June 16, 2008
Abortion and Presidential Politics
Since the election is nearing—I have a question concerning Abortion—most of my family is catholic—we all know the stance on Abortion by the Church as well as the Bible for Protestants—how does someone support the candidates that are pro choice? This drives me nuts when analyzing this situation; I know this is only one issue but it is such a huge issue! I appreciate your comments since i value your judgement so much.
In order to answer your question, Garry, we first need to determine our view of the ethics of abortion on demand. It seems to me that amidst all the arguments pro and con about the abortion issue, there are two central questions which are determinative:
(1) Do human beings possess intrinsic moral value?
(2) Is the developing fetus a human being?
Think about that first question: Do human beings have intrinsic moral value? Something has intrinsic value if it is an end in itself, rather than a means to some end. Things which are valuable merely as means to some end have only extrinsic value. For example, money has no intrinsic value, in and of itself. Rather it has extrinsic value insofar as it's a useful means of commerce for human beings and so is valuable to us for the ends it helps us achieve. But in and of itself it's intrinsically worthless. It's just paper.
Now the question is, are human beings like that? Or are they intrinsically valuable? I'm certain that most people, once they think about it, recognize that human beings are intrinsically valuable. People aren't just valuable as means to some end; rather people are ends in themselves. That's why, as Augustine said, we should love people and use things, not vice versa. Those who use people and love things are doing something profoundly immoral because they are not recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of other persons, who are not mere things to be used.
The international community recognizes the intrinsic moral value of human beings in its declaration on human rights. The notion that people have inherent rights just in virtue of the fact that they are human beings, regardless of their race, class, religion, caste, or station in life, is based in the inherent moral value of human beings. This truth is recognized as well in our Declaration of Independence, where it affirms that all men are endowed with certain unalienable rights, such as the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness. Most of us, when we reflect upon it, would come to a similar conclusion: Yes, human beings do possess intrinsic moral value.
Now what that implies is that if the developing fetus is a human being, then he or she is endowed with intrinsic moral worth and therefore possesses inherent human rights, including the right to life. Abortion would be a form of homicide, and against such attacks the innocent and defenseless fetus would have every right to the protection of the law.
So we come to the second question we must address: Is the developing fetus a human being? Here it seems to me that it is virtually undeniable scientifically and medically that the fetus is at every stage of its development a human being. After all, the fetus is not canine, or feline, or bovine; it is a human fetus. From the moment of conception on, there exists a living organism which is a genetically complete human being and which, if left to develop naturally, will grow into an adult member of its species.
Contrast the complete human embryo with a sperm or an unfertilized egg. Neither the sperm nor the egg alone constitutes a human being: each is genetically incomplete, having only 1/2 the chromosomes necessary to make a complete human being. If left alone, they don't develop into anything: the sperm dies in a couple of days, and the unfertilized egg is expelled in a woman's monthly cycle. But if they unite, they combine into a single living cell to form a unique individual which has never before existed.
Already in that moment of conception, that individual is either male or female, depending on whether he or she received an X or a Y chromosome from the sperm. The later development of sexual organs and other secondary sexual characteristics is only evidence of a difference in sexuality which has been there from the very beginning. Moreover, all of the individual's traits like body type, eye and hair color, facial characteristics, and so forth are all determined at the moment of conception and are just waiting to unfold. From the moment of conception we have a genetically complete and unique human being; in effect, you began at the moment of your conception.
Moreover, the development of this individual is a smooth and unbroken continuum throughout. There is no non-arbitrary breaking point before which you can say the fetus is not human, but after which he or she is. The traditional division of pregnancy into three trimesters has no scientific or medical basis: it is a purely arbitrary reckoning device for the sake of convenience. It's probably due to the fact that pregnancy lasts nine months. If human beings had a gestation time of 8 months, nobody would talk about trimesters. We'd probably divide it into quarters. The fact is that any attempt to draw a line and say "not human before this point, but human afterwards" is wholly arbitrary and without biological foundation.
Thus, as I say, it seems to me virtually undeniable that the fetus — which is just Latin for "little one" —is a human being in the early stages of his development. Whether one is a "little one," a newborn, an adolescent, or an adult, he is at every point a human being at a different stage of his development. Those who deny the little one in the womb is a human being typically confuse being human with being at some later stage of development. For example, some abortion rights advocates say that because an embryo is not a baby, it's not a human being, and therefore abortion is morally acceptable.
This argument seems to me completely fallacious. On this reasoning, we could with equal justice say that because a child is not an adult, he is not a human being; or because a baby is not a child, he is not a human being. Of course, an embryo is not a baby, but that doesn't mean that an embryo is not a human being. All of these are the various stages in a human being's development, and it is arbitrary to cut off one stage and say that because it is not a later stage, it is not a human being.
Moreover, it is simply false that most abortions are performed on embryos. By the time most women realize that they are pregnant (about two months after conceiving), the embryo has already become a fetus, a "little one". We're not dealing at this point with a cluster of cells, but with—the word is unavoidable—a baby, a very tiny baby with a face and features, with little arms and legs, with tiny feet and hands. All the organs of the body are already present, and the muscle and circulatory systems are complete. Even brain wave activity is present. By the twelfth week, his fingers and toes are fully developed, complete with delicate fingerprints and with little fingernails and toenails forming. The baby is already quite mobile, kicking and moving about, clenching and opening his little fists and curling his toes. Behind his closed eyelids his eyes are almost fully developed. Incredibly, already at this point, the baby's facial features begin to resemble those of his parents!
In utero photographs of these little ones have disclosed to us what exquisitely beautiful and delicate marvels of creation they are. One physician describes his experience of seeing first hand one of these eight-week-old little ones:
Years ago, while giving an anesthetic for a ruptured tubal pregnancy (at two months), I was handed what I believed to be the smallest human being ever seen. The embryo sac was intact and transparent. Within the sac was a tiny human male swimming extremely vigorously in the amniotic fluid, while attached to the wall by the umbilical cord. This tiny human was perfectly developed with long, tapering fingers, feet and toes. It was almost transparent as regards the skin, and the delicate arteries and veins were prominent to the end of the fingers. The baby was extremely alive and did not look at all like the photos and drawings of 'embryos' which I have seen. When the sac was opened, the tiny human immediately lost its life and took on the appearance of what is accepted as the appearance of an embryo at this stage, blunt extremities, etc.
No one who has seen photographs of infants in the womb between 8-12 weeks old can honestly deny that here we have a human baby.
The vast majority of abortions occur at this time, between the tenth and twelfth weeks of pregnancy and are thus clearly destroying a human baby. I won't even speak of the horror of second and third trimester abortions, 150,000 of which occur annually in the U.S. alone, or of partial birth abortions in which a baby is actually partially delivered before it is brutally killed. Make no mistake about it: abortion is killing babies. The only way this can go on is because these unlucky little ones are normally hidden from view. As my former pastor once said, "If wombs had windows, there would be no abortions."
The fact is that from conception to old age we have the various stages of development in the life of a human being. It seems to me therefore that the medical and scientific facts make it virtually undeniable that the developing fetus is a human being.
If we thus answer "Yes" to both of the questions we've set ourselves, it follows that abortion on demand is a moral outrage, the destruction of an innocent and defenseless human life. Now you'll notice that I've not appealed at any point to the Bible in all this. That's because, contrary to popular impression, abortion is not, as such, a religious question. The first question we asked is philosophical: do human beings posses intrinsic moral value? The second question is scientific and medical: is the developing fetus a human being? Neither of these is a religious question.
Given our answers to the two questions above, it follows that abortion on demand is the transcendent moral issue of our time. Since the legalization of abortion on demand in 1973, we have witnessed an American Holocaust which has claimed the lives of tens of millions of innocent human beings. Other issues pale in comparison to this one. While we should care about a candidate's stand on other important domestic and foreign policies, still, where there are pro-life candidates in the field, the sine qua non for our voting for any candidate must be his championing the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand.