Abortion Ends Lives: Why This Actually Matters

A troubling post has been making waves lately, mostly causing controversy among those of us who willingly and eagerly call ourselves pro-life. Often, the primary discussion when debating the morality of abortion is the personhood of a fetus: at what point does the fetus obtain the same rights as a human being? Pro-lifers argue conception or some other early moment, while the pro-choice crowd claim that life begins far later, thus justifying abortions.

Not everyone has stuck to this discussion, however. Sometimes, they veer off, ignore the normal arguments, and run with their conclusions all the same. Such it is with the post in question.

The circulating article, So what if abortion ends life?, almost sounded satirical to me, at first. Much like last year’s controversial paper suggesting that after-birth abortions should be acceptable, this post takes the pro-choice position to its logical conclusion:

All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

That constitutes the heart of her argument. This turns the arguments that we’ve all been having for years now on their heads: our arguments have primarily rested squarely on the statement that human life should not be unjustly destroyed, and that a fetus is an example of a human life that, if killed, constitutes an unjust death. Most of the pro-choice arguments have pushed against this second point: fetuses are not yet human, and thus do not have the quality of human life that is wrong to kill. This post, however, pushes against the first proposition: it is not always unjust to end an innocent life.

Or, more accurately, she suggests that it is not always the most wrong thing to end an innocent life. She never suggests that the fetus deserved death, or any such thing; simply that the rights of the mother should always override any rights we may offer to the fetus, including life.

In fact, let’s take a minute to lay out her argument explicitly, because my logic class taught me to, but also because I believe it will be genuinely helpful:

  1. All life is not equal.
  2. A fetus is a human life.
  3. A woman who has a fetus inside of her possesses a type of life that is above the type of life possessed by the fetus.
  4. The type of life the woman possesses in (3) includes the right to end the type of life possessed by the fetus.
  5. Therefore, from those propositions, it follows that it is acceptable for a woman to procure an abortion.

My disagreement is with proposition 3, and by implication 4. In order to arrive at the conclusion that a woman has a different sort of life than the fetus inside of her, you have to either provide some sort of criterion by which life may be judged, or you have to simply assert that it is self-evident that a woman’s rights should trump the rights of the fetus. I’ve seen no criterion that isn’t defeated with relative ease, and the brute-force fact simply does not seem self-evident for a great many people.

Here is where pro-lifers will have the strongest disagreement: the idea that a fetus has a different, subservient set of rights than the mother has simply sounds absurd. It is not because of some scare-tactic that we use the term ‘pro-life’ to describe our position: we value the life of every fetus, and attempt to highlight the core of our argument–that the fetus is a living human being–even in our self-appointed description.

I’ll agree with the author on this much, at least: “A fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides.” That’s spot on, actually, though the intended disparate rights are not so accurate. There are many rights that the mother has that the fetus does not have: the mother has the right to vote, to own a gun, etc. The fetus does not have these, because these are earned rights, in a sense: you earn the right to vote by participating in society via tax payment, you earn the right to own a gun by not only aging, but also securing a license, etc. There are, however, basic rights available to all humans, regardless of age or location, ability or licences. While we may spend decades debating what actually constitutes a basic right, life is certainly on that list. The right to life is basic, and we should seek to defend it any time that we can. Occasionally an individual acts in such a way that they forfeit that basic right, but it stands to reason that a fetus is not a being that is capable of moral culpability, at least in regards to the law or the choices we may make. While some suggest that it is inconsistent to be pro-life in regards to abortion while also voting to maintain or institute the death penalty, it should be noted that the primary difference is the action of the individual on consideration for death: the fetus has done nothing of its own free will to impose upon another individual, while the criminal has (assuming guilt, of course).

And so my own self-evident and contradictory truth is this: a fetus possesses the same sort of life as the mother, and if both are alive, both lives should be preserved. The mother does not possess the moral right to end the life of the fetus, with a potential exception for self-defense, though those cases are extremely rare.

Purposelessly ending a life is evil. I hope we can all agree on that, regardless of your position on abortion. But whim, quality of life, or even, dare I say it, comfort should not function as reasons for ending another life, particularly one that simply cannot be personally responsible for any hardships. To suggest that ending a life is something we have a right to do, simply because we are able and possess some undefined ‘higher’ type of life, is deplorable.

The image of God is a powerful truth: we are made in it, and our concern should be for every image-bearer. This stretches from the fetus to the mother, and back again. The basic human right to life is founded on simply this: God creates life, and calls it good. If we take this seriously, as we ought, then we must own up to the fact that life is worth preserving if at all possible, regardless of the cost. Sacrificing our children to our whims, to our preferences, or to our sense of timing all spit in the face of a God who breathes life and calls it good.

Image via Flickr.


Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Don White

    This is the philosophy that leads governments to assist adults in suicide when life becomes inconvenient, as in the case of the 45-year-old Belgian twins just weeks ago. The deaf men began to lose their sight, so they decided death was the better option, and local authorities agreed – and assisted. (What would Helen Keller say to such a choice?)

    Gianna Jessen, a young woman who actually survived abortion in 1977, said it best: “If abortion is about women’s rights, then where were mine?”

    Don White (www.ouramericanfaith.com)

  • http://twitter.com/oxenhamuncensrd Oxenham

    Mr. Arnold,

    While I agree with most of the points your article (even if the logical diagram is a bit messy) I would like to provide a cautionary word.

    It is easy to make decisions and judgments from the armchair. It’s difficult to make them when we are actually in those places. To be in a place to consider an abortion one must be more terrified, more fearful, more afraid than they’ve ever been in their entire life. Let us not be quick to judge but slow to speak and quick to love.

  • jamesfarnold

    “Slow to speak and quick to love.”

    I hope I’ve done both of these in my actions, and even in my article here.

    It is absolutely easy to make armchair decisions. It’s easy to pass judgment on complex situations from the seat of an outside observer. As a male who has written on abortion in the past, I’m well aware of that.

    But love will happen in relationship, and is more difficult to have on blogs. If I have friends who have had abortions, or are considering one, I pray will simultaneously love them and stand for what I believe is right.

    We should love, but we should not step away from what seems to be clear truth.

  • Agamet

    Good thoughts Arnold. I like the nuanced view of “rights” with life as a basic right which both foetus and mother share equally.

  • Michael Donahue

    Mr. Oxenham,

    If we do not “make decisions and judgments from the armchair” we will end up making them in the heat of the moment. Far too many in the evangelical community have refused to address this issue in recent years for fear of being labeled “judgmental.” Would it be judgmental to call suicide murder, since “to be in a place to consider [suicide] one must be more terrified, more fearful, more afraid than they’ve ever been in their entire life”? The same goes for any type of homicide. Why not stand together against the abortion holocaust that has whipped out 1/3 of our generation, having compassion on the vulnerable girls who have been the victims, while also forcing an apathetic selfish society to face the issue? I think Mr. Arnold’s article does just that. The only “cautionary word” we should be offering should be directed toward complacent Christians who are more interested in saving face than saving lives.

  • Mike Toreno

    I totally agree. Women are just containers.

  • jamesfarnold

    The point of this post wasn’t to lower the status of women, but to raise the status of fetuses.