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Wednesday, February 25, 2015


The Moral Battle: 
So What if Killing is Wrong?

By Christopher Ziegler
@CZWriting on Twitter

In my last essay on the subject of abortion, I posed the question I think everyone should have to answer when deciding his or her position: Is a fetus a human life? I said that if our answer to this question was “no” then we have very little reason to be outraged by abortion, but that if our answer was “yes” then we have every reason to be outraged. Around the same time, Michael Novak published an article in Patheos titled Abortion: the intellectual battle has been won. Novak argues that advances in science and medicine since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Decision that legalized abortion, Roe vs. Wade, have inarguably answered my question in the affirmative.

At the moment of conception, an individual and unique strand of human DNA is created, one which never existed before and will never exist again. This DNA strand contains the complete instructions for building a person. Advances in medicine now make it possible for premature babies to survive outside the womb at 20 weeks, half the time of a full pregnancy. Meanwhile, ultrasound technology has given us a clearer picture than ever of just how fast life progresses in the womb.

At 22 days, the baby’s heart beats for the first time. It will beat 54 million times before birth. The human brain is sometimes called the last frontier of science, yet this organ makes its first appearance a mere 3 weeks after conception! Now that we know this, those who still believe the old Darwinian folktale that a baby goes through the stages of a fish are deserving of ridicule. As Novak concludes, “This great fact may take a decade or more to become evident to all, but the intellectual underpinnings of the abortion regime have been washed away.”

Let’s not pop any corks just yet. After all, the abortion debate has never really been a question of facts. It is a moral battle between those who see human life as inherently valuable and those who do not. It is another chapter in the enduring American debate over who we define as a person and who we define as a non-person. Indeed, the scientific evidence that abortion ends life does not upset the abortion regime in the least. Their premise remains what it has always been: so what? In fact, this is the basis of an article written by liberal blogger Mary Elizabeth Williams titled, “So what if abortion ends life?”

Published by the progressive blog Salon in
Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams
She suffers from melanoma
Please keep her in your prayers
2013, So what if abortion ends life? is a startling example of nihilistic liberalism. Beginning with the statement, “I believe that life starts at conception,” Ms. Williams makes it clear where she stands on the “life” question: “I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life,” she writes. She even chastises pro-choice folks for trying to invent their own definitions of when life begins, which she says leads them to draw “stupid semantic lines in the sand.” Nevertheless, she says this doesn't make her “one iota less solidly pro-choice” and that, in her words, “if by some random fluke I learned today I was pregnant, you bet your ass I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion.”

She hurls all the usual invective at the pro-life community, scolding us as “wing-nuts” and decrying the “diabolically clever” move of co-opting the word “life.” She hisses at the “sneaky, dirty tricks of the anti-choice lobby” for trying to appropriate what she calls “the concept of life.” She clearly can’t stand the idea that any pro-life person could ever have the audacity to think, “That if we call a fetus a life they can go down the road of making abortion murder.” I suppose it would not help to point out to Ms. Williams that the killing of one human by another is, in fact, the very definition of murder.

 As I said, the abortion debate is at the most
fundamental level a struggle between those who see human life as inherently valuable and those who do not. This comes through clearly when Ms. Williams excoriates what she calls “the sentimental fiction that no one with a heart—and certainly no one who’s experienced the wondrous miracle of family life—can possibly resist tiny fingers and tiny toes growing inside a woman’s body.” The sarcasm makes clear that Ms. Williams regards family life as neither wondrous nor a miracle. I invite the reader to contemplate what a society would look like in which our notions of babies and mothers were generally regarded as “sentimental fictions.”

Despite the vitriol, Ms. Williams’ central point is not a novel one. What she is arguing is simply this: abortion may indeed be a type of homicide—but it is justifiable homicide. To Ms. Williams, the fetus is just collateral damage in the feminist war for equality. Hence, she can’t get all sentimental about life and babies. “Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal,” she writes. The more important thing to her is “the roads that women who have choice get to go down.” For the sake of this progress, she is willing to
think of a human fetus as a “life worth sacrificing.” 

Williams’ case hinges on this statement: “a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides.” But of course a fetus can be a human life with having the same rights as a woman! She is equivocating on what she means by “same rights.” No rational person believes that a fetus and an adult should have the “same rights.” She seems to be saying that the pro-life argument depends on the claim that the fetus should have rights equal to its mother. Again, this is dishonest because she is omitting the difference between natural and civil rights.

Civil rights are the written laws found in the amendments to the US Constitution and in other legislation. Our natural rights are enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Natural rights do not exist in law because they cannot exist in law. They are, by definition, natural—that is, not man made. We do not have our natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because we are good looking, smart or talented. We do not have them because we are able-bodied or healthy. We do not have them because we are wanted or loved. We have them just because we are human, and nothing more. Civil rights, on the other hand, are legal interpretations which have been derived from our natural rights.

No one seriously argues that a fetus has the right to bear arms or the right to vote or the right to an attorney. No one seriously argues that a fetus is equal to its mother or any other adult in terms of its contribution to society. But that is not the question. The question remains what it has always been: is the fetus a human life? Ms. Williams already answered that question when she said: “Thats what I believe a fetus is: a human life.” But if it is a human life then it is, by definition, entitled to its natural right to human life. If so, then abortion, which takes away that life, is wrong.

Ms. Williams’ fundamental premise that, “A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides” is false because it is possible for a person to have natural rights without being entitled to civil rights, and a fetus is just such a person. Nor can one person’s civil rights trump another person’s natural right to life without due process, because life is the most fundamental natural right and the basis of all other rights. Perhaps Ms. Williams does not see this because she does not believe there is a difference between natural and civil rights. 

The Declaration of Independence says that our Creator has endowed us with our natural rights. But if there is no Creator then men have not been created in any meaningful sense. This means that men have no essential qualities and are but the purely accidental products of blind forces, hence they can’t be said to naturally possess “inalienable” rights. It follows that rights are nothing more than legal fictions conferred by the powers that be. Hence, according to a purely atheistic view, there is no real distinction between natural and civil rights—all rights being merely civil rights.

Some atheists will undoubtedly argue that this controversy does not matter because we can just choose to respect people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as civil rights even if there is no such thing as natural rights. But there is a problem with this quiet assumption. If humans do not exist by a special act of creation, then there is no basis for drawing a distinction between human life and other forms animal life (other than for purposes of taxonomic classification). 

Peter Singer 
We’re then left to the slippery task of explaining why it’s okay to kill a fetus but not a worm. There are three options: either we’re going to have to respect literally all life; or, conversely, have no respect for any life at all; or, decide by the arbitrary dictates of taste which life we choose to respect and which we don’t. I’m not making this stuff up: atheist ethicist Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University, actually argues that we should extend human rights to chimps but that infanticide is a-ok.
He also once argued that bestiality is quite all right, provided that the sex is “mutually satisfying” for both man and beast. Again, I invite the reader to imagine what society would look like if Mr. Singer’s views were widely held.

And there is an additional problem. If there is no God then there is no reason to regard humans as an exceptional species. But when we lose our belief in human exceptionalism we necessarily also lose the view that people are inherently valuable just for being people. We then have to pinpoint the moment in time that they do become valuable, and explain how this can be. Now Ms. Williams makes clear that she believes life begins at conception. She also makes clear that she believes it’s acceptable to kill life even after conception. What her article fails to specify is that magic moment when it becomes not okay to kill life. 

She writes that, “It seems absurd to suggest that the only thing that makes us fully human is the short ride out some lady’s vagina. That distinction may apply neatly legally, but philosophically, surely we can do better.” This same point is often used as a pro-life argument: that it’s absurd that the difference between a person who can be killed lawfully and a person who is protected under the law comes down to a matter of inches. But the recognition of this absurdity sounds ominous coming from the mouth of Ms. Williams, given her stated support for “unrestricted reproductive freedom” (my italics). This would seem to suggest that Ms. Williams would justify infanticide, or what her ilk now likes to refer to as “post-birth abortion.” To be fair, she does not say she supports infanticide, but her argument offers no serious philosophical objection. 

Abortion is wrong because it clearly falls short of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Atheists often like to boast that they can uphold the Golden Rule, too, without having to believe in the supernatural. I would like to think that this is true—that all people can assent to the objective reason found in the Golden Rule regardless of their personal beliefs. But although atheists like to say this, they do not live up to it when they fail to apply it in the case of abortion. I think our 40th president summed up this situation well when he said, “I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.”
Into the Woods: Christopher Ziegler 

Did you enjoy this post. Read others by Christopher Ziegler:
The Battle for the Identity of Man: A House Divided

To be Human or Not to Be: That is the Question About Abortion

Also on Abortion in this Blog: 
MURDER OF INNOCENTS: Out of Evil Comes a Greater Good


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