So after offering a new twist on the most common pro-choice arguments last week, I want to try and tackle the very best arguments in favour of making abortion an option. Usually after I explain my position and the other person explains their, it is clear that this issue comes down to one important question; when does person-hood begin? Notice it’s not when life begins, because organs are alive but we kill those, animals and plants are alive but we kill them. Person-hood is when something goes from simply alive, to a human person.
The Best Pro-Choice Argument
At the end of life we consider someone legally dead when brain activity stops. Therefore we shouldn’t consider life as beginning until there is brain activity. Therefore abortion should be acceptable up until there is brain activity.
This is a very strong argument for making (keeping) abortion legal. I don’t think pro-life people appreciate how valid this argument is, and how need to take arguments like this seriously and not brush them off. I will give my argument of why this is not sufficient reason to allow abortion. First I want to point out that if you subscribe to this argument and you are Canadian, there are no laws whatsoever regulating abortion. Brain activity usually starts at 6 months and you can legally have an abortion right up until birth. So if this is the reason you are pro-choice, you need to get out to the March for Life to lobby for laws against late term abortions.
That’s not the argument against this point though. I would suggest that there is a significant difference between end of life and beginning of life. At the end of life when someone’s brain stops working we consider them officially dead, but why? Why not the heart or lungs? Well, we are able to keep someone alive using a machine that replaces the heart or the lungs. As of right now when someone’s brain stops functioning we have no way to bring them back or even keep that critical organ from functioning properly, even in a minimal way. If we imagine a machine that can keep a brain moderately operational would we have to change the definition of death? Let’s say a machine keeps the brain active but the person can’t move because all their organs are not getting the right signals to keep them going. The persons body dies but the brain is still active, are they dead? This is the shaky ground that this argument rests on. When we get down to a cellular level it gets even more complicated, if you have time, watch this video to really get you thinking…
Here is the real problem though… When someone is dying, at some point, there is nothing we can do to stop it. If there was a way to prevent that brain activity from shutting down we would do it so they could live longer. When a person loses brain activity we know they are not going to come back, there is no other alternative. In the case of an unborn child, at even the earliest stage, we know that given the right conditions they will have brain activity and be alive at some point. I hesitate to use the term “potential person-hood” because that could be considered a sperm or an egg or even from an atomic level any atom! There is no doubt however, that a living human being naturally comes from this group of cells. In death we may not know the exact moment where a human person loses their person-hood, but it doesn’t really matter because we know there is nothing we can do. (Maybe they never truly lose their “person-hood”. But their “soul”, in Latin the word soul is “anima” or the thing that animates their body, is separated from their body for a time. This is important because we don’t really understand what animates the body… again watch that video above.)
Sometimes the Fertilized Egg Does Not Implant in the Uterus
Since we live in an imperfect world though, there is often complications (as Bill Nye points out in his video on abortion). So, naturally, the fertilized egg does not implant and that human being never has a chance to develop. This is not a moral problem for pro-lifers because it is a natural process with no intent to interrupt what is a natural process. This is critical because intent is everything in moral philosophy, except for Utilitarianism which is where our modern society gets its moral logic from. Utilitarianism says that all that matters is what happened and intent doesn’t mean anything. If you believe manslaughter and 1st degree murder are different then you are not a Utilitarian and you believe intent is important. Just because some people die at 27 doesn’t mean we can kill other people at 27 and just because some fetuses die in the womb doesn’t mean we can kill other fetuses in the womb.
Abortion is when we know that a life is coming and we consciously and intentionally do something destructive to interfere with a natural process. This is the reason for so many controversial teachings in the church. When we go to a doctor and get medicine or surgery it is meant to enhance the natural process of the body. That is good and considered acceptable according to the church. It is bad to control, change or stop natural processes from happening. It would be like cutting off a grizzly bears food supply because you want to save all the salmon from dying. You would mess with the whole natural ecosystem. Sometimes our bodies themselves act in an unnatural way like an autoimmune disease. In this case we give medicine that helps the body to do what it should naturally do. I think then the question becomes “what is natural?” For that we would need another blog, however I think you can see why we believe abortion is generally wrong in almost all cases (we can consider ectopic pregnancies another time). I think it is easy to understand how abortion can be seen as interfering with a natural process.
The Reality is…
What it comes down to is that there is a big difference between preventing something from living and declaring something dead. If you planted a bulb for a rose bush and someone put lye on the spot you planted it, you would be mad that they intentionally killed your plant! If it died naturally you might be upset but less mad because there wasn’t an intention of harm coming from another person. If it was withering and dead and someone dug it up you would be less upset since its end was inevitable. (We’ll discuss end of life issues another day too). That is basically the counter-argument, but I want to make it clear to pro-life people reading this that you need to take these arguments more seriously! These are valid concerns that we are ignoring to achieve a political agenda. Do not get sucked into caring more about getting what you want, than doing what is right.
* In a future blog I would also like to tackle Peter Singer’s argument for person-hood which may be even better than this one. However I don’t think many people subscribe to his argument since he argues that you should be able to kill toddlers…