We all have a tendency to be lazy and being intellectually lazy is no exception. Far too often we fail to see the implications of our positions on important issues. Every time, for instance, we take a stand on the morality of a certain issue, we implicitly take a bunch of other stands as well. It is for this reason that often time subtleties in positions can make or break an argument. Today I wanted to focus on a specific position regarding life of the unborn.
There are many people who describe themselves as “pro-life” but they make exceptions. They will say something like “I am pro-life except in cases of rape and incest.” This position I will call the “pro-life except” position or PLE for short. I would argue that this position actually plays into the hands of the culture of death albeit in a subtle way. Before I go on I need to make some important distinctions, namely, the distinctions between laws, people, and positions each of which may be described as PLE.
Laws govern our country and they govern the issue of abortion as well. A law can be PLE if it forbids certain abortions while it allows others. People are individuals who have positions. A person is PLE if they support a PLE position. A position is the moral theory or framework which guides a person’s thinking on an issue. It is the underlying ethical philosophy that informs the situation. The PLE position is as I said above fundamentally opposed to abortion in general with the exception of some cases. In what follows I am going to criticize the PLE position. Laws which limit abortion but do not outlaw it altogether are certainly not ideal but they do move the ball forward in the pro-life direction and do help to save some lives. I support these as long as they are not the final goal of the movement. With regards to people who have PLE positions, I’d say that in general these people are individuals of good will. They often fight for life and are deep down on our side. I’d happily work with them for the pro-life cause and they have a lot to contribute. This is not a judgment on them. However, the position itself which they embrace is ultimately problematic. I do not know necessarily how to solve this problem. It is something we have to be careful when dealing with because when it involves cases of rape or the mother’s health, the pro-abortion advocates are going to jump on the opportunity to call us bigots and anti-women.
Anyway, I want to point out an elusive problem in the PLE position that is ultimately harmful and makes it at heart a culture of death position. The pro-life position is based off of the following three basic premises: (1) Abortion is the direct killing of the life in the womb, (2) The life in the womb is a human being and (3) It is morally wrong (or alternatively it should always be illegal) to kill an innocent human being. It follows from these three that abortion is morally wrong, or using the alternate premise, should always be illegal. Anyway, the PLE position denies premise 3. A few pro-abortionists would deny premise 1 (think violinist arguments), others will deny premise 2, yet the worst of all is when they accept 1 and 2 but do not care because they do not accept 3. This is what a person is doing when they put forward a “personhood” argument for abortion. Essentially one who argues along the lines of “well yes it’s a human being but no “it’s not a human person” is saying “it’s okay to kill human beings but not human persons” and thus they are denying premise 3. However, by establishing arbitrary “personhood” as a requirement for the right to life, the pro-abortionist has established the culture of death. They have ultimately embraced an approach to human life which says some human beings may be murdered because they lack certain qualities that others have. This is a huge insult to the dignity of the human being.
Now, look at the PLE position again. This position is not founded on a personhood argument for abortion, but is an alternative approach to disregarding premise 3. The PLE position almost certainly accepts 1 and 2…that is where the PL comes from, in other words, the PLE position would be considered by most to be “pro-life.” However, this particular position rejects the most important premise of the pro-life argument by saying that there are cases in which it is okay to kill innocent children, namely in the cases which are considered E or exceptions (e.g. rape, incest, life of the mother, or more depending).
Before explaining further, allow me to qualify my statement “most important premise of the pro-life argument.” I said this because ultimately premise 3 is what makes the argument pro-life. It is this premise which not only drives the specific argument against abortion but is the foundation for the right to life, it is what we stand for, and it is why we fight. Premise 1 and 2 are simply fact claims, the former about the nature of the procedure, the latter about the nature of the life in the womb. One can be mistaken, even culpably so, about the truth or falsehood about 1 or 2, however in rejecting one or two, an individual does not embrace an overall moral theory, or stance on the life issues per se. The culture of death is not what it is because of a lack of biological knowledge about zygotes, embryos, and fetuses. The culture of death is what it is, that is decadent moral slime straight from hell, because they ultimately are attacking premise 3, or said more openly, they are attacking the sanctity of human life at a fundamental level. This is why they are a culture of death not scientific ignorance.
Now it is true that some individuals who consider themselves pro-choice would personally reject premise 1 or 2 and not 3. It is also true that the movement itself has made these sorts of arguments. I am not commenting on individuals or every argument, but on what makes the culture of death so evil and so dangerous. Notice that we have sufficient embryological knowledge to know that premise 2 is true (and at least to any honest person it is more likely true than false) and we have enough common sense to know that suctioning and dismembering a fetus in the womb is not simply “disconnecting” the child but positively murdering him or her. So when the culture of death argues against premise 1 and 2, they are really just using tactics. If we look at the heart of the culture of death, it is deep down an attack against the dignity of life and this is why it keeps marching through despite the pro-lifers. Wait; did I say the heart of the pro-abortionists? I meant the icy cold core, they do not have hearts.
Turning back to the PLE position, it should be clear now why it is ultimately destructive. The PLE position denies the culture of life’s key ideal and embraces the culture of death’s. If we take the PLE position where it leads, we would come to the conclusion that there are some instances where we may kill innocent human beings, it is only a matter of balance. This is not a categorical difference from any full-fledged abortion supporter’s position, only a difference of degree. The pro-abortion position does not accept killing of innocent human beings in each and every situation! Obviously no one advocates that. Being pro-abortion ultimately comes down to being a moral relativist and consequentialist because abortion is justified “with a good reason” which could be anything from convenience to life of the mother. To the culture of death, murder is not always itself wrong. Murder is only wrong when there is no reason to justify it or when the harm of the specific murder outweighs the benefits. The true difference between the PLE position and the hardcore pro-abortion position is not one of principal, but one of degree. The debate between PLEs and pro-abortionists is “what justification do you have to kill the child?”
The PLE position is not only destructive to the culture of life because it is at a fundamental level a culture of death position, but because the true abortion advocates will hop on the PLE-ers and slam the hypocrisy. They will shout “You don’t really care about the fetus, how could a fetus of a rape victim be of any less value than that of a consenting woman? You see, all you are really after is punishing women!” I have seen this type of argument made by abortion advocates on more than one occasion. This of course makes pro-lifers look illogical, anti-woman, and anti-sex to a degree.
The PLE position is either logically incoherent or a slightly less offensive pro-abortion position. The only way to defend the position and not be illogical is to hold that the murder of the innocent is not itself wrong but only wrong if there is no reason. This however is weak because if there is reason to abort in the cases of rape and incest or life of the mother, why not extreme health concerns, inability to raise the child, financial concerns, personal preference of the sex of the child, etc. Ultimately, wherever the arbitrary line is drawn, it does not matter. Even if a good case can be made from the point of view of a PLE supporter that only in cases where the life of the mother is at risk is abortion justifiable, it doesn’t matter. In the end, all that matters is that any PLE position is ultimately a rejection that we may never commit murder and the government has a duty of protecting the innocent. Because any PLE position is a rejection of this, any PLE position is ultimately a rejection of the very foundation of the right to life movement.
Let’s pray to St. Michael to combat the evil of abortion in our times