January 22nd, 1973 marked a turning point in the history of our nation and the dignity of human life. On that day 7 out of 9 Supreme Court Justices defined the law to allow for abortions in virtually any circumstance. Since that decision was made, over 50,000,000 children have been intentionally killed. To put that in perspective, that’s the population of Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming combined.
We have all heard the arguments on the abortion debate. Some people believe the government should have nothing to do with preventing any abortions in any circumstances. Others say all abortions should be made illegal. And still others that it should be prevented in some, but not all cases. It’s my contention that the case for legalized abortion has no logical basis and is promoted by people looking out for themselves above all else. But many on the “pro-life” side of the debate also make significant errors in what they push for, undermining their core principles for legislative expediency. In the following several paragraphs, I intend to deconstruct the argument for legalized abortion as well as offer a corrective for what the “pro-life” crowd should be working towards.
What both sides need to consider, and what informs us as to the mistakes both sides are making in the current debate, is when life begins. When does a human being become a human being? Several opinions have been offered: biological functions, viability, birth and conception.
The first, biological functions would be those who argue that when the unborn has detectable brain waves or heartbeat they are to be considered a person and deserving of all the protections afforded by the law and conscience. However, this is not philosophically tenable, as a person would be defined not by what they ARE (DNA, the physical whole, etc) but by how they FUNCTION. For example, would a person with an artificial heart (and therefore no natural heartbeat) still be considered a person? What about someone who was in the process of cardiac arrest? If they are not a “person,” then there is no compunction for emergency responders to act on their behalf. Those on bypass machines when medical mistakes are made could not sue for malpractice. And while these are all practical problems arising from that definition of when life begins, they expose the philosophically untenable position by defining a thing by what it does rather than by what it is, or that a thing’s identity is only discernable by how it functions.
Second, a definition of life that rests with its viability is logically problematic. This definition has two possible conclusions: life is defined by medical technology’s ability to sustain what is already there, or infanticide (through abandonment) should be legally permissible. As for the first (that life is defined by when it is viable in the womb), this definition is constantly changing as medical technology improves and is able to keep the unborn living earlier in their gestation. For example, my brother was born 3 months premature and ended up dying at 18 months old due to complications from, among other things, being born so prematurely. When he was born, in 1974, it was unthinkable that an unborn delivered before 28 weeks should survive. Now, due to improving technology, unborns delivered at 24 have a fighting change to survive. By using this definition of life, we are calling it a relative thing, something that changes based on technology, and not an absolute condition. Therefore, by its own reasoning, there is no morally or philosophically compelling reason to arbitrarily use this definition to define it. This view says, in effect: “this is when we say life begins, but we know that it truly does not.” Now, if the viability argument is to be applied in its most stringent definition, no full-term babies would be considered living, as all require external assistance to remain alive. Imagine if parents simply abandoned their children at birth! Yet history has shown that this has happened. All babies need support to live. They cannot feed themselves, let alone clothe and shelter themselves, defend themselves and conduct themselves in a way that will sustain life in any culture. No born child, therefore, is viable if viable means “able to survive outside the womb without assistance.” Parents would therefore be able to kill their children up to the point when the case could be made that their children were capable to feeding, clothing and sheltering themselves. Life, by the viability argument, would begin somewhere between age 7 and 18.
Third, the argument that life begins and birth is also philosophically impossible to defend. For this definition posits that life is not based on a state of being or development, but on location. Proponents of this view might say that, since an unborn is dependent on the mother to supply it with nourishment, it cannot be considered a life. However, it has already been shown that even after birth the child is dependent for everything it was when it was in the womb, the only difference is the delivery system. Also, one would also have to argue that anyone on a feeding tube (or a heart-lung machine) would not be considered a person and would fall outside of the protections of the law.
Lastly, the argument that life begins at conception. This view is philosophically consistent. It points to the singular event that begins a chain reaction that results in birth. Without conception there is no “viable” unborn, there is birth, and there is no life. A thing is what it is regardless of outward appearances or characteristics. (For example: does a person need to have hair, two hands, two feet, etc to be a person? The answer would seem to be: a person is a person when they have persons for parents. Therefore, a person would be a person regardless of age, appearance, development or viability.)
With that definition of life in mind, let us consider the three positions concerning abortion: fully legal, partially legal, and illegal.
Those who believe abortion should be legal are either operating under a faulty definition of life, or they want to make an exception for whom the law applies. As citizens of a country that guarantees “equal protection under the law,” we cannot support a law or movement that seeks to move one segment of our population out from under the protection of the law.
Those supporting abortion in some circumstances will usually point to “women’s rights” or the health and safety of the mother when making their case. And while some might say that the “self defense” argument could be made in very rare cases, it is unwise to let the exception to the rule govern the rule. But even in those cases (where it is claimed that the mother will die if the pregnancy is allowed to continue), what is happening is that the possibility of a future evil is permitting the reality of a present equal evil. Doctors cannot predict the future with 100% accuracy. In making the “life of the mother” argument, doctors are assumed to have the ability to predict the future to a degree that is humanly impossible. And just as we would not want someone to receive capital punishment if there was a 1% chance that they were not guilty, so we should not want the guaranteed killing of the unborn when there is never a 100% chance of the mother’s life being taken. (And even then a compelling argument could be made that killing the unborn is not justified.) As far as rape is concerned, the question is: does an unborn human being have the right to be killed because we find the way that life was created repugnant? Or does the emotional plight of the unwilling mother permit for the premeditated killing of an innocent human being? Or will killing an innocent human being alleviate the suffering of the unwilling mother? (And would that then make it justified?)
However, even the pro-life side of the abortion debate has made its fair share of mistakes. It has sought legislation banning some—but not all—abortions. It has treated women who have been cajoled into having abortions as the problem and not (moving forward) potentially some of its most powerful allies in attaining a solution. If abortion is the taking of human life, there is no need for additional legislation. What needs to happen is for abortion to be treated the same way any premeditated murder would be. Since there are already laws on the books concerning murder, there is no need for additional legislation, only to define when life begins.
But the pro-life movement should not be strictly (or even primarily) a political one. It should work at the grassroots level to educate people about life: when it begins, how precious it is in the sight of God, and how good can come from even in the most seemingly impossible of situations. “At risk” pregnant women should be lovingly supported as they bring their babies to term. For those with limited means, help should be given following the birth (either to find a suitable couple for adoption, or to raise the child in as healthy an environment as possible). The mothers-to-be should not be seen as the proponents of abortion; rather they are the victims of the propaganda of a politically-connected industry whose lifeblood is in the death of the unborn.
Abortion has claimed more lives than the Second World War; the number of those aborted exceeds the population of 25 of our 50 States combined. It is a modern-day holocaust that will cause history to condemn this generation, and which has caused incalculable pain and suffering on people who were promised it would be the solution to their problem. As people who are arguing for the right to life in the secular sphere, we need to be able to defend “life at conception” and not take the bait on supporting legislation that will define abortion as anything but what it is: premeditated murder. (Premeditated by those who practice it, not necessarily by those mothers in whom it is performed.) As a Christian, I confess that I do not know if I want to pray for God’s mercy on our country for the evils it has perpetrated against the “least of these” for 40 years, or if I want God to make an example of our nation that others will not even considering following in our abortion-on-demand-footsteps. What I do pray for is that God would find a way to give those whose lives have been taken before they were even given a name a place in paradise.