Without doubt abortion is a hugely divisive issue. But why is that? People disagree about the best flavour of ice cream, but it is not a major battleground. What is the difference? The reason why the abortion debate is so explosive is because at the very heart of the debate is the claim that abortion brings about the death of an unborn human being.
That is what the debate is really about. Either this unborn baby is, or is not, a member of the human race, deserving of protection and liberty. Is he or she one of us or not?
A recent article (“Who and What are We?: What the Abortion Debate is Really About”) written by Francis J. Beckwith for TrueU.org, explores the nature of the abortion debate.
Beckwith asks us to consider what we mean when we say something is wrong. “Suppose, for example, you are arguing with a friend over the question of whether abortion should remain legal, and your friend says to you, ‘If you don’t like abortion, then don’t have one.’ Although this is a common response, it really is a strange one. After all, you probably oppose abortion because you think it is wrong, not because you dislike it.”
One simply has to change the issue in question, to see why such a response is totally unhelpful: “Imagine that your friend is a defender of spousal abuse and says to you, “If you don’t like spousal abuse, then don’t beat your spouse.” Upon hearing those words, you would instantly conclude that your friend has no idea why you oppose spousal abuse. Your opposition is not based on what you like or dislike. It is based on what you have good reason to believe is true: one ought not to abuse a fellow human being, especially one’s spouse. That moral truth has nothing to do with whether or not you like or dislike spousal abuse.”
He continues, “In the same way, pro-lifers oppose abortion because they have reasons to believe that the unborn are full-fledged members of the human community, no different in nature than you or me. And for that reason, the unborn has a right to life that ought to be enshrined in our laws. Thus, in order to defeat the pro-lifer’s point of view, the abortion advocate must show that the unborn is not a full-fledged member of the human community. At the end of the day, the abortion debate is not about likes or dislikes. It is about who and what we are, and whether the unborn is one of us.”
The unborn is indeed one of us. He or she can be no other. “There is no doubt that the unborn is a human being from conception, the result of the dynamic interaction, and organic merger, of the female ovum (which contains 23 chromosomes) and the male sperm (which contains 23 chromosomes). At conception, a whole human being, with its own genome, comes into existence, needing only food, water, shelter, oxygen, and a congenial environment in which to interact. These are necessary in order to grow and develop itself to maturity in accordance with its own nature.”
The unborn is not a potential human being, but a human being with great potential: “Like the infant, the child, and the adolescent, the unborn is a being that is in the process of unfolding its potential – the potential to grow and develop itself but not to change what it is. This unborn being, because of its nature, is actively disposed to develop into a mature version of itself, though never ceasing to be the same being. Thus, the same human being that begins as a one-cell zygote continues to exist to its birth and through its adulthood unless disease or violence stops it from doing so. This is why it makes perfect sense for any one of us to say, ‘When I was conceived …’ This unborn being, because of its nature, is actively disposed to develop into a mature version of itself, though never ceasing to be the same being.”
But pro-abortionists seek to deny the humanity of the unborn. Or even if they do concede that they are human beings, they still seek to argue that they lack rights that the born have. Thus some argue that the unborn, “though a human being, lacks characteristics that are necessary for it to have a right to life. These characteristics typically include having a self-concept, a particular level of higher brain activity, and/or a desire for a right to life. But there are problems with this approach.”
A major problem can be seen by simply changing the person in question: “Imagine that your father was involved in a car accident that put him in a temporarily comatose state. His physician tells you he will awake from the coma in nine months. His conscious experiences, memories, particular skills and abilities will be lost forever and he will have no mental record of them. This means that he will have to relearn all of his abilities and knowledge as he did before he had any conscious experiences. But they would not be the same experiences and desires he had before. That is, he is in precisely the same position as the standard unborn child, with all the basic capacities he had at the beginning of his existence. Thus, if your father has a right to life while in the coma, then so does the standard unborn child.”
An adult in a coma is still one of us. And an unborn child is still one of us. Both demand the same respect and dignity. Both have the right to life. But in an age that has a low view of human life, such a case needs to be argued and re-argued.