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.
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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