Evaluating the Pro-Choice Arguments (Part I)

Cross posted at Virtus et Vita.

It has been over a year since I put up my post, “If you end abortion, then…” dealing with common objections to ending abortion, mostly focused on the consequences of such an action.

In that year’s time, I have come across more objections to and arguments against the pro-life movement. On this post, I want to take the time to look at these arguments. Some are more complicated than others and will require a deeper response. Though lengthy, I believe reading the entire thing can help both the open-minded choice advocate and the pro-life advocate.

I am separating this into two different posts as well. The first one will deal with what I call “popular objections,” that is, objections that are commonly heard in the media. These are easy to swat down as there isn’t much substance. The second part will deal with the more scientific objections and deeper philosophical objections (e.g. what about when a fertilized egg splits and later comes back together?, are humans truly ever innocent?, a human has a right to kill whatever is dependent upon that human, etc). The first part will be more useful as these are the common objections. The second part, however, will be more enlightening for the rare occasion you run into a good argument for pro-choice.

1)   The only reason someone would support pro-life is that that person is against a woman having a right over her own body.

A common argument is that those who are against abortion are only against abortion because of their belief that women hold little to no rights over their own bodies. It is true that there are some pro-life advocates who also hold the belief that women are lesser than men (such as extreme Islamists or extreme fundamentalist Christians), but ultimately such views are unrelated to abortion. One can believe a women holds the full rights to her own body, but still believe that abortion is wrong.

Some pro-life advocates are against contraceptive use, but this goes both ways. Just as they are against it for women, they are likewise against it for men as well. Thus, those who are against contraceptive use seemingly have a different view over the liberties a human can take with his or her body. Regardless, the standard applied to women under such a view is likewise applied to men.

Finally, if pro-life advocates were against what women did with their bodies, why aren’t they out protesting women who get piercings, women who paint their toenails, women who get tattoos, and so on? It would seem that the one issue the pro-life crowd concerns itself when it comes to a woman’s body is what she does with her womb when there is a child inside of her.

This indicates that the issue isn’t about the right a woman holds over her body. It is more about if what is inside of her is human. The issue of  “women’s rights” is truly secondary to the issue of intrinsic value in humanity. Is what is in the womb human? If so, is that human life intrinsically valuable? Those two issues must be looked thoroughly. In fact, the only way we can move on to the issue of women’s rights, specifically a woman’s right over her own body, is if we can prove that either of the previous two questions can be answered in the negative. Then and only then does the abortion debate become an issue of women’s rights.

2)   Those who support pro-life can’t make up their mind on if a child is a consequence of sex or something that is a human life.

This is an actual argument that is commonly used, as it is here on a Facebook group dedicated to the memory of George Tiller (grammar and spelling kept the same):

“what is so ridiculous to me, is the contradictions a pro-lifer will make when trying to argue their point. they love to say that if a woman doesn’t want to carry her deformed fetus to term, or is she just plain didn’t want to be pregnant in the first place, then she shouldn’t have made the choice to have sex. once she makes that choice, that’s it, and she should “deal with the consequences” no matter what the price to her future or her life. and in the very same breath, they will turn right around and argue the “sanctity of life” and tell us that “every child is a gift, a blessing, and should be received with gratitude”.

so, is the unborn, unwanted, and sometimes severely deformed fetus a gift or a punishment? a blessing or a curse? make up your mind, fundies.”

So is this a valid argument against pro-life? Does this throw a wrench into the pro-life arguments? The simple answer is “no.”

The easiest answer to the objection is simply that many in the pro-life movement are inconsistent with the use of their words. An inconsistency doesn’t invalidate a position, it merely shows that a person is failing to live consistently with his or her beliefs.

Regardless, one reason that people say that a child is the consequence of certain actions, but at the same time that child is a gift, is because the word “consequence” simply means “result.” We often put a negative connotation with the word “consequence,” but we don’t need to. All it means is that something is the result of a certain action. Thus, one of the consequences (results) of sexual intercourse is the potential to have a baby. This is a blessing and the baby is a gift – certainly not a curse. But at the same time, with this gift comes quite a bit of responsibility; the parent(s) can no longer be self-centered, the parent(s) must look after and pay for the new child, the parent(s) must live a self-sacrificial lifestyle for the rest of their days. Unless one is ready and planning for such an event, such responsibilities can be a negative consequence – but the joy that will come from having the child and the joy that will come from learning to sacrifice will be a blessing.

3)   Many in the pro-life movement are pro-death penalty and pro-war, which means that they’re not really pro-life.

It seems with the conservative agenda, one must be anti-abortion, pro-death penalty, and pro-war, lest one be accused of being unpatriotic. While this is the stereotype, reality paints a better picture. One of the biggest organizations that is anti-abortion, Roman Catholics, are also against the death penalty. In fact, many pro-life proponents are against the death penalty. Furthermore, some are anti-war to a point. Some see war as a necessary evil in extreme situations, but that we should never rush headlong into war.

Regardless, the two compare apples to oranges. With a child in the womb, we are dealing with an innocent human being. The child has done nothing to warrant death. The child has not acted out in a way that requires justice to be served on the child or for the child to show that he cannot contribute to society. He is presumed innocent.

In the case of the death penalty, there is a criminal who through various means of evidence has been found guilty of a heinous crime, one deserving of death. Virtue ethics would dictate that he deserves death because he took an innocent life, thus his life is owed. Pragmatic ethics would dictate that he has shown that he not only fails at contributing to society, but hampers it by taking away life. Thus, he must be removed from society. In either case, the person who dies did something to deserve it.

In war, pro-life people are ardently against the use of “at will” force; that is, the government intentionally targeting and killing civilians in order to win a war. That being said, collateral damage occurs. It is inevitable in warfare (and unfortunate). It is sad and the hope is that we can pay for the loss of innocent lives in a war. However, sometimes wars are necessary. Even in warfare, the killing of an innocent is not intentional (or so we hope) and the killing of a soldier is the killing of a willing combatant. Again, something has been done to warrant the taking of someone’s life.

In abortion, there is no warrant for taking a child’s life. He has killed no one. He has engaged in no battle. The death of the child is not unintentional. It is the intentional killing of an innocent child.

Even if one doesn’t buy the above arguments, this objection is still empty. Again, this would merely show that one’s views on life in the womb are inconsistent with other issues. It wouldn’t negate a person’s ability to stand up against abortion, it would simply show the person is, at worst, inconsistent. If inconsistency should silence a person, then all those who are pro-choice, but anti death penalty and anti war should also be silenced.

4)   Those who support the pro-life movement are nothing more than religious zealots who think abortion doctors should be killed, clinics blown up, and display pictures of aborted fetuses in public.

Sadly enough, there have been quite a few individuals who have taken an extreme stance on abortion, going so far as to resort to vigilantism. Some of them may stay without the bounds of the law, but still display gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses in public view.

However, it is a fallacy to say that this represents the majority of anti-abortion supporters. Most of those who are pro-life are against both actions. They are against the first one because there are still legal means to ending abortion. They are likewise against the second one because shocking someone into believing as you do doesn’t really change a person’s mind. Once the chock wears off, so does the belief.

Regardless, these people hardly represent those involved in the anti-abortion movement. People like Frank Beckwith (tenured professor at Baylor), Peter Kreeft (tenured professor at Boston College), H. Tristram Engelhardt (tenured professor at Rice University), and many others who hold distinguished positions in politics and academia are hardly fanatic zealots calling for people to take to the streets.

5)   The only basis for the pro-life movement is religious, so there’s no reason to listen to it.

I would argue that it is true that in order to be pro-life, it helps drastically if one is a theist, even in the most minimalist sense. After all, if one is not a theist, or does not believe in a supernatural element, then one believes that humans are nothing more than a product of time, natural selection, and chance. Under a naturalistic viewpoint, a human is really no more valuable than a blade of grass, or the treat left by the family pet on that grass.

However, due to the fact that all humans are made in the image of God, even naturalists act as though there is meaning to their existence. They also act as though human existence is superior or takes more precedence and importance over non-human existence. In light of this, if one could show that a fetus is human through non-religious arguments, one could justify a pro-life stance even from a naturalist viewpoint. I believe I have accomplished this already. In fact, most anti-abortion arguments are made from a neutral standpoint; both a naturalist and supernaturalist could accept the arguments.

Regardless, delegating something as being a “religious” argument doesn’t really do much to test the truth of a claim. One would first have to prove there is no God, that something or someone is not there before adding any weight to this argument. Otherwise, it’s simply saying, “You’re invoking design!” to which we can reply, “Yeah, and? “ Religion must first be disproved before it no longer works as a legitimate argument.

6)   You destroy human life whenever you take a shower or scratch yourself because you’re destroying the skin cells. Killing a fetus is no different.

To me, this has always been a very silly argument. For one, a skin cell is not human life. It is completely contingent upon my existence. It is a part and not a whole. If I lose a skin cell I do not lose part of my humanity. If the skin cell falls off me, it dies because it is contingent upon me. Likewise, you can’t get another me from that skin cell. It has select DNA that made it what it is, but it doesn’t hold my entire DNA code.

If the paint gets chipped off a truck, is that paint still considered a truck? Is it considered an automobile? Or is it considered a paint chip? If a tree loses a leaf, do we call the leaf a tree, or do we call it a fallen leaf? So too, if a skin cell falls off a human, do we call it human life, or just dead skin?

A fetus, however, is completely different. Whereas a skin cell is 100% of my DNA, a fetus is only part of the female’s DNA and part of the male’s DNA, but 100% unique. The DNA of a fetus, from conception, is completely different from both the mother and the father. In other words, a skin cell – which isn’t human life – shares 100% of your DNA. A fetus, however, has its own unique set of DNA. Thus, an abortion isn’t like getting rid of a skin cell; an abortion removes a life from the womb that has its own unique DNA.

The next part of this post will deal more with the complicated arguments concerning the pro-life movement. It will be a far more difficult post to read and even harder to write. So please bear with me as I put together my research for it.

I hope the above helped.