Potential is notoriously difficult to quantify. By it’s very definition it is not yet realized.
Despite it not being readily availably, it has value and factors in to decisions like the player a sports team drafts or the neighborhood in which you live.
Investments are built on potential. We ask, “Can this become something much more than it is right now?”
Recently, two examples of potential dominated the news cycle, but many handled them in diametrically opposite manners.
Potential in gun laws
Following on the heels of shootings in Charleston and Chattanooga, a man opened fire in a Lafayette movie theater—yet another community deals with grief as more families are torn apart by a murderer.
Each of those lives are now remembered by what they did, but also what they could have done. We think of the potential that was cut short through violence.
Almost immediately after such shootings, politicians and activists begin calling for stricter gun control laws. Increased regulations, they argue, could potentially save lives like those lost in the mass shootings that have become all too common.
They recognize the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but, from their perspective, we can uphold those freedoms while implementing certain restrictions.
Potential is worth protecting, they say. Some potentials have already been crushed, but new laws could allow other potentials to become actualities. Therefore, we must act.
Potential in abortion
Meanwhile, much of the nation was outraged by videos showing Planned Parenthood executives describing performing abortions in certain ways in order to harvest and sell fetal organs.
According to those defending the procedures, what is being described is acceptable because the human life in the womb is only a potential person.
Ending that life is a moral (or at least amoral) act, the argument goes, because the life has not developed far enough to be classified as an actual person.
There is no need for tighter regulations or restrictions on abortion, because the Supreme Court has ruled that a woman has the right to end the pregnancy.
Potential life should not trump a woman’s right to choose, they say. Potential life can be crushed because it’s just potential after all. Therefore, there is no need to overreact.
Exposing the contradiction
Hopefully the contradiction between the two attitudes on potential is obvious. The argument for increased gun control says we must act because lives can potentially be saved. The argument for abortion says we should not act because lives that would be saved are only potential.
Which one is it? Am I supposed to value potential lives or not?
After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama argued for additional gun laws by saying that if it would potentially protect just one child, we had an obligation to act.
The Planned Parenthood videos remind us that we can act and save lives right now. Even if you consider life in the womb to merely be “potential life,” it can and should still be worthy of protection.
If you have argued, as many have, that potential lives saved is a justification for gun control, then, in order to remain consistent, you have to similarly believe potential lives saved in the womb is a justification for additional abortion regulations.
Currently, the Supreme Court has decided abortion is a constitutionally protected act. Since the founding of our country, owning firearms has been a constitutionally protected act.
If mass shootings grant justification to curb our rights in order to protect and value potential life, why can the same not be said for the videos of abortion doctors?
Can life, even potential life, trump unfettered rights? Gun control advocates already seem to accept that reasoning. Why then would it not extend to abortion?
There is room for a discussion on certain regulations and restrictions on gun ownership. And I will gladly engage in that conversation.
But if you only value one type of potential lives saved, I do not believe you have thought through your own argument or its implications deeply enough. I will gladly consider your argument after you have done so yourself.
If we argue, in light of mass shootings, the potential lives of one group of people should allow for the curtailing of the rights of another group, then then same argument must hold for the right to an abortion.
Potential matters after all, whether it is a life ended in a movie theater, a church, or a womb.