Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

A simple case for the pro-life position by Scott Klusendorf

Are you able to make a basic case for the pro-life view?

Here’s a short 38-lecture by Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute.

This is a long treatment that talks about the challenge of moral relativism and the case for the pro-life view. He does show a clip of abortion in the video to the audience.

There’s also a 35-minute audio recording of Scott on the LTI web site. (H/T Apologetics 315) You can put that on your podcast player and listen to it. Listen to it a lot and soon you’ll sound like Scott.

Scott also has an article posted on the LTI web site for those who don’t have time for the video or the audio.

In the article makes three points:

  1. Clarify the issue
  2. Defend your pro-life position with science and philosophy
  3. Challenge your listeners to be intellectually honest

Here’s the second point:

Scientifically, we know that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Leading embryology books confirm this.2 For example, Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud write, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”3 Prior to his abortion advocacy, former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would question this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge,” he wrote in his book Life in the Making.4

Philosophically, we can say that embryos are less developed than newborns (or, for that matter, toddlers) but this difference is not morally significant in the way abortion advocates need it to be. Consider the claim that the immediate capacity for self-awareness bestows value on human beings. Notice that this is not an argument, but an arbitrary assertion. Why is some development needed? And why is this particular degree of development (i.e., higher brain function) decisive rather than another? These are questions that abortion advocates do not adequately address.

As Stephen Schwarz points out, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant such that we can say that you had no rights as an embryo but you do have rights today. Think of the acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences:5

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.

That’s the core of the basic pro-life case right there. There’s also a good interview of Mr. Klusendorf that I blogged about.

Advanced Objections

You can learn more by reading basic pro-life apologetics… from Francis Beckwith. You might recognize Frank Beckwith as the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“. He wrote that book for Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal.

Here are four essays that answer common arguments in favor of legalized abortion.

Here’s an excerpt from Part II:

Excerpt:

A woman who becomes pregnant due to an act of either rape or incest is the victim of a horribly violent and morally reprehensible crime. Although pregnancy as a result of either rape or incest is extremely rare, [1] there is no getting around the fact that pregnancy does occur in some instances.

[...]Despite its forceful appeal to our sympathies, there are several problems with this argument. First, it is not relevant to the case for abortion on demand, the position defended by the popular pro-choice movement. This position states that a woman has a right to have an abortion for any reason she prefers during the entire nine months of pregnancy, whether it be for gender-selection, convenience, or rape. [3] To argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases of rape and incest is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital. Proving an exception does not establish a general rule.

[...]Fourth, this argument begs the question by assuming that the unborn is not fully human. For if the unborn is fully human, then we must weigh the relieving of the woman’s mental suffering against the right-to-life of an innocent human being. And homicide of another is never justified to relieve one of emotional distress. Although such a judgment is indeed anguishing, we must not forget that the same innocent unborn entity that the career-oriented woman will abort in order to avoid interference with a job promotion is biologically and morally indistinguishable from the unborn entity that results from an act of rape or incest. And since abortion for career advancement cannot be justified if the unborn entity is fully human, abortion cannot be justified in the cases of rape and incest. In both cases abortion results in the death of an innocent human life. As Dr. Bernard Nathanson has written, “The unwanted pregnancy flows biologically from the sexual act, but not morally from it.” [5]Hence, this argument, like the ones we have already covered in this series, is successful only if the unborn are not fully human.

Scott Klusendorf wrote the The Case for Life, which is the best book for beginners on the pro-life view. For those looking for advanced resources, Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, published the book Defending Life, with Cambridge University Press, 2007.

I found a very polished hour-long talk by Scott on Youtube. That talk was delivered to students and faculty at Furman University.

Finally, if you want to see Scott Klusendorf in a debate with a former ACLU executive, you can see it right here.

My friend Papa Georgio sent me a post that features THREE talks by Scott Klusendorf. (H/T Religio-Political Talk)

Learn about the pro-life case

And some posts motivating Christians and conservatives to take abortion seriously:

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A basic case for the pro-life position by Scott Klusendorf

Are you able to make a basic case for the pro-life view?

Here’s a short 35-lecture by Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute.

This is a long treatment that talks about the challenge of moral relativism and the case for the pro-life view. He does show a clip of abortion in the video to the audience.

There’s also a 35-minute audio recording of Scott on the LTI web site. (H/T Apologetics 315) You can put that on your podcast player and listen to it. Listen to it a lot and soon you’ll sound like Scott.

Scott also has an article posted on the LTI web site for those who don’t have time for the video or the audio.

In the article makes three points:

  1. Clarify the issue
  2. Defend your pro-life position with science and philosophy
  3. Challenge your listeners to be intellectually honest

Here’s the second point:

Scientifically, we know that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Leading embryology books confirm this.2 For example, Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud write, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”3 Prior to his abortion advocacy, former Planned Parenthood President Dr. Alan Guttmacher was perplexed that anyone, much less a medical doctor, would question this. “This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge,” he wrote in his book Life in the Making.4

Philosophically, we can say that embryos are less developed than newborns (or, for that matter, toddlers) but this difference is not morally significant in the way abortion advocates need it to be. Consider the claim that the immediate capacity for self-awareness bestows value on human beings. Notice that this is not an argument, but an arbitrary assertion. Why is some development needed? And why is this particular degree of development (i.e., higher brain function) decisive rather than another? These are questions that abortion advocates do not adequately address.

As Stephen Schwarz points out, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo that you once were and the adult that you are today. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant such that we can say that you had no rights as an embryo but you do have rights today. Think of the acronym SLED as a helpful reminder of these non-essential differences:5

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.

That’s the core of the basic pro-life case right there. There’s also a good interview of Mr. Klusendorf that I blogged about.

Advanced Objections

You can learn more by reading basic pro-life apologetics… from Francis Beckwith. You might recognize Frank Beckwith as the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“. He wrote that book for Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal.

Here are four essays that answer common arguments in favor of legalized abortion.

Here’s an excerpt from Part II:

Excerpt:

A woman who becomes pregnant due to an act of either rape or incest is the victim of a horribly violent and morally reprehensible crime. Although pregnancy as a result of either rape or incest is extremely rare, [1] there is no getting around the fact that pregnancy does occur in some instances.

[...]Despite its forceful appeal to our sympathies, there are several problems with this argument. First, it is not relevant to the case for abortion on demand, the position defended by the popular pro-choice movement. This position states that a woman has a right to have an abortion for any reason she prefers during the entire nine months of pregnancy, whether it be for gender-selection, convenience, or rape. [3] To argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases of rape and incest is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital. Proving an exception does not establish a general rule.

[...]Fourth, this argument begs the question by assuming that the unborn is not fully human. For if the unborn is fully human, then we must weigh the relieving of the woman’s mental suffering against the right-to-life of an innocent human being. And homicide of another is never justified to relieve one of emotional distress. Although such a judgment is indeed anguishing, we must not forget that the same innocent unborn entity that the career-oriented woman will abort in order to avoid interference with a job promotion is biologically and morally indistinguishable from the unborn entity that results from an act of rape or incest. And since abortion for career advancement cannot be justified if the unborn entity is fully human, abortion cannot be justified in the cases of rape and incest. In both cases abortion results in the death of an innocent human life. As Dr. Bernard Nathanson has written, “The unwanted pregnancy flows biologically from the sexual act, but not morally from it.” [5]Hence, this argument, like the ones we have already covered in this series, is successful only if the unborn are not fully human.

Scott Klusendorf wrote the The Case for Life, which is the best book for beginners on the pro-life view. For those looking for advanced resources, Francis Beckwith, a professor at Baylor University, published the book Defending Life, with Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Finally, if you want to see Scott Klusendorf in a debate with a former ACLU executive, you can see it right here.

UPDATE: My friend Papa Georgio sent me a post that features THREE talks by Scott Klusendorf. (H/T Religio-Political Talk)

Learn about the pro-life case

And some posts motivating Christians and conservatives to take abortion seriously:

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brian Auten interviews pro-life debater Scott Klusendorf on pro-life apologetics

Unborn baby scheming about pro-life apologetics

Unborn baby scheming about pro-life apologetics

Scott Klusendorf is the director of the excellent Life Training Institute, and he’s been interviewed by Brian Auten on Apologetics 315.

Details of the interview:

Today’s interview is with Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute. LTI is the first place to look for excellent resources to get better equipped to defend the pro-life position. Scott talks about defining abortion and its terms, the issue of the debate, the legal history of abortion, defending the pro-life view using science and philosophy, the four pillars of the pro-life argument, answering a litany of objections to the pro-life position, the right and wrong use of emotional appeals, taking on the right tone in the debate, how to get better equipped, and more.

Grab the MP3 file here at Apologetics 315.

The article Scott mentions “How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views in 5 Minutes or Less” is worth the read, and it’s a good summary of some of the points he makes in the lecture.

If you like this interview, please be sure and buy the best basic book on pro-life apologetics – Scott Klusendorf’s “The Case for Life“.

And there is actually a full transcript, and here’s an excerpt:

BA: Great stuff. Now I want you to go into these pillars if you will of defending the pro-life position with science and philosophy, and in your web site prolifetraining.com one of the things that you provide is sort of a four point acronym, some would say sled S-L-E-D. Can you lay out what those main pillars are and their relevance to the issue?

SK: Well as I mentioned a moment ago, pro-life advocates argue that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a developing human being, and we defend that claim using science and philosophy. We use science to determine what kind of thing the unborn is, and we use philosophy to show that there’s no relevant deference between the embryos we once were and the adults we are today that would justify killing us at that earlier stage of development. Scientifically, as I mentioned just moments ago embryology text books worldwide indicate that from the very beginning you and I were distinct living whole human beings. You can’t see that I’m doing this right now, Brian, but at the moment I’m picking cells off the back of my hand. These cells, which we call somatic cells, contain my entire DNA and coding. But you don’t thing I just committed mass murder by sending a couple hundred of those puppies hurling to their deaths on the floor in front of me. And the reason is, you know that these cells though they contain my DNA and coding are merely part of a larger human being, me. They are not distinct whole living organisms the way that you were when you were an embryo. The way I was when I was an embryo. In other words, there is a difference in kind between each of our bodily cells and the embryonic human beings we once were. That’s what science teaches us; that’s what the science of embryology lays down for us.Philosophically, we argue using that SLED acronym that you mentioned a moment ago that there’s no difference between that embryo we once were and the adult we are today. The adults we are today that justify killing us at that earlier stage of development and as Steven Schwarz points out, the differences between that embryo and the adult that you are today are one of size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency. Think of the acronym SLED and you will remember those four differences. Size, yeah you were smaller as an embryo, but since when does body size determine the rights that you have. Shaquille O’Neal, the seven foot two basketball star with the Boston Celtics, is a foot taller than I am, but he doesn’t have a greater right to life simply because he’s bigger.

Level development? Sure, we were less developed as embryos but since when is a matter of principal does that mean we can kill you? Two-year-old girls are less developed than twenty-year-old young women. We don’t think though the two year old girl has less to a right to life simply because she can’t function at the level that the twenty year old can. Level of size, I should say level of development. What about environment; where you are located there is the letter “E” in that SLED acronym. You were once in the womb now you’re out but sense when does were you are determine what you are? When you walk from your living room into the studio to do this interview. You changed location but you didn’t stop being you. When I jump on an airplane and fly from Atlanta to London’s Heathrow airport. I get off the plane I’m in a new location, but I’m the same being as I was when I left Atlanta. If that’s true how does a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change me from non-human, non-valuable thing that we can kill? To a valuable human being that we can’t kill. And the answer is, if I wasn’t already human and valuable I’m not going to get there by changing my address. And then finally, degree of dependency—yes we depended on our mother for survival but sense when does dependency on another human being mean we can kill you? Conjoined twins depend on each other for survival and unless one of the twins is killing its partner we don’t go ahead and slit the throat of both twins simply because they can’t live independent of each other. Size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency, think “SLED” those are the only four differences between that embryo you once were and the adult you are today. And the pro-lifer would argue that not one of those four differences justifies killing you at that earlier stage.

You can see Scott in a debate about abortion right here.

And if you like that interview, I have some more things for you to read from Dr. Francis Beckwith.

Learn more by reading

Frank Beckwith is the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“. He wrote that book for Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal.

Here are four essays that answer common arguments in favor of legalized abortion.

I have a copy of Dr. Beckwith’s previous book “Politically Correct Death”, which I read bit-by-bit on my lunch hours 10 years ago. Excellent stuff.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brian Auten interviews pro-life debater Scott Klusendorf

Unborn baby scheming about pro-life apologetics

Unborn baby scheming about pro-life apologetics

Scott Klusendorf is the director of the excellent Life Training Institute, and he’s been interviewed by Brian Auten on Apologetics 315.

Details of the interview:

Today’s interview is with Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute. LTI is the first place to look for excellent resources to get better equipped to defend the pro-life position. Scott talks about defining abortion and its terms, the issue of the debate, the legal history of abortion, defending the pro-life view using science and philosophy, the four pillars of the pro-life argument, answering a litany of objections to the pro-life position, the right and wrong use of emotional appeals, taking on the right tone in the debate, how to get better equipped, and more.

Grab the MP3 file here at Apologetics 315.

The article Scott mentions “How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views in 5 Minutes or Less” is worth the read, and it’s a good summary of some of the points he makes in the lecture.

If you like this interview, please be sure and buy the best basic book on pro-life apologetics – Scott Klusendorf’s “The Case for Life“.

And there is actually a full transcript, and here’s an excerpt:

BA: Great stuff. Now I want you to go into these pillars if you will of defending the pro-life position with science and philosophy, and in your web site prolifetraining.com one of the things that you provide is sort of a four point acronym, some would say sled S-L-E-D. Can you lay out what those main pillars are and their relevance to the issue?

SK: Well as I mentioned a moment ago, pro-life advocates argue that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a developing human being, and we defend that claim using science and philosophy. We use science to determine what kind of thing the unborn is, and we use philosophy to show that there’s no relevant deference between the embryos we once were and the adults we are today that would justify killing us at that earlier stage of development. Scientifically, as I mentioned just moments ago embryology text books worldwide indicate that from the very beginning you and I were distinct living whole human beings. You can’t see that I’m doing this right now, Brian, but at the moment I’m picking cells off the back of my hand. These cells, which we call somatic cells, contain my entire DNA and coding. But you don’t thing I just committed mass murder by sending a couple hundred of those puppies hurling to their deaths on the floor in front of me. And the reason is, you know that these cells though they contain my DNA and coding are merely part of a larger human being, me. They are not distinct whole living organisms the way that you were when you were an embryo. The way I was when I was an embryo. In other words, there is a difference in kind between each of our bodily cells and the embryonic human beings we once were. That’s what science teaches us; that’s what the science of embryology lays down for us.Philosophically, we argue using that SLED acronym that you mentioned a moment ago that there’s no difference between that embryo we once were and the adult we are today. The adults we are today that justify killing us at that earlier stage of development and as Steven Schwarz points out, the differences between that embryo and the adult that you are today are one of size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency. Think of the acronym SLED and you will remember those four differences. Size, yeah you were smaller as an embryo, but since when does body size determine the rights that you have. Shaquille O’Neal, the seven foot two basketball star with the Boston Celtics, is a foot taller than I am, but he doesn’t have a greater right to life simply because he’s bigger.

Level development? Sure, we were less developed as embryos but since when is a matter of principal does that mean we can kill you? Two-year-old girls are less developed than twenty-year-old young women. We don’t think though the two year old girl has less to a right to life simply because she can’t function at the level that the twenty year old can. Level of size, I should say level of development. What about environment; where you are located there is the letter “E” in that SLED acronym. You were once in the womb now you’re out but sense when does were you are determine what you are? When you walk from your living room into the studio to do this interview. You changed location but you didn’t stop being you. When I jump on an airplane and fly from Atlanta to London’s Heathrow airport. I get off the plane I’m in a new location, but I’m the same being as I was when I left Atlanta. If that’s true how does a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change me from non-human, non-valuable thing that we can kill? To a valuable human being that we can’t kill. And the answer is, if I wasn’t already human and valuable I’m not going to get there by changing my address. And then finally, degree of dependency—yes we depended on our mother for survival but sense when does dependency on another human being mean we can kill you? Conjoined twins depend on each other for survival and unless one of the twins is killing its partner we don’t go ahead and slit the throat of both twins simply because they can’t live independent of each other. Size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency, think “SLED” those are the only four differences between that embryo you once were and the adult you are today. And the pro-lifer would argue that not one of those four differences justifies killing you at that earlier stage.

You can see Scott in a debate about abortion right here.

And if you like that interview, I have some more things for you to read from Dr. Francis Beckwith.

Learn more by reading

Frank Beckwith is the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“. He wrote that book for Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal.

Here are four essays that answer common arguments in favor of legalized abortion.

I have a copy of Dr. Beckwith’s previous book “Politically Correct Death”, which I read bit-by-bit on my lunch hours 10 years ago. Excellent stuff.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Brian Auten interviews pro-life debater Scott Klusendorf

Unborn baby scheming about making abortion unthinkable

Unborn baby scheming about making abortion unthinkable

Scott Klusendorf is a tough, practical pro-life debater. When you listen to him talk about moral issues, it’s like listening to Tim Tebow talk about running the two-minute offense. Even if you are not into bio-ethics, you will have a good time listening to him work through the topics. Anyone who likes to understand issues strategically and operationally will enjoy this interview. It’s extremely practical because Scott is the top pro-life debater in the world. He has had to defend all of his views on the field.

Details:

Today’s interview is witth Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute. LTI is the first place to look for excellent resources to get better equipped to defend the pro-life position. Scott talks about defining abortion and its terms, the issue of the debate, the legal history of abortion, defending the pro-life view using science and philosophy, the four pillars of the pro-life argument, answering a litany of objections to the pro-life position, the right and wrong use of emotional appeals, taking on the right tone in the debate, how to get better equipped, and more.

Click here to get the 45 minute interview. The article he mentions “How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views in 5 Minutes or Less” is worth the read, and it’s a good summary of some of the points he makes in the lecture.

If you like this interview, please be sure and buy the best basic book on pro-life apologetics – Scott Klusendorf’s “The Case for Life“. I do have to mention that Scott is an evangelical Christian. Evangelicals are very much into understanding and debating pro-life and pro-marriage positions – we want to understand and we want to explain why we believe what we believe.

Learn more by reading

You can learn more by reading basic pro-life apologetics… from Francis Beckwith. You might recognize Frank Beckwith as the author of “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice“. He wrote that book for Cambridge University Press, a top academic press. But before Cambridge University Press, Beckwith wrote easy-to-understand essays for the Christian Research Journal.

Here are four essays that answer common arguments in favor of legalized abortion.

Part I. The Appeal to Pity

Excerpt:

Anyone who keeps up with the many pro-choice demonstrations in the United States cannot help but see on pro-choice placards and buttons a drawing of the infamous coat hanger. This symbol of the pro-choice movement represents the many women who were harmed or killed because they either performed illegal abortions on themselves (i.e., the surgery was performed with a “coat hanger”) or went to unscrupulous physicians (or “back-alley butchers”). Hence, as the argument goes, if abortion is made illegal, then women will once again be harmed. Needless to say, this argument serves a powerful rhetorical purpose. Although the thought of finding a deceased young woman with a bloody coat hanger dangling between her legs is — to say the least — unpleasant, powerful and emotionally charged rhetoric does not a good argument make.

The chief reason this argument fails is because it commits the fallacy of begging the question. In fact, as we shall see, this fallacy seems to lurk behind a good percentage of the popular arguments for the pro-choice position. One begs the question when one assumes what one is trying to prove. Another way of putting it is to say that the arguer is reasoning in a circle. For example, if one concludes that the Boston Celtics are the best team because no team is as good, one is not giving any reasons for this belief other than the conclusion one is trying to prove, since to claim that a team is the best team is exactly the same as saying that no team is as good.

The question-begging nature of the coat-hanger argument is not difficult to discern: only by assuming that the unborn are not fully human does the argument work. If the unborn are not fully human, then the pro-choice advocate has a legitimate concern, just as one would have in overturning a law forbidding appendicitis operations if countless people were needlessly dying of both appendicitis and illegal operations. But if the unborn are fully human, this pro-choice argument is tantamount to saying that because people die or are harmed while killing other people, the state should make it safe for them to do so.

Part II. Arguments from Pity, Tolerance, and Ad Hominem

Excerpt:

A woman who becomes pregnant due to an act of either rape or incest is the victim of a horribly violent and morally reprehensible crime. Although pregnancy as a result of either rape or incest is extremely rare, [1] there is no getting around the fact that pregnancy does occur in some instances.

[...]Despite its forceful appeal to our sympathies, there are several problems with this argument. First, it is not relevant to the case for abortion on demand, the position defended by the popular pro-choice movement. This position states that a woman has a right to have an abortion for any reason she prefers during the entire nine months of pregnancy, whether it be for gender-selection, convenience, or rape. [3] To argue for abortion on demand from the hard cases of rape and incest is like trying to argue for the elimination of traffic laws from the fact that one might have to violate some of them in rare circumstances, such as when one’s spouse or child needs to be rushed to the hospital. Proving an exception does not establish a general rule.

[...]Fourth, this argument begs the question by assuming that the unborn is not fully human. For if the unborn is fully human, then we must weigh the relieving of the woman’s mental suffering against the right-to-life of an innocent human being. And homicide of another is never justified to relieve one of emotional distress. Although such a judgment is indeed anguishing, we must not forget that the same innocent unborn entity that the career-oriented woman will abort in order to avoid interference with a job promotion is biologically and morally indistinguishable from the unborn entity that results from an act of rape or incest. And since abortion for career advancement cannot be justified if the unborn entity is fully human, abortion cannot be justified in the cases of rape and incest. In both cases abortion results in the death of an innocent human life. As Dr. Bernard Nathanson has written, “The unwanted pregnancy flows biologically from the sexual act, but not morally from it.” [5]Hence, this argument, like the ones we have already covered in this series, is successful only if the unborn are not fully human.

Part III. Is The Unborn Human Less Than Human?

(No excerpt)

Part IV. When Does a Human Become a Person?

Excerpt:

Some ethicists argue that the unborn becomes fully human sometime after brain development has begun, when it becomes sentient: capable of experiencing sensations such as pain. The reason for choosing sentience as the criterion is that a being that cannot experience anything (i.e., a presentient unborn entity) cannot be harmed. Of course, if this position is correct, then the unborn becomes fully human probably during the second trimester and at least by the third trimester. Therefore, one does not violate anyone’s rights when one aborts a nonsentient unborn entity. [13]

There are several problems with this argument. First, it confuses harm with hurt and the experience of harm with the reality of harm. [14] One can be harmed without experiencing the hurt that sometimes follows from that harm, and which we often mistake for the harm itself. For example, a temporarily comatose person who is suffocated to death “experiences no harm,” but he is nevertheless harmed. Hence, one does not have to experience harm, which is sometimes manifested in hurt, in order to be truly harmed.

Second, if sentience is the criterion of full humanness, then the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping would all have to be declared nonpersons. Like the presentient unborn, these individuals are all at the moment nonsentient though they have the natural inherent capacity to be sentient. Yet to countenance their executions would be morally reprehensible. Therefore, one cannot countenance the execution of some unborn entities simply because they are not currently sentient.

Someone may reply that while these objections make important points, there is a problem of false analogy in the second objection: the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping once functioned as sentient beings, though they are now in a temporary state of nonsentience. The presentient unborn, on the other hand, were never sentient. Hence, one is fully human if one was sentient “in the past” and will probably become sentient again in the future, but this cannot be said of the presentient unborn.

There are at least three problems with this response. First, to claim that a person can be sentient, become nonsentient, and then return to sentience is to assume there is some underlying personal unity to this individual that enables us to say that the person who has returned to sentience is the same person who was sentient prior to becoming nonsentient. But this would mean that sentience is not a necessary condition for personhood. (Neither is it a sufficient condition, for that matter, since nonhuman animals are sentient.) Consequently, it does not make sense to say that a person comes into existence when sentience arises, but it does make sense to say that a fully human entity is a person who has the natural inherent capacity to give rise to sentience. A presentient unborn human entity does have this capacity. Therefore, an ordinary unborn human entity is a person, and hence, fully human.

Second, Ray points out that this attempt to exclude many of the unborn from the class of the fully human is “ad hoc and counterintuitive.” He asks us to “consider the treatment of comatose patients. We would not discriminate against one merely for rarely or never having been sentient in the past while another otherwise comparable patient had been sentient….In such cases, potential counts for everything.” [15]

Third, why should sentience “in the past” be the decisive factor in deciding whether an entity is fully human when the presentient human being “is one with a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts?” [16] Since we have already seen that one does not have to experience harm in order to be harmed, it seems more consistent with our moral sensibilities to assert that what makes it wrong to kill the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, the momentarily unconscious, and the presentient unborn is that they all possess the natural inherent capacity to perform personal acts. And what makes it morally right to kill plants and to pull the plug on the respirator-dependent brain dead, who were sentient “in the past,” is that their deaths cannot deprive them of their natural inherent capacity to function as persons, since they do not possess such a capacity.

These four essays are a very good introduction to common responses to pro-abortion arguments. I recommend that people get familiar with this, as once you look into it, you will see that the abortion issue can be debated with as much confidence as William Lane Craig defends Christian theism. You will have the same access to scientific evidence and rational arguments on this topic, and so you will have the upper hand. And that’s fun.

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