In class the other day I was doing what must be done every semester, and what you've heard me talk about before: going round the room ferreting out research paper topics in hope of discovering that they might actually know something about their subject. We discussed several - gun control, drug legalization, eminent domain, etc. - and after a while I came upon a girl who wished to do abortion. As with the other subjects, I asked if anyone else was doing this topic. (It saves time if you can get them as a group.) Three other hands went up. I quickly discovered that three were against it, one for. I asked the first girl why she was against it. She thought that if two people were going to lie down like that and play grown-up that they ought to take responsibility for whatever comes along. Oh, I said, you want to punish them for having sex. She looked at me, mouth open, as if she hadn't heard this retort before. Or maybe she was worried that I might not be on her side. They worry about that a lot. It's the nature of our modern, politicized educational atmosphere. Most teachers they have had before getting to me let it all hang out. I don't. Usually. I turned to another girl who was against it and asked why. She said she thought it was the taking of an innocent life. So you think it's some sort of murder? I asked. Umm...my use of the word causing some discomfort...yes. I returned to the first girl and asked what she thought. Yeah, that too, she agreed. No, I said, that first. It's the only crucial question as regards this topic. The other can be dealt with, but second, not first.
I looked at a young lady in the front row who was for it. About this time another young woman - we'll call her G. - came in late and took her seat in the back. I asked the front row girl why she was for it.
Because it's the woman's right to choose what to do with her own -
That's begging the question, I said.
Begging the question. It's a logical fallacy you can read about in chapter six. Everything is a choice. The question is whether the choice is right or wrong. If the right to choose is the basis for making something legal, then nothing would be illegal. Follow?
Now that girl over there says that abortion takes an innocent human life and is, therefore, some degree of murder. What do you say?
It's not human.
Then what is it?
She shrugged: It's nothing.
Nothing? But it's there.
It's a mass of tissue.
Does it have a genetic structure? You know, half from its mother, half from its father?
She admitted that it did.
And the mother and father are human?
And you could tell from the look on her face that she didn't like where this was going. "I want to change my topic," she said.
"Excuse me a minute," and I turned my attention to G. in the back, who'd been following all this wearing a hard-to-read expression, sort of a wide-eyed, possibly distressed, fascination. I asked her to remind me of her topic.
Oh, yes. Another one. Good.
"But I'm changing it."
She looked around, almost desperately, then flopped her head down on her arm on the desk. Oh, she wasn't sure, she didn't know, it was just that...
This was girlspeak for 'I don't want to talk about it in front of everybody.' Would she like to speak to me afterwards?
I went back to the girl in front. "Why are you changing?"
"Because you're against it."
"So if I'm against it you think I won't grade you fairly?"
"No, I didn't mean that.."
"That's what it sounds like. I can't think of any other reason you'd change."
She was silent.
"And furthermore, why do you think I'm against it?"
"Well, your questions -"
"Oh, I ask hard questions so I'm against it. I can't follow your logic so you're suddenly clairvoyant. Must be woman's intuition."
You know, I said, you'd do better to admit the thing's human, but that the definition of 'human being' in philosophy and under law requires more than mere biological identity. Then you'd have a chance of making a case against the charge of murder. Which is what you're going to have to do. Right?
She nodded, and on it went. I had some fun with euthanasia, too. And the death penalty.
Anyway, after they had all filed out, G. remained.
"So," I asked, "what's up? Why are you changing? You seemed so sure of it last time." And, frankly, I couldn't remember if she was for it or against it. I had a vague memory of her in a previous course showing sympathy for euthanasia. But the memory could be in error.
"I found out yesterday I'm pregnant."
Well, that stopped me. So she'd had to sit there and listen to all that talk about the "nothing" inside her. I decided not to ask if she'd been for it or against it. Was there a husband involved?
"Good. Then you're happy."
"Yeah, it's just that reading all that stuff about abortion has made me...I don't know."
"Well, think about it," I said. "It's up to you."
She's a good student. Whatever she does will turn out all right. In fact, the other girl who was for it is a good student, too. I like them both.
"And congratulations," I said.
"Oh thanks," she smiled on her way out the door, that smile that only a pregnant woman can send forth to the world. I can't describe it.