Friday, 03 April 2015 15:39

Persuasion and Abortion

Written by  Matthew Jordan
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In this column last month, I suggested that Christians need to be careful when we make proposals for public policy that are grounded in our faith. One basic aspect of loving our neighbors is treating them with respect. And one basic aspect of treating people with respect, if we disagree with them about important issues, is seeking to persuade them to agree with us. The alternative to persuasion is coercion—and coercion, even if sometimes permissible, is almost never a way of respecting or loving our neighbors. If we try to pass laws that will restrict others’ freedoms, then it is our responsibility to look for a basis for those laws that could be plausible to someone who does not share our beliefs about God.

As an illustration, consider the debate over abortion. The issues can be complex, but there is at least one very simple argument that can be made in support of the pro-life view. It goes like this. Absolutely everyone can agree with two claims. First, every normal, mature adult human being has a right to life, a right not to be unjustly killed. Second, every human fetus is a biologically human organism. Now, this means that in order to be pro-choice, a person must believe that not all biologically human organisms have a right to life. The supporter of abortion rights must say that adult humans do have a right to life, but fetal humans do not have a right to life—even though both are biologically human.


This view is objectionable, in several ways. The most basic is this: if not all human beings have a right to life, then we need to explain why some human beings do but others do not. That is, we need to find some trait that adults have but fetuses lack which explains why the latter can be killed but the former cannot. The problem is, for any proposed trait, we can imagine an adult who lacks it but whom we wouldn’t endorse killing. To give just one example, some supporters of abortion rights say that adults are different from fetuses because we have the ability to reason. It’s possible, however, for an adult to lose that ability—at least temporarily—without thereby losing his right not to be killed. Imagine a person who has been made unconscious in preparation for surgery. For that matter, imagine a person in a very deep sleep! These people cannot engage in reasoning, yet it would be wrong to kill them. Therefore, there must be some other explanation of why this is so. I think the best explanation is simple: it is wrong to kill them because they are human beings. Since a fetal human is also a human being, it follows that it is wrong to kill fetuses too.


The wrongness of abortion is known not exclusively on the basis of scripture or tradition, but on the basis of sound moral thinking—reasonable grounds that are available to all.




Last modified on Thursday, 07 May 2015 15:53
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