Abortion and the Moral Imagination
Changing Minds and Hearts

John Stonestreet
January 22, 2014
Reproduced with Permission

Today is the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. On Monday, Eric Metaxas told you about the necessity of telling the truth about abortion. We must never allow people to think that it's anything other than the taking of an innocent human life.

Eric is right. Many people, when civilly confronted with the truth of abortion, may change their minds. But even if we could somehow get everyone in the country to spend an hour going over the facts of abortion, many would face the facts and yet just shrug or stiffen their spines.

After all, it's been nearly twenty years since Naomi Wolf, in the New Republic, wrote that "abortion rights" advocates like herself "should never disregard the fact that being pregnant means there is a baby growing inside of a woman, a baby whose life is ended" when aborted.

Yet despite this acknowledgment, Wolf remained in favor of women having abortions when "we choose to do so." She's not alone.

Clearly, for the fiercest abortion advocates, the problem is not a lack of knowledge. Instead, it's a lack of imagination, specifically the moral imagination.

The "moral imagination," as conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote, is the "power of ethical perception" that enables us to go beyond "private experience and momentary events." It can do this because it "informs us concerning the dignity of human nature, which instructs us that we are more than just naked apes."

As Jonathan Jones wrote at the First Things website, it is the moral imagination that enables people "to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness."

This may sound somewhat abstract, but it has real-world consequences. Naomi Wolf and others can acknowledge the humanity of the fetus while simultaneously insisting on the "right" to end its life because their imagination doesn't go beyond "private experience and momentary events."

That's because for them, it's the individual woman's "private experience" that is paramount. In the end, nothing else matters. Their imagination doesn't permit them to transcend the individualism, with its insistence on personal autonomy and fulfillment that so dominates our culture. It's the same thing with young people. Though they tend to survey more pro-life than their parents, they're also willing to drive their friends to the abortion clinic if asked.

Wolf and others profess to "feel bad" about ending the baby's life, and they may be sincere; but this sentiment doesn't alter the deadly equation.

The moral imagination, as writer Matt Bianco has explained, is "the story we carry around in our minds that helps us make sense of the world we live in," and, shapes how we define the "good life." For most of our contemporaries, the "good life" consists of being free from anything that gets in the way of their personal fulfillment.

As Chuck used to say, we live in a society of 300 million-plus supreme beings.

The willingness to set aside considerations of personal fulfillment and to value human life because it is a human life goes beyond a mere recitation of facts, as important as those are. It's the product of seeing oneself as part of a larger story, in this case the Christian story. The story, with its themes, as Bianco reminds us, of "Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Glory," puts our "private experiences" and "momentary events" in a context that enables us to transcend them.

The failure of moral imagination is why, even after the science underlying Roe has been debunked, the ruling stands.

It has been 41 years since Roe v. Wade, and the fight for life will go on for many more - as will our work to stir and breathe life into the moral imaginations of those around us.