Abortion and Moral Culpability

One of our best tools in conversations about abortion is Trot out a Toddler (TOAT). It’s really helpful because it communicates how we need to think about unborn humans if we admit that they’re persons. Once you accept the conclusion that the fetal human is a valuable person like us, then it’s just as wrong to harm that child as it would be to harm a toddler. Even if there are difficult circumstances surrounding many abortions, if those circumstances wouldn’t justify killing a toddler, then they wouldn’t justify abortion, either. Often this helps the two people discussing abortion identify that they their disagreement on this issue isn’t due to a disagreement about how awful the circumstances of the world are, whether or not people who are suffering need our help, or anything of the sort. Rather, they disagree about the moral status of the unborn human.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes.

There are some nice advantages of TOAT: it’s clear, simple, and reasonably effective. However, it also has a couple prominent drawbacks. Sometimes, TOAT causes pro-choice people to believe that we’re claiming that women who get abortions have both the same moral callousness and the same moral culpability as women who kill their toddlers. We’re not making either claim, but since we’re saying thing X is like thing Y in at least one way, unless we clearly say otherwise, it’s understandable for them to assume that we think they’re alike in other ways. People are fallible and often make assumptions (pro-life people no less than pro-choice people), so as the pro-life advocate is it good practice to clarify what you’re saying if you get the feeling that someone is misunderstanding you.

Just because it’s worth saying twice: we at ERI do not believe that women who get abortions are just like women who kill their toddlers. Even though the child who dies in each situation is of the same value, it takes a twisted heart to kill your toddler in cold blood, and that just isn’t true of most women who get abortions right now. Maybe it seems like I’m splitting hairs; if you’re pro-life, you probably consider it obvious that an unborn baby is just as much a person as an older child, and if it were obvious to everyone, then it would make sense for laws to be the same for both. But for a woman who’s been told that she is just getting a clump of cells removed because she can’t afford a baby, it’s not at all obvious to her that they’re the same. Women have been sold a lie about abortion in our culture. The messaging is politically and financially motivated, but it is a convincing message. And if trusted health professionals are offering her a way out of a difficult situation and telling her that no real people get hurt, she has no malice towards her child because she doesn’t think one is there. She probably wouldn’t get an abortion if she knew that it harms and kills a person. This is clearly and totally different from a parent who kills their toddler, whom they’ve raised and whose status as a person is not in doubt.

The Anatomy of a Pro-Life Conversation

I have decided to share with you a transcript of an email exchange I had over the course of a few weeks with a woman from Canada; the emails have been lightly edited for clarity. At different points, I’ll be sharing my thought process about what’s going on in the conversation. The goal is to provide an illustration of how to implement some of the dialogue skills and arguments we talk about on the blog and in the Equipped for Life Course. Sometimes the pro-life advocates we train ask for us to demonstrate how our dialogue tips and arguments fit together in a real-time conversation. With permission from the woman who reached out to me, I am sharing this example so that it may be helpful to others.

Estimated reading time: 18 minutes.

The Anatomy of a Pro-Life Conversation

Hello Andrew,

I am Christian, and pro-life, for myself. Jesus died for my sins, I am ready to die for others. I am not sure if we can impose that kind of requirement on everybody though. I have been thinking over and over about the ethical arguments on abortion since the birth of my son and I was brought to be ambivalent if we can outlaw abortion in all circumstances. And what happens if the foetus has all the same legal rights than the mother, especially during the birth process?

My questioning goes in two levels:

1) An ethical questioning of self-sacrifice versus self-preservation

2) The legal rights of a mother over her own body during childbirth versus the right of the foetus to have their lives protected.

Would you care to give me a bit of your time to help me rest my thinking and solidify my pro-life thinking?

Thanks,

Jane*

To be honest, my first thought on reading this was, why are you emailing me? This is the first time I’ve ever been contacted by someone whom I don’t know to talk about abortion. Everyone else at ERI has a lot more campus outreach experience than me, and, frankly, I find interpersonal interactions and dialogues a lot more challenging than philosophy. But sometimes you’re the person who needs to give an answer, whether or not you feel completely qualified.

Hello Jane,

Thank you for your message! You’re right in thinking that the moral requirements of Christianity are more than what the state can demand from its citizens. However, it’s reasonable for the government to demand that we don’t kill other people; if we take seriously the idea that the fetus is a human person, then abortion would be an act of killing against an innocent person, and it would make sense to outlaw it.

There is definitely self-sacrifice required in pregnancy, but that sacrifice almost never entails a need to die for the child in the womb. Even in the United States, where we have a higher maternal mortality rate than is typical, that rate is 18 deaths per 100,000 live births. That’s unacceptably high, but it’s also .018 percent of all cases, so while it’s concerning and could be a justification for abortion in those specific cases (a “life of the mother” exception), it wouldn’t be a good justification for abortion in the other 99.982 percent of cases.

So, let’s assume the state can’t reasonably require people to die for their children; what amount of sacrifice can the state demand from parents, and mothers in particular? This is where the question of whether or not the fetus is a person becomes very important. If we believe that fetal humans are persons, then we have a duty not to kill them. Pregnancy is often difficult, and labor is usually extremely painful (my wife’s labor was quite rough); outlawing abortion means women are required to go through a lot of pain and bodily changes, which is a sacrifice. However, I don’t think that the challenges of a relatively normal pregnancy are sufficient to justify killing the child in the womb. Financial challenges, stress, and most health difficulties aren’t good reasons to kill another person. There are certain serious complications which might justify it, but those go back to the “life of the mother” exception.

As far as what happens if the fetal human has all the same legal rights as the mother, I think that this is nothing but beneficial during the birth process. There are at least two patients in the room who need to be treated with care, and I’m not aware of a situation in a developed country which would require care for one party to require death or foregoing treatment for the other. Just as throughout pregnancy, all that would be required is not making treatment decisions that pose unnecessary harm to the child. Even in cases of severe pre-eclampsia requiring very early delivery, the goal of the medical staff should be to ensure the health of both mother and child.

I hope this was helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Sincerely,

Andrew Kaake

Heartbeat Laws: What You Need to Know

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes.

Several states passed abortion restrictions in the last calendar year, and more are entertaining similar bills right now. Most of these laws, dubbed “heartbeat bills,” seek to restrict abortion after the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. All of these laws are in conflict with the holdings of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and the goal in passing most of them is to provide a test case to overturn Roe.

The “heartbeat bills” are generating a lot of press, and most people want to know what exactly the laws would do if they were allowed to stand. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation and hyperbole circulating from deceitful or inaccurate sources. Our goal is to help you become informed about the contents of the laws in order to have accurate dialogue. Looking at the text of the laws and related state statutes and case law, we have compiled a reference table for you below:

Facts are as of 5/29/19

Footnotes:

  • (+) The goal of the heartbeat bill is to ban abortions after 6 weeks, but the requirement to test for a heartbeat opens the door for abortions potentially as late as 12 weeks because some ultrasound methods don’t detect a heartbeat as early.
  • * Missouri has backup bans at 14 weeks, 18 weeks, and 20 weeks in case earlier laws are stricken down.
  • ** Case law strongly indicates that women will not be held liable for criminal abortion in Georgia; the same case frowns upon investigating miscarriages. However, it is possible that women could be charged with some type of manslaughter because the law declares unborn humans with heartbeats to be natural persons.
  • *** A provision related to parental notification took effect immediately.

Does Your Image Need a Face-Lift?

Image: Man choosing from multiple face options.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes.

“Ben Shapiro DESTROYS Socialism”

Don’t Apologize to the Mob”

Do titles like this sound familiar? Sure, the content inside might be entertaining to those who agree, but if you spoke like that in a conversation, would you convince anyone?

It’s really easy to forget the “relational” part of “relational apologetics,” especially when interacting online. It’s hard to remember that there’s a person on the other end of your comment or tweet. In dialogue, it’s critical to treat others with respect, even to give them a more-than-fair hearing. [Tweet that!] It’s the right thing to do, and it also makes you stand out if you treat people charitably in spite of deep disagreement.

Of course, this is hard to do, especially when you’re passionate and you believe your cause is just. You probably know “that guy” who knows all the arguments—he’s got personhood nailed, he has a whole magazine of bullets to bite for sovereign zone objections, and he’s memorized the entire De Facto Guardian paper—and he can’t wait to destroy the weak points of the opposition! It sounds funny to read, but too many people get excited about fighting for truth and justice against the new American way and forget that people normally have to want to talk to you in order for you to help them change their mind.

I don’t want to spend too much time here arguing against the destroy approach—I’ll just say that it’s somewhat fun but not helpful and please don’t do it—because I want to focus on a different question.

The New York “Reproductive Health Act”: Rhetoric and Reality

New York’s broad new abortion law, dubbed the “Reproductive Health Act,” was sold to the public as merely enshrining Roe v. Wade into state law. On the surface, it seems to do just that by extending abortion-on-demand to 24 weeks and allowing for exceptions beyond that point in cases where the fetus is unlikely to survive outside the womb or when “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” If the law only codifies what was already federal policy, it seems odd that the governor’s and Assembly’s official statements include multiple quotes praising New York’s “progressive” position on abortion. Perhaps this is a reference to just how “progressive” Roe is; after all, it created a national right to abortion so broad that babies could be killed at the point of birth based on an incorrect diagnosis or a temporary emotional state. But no, there are new abortion “rights” in this new law that put it outside even the realm of Roe, which the people selling the law knew even as they said it was the status quo. New York is again “leading the way,” but should anyone want to follow?

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes.

New York

Apparently, Killing Shouldn’t Be a Crime

One notable change in the Act is that all language regarding abortion has been cut from the penal code and the new provisions were moved to the public health law. On a rhetorical level, New York is arguing that abortion is a health care right, even a “fundamental” one, and that as such it should not be considered part of criminal law. On a practical level, this means that, even though elective abortion after 24 weeks remains illegal, there are no legal grounds to prosecute whoever performs such an abortion. What exactly is the enforcement method for the few restrictions on abortion that survive this law? Are we relying on the moral conscience of late-term abortion practitioners to obey a law that shrinks their business yet has no method of enforcement? Consider me skeptical of the value of New York’s legal line in the sand at 24 weeks.

The move to strike any language about abortion or “born-alive infants” from the penal code also removes protection from two groups of children—well, two groups besides the vast number of children already being freely aborted under the law. In the first case, as was argued by opponents of the Act, there is now no law against the “involuntary termination” of a pregnancy, let alone a law against fetal homicide; this means that a woman whose child is killed prenatally in an assault or car accident can’t prosecute the killer in New York state. Supporters of the law attempted to argue that the woman has much better charges available with longer sentences, like felony assault, so it doesn’t matter that there is no law against killing the fetus. By this logic, a shooter who kills one person and injures nine others should only be charged for the one murder; the nine attempted murders don’t matter, since you’ll just get a life sentence under the higher charge anyway.

Why would state representatives say something that flies in the face of basic principles of criminal law? New York is unwilling to say that any injustice was done to the now-dead fetus, because, if it had any right not to be killed, it would be inconvenient for the logic of abortion as social good. They’re willing even to imply that the only right which is being violated is the mother’s right to her bodily integrity, but in that same bill they claim she has “a fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term.” On their own terms, they should argue that involuntary termination and fetal homicide are acts of injustice against the woman’s reproductive right, not only her right to bodily autonomy. The mother is disallowed by law from seeking justice for her child and is told that it is enough that the state might award justice to her. New York is so gripped by abortion fever that it would rather tell pregnant victims of assault how they should view their assault than grant them the right to seek justice for their murdered children.[Tweet that]