November 2008

One of the front-page stories on earlier today was a blog post titled "Pro-Life..Pro-Choice…Both?". The author argues that they are pro-life in the sense that they "respect and cherish all life" but pro-choice in the sense that they "support the existing life and the choice she makes over a possibility of life". So the argument being made is that the unborn is not a "life", it is not a separate human being, and therefore it can be aborted. (At first I typed "can be killed" but if it's not a "life" its life can't be taken from it.)

Before examining this argument further, there are some other peripheral arguments made in the post that I'd like to briefly comment on:

Does that mean someone should force me to continue getting pregnant since I seem to be biologically capable of producing healthy life? No, that does not seem right either. So, I cannot in good conscience support forcing another woman to give birth if she is not ready or willing.

When discussing abortion, the last thing I want to do is come off as being uncaring and insensitive about what is a very emotionally charged issue (for good reason). Especially as a man, who will never directly face this issue on a personal level (only, at most, secondhand), I need to be careful to state that I am aware of these issues and want to be sensitive to them. These caveats do not, however, make my opinions themselves on the matter any less valid than anyone else's.

I've found that from reading pro-choice literature, the word "force" or "forcing" is usually used. I think this is a bit misleading. Let's say for the sake of argument for the remainder of this post that abortions for those who are the victims of the heinous crimes of rape and incest may due to these extraneous circumstances have abortions freely. (For the sake of argument.) Approximately 1% of abortions currently occur because of rape or incest. This means that using "force" language to describe the other 99% of abortions is not accurate. Certainly the pregnancies may not be wanted, they may be accidental, but they are not forced. Being pregnant is the natural progression of getting pregnant, and given that we are discussing the 99% of pregnancies that are not forced, this should not really be an issue.

What is the issue? As I've suggested before in some of my other posts on abortion, I don't think that, ultimately, the abortion question is as complicated as it often seems. Greg Koukl sums up the dichotomy well:

– If the unborn is not a human being, then no justification for abortion is necessary.

– If the unborn IS a human being, then no justification for abortion is adequate.

The question is, "What is the unborn?" If it is a human being, it should not be killed, because killing any human being (let alone one unable to defend itself) merely because it is unwanted is immoral. However, if it is not a human being, then why should any justification to remove it be needed?

This all serves to lay foundation in advance of the blog author's main argument, which is as follows:

To me, being pro-life means that I respect and cherish all life. There are times when the sacrifice of life is necessary in order for another life to survive and that is how nature works. Problems arise when I try to respect and cherish two conflicting lives – the life of a pregnant woman and the potential life she carries. That is where I have to take a step back and support the existing life and the choice she makes over a possibility of life. [Original post]

If I understand the argument correctly, the unborn is not a life, it is a potential life (I'll henceforth reword this term as pre-life for the sake of brevity). Therefore, given that the pregnant woman is life not pre-life (a fact which no one disputes) then her life takes precedence over the pre-life she carries. If I accept that the unborn is pre-life, then I would entirely agree with this reasoning. But this brings us back to the original "main question" suggested above: What is the unborn?

Here is why I think this is such an important question. The zygote, formed at conception, is human. It could not be anything else. It is genetically distinct from its parents. It possesses the same DNA that it will possess all its life; human DNA, since it came from human parents. Some pro-choice defenders even concede this point, one noting that "Pro Choice defenders stick their feet in their mouths when they defend abortion by claiming the zygote-embryo-fetus isn't human. It is human." [as quoted here, unfortunately I couldn't find an online copy of the essay cited]

It is not a "potential life" or "potential human", it is a developing human with great potential. This unbroken stream of development begins at conception (when it becomes genetically distinct from its parents), proceeds in a continuous and unbroken stream of development throughout pregnancy, and continues to develop and grow after birth. What is this … "thing" if it is not human? And if it is human, we should not kill it. As stated previously, killing any human being (let alone one unable to defend itself) merely because it is unwanted is immoral.

Someone suggesting that the unborn is not "life" but instead somehow "pre-life" will need to demonstrate some sort of non-arbitrary and fundamental difference which occurs at a specific time during the unborn's life at which the unborn turns from pre-life into life. By non-arbitrary, I mean it must be one that can be readily agreed upon, and by fundamental I mean non-trivial, a criteria that is centrally important. Because if we are at all not sure whether, at point "A" in development, whether this thing is "life" or not, we should not dispose of it, lest we run the risk of killing an innocent human being.

What is the unborn? I see no reason to suggest that the unborn that is readily aborted during the first trimester (the first, second, third trimesters being also somewhat arbitrary) would not be allowed to be aborted during the third trimester, or even in a partial-birth abortion, or for that matter after birth. The unborn, in fact, is fully human at its conception, albeit at an earlier stage in its development, but fully human, and fully worthy of protection.

Although I am a Christian, I have not based any of these arguments on religious principles per se, although moral principles (which I think can be shared by both sides of this discussion) have been used where appropriate. I don't consider myself a right-winger either, for what it's worth.

Further resources:
Stand to Reason: Bio-ethics articles – A collection of excellent articles by Greg Koukl and other STR authors
Pro-Life Training articles – A second collection of great articles by former STR-er Scott Klustendorf

I think we need to be careful anytime we suggest that God cannot do something. When we're thinking about God, the last thing we'd want to so is "put God in a box" so to speak based on our own limited human understanding. As I noted in my previous post Thinking in the right direction:

God is not like us. We are like God. Not in the New Age sense of being gods or even “god-like”, but instead being made in God’s image so we reflect a portion (albeit sometimes a tiny portion) of His glory. If we were to say that God is like us, we would be anthropomorphizing God, making Him like us. We should try to think in the right direction (top-down rather than bottom-up) regarding God.

So, we should be hesitant about naming things that God cannot do. However, many philosophers like William Lane Craig would say that there are in fact things that God cannot do. They suggest that God doing something that contradicts Himself, which contradicts His own nature, is impossible. Also, many suggest that God would not do things that are nonsensical, or that are logically impossible.

It's interesting to note that the Bible does clearly list certain things that God cannot do. For example, it says that "God cannot be tempted by evil" (James 1:13) and "it is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). So there does seem to be some things that God cannot do.

This, I'll suggest, is not because there is any limit to His power, but rather because God is not just powerful, but also possesses other attributes (like goodness, or love) which won't contradict one-another. For God to do contradictory things would essentially mean that God would do things that are nonsense, and a God who would do things that are nonsensical would be a lesser God, not a greater one.