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.
You haven’t proven that a fetus is human. Only that it will some day be a human. This is a pretty subjective question so good luck trying to actually prove it. People who are against abortion think a fetus is a human. People who are not against abortion think a fetus is just a fetus. This is the core of the abortion debate and you just waltzed around it. I have never heard the argument that dandruff is a tragedy but I have frequently heard the argument that, using your logic, every fertilized egg that doesn’t implant is a tragedy.… Read more »
“You haven’t proven that a fetus is human. Only that it will some day be a human. This is a pretty subjective question so good luck trying to actually prove it. People who are against abortion think a fetus is a human. People who are not against abortion think a fetus is just a fetus. This is the core of the abortion debate and you just waltzed around it.” I am terribly puzzled at your claim that the fetus is not human. Again, what else could it be? It is alive, it has human parents and we know that everything… Read more »
I will agree with your definition of a human for the purpose of this discussion. In that case, it’s not always immoral to kill a human since it is not immoral to kill a fetus. Now we’re back to subjectivity. I don’t think it’s immoral to kill a fetus because a fetus doesn’t have any of the properties that we value in a person. It is nothing but a little blob of potential personhood. It doesn’t look like us, it doesn’t have any worthwhile thoughts, it doesn’t have a personality, it doesn’t have a name, and if it’s not wanted,… Read more »
“I will agree with your definition of a human for the purpose of this discussion. In that case, it’s not always immoral to kill a human since it is not immoral to kill a fetus.” That’s simply patently question-begging. I offered reasons for why the killing of an unborn vis-a-vis abortion is immoral (and why this should be illegal). You have merely asserted that abortion is morally permissible, which is precisely what is in question. You need an argument to defend this claim. To be fair, you do later in the comment make an attempt to provide some such arguments.… Read more »
Ok Carlos. You have bored me into submission. I’m not interested in rereading my own posts with commentary. I promise not to abort any more of my precious little human babies.
Unfortunately this is the sort of intellectual laziness that pro-choicers all too often espouse. When you have no good responses to make and your claims are revealed to be terribly flawed you simply respond with some sardonic comment in a terribly awkward effort to gracefully exit a discourse you have not done well in. I leave you to that, then.
I’m just not interested in playing logical fallacy bingo with you. If you’d like to contribute to the conversation, I’d love to engage with you. If you’d rather deconstruct everything I say, well I’m not interested in spending my time responding to that. You’re boring and nothing you’ve said anywhere on this page, including your original opinion piece, is new or interesting. You might find your lazy style more successful on reddit where people will gladly respond with increasingly long posts that poke holes in small, convenient subsets of your own posts rather than have any kind of stimulating or… Read more »
Ok I’m being a little hypocritical there. I’ll throw you a bone. This is your last chance to actually say something. I said a fetus has none of those things. You’re right that any given member of that list is unjustifiable by itself. Unfortunately, a fetus has nothing going for it. It’s pointless. And once again, you compare a fetus to a child or a teenager. This might make sense to you, but this is not how most pro-choice people view the situation. You can get cute with whatever words you want to choose but the fact of the matter… Read more »
Logical fallicy bingo!
It’s a choice, not a child – right.
It is tangible, not a concept.
It has aleready been conceived.
You’re a bad person.
Do you even know what you’re saying Raoul? Are you having an episode? Take your haldol and eat a sandwich.
J, I figured you might respond in this way. We cannot kill, you claim, someone who meets one or a number of these aforementioned conditions. But we can justifiably kill someone who meets all of these conditions. The problem, of course, is that, in addition to the unborn, infants, newborns and toddlers (especially those who have some sort of physical deformation, due to either genetic complications or accident) all meet these conditions. If your position is to be consistent, then, you’d have to claim that it is permissible to kill infants, newborns and toddlers. But that is absurd. As such,… Read more »
All by itself, a fetus will do nothing at all. It requires a host to function. I’m not sure how you could possibly consider it an independent organism, as you seem to be implying. Newborns do have some of the qualities I listed so your reduction doesn’t really hold. My list was not exhaustive either. Once again, there is a larger point sitting right behind what’s written but you might actually have to think a tiny bit if you want to address it. I’m not sure how you can say that the rest of my assertions were unsubstantiated since I… Read more »
I’ve got a better argument. Legal abortion is certainly the most favorable public health development of the past 50 years. When I was an OBGYN resident prior to Roe v Wade, I was frequently seeing badly injured women following criminal abortion. Since legalization, that carnage has disappeared. To me, that’s the beginning, the middle, and the end of the matter. Now women are safe. For many years, they were not.
To argue that those women were not safe is absurd. no one forced those women to undergo criminal abortions.
And if we are arguing for safety, are we simply ignoring the safety of the child?
Which child? Are you assuming a woman’s abortion has strong relevance to a child on the other side of planet earth?
To begin with, abortions are not “safe” in any sense of the word insofar as such procedures intentionally end the life of the unborn. Secondly, the amount of abortions (and deaths from illegal abortions) prior to Roe v. Wade are all too often misleadingly exaggerated for rhetorical effect (see: http://www.rtl.org/prolife_issues/abortionstats_us.html & http://www.grtl.org/docs/roevwade.pdf). For example, “in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Vital Statistics Center for Disease Control, as cited in Dr. and Mrs. J.C. Wilke, Abortion Questions and Answers, rev. ed., the number of women who died in illegal abortions was 39. Medical… Read more »
“People who are not against abortion think a fetus is just a fetus.” (not human)
– pro choice: 57 million dead(and i=I say dead because yes, the possibility of life was cut off) since legalization.
“The Jews are definitely a race, but they are not human.”
– Adolf Hitler: 11 million dead
I sense a similarity. Arguing that something is not human doesn’t change the fact of the matter.
You sense wrong but you’re obviously pretty dense which could be why your senses aren’t working correctly.
Billions of insects have died violently in the horrific genocide perpetrated against them by people who think they’re icky. This is clearly worse than 11 million Jews or 57 million wannabe babies. You know, since arguing that insects aren’t human doesn’t change the fact of the matter.
More of your ‘sense’:
1. ‘hitler loved dogs.’
2. thus, dog-lovers are genocidal killers.
If I shoot and kill a pregnant woman, and both she and the “fetus” die – I get charged with 2 counts of murder.
That pretty much means it is a preson.
That really depends on how any given state defines that law. It’s called feticide in some states, separate from homicide, and most states (probably all) make specific statements about fetuses in their laws which wouldn’t be necessary if they were the same as people. I think the fact that most of the laws are written like “… OR kills a fetus” tells us that the law does not see a fetus as a person. So yeah, you might get punished as if you killed two people but that doesn’t mean that you actually killed two people and it certainly doesn’t… Read more »
When the end result is the same – and the charge for doing the same thing ( to the fetus or the person) it is the same thing.
There is no justification to differentiate.
You just want to sat it is free will to D&C a little kid into puree
Says you. The law obviously disagrees.
Funny.. the law does not. The courts interpret a pretty clear law in a way that results in this conclusion. People get charged with what the DA feels like charging them with.
The constitution says the right to own and bear arms shall not be infringed – it is the courts that are messing that one up “interpreting it”
you omitted the conditional. yeah, you do know it.
“Not every life is precious to us.” Today the unborn… tomorrow kikes, negros, women, spicks…
yeah, youre different
I just stumbled on this and thought you might find it interesting to read.
“All by itself, a fetus will do nothing at all. It requires a host to function. I’m not sure how you could possibly consider it an independent organism, as you seem to be implying.” An unborn child requires the very same conditions for sustaining its life that every other human does, namely, nourishment and shelter. Newborns need this. Infants need this. Teenagers need this. Adults need this. So this simply isn’t a morally relevant condition. “Newborns do have some of the qualities I listed so your reduction doesn’t really hold.” How so? A newborn doesn’t look like us. Newborns, for… Read more »
“An unborn child requires the very same conditions for sustaining its life that every other human does, namely, nourishment and shelter. Newborns need this. Infants need this. Teenagers need this. Adults need this.” Yeah that’s not even close to the same thing. When you boil the needs of a fetus down to “nourishment and shelter” you are intentionally omitting necessary details of the actual situation. Does a newborn require a relatively large space to live within its mother’s body? Does a newborn require a direct line to the mother’s bloodstream so that it can leech nutrients from her? No and… Read more »
“Yeah that’s not even close to the same thing. When you boil the needs of a fetus down to “nourishment and shelter” you are intentionally omitting necessary details of the actual situation. Does a newborn require a relatively large space to live within its mother’s body? Does a newborn require a direct line to the mother’s bloodstream so that it can leech nutrients from her?” Is there an argument here? It seems as if you are poised to present a sort of bodily sovereignty or right-to-refuse argument here. The problem is that both sorts of arguments are unsound. Bodily sovereignty… Read more »
“Is there an argument here? It seems as if you are poised to present a sort of bodily sovereignty or right-to-refuse argument here.”
I didn’t make either of those arguments so congrats on winning that argument with yourself Mr. Bolger.
“The only difference between the unborn and the toddler, newborn and infant is their location.”
No it’s not and I laid out the differences in my previous post.
“You could ask the very same thing of a newborn.”
But I didn’t. You didn’t answer my questions.
“I didn’t make either of those arguments so congrats on winning that argument with yourself Mr. Bolger.” It seems as if you have to make either of those arguments in order for your previous comments to make sense. I take it that you think the fetus’ location in the mother’s womb is of some moral relevance, right? If so, then what is the argument for this? If not, then please clarify the point your making. “No it’s not and I laid out the differences in my previous post.” You wrote the following: “Does a newborn require a relatively large space… Read more »
“In the absence of an argument to such an effect, the fact that the fetus is inside the mother’s body or that it depends on her mother to survive does not provide a reason to make the killing of the fetus permissible.”
Never said that either. I never made any kind of moral statement at all. I just said that you can’t compare a fetus to a newborn when it comes to shelter and nourishment because their circumstances are drastically different. And they are.
They are somewhat different insofar as the unborn child is inside her mother’s body and insofar as it receives nourishment through the umbilical cord, yes. The question is: are these differences morally relevant differences? That is, do these differences make abortion permissible? If so, why?
I’m not answering any more of your questions until you answer mine.
“This is your last chance to actually say something.”
You don’t own me!
No means No!
No one is talking to you, other than the voices in your head.