Where does the philosophical debate begin on abortion?
Where does the philosophical debate begin on abortion?

The Trump administration has rescinded the Obama administration’s authorization of government-funded abortion through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as the provisions that required providing abortion services regardless of faith-based opposition – most notably the strong religious objections within the Catholic and Muslim communities.  Because of the emotional component of this issue, I am offering a disclaimer and a warning at top of this commentary.

(DISCLAIMER:  I am pro-life, but I have not always been.  As a college student of the 1960s, I embraced a pro-abortion opinion mostly based on the progressive views of my professors and peers.  I changed my belief based on extensive research and compelling logic.  I did not arrive at my pro-life views through religion.  In fact, I would have to improve my religious dedication a lot just to rise to the level of a bad Catholic – the religion of my upbringing. )

(WARNING:  The photo at the top of this commentary is contrasted with a photo of abortion reality at the bottom.  I will undoubtedly upset the abortion-on-demand crowd and even make more sensitive readers a bit queasy.  Seeing what an abortion looks like is essential to understanding the full ramification of the procedure on the unborn. It is not akin to removing a tumor as the advocates imply.)

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Abortion is not a healthcare issue unless you are focusing on the health and welfare of the unborn child.  It is not a religious issue, although religions may express theological beliefs on the subject.  Rather, it is about the definition of a human being and the role of a moral and just society in protecting human life.  It is our nature as a species to protect our progeny.  

Our laws are clear and consistent in their opposition to killing other humans – whether by murder or gross negligence.  There are only three currently legal exceptions to our laws against homicide; self defense, individually or collectively in war; legal executions, the morality of which is also subject to justifiable controversy; and abortion. 

Since we, as a moral and lawful society, oppose the killing of fellow human beings, the existential question is whether the life in the womb is human and thereby protectable by a moral and just society.  We have scientific definition of when a fertilized egg becomes a zygote and then a fetus. While the entire abortion debate depends on establishing precisely when the unborn becomes human, we have no such scientific marker.  In fact, that determination varies by political and scientific opinion. This was the key question that led to my own conversion to pro-life.

Having posed the question on hundreds of occasions to abortion advocates, I have yet to hear an answer.  In many cases, they avoid the question by cutting off further dialogue.  

We know that, at some point in the evolution of the fertilized egg, we confer all the inalienable rights associated with humanness.  We know it happens before physical birth because we disallow abortions in the final days of gestation.  We also have convicted people for murder for killing a child yet in the womb. So, when does that happen?  

One arbitrary test has been viability outside the womb.  Modern technology has moved that back by many months.  Another has been the detection of brain waves and the feeling of pain.  Those, too, have been pushed back by medical discovery.  And in both cases, there is no determinable date.  The determination of when the fetus is sufficiently human to be spared termination is arbitrary and political.  

Consequently, the life or death of a human being is not based on empirical knowledge but capricious public opinion and the legislative process.  There is no date in the process at which there is a fundamental or exceptional day-to-day change in the fetus.  Each day represents only an imperceptible difference in maturation.  An argument for humanness on one day can be as effectively proffered the previous day.   In our rule of law, we say it is better to let a criminal go free than to convict an innocent person.  With abortion, we reverse that bias.  We err on the side of death.

The only truly exceptional event is conception.  It is at that time that the unique individual human DNA is in place.  Though unrecognizable, those first few cells contain all that is human – hair and eye color, skin tone, tallness and even diseases.  

Once conceived, it is the natural biological mandate and responsibility of the mother to carry, nurture and protect that evolving human.  That process begins automatically in nature as the mother’s own body supplies all the essentials of life.  It is also by instinct that mothers take precaution to defend her offspring from external dangers.  Mothers whose behavior, such as drug and excessive alcohol use, harms their offspring can be and have been criminally prosecuted.  

Abortion reverses that reality, too.  Looking at the huge number of abortions Alveda King, niece of Reverend Martin Luther King, has frequently said of the disproportionate (and some say, genocidal) abortions of black babies, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”  The same can be said for all ethnicities.   For those who believe in the humanness of the fetus, the millions of abortions represent an infanticidal holocaust.

Another consideration in dealing with abortions is the rights of mothers and fathers.  It is said that it is a woman’s right to determine matters dealing with her body – but it is not her body that is in question.  A fetus is not standard equipment.  It represents a unique being created by TWO people.  

The erroneous contention that the fetus is an intrinsic part of the woman’s body leads to the secondary assumption that the man has no interest, responsibility or rights despite the fact that the fetus is biologically half his creation.  If that same man and woman were to have invented a new type of toothbrush, they would, by law, have equal rights of ownership.  This longstanding legal standard does not apply in the creation of something much more fundamental than a new toothbrush.

Consider this.  If a woman requested that a surgeon remove her kidney based solely on her desire, it would be unethical and arguably illegal for the doctor to perform such an operation even though there is no controversy over the exclusive ownership of that kidney.  In the case of the mutually created fetus, the father has no role in deciding if his child lives or dies, but is held to be responsible financially and otherwise if the child is allowed to survive.

For most pro-life people, there are three basic exceptions to a ban on abortions.  They are where the life of the mother is at stake, an incestuous pregnancy and in cases of rape.  These are not political exemptions or arbitrary, but morally founded.  When given a clear choice between the life of the mother and the unborn, it is reasonable to favor the life of the mother as the more important life – a Sophie’s Choice to be sure.  This is based on the argument that the mother has a greater importance as a spouse, mother of other children and established contributor to society.

Abortions in the case of incest are based on the health of the species.  While one cannot make a judgment on each individual case, it is well known that inbreeding is biologically destructive.  The last case for abortion is actually more difficult to defend, but it is reasonable to believe that birthing a child who was the product of a violent and disturbing act poses serious psychological risk to the mother.  There are, of course, people within the pro-life community who have differing opinions on these exemptions.

If one is to look at abortion purely as a healthcare issue for the mother, the only legitimate issue may be the health consequences associated with abortions.  There are credible studies that abortions pose long-term risks, including higher rates of cancer and suicides.

Finally, there is the reality of the abortion, itself.

I recall an episode of the television show Friends in which the David Schwimmer character just became a father.  He said in amazement, “One minute it’s a blob of flesh and the next minute it’s a child.”  That is the political false narrative, not the biological reality.  The photo at the bottom of this commentary is what an aborted unborn looks like.

Many aborted children have faces, arms, legs, and all those little inner organs that Planned Parenthood sells on the medical market.  They also feel pain.  In many ways, an abortion is one of the most brutal and violent acts that can be inflicted on a human being.  The claims that fetal tissue, stem cells and the various body parts are beneficial to medical research has no more moral validity than that same claimed “benefits” of the Nazi’s human medical experiments.

Granted that in the earliest stages those features which we would normally describe as “cute” are not yet in place, but the all important DNA is.  Basing humanness on what the human looks like in the womb is disturbingly similar to the genocidal eugenic and phrenological pseudosciences that progressives popularized a century ago – basing the quality of humanness on appearances rather than biological reality.

The aforementioned arguments against abortion, however, do not justify the condemnation of those who believe otherwise.  While a pro-life belief is a moral fundamental, it is a mistake to demonize those who believe in abortion as a social tool.  Those beliefs and believers should not be look upon as evil, and calling out pro-abortion advocates as murderers is a bridge too far.  It is an unsettled morality in our society.  It is one thing to believe someone is mistaken, but quite another to accuse them of being evil.  In many ways, it is like the issue of slavery.  

There was a time in America, that slavery was widely considered to be morally acceptable.  It took generations of enlightenment to change that culture.  Most of those who accepted slavery as a reality were not evil as much as misguided.  Some of the noblest people in the late 1700s were slave owners as well.  As with slavery, we have seen the popularity of abortion diminish.  We have seen social pressure and laws limit the use of abortion.  That trend is likely to continue until we look upon the era of abortion as with national embarrassment and shame – as we do about slavery and our treatment of Native Americans.  As America always does, we will succeed in restoring our moral underpinning and abortion will be extremely rare and based solely on medical reality.

Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at lph@thomasandjoyce.com.


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