Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Wanted Child: The Logical Pro-Life Argument

Now, I have been working out the issues behind abortion for myself for at least the last decade. I have decided that I am Pro-Life and uncompromisingly so. However, in all my searching and logically working this position out, I wasn’t able to lay out the argument for being Pro-Life in a way that I felt confident to share it; I have a lot of other interests and important obligations to take care of. I knew that the Pro-Life view is correct, but I didn’t know how to say it clearly so that I could be assured in my position and so that others would understand my thoughts on the matter.

Well, I am now emboldened by a speech I heard recently and I’ll get to that shortly. I did not come out with it right away because even when I hear or read something that sounds good and right, I still take the time to think it over, work through it for myself. I need to know if something is true before I pass it along as a support to my beliefs.

Author and speaker on bioethics Scott Klusendorf lays out the Pro-Life view for us logically and clearly. He was featured a few months ago on the Focus on the Family broadcast titled “Reaching Hearts On Abortion I-II.” I recommend that you request the broadcast from FotF because there is so much good stuff in it. Whether you consider yourself Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, the argument that Klusendorf produces will make you think; it may not change your position but it’ll make you think about it.

So I will leave most of Klusendorf’s argument for you to seek out yourself, but I do want to include here just a portion of it. To set up the argument, Klusendorf quickly goes through two questions that are being debated in the culture today. The first question: is truth true or just a matter of preference? The second question: are human beings intrinsically valuable or only instrumentally valuable? I’m going to leave the first question for another time and get to the second question because it has to do with the abortion debate directly.

Klusendorf tells the story of how he had been on a plane trying to sleep when he was asked by the man sitting next to him what he did for a living. The conversation picks up from there. This is how Klusendorf tells it (edited for length, underlines added for emphasis):

I said, “Well I do lectures on bioethics.”

He said, “What’s bioethics?”

“I do lectures on things like embryo stem-cell research, doctor-assisted suicide and abortion.”

He said, “Really? I agree with you; every woman should have a right to choose.”

That set me off. My wife will tell you it is hard for me to walk away from arguments once they start. I said, “Well, actually, that’s not my view.”

He said, “Uh oh, I know what you’re going to tell me. You’re catholic and your pope says abortion’s wrong, therefore you believe that you can impose your view on me, right?”

I said, “No, I’m not catholic, although the pope has written very eloquently on abortion. The Gospel of Life is a beautiful defense of the Pro-Life view but no, that isn’t my position that I was going to argue.”

He said, “Okay, you’re a Jerry Falwell guy. You’re one of the religious right-majority types…and you’re going to impose that because that’s your religious view?”


He said, “What were you going to tell me?”

“I was going to tell you that I’m Pro-Life because I believe the Pro-Life position is true.” Men and women, he looked at me liked I’d stepped off Mars.

He said, “Really? You really believe that it’s true?”

“Yes, I do, because there’s good evidence for it.”

Now, I didn’t know this but the guy in front of us had been eavesdropping on the conversation. He turned around at that point, spread open the chair, stuck his nose through and said, “I was listening to what you just said…that you thought there was good reason to believe the Pro-Life position was true. I was wondering, do you have evidence for that or was that just an opinion?” --- wrong question to ask a guy who makes a living defending fetuses as human beings.

I said, “Sure, I’d be happy to defend that view. First of all, may I ask you a question. Do you believe newborns are human beings?”

[Man #2] said, “No, I believe once it’s born it’s a human being.”

“Fair enough. Would you be willing to look with me at the four differences between a fetus that you say is not human and a newborn that you say is, and let’s examine those four differences and see if any of them are relevant such that we can say it’s okay to kill the fetus but not okay to kill the newborn.” [Man #2 says okay].

“There’s only four differences: [S]ize, [L]evel of development, [E]nvironment and [D]egree of dependency. And I’m going to say that none of those are relevant. Let’s take a look at them.

“First, size; would you agree with me that the fetus is smaller than a newborn?”

He jumped all over that, [saying], “Oh, absolutely. How can you call something the size of a dot a human being?”

So I asked, “Are large people more human than small people?”

We went to the next category…I told to him to think of that acronym S-L-E-D. Then we went to level of development. I said, “Would you agree the fetus or embryo is smaller than a newborn?”

“Absolutely. How can you call something that doesn’t even have a functioning brain yet and is not even self-aware a human being?”

I said, “if self-awareness and intelligence define us as human beings, that means that those who are more intelligent should have the right to exploit those of us whose GPA was not too high in high school. It would also mean that we’re all in a gigantic bell curve; we start off with very little rights of personhood and very little self-consciousness and we gradually gain personhood as we reach our intellectual and physical peaks and then we gradually lose rights of personhood as we age. Is that your view?”

He says, “No, that’s an elitist view.”

I said, “Then why are you imposing it on the fetus? A four year old girl is less developed than a fourteen year old one. That four year old girl does not even have her reproductive system in place yet. Is she less of a person because of it?”

“No.” he said.

“Then why would you rule out the fetus from being human simply because its development doesn’t match ours?”

We went to the next category: environment, or location. He said, “Until it’s born it’s not a human being…because birth makes it human.”

“How does where you are have any bearing on who you are? A few hours ago you walked from the terminal at LAX onto this plane. You changed location; did you stop being you? what about when you rolled over in bed last night? You changed location; did you stop being you? if not, how does a simple journey of 8 inches down the birth canal suddenly transform a non-human tissue blob into a protectable human life we ought to value and respect?” he didn’t have an answer for that.

We went to the final category: degree of dependency. He said, “Until it’s viable, it’s not human.”

“If that’s the definition of what makes us human, our ability to live independent of anyone or anything, we’ve got a problem because there are people on this place that are not human and we may kill them…because there are people on this plane who depend on insulin, heart pacemakers, perhaps diabetes medication and without them they will not survive. Does that mean they are less human than us?”

He said, “No, I don’t like the way that sounds.”

“I don’t either. You can see then that there’s only four differences: size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency. None of them are morally relevant, are they?”


Are they?

As the Wanted Child series continues, I’ll probably point back to the points articulated by SLED because it gives the foundation to why I believed the views I came to own in regards to being Pro-Life. If one’ll notice, Klusendorf made no reference to the Bible so it is a solid argument that one of any faith may trust, and yet the argument is biblically sound. There was no reference to the argument being gender relevant, so men and women may trust it. Klusendorf didn’t engineer the argument to be non-denominational or gender relevant; he just presented an argument that is true.

Maybe I’m taking what he said too simplistically. Maybe there is another way that a fetus and a newborn is different that does justify killing the fetus, or maybe one of his points doesn’t make as much sense as I believe it does. If someone has a different interpretation of the argument, please let me know because as always, I want to believe in that which is true.

I probably should have started this series with the logical argument, but as I’ve said before, I needed more time to work through Klusendorf’s presentation. The issue of abortion is on TV practically daily in one way or another and I didn’t want to wait to start talking about it.

Conclusion: human beings are intrinsically valuable.