Lake of Fire at the Dryden

All this weekend, Lake of Fire was playing at the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) Ali and I went tonight and it was a very impressive film. It attempts to document the abortion debate in America in a respectful, unbiased, and balanced way. Until you see it, you don't think it can be done.

What I came away with that was new was to concede that a new, separate human being starts at conception. Life doesn't start at conception: life is a continuum from parents-to-child, for at no point is there some non-living thing that suddenly becomes living (i.e. life being created). One way to look at it is that all human beings are really just on big organism with different corporeal bodies. So in the end, an abortion (depending on the specific situation) destroys what would likely become a baby, and likely become an adult.

So then I had to examine my stance on killing. Is killing wrong? Almost every time, yes. There are exceptions and they aren't simple or pretty, but one way to look at things is that as we grow, we develop potential that peaks and slowly turns into actuality.

I think that's a big chunk to get one's head around. The idea is this: as a human being grows, they develop potential — the capacity to do and to create. The older they get, the more that potential turns into actuality; their capabilities are utilized in the act of doing and creating. So a 5-year-old has only a little developed potential — it's rather unlikely they could design the Space Shuttle. But once we're old, ideally we should have used that potential as fully as possible so that we have a lot of actual experience: that we look back and know that we "used our potential".

(Now I realize my wording gets a little muddy. One could argue that a baby has "unlimited potential", but what I mean by "potential", is "developed potential" or "the capacity to do" as opposed to "not having made any life decisions yet" or "having a maximum unused lifespan". But in a way, everybody has that second kind of "unlimited potential" as long as they're alive. In one case, you can learn a whole new trade at 50-years-old and do great things. And in the other, one baby might die at 15 and someone who's 75 might live to 100.)

So when I think of a bundle of 50 cells that could someday become a human being, I see that they have no experience and no developed potential. The same is true of that developing being when it's developing. But at some point they get so big that they cross some line that says they'd be more likely to live than to die if taken out of the womb early. In essence, this means I prefer that abortions are done as early in a pregnancy as possible. In part because at some point, it's pretty much a baby and I'm still human and have an automatic, instinctive reaction to the sight of a helpless baby.

Like I had said in the post I did last week, laws need to reflect the universally accepted elements of morality. As long as there is a group that can show that their actions are responsible and respectful, then no law should be made to take away the right of that behavior.

So then we get into the case of someone who wants to kill people because it would be convenient for them. And therein lies the rub, eh? I mean, the fundamental argument of Pro-Choice is that it's convenient for one person to kill something that would likely become another person. How's that different?

Well, in the case of abortion, we're talking about a person inside another person. A pregnant woman can't just pack up and move to another state, away from this other person who inconveniences them. So then, what if a pregnant woman was willing to kill herself as well as the unborn child? No law can stop that — but would that really be true?

Going back to the film, I learned that prior to Roe v. Wade, the law said abortion was only acceptable when the life of the mother was in danger. With vague wording like that, no doctor was willing to risk a murder conviction on probabilistic speculation on a woman's survival, so almost none were performed. This is where coat hangers came into play: I always thought it was the tool used for illegal abortions, but in fact, it was to cause bleeding so severe that the woman's life was in danger and they could therefore get an abortion. The problem was — as one doctor pointed out — that women didn't understand just how fragile their bodies were versus a coat-hanger, and they'd often rupture their uterus and bleed to death.

So now you have actual evidence that, if abortion were illegal, that some women would want an abortion so bad they were willing to kill themselves as an alternative.

And in that case, we're talking about a person destroying their own life — destroying the developed potential they have — to destroy the life of a being that has no developed potential. In my mind, the value of someone with developed potential is higher.