I came across this link via a Facebook friend. I though it was interesting since it critiques the pro-life movement from a more traditionalist perspective rather than a liberal one. I think the author raises some interesting points, and I’m not saying I’m in favor of everything he’s against. Overall though his position seems to depend on fallacious slippery-slope arguments and simply false claims. In the following comments I’ll refer to “pro-lifer” as someone who agrees with the principles behind the pro-life movement which the author criticizes.
In one spot the author tries to show that there is not an obligation to step in on someone’s property in order to prevent the killing of a fetus, because this would lead to absurd consequences:
“Are we always obliged, either as Christians or as moral human beings, to trespass on someone’s property in order to prevent a sin or crime from taking place? What if the neighbor is only falsifying a tax return or reading pornography or committing adultery? Those actions may be sinful and criminal, we are told, but they do not involve loss of life. Then mere existence is the ultimate moral test? That is a strange line for Christians to take. Should the ancient martyrs have been rescued or Jesus dragged down from the cross?”
This is silly though. It doesn’t follow from the fact that I would stop my neighbor from murdering his child that I have to step in and stop him from falsifying his tax return. No pro-lifer would be stupid enough to say we are “always obliged…to trespass on someone’s property in order to prevent a sin or crime.” We would be obliged if someone was going to suck his child’s brains out though. Maybe other cases are less clear-cut, but this one isn’t.
Later in the article the author appears to be trying to show that the comparison of stopping an abortion to stopping a drowning is not helpful:
“But the specific example used by Operation Rescue is persuasive, and most Christians would agree that failure to save a drowning man’s life, where rescue could be achieved without danger, is close to murder. The problem with the example lies in the assumption that all these moral dilemmas involve abstract individuals.”
But that’s because we think that fetuses possess the same moral status as anyone else. So it is perfectly legitimate to refer to “abstract individuals.” He then goes on to not refute the argument by reference to talk about “moral ties” and “community.” But ultimately, I’d stop my neighbor who’s killing his child; moreover, I’d create a law which makes it illegal for people in my country to kill their children. The case of abortion is the same given the pro-lifer’s premise that fetuses are not morally inferior to human beings in later stages of development. So his points about moral ties ultimately turn out useless until he refutes this point.
The same holds with his description of a case from New York and the ensuing discussion: “If we apply the same sort of reasoning to the unborn, the principal effect will be to strengthen the government’s hand in its ongoing struggle to supplant the family. If there is an absolute and unquestionable right to life, then abortion will be only one of the options forbidden to pregnant women. What about smoking or drinking or, indeed, any activity that carried to an extreme could threaten the child’s life or reduce its birthweight?”
The author is here beginning to sound like a pro-choicer; only now it’s not the woman’s right to choose, but the family’s right to choose. (“The government will be restricting the family’s freedom!”) But this again rests on the crucial assumption that the fetus doesn’t have the same moral status as a child. In the case of an adolescent child nobody would say, “Well, we shouldn’t legally enforce an absolute right to life of adolescent children, since that might lead us to ban smoking or drinking from the household.” That would be silly. The same argument when applied to the fetus is silly as well. Clearly killing your children is murder and should be punished as such; the face that the child is in your womb makes no difference.