coffee House in town, I absentmindedly flipped through the Shepherd Express newspaper displayed on the shelf. One article in particular caught my eye: Lisa Kaiser’s piece regarding the proposed 20-Week Abortion Ban to be discussed on the Wisconsin Senate floor this week.
Two words came to mind while skimming through the article – red herring.
A red herring is a logical fallacy in which the arguments presented are actually intended to distract the audience from the more pressing matter in the debate. The term likely came from the early 1800’s when hunting saboteurs would drag a red herring (a strong smelling fish) along a trail to lead the hounds away from the target of their hunt.
Kaiser takes a decided stance against the proposed bill. She cites Dr. Tosha Wetterneck’s concern that it is still debated within the medical field as to whether or not an unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation – a claim which the proposed bill is based on. She expresses concern for the other reasons women choose to abort after 20 weeks (the bill only allows for aborting in the event of a “medical emergency”). Kaiser also cites Dr. Douglas Laube’s concern regarding uncertainty of the actual date of fertilization, since many fetal anomalies are not typically noticeable until the 20 week ultrasound, an unintended consequence of the bill could be women choosing to abort before getting an accurate genetic diagnosis in order to be within legal parameters.
Neither of Kaiser’s initial two claims are enough to compel anyone who believes that life begins at conception that abortion at 20 weeks gestation should be legalized. Allowing for a woman’s right to abort in the event that her “mental health” is jeopardized, and citing the medical community’s division regarding fetal cognisance at 20 weeks gestation, are two common pro-choice platforms that I believe have little credence when logically explored. I should note, however, that I share the quoted medical professional’s concern that women may choose to abort early when they might have chosen otherwise with later testing.
However, it is the last paragraph that truly disturbed me.
Kaiser concludes her piece with a heart-wrenching story of a woman named Ginger. Ginger was told her unborn child was hydrocephalic, and would likely not survive the pregnancy. In the extremely rare event of survival, the child would never cognitively recognize her mother’s voice or touch. Ginger decided to terminate the pregnancy. Kaiser concludes the article with Ginger’s defense of her choice: “No matter what you think, we did the right thing. It was between my husband and I… we did what was right for us.”
(You can find similar stories as a Planned Parenthood advertising campaign against the 20-Week Abortion Ban.)
As a father myself, Ginger’s story certainly tugs at my heart. I can only imagine the despair my wife and I would feel after hearing such a diagnosis. I would never wish that pain upon any expectant parent(s), and I empathize completely with the feelings that led to Ginger and her husband’s ultimate decision to abort. Yet what our culture cannot determine in the abortion debate (as well as many others) is when our emotions prevent us from making ethical decisions.
We have lost the ability to sense the red herring.
I hear many red herrings when researching or discussing this issue. “What if the woman/girl was raped?” or, “What about the health risks of opting for an abortion with sub-par medical care?” or, “It’s not your body, so why should you make that decision?”. The list could go on. And I don’t mean to imply that I don’t share those concerns, or have complete empathy for those situations. But the fact remains that they are red herrings.
The question is: Is the unborn child a human person and subsequently deserving of protective rights? The answer to that question determines whether or not this falls into a moral category and consequently, whether any law against abortive procedures should be made.
Not all laws deal with morality. We can save the different types of “laws” for another discussion. But this one, this question of the personhood and subsequent value of the unborn, is very much a “moral” law, deserving of arguments that address its morality, not arguments that address the outlying – albeit, compassion-warranting situations. If the unborn is determined to be a person inherently possessing protective rights then all other questions regarding disabilities, time tables, and convenience become irrelevant.
**This is not the place for a categorically and exhaustively-researched response to the moral and ethical pro-choice arguments. If you are interested in a deeper understanding of pro-life arguments, I can refer you to many intelligent, articulate resources!