Last Friday, the Georgia State Legislature passed the HB 481 bill, entitled the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act” and it now heads to Governor Brian Kemp’s desk to be signed into law. The bill establishes rights and protections for unborn children once a heartbeat is detected in the womb. Predictably, this has generated much celebration from the pro-life side of the debate and much outrage from the pro-choice side. Many celebrity actors, led by Alyssa Milano, have even signed angry petitions and threatened to no longer film in the state if Governor Kemp signs the bill.
There is no doubt that the issue is highly contentious but why is it so difficult to discuss it, particularly the merits of the pro-life side, with even a modicum of reasonableness? Everything related to the topic is so emotionally charged and emotionally driven that logic and reason are flung into the wind in favor of berating the other side for arguments they have never made and intentions they have never had. This is not unique to abortion, of course. It has become seemingly more commonplace in many, if not most, areas of sociopolitical discourse (and by “discourse”, I mean perpetually screaming at each other on social media). The bottom line is that no one is listening to each other. And if you aren’t listening to the other side, if you don’t fully understand the actual opposing argument and the merits of it, how can you possibly be certain of your own position? An echo chamber might sound full but that’s generally because it is actually empty and hollow, and while you are in it, what you think is reality is almost always an illusion.
The pro-life argument is not difficult to understand. At its foundation is a belief that life is precious and that taking an innocent life is inherently immoral. That does not require a religious interpretation, though many religious people are pro-life. It merely requires the viewpoint that human life has intrinsic value. Because people who are pro-life view unborn children as valuable living human beings, naturally abortion would be seen as a taking an innocent life and therefore, immoral. Now, the arguments get convoluted and highly emotional on both sides and that is understandable, but what I’d like to do here is to take a more objective approach and prioritize facts and logic to make the pro-life argument.
To understand or have a point of view on the issue of abortion, one must answer the first and most basic question: “What is a human life?” and whether or not this applies to a fetus. That question is where the paths diverge between pro-choice and pro-life. Many people might argue that the question is actually, “when does human life begin”, but even that requires first defining “human life.” We cannot agree on when the life begins if we can’t even define what it is in the first place. Sift through a thread of an abortion debate on any social media platform and you will see this to be the case. Additionally, defining the question of human life easily answers the question of when it begins (since it can be looked at objectively).
So, let’s break the question down and examine both the term “human” and the term “life.” Let’s begin with, “What is human?” A human being can be classified in many different ways but one sure way to distinguish the homo sapien species from something else entirely is through genetics. Without getting deep into the scientific terminology, let’s just say that humans have a particular genetic makeup that is unique to the species. Therefore, if the organism in question has the genetic makeup of a human, scientifically speaking, that organism is a human. Another way to be sure it is a human is to look at the scientific facts of reproduction. Both common sense and scientific reasoning tell us that if the parents are human, it logically follows that the offspring is also human (as opposed to some other species). It is difficult to conceive an argument that attempts to deflect away from this fact. Some may argue that a fetus is merely a meaningless clump of cells. Even if that were true, they would still be human cells. And, they would be human cells that contain their own unique genome, meaning distinct from the mother as opposed to being merely a part of her. Therefore, it can be said, based on the scientific evidence, that a fetus is indeed human. Ok, that’s settled. Agreed? But is it alive?
An organism must exhibit what are called the properties of life in order to be considered “living.” Those properties are as follows:
- Cellular Organization
- Responsiveness to Stimuli
- Growth and Development
- Energy Processing
Looking at this list, what is there that disqualifies a fetus, particularly a fetus with a heartbeat, from meeting the qualification for life? Cellular organization is apparent, it is responsive to stimuli, it is clearly growing and developing, has regulatory mechanisms in place, and there is plenty of research on fetal homeostasis and metabolic activities. The only thing on the list that does not check out is reproduction. But let’s think about that for a moment. Does inability to reproduce at a particular stage of development disqualify a human from being alive? Reproduction doesn’t even become a possibility until puberty. And surely we wouldn’t say that the people who are, unfortunately, unable to have children somehow do not meet the requirements for life. This qualifier is clearly referring to the potential to reproduce as an adult in the given species, which is true if you look at the genetic code (and we already established that it is, indeed, human per the genetics). It seems to me then that, objectively speaking, a fetus meets all of the biological requirements for life.
Now, if a fetus is a human AND it is alive, both of which I just used science to prove, that means that arguments such as viability, dependency on the mother, and any other arbitrary qualifiers that might be used to define life are objectively incorrect. The logical follow up question one must ask then, if it is both a human and alive, is how abortion can possibly be justified if the definition of homicide is, according to Merriam-Webster, “a killing of one human being by another?”
Is abortion ever justified? I personally don’t think so. Hard cases like rape and incest account for a small percentage of abortions (around 1%), but even in those tragic situations you have to ask yourself if it would be a justifiable reason to kill a born child, like a toddler? If the answer is no, then it isn’t a justifiable reason to kill a fetus either. Because as we just established, it is a human life just as much as the toddler. That doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the victim and their trauma. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them. But we can’t victimize someone else either.
What about medical emergencies? A multitude of physicians have spoken out recently about how emergency deliveries can and should be done instead of abortions when the health of the mother is at imminent risk. Now, that baby still might die, but at least it would have a fighting chance instead of being ripped apart limb by limb (apologies for that image, but that is literally what happens. Let’s not dance around it). In emergency triage situations, sometimes it is necessary to intentionally step over a critically injured patient in order to save another critically injured patient first, one who is much more likely to survive with immediate aid. Otherwise you risk losing them both. That action may mean that you have left the first patient to die, but at least you were able to save the other one. What you don’t do in that situation, however, is take out a knife and repeatedly stab the first patient in the chest so that you only have one patient to deal with. You try to save them both.
The pro-choice side of this is definitely understandable. There are concerns for the mother’s health and well-being, concerns about bodily autonomy, concerns about government overreach, and concerns about an overcrowded foster system. All of these are valid concerns and real issues that I think we need to be mindful of. I just think that they are separate issues than the question that needs to be answered in abortion, which is, “is it ethical to kill a fetus?” If you accept the scientific definitions of both human and life and we then work from that framework that according to those definitions, a fetus is a living human being, then we need to approach every argument with that presupposition. We need to ask if it is ethical to kill another human being if the mother’s health and well-being are at stake in a non-emergency situation. Is it ethical to kill another human being due to concerns about bodily autonomy? Is it ethical to kill another human being due to perceived government overreach? Is it ethical to kill another human being due to overcrowded foster care? Those are the conversations that need to happen if you want to defend abortion.
The last point I will make is that even if the human life aspect was not scientifically sound and it was truly ambiguous, that would mean that we would be uncertain, at best. There is often an air of certainty in these debates from the pro-choice side as if the ethics of abortion are settled and should not be challenged, but that isn’t remotely true. At best, you just aren’t sure and you would like to leave the choice up to the mother. I understand that. But there are two types of errors to make in the face of uncertainty. One type assumes the fetus is a human life when it isn’t. The other type assumes the fetus is not a human life when it is. The consequences of the first error type means that the option for ending a pregnancy would be erroneously taken away and women would be unable to relieve the burden of carrying unwanted pregnancies to term. All of the pro-choice arguments would be correct. Government overreach, violation of bodily autonomy, strain on foster care and society at large, etc. But what does the second error type mean? What happens if you wrongly assume that the fetus is not a human life when it is and you kill it? In 2015, there were 638,169 abortions in the US alone per the CDC. The WHO estimates 40-50 million abortions worldwide. What do you call that if that large of a number of human beings are being killed every single year over many years? The consequences of making the second error type are clear. It’s genocide.
Regardless of the logic of type errors, we have already established scientific evidence that a fetus fits the qualifications for human life, especially if it has a heartbeat. So, in reality, there is no actual ambiguity. And life, as we know, is precious. Our children are gifts from God, full of wonder and innocence and potential to grow and learn and make this world a better place. Life, itself, is the most precious gift that we have. And you can see it everywhere. You see it when you play with your kids, when you laugh with your husband or wife, when you hang out with your friends, when you listen to the stories of your grandparents, when you walk through the woods or drive through mountains, when you sit on a beach, when you look at the stars or you watch the sunset. The beauty of life is all around us. Yet, it’s easy to take it for granted. We must not do that. Human life, particularly innocent human life, is the most precious thing in this world. And we have a duty to protect it. God bless our babies. God bless our country. And God bless you.
p.s. The film “Unplanned” is currently rocking it in theatres across the nation. Definitely make sure you go see it! Here is the trailer:
A person’s a person no matter how small
– Dr. Seuss