Reagan’s handling of the “age issue” was so skilled and impressive that even Mondale could do nothing but smile and laugh at the moment. He knew he had been bested and just enjoyed the moment along with everyone else.
Student: Umm, my question was about abortion and I just wanted to know why exactly do you think a first trimester fetus has moral value.
First of all, it would have been easy for Shapiro or any of us who believe in the intrinsic worth of humanity to be sickened by the question. After all, whenever a young college male seeks to justify the destruction of life created in an unintended pregnancy, his motives should immediately become suspect.
There is an epidemic of young men who use women as sexual playthings and are all too eager to shove the young woman they have impregnated into an abortion clinic to absolve them of responsibility for their actions, all so they can move on to their next sexual conquest.
But Shapiro didn’t take that low-hanging fruit, and instead engaged the premise of the question:
Shapiro: Okay, so a first trimester fetus has moral value because whether you consider it a potential human life or a full-on human life it has more value than just a cluster of cells. If left to its natural processes it will grow into a baby. So the real question is ‘where do you draw the line?’ So are you gonna draw the line at the heartbeat? Because it’s very hard to draw the line at the heartbeat because there are people who are adults who are alive because of a pacemaker and they need some sort of outside force generating their heartbeat. Okay are you gonna do it based on brain function? Okay well what about people who are in a coma? Should we just kill them? Right, the problem is anytime you draw any line other than the inception of the child, you end up drawing a false line that can also be applied to people who are adults. So either human life has intrinsic value or it doesn’t. And I think we both agree that adult human life has intrinsic value, can we start from that premise?
This is a brilliant answer for the logic it contains, but also for the way it is framed. It asks an obvious question that every human being knows the answer to – of course human life is set apart and has value. It’s why we have laws to protect it. If that is the case (which it is), then upon what basis can you deny that value to certain groups of humans? The young man tried to escape by offering the classic liberal defense:
Student: I believe that “sentient” has, uh, is what gives something moral value, not necessarily being a human alone.
Yikes. Obviously this is what the pro-abortion movement believes but it sounds beyond macabre to hear it enunciated like that. But again, Shapiro fought the urge to dismiss the young man for his frighteningly dangerous logic, and instead exposed it:
Shapiro: Okay, so when you’re asleep, can I stab you? (audience chuckles)
It’s at this point the red flashing lights and siren should have been sounding in the young man’s mind. Apparently it didn’t.
Student: I’m still considered “sentient” when I’m asleep.
Shapiro: Okay, if you are in a coma from which you may awake, can I stab you?
Student: Well then, uh, no I guess.
And the Mondale moment had arrived. Shapiro laughed, the audience laughed, and the young man couldn’t help but join them. But then he made the mistake that Mondale didn’t. He tried to salvage himself rather than admit defeat:
Student: But that’s still potential sentience and it’s still potential, like…
And then the hammer fell:
Shapiro: I agree with you about potential sentience. You know what else has potential sentience? Being a fetus.
The audience erupted. The young man and Shapiro exchanged a smile. And the legend of Shapiro’s debating skills continued to grow exponentially.
But while it is easy to simply admire Ben’s great ability to communicate, this principle he clarified is something that every rational American must grasp, understand, accept, and learn to express.