Here are the remaining arguments against abortion, with rebuttals. See part 1 here.
10. Why is murder wrong? Because it takes away a future like mine. If we found intelligent humanoids like us on another planet, killing them for sport would be wrong for this reason. And this is why abortion is wrong—it takes away a future like mine. This is Glenn Peoples’ Argument from the Future (podcast episode #29, 8/3/09).
Why focus on the future? Assuming these humanoids are largely unchanging month to month, like people, killing them for sport takes away a present like mine. I assume that Peoples focuses on the future only because he has no argument otherwise.
But let’s take the path that Peoples points us to. Killing a fetus would deprive it of a future like mine, but so would killing a single skin cell, once they are clonable into humans. Would it then a crime to scratch your skin? Or, let’s take it further back. Suppose I have two kids. Was it criminal to not have three? Or four? Or fifteen? I’ve deprived those people-to-be of life.
Extrapolating back to the twinkle in my eye, saying that we have a person deserving of life at every step is ridiculous. But the facts fit neatly and logically into the spectrum argument.
11. But a fetus has a soul! Does it? If the zygote has a soul and then it splits into twins, does each twin have half a soul or do they get another one as needed or did they get two to begin with? What about conjoined twins? Do they share a single soul like a shared body part? What about babies with terrible birth defects that leave them with very little brain function? What about a person cloned from a cell—would they have a soul? And if the story for the soul has a happy ending for the 50% of pregnancies that end in spontaneous (natural) abortion, why not for an artificial abortion?
This mess vanishes if we don’t insist on a soul. As Daniel Dennett said, “What isn’t there doesn’t have to be explained.”
12. “Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent.” These are the words of an archbishop from Brazil. He was outraged at the abortion done on a nine-year-old girl, raped and impregnated by her stepfather. In response to the abortion, the church excommunicated the family of the girl and the doctors who performed the abortion.
Wow. Let’s leave this example of how religion makes you do crazy things and focus on the claim. First, a fetus is not a child. Second, the spectrum argument defeats this claim.
Variations on this argument are popular, and they all have pretty much the same response. Here are a few.
12a. Abortion kills a human life (at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy) to help with another human’s self-actualization (higher on the hierarchy). That’s the opposite of the way it’s supposed to work. The two “human lives” are not comparable. This ignores the spectrum of development from single cell to trillion-cell newborn.
Killing a blastocyst with fewer cells than the brain of the fly troubles me less than killing a civilian in another country due to war or killing a criminal on death row.
12b. Don’t we normally go out of our way to defend the defenseless? Again, this ignores the spectrum. Defenseless people are more important than defenseless cells.
12c. Haven’t we been through this with racial minorities? Declaring that single cells aren’t human is like declaring that African-Americans aren’t human. Nice try. Spectrum argument.
12d. In response to your abortion clinic example: you argue that, if given a choice between saving a child and ten frozen embryos, you’d save the child. Okay, and if given the choice between your wife and a stranger, you’d save your wife, but that doesn’t mean that you can kill strangers. Spectrum argument.
13. Haven’t you heard of adoption? That’s the answer to an unplanned pregnancy. No, it’s clearly not the answer. Two percent of all births to unmarried women in the U.S. are placed for adoption. “Just have the baby and release it for adoption” is a pat on the head. It might make you feel good, but it doesn’t work.
14. You say that a trillion cells is definitely a person. Okay, how about a trillion minus one—is that a person? And if so, how about a trillion minus two? And so on. This same game could be played with the blue/green spectrum. If this color is “green,” what about just a touch more blue—isn’t that green as well? The point remains that the two ends of the spectrum are very different—green is not blue! Similarly, a single cell is not a newborn with arms, legs, kidneys, brain, and so on.
15. The woman who got pregnant knew what she was doing. Let’s encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. She didn’t necessarily know what she was doing—sex education is so poor that many teens become sexually mature without understanding what causes what.
But let’s assume that the woman knew what she was doing and was careless or stupid. What do we do with this? When someone shoots himself accidentally, that was stupid, but we all pay for the medical and insurance system that puts them back together. Let’s educate people, demand responsibility, and have a harm-reduction approach where we find the best resolution of problem. For a woman whose life would be overturned with a pregnancy, that resolution might be abortion.
16. If you’re so smart, where do you draw the line? I don’t. I find that pro-life advocates quickly turn the conversation to the definition of the OK/not-OK line for abortion, hoping to find something to criticize. I avoid this, both because it diverts attention from the spectrum argument—the main point I want to make—and because I have no opinion about the line and am happy to leave it up to the experts.
Barack Obama answered that question, “That’s above my pay grade,” which satisfies me, since he was running for Commander-in-chief, not Obstetrician-in-chief.
Next time: 5 Recommendations to the Pro-Life Movement
- Find the first post in this series about abortion here: A Defense of Abortion Rights: The Spectrum Argument
- About Christians having lots of kids: “Welcome the World’s 7 Billionth Citizen”
- “Facts on Induced Abortion in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute, August 2011.
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‘Extrapolating back to the twinkle in my eye, saying that we have a person deserving of life at every step is ridiculous.’
Fortunately, this wasn’t the argument. The strawmannery and shallowness here is just incredible!
It only seems shallow if you insist that there has to be a single “magic moment” somewhere along the timeline. This is, of course, the exact opposite of what Bob has been saying right along, and the comment of his that you quote is entirely consistent with everything else he’s said about a gradual spectrum of development.
Just as a blueprint is not the finished building, neither was the original visualization in the architect’s brain that preceded the blueprint. They were all essential for the final product to exist, but there was much less invested in the idea or in the blueprint than in the completed structure, so they aren’t worth as much in a cost-benefit analysis that asks “What if we stopped the whole process right now? What would we gain? What would we lose?”.