I found myself defending pro-life policy on some online Canadian newspaper.  The pro-abort author was, shall we say, less than tactful.  My friend Rhology summed up the article well when he said, “You promised vulgarity and implied immaturity, and you didn’t disappoint!”  The real action, however, was in the comment box.  In my opinion, the conversation developed well.  Many pro-life arguments were advanced (e.g., definition of life and its beginning, analogy to slavery or genocide, time when the right to life is conferred to humans, etc.) and most were not challenged.  Few pro-abortion arguments were advanced and most of the conversation from their end revolved around ad hominem and bluster.  In this post, I want to capture a few of the arguments to save for personal use later on.

 The important questions in the context of abortion are as follows:

(1)    Does a right to life even exist for anyone?
(2)    If it does exist, how and when is the right to life conferred to an individual?
(3)    Are there instances where a person’s choice has more value than another person’s right to their own life?

I think the first is not controversial, so I will not go into that here.  The second and third questions are the central questions in the debate.  These are discussed in more detail below.

Argument for the Right to Life from Conception

Life is a process from the moment of conception to death, and we are all at different points among the spectrum. However, that does not mean that we are paralyzed when it comes to determining when life begins or whether or not that life possesses basic rights.  Some in the pro-abortion camp claim that the right to life is conferred when some set of criteria are satisfied.  The most commonly cited criterion is birth.  I have previously dealt with this subjective demarcation of rights on this blog.  In short, these lists are extremely hard to contain, for if the list is meant to define a right to life for humans then it should apply to all humans.  Moreover, one should immediately ask who gets to decide what is on the list.  We have seen this play out many times throughout history.  A dictator or regime defines what is required to be fully human and then uses that definition to marginalize other human beings.  Slavery is a clear example where entire cultures endorsed the dehumanization of people purely for pigment levels in their skin.  In other cases, such “lists” are used to systematically exterminate whole populations of people.

Drawing comparisons between those defining unborn children as non-human, based on a list of attributes that are absent in an unborn child, with other well-known social ills is extremely profitable in this debate.  If human rights are merely something that we invent and develop then there really is no such thing as a right to life for anyone at any time.  This means looking back in time and passing judgment against slave owners, the apartheid, those sanctioning the Cambodian killing fields, or the Holocaust to name a few is ultimately incoherent.  Who are we to determine what another person thinks is right concerning killing another person, or in some way treating them as a means rather than an end, if that person does not possess any rights? The problem is that people don’t live like that and we know it. People have no trouble recognizing that slavery or the holocaust is immoral because it is abundantly clear that the rights of those people were violated.  However, if rights are function of some qualities defined by a culture, then it is irrational to claim that previous cultures with their lists are immoral.  In fact, their actions would be perfectly moral.  Most people balk at this conclusion, but I see it as an inevitable conclusion of the subjective morality that is driving the pro-abortion movement to define unborn babies as non-human.  Claiming rights are conferred at birth is arbitrary, and I am not alone in this assessment.  The bioethicist Peter Singer seriously advocates infanticide precisely because using birth as the demarcation of rights is arbitrary under this ethical system. In the end, any list or criteria used to determine the conferral of rights becomes arbitrary.  If this is ethic is something the pro-abortion lobby wants to sustain, then they have a very heavy burden to shoulder in demonstrating that one individual (or culture) may pass judgment on another individual (or culture) in the absence of intrinsic rights.

I think a simple argument can be made for the existence of the right to life from birth. 

P1. The right to life is an intrinsic property of humans.
P2. If human life begins at conception, then humans possess the right to life from conception.
P3. Human life begins at conception.
C. Humans possess the right to life from conception.

The main points of contention are P1 and P3.  However, I think arguing against P3 flies in the face of the numerous scientific discoveries about human development as well as a basic definition of what life is.  Furthermore, I think abandoning P1 has a very high price, which I have described above.  Murder is the unjustified killing of an innocent human. If the argument above goes through, then what else would you call an abortion? Certainly the unborn baby is innocent. In the US abortion is legal, but that does not make abortion any less immoral. Is lawfully killing a spouse in country where such actions are legal moral for those people? Clearly not! The law is in error and must be changed.

Choice Does Not Trump a Person’s Right to Life

The typical argument here is that it is immoral for a woman to be forced to use her body as a house and source of nutrition for another person against her will.  Thus, the woman’s choice should be given higher epistemic value than the unborn child’s right to life.  First, I think it is important to notice that this argument implicitly admits that the child has a right to life.  By offering this argument, the pro-choice advocate has relinquished the argument that the baby has a right to life.  The problem is that no one has such a strong right to choice that it overrides another person’s right to life.  We clearly recognize this for humans after birth. Second, it is very important to distinguish between the claims that the unborn child is part of the woman versus the unborn child residing within the woman.  Certainly the mother provides an environment, nutrition, and other necessities for the child; however, the baby is not part of the mother’s body.  It is a unique person with its own life trajectory.

Procreation is the purpose of sex, and abortion is way of escaping the natural consequences of sex.  A person who engages in an act of sex does have a moral obligation to deal with the consequences of that act.  In this case, the consequence is the creation of a unique life with its own set of intrinsic rights. It did not ask to be created, and extinguishing this life because of convenience is simply immoral.  Furthermore, how else does anyone take care of an infant or elderly person other than using their bodies?  My one-old year daughter and three-year old son cannot care for themselves and if left alone they will die.  Let me be clear here, I have to use my own body to care for and nurture these people.  I go to work to earn the money that provides the basic necessities they need to live. I give what I have for myself to them (this includes my time, money, nutrition, etc.). In some cases, it is horribly inconvenient, and I think anyone with small children will agree with this assessment. If I fail to perform, I am culpable for their deaths due to my own negligence or malicious intent.

Relationship between Abortion and Slavery

Slavery and abortion share a common base.  Both deny rights to individuals based on denying their intrinsic rights as humans.  Furthermore, it is a historical fact that pro-abortion slogans and arguments are identical to the pro-slavery arguments of the 1800s in the US.

Relationship between Abortion and Infanticide/Euthanasia

It is often claimed that infanticide and euthanasia are red herrings in this debate.  This is false.  A central pro-life argument is whether or not unborn children possess a right to life.  It is necessary to clarify what a human is and what rights a human possesses.  These definitions must extend to all humans.