Why don’t we intervene?

You are walking down the street. You hear a child scream and turn to look into the yard of a house. To your horror you see a woman there who is clearly intent upon beating a small child to death.

What do you do?

Unless we are very frail or otherwise seriously disabled, who of us would not immediately enter the yard and, at the very least, interpose ourselves between the woman and the child – even taking upon ourselves the blows intended for the child, if need be?

All of us would hope that we would have sufficient compassion for a child being killed to intervene on their behalf. We would be deeply disappointed with ourselves if, actually confronted with such a scenario, we were to simply look away and keep on walking. We would also be very unhappy with ourselves if – assuming we were physically capable of more – our only response was just to call for assistance from others only to see, while we waited for help to arrive, the child killed.

No, at a moment of crisis where unjust death is imminent, direct intervention is the only responsible course of action. It would surely be fair to say that this contention is beyond dispute.

You are walking down the street again. This time you hear no scream and you see no woman beating a child to death. But a child is being killed just as surely as in the first scenario. This time the killing is taking place inside the building you are walking past. A woman’s child is being killed for her by an abortionist. You do know that this is going on as there is a sign on the door stating clearly that this is an abortion ‘clinic’ and you have seen women entering the premises.

What do you do?

Whatever else you may do, almost certainly one thing you do not do is intervene directly to try and stop the child being killed.

Here are two similar scenarios then, with each involving a woman and the killing of a young child as the central element. Even though the scenarios have this in common, it is suggested that if we happened to come across them, we would not make the same response in each situation.

Why should it be that in one instance we would directly intervene to stop a child being killed but in rather similar circumstances we would not? There clearly are differences between the two situations but are any of these differences sufficient to justify there being such a dramatic variation in our probable responses?

Three of the differences between the two situations will now be considered.

1. In the first scenario the child was being attacked in an apparently spontaneous burst of lethal violence. In contrast, the violence perpetrated at an abortion clinic is premeditated, to the extent that an appointment is required.

It is correct that in the first scenario the attack on the child came unexpectedly (presumably at least for everyone other than perhaps the attacker and the child), whereas in the second scenario lethal assaults on children by abortionists at abortion ‘clinics’ are something that can be fully anticipated because that is precisely why these places exist. Therefore it could be argued that since in the first scenario the attack was unanticipated and death was imminent there was only one option available and that was to directly intervene to try and help the child at the time of the attack. However, that was not the case in the second scenario: in that instance, since it is well known where the abortion ‘clinics’ are and what happens there, other alternatives than just that of direct action are/may be available to prevent the killing.

There are problems with this line of thinking though. The reality is that other approaches to stopping the killing of children at openly operating abortion ‘clinics’ have been tried for over 30 years in Australia. Yet the killing has continued over that period and there is not much reason to believe that such approaches (alone) are likely to bring about the end to this destruction of human life.

But even if it were confidently expected that these approaches would be successful if they were carried on for another ten years, or even for just one more year, that would not remove the need to try and save the lives of those who would be taken to be killed at these places in the interim.

As noted above, when an unexpected lethal assault is occurring, direct intervention to try and help is both appropriate and necessary. This remains true though even in situations when it is known in advance that a lethal assault will take place, if it is clear that other responses are not going to prevent the killing. This is particularly so when it is known that children are definitely going to be killed at this abortion ‘clinic’ today.

If taking direct intervention to help the innocent who are about to be deliberately killed is ever right, it is always right. And if it is right, then that is reason enough to do so.

2. The child in the first scenario was physically separate from the woman whereas children who are aborted are attached to their mothers, to the extent even of being fully contained within their mother’s body.

This is a difference of very considerable significance: the difference though has more to do with practical concerns rather than with moral principles. The born child who was being attacked in the yard could quite likely be snatched away from the assailant and carried to safety. In contrast it is obviously impossible for the child who is the intended victim of an abortion to be safely separated from his/her mother. This child must remain within the mother until birth and it is only then, should the mother be unwilling or unable to care for the child, that the child can be taken away to be cared for by others.

Does the fact that an unborn child is unable to be taken away from a mother who wants to abort the child mean that it is therefore right or acceptable not to directly intervene to try and stop the abortion from happening?

It is certainly much more difficult to protect an unborn child from their own mother. A pregnant woman may be prevented from getting an abortion at one ‘clinic’ one day but she may then try another ‘clinic’ the next or another day. She may even resort to attempting to bring about the abortion herself by one of a range of home-made ‘remedies.’

While it is quite true that the practical difficulties of protecting an unborn child from a mother who is determined to end the child’s life are very considerable, and in some cases this may not even be possible to achieve, this does not in any way alter the fact that the child in the womb is a fellow human being. That being so, the unborn child’s life warrants as much effort to be protected as does the life of any born person. In some situations efforts to save born children from lethal assault are not always successful but it is universally recognised that it is always right to have tried. In the same way direct intervention to save the unborn should be made, regardless of the increased level of difficulty. And it may so happen that the efforts made to prevent the child being killed may be the catalyst that was needed to make the mother recognise her child’s right to life.

3. Societal attitudes would regard intervention in the first scenario to be warranted, required even, whereas intervention in the second scenario would be considered to be unacceptable, criminal even, by many, if not the large majority.

As things stand now in Australia, if people try to non-violently prevent abortions from taking place, for example by sitting in front of the doors of the abortion death-houses, they will not be regarded by most others as being child-saving heroes but rather as being law-breaking criminals. They will be/have been prosecuted, convicted, fined and jailed. Yet it is the case that when an abortion is prevented a child’s life is saved just as surely as when intervention is made to stop a born child from being beaten to death.

Doing things that are unpopular can be very difficult. This is especially so if criminal sanctions are also applied for doing them. Doing that which is right though should not be dependant on the act being popularly accepted. Nor should it even be dependant on it being legal. This of course is no small consideration that can be taken lightly. The law generally is to be respected but in instances where the law prevents (what should be) normal, right behaviour from taking place, such as attempting to protect the innocent from being killed, doing what is right must prevail. Unpopularity and harsh penalties may surely follow but they cannot be allowed to become the determinants of what we are prepared to do. (See also Is Rescuing Right? and But the cost is just too high)

Why then don’t we directly intervene when we know that innocent children are being killed at abortion ‘clinics’?