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Commentary: How to win the abortion debate

Abortion opponents and supporters believe President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, could be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The left is in full-blown meltdown mode over the possibility that the Supreme Court could soon be controlled by justices who believe the court’s previous rulings on women’s abortion rights are erroneous, and thus should be overturned. Although Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s choice to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, has yet to definitively say where he stands on potentially overturning Roe v. Wade, his right-leaning decisions on numerous other constitutional issues, and his unwillingness in previous confirmation hearings to openly discuss his views on the topic have many Democrats terrified — and reasonably so.

But even if Judge Kavanaugh were to side with the court’s four other conservatives to reverse Roe v. Wade, it wouldn’t mean abortion would suddenly disappear. All Roe guarantees is that states cannot ban abortions; overturning Roe v. Wade would not cause an immediate rejection of abortion. It would be up to each and every state to decide the issue on their own.

Some have speculated roughly 23 states would ban abortion relatively quickly should the decision in Roe v. Wade be reversed, but that would still mean more than half the states would continue to permit at least some elective abortions. In a post-Roe world, the focus of the abortion debate would suddenly shift away from the courts, where it never belonged, to the public, which would then have to decide, for the first time in decades, what the meaning of “human life” really is.

Winning the debate

For decades, the abortion debate has focused on “women’s rights,” but, in most circumstances, abortion has absolutely nothing to do with the rights of women. Rather, abortion is about whether an unborn child is a human being, as opposed to a meaningless, sub-human ball of cells.

“When does life begin?” and “What is life?” are almost never asked in conversations about abortion today, because, frankly, staunch abortion proponents have no interest in allowing the discussion to move in that direction. It’s much easier to scream and shout about “sexism,” “racism,” and “reproductive health.”

For those of us who believe most forms of abortion should be prevented, the best course of action in any debate about abortion is to focus on discussing when life begins. Just about everyone agrees that if an unborn baby is a human, then that human has a right to life. The question is, when does a human become a human?

One of the greatest challenges of debating the beginning of life is finding a way to avoid any discussions of religion. Although many opponents of abortion are religious and are motivated in part by religious convictions, myself included, it’s essential to keep religious beliefs out of the debate for a few important reasons: (1) tens of millions of Americans no longer assign any value to religion; (2) abortion advocates believe abortion is about individual rights, which means people shouldn’t be subject to the religious beliefs of others; (3) many nonreligious people oppose abortion for other reasons; and (4) even among religious people, there is a wide variety of beliefs, religions, church authorities, etc.

Absent an objective, absolute standard of morality, it becomes very difficult in our postmodern world to pinpoint exactly when life begins. Advancements in science and medicine have certainly shown that unborn children become viable at much earlier ages than previously thought, but, in many respects, the meaning of life has become totally arbitrary; life “begins” whenever the majority of society says it does. Why? Because without religion, how can people with wildly different views come to an agreement about something as difficult as determining “when does personhood begin?”

Uncertainty matters

Instead of throwing up our hands in defeat over questions about the uncertainty of determining an exact moment mere cells become human, those of us who oppose abortion should use uncertainty to our advantage. How? By repeatedly making it clear to those who support abortion that if there is no objective, absolute way of determining when an unborn person becomes a human, then even the most firm abortion supporter can’t say with any certainty he or she knows when life begins, which means that he or she must also admit it’s possible abortion laws permit the unjust taking of a human life. Thus, allowing abortion is a roll of the moral dice, and if we as society take that risk and it turns out we’re wrong, then we’ve perpetrated one of the worst crimes against humanity in the history of the world. With so much at stake, how can people willing to admit they aren’t sure when life begins feel comfortable supporting abortion? If they are wrong about when life begins, it means they are supporting the killing of innocent people — a reality all abortion advocates must constantly be reminded of.

Contrary to that position, if it turns out a person who opposes all abortions is wrong and life begins, say, 20 weeks after conception, the absolute worst-case scenario is that some women will have to have children in very difficult circumstances. And while that may cause numerous tragedies and tribulations — all of which I am very sympathetic to — at least there is no chance a human being will be unjustly killed.

Or, to put it another way, if we don’t know when human life begins, then the safest course of action is to stop abortion, because not doing so means America is taking an incredibly dangerous risk.

Hearing such an argument, there will be many who remain unphased in their commitment to abortion, but at the very least, it will force all abortion advocates to admit that they are taking a risk and that they don’t know for sure if what they are calling for is actually quite dangerous and highly immoral. It’s important those on the fence about abortion understand the perilous moral ground supporters of abortion routinely walk upon.

The abortion debate isn’t about women’s rights, it’s about human rights. And every single person who supports abortion needs to ask themselves two important questions: first, how sure am I that I’m right about when life begins, and second, what if I’m wrong?

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