A Conversation with Dr. Christopher Kaczor

PLM: This is Brett Attebery from Pro-life Magazine and today I’m very honored to have with me Dr.Christopher Kaczor, author of the book “The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life and the Question of Justice.”

Dr. Kaczor is a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He graduated from the honors program of Boston College and earned his Ph.D from the University of Notre Dame, and did his post doctoral work in Germany at the University of Cologne as an Alexandar von Humbolt Foundation Federal Chancellor Fellow and returned as a Fulbright Scholar.

He’s written many books including “The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church”, “The Ethics of Abortion”, “Thomas Aquinas on the Cardinal Virtues”, “Life Issues-Medical Choices”, “Thomas Aquinas on Faith, Hope and Love”, and “The Edge of Life: Human Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics”.

Dr. Kaczor’s research on issues of ethics, philosophy and religion has been in the Wall Street Journal,the Huffington Post, National Review, NPR, BBC, EWTN, ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, MSNBC and The Today Show.

Welcome Dr. Kaczor!


PLM: I read the book “The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life and the Question of Justice.” It’s a very comprehensive book and you go into so much detail on so many issues of pro-life. It’s not light reading. It certainly takes some time to think about but there’s so many interesting things in the book that I thought would be great to bring to our audience.

So my first question for you is what was your motivation for writing this book?

Dr. Kaczor: Well the book started when I was in college in a way. I had a pro-choice roommate and we used to argue for hours and hours about abortion going back and forth. And one of the things I realized is that you can discuss this issue in a reasonable way,in a civil kind of way, and so I thought there’s really a need to discuss the pro-life perspective in that sort of way.

So I try to reach out to people that disagree with the pro-life perspective in a very reasonable and civil manner and really engage them and hopefully in a way that can help them to move from being “abortion is a fundamental right of a woman”, to seeing how abortion involves, not just a woman’s body, but also the body of someone else, that is a human being that is in utero and growing towards birth.

So it took me some time to write the book. It was about 8 years in the process but I’m very happy with it and I’m actually told by the publisher that there maybe a 2nd edition of the book coming out so that’s exciting for me.

PLM: Of the many issues you analyze in the book, one of things that really made an impression on me is this argument of the perceived difference between a human being and a person, or what you call personhood. Can you tell me why defenders of abortion use this distinction?

Dr. Kaczor: In everyday speech people use the terms person and human interchangeably. But in the philosophical literature there has developed a kind of technical distinction between the two terms.

So, when people defend abortion, some people will say things like, “Well there’s not even a life there.” But in terms of a scientific perspective it’s really indubitable that the human embryo and human fetus are growing and accumulating nutrition and there’s really no way to deny that there’s some kind of living being there.

And then other people want to say “Well, yes it is alive but it’s not a human being.” But again that becomes really difficult to defend from a scientific perspective because this is a being that has human tissue, it has two human parents, it’s a being that has human DNA, and human blood.

Life inside the womb

So really in terms of the empirical evidence it’s pretty impossible to deny that this is a living member of our species.

So philosophers came along and basically said well, okay fine, this is a living thing. Yes, it’s a human being in terms of it’s a member of our species, but it’s not a person. And what they mean by person is a being that has moral significance, a being that has basic rights, a being that you have to respect.

So that’s basically their view so a lot of the  book is taken up with looking at the reasons why they think human beings in utero prior to birth are not persons, and trying to show that these reasons really don’t work.

And that’s sort of, not the whole book,but that takes up a good chunk of the book because most pro-choice arguments are based on the denial of either the humanity or the personhood of the human being in utero.

PLM: From your perspective as a philosopher is that distinction that they’re making between human being and person morally relevant?

Dr. Kaczor: I would say there is a distinction between a human being and a person in the sense of it’s possible that there are non-human persons.

For instance there could be alien persons.You can imagine intelligent life in another part of the galaxy and if there were intelligent beings they would be non-human persons.

And religious people believe also in non- human persons, so for instance, Christians believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those are divine persons not human persons. And they believe in angelic persons and demonic persons.

And so I don’t really need to get into whether or not there are such things as non-human persons but the idea makes sense. It’s possible that there could be non-human persons.

The question is really not about that. The question is about should all human beings count as persons? I argue that they should and I think one of the best reasons for thinking that is to look at history.

In the course of human history, many times we’ve divided the human family into two different groups. And we’ve said this group of people, let’s say white people for example, count as persons, but this other group of human beings, let’s say African Americans, they don’t really count as persons. And so we can own them, we can abuse them, they don’t really count.

Other times people have said if you’re a European you count a person, but if you’re a Native person, they don’t really count. Other times, we’ve said men count as full persons but women they don’t really count as full persons.

So we’ve done this over and over again. Every single time we’ve ever divided the human family into those that count as persons and those that don’t count as persons, we’ve made a horrible mistake.

When we look back on those episodes in history we say that this is a moral tragedy to divide the human community in this way. So I think efforts today to exclude some human beings from counting as persons are just as nefarious as these prior attempts.

So what I basically argue in the book is an inclusive view. Every single human being regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of sex or any other characteristic including birth, should be accorded basic respect, and should be protected by law. And that’s what I argue and I think that we have the very best reasons for taking this point of view in light of the fact that every single other time we have ever made this distinction between human beings that are persons, and human beings that are not persons, we’ve made a horrible mistake.

PLM: One part of your book I found interesting was the famous “A Defense of Abortion” paper by Judith Jarvis Thomson where it appears that she grants that the human embryo has the status of a person. Yet she still defends abortion rights. Can you explain why she does that?

Dr. Kaczor: Judith Jarvis Thomson has a famous article called “A Defense of Abortion” and she says among other arguments, imagine you wake up one day and you’re attached to a famous violinist. And the doctors come in and say well,this violinist is sick and we need to use your body for the next 9 months and the violinist is a person and you’re not allowed to detach yourself.

Thomson said even if the violinist is a person, we still have a right to detach ourselves from the violinist. And so abortion is a little like that. Even if we grant that the human being in utero is a person it’s OK for the woman to detach herself from the violinist and get an abortion.

Now the difficulty with this argument is, and I know several difficulties, but one of them is that abortion is really not like detaching yourself from a violinist.

Abortion in fact is a way of harming the body of the violinist. So if we had the same violinist analogy and you said I want to detach myself from the violinist but I’m not going to snip the cords that attach us together but what I’m going to do is attack his body, chop up his body, or otherwise attack his physical well being.

Well you can’t do that. If the violinist is a person, the violinist has the right to bodily integrity. And if the human being in utero is a person, well then the human being in utero also has a right to integrity. So the violinist argument fails in part because in fact abortion is not a gentle detaching of yourself from the human being that’s developing in utero but rather it is a very violent attack upon that physical bodily integrity of the human being in utero.

Technically there’s a big difference also in that in the violinist argument you’re attached to a stranger. And it’s really nice to help out those in need and according to some religious traditions it’s actually a duty to help those in need.

But every religious tradition and the law also recognizes that parents have special duties and responsibilities for helping their own children. So I’m a father and it would be very generous of me if I were to give food, shelter, and clothing to strangers I don’t know.

By contrast in the case of abortion a woman is pregnant with her own child, her own baby. And both biological mothers as well as biological fathers do actually have serious duties towards their own biological children.

So that’s why,for instance, people recognize that biological fathers are responsible for paying child support for their own children. And it doesn’t matter whether or not they were trying to prevent conception, whether or not they wanted to be a parent,whether or not whatever, they still have very serious responsibilities for taking care of their own children in terms of child support and much more. And so in a similar way I would say that biological mothers also have special responsibilities for their own biological children including the responsibility to gestate the child in utero until birth.

PLM: That’s the one thing that hit me as I read the violinist argument was that issue which you’re discussing about responsibility. It seems to me for the most part that when the act happens that generates children there is a responsibility there versus in the violinist argument, the person didn’t know what happened, just woke up and then suddenly was attached to the violinist. It didn’t seem parallel to me.

Dr. Kaczor: That’s right.

PLM: In the last chapter of your book,you bring up a very interesting idea which you call the artificial womb. Could you talk about that and it hit me that this could be kind of a middle ground for defenders of abortion rights and critics of abortion rights. Can you give some detail about this concept of artificial womb?

Dr. Kaczor: Sure, the idea would basically be that rather than having a woman who had an unplanned pregnancy have an abortion that ends the life of a human being in utero, what would happen is the woman would just simply end the pregnancy and have the human being in utero removed and gestated outside the uterus.

So right now in the Unites States there are many intensive care units that take care of babies that are very premature. And these intensive care units sometimes take care of babies that are only 22, 23, or 24 weeks old.

And so right now scientists are working on extending viability earlier in pregnancy so that the child would be viable may beat 15 weeks or 10 weeks, or even from the very beginning, from conception.

If this were possible what could happen is that when a woman became pregnant unexpectedly and didn’t want to remain pregnant she could simply have the child removed, and placed into what would amount to early adoption so that the child wouldn’t be in her body any longer.

And so the plus side from the pro-life perspective is that you could save potentially millions of babies lives, and the plus from the pro-choice perspective is that women who did not want to be pregnant would not have to be pregnant any longer.

They could just go in and have the child removed and that baby would be able to live and the woman would be able to not be pregnant.

So this could be a kind of win-win. I’m not sure whether this would be acceptable to all people on both sides. But I do think it would be acceptable to many people who are pro-life. I actually first heard about this idea from a pro-life pioneer named Bernard Nathanson who was for a long time very much in favor of abortion.

He then had a conversion to the pro-life perspective and I remember hearing him give a talk in which this possibility was mentioned.

So at least for many pro-lifers like him,and then also for many people who are in favor of abortion like Judith Jarvis Thomson, she mentions in her article that if it were possible to remove the human fetus from the uterus without killing it then that would be what the woman would have the obligation to do.

So not for every single pro-life person and not for every single pro-choice person, but I think for a good number of both this could be a possible solution.

Now whether it’s technically possible right now, it’s not. But that’s a matter for scientists to determine and I imagine as science continues to progress at some point it will be technologically possible.

PLM: Yes it’s interesting, is it 50 years, 100 years, 200 years, we don’t know but it does seem that if technology continued to progress at its current pace that it would be something that would become feasible sometime in the future.

Wouldn’t it be very interesting if something like that, a technological advance, was responsible for putting a significant dent in the debate between pro-life and pro-choice sides.

Dr. Kaczor: Yeah, I think that’s true, I mean it would certainly cause some people to re- evaluate their positions and think about it in a new way.

PLM: Dr. Kaczor thank you for your time today, and thank you for this incredible book. I encourage everybody to read this book. It’s definitely not light reading, but if you really want to understand the arguments for both the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the debate, what’s behind those arguments, and see how Dr. Kaczor reevaluates them then this is a wonderful book to do that.

Again Dr. Kaczor I appreciate your time and thank you for everything you do for pro-life.

Dr. Christopher Kaczor

Dr. Christopher Kaczor is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He graduated from the Honors Program of Boston College and earned a Ph.D. four years later from the University of Notre Dame. He did post-doctoral work in Germany at the University of Cologne as an Alexander von Humbolt Foundation, Federal Chancellor Fellow and returned as a Fulbright Scholar. His nine books include The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church,The Ethics of Abortion, O Rare Ralph McInerny: Stories and Reflections on a Legendary Notre Dame Professor, Thomas Aquinas on the Cardinal Virtues; Life Issues-Medical Choices; Thomas Aquinas on Faith, Hope, and Love; The Edge of Life: Human Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics, How to Stay Catholic in College, and Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition. Dr.Kaczor’s research on issues of ethics, philosophy, and religion has been in The Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, National Review, NPR, BBC, EWTN, ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, MSNBC, and The Today Show.


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