“Smile! Your Mom Chose Life!” I found this slogan very compelling when I opposed abortion. I mean, think about it! If your mom had had an abortion, you would not exist! Would you like to not exist? I didn’t think so! So how can you be in favor of keeping abortion legal without being hypocritical? And then one day I realized something. I wouldn’t exist if my parents hadn’t had sex either. Or if they hadn’t met. Or if they hadn’t been born. There are lots of things that might have kept me from existing. But we don’t see cars with bumper stickers like “Smile! Your Mom Had Sex!” or “Smile! Your Parents Met!”
I am reminded of something I read a while back. When an atheist blogger suggested that sperm be seen as potential life, an evangelical blogger responded with this quote:
I’m sure evangelical youngsters everywhere would rejoice if their elders decided that they should have sex with great frequency because “if a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.” But alas, there is a key distinction between a sperm and a zygote. A zygote, left to develop naturally, will tend to develop into a human being. You can have a tank of millions of sperm, but without an egg not a single one will develop into a human being.
This blogger draws a huge line between sperm and eggs on the one hand, and zygotes on the other, arguing that only one of the two has the potential to naturally become a human being. But if you think about it another way, there are two natural processes going on here. It’s natural for two people to have sex when they are sexually mature and physically attracted to each other, and it’s natural for a woman’s body to grow a zygote into a baby over the course of nine months. But as humans, we have the ability to stop either process if we so choose. Evangelicals like this blogger are all about not doing anything to stop the later process—pregnancy—but have no problem telling everyone in shouting distance to stop the first process—sexual intimacy. And yet, without either, you, and I, would not exist.
What put all this in my mind recently, though, was a thought I had about my young son Bobby. I became pregnant with Bobby on my first try. I know how to chart my fertility and Sean and I were very conscious in our planning. I wasn’t surprised that we got pregnant on our first try, because it was the same way with Sally as well, and also because there are no fertility problems on either of our family trees.
Anyway, I found myself wondering the other day what would have happened if I had tried to become pregnant a month earlier, or a month later. We would still have a baby, but it wouldn’t be Bobby. It would be some other baby that now doesn’t exist, but could have. And Bobby wouldn’t exist. Think about that. If we hadn’t made that conscious choice to attempt to become pregnant a year and a half ago, there would be no Bobby, and if we’d chosen instead to become pregnant a month later, a totally different baby would exist, a baby that does not exist and will never exist because we didn’t wait that extra month to conceive. Is your mind in knots yet?
There will always be potential people who will not exist. In fact, there are scats and scads of potential people who will never exist. Every time you feel sexually attracted to someone and they reciprocate, and yet you don’t act on those urges, you are impeding the potential creation of a human being. The same is true when you take birth control pills, or use a condom. Or when you decide to stay home and not go to the park, where you might have met someone you might have hit it off with and eventually procreated with. We do things all the time that prevent human beings from being created, whether that is contraception, abortion, abstinence, or simply not getting out enough. And if stopping a pregnancy is wrong because it is placing an unnatural block in the creation of a human being and stopping the process, so is choosing to keep it in your pants when you have sexual urges. After all, if my parents hadn’t had sex, I wouldn’t exist—and if your parents hadn’t had sex that night, you wouldn’t exist either.
Oh, I know the standard pro-life response, or at least how I would have responded to all this as a pro-lifer. I would have said that abortion is different because a zygote, embryo, and fetus has unique DNA and a soul. I’m not saying that the decision to not have sex with someone is somehow identical to the decision to have an abortion. All I’m saying is that the exact same logic behind the slogan “Smile! Your Mom Chose Life!” can be extrapolated to additional slogans like “Smile! Your Mom Didn’t Use Birth Control!” or “Smile! Your Mom Had Sex!” And because of this, I no longer feel the tug on my heart strings that I used to feel when faced with a “Smile! Your Mom Chose Life!” bumper sticker. Sure, I wouldn’t exist if my mother had had an abortion. And I also wouldn’t exist if my mother and father hadn’t had sex, or if my mom hadn’t moved across the country and thus met my dad.