The Issue at the Heart of the Abortion Debate

I’m going to make what may initially seem to be contentious statements, so read the post to contextualize:

If the unborn is not a person, then abortion is morally permissible, and it doesn’t matter what you do with the unborn.

If the unborn is a person, then abortion is morally impermissible, and the unborn must be protected.

Note that these statements are conditional, marked by the word, “If.”

Why would I make these statements? Simply because I want to clarify the issue that is at the heart of the abortion debate. Namely, the status of the unborn.

Consider the following arguments in favor of the pro-choice position:

We shouldn’t bring unwanted fetuses into the world. It’s better to abort fetuses than force a woman to have an unwanted child.

If a mother can’t afford to have a child, she shouldn’t be forced to continue her pregnancy.

Women’s rights are at stake: it is a woman’s body we’re talking about!

Now, let’s contextualize them. Rather than debating the viability of these arguments, suppose we plug in the case in which we all agree there is a “person” involved. Suppose in place of the “unborn” or “fetus” we put “toddler” into the argument. In that case, the arguments would be:

We should kill unwanted toddlers. It’s better to kill them than to have them live in homes where they are unwanted.

If a woman can’t afford to feed her toddler, we should kill it.

Women’s rights are at stake! Think of the drain toddlers place upon their mothers!

These arguments are clearly absurd. Why? Because we all know that we can’t just go around killing children because their families don’t want them. We can’t kill toddlers because their families can’t afford to feed them. But that’s exactly the question these types of arguments beg: what is the unborn?

And so we return to the statements at the beginning of this post. Suppose the unborn is, in fact, just a cluster of cells, no different from a wart or growth. In that case, I would agree it is perfectly permissible to discard of the unborn whenever a woman desires.

But then, what if the unborn is, in fact, a “person”? What if the unborn is a baby after all? Well, in that case, it is certainly not permissible to discard of the baby.

The fact is, many arguments raised in favor of the pro-choice position are made from a position where one simply assumes that the fetus is no more than a clump of cells. But that’s exactly what the debate is supposed to be about! If the fetus is no more then a clump of cells, the debate is over. But if the fetus is indeed a person, then the arguments raised in favor of the pro-choice position are just as shoddy as those arguments with “toddler” substituted in for “unborn” or “fetus.”

Thus, arguments like this must always be contextualized. The heart of the abortion debate is the status of the unborn. Once that question is answered, the answer to the question: “Is abortion permissible?” becomes crystal clear.

For arguments against abortion, check out my Pro-Life Page. Specifically, one can find my arguments for the personhood of the fetus here.

Scott Klusendorf does a simply phenomenal job of centralizing this issue and pointing out how most of the issues which cloud the debate can simply be dropped in favor of debating the status of the unborn. The arguments presented here are based upon his tactic “trot out the toddler” which one can find in his book, The Case for Life or in his lectures in Ethics at the Edge of Life (found in the links here).



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


15 thoughts on “The Issue at the Heart of the Abortion Debate

  1. I really like this post man. It’s such a good habit to clarify the issue before even engaging, you’re right on here. I second the props for Klusendorf as well, his resources have helped me out incredibly.

    Posted by Jon Bolie | January 24, 2012, 6:03 PM
  2. Hello! I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and have been enjoying it greatly! I just earlier today read this: I’m not sure how crucial, or even relevant at all, the question of whether the unborn is a “life” is to many among the pro-abortion set. We are also seeing a growing transhumanist movement that seeks to legally redefine what a “person” is. In fact, I would not be surprised at all to see a growing acceptance of infanticide unfold in the future. It’s important to never forget that for souls suffering under the darkness of the new secular atheism there is no eternal perspective. When all happiness, joy, and fulfillment is necessarily physical, the whole of all time and being becomes compressed down to the individual’s lifetime, and especially into the period of youth. This creates an immeasurable desperation; a desperation of cosmic scope. When people believe their only shot at heaven in all eternity is a couple decades of being young (ie-healthy and sexy) in the here and now, they are liable to accept anything that allows for possession of this transient material paradise-like sex without consequences. Like all such evils, it will begin by masquerading as an alleged needed social good-probably a cry for “mercy” for severely disabled children.

    The Christian moral structure of our society is cracked and broken, but as of yet still retaining most of it’s general shape. But broken objects can only hold together by inertia for so long and soon we will begin to see major sections coming apart…anything will then be possible.

    Posted by Darren Cooney | January 24, 2012, 6:28 PM
    • Darren,

      That post you linked is excellent. I do agree that there is some concern over what it means to be a “person,” and I think that infanticide is just over the horizon. I think much of what you say about the desparation of atheism and the plight of abortion is spot on. I wrote on similar notions in my post, “Abortion: The Struggle Between Objectivity and Subjectivity.”

      Thanks for your comment! I think there is still reason for hope, however, and a lot of it stems from the resurgence of evangelicalism and apologetics. Hopefully, as people study apologetic issues they do not forget to investigate moral issues as well… particularly abortion.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | January 25, 2012, 1:48 PM


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