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.
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?
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.
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.