listening

Human but not human

Dear Supporter of Legal Abortion (or, pro-choice advocate, if you prefer): I've talked to thousands of pro-choice people over the past 17 years.  Many have said some version of the following sentence to me that I want to ask you about: "The unborn is human, but it's not human."  Some pro-life advocates smirk and make snarky responses to this, attempting to humiliate the person who said it. 

Adolf von Menzel, "Study for Heinrich von Kleist's Broken Jug," ~ 1877 (Getty Open Content)

I've found, though, that when I ask a follow-up question with an open heart, seeking to understand rather than refute, there is usually a perfectly reasonable explanation of the apparent contradiction in the statement.  It's this: Usually the person is trying to put his or her finger on a meaning that is hard to put into words, that even though the unborn is just as human as a clump of human cells in a petri dish, and maybe even just as human as you and I in the sense of being just as much biologically a human organism as you and I, the unborn is not human in the sense of having intrinsic value or basic human rights. 

My question is this: Have you ever said this ("the unborn is human, but it's not human") or something like it?  If so, am I understanding you correctly?  What reasons would you give for believing the unborn is similar biologically to cells in a petri dish (if that's your view), or for believing the unborn is biologically a living human organism (if that's your view), and what reasons would you give for believing the unborn is not human in the rights/value sense?

Dear Opponent of Legal Abortion (or, pro-life advocate, if you prefer): Read my paragraph above, reaching out to those who identify as "pro-choice."  Have you heard a statement like this before (or, "the unborn is alive, but it's not alive")?  How did you respond?  Did you make a snarky response (out loud or in your head), or did you scratch your head, wide-eyed, trying to understand how this could make sense? 

Can you see that when a person makes a statement to us that seems incoherent on its face, if we take a posture of assuming the person probably has a reasonable explanation (for the apparent contradiction), this can lead to new experiences of understanding and clarity?  Can you see how understanding what the person means is essential to getting to the important step of evaluating together the various ideas each of us has?