Previously I posted a discussion I did with Chet Gaines. He did say that he wanted to keep it to a discussion, and I was decidedly in debate mode. So I could have discussed a little more and debated a little less, but here are my reflections on the debate. I'll cover the first part of the podcast in this article, and cover part two in the next.
My basic case consisted of three points: That first, it's immoral to kill innocent human beings and if the unborn qualify, then it is likewise immoral to kill them. Second is the Substance View, essentially that the unborn are full-fledged human persons. Every living thing is a substance, which is just an entity that maintains its identity through change. That means that all of us are the same entity that was in our mother's womb. Third, is the Future of Value argument. What makes it wrong to kill each of us is that it robs us of a valuable future of experiences. If you had killed me in the womb, you would have robbed me of all of my future experiences. The unborn, from fertilization, likewise have a Future of Value that you are robbing them of if you kill them. Finally, the unborn qualify as persons. There is nothing sufficiently different from the unborn that would disqualify them from personhood. I also briefly examined a couple of pro-choice claims about personhood.
Chet's case was built around the suffering of conscious creatures, and rather than argue that a woman has a right to an abortion, he argued about the effects of prohibiting it. If we prohibit abortion, it will be more dangerous for the woman who chooses to undergo the procedure.
I've responded to this claim at length elsewhere. But this is something that even pro-choice philosophers, like Mary Anne Warren, understand. Warren wrote, "The fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not,
in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong
regardless of the consequences of forbidding it." And as Scott Klusendorf argues in his book The Case for Life, the law should not be faulted for making it more dangerous to kill innocent human beings.
Chet made the statement that when we legislate morality, we risk making things illegal that not everyone agrees with. Everyone agrees that murder should be illegal, but not everyone agrees that abortion is murder. But there's an inherent problem with this statement. Morality is the only thing we can legislate. While there are certain things we just can't make illegal, such as thought crimes, adultery, and certain other immoral acts, every law that is passed springs from someone's morality. Sure, not everyone agrees that abortion is murder but if abortion really is murder, then it needs to be illegal. Not everyone agreed that slavery was immoral, either, but our Supreme Court was not unjustified in making it illegal.
Chet referred to the unborn entity as a "creature that we don't really understand." That it really might not suffer at all. I'm not sure what he meant by that. We do understand the unborn, as much as we can. Advances in scientific technology has allowed us to study the unborn entity, and there is much research that at least at the twenty week point, the unborn feel pain. That was the reason that HB2 was recently passed in Texas, although there is reason to believe it happens much earlier. Besides which, the question of whether or not something can feel pain is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we can kill it, otherwise we would be justified in killing people in their sleep or through a painless method. Also, we could kill people who have a congenital inability to feel pain.
After asking Chet to expound on his argument about the suffering of conscious creatures, he responded that he is concerned about whether the woman, who is a fully conscious person, will have a greater condition of suffering in the future. He also argued that we should try and produce the healthiest children possible.
This actually seems like a worrysome position, that we should produce the healthiest children possible. I didn't press him on this, but I would hope that he isn't suggesting eugenics here. I might also ask if he would suggest we should go to all the hospitals and kill all the sick and disabled children to produce the healthiest children possible? Or sterilize all couples who run the risk of producing children with a disability? I would hope not. Yet this would have to be done if we follow the logic of allowing abortion to produce healthy children. A child is already in existence; aborting a child would be taking him/her out of existence.
We can both agree that we don't want women to suffer, but if a woman is in a position where she can't raise a child, she should abstain from sex until she is in a position to be able to raise a child. If a woman is in a situation of poverty, we wouldn't allow her to kill her toddler so that she can feed her other children. So if the unborn are human like the rest of us, we can't justify abortion for that reason.
Now Chet wasn't fully convinced by the argument I just laid out, the one that Greg Koukl and Scott Klusendorf call Trotting Out the Toddler. His concern is that there's a giant difference between a toddler and something that's completely dependent on something else for its survival. He considers the unborn child as part of the mother's body. We extinguish people for a variety of different reasons, sometimes non-consentually, such as when we pull the plug on people. They can't sustain themselves either.
The unborn are clearly not part of the mother's body, like one of her appendages. The unborn is a separate, individual organism. She is just connected to the mother because she begins life in the womb, and needs the nutrients her mother takes in to grow and develop. Sure there's a difference here between the unborn and the born, the fact of being connected through the umbilical cord. But the fact of dependency doesn't end at birth -- newborns are completely dependent on their parents for survival (or their mother, if the mother is breastfeeding). Yet no one would argue that we should kill them because of their dependency (philosophers like Peter Singer argue that it's justifiable because they're not persons, not because of their dependency). So this difference is irrelevant to the question of whether or not we can abort the child. If the unborn is human as we are, it's wrong to kill them for any reason that it would be wrong to kill someone outside the womb for, like poverty. If you're going to argue that we can kill them because they're fully dependent (or because the woman has a right over her own body, or whatever), then that's the important argument. In that case, you're not justifying it because the woman is in poverty but because of the child's complete dependence. And if that's your argument, then that could be used to justify abortion for any reason, not just because she's in poverty. But is that an adequate reason?
David Lee at Justice for All would argue it's not. He uses the following analogy: suppose you're the last one out of a public pool, drying off. You hear a splash in the deep end. Investigating, you realize that a young child has fallen in and there's no one around to rescue the child. That child is now completely dependent on you for his survival. Assuming you can swim, are you justified in walking away just because that child is completely dependent on you? Of course not. Dependence has nothing to do with whether or not we can kill you.
It is also true that doctors extinguish human lives at times. There is an ethical debate to be had about whether or not euthanasia is morally justified, but Chet used the example of pulling the plug on someone. This analogy actually doesn't work to support his position. We pull the plug on people once they are "gone." Their body is still alive, but the person they were is gone and will never come back. If the person has a chance of reviving, the doctors would not be justified in pulling the plug. In this respect, the unborn are more like a person in a reversible coma than a brain-dead person. The unborn, if allowed to grow and develop, will become a fully conscious human being. However, personhood is not determined by your present capacities, but by your inherent capacities.
He additionally brought up a discussion about whether or not it's justified to kill. For example, he said he's not a fan of capital punishment. So he wasn't sure what the fetus being innocent of any wrong doing has to do with the argument that we shouldn't kill it. The fact of the fetus' innocence is actually a very important consideration. It is immoral to intentionally kill an innocent human being if it can be avoided. The unborn are innocent of any wrongdoing, especially wrongdoing that would justify losing her life. And while Chet indicated he's not a fan of capital punishment, he did seem to indicate that there ar times in which we can extinguish human life (such as pulling the plug on someone). There are times when it is justified to take a life, such as in self-defense. So the argument is that abortion is not a justified form of killing.
Chet did bring up a point that I agreed with. I don't necessarily think that a discussion of personhood is altogether helpful in this issue, and tends to bog the discussion down. The term person just generally means "someone with rights and value." Since the abortion debate largely lies on whether or not the unborn have rights and values, it's just redundant to argue over whether or not they are persons. Besides, it seems to beg the question that only persons have a right to life. But it seems conceivable to me that there might be non-person entities that are wrong to kill. Although if a pro-choice person does bring up personhood, I believe that the strongest arguments support the unborn being included as persons.
Then he responded to the Future of Value argument that I gave, saying that he didn't see a future that is something tangible so he's not sure how you can be robbed of it. It seems to me that something does not have to be tangible in order to be robbed of it. Your life is not tangible, yet you are robbed of it if you are killed. Your freedom is not tangible, yet you are robbed of it if you are kidnapped. Your future may not be tangible, but you can be robbed of it if you are killed before it actualizes.
Chet made the argument that it should always be a woman's choice, but the problem is that the word "choice" has become a euphemism. Everyone believes in choice; no one wants to take a woman's freedom away. But some choices are wrong. Chet would likely be anti-choice when it comes to rape or murder. So wrapping up abortion in the language of "choice" doesn't justify the act.
Then he did respond to the Substance View argument that I used from Frank Beckwith. He asked if I didn't retain my identity, if I were to wake up tomorrow with amnesia, say, would I be the same substance I am today? What are the qualifications to be a full-fledged member of humanity? The idea behind the Substance View is that I am the same individual that I was in the womb. That was still me, even at the zygote stage, even though I had not yet developed the present capacity for rationality, consciousness, self-awareness, etc. There is a nature that all things have. As human beings, we have a nature as rational, moral agents. We have an inherent nature for rationality, consciousness, etc. Just like it is in a dog's nature to bark, it is in a human's nature to be rational. But what makes us full-fledged members of humanity is not our present capacity to perform these functions, otherwise we'd cease being fully human whenever we stopped these functions -- for example, if we fall asleep or enter a reversible coma. Rather, what makes us full-fledged humans is our inherent capacities, which are present from fertilization.
So Chet's example of waking up in a coma actually supports the Substance argument. If we were nothing more than our collection of thoughts and memories, we would literally be a different person if we woke up with amnesia. But we are more than a collection of our thoughts and memories. We are human, a substance, which is just an entity that maintains its identity through change. If I lost all my memories, I would still be the same person through that change.
Finally, Chet also brought up another element of common ground pro-life and pro-choice people have -- the desire to see less abortions. This is a genuine point of common ground between us, but where the common ground ends is in how we accomplish that. Pro-life people see abortion as nothing less than murder of a child. So we want to see less abortions, but we can't leave abortion legal while we work to reduce them. Making abortions illegal won't stop all abortions, anymore than making rape illegal has stopped all rapes. But it will reduce the amount of abortions because we trust women to be law-abiding citizens.
That does it for part one. In my next article, I'll give my reflections on part two of the podcast.
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