On Sunday morning, in an effort to put another lengthy pro-choice discussion into a more concrete context, I posed the following specific, practical, ethical question to Stace Nelson on Twitter:
Woman walks toward abortion clinic, vows to have abortion today. @RepStaceNelson, what do you do to stop her?
— CAHeidelberger (@coralhei) September 18, 2016
(…because moral discussions always go well 140 characters at a time.)
The hypothetical may not be realistic—after all, how many women walking toward a clinic will pause to tell strangers on a sidewalk what medical procedures they are heading in for? But I think you can see the moral question I’m testing. If you’re like Stace Nelson and view abortion as “the undisputed… indefensibl[e]… barbarism of killing an innocent baby” (Nelson used those words), then what do you personally do when faced with the imminent commission of such an indefensible barbaric killing?
I’m not asking how one votes in the Capitol. I’m not asking what one prints on a campaign postcard. I’m asking what personal, face-to-face action one takes in a very specific situation.
Consider the question in the context of the St. Cloud mall stabbings. What do you do if you see a man carrying a knife marching toward an innocent bystander with a clear intent to harm? “Install metal detectors at the mall entrance,” “Round up Somalis,” “Hire more cops,” and “Require all able-bodied adults to carry firearms” are responses to policy questions, but not this personal ethical question: What do we do in a moment of imminent evil action?
It took over two days for Nelson to finally say something that felt like a direct answer:
@coralhei what I have already done in real life. Beg them not to and explain the love I have for my own 6 children and grandchildren.
— Stace Nelson (@RepStaceNelson) September 20, 2016
Nelson will speak to the woman. He will beg her not to carry out her action. He will recount his love for his own children.
Either that’s the limit of his 140 characters, or that’s the limit of the action he considers acceptable in that specific situation, before an indefensible barbaric act.
Nelson’s answer, like his view of the action, differs significantly from mine. Since I do not see a barbaric, indefensible act about to take place, I do not interrupt the woman’s progress toward the clinic. I do not offer my opinion unless the woman asks for it.
But while Nelson opens his mouth, we both still just stand there. We both let the woman go on her way. We both, it appears, allow that woman to carry out her choice.