It's Not What You See, It's What I Say

"Look!" says the anti-abortion zealot. "Here's a picture inside a womb! What do you see?"

You see a natural wonder called a fetus. It started as an egg, is now developing month by month as part of the mother's body, and will eventually emerge at birth as a separately functioning infant. You see it, but the zealot will not let you say it. "What you see is a child!"

Well, you might concede, it is potentially a child. It is developing lungs that potentially will breathe, a stomach that potentially will digest, and a brain that potentially will learn to think. It is a child in the same sense that a caterpillar is a butterfly. This comparison will enrage the zealot. He equates the potential with the actual, and demands that you do the same.

You don't have to. You can mentally pull back from the close-up picture until it shows the entire entity pictured: a woman. Who owns this woman? If you say she does, you are accepting that she owns her body and all of its contents. If you say society does, or something higher than society does, then you are resigning ownership of yourself.

If you own yourself, and have dominion over your own body, then so does that woman in the picture. If you want her to let the fetus develop, you must use persuasion. You cannot use force without opening yourself up to the use of force by whoever claims ownership of your body. There's no use arguing about it; you can see it directly.

"Wrong! It's not what you see, it's what I say!" That's the position of the zealot, who concentrates on the womb as if it were a disembodied container, for which his declarations make the rules. A life, he declares, does not begin at birth, but long before birth. Your age reckoning is nine months off. Birth may look like the end of a production process, and the start of a life; but it's not what you see, it's what I say.

The only way to make this stick is to claim the highest possible authority. Since human life depends on reason, the highest possible authority is reason. But that depends on what you see, not what I say. So I claim supernatural authority, and hope you will believe my declarations are divinely inspired.

That's the problem for anti-abortion zealots. They must not only give up self-ownership and personal dominion, but also reason, the means of survival. Rather a high price to pay for insisting, "It's not what you see, it's what I say!"

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