I had a great conversation about abortion and policy in a pizza shop today.
As most of you know, I wear "LIFE" on my shirts. All the time. Everywhere.
Today was no exception. And while I was with a friend who was grabbing a bite to eat at JoJo's Pizza in Richmond, it started a conversation.
My friend paid for his order and waited for it to be prepared. I was looking down at a questionnaire I was reviewing and editing. Pen in hand circling words I thought should be changed, I heard someone call out, "Life."
I looked up and saw a man sitting alone at the table right in front of me. He was eating his two-slices and drink (the special, which is well worth it) and was clearly the source of the comment.
"Yes," I said, smiling and putting the paper down at my side, "life is beautiful."
He laughed quietly and grabbed a few napkins out of the container on the table. He was an older gentlemen, with white hair, wearing a white shirt with a beige tie. His name badge on his hip identified him as a State employee. "So you're an anti-abortion lobbyist, then?" He asked.
"Yes." I said, still standing. I didn't know if he would want me to sit, and never asked.
He was speaking so loudly that everyone in the small space could certainly hear us. There was no other conversation happening, and I'm sure that the ten or so other people in the shop heard the entire conversation.
"I wear it on my shirt." I said, trying to see if he would smile. "On your shirt... rather than on your sleeve, yes, I see." He said, smiling broadly.
"Wearing it on my sleeve would look too much like a Nazi arm band." I said.
"Only someone in politics would think of that." He said, laughing.
"So how many, uh, fetuses, are aborted every year?" He asked.
"In the United States?" I clarified.
"Over 1.1 million." I said, "I don't know the full total because many states do not report."
"Really?" He asked.
"Yes," I said, "The CDC does not require states to report."
"So tell me," he started, "what do you say to a woman who tells you it is her body and she can do what she wants?"
He started with the hardest question he could, I thought to myself. I stepped a step toward his table to make sure I was not in the way if anyone wanted to pass by the soda fountain and answered his question.
"Well, my position is that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings." I started. "So since the unborn are whole, unique, living human beings, it is wrong to kill them. It isn't about telling anyone what they can do with their bodies. I think that as a matter of public policy we should not allow anyone to kill an innocent human being."
He nodded, following me in my argument. "I would tell a woman that she is free to do what she wants with her body up to the point that she impacts someone else's body." I said.
"What?" He said, putting his hand around his ear to amplify the sound and signal to me that he was having trouble hearing me.
"You are free to use your body up to the point that you impact someone else's body. The unborn are unique, whole, human beings. It is wrong to kill them." I said.
"I see." He said.
"My argument is that because the unborn are human beings, there is no justification for killing them." I said.
The man looked right at me as he asked his next question. "What about a little thing called 'Roe v. Wade?'"
"Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided." I said almost instantly. "The Court said that they could not determine when human life begins. We can now. It should not be upheld." He said nothing, so I continued. "When the 7 decided that case, it should not have been applied to all the states. We should protect human life as a matter of public policy."
"You're right, it was decided by 7-2, wasn't it." He said. "Seven men." I emphasized.
"You say seven men. But if it had been seven women would it have been any different?" He asked.
"No." I admitted, "They still would have been wrong. We know when life begins. They decided the case wrongly. It was a fact question. They didn't know when life begins. We do now." I said. (I was being very generous to the Court.)
He shifted his pizza slices on his tray before asking another question.
"What about... ah... what about when the fetus is severely, er, majorly deformed?" The gentleman asked. "Or what if they have Downs Syndrome?"
"Well," I said, putting my papers down on the table across from him, "my argument is that the unborn are unique, whole, living human beings who are only different from you and me because of age." I repeated my argument again to reinforce it. "I don't think that we can kill people because they are deformed. I am sure you agree."
"Right." He said, adding Parmesan and dried pepper flakes to his slices of pizza.
"So even if an unborn child is suffering from some physical or mental disease, I don't think we can use violence against them. They are innocent human beings, and violence shouldn't be allowed against innocent human beings." I said.
"I see." The man said. He was definitely following my arguments the whole time.
"It would never be ok to kill a born human being based on physical deformities." I said. "Don't you agree?"
"Yes, yes." The man said.
"In the same way, it is never ok to kill unborn human beings."
I stood there, and he took another bite of pizza. After chewing he asked another question.
"So surely you're aware of the Thalidomide babies?" He asked, using another napkin to clean the flour from the pizza crust off of his fingers.
"No, I'm sorry, what is that?" I asked. I hadn't heard him clearly, and didn't know what the word referred to.
"Oh. Well there was this medicine that was used to treat, I think birth pain, or morning sickness or something. Was it in Germany?" The man started. [Aha. He was talking about birth defects again.] "Well, anyways, it was used and resulted in some terrible deformities. Some children were born without limbs, or with major defects. It was horrible." He said.
"Ah, yes. I have heard of that. It is awful." I said.
"So what do you say ... uh ... since so many deformed people would be a ... uh ... burden?" He asked.
[First of all - I don't think that it's such a significant burden to be born without arms, legs, or either. The health costs may be significantly higher, and there is certainly pain involved. It's not such a massive burden that my answer would ever change - of course. Life is still beautiful.]
"Well, I don't think that it is ever ok to kill innocent human beings. We should never allow an act of violence against an innocent human being because of any deformity." I repeated. "As a matter of public policy, we should not allow people to be killed because of a deformity."
"Ah." He said.
"Perhaps the Pharmaceutical company should be punished." I said.
"Well they didn't have any idea that it would cause that." The man said. "The only reason we didn't have it in the United States was because the bureaucracy took too long to approve it. We didn't have any ethical concerns about it. We just didn't approve it, and then we saw all of the birth defects." He said.
"These side effects." I said at the same time. "That doesn't justify abortion. It is not ok for society to kill people because they cost too much." I said.
"Huh." The man said finishing off one slice of his pizza. My friend's order had been finished for a long time, and he was sitting across the room listening and eating his own pizza quite content to let me stay as long as needed.
"What about when the mother is raped or there was incest?" The man asked another of the 'hard cases.' "What would you say to her?"
"I don't support the death penalty for rape." I said. "I think that the rapist should be punished to the full extent of the law, but I don't support the death penalty for him."
"Right, right." The man said.
"And I certainly don't think that the woman should be punished at all." I said. "We shouldn't punish innocent people for the crimes that are committed against them. And we shouldn't punish the innocent unborn child for the crimes committed against his mother." I said.
"Abortion kills an innocent human being, and we shouldn't allow the killing of an innocent human being as a matter of public policy." I said once more.
"But when would you say in a pregnancy that life begins?" The man said.
"Well, under the modern definition of 'pregnancy,' I would actually say it begins before." I said. Perhaps muddying the waters without cause.
"Before?" The man asked.
"Well, yes. Modern definitions say that pregnancy begins at implantation. I would say that life begins at conception. When the sperm and the egg meet, a new, unique, whole, living human being begins." I said.
"But then they have to implant in the uterus to become a fetus." The man answered.
"Yes," I said, "and then they have to be born to become a baby, grow a few years to become a toddler, and grow a few more before becoming a child, and a few more to become a teenager. These are all stages of development, which are based on age. The value of a person is not based on age, but is based on the fact that they are a human being."
"I'm sorry?" The man said, leaning forward again. I wasn't talking loud enough.
"The value of a person is not based on their age," I said, "Human beings are all equally valuable, no matter how old they are or what other characteristics they have."
"I see." He said.
"And that is why I am a pro-life lobbyist." I said, smiling.
"My name is Sean, by the way. What's yours?" I said, extending my hand across the table.
"I'm Jefferson River.*" He said, shaking my hand.
"River?" I asked.
"Yes." He said. "Like the Hudson."
"Yeah." I said. "That's the one where the plane landed a few years ago." I was thinking of Stephanie Gray and the example of inspiring people she uses - describing Pilot Chesley Sullenberger and juxtaposing him with captains who abandon their ships rather than checking twice to ensure that no one is left aboard before leaving himself.
"Yes." The man said, "And Tom Hanks made a movie about it. Scully."
"Sully." I said, correcting him. "Huh?" He asked.
"It was called Sully. My nephew is named Sully, so I always remember it." I said.
"It was very nice to meet you." I said.
"A pleasure." Jefferson said.
I sat down with my friend and quietly thanked him for waiting. "Absolutely." He said. "I've been running late, so I just took the time to eat." He was already finishing off his second slice.
As we rose to go, Jefferson waved me over.
"One more thing," he said, "I have a Jewish friend who tells me that the Jews are ok with abortion because life doesn't start until birth. What do you say to ... ah ... and Atheists believe whatever they want. So what do you say to those who are religious and don't oppose abortion?" He asked.
"Well," I said, "I don't think that religious convictions should be the basis of public policy." I answered. "We shouldn't allow innocent people to be killed, no matter what Jews, Christians, Atheists, or any other religious people think. Our public policy should be to protect innocent human life. And science demonstrates clearly that human life begins at conception when a whole, unique, living human being is formed."
"I see." The man said, smiling again.
"My understanding of Jewish beliefs, also, is that they hold to quickening." I continued.
"Huh?" Jefferson said, again indicating that I hadn't spoken loud enough.
"I believe that different sects of Judaism hold to different ideas about when life begins." I repeated, louder. "Some believe that it begins at birth, apparently, but others believe that it begins at 'quickening,' when the first movement in the womb is detected."
"Ah, when the woman first feels the baby." Jefferson said.
"It's an old method of establishing that a pregnancy exists. We are way beyond that, and should not use it as our measure in public policy. No matter what a religious person says, we should not allow abortion." I concluded.
"Have a great day." Jefferson said. "You do the same," I said, "It's been a pleasure." Then I turned to go.
"Great job." My friend told me outside.
"That was the highlight of my week." I answered.
*Not his real name.