A certain news editorial was recently published in the Daily Nexus regarding a civil lawsuit that Life Legal Defense, a pro-life group, is advancing against Dr. Miller-Young, the professor involved in the unfortunate altercation with pro-life demonstrators earlier this year. While reporting on this is certainly newsworthy, it is important to take a step back to intellectually scrutinize the issue of abortion that spurred this unfortunate incidental encounter. Whether one is opposed to or in favor of the continued legality of abortion, it is generally agreed by both sides that the question is one of weighty concern. If Pro-Choicers are correct, then opposing the continued legality of abortion amounts to unjustly restricting the liberties and bodily sovereignty of women. If, on the other hand, Pro-Lifers are correct, support for abortion amounts to an outright denial of those same liberties and rights to the unborn of either gender vis-a-vis the gross killing of human beings on a scale never before imagined.
So who is right? We ought to begin, as many philosophers who have engaged this issue have, by asking a fundamental question upon which the entire disagreement rests: What is the unborn? We cannot begin to ponder whether it is morally permissible to kill something unless we first know what it is. Suppose, for example, that you are playing with your 6-year-old nephew. Suppose he goes around a corner out of your sight and shouts out to you: “Hey, can I kill this thing?” Your answer, one would hope, would be: “Wait — kill what?” As you go around the corner to see what he is referring to, you might suppose that he is pointing to a nasty-looking spider. In that case, you might say in response: “Wow, that’s a nasty-looking spider. Go ahead and smash it.” For most of us, there is no ethical problem here. But now suppose that, as you are walking around the corner, you see that your nephew is pointing to your neighbor’s dog, Buddy. In this case, you might say: “What? Of course you can’t kill Buddy! His owner will be very upset!” To go one step further, suppose that as you walk around the corner your nephew is pointing to his younger brother, Thomas. In this case, you might say: “What’s gotten into you? Of course you can’t kill your brother Thomas!” If you fancied yourself a philosopher, you might add something like: “All things being equal, human beings are the sorts of things that we have an exigent moral obligation to refrain from killing and, because Thomas is a human being, it would thus be a grave moral transgression for you to kill him.”
The question, then, is this: Is the unborn a human being? If so, then aborting an unborn child would be grave moral transgression akin to your nephew’s killing his brother Thomas. If not, then an abortion would instead be comparable to the removing of a wart or a hair follicle, and so no ethical problem would present itself. But it’s easier to settle this question than you may think. Indeed, when one begins to seriously consider this question, it becomes difficult to imagine the unborn as anything but human. After all, the unborn is alive, it is growing internally and it has human parents. So what else could it be? It is not bovine or feline or reptilian, for example. It is, in fortunate circumstances, also not dead. It is also not merely a part of the mother’s body, lest we be led to the rather absurd conclusion that pregnant women have four arms, four legs, two hearts and, in many cases, both male and female reproductive organs. An embryo also has its own unique DNA upon the moment of conception. Regardless of their religious, metaphysical or ethical commitments, embryologists agree on this much: “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” Even Alan Guttmacher, a former president of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, recognized this, commenting: “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.”
Many Pro-Choicers have presented objections to the above like the following: “If it is immoral to kill human beings, then, by your reasoning, isn’t it a moral tragedy when ‘human’ skin cells or sperm cells are killed or when they are allowed to die? If we give fetuses a right to life, then doesn’t this imply that we also have to extend skin cells and sperm cells this same right? So, unless you mourn for dandruff, you’re not being consistent.” But this objection makes the mistake of confusing parts with wholes. Upon fertilization, an embryo is a complete organism that directs its development from within in a way that skin and sperm cells do not. All by itself, neither a skin cell nor a sperm cell will develop into an adult human being. But an embryo will. More precisely we can say this about parts and wholes: Parts are metaphysically posterior to the whole insofar as parts are ordered, in coordination with one another, towards the good of the whole. That is, parts are distinct from the whole insofar as parts strive in unity with other parts towards a common unified goal, namely, the life of the whole organism of which they are a part. It is easy to see this in humans. Hearts, for example, work in conjunction and coordination with other parts (namely livers, lungs, brains, etc.) towards a single end or goal: the biological life of the whole. In light of this, then, this objection doesn’t prove to be very convincing.
Having hopefully allayed some possible objections, we can, then, reason as follows:
It is prima facie immoral to kill human beings.
Abortion kills human beings.
Therefore, abortion is prima facie immoral.
The unjustified killing of human beings ought to be illegal.
Therefore, abortion ought to be illegal.
By prima facie, I mean to say that, at first glance or “on the face of it,” it is morally impermissible to kill human beings. This is an extremely plausible premise that most — if not all — rational human beings immediately recognize to be true. Note also how this premise allows for the argument to avoid begging any questions by allowing for circumstances in which it might be morally permissible to kill a human being, for instance, killing in self-defense, as capital punishment for a crime or killing by the waging of a just war, if there is such a thing, etc. And thus, it seems, we have a plausible argument against abortion.
Carlos Flores finds that his logic inevitably leads him to support the life of the fetus.