BOOK REVIEWS, CONTEMPORARY ISSUES, & THEOLOGICAL DISCUSSIONS
When we hear conversations about the issue of abortion there are many topics which are threaded throughout the discussions.
“Shouldn’t a woman be able to choose whether or not she’s ready for a child?"
"Aren’t 'pro-lifers' really ‘anti-choice?’”
“How can anyone tell me what to do with my body?”
“Wouldn’t outlawing abortion simply make the situation more dangerous for those seeking abortions since they would turn to back alley abortions?”
“What if the child has a terrible life because the parents are not financially equipped?”
“How can you force a woman to have a baby?”
“What if the child will be handicapped?”
“What if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest?”
These are some of the most popular questions, and there are more like them, that come up in conversations when speaking about abortion. I’m going to argue that all of those questions are really irrelevant until we ask a more fundamental question regarding the issue of abortion. That question is “what is the unborn?” Let me elaborate on why I think the answer to this question is so critical, because you can’t really give an answer to any of the other questions until this one is settled.
It’s really easy to see that if the unborn is not a person then the questions listed above aren’t even needed. If the unborn is not a person, then any reason or no reason at all is sufficient for an abortion. If the “thing” inside of the womb is nothing more than a lifeless lump of cells, like a wart or a mole, then everyone should be pro-choice with no exceptions. Warts and moles are just lumps of cells growing on a person's body and you won’t find anyone in opposition to their medical removal. Just as we don’t know of anyone who is pro-warts or pro-moles, we shouldn’t know anyone who is pro-life if the “thing” inside the womb is not a person.
However, if the unborn is a person, no reason can justify an abortion. Understand that in almost every objection to the pro-life movement, the questioner assumes the unborn are not persons. Let me demonstrate this by highlighting this assumption in the questions from the opening paragraph.
The science on the unborn is really a case-closed endeavor. We only need to look at a few quotes from the literature of embryology to make the point:(1)
In its 1859 Report on Criminal Abortion, the American Medical Association (AMA) understood that "the independent and actual existence of the child before birth as a living being" was a scientific truth. Nothing has changed since that time. For the past 150 years doctors have known that life begins at conception.
Consider the following quotations from medical experts in the field of embryology:(1)
"It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material that each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual." (Bradley M. Patten, Human Embryology, 3rd ed., New York: McGraw Hill, 1968, page 43.)
"Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition." (E. L. Potter and J. M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd ed., Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975, page vii.)
Dr. Watson A. Bowes of the University of Colorado Medical School speaks clearly, when he says, "The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter - the beginning is conception." (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, Report, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981.)
A 1981 U.S. Senate report states, "Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being - a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings." (Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, Ibid.)
Prior to advocating abortion, former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone would question these basic scientific facts. "This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn't part of the common knowledge," he wrote in his book Life in the Making. (A. Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.)
In short, a human life begins at the completion of the conception process.
Once we have affirmed the unborn is a human or life some may still argue that they aren't yet persons! In other words, somehow, they are humans without rights for some reason or another. So we need to deal with this as well. Normally, these rationals come in only a few different forms. They tend to attack almost exclusively on four different levels.
Size—Some pro-choicers will say “did you know that the fetus at one point is as small as a period on this page?! How can you call that a person?” To which we only need to respond. “So are you saying that the bigger a person is, the more of a person they are? Do bigger people have more of a right to life than smaller people? If I’m bigger than you, do I have the right to kill you?”
Level of Development—Some pro-choicers will make the case that a fetus is far, far less developed than a baby outside the womb. We can agree here, but is the level of development a relevant issue when it comes to personhood? A 13-year old girl is more developed than a 2-year old girl; does that mean the 13-year old has more of a right to life than the 2-year old?
Environment—some pro-choicers believe that because the unborn is inside the womb, it is not a person. This is just silly, because location does not determine personhood.
Degree of Dependency—Pro-choice advocates may say “the unborn is dependent upon the mother for survival, doesn’t that disqualify it from being a person?” Well, if that is the case, then anyone who is on an oxygen tank, or is in assisted living is not a person, or babies outside of the womb for that matter.
As Scott Klusendorf rightly says: “If humans have value only because of some acquired property like skin color or self-consciousness and not in virtue of the kind of thing they are, then it follows that since these acquired properties come in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Do we really want to say that those with more self-consciousness are more human (and valuable) than those with less? As Lee and George point out, this relegates the proposition that all men are created equal to the ash heap of history.”
There is one more thing a pro-choice advocate may do to subvert the arguments put forth by the pro-lifer. They may say “Ok, I’ll give you that the unborn is a person, but, that still doesn’t mean that the mother shouldn’t have an abortion, and here’s a story to illustrate the point:
[You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist now is plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.
Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says, "Tough luck, I agree, but you've now got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.]
Doesn’t this sound like a good parallel that persuasively rids you of the obligation to the unborn?! It would, if it were a true parallel, but in this case, it fails in a few regards that disqualify it from having the effect the pro-choice advocates want. Here is where it fails:
(1) All quotations and basic argument layout taken from Prolifetraining.org