“All the ingredients are there, but it hasn’t been cooked. Batter is not cake. The former becomes the latter, but you wouldn’t confuse the two if they were sitting on your kitchen counter.”
[The above quoted assertion was part of an argument made during a conversation on Facebook meant to justify abortion. A friend emailed me about it, asking how I would respond. I think my response may be of interest to many of my Barbwire readers.]
Does this analogy prove that abortion isn’t murder? Though it seems somehow logical, it isn’t in fact a logical argument at all. It’s an opinion poll masquerading as an argument. It relies entirely on the truth of the assertion that “you wouldn’t confuse the two.” But the truth of that opinion depends who “you” happen to be.
Say, for example that a working mom takes a day off work to make a very special birthday cake to celebrate her daughter’s birthday at dinner that evening. She spends hours looking for the recipe, shopping for just the right ingredients, and mixing them with care so that the cake will be just right. As she’s about to put the cake in the oven, there’s a knock at the door to her family’s apartment. She yells out “Just a second. I have to put this cake in the oven.” The visitor knocks more imperatively. Thinking it might be an emergency, she puts the cake pan on the kitchen counter, and goes to the door. While she’s out the family cat jumps onto the counter, knocking the pan onto the floor. When mom returns to the kitchen she sees the resulting mess and exclaims in dismay “You stupid cat, Nita’s cake is ruined.”
There is some difference between the batter and the cake, but not only does the mother “confuse the two,” as we read about what’s happened, we understand and share her confusion. The cake that exists in her heart’s intention, in her mind’s imagination, as the object of her hours of work, and the focus of her loving desire to make the evening special for her child is very real. When the cat destroys it, the mother loses the cake, even though at the moment of its destruction it exists only as batter ready for the oven.
This way of looking at things is the difference between being human and being, say, the floor the batter is splattered upon. Because of our special way of understanding the world, human beings see it in terms that go beyond the moment. What is true of material things like cakes, or a car someone has saved a lifetime to buy, or even an idea they have lived a lifetime to see clearly, is certainly true of human beings themselves. They are not just the sum of their ingredients, or the product of material processes at this or that stage of development. Like the mother’s birthday cake, they are an intention of the heart, a concept of the mind that exists even before the process of their development begins.
This is captured in the words the prophet Jeremiah hears from God “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” In our era, what we call our scientific understanding of the body has finally begun to catch up with this insight. We know that the body is, first of all, information, and that the process of its development is an exchange of information predicated on the existence of an end toward which the process aims. The idea of that end result exists in a way that, for all our presumption, remains mysterious to us, like the stuff that numbers are made of. But when the question of its significance is put to us existentially, in terms of our own life and death, we heartily affirm that there is more to us than meets the eye, more to what we are than the quantifiable matter we are made of.
But if the unique idea that corresponds to what we are as individuals exists apart from the matter even before the process informed by that idea begins to unfold, each individual human being exists, apart from the matter, in like fashion. Ask any human– When treated as if that idea doesn’t matter, those who can do so protest the injustice of it. But if the very idea of their humanity makes it wrong to treat those who can protest as if they are nothing more than quantifiable matter, how can it be right to treat those who cannot protest as if they are just “batter,” even though the same more than material idea of humanity informs their being, from the moment they are conceived as individuals?
This too may seem to be a matter of opinion, but the fact that it is a characteristic of humanity to reject being burned like wood or crushed like stones makes it a reality we human beings seem unable to deny. Unless, of course, we reject the notion that the idea of humanity applies to all its offspring. But of course, if we deny that notion, we deny the moral imperative that demands just treatment for all. We return to the days of elitist arrogance, when some humans were to be treated with respect for their persons and others were no better the ground such fully realized “persons” tilled or trampled on. In the end, this return to the inegalitarian mentality of elitist arrogance is what the promotion of abortion is really all about.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.