In chapter 8, Dawkins talks about abortion. He makes a couple of startling claims. First, he argues that religion is bad because a select few fundamentalists kill abortion doctors, and then he goes on to argue support for abortion because fetuses aren’t really human anyways.
Dawkins’ logic is seriously flawed in this chapter. There are two problems here.
First, he uses the red herring of religious fundamentalists that have killed abortion doctors as a protest against abortion. I touched on this in my last post when I talked about fundamentalism. Even though a select few choose to kill in the name of their cause, that doesn’t necessarily make the cause a bad one. Thus, Dawkins yet again shows a flawed sense of logic in his arguments. Another strike against Dawkins and his writing in this book. I talked quite a bit on this topic of religious fundamentalism in my last post and I’ll be talking about it again in my next post. So, I’m going to put this aside for now.
The second problem is this: Dawkins tries to dehumanize abortion in an attempt to justify it in some way.
My views on this topic have gone from extremely liberal to extremely conservative. I think of myself as fairly liberal in a lot of respects. I lean towards rehabilitation for criminals, I’m against capital punishment and I think that social assistance is an important safety net for all of us, including the least among us. Those aren’t typical conservative views. To stick with the stereotype, many liberals support free choice, while most conservatives are pro life. Yes, this is a generalization, but I think it’s a fairly accurate and it does seem to represent the “typical liberal or conservative” agenda.
But, that’s not what I’m here to talk about today…
Like I said, I used to be extremely pro choice. I always thought that abortion should be the individual’s choice. My views on this were strongest in my teens and early twenties, which is the age at which most of us may feel the need to deal with this issue on a personal level. And, I remember at the time feeling that this would be “the best choice for me as I wasn’t ready to have a kid yet.” Fear, uncertainty and unreadiness are the thoughts that came to my mind when I considered the options available to people in my age group when it came to having children. If I wasn’t ready, well… the medical system had the easy out, the so-called “get out of jail free” card.
It wasn’t until I had matured more that I revisited my thoughts on abortion. And, I didn’t revisit these views until I started to think I was stable enough to have a family of my own. At that point, my views started to take a turn in a different direction. All of a sudden, abortion represented the death of a child. As any expectant parent understands, that week 12 visit to the doctor is extremely symbolic. At week 12, most parents hear the heartbeat of their new little baby for the first time. I remember the first time I heard Noah’s heartbeat. I was instantly connected to the baby. And the connection was more vivid for Julie as she started to experience Noah kicking and punching inside of her as he grew in her belly.
It’s interesting how perspectives change depending on the circumstances, eh?
Dawkins tries to bring in a third view, which takes us in a totally different direction. He tries to debate whether or not fetuses are fully human, or if they are just a “bundle of cells”. The distinction is a strange one to me because a scientist could look at any living person and make the same distinction. By dehumanizing the new life growing inside of a woman is to grossly misrepresent that life. The standard argument is that a fetus is not a human for numerous reasons, including that the fetus has no nervous system, thus it will not suffer or the fetus is unable to survive outside of the womb, thus it is not a viable life. There are many other justifications to support abortion as well.
My primary response to these types of justifications is this: would you take a human life if the person was in this kind of position? Non-responsive nervous systems or inability to survive outside of the womb… well… any baby I’ve ever seen is unable to survive for long outside of the womb without assistance from a parent or guardian. Should we be allowed to kill babies at our leisure and pass it off with a dismissal shrug of the shoulders? I think not. Strange how Dawkins can so trivialize the act of abortion by turning it into a scientific procedure with no mention of the human life that is being affected. Would we accept his argument if he were talking about newborns? I think not. So why is it okay for him to talk about it in such stark terms with an unborn child?
But… I guess this is where it all goes back to perspective: as parents, we eagerly grasp that first inkling that we’re fostering new life. That first glimpse of life, no matter how small, is such an exciting time. Is Dawkins really being serious when he suggests that it is just a bundle of cells?
Don’t get me wrong… abortion is a tragic situation no matter what the circumstances. I am sure that in many cases, the options are quite limiting and abortion seems like the easiest way out. I feel for people in those situations as it can’t be an easy decision to make. And the last thing I want to do is judge people. It is tragic any time the decision to take a life occurs. What can we do to save more lives?
Regardless of the outcome, this is where, in religion, love and support must shine through. Times of struggle are the times when people most look towards God for help. But with abortion, many people are afraid to look to God. Not only has the individual dismissed an innocent life, but in many cases, the individual has also convinced themselves that it wasn’t a life at all. Turning to God after denying him is next to impossible. Thus, it is important to reach out to people in times of struggle like this type of situation.
This issue is one that polarizes us as a society. It’s not an easy topic to agree upon. There are compelling arguments on either side. But, I think that if we consider the unborn life inside of the mother and if we approach this unborn life with the same rights as any other person, then how can we not think of abortion as murder? I know that my own personal views from my teens and early twenties still haunt me sometimes. I think to myself from time to time, “what was I thinking? Was I really supportive of the ending of another human life? Would my own happiness be worth the cost of taking a human life?” If only we could give people the understanding and experience of planned parenthood before they have to embark on a decision such as abortion… I’m sure if that happened, the outcome would be much different in plenty of situations.
In fact, some states in the US are now requiring that women have an ultrasound before they have an abortion. This is an interesting new approach, as it counters the dehumanizing process that has been propped up by pro choice arguments and scientific approaches such as those by Richard Dawkins. And interesting enough, it is science that is having the greatest impact on these vulnerable decision makers. By attending an ultrasound, the mothers-to-be get to experience first-hand the new life that is inside of themselves. While statistics are difficult to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests that the scientific tool of ultrasound is making a difference in reinforcing the new life and saving it at the same time.
I wonder if Dawkins would consider that to be an example of evolution and survival of the fittest at its finest.