Edward Bernays, the man who practically invented public relations, had a saying: "What I do is propaganda, and I just hope it's not impropaganda." Propaganda exists as a way of convincing people of a certain opinion - and it is often true, and it is often, as they say, a force for Good. Propaganda is impropaganda when it is false, or misleading, unfair, or when it lowers the level of discussion.
For long decades, both sides of the abortion debate slung impropaganda at each other like feces, culminating in a 1992 Vice Presidential debate that saw Dan Quayle and Al Gore screaming at each other at thetops of their lungs. It’s difficult to say when the trouble started, but a few culprits are readily identifiable: first is the decision by both sides to use the very terms that they’ve been using.
Pro-choicers like to hurl "choice" at their opponents because they think it exposes hypocrisy - many on the right have long voiced their support of other of school choice, and locational choice, and monetary choice - but the term bounces off ("it's a child, not a choice!") and yet another period of time is wasted on empty rhetoric. Whatever the merits of the larger pro-choice position (and it is one that I largely agree with), the abortion debate is fundamentally not about choice - nor is it about life. No, the debate poses an entirely different question: when is killing wrong?
Rub your hands together. No, I’m serious - take your fingers off the mouse and rub 'em a few times. (Come on, nobody’s looking.) Congratulations: you’ve just killed millions upon millions of cells, some of which operated in your body, some of which were invading bacteria. Clearly, killing in and of itself is not wrong. But just as clearly, many types of killing are very wrong indeed. Why?
Well, for one, if you’re a human, being killed hurts. Anything that entails having the complex system of your body pushed so out of whack that it no longer functions is bound to register with your nervous system. It is possible to be killed painlessly (with a Star Trek phasor on the wrong setting, for example) but even that will inflict psychological pain: almost everybody greatly wishes not to die immediately, more than they wish almost anything else.
So, what if the person is killed painlessly in their sleep? Is it still wrong? Of course! Pain is inflicted upon the friends and relatives of the one killed, pain that is in some cases far greater than any inflicted upon the direct victims of our previous examples: anger, and grief, and confusion. Moreover, the wishes of the person have been violated to the greatest extreme, and the mere fact that they will never know does not negate that.
So, when an embryo is killed, has physical pain been caused? It has no nervous system to convey "hurting" signals and no brain to receive them. Has psychological pain been caused? It has no mind with which to contemplate death. Were others hurt? Without a mind, an embryo can hardly possess friends (some parents may be traumatized by the experience, though - this is the place, and the only place, where the "choice" part of the pro-choice argument comes into use). Were wishes violated? Again, the lack of a mind precludes the presence of forethought. True, the embryo’s death may, in advance, prevent decades of experience from being experienced, but condoms do the very same thing (and surely the angry protesters at clinics across the country would not consider contraception murder).
So is killing an embryo wrong?
Pro-lifers are fond of the expression, "an abortion stops a beating heart." But a heart is not a human - a mind is a human. You are not your cytoplasm, you are your brain (or, if you prefer, the consciousness controlling your brain). Surely killing a heart is no more wrong, in and of itself, than rubbing together your hands.