Why we can’t “Park the Ontology” in the Abortion Debate


One of the fundamental frustrations of the present abortion debate is that a great number of the voices on either side enter into the discussion without ever offering an adequate definition of human life. On the one hand there is the frequently cited pro-choice dictum that it is the woman’s body and therefore the woman’s choice without reference to the life of the unborn. Such a position is significantly lacking because the foetus is objectively living human material which either is or is becoming a human being. On the other hand there are those on the pro-life camp who insist that all abortion, no matter at which stage, is murder. This dogmatism too is inconsistent and lacking in a thorough, convincing definition of life. Certainly from the perspective of Christian theology the argument is more nuanced; with classical theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas – who took his cue from Aristotle – life begins in the womb at the quickening; the first stirring of the child in utero. Overcoming this frustration, and opening the way to clear and informed debate, can only be a good thing. By listening to one another we can all come to a better appreciation of the other side, and perhaps come to a more informed understanding of the issues ourselves.

Essential to any discussion is a shared framework of terms. Without this the debate quickly loses any real sense of meaning and descends into nothing more valuable than entrenched slogans and even insults. Ultimately this means that we must all understand what everyone else in the discussion is talking about without meanings and definitions being shifted with every new turn of the conversation. By way of an example, it is not uncommon to hear a proponent of the “it’s the woman’s body” school of the pro-choice community decrying the actions of another woman who smokes during pregnancy. Such a statement in such a context is logically inconsistent and therefore meaningless; either the foetus is a mass of tissue, devoid of humanity, and owned by the mother or it is a living person who has the right to be protected from the mother’s nicotine addiction. It cannot be both. When this very point was made in a recent discussion it was quickly shut down by the moderator who said, “Let’s park the ontology.” How can we possibly park our ontology? Are we to change our every definition in every discussion to suit our ever changing needs and circumstances? Something simply is or isn’t a thing. An abortion debate constructed on what amounts to a Schrödinger’s Life which is both one thing and the other and neither all at the same time cannot be entered into by rational people.

Ùr-Fhàsaidh
Jason Michael
Blog Author

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