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Could This One Question End The Abortion Debate?

by Akos Balough

Could one simple question end the abortion debate?

Could this question bring clarity and agreement, no matter which side of the fence you’re sitting on?

It might seem unlikely, but I think it could.

And it would do this by shifting the abortion narrative – the story that so much of our culture believes about abortion. 

The Current Abortion Narrative

TV host Rachel Corbett summed up the popular (pro-choice) narrative on Channel 10’s ‘The Sunday Project‘, when she said:

But I just can’t get my head around the argument that if I was in a position where I had to have an abortion – potentially I was in an abusive relationship…there’s a million reasons, but they’re my reasons. I don’t understand how anybody can think it’s OK to say to me ‘I know better about what you need in your life than you’.

In other words, the current narrative is around women’s reproductive rights. Many on the pro-choice side – are now adamant that abortion is merely a woman’s healthcare choice, and thus a basic human right for all women – including third trimester abortions. (This includes the main contenders for the Democratic nomination for US President).

Movements like #ShoutYourAbortion are angrily pushing back against any restriction on abortion:

In this narrative, it’s all about a woman’s right to control her own body as she sees fit.

Thus having an abortion is no more morally significant than having a tumor cut out.

And yet, despite the Pro-choice side painting abortion as nothing more than a morally neutral medical procedure, there is so much pain around it.

Many women feel guilty for having had abortions – or having been pressured into aborting their baby. (If by chance that’s you, then can I encourage you to read Claire Smith’s article on finding true forgiveness in Jesus Christ after abortion).

Let us now see out how one simple question could shift and clarify the abortion debate.

1) The Question That Clarifies The Abortion Debate

‘Is The Fetus a Human Person?’

Is the Fetus a human person? Are unborn babies human beings?

That’s the question that can bring clarity to the abortion debate.

If we ask this question first before discussing any other issue about abortion, then we’ll be able to make sense of this painful issue.

Right now, the abortion debate in the NSW parliament is being driven by people who don’t want to face this question – at least not with the attention it deserves. MP Alex Greenwich introduced the bill, and has ignored the question by saying abortion is ‘nothing more than a ‘health care issue’ between a woman and her doctor:

But if were to ask the simple question of ‘Is the fetus a human person?’, where would it lead us in the abortion debate?

2) The Fetus is a ‘Human’

Bioethicist Dr Megan best points out:

In public debate, no educated person questions the humanity of the human embryo anymore…’

Thus according to modern science, a fetus from it’s earliest conception has three key characteristics:
• It’s Distinct: It has separate DNA from its mother (and sometimes a different blood type and gender).
• It’s Living: Dead things don’t grow, but a fetus does. 
• It’s a Whole Human Being: It’s the ‘product’ of two human beings. [1]

Accepting that the fetus is a distinct, living, who human being might sound like enough to clinch the argument, but in today’s secular world, it’s not enough. There’s another question that needs answering:

3) The Fetus is a Human Person

(And thus deserving of human rights).

While it is widely accepted that the fetus is a ‘human’, Dr Megan Best points out that:

The argument now focuses on when the embryonic human deserves protection.’ 

Thus, a standard often brought out by less radical pro-choice people is that abortion should be legal up until the point of viability (often defined as the point at which a fetus could survive outside the womb with help from medical technology).

Now a fetus up to 22 weeks cannot (currently) survive outside of the womb, no matter how much medical intervention is given.

And so, the argument goes, abortions should be unrestricted up to 22 weeks (which is what the current NSW Abortion Bill proposes).

But there a number of problems with this view of ‘viability’:

Says who?

Who says that ‘viability’ is the standard that should determine the moral status of an baby? Does such a standard even exist? As ethicist Scott Rae points out, any attempt to discern the point at which the fetus as living human being becomes the fetus as a person is highly arbitrary.

In other words, it’s a made-up standard, with no moral authority whatsoever.

The Problem of Inconsistency

If ‘viability’ becomes that standard for determining when a fetus becomes a human person with all the rights and dignity pertaining thereto, then what about other human beings that are unviable on their own?

What about people hooked up to machines in ICU wards, or dialysis machines, or on oxygen? And what about newborn babies? They’re not ‘viable’ in any meaningful sense – they need intense and constant care if they’re to survive a few hours, let alone their infancy.

And if ‘viability’ is the determining factor for someone to be considered a human person, what happens to the rights of those that are ‘unviable’ according to this (arbitrary) standard?

Sadly, history tells us:

The Testimony of Modern History

History shows us what happens when some arbitrary standard is held up as the precursor for being a full human person. As author Scott Klusendorf points out:

[Whenever people argued] that a certain class of human beings could be set aside to be killed because of some accidental property like skin colour, race, gender or in this case with the unborn, their size, their level of development, their dependency…atrocities follow[ed], because human worth then becomes totally subjective. It becomes a matter of what those in power say.’

Thus, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many western secular thinkers argued for eugenics – the sterilisation and extermination of people and races thought to be ‘inferior’ and ‘defective’. Slavery and the mistreatment of Indigenous populations were driven in no small way by this worldview.

But the worldview that makes the most sense – and has internal moral consistency – is the view that says a human embryo is essentially the same as any other human person, and is therefore a human person, with all the dignity and rights pertaining thereto.

This is of course the Bible’s view, where God makes each of us in his own image (Gen 1:27), endowing us with inviolable dignity.

4) How This One Question Cuts Through The Pro-Choice Arguments

So how does this one key question challenges the pro-choice narrative? Well let’s think about some of the common questions that arise:

Doesn’t a woman have the right to do with her body as she wishes?

Again, this question assumes that the fetus is nothing more than a part of the woman’s body. It fails to ask the basic question: what is the moral status of a fetus?

Modern science clearly shows us that a fetus is a distinct, living, whole human being, and we’ve yet to see how a fetus is in essence different from any other human person.

Thus, to be clear, just as we don’t find it acceptable for a mother to kill her toddler, neither should we find it acceptable for a mother to kill another innocent human person, even though this person may reside in her womb.

Abortion should be ‘Safe, Legal and Rare’.

While Bill Clinton argued this when he first became President, his wife Hillary (and much of the Democratic party) has ditched this mantra entirely, calling for unrestricted access to abortion up to birth.

And the reason why the pro-choice side has changed its tune is simple: if abortion is nothing more than a morally neutral medical procedure, why should it be ‘rare’?

If vacuuming out a woman’s uterus is no different to vacuuming a house, why should there be any restrictions on it?

The answer, of course, is that it’s not morally neutral – it’s not the medical equivalent of vacuuming your house. And why not?

Because unborn babies are human persons.

Third Trimester abortions are very rare, so it won’t matter if they’re legal.

Again, this is a strange statement: if abortions are nothing more than mere medical procedures, why does it matter if they’re rare?

And if they’re morally problematic, why would we want them to be legal?

If Princeton Bioethicist Peter Singer (who argues for infanticide under certain circumstances) defended his argument by saying ‘we can legalise infanticide because it will be so rare‘, would that be a legitimate reason to legalise infanticide? 

Isn’t restricting abortion just forcing religion onto women?

Let’s be clear on something: the pro-choice side is as ‘religious’ – meaning driven by beliefs – as the pro-life side.

For example, arguing that ‘viability outside the womb’ is the standard for when abortion should be restricted is just as ‘belief driven’ as saying that human beings are made in God’s image.

Both sides are doing religion when it comes to this debate. 

And so, the more important question we need to ask is this: which ‘belief’ is more consistent with reality?

The belief that all human beings – no matter how viable – are human persons with inviolable human rights, or the belief that an arbitrary man-made standard should decide who gets human rights, and who doesn’t? 

And Yet, I’m Sceptical

Despite my argument above, I’m unsure how many secular people would be convinced by my argument, at least among the secular elites.

My argument depends on the belief that all human beings are human persons, and arbitrary standards such as ‘viability’ don’t determine human value.

In the west, the Judeo-Christian belief of being made in God’s image has been the bedrock for that belief. But the Judeo-Christian worldview is rapidly leaving the western building (especially among the cultural elites) .

And in it’s place is a subjective, arbitrary view of humanity. As theologian Albert Mohler points out

If we are cosmic accidents…then there is no sacredness to human life—any human life…The eclipse of the biblical worldview makes every arena of life deadly and dangerous—[including] the womb.’

Time will tell which way society will GO But regardless, God’s should speak up for the most vulnerable – the unborn – and advocate for their right to live.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Ps 139:13-16 [1] For more on this, listen to a fantastic podcast interview with between Crossway publishers and Scott Klusendorf, entitled The Heart of The Abortion Debate‘ . Another great resource is the Resource Paper Christian Thinking on Abortion by the Gospel Society & Culture Committee of the Presbyterian Church of NSW.