Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

The Abortion Issue: A Reasoned Pro-Life Approach

W. E. Messamore

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It seems generally true about the Western world today that the amount of reason and common sense applied to an issue is inversely proportional to how important that issue is, such that we treat the immediate and mundane demands of the moment with good sense and practicality, but when we start to address broader, more important, and more fundamental issues in politics and religion, we tend to immediately abandon reason and embrace sophistry.

The issue of abortion is a perfect example of this principle at work, and I hope in the following text to correct several areas of blatant illogic and to do so unemotionally, in a tasteful manner, and without reference to Scripture to support my assertions. Here, plain reason and the evidence of science make the issue clear enough. My only demand of the reader is that you would also suspend your emotional predispositions and genuinely read and reflect on the validity of the propositions I make.

My primary argument takes the following syllogistic form:

IF: 1. Every human being has the right to live, which should be protected by law,
AND: 2. From the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings,
THEN: 3. The unborn have the right to live, which should be protected by law.

If one accepts the first two premises, then the Pro-Life position stated in the conclusion is inescapable. Surely, few people will have any qualms about the first premise. Human beings have the right to live and if the law exists to protect anything at all, it exists to protect human beings from violent aggression that ends their lives. But while the first premise is not likely to encounter much opposition, the second one is an issue that has become the target of a number of evasions and obfuscations, and as a whole, the Pro-Life movement has failed to adequately and clearly address this issue and to do so without referring to Scripture and thereby immediately ending helpful dialogue with those who disbelieve in special revelation.

However this is the central issue of the debate. All of the other side issues (which, regardless, I will address later) are ultimately irrelevant. If conception does not create a separate human being, then what a woman does with the byproduct of conception is truly her own business. But if conception does create a human being, and all human beings have a right to live, which should be protected by law, then the debate is over: the government should protect the lives of the unborn by prohibiting abortion. The crux of the issue is the ontological status of the living matter created by the act of conception. What is it?

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, life is, “a material complex or individual characterized by the capacity to perform certain functional activities, including metabolism, growth, reproduction, and some form of responsiveness and adaptation.” After conception, human embryos exhibit all of these features. A fertilized human embryo carries out the processes of metabolism, it grows and develops, it responds to stimuli and maintains homeostasis, and it contains the genetic potential for reproduction (while it is not capable of reproducing at such an early stage in its development, neither is a four year old boy; the important issue is that it has reproductive potential, or to be even more thorough, that it belongs to a genus which can reproduce itself as a whole, as not all particular living organisms are fertile).

Someone might counter that the embryo does not "do all of these things by itself." Actually, a fertilized embryo does carry out metabolism by itself. When people make this objection, they mean that the fetus only processes energy that it acquires from its mother who actively acquires it herself. Yet there are many other organisms which are considered separate, living beings that also live inside the mother (in her skin, digestive tract, and elsewhere) and acquire their energy from her. All organisms acquire their energy from their environment. And for some organisms, their environment is another organism. Such is the temporary state of the unborn human being until it reaches a transition into the next stage of its life cycle, infancy.

Also: the embryo is getting no "help" in absorbing and processing the energy. It doesn't simply remain passive while energy is actively pushed through it from an external source. By its own power, it actively works to obtain energy from its environment and process it to grow and develop, which it also does by itself. The mother's womb is not a factory, actively assembling a new organism from passive parts. It is a nourishing environment in which the new organism actively replicates and specializes its cells to grow and develop. The embryo's reproductive potential is also independant from the mother. It exists as a series of codes in the embryo's genes and is therefore not something the embryo "does," but something the embryo has. So the objection that fetuses can't do all that "life stuff" by themselves categorically does not apply to this characteristic. Lastly, the fertilized embryo does react to stimuli as an independant and fully-functioning organism without being "helped" to do so by the mother.

So clearly it is alive by an objective and scientific definition of what life is. What kind of life is it?

It is human life. It is not plant life. It is not a chicken embryo. It is a human embryo. A fertilized human embryo has its own unique genetic human signature that is different than that of either of its parents. This shows that it is clearly not additional tissue mass belonging to the mother. The genetic material in each cell of the developing embryo has a unique identity separate from the mother's. Additionally, developing male fetuses have penises, so asserting that they are simply unviable tissue mass belonging to the woman carrying them is problematic, as this would mean that the woman in question has a penis.

As well as being separate and unique, a fertilized embryo is ontologically no different than a human toddler, adolescent, or adult. Nothing is added to or taken from the embryo except food and waste products (which is no different than for any human being). At no point does the embryo undergo any fundamental change after conception; it simply grows and develops just like a toddler grows and develops, or a thirteen year old girl. Thus, it is an error to claim, "It's not a human, it's a fetus." That would be like saying, "It's not a human, it's an infant," or, "It's not a human, it's an adolescent." The proper answer to these assertions would be, "Sure it's a fetus, sure it's an infant, and sure it's an adolescent. It's a human fetus, a human infant, and a human adolescent." These are simply stages of development in the human life cycle.

A human starts as an embryo, becomes a fetus, is born an infant, develops into a child, grows into an adolescent, and finally matures into adulthood and dies. Scientifically and philosophically, there is no good reason to believe a human being is created at birth, because nothing is created at birth. At birth, a fetus simply changes location and changes its mode of acquiring food and dispensing waste, but at no point does it become something entirely new or different. Life begins at conception and proceeds through its stages until death. From the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings.

Having demonstrated that premise 2 of the syllogism is objectively and scientifically true, anyone who also accepts the first one is compelled to accept the conclusion, that the unborn have the right to live, which should be protected by law. Yet supporters of legalized abortion shy from this issue and generally refuse to directly confront arguments about the ontological status of the unborn. They prefer instead to argue that they don't believe in forcing their values on others, and that people should be free to choose. Rather than address the most relevant issue of when a human being comes into existence and whether or not the unborn are human beings, their evasion of this matter is so fundamentally at the root of their stand that they have named themselves after it. They call themselves "Pro-Choice."

This is an evasion of the issue. If the unborn child is in fact a living human being, as I have shown above, then no one has the right to choose to kill her any more than they have the right to choose to kill a 14 year old girl, and you are not forcing your morality on others any more than you are when you support laws that prevent people from murdering 14 year old girls. Furthermore, in most cases, this claim is simply untrue, because the person making it will generally have no qualms about forcing their value of charity on others by supporting taxpayer-funded, welfare programs, in which case, they do not believe in the individual's right to choose or not choose charity. If they were honest or consistent, they would also have no qualms about forcing on others their value of not murdering people. Additionally, this line of reasoning has frightening parallels to another controversial civil rights issue: slavery.

In an 1860 speech to Congress, Stephen A. Douglas said: “We, in those measures, established a great principle, rebuking [this] doctrine of intervention by the Congress of the United States to prohibit slavery in the Territories.” Douglas wanted slavery to remain legal. His argument was not that he liked or believed in slavery, but that he believed in the state’s right to choose. The concept was called popular sovereignty and enjoyed wide support. The "great principle" Douglas refers to is the state's right to choose. How many times have you heard apologists for the Confederacy say that the issue was not slavery, but state's rights? They evaded the issue in the same manner that modern proponents of legalized abortion say that the issue is not abortion, but women's rights.

See the danger and logical flaws inherent in this line of "reasoning?" Nobody has the right to choose to enslave or murder other human beings. So if unborn children are living humans, then we have no right take their lives. If they are indeed living human beings, this conclusion is inescapable. The only way to ever logically prove that abortion should be legal is to show scientifically that the unborn are not separate and living human beings or to justify the legalization of murder.

Another common objection is that women will be forced to perform back alley abortions if abortions are made illegal. This too, is an evasion of the issue. If the unborn are living human beings, it is wrong to murder them and laws should prevent their murder. If a woman tries to circumvent the law in order to kill an innocent human being, it is not the fault of the law that she risks bearing certain consequences for her actions, and the woman is certainly not being "forced" to do anything. Besides, this claim is factually inaccurate. "Back alley abortions" is a loaded term for what is more accurately called "illegal abortions." According to Planned Parenthood’s own Alan Guttmacher in his 1959 book Babies by Choice or by Chance: "The technique of the well-accredited criminal abortionist is usually good. They have to be good to stay in business, since otherwise they would be extremely vulnerable to police action."

I'm sure there are many other objections, but let me say that all of the ones I have heard evade rather than address the actual issue: where life begins. From a purely objective and scientific point of view, using sound, textbook definitions of life, it is clear that life begins at conception. Sound reasoning then would lead its reasoner to conclude that if human beings have a right to life which must be protected by law, then abortion must be outlawed. This is one of the most important civil rights issues facing modern countries today. Similar to the issue of slavery in the 19th century, there is an entire class of people who are being treated as less than human, and the debate hinges on whether or not they are human. Through the sound application of reason and scientific inquiry, it becomes clear that after conception, the unborn are human beings, and that therefore governments should recognize and enforce for them as it should for all human beings, the rights which Nature grants them.

Let me address one more thing: Some people feel like it is futile to continue to have a discourse over the issue of abortion because people feel too strongly about it and have already made up their minds as to what they think. This is wrong. I've heard this time and again, and I want to stress that it is in fact only people with this attitude toward an issue who will never change anyone's minds about it. People throughout history have changed their minds on social issues. When the United States was new, there was no suffrage or equal rights for women and racial minorities. Almost universally in the United States today, the general populace recognizes that this was wrong and that women and non-whites are entitled to their basic rights as human beings, and the law recognizes it too.

It took many years and decades of struggle involving emotions just as fierce if not more fierce than those surrounding the abortion issue in the 21st century. But victories for freedom were won and people did change their minds. That is how change happens.

W. E. Messamore is finishing his senior year of college. After he graduates in May 2009, he dreams of writing, traveling, and speaking full time with the purpose of promoting the classical Christian worldview, touching hearts and minds to make a positive impact on the world.

Read the entire article on the Slaying Dragons website (new window will open).

Posted: 10-Sep-2008

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