By Clinton Wilcox
Many people have a difficult time when they discuss abortion. It’s a controversial subject, one that many people think you shouldn’t talk about in polite company. But it’s a very important topic. It’s not just an interesting intellectual puzzle to think about.
If pro-life people are correct, then 1.21 million unborn children are being legally killed in the United States alone every year, according to the Guttmacher Institute (http://www. guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion. html). If pro-choice people are correct, then pro-life people are unjustly trying to squash women’s reproductive rights.
So the conversation needs to continue, and
it needs to continue in a spirit of wanting to discover the truth. The implications of abortion, no matter which side is correct, are devastating. As a pro-life advocate who wishes to think about the issue clearly and carefully, I have read the best books and articles, the best arguments, from philosophers on both sides of the issue.
I consider myself strongly pro-life because I have been convinced that the best and strongest arguments favor the pro-life position. It’s an uncontroversial fact of science, as far as anything can be considered a fact, that the unborn are full-fledged members of our species, Homo sapiens. As geneticist Jerome LeJeune, in a Tennessee divorce court in 1989, called in as an expert for a debate over frozen embryos, once remarked, “…I would say that science has a very simple conception of man; as soon as he has been conceived, a man is a man.”
Embryologists consistently agree that the unborn are biologically human from fertilization, though they don’t all agree that it’s an entity with a serious right to life. At the very least, the unborn are living, human organisms.
1. They are alive: We know that they are alive because they exhibit the qualities of living things: they metabolize food for energy, they respond to stimuli, and they grow through cellular reproduction. If something lacks one or more of these properties, there may be some debate about whether or not it’s alive (an example would be viruses). But there is no question that something that exhibits all of these properties is considered alive.
One objection I sometimes hear is that crystals grow on their own and crystals are not living things. But crystals grow through a process called nucleation. In this process, they grow by combining the molecules already present with molecules from other sources, called “solute” molecules (source: http://www. chemistry.co.nz/crystals_forming.htm). They do not grow as living organisms grow, by cell division and reproduction.
2. They are human: We know that they are human because they are the product of human parents, and living things reproduce after their own kind. They also have a unique, human DNA signature.
3. They are organisms: We also know that they are organisms because they have their own functional parts, right from the single-cell stage, and develop themselves from within into a more mature version of themselves, along the path of human development.
The objection is sometimes raised that sperm and eggs are also living humans, so they should be protected if the pro-life position succeeds. But as Scott Klusendorf tells us, this commits an elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. Sperm and egg cells are functional parts of the parent organism’s body, the man and woman, respectively. But when the sperm and egg fuse, they cease to exist and a new, genetically distinct human organism comes into existence.
So the science supports the pro-life position that the unborn are human beings from the point of fertilization. But when you talk about abortion with someone, they’ll usually respond with an objection that has nothing to do with whether or not the unborn are valuable human beings.
There are many situations that are difficult for parents to face, especially single mothers. We need to treat these situations with the utmost respect and care, but we also can’t let ourselves get distracted by topics that have no bearing on whether or not abortion is a moral, immoral, or amoral act.
In the last issue of this magazine, Josh Brahm indicated that there are three general categories that a pro-choice argument falls into: arguments that assume that the unborn are not valuable human beings, arguments that argue that the unborn are not valuable human beings, and arguments that admit that the unborn are valuable human beings but argue that abortion should be legal anyway.
It’s first worth pointing out that in order to justify all or most abortions, pro-choice people must construct an argument that would justify all abortions. The problem with arguing from situations is that they don’t justify all or even most abortions, they only justify abortions in that situation.
Consider someone who argues that abortion should be legal because some women are too poor to afford a child. If we assume that argument works to justify abortion, then how does that justify abortion in any other situation, say in the situation in which a woman feels that she’s not ready to become a mother? So if you’re going to argue from situations, then each situation has to be looked at on its own merits. It doesn’t justify abortions in any other situation.
But do arguments from circumstances succeed? In fact, they don’t. In order for these arguments to succeed, one must assume that the unborn are not valuable human beings. In order to see this, use a technique that Greg Koukl and Scott Klusendorf have dubbed “Trot Out the Toddler.” In order to see why an argument from circumstances doesn’t succeed, all you have to do is compare the situation to a toddler.
Let’s take the argument from poverty. If someone argues that abortion should be legal because some women are too poor to afford a child, then compare the situation of poverty to a toddler. If a woman gave birth and suddenly lost her job when her child is two years old, would we allow her to kill her toddler because of her situation, perhaps to allow her to more easily feed her older children? Of course, that wouldn’t be allowed.
If we wouldn’t allow the mother to kill her toddler for the situation of poverty, then if the unborn are valuable human beings, like they will be a couple of years later at the toddler stage, then how can we justify killing the unborn for that same situation?
Trotting Out the Toddler (or trotting out the relevant born human being) works for any argument that assumes the unborn are not human beings by showing the person that if the unborn are valuable human beings, then we can’t justify killing them through abortion for that situation either.
This can lead to a very valuable discussion about why it’s wrong to kill human beings, which is an important question in the abortion issue and one in which many people just haven’t given much thought. But this tool allows us to help keep the conversation focused onto the central question in the abortion debate: what is the unborn entity?
So this is an informal logical fallacy called a red herring. Arguing from situations distracts from the central question in the abortion issue. Arguing from situations says absolutely nothing about whether abortion is moral, immoral, or amoral because in order to determine whether or not these arguments from situations succeed, you must first determine whether the act itself is right, wrong, or neutral, and whether or not the act, itself, should be legal or illegal.
The person also begs the question by assuming the conclusion in their argument. You have to first make a case that the unborn are not valuable human beings before you can argue that we can kill them to make life easier for the parents.
The material in this essay has been heavily influenced by Justice for All (www.jfaweb.org), which trains pro-life people to make the pro-life case more effectively and persuasively. Justice for All trains pro-life people to keep the conversation focused onto the central question of what the unborn entity is, as well as how to show that the unborn are valuable human beings, just as older human beings are.
Clinton Wilcox is a professional musician and blogger from Fresno, CA. He is a regular contributor to the Secular Pro-Life blog, and has had articles featured on LifeNews.com and the National Right to Life Committee blog. He is a speaker and mentor in Right to Life of Central California’s Justice for All program. He has spoken to many pro-life and pro-choice people, on several college campuses across three states, and has given presentations on podcasts and in front of churches and philosophy clubs. Clinton runs a personal blog at prolifephilosophy.blogspot.com
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