Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why pro-life? Part 1: Clarifying the issue

Note: See the original post in this series.

The 2002 American Heritage Science Dictionary defines abortion as the "induced termination of pregnancy, involving destruction of the embryo or fetus." Find out what abortion actually entails here.

There are 1.2 million abortions in the United States every year, and there have been approximately 50 million legal abortions since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973 instituted abortion on demand at every stage of pregnancy.

How, then, should we proceed in thinking about the ethics of this practice? Greg Koukl offers this illustration:
Imagine that your child wakes up when your back is turned and asks, "Daddy, can I kill this?" What is the first thing you must find out before you can answer him? You can never answer the question "Can I kill this?" unless you've answered a prior question: What is it? This is the key question.

Abortion involves killing and discarding something that's alive. Whether it's right or not to take the life of any living thing depends entirely upon what it is. The answer one gives is pivotal, the deciding element that trumps all other considerations.
Abortion is the killing of something. And in order to determine whether it is right or wrong to kill anything, we must first know what it is that we are killing.

Thus the morality of abortion depends upon the moral status of the entity that abortion kills, the unborn. (Some academics use a sophisticated argument from bodily autonomy to reject this point; their argument will be critiqued in a later post in this series.) As Koukl puts it: "If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human person, no justification for abortion is adequate."

But we can be more precise in how we present the issue. Specifically, there are really two key questions, and the answers to these questions make all the difference. The first is a scientific, biological question: Is the unborn a human being, a living member of the human species?

The second is a moral or philosophical question: If the unborn is a human being, how should we treat him or her? We can formulate the question differently: Do all human beings have a right to life, or only some? Do human beings possess intrinsic moral value? Are they valuable in themselves, simply by virtue of what they are, or do people have worth and dignity because of certain functions or acquired properties that some humans have and others do not?

In the next post in this series, I'll introduce a basic pro-life argument.