Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

An argument and an analogy

Logical arguments are nice too.  Here is Thomas J. Beckwith’s basic pro-life syllogism:

1.  The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill another member of that community.
3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

(Note that “prima facie” means “on first examination,” “apparently self-evident.”  This argument is not saying that we can never take human life – supporting the death penalty or just war is not inconsistent with this position.)

In spite of all your arguments, some people may perhaps insist that you still can’t prove that the unborn has full personhood.  It seems to me that Dinesh D’Souza has a good strategy in that kind of situation.  Consider this: Say you were out in the woods hunting deer, and you heard some rustling from behind some bushes nearby.  You couldn’t quite get a clear view, but you thought it could be a deer.  On the other hand, it could be another hunter.  If you weren’t sure would you say, “Well, I’ll just take the shot anyway.”  Of course not!  You err on the side of caution when there may be human life at stake.  The same goes for the unborn.


Trot out the Toddler

If you are discussing your pro-life position with an abortion advocate, you will likely be challenged with all the hard case scenarios.  When you are faced with the scenarios having to do with rape, incest, disability, child abuse, etc, Scott Klusendorf suggests simplifying the issue by asking the question “Would this particular justification for abortion also work as a justification for killing a toddler?”  (He calls this strategy Trot Out the Toddler.)  The point of this strategy is to demand that the question “what is the unborn” be answered before trying to address the question “can we kill the unborn.”  After you trot out the toddler, you can use the acronym SLED that you learned about last week to help defend your conviction that the unborn are persons deserving all the rights that come from personhood.

(This will all sound very familiar if you’ve read Scott Klusendorf’s book The Case for Life or perhaps seen him somewhere on youtube, such as here or here.)


I’ve argued that we ought to defend human life because God created us in His image and cherishes us.  Some people will argue that the unborn are not persons and as such don’t have the rights that come from personhood.  Steven Schwartz has developed a helpful acronym (SLED) to explain that, in truth, there is no morally significant difference between an embryo and an adult.

Size – It’s obvious that embryos are smaller than those of us who have already been born, but size is irrelevant.  I’m a very petite individual, but I’m no less human than a football player because of it.

Level of Development – Embryos and fetuses are less developed than you and me, but this also is irrelevant.  My eight year old nephew is more developed than my two month old niece, but this does not give him more of a right to life than she has.  Self awareness is not in itself defining of personhood either.  If that were the case, I would become less human when I fall asleep after I write this.

Environment – Where I am has no bearing on who I am.  Traveling eight inches down the birth canal does not suddenly turn the unborn from non-human to human.

Degree of Dependency – Viability is not what gives humans value.  My friend John is a diabetic and depends on insulin.  This doesn’t decrease his value, or jeopardize his personhood.

Distinctions relating to personhood drawn between the unborn and the born are arbitrary and irrelevant.  Don’t be afraid to say so.

The Stupak Amendment

This past Saturday was an historic day for the country when the House passed the new health care bill. This post is from Wheaton graduate Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s politics blog for CT regarding the amendment to the bill that many pro-lifers have been praying would be added, as it was.
Christianity Today
November 7, 2009 10:23PM
Sarah Pulliam Bailey

The House just voted 220-215 to approve health care legislation that would create a public health insurance option and require employers to offer health insurance.

Before the final vote, the House also voted 240-194 to bar federal funding of abortion in the proposed government-run health care plan.

Sixty-four Democrats voted in favor of the amendment led by Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), while Republican Rep. John Shadegg voted present in an effort to derail the bill. Here’s the full description of the Stupak amendment.

The amendment prohibits federal funds for abortion services in the public option. It also prohibits individuals who receive affordability credits from purchasing a plan that provides elective abortions. However, it allows individuals, both who receive affordability credits and who do not, to separately purchase with their own funds plans that cover elective abortions. It also clarifies that private plans may still offer elective abortions.

Here’s analysis from the Associated Press:

Under the Stupak amendment, people who do not receive federal insurance subsidies could buy private insurance plans in the exchange that include abortion coverage. People who receive federal subsidies could buy separate policies covering only abortions if they use only their own money to do it.

Companies selling insurance policies covering abortions would be required to offer identical policies without the abortion coverage.

…A health overhaul bill pending in the Senate also bars federal funding for abortion, but the language is less stringent. Discrepancies between the House and Senate measures would have to be reconciled before any final bill is passed.

CT reported earlier on how abortion and health care had split Democrats, and The New York Times reported that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to deal with another fight before the final vote.

With just hours to go before the start on Saturday morning of historic floor debate over the health care bill, leading Democratic members of the Pro-Choice Caucus emerged from Ms. Pelosi’s office unable to contain their fury. Ms. Pelosi, unwilling to delay a vote on the larger bill, had decided that Democrats who oppose abortion simply had too many votes on their side; for the moment, at least, the liberals who favor abortion rights had lost.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released a statement praising the Stupak amendment but said that the health care legislation is “seriously flawed.”

“The Speaker’s bill still allows rationing of health care for seniors, raises health costs for families, mandates that families purchase under threat of fines and penalties, encourages counseling for assisted suicide in some states, does not offer broad conscience protections for health care workers and seeks to insert the federal government into all aspects of citizen’s lives.”

Dinesh D’Souza’s words at the CareNet banquet

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of attending CareNet’s annual fund-raising banquet at which Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza spoke.  Dinesh D’Souza is a talented speaker – engaging, compelling, lucid, intelligent, at times very funny.  (The talks that he gave last year at Wheaton College on the new atheism are available here.)  I’ll do my best summarize what he said at the banquet here, which will mean a longer email than usual.

Regarding the abortion issue, Dinesh D’Souza pointed out, that, as we well know, the side that is clearly in the right has been having a tough time of it.  The strategy of the movement has been to provide people with the information regarding abortion, believing that once they know the reality, the debate is over.  And it’s true, that eyes have been opened and lives changed on an individual level.  However, there has been resistance on the cultural level.

The question the pro-life must ask is, “What if it is actually the case that most people do know what’s going on in an abortion?  Why do they tenaciously hold onto this so called ‘right?'”  D’Souza suggests that there may be a dim recognition that abortion is debris of the sexual revolution.  As the expression goes, “If you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs.”

The sexual revolution began in tiny sectors of society, but over time that Bohemian lifestyle of a few has become mainstream.  How that happened is a clue to understanding the “moral engine” that keeps abortion going.  The debate isn’t just our morals versus their convenience.  They have a rival “moral ethic.”  (Though, in fact, their conscience is on our side.)

Before World War II, there was a consensus across US society that there is an external moral order that makes a claim on us.  Our job is to live up to its edicts.  Any debate centered around what was actually in the moral code.  D’Souza says that society hasn’t abandoned morality.  Instead, what we are seeing is the emergence of a new morality.  The source of that morality comes from within the individual.  In effect, you look to yourself to see how you should act.

In America, we exalt a “moral freedom” – freedom for self-realization ultimately, the right to self-determination and autonomy.  This has legitimized a way of life that has considered external morality a burden.  This cultural war is a part of the great abortion debate.  Both sides are appealing to two completely different moral codes.

D’Souza pointed to a second factor to explain why the pro-life cause is struggling.  This is that our society has rapidly become more secular.  It is in a Christian society that something like abortion becomes controversial.  D’Souza says, “The fate of the abortion debate is intrinsically tied to America’s fate as a Christian nation.”  The idea that life is sacred came into our culture because of Christianity.  (Recall from last week’s post that even the great philosophers saw nothing wrong with infanticide.)

This is sobering business.  D’Souza, who is from India, brought up an Indian expression, “After crossing the mountains. . . more mountains.”  But he had encouragement for those pro-life supporters at the CareNet banquet too.  CareNet, he said, is in the trenches, tackling the issue in a comprehensive way.  For many, many years there was no debate about slavery.  It was only when small groups of Christians joined together and pressed forward that massive change could happen.  We may not know it, but the tide may be shifting underneath us.  Perhaps some day abortion too will be unthinkable.  Be realistic, but but press forward til that day.