Abortion: The Basic Pro-Life Argument
by Greg Jackson
Last time, we answered the question “What is the unborn?”, for, in order to know whether or not it is permissible to kill a thing, we need to know what that thing is. The answer which we gave, based on what the science of embryology teaches us was:
From the earliest moment of development, the unborn are distinct, living and whole human beings
For the vast majority of us, we first existed and began to develop at conception (fertilization). I say the vast majority because some of us i.e. one out of a pair of monozygotic twins, otherwise known as identical twins, might have begun to exist just a little bit later (but that’s another issue for another day).
To say life begins at conception is an uncontroversial scientific fact… but we’ve been over all this!
So, the central argument goes something like this:
(1) To intentionally kill an innocent human being is wrong
(2) Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
(3) Therefore, abortion is wrong
This is what is known as a valid argument. That is to say, if the premises are true (and the terms are used in precisely the same manner in each premise) then the conclusion must also be true. Which is to say that if it is indeed wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being (1), and it is indeed true that abortion involves the intentional killing of an innocent human being (2), then it must be the case that abortion is wrong (3).
It is also a very powerful argument. Here’s why:
A defender of abortion only has two options if they want to deny the conclusion (which they must if they are going to continue to uphold their own ideology). They can either
- deny (1) – they can deny that it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being, arguing instead that perhaps it is not always wrong but sometimes morally permissible
- or, they can deny (2) – that abortion does not intentionally kill an innocent human being
For the time being, we shall focus on (2) – abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. Given what we have said so far, that abortion does in fact intentionally kills an innocent human being should be fairly obvious.
- The unborn, who are intentionally killed in an abortion, are most certainly human as we saw last time – they are distinct, living and whole human beings from when they first exist at conception. To deny this is to manifest a profound lack of scientific understanding.
- And there are only two kinds of people who might deny that the unborn are innocent: lunatics and philosophers. In the former case, one should do their best to make sure that they are safely returned to the asylum, and for the latter, I’m not sure that a similar response is not just as fitting. To claim that the unborn is not innocent would be to grossly distort any common sense understanding of innocence and, as such, scarcely rises to the level of nonsense. We should therefore not give any credence to such a suggestion.
- One could take issue with the suggestion that abortion intentionally kills, and, in all fairness, this is not something which we have yet addressed. How should one define ‘abortion’? Let’s try the following “Abortion – the intentional removal of the unborn from the womb of its mother so as to result in the death of the unborn.” (For the philosophers and pedants out there, there are certain kinds of removal of the unborn from the womb where death is not intended and one might reasonably call these abortions – but these require an entirely different moral analysis which we shall not here attempt).
In light of this, it seems that (2) – abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being – is not only true, but undeniably so. In which case, the defender of abortion must turn to premise (1). That is, they must deny that it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Defenders of abortion most often deny (2) because if it is the case that abortion does not intentionally kill an innocent human being, then the pro-life case falls apart. We have no reason to be pro-life and abortion is not a moral issue (or at least, not nearly as great a moral issue as pro-lifers take it to be). But, as we have seen, (2) cannot reasonably be denied.
This perhaps, is one of the many reasons why the public debate on this issue is so very unproductive. Defenders of abortion most often deny (2) because they do not want to affirm (1) – they do not wish to affirm that killing innocent humans, humans who are guilty of no crime, is sometimes permissible. They do not wish to do this because it sounds terrible, and the do not wish to do this because they are then left with the rather more difficult task of having to actually decide which innocent humans it is permissible to kill and which humans it is not.
The real debate, the serious debate which tends to take place at universities and philosophy societies, lies in debating (1). But, if you’ve got this far with someone, you’re doing extremely well.
(1) To intentionally killing an innocent human being is wrong – hard to consistently deny
(2) Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being – definitely true
(3) Therefore, abortion is wrong
See you next time when we’ll examine some of the common objections to the argument against abortion.