Pro-Life Students on a University Campus
(CC BY-SA 2.0 more)
Few issues evoke more passion than those involved in the pro-choice v. pro-life debate.
Consequently, discussions and debates about abortion often degrade into emotionally charged shouting matches accomplishing little except hardening the resolve of people on both sides of the issue.
This article backs away from the emotionally charged exchanges that are so often associated with the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate and simply sets forth the contentions made by pro-choice abortion advocates (often referred to as pro-abortionists) followed by the responses pro-life advocates (or anti-abortionists) offer to rebut those contentions.
Historical Perspective on the Foundations of Human Rights and the Right to Life (here)
Summary of Contentions Made by Pro-Choice Advocates and the Responses Pro-Life Advocates Make to Rebut Those Contentions (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 1: An abortion performed during early pregnancy does not involve the killing of a human being and/or a being with “personhood” (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 2: Even if a pre-born baby is technically a human being, a pre-born baby is not self-conscious and, therefore, does not have a right to life (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 3: Abortion is about a woman’s choice to decide what to do with her body (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 5: Whether abortion is “right” or “wrong” is a matter of personal opinion (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 6: There are too many people and too many unwanted children in the world to prohibit abortion (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 7: If abortion is outlawed, women will be forced to give birth in cases of rape, incest, when her life is at risk and when the baby has serious mental and physical defects (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 8: Abortion isn’t murder because there is no malicious intent (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 9: Abortion isn’t wrong because It isn’t against the law (here)
Pro-Choice Contention No. 10: You can’t legislate morality (here)
In the infamous Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade (1973), the highest court in America held the right to privacy guaranteed by the United States Constitution encompassed a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy, at least before the baby reaches a certain stage of development.
As the law stood in 2014, no state in the United States may ban an abortion unless the baby is able to sustain life outside the mother’s womb (i.e., the baby is viable). See, Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). A baby is normally considered viable around the 7 month of pregnancy (28 weeks), although babies have been known to survive outside the womb as early as 20 weeks.
As of 2013, well over 55 million abortions had been legally performed in the United States since the Roe v. Wade decision. The enormity of that number is clear when one considers that in 2014 the total number of people living in New York City was ≈ 8.5 million and the entire State of California was ≈ 37.6 million.
In the view of pro-life advocates who oppose the Roe v. Wade decision (many of whom are Christians), abortion is nothing less than the unjustifiable murder of millions of innocent babies. In their view, all human beings (including those still developing in their mother’s womb) have a right to life merely by virtue of their being human.
Historical Perspective on the
Foundations of Human Rights and the Right to Life
(skip to contentions)
As noted by Christian philosopher, William Lane Craig, the fact that human beings have inherent rights simply by virtue of being human is recognized in both the Declaration of Independence and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 114-115(2003)].
The Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. In that document, America’s then existing thirteen colonies declared themselves independent from the rule of Great Britain and King George III on grounds that the British parliament and the king had violated their unalienable rights granted to all men by their Creator:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The above-quoted phrase from the Declaration of Independence is now widely regarded as one of the most important historical statements on the inherent rights of human beings.
[The entire text of the Declaration of Independence can be accessed here]
The United Nations’
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (more)
In 1948, following the atrocities committed by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party during World War II (including the murder of 6 million Jews as well as thousands of people with physical and mental disabilities), the United Nations adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As reflected in the following statements in the preamble of that declaration, the global community recognized that all human beings have certain inalienable rights merely by virtue of their being human:
- “Whereas recognition of the dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human familyis the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world;
- “Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person…,”
[The entire United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be accessed here.]
The above statements reflect a fundamental and universal understanding that human life has intrinsic value, i.e., a value that is “an end in itself”, rather than a means to some other end. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 114 (2003)]
As argued by philosopher William Lane Craig, because human beings aren’t just valuable as a means to an end but are ends in themselves, all human beings have certain inalienable rights simply by virtue of being human. [See William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 122 (2003)]
In the Bible, the inherent value of human beings is directly linked to man having been made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Notably, Genesis 9:6 specifically relates the prohibition against murder to the fact that men were created in the image of God. [Nigel Cameron, The Apologetics Study Bible, “What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?” pgs. 908-909 (2007)]
Because Christians steadfastly believe all human beings (including those in the womb) have intrinsic value and are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, Christians have traditionally maintained a very strong stance against abortion. In their view, abortion is the unjustifiable murder of innocent human beings which not only violates biblical principles (see, e.g., Matt. 15:19 & 19:18; Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, John 8:44, Acts 3:14 and Romans 1:28-29 & 13:9) but also universally recognized principles of human rights.
Although Christians have clearly been on the forefront of the pro-life stance on abortion, many non-religious people oppose abortion on grounds that babies in the womb are living human beings with an inherent right to life deserving of protection under the law.
Contrarily, pro-choice advocates fervently contend that whether a woman continues with a pregnancy is a matter of her personal choice involving decisions about her body, her health and her future. In their view, pro-choice involves issues of individual liberty as well as individual reproductive freedom which, in the context of the abortion, are personal to each woman.
An Abortion Performed During Early Pregnancy Does Not
Involve the Killing of a Human Being and/or a Being with “Personhood”
Many pro-choice advocates contend an abortion performed during early pregnancy does not involve the killing of a human life because, in their view, an embryo/fetus does not become a human being or a “person” until it reaches a certain stage of development. Until it reaches that stage of development, the embryo/fetus is not a human being (or at least isn’t fully human) and, therefore, does not have an inherent right to life.
They also contend that since a fetus is attached to the mother’s body and is dependent on the mother’s body for life, it isn’t viable on its own and, therefore, is not a separate living entity with a right to life.
Those who support pro-choice often note that while many pro-life advocates contend life begins at conception, others do not. In their view, because there are different theories regarding the point at which life begins, laws prohibiting abortion unfairly force one viewpoint on those who hold a different belief.
Some pro-life advocates hold a biblical worldview; others do not.
In general, those who argue from a non-biblical worldview focus on scientific and philosophical arguments for the pro-life position while those who argue from a traditional biblical worldview often rely on Scripture to contend that life begins at conception and that abortion is the killing of innocent human life.
As set forth below, pro-life advocates raise the following points in response to the contention that an abortion performed during early pregnancy does not involve the killing of a human being and or a being with “personhood”:
At the point of conception every individual is genetically complete and it is purely arbitrary to contend life doesn’t begin until the baby reaches a particular stage of human development (skip to>>)
Multiple passages in the Bible demonstrate God considers an unborn baby a human being with personhood (skip to>>)
Any reasonable doubt that remains regarding the point at which life begins should be weighed in favor of life (skip to>>)
Pro-Life Response No. 1: At the Point of Conception Every Individual is Genetically Complete and It is Purely Arbitrary to Contend Life Doesn’t Begin Until the Baby Reaches a Particular Stage of Human Development
Neither a human sperm nor a human egg is genetically complete and, if left alone, neither will develop into anything. The sperm dies and the egg is naturally expelled from the woman’s body. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 116 (2003)]
Contrarily, at the moment of conception (i.e., when a sperm fertilizes an egg), a human being is formed who is 100% genetically complete with everything needed to progress through all the stages of human development.– it is either male or female and all of his/her individual traits (body type, eye color, hair color, facial features, etc.) are already determined. A genetically new individual human being exists who did not previously exist. [See, Dennis M. Sullivan, MD, FACS “The Conception View of Personhood: A Review” (2003)]
If left alone, he/she will continue through progressive stages of human development — the embryo will develop into a fetus, the fetus will develop into a newborn, a newborn will develop into a toddler, a toddler will develop into a child, a child will develop into an adolescent and, eventually, the adolescent will develop into an adult. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 116 (2003)]
From the moment of conception on, there exists a living organism which is a genetically complete human being and which, if left of develop naturally, will grow into an adult member of its species. — William Lane Craig[Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 115 (2003)]
The scientific evidence is so strong on this point that many pro-choice advocates acknowledge an abortion kills a human life:
|“Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life…we need to contextualize the fight to defend abortion rights within a moral framework that admits that death of a fetus is a real death.” [Naomi Wolf (prominent pro-choice feminist), The New Republic, “Our Bodies, Our Souls” pg. 26 (Oct. 16, 1995)]|
Likewise, Bernard Nathanson, M.D. (co-founder of the pro-choice advocacy group NARAL) stated the following:
There is simply no doubt that even the early embryo is a human being. All its genetic coding and all its features are indisputably human. As to being, there is no doubt that it exists, is alive, is self-directed, and is not the same being as the mother — and is therefore a unified whole.
[Bernard N. Nathanson, The Hand of God pg. 131 (Regnery Publishing, 1996)]
The truth is that all human beings can be described as a “mass of cells”. With the advancement of science it is now understood that what makes a human being a human being is not his/her size or the way he/she looks, but his/her DNAwhich is human in nature and exists from the point of conception.
The terms embryo and fetus do not refer to non-humans, but to human beings who have only reached a particular stage of development. If something is non-human, it does not become human by getting older, bigger or more intelligent. The fact that a human embryo or fetus hasn’t yet reached a later point of development doesn’t mean it isn’t a human being any more than it can be said that because an infant hasn’t developed into a child, he/she is not a human being or because a child hasn’t developed into an adult he/she isn’t a human being. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 116-117 (2003)]
Whatever is human is human from the very beginning. Indeed, a geneticist cannot distinguish between the DNA of a developing embryo and that of a full-grown human being. There are several different stages of human development and it is completely arbitrary to propose life doesn’t begin until a certain stage of development has been reached. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 116-117 (2003)]
The contention that human life or “personhood” only begins at the point of viability is just one example of the drawing of an arbitrary line. This is evidenced by the fact that the point of viability has changed and will probably continue to change as advancements in technology permit babies to be kept alive at earlier stages of development:
|“[T]he decisive moment of viability is a “moving target”. In 1973, the presumed limit on viability was 28 weeks, with an occasional infant surviving birth at 24 weeks gestation. Now such survivals are much more routine and some can live outside the womb as early as 20 weeks.” [Dennis M. Sullivan, MD, FACS “The Conception View of Personhood: A Review” (2003)]|
If life or “personhood” begins at the point of viability and technology advances to the point that unborn babies are viable from the point of conception, would that advancement in technology make the embryo a human being or a person? Would pro-choice advocates then be willing to say the mother no longer has the right to choose to abort the baby?
The complete arbitrariness of drawing such lines is further demonstrated by suggestions that lines be drawn between lives worthy of protection and lives not worthy of protection:
Dr. Francis Crick (Nobel Prize recipient for co-discovering the structure of the DNA molecule), suggested the line be drawn when a baby is two days old — “if a child were considered to be legally born when two days old, it could be examined to see whether it was an ‘acceptable member of human society.’” [Francis Crick, Nature, “Abortion Issues”, 220 Nature 429-30, 1968]
- Bioethicist, Joseph Fletcher, suggested the line be drawn based on intelligence: “Humans without some minimum of intelligence or mental capacity are not persons, no matter how many of these organs are active, no matter how spontaneous their living processes are.” [Joseph Fletcher, The Ethics of Genetic Control (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1974)] Fletcher proposed an individual with an IQ under 40 is questionably human; anyone with an IQ less than 20 is definitely non-human. [See, Joseph Fletcher. “Indicators of Humanhood: A Tentative Profile of Man.” Hastings Center Report, Vol. 2, N. 5, Nov., 1972]
As contended by many pro-life advocates, all of these lines are arbitrarily drawn based on one’s personal preferences.
That life begins at the time of conception is based on undisputed scientific evidence that from the point the sperm enters the egg, a new individual exists who is 100% genetically complete having everything needed to progress through all the stages of human development.
- The Bible refers to unborn babies as persons (not things) who are known by God. In several instances, the Bible indicates babies are called by God for a particular purpose before they are born.
“For you [God] formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,”
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb
I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;…”
“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby [John the Baptist] leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
After Joseph learned Mary was pregnant, he began contemplating calling off their marriage engagement because he knew he had not slept with Mary and, therefore, the baby was not his. However, an angel appeared to Joseph saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
“Listen to me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar, the LORD called me from the womb; from the body of my mother He named me.”
- In the Old Testament if a Baby in His/Her Mother’s Womb was Killed by Another, the Punishment was to be a “Life for a Life“:
Exodus 21:22-23 states:
“When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that she has a miscarriage but no other injury occurs, then the guilty party will be fined what the woman’s husband demands, as negotiated with the judges. If there is further injury, then you will give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a bruise for a bruise, a wound for a wound.
Based on the above biblical passages as well as others, Christians have traditionally maintained that life begins at conception and abortion at any stage of pregnancy is the taking of innocent life in violation of God’s laws prohibiting murder of innocent human beings.
Pro-Life Response No. 3: Just Because there is No Consensus on the Issue of When Life Begins Doesn’t Mean there Isn’t a Morally Right Answer Worth Contending For
There used to be competing views regarding slavery — abolitionists argued against slavery and slave-owners argued in favor of slavery. The fact that there were different opinions about slavery doesn’t mean the right thing to do was to withdraw from the debate and refuse to contend for the view that slavery was morally wrong.
Interestingly, many of the same arguments made by pro-choice advocates today seem eerily similar to arguments made by those who were in favor of slavery in America. Consider some of the arguments made in favor of slavery:
Slaves were not “persons” with individual rights recognized by the U.S. Constitution , but “property” belonging to their owners;
African Americans were biologically inferior to their white slave owners (NOTE: Supposed scientific findings were used to support this allegation);
Ending slavery would have a negative impact on the U.S. economy;
Freeing slaves would result in widespread unemployment and chaos;
Slavery had existed throughout history and was the natural state of mankind.
[See, USHistory.org, “The Southern Argument for Slavery” here]
The institutions of slavery fell because the allegations of pro-slavery advocates didn’t hold up under scrutiny. As more people were made aware of the issues and studied the scientific and moral arguments on both sides, the correct argument — the argument against slavery — prevailed.A Medallion of an Anti-Slave Society in 1795 (more)
As was the case with slavery, even though there is no consensus on the issue of when life begins, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a morally right answer worth contending for.
Given the fact that the life of a human being is at risk, to the extent there is any doubt regarding the point at which life begins, the benefit of the doubt should be weighed in favor of life, not against it.
The criminal justice system recognizes that despite all the evidence that may be presented in a case, some doubt as to what the truth is in a particular situation may remain. Because the defendant’s life or freedom is at risk, the American justice system requires any reasonable doubt be weighed in favor of the defendant.
Similarly, many pro-life advocates maintain that because the life of a human being is at risk in an abortion, any reasonable doubt that exists regarding the point at which life begins should be weighed in favor of life, not against it.
Even if a Pre-Born Baby is Technically a
Human Being, a Pre-Born Baby is Not Self-Conscious
and, Therefore, Does Not Have a Right to Life
As discussed above, many pro-choice advocates to prefer to argue a pre-born baby (an embryo or a fetus) has not yet developed into a human being (or at least a fully human being) and, consequently, has no right to life (see Pro-Choice Argument No. 1).
Others take the position that even if a pre-born baby is a human being, pre-born babies do not have an inherent right to life because they are not “persons” with a “self-conscious.” This pro-choice argument attempts to make a distinction between “personhood” and “human life.” In this view, although human life may occur at conception, fertilization of the egg does not make human life a “person” worthy of protection under the law.
As set forth below pro-life advocates raise the following points in response to the above contentions:
- Even after babies are born they aren’t self-conscious (skip to>>)
- Self-consciousness isn’t necessary to be a person, it is only to function as a person (skip to>>)
- The designation that a pre-born baby doesn’t have a right to life because he/she is not yet self-conscious is purely arbitrary (skip to>>)
Even assuming an embryo/fetus in a mother’s womb isn’t self-conscious, if left alone, the embryo/fetus will naturally become self-conscious and there is no good reason why anyone (including the mother) has a right to prevent this potentiality from occurring. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 120 (2003)]
Even though embryos and fetuses aren’t self-conscious, even newborns aren’t self-conscious. Does that mean newborn babies aren’t entitled to have their lives protected until they demonstrate signs of being self-conscious? [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 121 (2003)]
Pro-choice advocates who argue the lives of pre-born babies aren’t worthy of protection because the babies aren’t self-conscious fail to appreciate the difference between being a person and functioning as a person.
If self-consciousness is necessary to be a person, then someone who is asleep or in a coma isn’t a person either. Although a person who is in a coma or asleep may not be functioning as a person, they are still a person with the potential to function as a person in the same way a pre-born baby has the potential to function as a person. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 120-121 (2003)]
Any attempt to carve out pre-born human beings in the womb as a group of humans whose lives are undeserving of protection is a purely arbitrary distinction seemingly only arising from a personal bias in favor of abortion.
The arbitrary dehumanization of a certain group of people to attempt to justify the abuse and murder of those individuals is the same tactic used by slave owners in America and Nazis in Germany to justify their abuse, mistreatment and killing of innocent human beings.
In the pro-life view, all human life has intrinsic value and, therefore, all human life (including pre-born life) is entitled to protection under the law.
Abortion is About a Woman’s Choice to Decide what to do With Her Body
Many pro-choice advocates adamantly maintain abortion only concerns what a woman chooses to do with herbody; therefore, it is a personal choice she has to make and isn’t anyone else’s business.
As argued by many, if the government is allowed to force a woman to proceed with a pregnancy and give birth to a baby she doesn’t want, that would set precedent for the government to force people to do other things they may want/not want to do such as using/not using contraceptives, being/not being sterilized, etc.
Pro-choice advocate, Judith Jarvis Thomson acknowledges “the fetus has already become a human person well before birth”, but argues that just as a woman cannot be forced to allow her body to be used as a dialysis machine to keep another person alive, a mother cannot be forced to use her body to keep an embryo/fetus alive inside her body. [See, Judith Jarvis Thomson, Philosophy & Public Affairs, “A Defense of Abortion” Vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1971)].
In the pro-choice view, no woman should be forced to donate her body to be a life support system for an unborn child she does not want. Under no circumstances should the government be allowed to force a woman to endure the inconvenience and potential embarrassment of a nine (9) month pregnancy or to endure the emotional pain of having to give a baby she does not want up for adoption.
The responses pro-life advocates offer in response to the above contentions include the following:
Abortion involves two bodies (the body of the mother and the body of the baby) (skip to>>)
- The right to use one’s own body as one sees fit has never been without limits (skip to>>)
- A mother owes a duty to provide her baby with the necessities of life (skip to>>)
- Many people are dependent on others for their survival just like fetuses are dependent on their mothers for survival (skip to>>)
- It is the government’s job to protect those who can’t protect themselves (skip to>>)
- Abortion is not genuinely a gender issue (skip to>>)
- Pro-choice advocates often exhibit hypocrisy in their pro-choice positions (skip to>>)
- Adoption is a reasonable alternative to taking the life of an innocent baby (skip to>>)
Two distinct bodies are involved in an abortion – the body of the mother and the body of the baby. Unlike a gall bladder or leg which is a part of the mother’s body, a fetus “is a biologically distinct and complete living being which, in effect, is ‘hooked up’ to the mother as a life-support system.” [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 118-119 (2003)]
The baby has different DNA than the mother because they are two different people. The baby has his/her own internal organs and has separate brain waves from the mother. A baby in its mother’s womb is a separate human being from his/her mother. The baby’s nature is human and its life is separate from that of his/her mother.
Unlike a baby in a mother’s womb, no internal organ or exterior body part of the mother’s body is a human being nor does it have the potential of becoming a human being. No internal organ or exterior body part of the mother has a human nature or is the totality of what makes someone a human being.
A baby in its mother’s womb isn’t part of the mother any more than an adult who is dependent on life support equipment is part of the equipment. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pgs. 118-119 (2003)] The baby has a separate body living within the mother’s body. In fact, in cases where a pregnant mother has been killed or died, if the baby can be timely delivered and provided necessary artificial life support, the baby can go on to live a normal life after the mother has died.
If the baby does not have a separate body but is only part of the mother’s body, does that mean pregnant women have four arms, four legs, two heads, and four eyes? Of course not. The baby is only part of the mother in the sense that it is living and growing inside the mother and her body is providing the baby with necessary life support.
Although requiring a mother to continue with a pregnancy would prevent the mother of her right to choose, a mother’s decision to abort her baby robs the baby of it’s entire life, including a lifetime of choices and prevents him/her from ever exercising any of his/her rights.
Although, in general, people have a right to use/not use their bodies as they see fit, such uses have never been without legal limits.
Many laws prohibit people from using their bodies in a way that will cause harm to themselves (e.g., laws against suicide, laws against using certain drugs, etc). Other laws prohibit people from using their bodies in a way that is likely to injure or kill someone else (e.g., laws against drunk driving, laws against homicide, etc.).
After a baby is born, mothers who refuse to use their bodies to provide necessary care and nourishment to their babies can be criminally prosecuted for child endangerment and even murder if the baby dies.
Although people often talk about their “rights”, rights have always come with obligations to exercise one’s rights in a responsible manner. For example, the Supreme Court has long held that the right to free speech doesn’t mean someone can use speech to incite “imminent lawless action.” See, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). If one chooses to use the right of free speech in that kind of irresponsible manner, they are subject to legal liability.
Similarly, the idea of using one’s body as one sees fit is not without limits and is not a reasonable basis for taking the life of a genetically complete unborn human being. There simply is no comparison between a baby’s right to life and the right of a mother to live a certain lifestyle. The temporary inconvenience a woman would face if required to continue through an unwanted pregnancy can never outweigh the baby’s right to continue his/her life.
Many civil law systems recognize a duty for one person to reasonably come to the aide of another person who is in danger. Even criminal liability can be imposed for failing to come to the aide of another. For example, the photographers who arrived at the scene of Lady Diana’s 1997 fatal car accident in France were investigated for violating a French law which prohibits persons from deliberately failing to provide assistance to a person in danger.
Although in the United States a person generally does not owe a duty to come to the aid of another, there is a very notable exception to this general rule which is when there is a pre-existing “special relationship” (such as the parent-child relationship) between the two parties. Although a stranger has no legal duty to provide a starving baby with food and clothes, parents of the child do have such a duty and if parents fail to perform that duty, they can be held civilly and criminally liable for neglect.
Given the pre-existing special relationship between an unborn baby and his/her mother, the mother has a duty to provide the unborn baby with necessities of life just like the duty she owes to her child after the child is born.
Being dependent on someone else for survival doesn’t deprive a human being of his/her right to life. For example, newborn babies, severely disabled people and elderly people who are dependent on others for necessities of life do not forfeit their right to life merely because they are dependent on others to provide them with necessities of life.
With respect to the argument that the decision of whether or not to carry a baby through a nine month pregnancy is a choice of the mother and isn’t anyone else’s business, pro-life advocates point out that it has always been the responsibility of government and law enforcement to protect people who cannot protect themselves.
For that very reason, governments often institute specific laws to protect those who have been determined to be especially susceptible to abuse and/or neglect (e.g., child abuse/neglect laws, elder abuse/neglect laws, racial anti-discrimination laws, etc.)
Although many pro-choice advocates argue abortion is an issue about a woman’s right to choose, the issue of abortion is not truly an issue about gender. If an unborn baby is a human being, then the question is whether anyone, male or female (including the mother), has the right to take the life of that innocent human being. [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 124 (2003)]
Many pro-life advocates point out that pro-choice advocates hypocritically fail to support pro-choice issues on topics other than abortion:
- Pro-choice advocates who steadfastly maintain it is a “women’s right to choose” whether to continue a pregnancy inconsistently fail to recognize pro-choice in other areas where no one’s life is at stake, e.g., free choice with respect to school vouchers, sex education, etc. If free choice is such an inherent right, why don’t pro-choice advocates support pro-choice in other forums?
- In the following illustration, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias points out that many of the same people who advocate the pro-choice position on abortion often inconsistently call God’s moral character into question when he exercises his sovereign right to allow some people to live and others to die:
|Where a catastrophe occurs in which some people die and others live, many pro-choice skeptics call God’s moral character into question by saying God wrongfully chose to let some die. At the same time they insist pregnant women have a right to choose whether the child they are carrying should live or die. So, when God (the Creator of life) decides who should live or die, he is somehow immoral, but when a woman chooses whether her baby should live or die, she is exercising an inherent right of free choice. [See, Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason, pg. 60 (2008)]|
Although it may be painful for a mother who does not want her baby to give the baby up for adoption, there is no comparison between that emotional pain and requiring the baby to give up his/her innocent life.
Some who support the pro-choice position argue that because it is the mother’s body that is producing the embryo/fetus in her womb, the embryo/fetus is her property; therefore, she has a right to decide what to do with that property.
Pro-Life Advocates rebut the above contention as follows:
Pro-Life Response No. 1: Human Beings are Not Property that Can be Owned by Another Human Beings
Neither a mother nor a father creates the genetic material they pass on to their offspring through sexual intercourse and neither of them have a legitimate claim to the embryo/fetus as piece of “property.”
As a result of sexual intercourse, the father’s genetic material is passed on via sperm and the woman’s genetic material is passed on via the egg. The moment a sperm and an egg come together, a human being exists which is 100% genetically complete having everything needed to progress through all the stages of human development.– it is either male or female and all of his/her individual traits (body type, eye color, hair color, facial features, etc.) are already determined. [Dennis M. Sullivan, MD, FACS “The Conception View of Personhood: A Review” (2003)]
Biological parents do not “create” the genetic material that they pass on to their offspring. They received it from their parents and they simply provide the physical means by which the genetic material in the sperm and the egg are allowed to come together to form another human being.
Human beings at any stage of development (pre-born or post-born) are “persons”, not “property” that can be owned.
Although parents are entrusted with the care of their children, they do not own their children, even when their children are 100% dependent on them for all the basic necessities of life.
A human being inside the womb is a person which cannot be owned any more than a human being outside the womb can be owned.
Abortion is A Matter of Personal Opinion
Many pro-choice advocates contend that how one comes down on the issue of abortion is merely a matter of personal opinion; therefore, each individual is entitled to make up his/her own mind whether abortion is right or wrong for them.
Those who advocate for the pro-life position raise the following responses to the above contentions:
The taking of innocent life has never been a matter of personal choice (skip to>>)
- Comparing the issue of abortion with past ethical failures demonstrates the danger in categorizing abortion as a matter of personal opinion (skip to>>)
The taking of innocent life has never been a matter of personal opinion.
If an unborn baby is a human being, why does anyone (including the mother) have the legal or moral right to take the innocent life of that human being?
Under our present laws, anyone who unlawfully takes the life of an innocent human being is subject to criminal prosecution for homicide.
Applying the pro-choice position that abortion is a matter of personal opinion to other ethical issues men have faced in history demonstrates the bankruptcy of that position:
- Was Hitler’s decision to slaughter 6 million Jews and thousands of physically and mentally disabled people a matter of his personal opinion?
- What if Abraham Lincoln took the position that slavery was a matter of personal choice?
- Is discrimination based on race or the sex of a person a matter of personal preference?
There are Too Many People and Too Many
Unwanted Children in the World to Prohibit Abortion
Some pro-choice advocates point to over-population in the world and/or the number of unwanted children in the world as reasonable justification for the legalization if abortion.
Others contended that forcing mothers to give birth to children they don’t want will only cause those children to be neglected and abused putting a greater strain on already overburdened child welfare workers.
The following pro-life responses are raised in rebuttal to the above contentions:
Population growth problems and the number of unwanted children in the world doesn’t justify the extermination of innocent human beings (skip to>>)
- There are a lot of “unwanted” people in the world and the state doesn’t permit those people to be killed (skip to>>)
- Abortion doesn’t prevent child abuse; it is child abuse (skip to>>)
Even if it is assumed there are too many people and/or unwanted children in the world, how does that fact justify killing off the lives of innocent human beings?
If the number of people in the world is the real issue, why choose to exterminate healthy young people instead of the old and the sick? When Hitler attempted to build a superior race by exterminating those he determined were weak and a drain on German society, he was called a madman.
Isn’t the morally appropriate response to issues regarding population growth and unwanted children issues better education and birth control methods, rather than extermination? [See, William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers, pg. 125 (2003)]
There are a lot of unwanted people in the world — those who are mentally or physically disabled, the elderly, those with troubled upbringings and criminal pasts, etc. Should they be exterminated because they are unwanted? Who gets to define the circumstances under which they are sufficiently unwanted to justify their extermination?
Should people who are “too sick”, “too disabled” or “too old” to be “productive members of society” be exterminated? If so, who decides which people are “too sick”, “too disabled” or “too old” to be productive? For that matter, who decides the definition of what a “productive member of society” is?
There are some very sick and/or disabled people who have made tremendous contributions, not only to their friends and family, but to society at large:
|Stephen Hawking||Joni Eareckson Tada||Nick Vuijcic|
Stephen Hawking suffers from a severely disabling disease (Motor Neuron Disease) which has left his body totally disabled, yet, he continues to contribute much to society in the fields of mathematics and science, including the development of space-time theorems of general relativity.
At the age of 17, Joni Eareckson Tada severed her spinal cord in a diving accident which left her a quadriplegic. Since then, Joni has become an accomplished artist (painting by holding a brush in her teeth — see her artwork here) Joni’s other accomplishments include: Writing several award winning books; producing music CDs; founding Joni and Friends(www.joniandfriends.org), a world-wide ministry which collects, repairs and redistributes used wheelchairs, crutches, canes and walkers to needy people throughout the world. She also served on the National Council on Disability which was instrumental in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act adopted (more>>)
Nick Vuijcic (www.lifewithoutlimbs.org) was born without any arms or legs and only one foot, yet he travels the world speaking to auditoriums and stadiums filled with people clamoring to hear his message of hope, meaning and purpose (more>>). Nick is married, has a young son and enjoys swimming, surfing, playing soccer, fishing and many other activities.
Wouldn’t society benefit from having more people like this rather than fewer or none?
Even wanted children are neglected and abused by their parents. The answer to neglect and abuse of innocent children isn’t to kill them, but to protect them from their abusers.
It makes no sense to argue abortion should be permitted because it protects against abuse when abortion is the ultimate form of child abuse — abortion is the killing of an innocent child.
If Abortion is Outlawed, Women Will be Forced
to Give Birth in Cases of Rape, Incest, when Her Life
is at Risk and when the Baby has Serious Defects
Forcing a woman who is a victim of rape or incest to proceed through a pregnancy she does not want would only cause further unnecessary harm to someone who has already suffered enough.
Likewise, requiring a mother to give up her life to give birth to and care for a baby she doesn’t want or a baby who has physical or mental disabilities is callous and uncaring.
Finally, there is no good reason a mother should be forced to give up her life for an unborn child who will then be left motherless.
Pro-life advocates rebut the above contentions by raising the following points:
In cases of rape and incest, the baby is as innocent as the mother (skip to>>)
- Only 2% of all abortions involve rape, incest or situations where the mother’s life is at risk (skip to>>)
- Limitations in mental or physical function have nothing to do with one’s beingness (skip to>>)
- Ethical issues faced in extreme circumstances don’t legitimize abortion across the board (skip to>>)
Because acts of rape and incest are so morally outrageous, it is certainly understandable why people (even some in the pro-life camp) want to make an exception in such cases.
However, there is no getting around that fact that the baby is as innocent as the mother. As truly grievous as it may be for the mother, aborting the baby still constitutes the taking of innocent human life. [See, R.C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question, pgs. 455-456 (1996)]
Even if there is sincere disagreement regarding abortion in the case of rape, incest and where the life of the mother is at risk, all of these combined only account for about 2% of all abortions.
If life begins when the baby is a genetically complete human being (i.e., at conception), then the abortion of a mentally or physically challenged unborn baby isn’t any different than killing a mentally or physically challenged person after he/she is born.
The real issue is whether there is a morally justifiable right to kill innocent human life after life begins. If the taking of innocent human life after it begins is homicide, then there is no good reason why it isn’t homicide when the killing is done before the baby is born. [See, R.C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question, pg. 454 (1996)]
What about human beings who become severely physically disabled years after they are born, like Stephen Hawking and Joni Eareckson Tada? Does their acquired dependence on others for survival make them inhuman justifying the taking of their lives?
As argued by many pro-life advocates, humanness is an innate state of beingness which has nothing to do with one’s ability to function physically or mentally; therefore, there is no morally justifiable reason to take their lives due to physical or mental disabilities.
Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias (www.rzim.org), makes the point that “the struggle of a decision in the face of extreme possibilities does not legitimize decisions made across the board.” Accordingly, in the context of abortion, the struggle of having to make a decision in challenging circumstances (such as when the mother’s life is at risk) doesn’t legitimize the use of abortion across the board. Zacharias provides the following example:
|A man may be faced with the extreme and difficult decision to either hit a home intruder over the head with a bat or let the intruder rape his wife. If the man decides to hit the intruder over the head to protect his wife, that would not legitimize him going around the neighborhood hitting other men over the head to lessen the possibility of any other men trying to rape his wife again. Similarly, it would not be legitimate to kill off half the population of the world under the guise of reducing the total amount of suffering throughout the world. Likewise, the ethical issues faced when having to choose between saving the life of a mother or her baby cannot be used as a logical basis for legitimizing abortion across the board. [See, Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason, pg. 106 (2008)]|
Although good people may differ in their opinions on the issue of abortion in certain cases like rape, incest and cases where the mother’s life is at risk, it must be recognized that such disagreement is a much different issue than that involved in abortion on demand.
In the Christian worldview, God is a righteous judge who knows the heart and mind of every person and, therefore, God can be and will be the ultimate righteous judge.
Abortion Isn‘t Murder because there is No Malicious Intent
Many pro-choice advocates suggest abortion cannot be murder because mothers who abort their babies have no malicious intent toward the baby, they just choose to end their pregnancy. Some mothers may even choose abortion for benevolent reasons, e.g., to keep the baby from suffering harm from a physical or mental disability.
Pro-life supporters rebut the above contention as follows:
Pro-Life Response No. 1: Under the Law, Malice Does Not require Hatred Toward the Victim
“Malice” in the criminal law is much broader than some people may realize and includes a reckless disregard for the value of human life.
For example, juries in California are instructed to find a defendant guilty of murder if the State proves:
- The defendant committed an act that caused the death of another;
- When the defendant acted, he/she had a state of mind called malice aforethought (see below);
- He/She killed without lawful excuse justification.
Malice aforethought does not require hatred or ill will toward the victim.
There are two kinds of malice aforethought, express malice and implied malice. Proof of either is sufficient to establish the state of mind required for murder.
Express malice is when the defendant unlawfully intended to kill.
Implied malice is when the defendant:
- Intentionally committed an act,
- The natural and probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life,
- At the time he/she acted, he/she knew his/her act was dangerous to human life, and
- He/She deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life.
Accordingly, even If it is assumed that mothers who abort their babies (and the healthcare practitioners who perform the abortions) act without hatred or ill will toward the unborn baby, the lack of malicious intent does not remove criminal liability under the law.
Numerous people in history have been charged with criminal homicide and convicted for the unintentional killing of another human being. For example, drunk drivers are regularly prosecuted for homicide even though there is no question that they had no malicious intent toward their victims.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that for over a half a century before Roe v. Wade, criminal prosecutions in cases of abortion treated women as a second “victim” in the crime. The criminal targets were the abortionists who financially profited from performing abortions. Indeed, since 1922, there is no documented case of any woman being charged with having an abortion in the United States.
Abortion Isn‘t Wrong Because It Isn’t Against the Law
The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade greatly limited the restrictions the states could place on abortions.
As the law stood in 2014, no state could ban an abortion unless the baby is able to sustain life outside of the mother’s womb (i.e., the baby is viable) which is about the 7 month of pregnancy (28 weeks), although babies have been known to survive outside the womb as early as about 20 – 22 weeks.
Some pro-choice advocates take the position that abortion, at least before the point of viability is not wrong because it is legal under the law.
The following response is provided by those holding a pro-life view:
Pro-Life Response No. 1: The Fact that Something is Legal Doesn’t Mean an Act is Morally Right
Many things have been “legal” that were not morally right.
Nazi Germany’s Action T4 program, which authorized the forced euthanasia of the “incurably sick” (including those with severe physical and/or mental disabilities, patients in psychiatric facilities and elderly people in nursing homes) was “legal”, but that didn’t make the murder of those individuals morally right.
Slavery was legal in the Unities States for many years, but the legality of slavery didn’t make it morally right.
Lying to friends and family and committing adultery are not against the law in the United States, but that doesn’t mean those things are morally right.
Likewise, the fact that abortion is legal in the United States (at least prior to the point of viability) does not make it morallyright.
In the Christian worldview, God is the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong.
Although human beings can be righteous and just, no human being is perfectly just and righteous because our moral judgment can be clouded by personal biases, motives and desires. Contrarily, God’s very nature is to be just (Psalm 89:14) and because God is omniscient (He knows everything) more>>, including the heart of every man (Jeremiah 17:9-10, 1 Samuel 16:7, Psalm 44:21), God can uniquely be a perfectly just judge of every situation, including abortion.
You Can’t Legislate Morality
Pro-Choice advocates often argue that legislation shouldn’t be enacted against abortions because it is a moral issue and “you can’t legislate morality.”
The following rebuttal is made by those holding a pro-life view:
Pro-Life Response No. 1: The Purpose of Legislation is to Deter Behavior, which Laws Successfully Do all the Time
Taken to its logical end, the claim that “you can’t legislate morality” would mean a whole host of laws should not have been passed (e.g., laws prohibiting drunk driving, discrimination, theft, domestic abuse, murder, etc.)
However, even though morality can’t be legislated in the sense of forcing people to change their hearts or opinions on a particular issue, changing hearts and opinions isn’t the purpose of the law. The purpose of the law is to discourage certain behavior regardless of the feelings or opinions of those engaging in the behavior.
In the context of abortion, the purpose of passing laws prohibiting abortion isn’t to convince people abortion is morallywrong, but to save innocent human lives by deterring the conduct.
Passing laws prohibiting abortion will deter a great number of people from taking an innocent life the same way laws deter people from driving under the influence, committing theft, discriminating on the basis of race or sex, etc.
It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important. — Marin Luther King, Jr. [Wall Street Journal, Nov 13, 1962, Notable & Quotable, pg. 18]
As set forth above, pro-choice advocates offer a number of arguments in support of the view that a woman decision to have an abortion is a matter of her personal choice which involves decisions about her body, her health and her future. In their view, pre-born babies are not entitled to a right to life until they reach a certain stage of development; rather, the issue narrows down to the mother’s right of individual liberty and individual reproductive freedom.
Pro-life advocates rebut the contentions made by pro-choice advocates and arduously maintain the killing of innocent life (no matter at what stage of human development) is not a matter of personal choice, but an unlawful taking of human life depriving its victims of the fundamental right to life.
Although the issue of abortion will likely remain a passionate debate for years to come, there is always hope that the most reasonable minds will eventually prevail as occurred in the debate over slavery.
© 2014 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: February 11, 2015
Nigel Cameron, The Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe, “What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?” pgs. 908-909 (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)]
Dennis M. Sullivan, “The Conception View of Personhood: A Review” (2003); available here
Slideshow Photo: Photo provided to wikimedia.org by the University of Toronto Students for Life. According to wikimedia.org the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Declaration of Independence: The original painting has been hung in the US Capitol rotunda. This photograph was downloaded from www.wikimedia .org which states the image is a faithful photographic reproduction of the original two-dimensional painting that is in the public domain in the United States and countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. It further states the photographic image is a work of an employee of U.S. government taken during the course of the person’s official duties and, as such, the photograph is also in the public domain.
Eleanor Roosevelt Holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: This photograph shows Eleanor Roosevelt (the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt) holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is in the public domain because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the U.S. Government as part of that person’s duties.
Photo of sperm fertilizing an egg: This photo was downloaded on 1/11/2013 from www.wikimedia.org which states the image was in the public domain because the source (www.pdimages.com) stated the image was free to use (see, www.pdimages.com/web9.htm). The source further stated that “[i]n case this is not legally possible, www.pdimages.com/web9.htm stated it granted the right to use this work is granted to anyone for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.
Medallion of an Anti-Slave Society in 1795: This medallion of an anti-slavery society in 1795 was produced as a jasper-ware cameo at the Wedgewood pottery factory in Britain. The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states it is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional work of art which is in the public domain in the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.