Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The sound of one hand clapping

In his marvelous book The Joys of Yiddish, the late Leo Rosten tells a joke about Josef Goebbels demanding that a rabbi teach him about Talmud. The rabbi runs him through a test given to children before they go to yeshiva to see if they can understand Talmud. The test consists of the same question asked three times: “Two men fall through a chimney. One comes out clean, and the other comes out dirty. Which one washes?”

The first answer is that the clean one washes, because he sees the dirty one and believes he came out dirty too. The second answer is that the dirty one washes, because the dirty one looks at the clean one, then looks at himself and realizes he didn’t come out clean. The third answer “is that this is a silly question. How can two men fall through a chimney and only one come out dirty? Anyone who doesn’t understand that will never understand Talmud.”

This story came to my mind while reading William Saletan’s post “Half Aborted”, a think piece on “reductions”. I’ve written before about the cognitive dissonance now making its way through the pro-abortion ranks, the reluctantly growing realization of the moral wrong even as they maintain the necessity of the legal right. “Half Aborted” not only confirms the dissonance but confronts head-on pro-abortion rationalizations about the life and humanity of the unborn.

Saletan writes:

Across the pro-choice blogosphere, including Slate, the article has provoked discomfort. RH Reality Check, a website dedicated to abortion rights, ran an item voicing qualms with one woman’s reduction decision. Jezebel, another pro-choice site, acknowledged the “complicated ethics” of reduction. Frances Kissling [that should be Quisling], a longtime reproductive rights leader, wrote a Washington Post essay asking whether women should forgo fertility treatment rather than risk a twin pregnancy they’d end up half-aborting.
In comments on these articles, pro-choice readers express similar misgivings. “Even as a woman who has terminated a pregnancy, I totally understand the author’s apprehension … something about it just doesn’t feel right,” says a Slate reader. A commenter at Jezebel writes that “if I were put in the position and decided to/needed to abort a single fetus, I could. But if I knew that I was keeping the baby and it turned out to be twins, I don’t think I could have a reduction.”

The operating presumption is that there are no other factors by which a mother can rationalize a reduction abortion; that is, neither of the twins suffers a genetic defect; either both are the same sex or she has no sex preference; and so forth. With no grounds, real or artificial, on which to build a case for destroying either child, the decision must by definition be arbitrary.

For some, the issue seems to be a consumer mentality in assisted reproduction [which I’ve written about here]. For others, it’s the deliberateness of getting pregnant, especially by IVF, without being prepared to accept the consequences. But the main problem with reduction is that it breaches a wall at the center of pro-choice psychology. It exposes the equality between the offspring we raise and the offspring we abort.

If there were just one thing about abortion completely repugnant to the pro-life person, it would be making the humanity, and thus the life, of the unborn contingent on a cost-benefit analysis: “Would I be better off carrying the child to term or not?” Whether the mother truly makes the decision or whether she merely surrenders to social pressure, the idea that Johnny Unborn is a human being only so far as allowing him to be born is convenient is a notion completely antithetical to a well-ordered humanism.

Saletan refers to the “bifurcated mindset” which can allow the humanity of the unborn when the issue isn’t abortion but which shuts it off and rules it out for the purpose of rationalizing the surgical termination of a pregnancy. But reduction abortion exposes this bifurcation as not only arbitrary but irrational: Johnny Unborn is either a blob of tissue or he isn’t. As Tom Crowe of would put it, either kill your conscience and go with it, or give in and admit you were wrong the whole time.

With the exception of those enthralled by the moral quagmire of eugenics, very few pro-abortion advocates try to defend the procedure on the grounds of “what’s best for baby” … the arguments sound hypocritical even to their ears. For the most part, the mother is the center and almost sole concern of all their justifications: how she must suffer, what she has to go through, what risk she entails, and so on ad nauseam.

But reduction abortion now forces them to face the unborn child as the victim of the procedure: “You can’t pretend that one is precious and the other is just tissue. You’re killing the same creature to which you’re dedicating your life. … [T]he child for whom you’re reserving attention and resources is equally unborn. She is, and will always be, a living reminder of what you exterminated.”

As I’ve said before, abortion-rights supporters like Saletan don’t fully “get” the pro-life position any more than Goebbels “got” the kind of reasoning involved in Talmud. How can the unborn child be a blob of tissue one day and a human being the next without importing some extrinsic and ridiculous distinction? This “bifurcated mindset” rests on the acorn fallacy, the refusal to acknowledge the continuity of essence or being by focusing on the changes of accidents.

As one Jezebel reader wrote:

I’d have a much easier time aborting a single baby or both twins than doing a reduction. When you reduce, the remaining twin will remain a persistent reminder of the unborn child. I think that, more than anything would make killing that fetus feel like killing another human, even though it wasn’t fully developed. It would feel that way because you would have a living copy of the person you killed.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of cognitive dissonance … remarkably like the sound of one hand clapping.