Renowned liberal author and journalist Christopher Hitchens died December 15 at the age of 62 following a short battle against esophageal cancer, since summer 2010.
One might assume Hitchens was pro-abortion, since he was also an avowed atheist. But he was not, in small or large part due to his history with abortion, as he explained in a 2003 Vanity Fair column:
I was in my early teens when my mother told me that a predecessor fetus and a successor fetus had been surgically removed, thus making me an older brother rather than a forgotten whoosh….
And I’ve since become the father of several fetuses, three of which, or perhaps I had better say three of whom, became reasonably delightful children. There was a time, it seemed, when I couldn’t sneeze on a woman without becoming a potential father….
[A]t least once I found myself in a clinic while “products of conception” were efficiently vacuumed away. I can distinctly remember thinking, on the last such occasion, that under no persuasion of any kind would I ever allow myself to be present at such a moment again.
The lucky abortion survivor must at times have asked, “Why me?” and other times, “Why not me?” And Hitchens clearly felt bad about killing his two of his own children.
These experiences gave him pause to reconsider the gravity of abortion, writing:
In the brisk paragraphs above, you will note that I have semiconsciously employed the terms “birthplace,” “grave,” and “conceivable.” This idiom of this argument is basic and elemental. It’s about the essentials. Thus, the justification proposed by the “right” for its intrusiveness is that the fetus is also an autonomous individual, and that society cannot decently permit one body (or soul) to be owned or disposed of by another….
There was a time when the feminist movement replied to this with militant indignation. What “individual”? What “person”? The most famous title of the period – "Our Bodies, Ourselves" – captures the tone to perfection. If we need to remove an appendix or a tumor from our own personal spaces, then it’s nobody else’s g**d*** business. I used to cringe when I heard this, not so much because in the moral sense fetuses aren’t to be compared to appendixes, let alone tumors, but because it is obvious nonsense from the biological and embryological points of view. Babies come from where they come from.
The diagram of a vacuum-suction abortion in "Our Bodies, Ourselves" gave the female anatomy in some detail but showed only a void inside the uterus. This perhaps unintended concession to queasiness has since become more noticeable as a consequence of advances in embryology, and by the simple experience of the enhanced sonogram. Women who have gazed at the early heartbeat inside themselves now have some difficulty, shall we say, in ranking the experience with the planned excision of a polyp….
That the most partially formed human embryo is both human and alive has now been confirmed, in an especially vivid sense, by the new debate over stem-cell research and the bioethics of cloning. If an ailing or elderly person can be granted a new lease on life by a transfusion of this cellular material, then it is obviously not random organic matter. The original embryonic “blastocyst” may be a clump of 64 to 200 cells that is only five days old. But all of us began our important careers in that form, and every needful encoding for life is already present in the apparently inchoate. We are the first generation to have to confront this as a certain knowledge.
As an atheist who put his entire stock in science, and who tried to be honest about it, Hitchens acknowledged the “biological and embryological points of view” that the product of sperm-meets-egg is human. But his countering belief that there is no truth caused Hitchens to lapse into moral relativism. From Newsweek, 2008:
At the same time, [Hitchens] adds, “I don’t think a woman should be forced to choose, or even can be.” Hitchens does not recommend the overturning of Roe v. Wade. What he wants is for both moral callousness and religion to be excised from the abortion debate and for science to come up with solutions to unwanted pregnancies, like the abortifacient mifepristone (RU-486), “that will make abortion more like a contraceptive procedure than a surgical one. That’s the Hitchens plank, and I think it’s a defensible one.”
No, it’s not. It’s illogical, which Hitchens would not want to hear.
I wonder if Hitchens got to meet his siblings or his children.